Are we recessed?
For the past year or so, the word “recession” has become one of the most commonly heard ones. I am surrounded by people who lost their jobs, people who are scared that they may lose them, people who have run up debts, and people who are confused what direction to take in the future. But I really wonder, is there anything to really worry about? How many wise people have told us that we only learn in adversity, that failures are stepping stones to success, that hardships sharpen us, and – “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough get Going.” But we seem to have become so used to luxury and the easy life that we cannot face setbacks any more. When youngsters with three years of experience were earning double the amount of their seniors with thirty years experience, they did not introspect. When people jumped jobs twice a year to reach dizzying heights, they did not look down. When greed overtook wants, they forgot what their actual needs were. I think there is poetic justice in the global recession, which has at least made us more aware of reality, of poverty, of failure, and of broken dreams. Those who live through this phase will emerge very strong. The younger generation will re-learn the value of delayed gratification, the difference between needs and wants, and the satisfaction of working slowly and steadily towards their goals. The elders will regain their dignity, “experience” will no longer be a dirty word, and people will have time to slow down the merry-go-round of their lives and actually admire the beauty of nature around them – without the background music playing!
We are Progressing.....?
Long back there was a small unassuming shop in our colony, which sold Nilgiri’s products, soft drinks, biscuits, and many other things. The shopkeeper knew most customers from the area, welcomed them with a smile, and gave suggestions on which brands to buy. He inevitably had the right change (would never cheat on prices), and if he didn’t, would tell the customer to pay later. This has been replaced everywhere with huge malls, with exotic names like Fresh, More, Total, and other even more meaningless ones. One has to go looking for items in a maze of shelves, no shop assistant seems to know which product is where, discount announcements are not honoured by the staff, and after waiting endlessly in queues for check-out, one is told that they do not have change – or one is conveniently short-changed. Is this the price we are paying for progress?
Aab knows he can never become an orator. He cannot shout, he cannot scream in the frenzy of artificial passions. He can only speak from the heart, whether he is speaking to one person or one thousand. He speaks only what is necessary, only that which can benefit the listener. He values the time of others, not his own. He believes that the time of the common man is as important as that of a governor.
He finds it very difficult to talk about himself. Not because he is too proud. Ironically, it is for the very opposite reason-he suffers form low self-esteem. He truly believes that no one is interested in him,. his life or his experiences. And he has reason to believe so-everyone talks to him about themselves, hardly anyone asks him is known. They feel a strong invisible barrier between them and him.
No one knows why, least of all Aab. At times when he has tired to share something very personal about himself, he has found the listener either disbelieving, thinking it is a joke, or just ignoring due to intense discomfort of not knowing how to respond.
The stage has come when Aab himself is forgetting his biography. His past has become a blurred hazy picture, his experiences seem as though they are of someone else, and his life seems devoid of any history. He is not unhappy with this development. For him, the present is sufficient, this moment is eternity.
So are the lonely people. They are the ones who make life better for others to enjoy the show called life. But then, Aab is disturbed that anyone in this world should actually be lonely. There are people suffering from Living Together Loneliness, having relatives, family and friends all around them, but mentally cut-off. There are those who are more lonely in crowds than they are when they are alone.
Great spiritual leaders talk about overcoming loneliness. They show the path to merge with the Creator, thus surrendering your very being and becoming one with the Universe. Aab is a very small, ordinary and unenlightened person. He can feel one with a astray dog, with a row of ants, with a paper boat flowing with rain water - but not beyond that. The funny thing is that these very beings, according to Aab, can take away loneliness. But some of 7us doggedly hang on to our individuality, isolating ourselves from so many wonderful things around us. He wants to help them. Some listen to him, some don't. Some listen and forget; some do change and enjoy their newfound, warmth.
Aab looks up at the sky and wonders what lies beyond. Space is finite, but only because man has created his own limitations. Water can be stopped by a dam, but no human can stop it from evaporating or seeping into the ground. Man shuts out the breeze to insulate his AC room - but he still needs to breathe the same air.
Humans build fences to enclose and protect their property - and are in turn interred into six feet of ground where even the tiniest of insect can nibble at his remains. Aab has a lot of time to think. And he thinks of time. He knows that man has never mastered time and never will - for man is too busty putting walls around time, while time roams free of all fetters. Man creates his own misery of perpetually running short of time- until time abandons him and moves on in gay merriment while the most active human turns to dust and ashes.
The architect of the universe, when he designed man on his drawing board (He does not use Auto cad), gave man total mastery over one wonderful asset - his emotions. But man does not know how to use this valuable legacy. He is so busy chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, that he has missed out on the worth of the rainbow itself.
Aab wishes we would spend more time understanding our feelings and gain mastery over them. That, Aab knows is the final conquest man can achieve
There was an advertisement splashed over all the newspapers recently showing a sleek flashy car and a few horses standing in a docile manner nearby. The slogan read "Horses are meant to be tamed." I don't know ho much sales of the car the advertisement fetched, but I was wondering at the pompousness of the advertiser who made the highly egoistic statement, and that too without any context.
How often we have presumed that we are the Masters of the living and non-living beings around us! For centuries the White Man believed that the Black Man has no soul and hence should be kept enslaved. For millennia we have been destroying ecology for our short term gains. All over the world bosses use their subordinates as though they were use-and-throw gadgets (I was tempted to say "as though they were cattle", but then, are cattle meant to be used by us?)
Some time ago at a glittering charity function I met the top executive of a company, who proudly told me, "My company, which is one of the sponsors of this event, is among the top five cigarette manufacturers in the country." A little later a butler was moving around offering the same.
Company's cigarettes to the guests. On being approached, my new found friend declined, and then turned to me and said, "You know I used to be a chain smoker, But, by God's Grace I have now given up completely!"
When will God's Grace descend on his customers, and on all of us who think that we can use others to further our own desires?
I agree with them wholeheartedly. There is a tendency in us to "pass the buck", as the Americans would say. We inevitably look for a scapegoat, or something/someone to put the blame on. Agreed, having guns makes it easier for a person to cause greater damage to life, but if it were not guns, it would be something else. As individuals, as a community, and as humanity, we need to look into what is our attitude and where we are heading at the emotional level. It is said that Canada has more guns than USA, but far lesser crime rate. Doesn't that tell us something?
Closer home, let us introspect how much we tend to blame alcohol, high speed bikes, TV, internet, for all the ills around us. But they are lifeless things, they do not have a will of their own, and they are only as dangerous as the user. The rate at which technology is going, if we start blaming gadgets we will soon have to ban all new inventions!
Life doesn't work that way. Instead of switching off the TV or shouting at the children, we need to teach kids about balanced TV viewing. Similarly we need to create awareness on benefits of Internet, bikes, movies, mobiles phones etc. We need to show them that we love them, and give them love in the way they want it, not the way we think they need it. Let us take the responsibility and do something about it.
Children need to be taught Life Skills - how to handle themselves and how to understand and interact with others. They need to be empowered to take decisions and grow into responsible citizens of the world. And it is the responsibility of every adult to do this teaching.
The famous Henry David Thoreau said, "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
I am very touched by this quote because this draws the wonderful mean between dreamers and realists. As I counsel hundreds of students to select their careers, I come across so many dreamers who build castles in the sir, and I come across an equally large number of parents who are walking behind them picking holes in those dreams. I often wonder who is right and which path we should encourage?
There are the Gandhis, Martin Luther Kings, the Dhirubhai Ambanis, Amitabh Bachchans and Sachin Tendulkars, who built castles in the sir, and built them so large that an entire humanity could seek shelter in their castles. Of course for every one such successful person, there are innumerable others who have wasted their (as well as others') time and money dreaming of the impossible, and missing out on what was available.
I think the answer lies in Thoreau's statement. I feel it is very important for young people to "dream, dream, dream," in the words of the ex-President of India, Dr Abdul Kalam.
What we need to do is NOT KILL the DREAMS of UPCOMING YOUTH, but encourage them to build castles in the air, and then help them put the foundations under them.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE
Of course, when I say young people, I refer, as always, not to the physical age! :-) I call upon all to dream, dream, dream - the physically young as well as those older in years but who continue to think, feel and approach life with the spirit of youth.
Do not dream just in your sleep. You'll have no clue about dreams in sleep unless you wake up in the middle of one of them!
Am reminded of a quote I saw on a young man's T-shirt. Think it went something like this -
It is impossible to achieve anything without dreaming.
So go to sleep!
How often we lament, "I didn't know what to say on the occasion of ....", or "When my friend was crying, I just didn't know how to respond". Is it just the lack of vocabulary or command over the language? No. When we need to write official letters, we find the flow so smooth, when we wish to reprimand a junior or a child, we find the words pouring out without any blocks.
We are stuck in awkward situations because we have not learnt the beauty of the Language of Love. This language is the same in English, Hindi, Kannada or Latin. It comprises of "feeling" words. It is built up by expressing more and more endearments to different people around us. It is strengthened by developing a sharp mind to look for and identify the smallest good qualities of people.
Saying nice things is not a charitable act. It makes us feel better with our own selves, and the compliment comes back to us in some form or the other. Using the language of Love reduces tension, blood pressure, negativity: and it empowers us to face ups and downs of life. At no cost.
Many of you who drive may have faced this situation quite often — the traffic light seems to turn red just when you are reaching the intersection! It is so irritating to be continuously held up in traffic junctions when we are in a hurry to reach our destination. It almost appears as though the lights have hatched a conspiracy against us.
This is called the ‘Red Light Syndrome’. Actually, if one were to ask a statistician, he would say that the ratio of green and red lights is exactly the same for every vehicle. Then why is it that we face so many red lights? The same question can be asked about our life. Many a time we face a situation wherein we are compelled to ask “Why me?” It appears as though we are getting more than our fair share of troubles and setbacks.
If one were to look at the structure of a miniature atom, one would realize that there is an order and harmony in its construction. If one looks up at the stars and constellations, one would realize that in billions of years they have not gone haywire colliding into each other. Would not the same principles apply to our life? There is a Super Power up there (a ‘Main Frame’ of the Universe in IT speak), who probably ensures that a harmony of give and take regulates everything that happens to us.
Yet many of us get bogged down by the Red Light Syndrome of life, and spend valuable time complaining how life is being unfair. In this situation we do not realize that we are being equally unfair to ourselves, pulling ourselves further down than necessary. We forget that we have been bestowed with the greatest boon of all — the mind. If we use our mind (and of course our heart), we can play a more proactive role in our own life, and rise to reach a situation similar to one the great poet Iqbal had described:
Khudi ko kar buland itna, ke har taqdeer se pehle
Khuda khud bandey se poonchhey, “Baata, teri raza kya hai?”
(Raise yourself to such a lofty height, that before writing your fate God himself should be compelled to ask you “What do you desire for yourself?”)
Know yourself about who you are
A Samurai (a traditional wise man) was approached by a student wanting to know what heaven and hell are. He replied, 'I can't waste time with a useless lout like you.' The student was so enraged with the insult that he pulled out his sword to kill the teacher. 'That is hell,' said the Samurai smilingly. The student understood his error and apologized profusely, whereupon the teacher said, 'That is heaven.
Awareness of your own feelings is acknowledged as the basic step towards building emotional maturity. Because only awareness can lead to action towards change. The only person we can change without any trouble is the person with whom we spend 24 hours of our life - OUR OWN SELF.
Not many of us do much introspection of our own Strengths and Weaknesses, our Opportunities and Threats (known as SWOT analysis in managerial jargon). Not many of us are proactive, and hence spend our life reacting to situations. Perhaps we need to pay heed to the simple two words attributed to Adi Sankara: 'Aham Brahmasmi' - I am the Universe, (and therefore I am responsible for all I do).
You cannot always do what you like, but you can certainly like what you do. And because that is difficult, that is challenging. When you meet the challenge, you will be proud of yourself, and that in itself will be a source of motivation.
There are over six billion human beings on this earth. No two humans have the same fingerprint. That is an indicator that each one of us is unique - each one of us certainly has unique characteristics. The need is for us to find that uniqueness, become aware of it, and use it to advantage