Evermore

 Why think more when less will do,
Why crave madly and let discontent haunt you?
Listen in silence, away from the furore,
Can you hear the beckoning of the changeless evermore?

Rushing waves may make you forget,
Countless emotions their tides might beget,
Lose not yourself in the dark vast shore,
The path lies in the whispers of the soundless evermore

Stand still and you will hear,
Running thoughts with their pointless fear,
Quiescence unlocks your ancient hidden door,
Making you thought-free and fearless evermore  

When life feels too fast or too dizzy to lead,
Stop for a moment and just breathe,
Smell the ever-present now with its joy galore,
Rejoice in your true being, the deathless evermore

Life Mastery: 5 Long-lost Secrets from the Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Internet age has brought in so many ‘Get success-quick!’ and ‘Get-rich quick!’ schemes by cheats, quacks and pseudo-celebrities that it’s sickening. They always make me wonder what happened to the wise masters and their simple wisdom we heard as kids?  What happened to the solid teachings which our forefathers left behind??

This post is my humble effort to re-visit one of my literary heroes and share a few of his powerful lessons with you.

The name Ralph Emerson rings a familiar bell in our head. Most of us remember reading some or the other poem of his way back in school. But few among us are aware that he was also a great thinker who found the basis of Transcendentalism and one of the pioneers in the science of Life-Mastery.

Emerson
Source : Engraving by Stephen Alonzo (Wiki)

Emerson wrote a collection of essays covering a wide array of topics ranging from ‘Intellect’ to ‘Nature’ to ‘Politics’. These essays contain in them some simple yet powerful secrets which have empowered countless individuals in achieving mastery of life.

1) Towards all this external evil, the man within the breast assumes a warlike attitude, and affirms his ability to cope single-handed with the infinite army of enemies. To this military attitude of the soul we give the name of Heroism”

- Essays: First Series – Heroism

 Real evolution occurs only when our very existence is challenged. We either grow stronger or we resign and die. This powerful principle has time and again proven itself to be true. Whether you consider the example of William Wallace burning his boats or Gandhi who decided to make non-violence his supreme weapon, Heroism of the soul always creates massive transformation in individuals.


William Wallace
Source: Alone in the Dark (William Wallace)

 

This can be put to use by re-framing any extreme challenge you encounter. The moment you view the challenge as an adversary who is a threat to your very being, it loses more than half its power over you. Obstacles and challenges are nothing but triggers to awaken your inner-warrior. Show ‘em who you are and awaken the hero within!                               

2) Society is frivolous, and shreds its day into scraps, its conversation into ceremonies and escapes … Character is centrality, the impossibility of being displaced or overset …Character is this moral order seen through the medium of an individual nature … This is a natural power, like light and heat, and all nature cooperates with it”
- Essays: Second Series – Character

The importance of character is slowly dissipating in the world we live in. We have made heroes of wealthy individuals, cunning tricksters and boastful politicians who have gained their wealth and power through frivolous means. We are enamoured by short-cuts to success and spend a lifetime vainly seeking the next ‘quick-fix’ to our problems.

Emerson says the only way to conquer our weaknesses and rise above our present means is through development of a solid character. Character is that changeless entity which, once developed acts as a beacon for right decision making and also instills in us great confidence and clarity. It is the one must-haves if you want to attain success in any sphere of life.

3) “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string…  And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort and advancing on Chaos and the Dark”                                                        - Essays: First Series – Self-Reliance

What is your first response to adversity? Do you calmly assess the situation or just freak out? Most of us panic and start looking around for help. Usually this leads to a state of vulnerability where we are open to advice from almost anyone who is willing to help. More often than not, this impulsive panic leads to worsening of the condition. So what is one to do? Emerson simply says “Rely on yourself”

Einstein
Source: ScriptMag -Dennis Chow

What we often forget is the power of our own potential! All it takes is a little self-reflection to realize that you are at this stage in your life only because you had the power to achieve it. And the strength to tackle any problem thrown at you is already present within you. But to tap this potential consistently, the habit of relying on yourself needs to be practiced. One of the fundamentals of mastering life is to be self-reliant. This is what makes you stand out as a leader and a self-made person. Go ahead. Be fearless and rely on yourself. You will be surprised at what you are capable of!

4) “Do not craze yourself with thinking, but go about your business anywhere. Life is not intellectual or critical, but sturdy. Its chief good is for well-mixed people who can enjoy what they find, without question” - Essays: First Series – Experience

 You never know when you end up encountering elephantine problems! Emerson says that a sturdiness in approach is essential in order to survive this enigma we all call life. No matter how lucky or how prepared we may be, difficult times and roadblocks will always haunt us at sometime.

Inner Peace
Source: China Buddhism Encyclopedia

But by thinking about them too much will only end up giving a power over you. Nothing in life is worth worrying about to such great an extent that it ends up destroying your peace of mind or your health. Give each problem only the amount of attention it deserves and move on. Let the universe take care of the rest!

5) The world exists for the education of each man. There is no age or state of society or mode of action in history to which there is not somewhat corresponding in his life. Every thing tends in a wonderful manner to abbreviate itself and yield its own virtue to him” - Essays: First Series – History

This almost common-sense sounding wisdom is often overlooked by us. We are so busy in blindly flitting between our routine tasks that we forget that there are countless individuals who have done the same in the past! And a few of them realized the futility of it all and left behind simple lessons for the rest to learn from. History is one of the greatest teachers! And it is often waiting for us to access it and seek answers to our questions. Don’t forget to learn from it and remember: ‘There is nothing new under the sun’.

I hope these pearls of wisdom help you in your journey of Life Mastery. Feel free to refer to them whenever you feel the need for hope and courage. And don’t forget to share it with your loved ones.

Cheers!

Eating Elephants – Here and Now!

“Set your goals!”

“If you fail to plan then you plan to fail!!”

“Think Long term!”

If you happen to be above the age of 21, I’m pretty sure you have heard the lines above repeated in different ways dozens of times. Yes I’m talking about Goal Setting.  The concept has been turned upside down, inside out, baked, fried and microwaved to its limits. This is how our goals usually like:

New Year Resolution

I am not against Goal Setting. Its just that I have seen more than 90% of  the people leaving these Goal Setting seminars and workshops all charged up, only to fall back on their usual thought process and behaviour patterns a few days later.Goal setting workshops are almost universally taught to new joiners in organizations.

Fresh faced eager young-adults are taught about the power of goals, attracting success and the latest Goal-setting/success miracle techniques. These sessions hardly add any tangible value and become no more than a good-to-have thing on the training agenda.

Which brings us to the questions we all ask ourselves: How does one plan in life? Am I to plan far or near? How do I balance my long-term and short-term goals? What if it doesn’t work out? Just like most things in life, I believe that there is no definite universal answer to our individual questions. And following a Goal setting model may work for a lucky few, but for most of us its nothing more than a few days of experimentation.

There is this famous quote by a US Army General Creighton Abrams (Yes, the Abrams tanks are named after him) who remarked “How does one eat an elephant? – One bite at a time!”

This quote helps me whenever I’m stuck in a rut. It has been my experience that you can only plan upto a certain limit.

Beyond it, you are just wishing for things which are beyond your control. Direction is definitely a must but true progress happens by continuing to do what you do while looking for fresh opportunities. So if you are at a phase in your life where circumstances are overwhelming and seem insurmountable, realize that even they can be overcome- one step at a time.

You may ask me “Ok. So with your great wisdom this is where I am right now (see image below). What next? How do I move ahead from here?

elephant eater

This is where the power of Awareness comes into play. Once you have decided to attack the problem head on by attacking one part at a time, slow down and be aware of the present reality. The very act of becoming aware  of the present brings with it a refreshing clarity of what resources and modes of action you have available to you now. Not tomorrow, not after a week, NOW.  

Eckhart Tolle sums it up beautifully when he says, “When you take your attention into the present moment, a certain alertness arises. You become more conscious of what’s around you, but also, strangely, a sense of presence that is both within and without.”

And once you have this awareness, your first course of action becomes almost obvious to you. Whether it be that unfinished project which you left behind, a bookmarked internet link you had sworn to re-visit, or even a new way of doing your current job, your own consciousness will present to you that next step which will help you get through the rut.

And gradually, each action you take will take you closer to finishing off that proverbial elephant which has been haunting you all this while!

So whenever frustration and indecision have their claws on you for too long, use the power of awareness plus some elephant-eating skills and chomp-chomp your way to freedom!

Monkey see Monkey do

Monkey see monkey do

Lethargy.Circumstances. Poverty. Responsibilities. Time. Lack of Talent. Luck.

The things people blame for not doing what they always wanted. I am not talking about routine things like going to office and earning a decent paycheck. One way or another we all manage to get motivated to do those. Because our very survival depends on it. And God knows there are enough self-help authors all claiming to convince you that you can self-help yourself by reading more of their books!What I am talking about is the stuff which people dream of yet never do anything to achieve them.

I must confess, I have probably read more self-help books than an average Joe out there. But the motive wasn’t just self-help. I have always been curious to find out what enables some humans to be great while others seem to want greatness equally badly but never achieve it! Is it that they were not born as gifted? Or is it that they don’t put in the required hard work?

It is tragic that the average person seems to put in more hours at work, gets more stressed  and is always dissatisfied despite the back-breaking work he does. Yet, he knows he is nothing more than a survivor living from paycheck to paycheck trying to make sure he has enough saved for a rainy day and hoping he catches a lucky break and makes it big. All this while the successful person seems to waft through life going from high-powered meetings, deals, golf, family and vacations. So what is it that’s really going on??

I believe that the ones who succeed are the people who have the guts to begin what they want and have the courage to fail. The world seems to have conditioned all of us into being so afraid of failure that without knowing we begin to accept mediocrity. We begin to tell ourselves this is the end of the line. That next role, that next title, that next promotion is all we have to compete mindlessly for. Never bothering to stop and ask “Wait. Why the hell am I killing myself trying to achieve something which I didn’t want in the first place!”

Are you also one among those who have forgotten why you started your day job? Do you go to work to do what you love? Or was this job supposed to enable you to achieve what you really wanted? Is your fear of failure so overwhelming that you have forgotten how it is to try something new, fail, dust yourself up with a grin and try the next thing you wanted to? When in doubt always remember the greatest successes started out with bumbling failures. Like the Japanese saying which makes me shake off any fear and helps break my mental barriers – Even monkeys fall from trees!”  So go and try something new today! May the monkey in you rise!

Raining Cats, Stray Dogs: Zen and the Autowallah

 
There is this thing about wisdom. It meets you in unexpected places.
 
It was a cloudy evening in Bangalore. I spent a couple of hours at Blossoms – a book store on Church street housing thousands of books – new and old – making it a bookworm’s paradise. One encounters all sorts of people there – Collectors of interesting books. People who seem to have spent their lifetime in that store just looking for that next book to buy. Average Joes like me trying to get a good price for expensive books. Nerds and Geeks. Good looking girls (Rare occurrence. Just like everywhere else, they seem to come and go just to ensure we don’t forget them. I usually can’t locate them after 10 minutes). Then there are these:
 
a) People searching for weird books -
 
“Excuse me, do you happen to have ‘Does God ever speak through Cats’ by David Evans?”
Store Manager: (Poker face. Thinks for a full 2 minutes pretending to know…) “Try First floor. Near Science fiction”
 
Turns out there is such a book 
 
 
Does God Ever Speak through Cats
 
 
b) People pretending to be filthy rich -
 
“Hey, Hi. I happen to have like two or three thousand Marvel comic books. Will you accept them?”

Store Manager: “Sure Sir. Send them over. We’ll take a look”
 
Dude gets all excited now. Smiles knowingly at his pretend-rich girlfriend and overplays his charity card
 
“You know, I just want other people to also read and enjoy them. Nowadays its rare to find these kind of comics. Haha. Emm by the way… how much do you pay for them?”

Store Manager: (Plays his ace card. He has seen too many of this type) “Sir, it depends. But I think 150-200 rupees is a reasonable price depending on the condition of the books”
 
“Oh wow. Great. I will send my driver tomorrow morning only! That’s terrific!”
 
His girlfriend senses something fishy. She asks the store manager. “You will give 150 rupees for the Superman comics na? The small one..like the 40 page ones? Thin and long?” She shows the dimensions with her hands.

Store Manager:(smirking) “Whaaat madam? For those books we pay 5 rupees to maximum 20 rupees. I thought Saar had original Superman collection”
 
Dude is deflated. His true net worth hovers on his face now.
 
Anyway I digress. So me and my old buddy from college are trying to pick up some cool books at dirt-cheap prices. I get irritated seeing Murakami books are sold at 400 a piece even here. After an hour or so, we finally pick up a few books (Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett) . We see the rain outside and decide to wait it out for another 15 minutes hoping the rain subsides.
 
I decide to re-visit the spirituality section in hope of finding that rare book which would grant me insights into enlightenment and wisdom. I quickly scan the titles. There are the usual Yoga, meditation, Osho books. Then there are books on Buddhism,translations of Upanishads and new-gen Scientology books. Ahh…I finally spot a little Zen book promising quick nuggets of wisdom. I randomly open a page and read this story:
 
A monk asked Joshu, “Has the dog the Buddha nature?”
Joshu replied, “Mu”
(Note: ‘Mu’ in Japanese means ‘No’ or ‘Does not have’)

I rack my brain trying to figure out this one. I don’t get it. I quietly hide the book in the shelf lest someone else gets the story and makes me look dumb. I continue to scan the section trying to see if I can find a simpler book which I can make sense of. The thing is life has this habit of sending me loud signals. As if it knows subtlety might not do the job. And it usually sends me repeated messages just in case I don’t get it the first time. Or the second.
 
First sign: I am happily searching for more books when my phone starts ringing. It’s my girlfriend. She gives me her warning. “Dude I am almost reaching your place. You better not leave me alone with your folks like you did last time” She cuts the call. I sigh and look at the sky outside.  Still heavily raining. I decide to give it another ten minutes.
 
Second sign: I spot a nice looking book which is kept sideways on the top shelf. Kept at a place where only a six-footer like me can reach. It has picture of trees and is green and nice. I smile and reach out. Pick it up and this is what stares at me:
 
How Green were the Nazis
 OK. Someone actually wrote this shit. And it ended up in the Spirituality section. I get the hint. I decide to see what my buddy is upto. He is hovering near the exit looking at something intently. It’s a set of tarot cards. He laughs and opens the deck. He says “Go ahead. Let’s see what your future has in store for you!”
 
Third and final sign: I pick up a random tarot stuck in the middle. This is what I pick up (I am not kidding here. I have a witness for this event)
 
 
Tarot Death
 
 
I do the same exercise with him and he picks up an upside down naked hanging man. He obviously finds it hilarious! I stop thinking about the rain and head towards the exit. Wave a quick goodbye and try catching an auto while getting heavily drenched.
 
Catching an auto in the rain requires tremendous amounts of luck. The auto drivers realize their new leverage and hike up their asking rates. I meet the same fate for a good 10 minutes with them asking me to cough up anywhere between 300 – 500 rupees! Most of them ignoring me while targeting troubled westerners, making them pay atleast 500 rupees for a 30 rupee ride.
 
Finally a serene-looking auto guy stops and asks me my destination. “Rajajinagar!” I blurt out, with rain covering my glasses making it almost impossible to see. He says ‘Kutkoli Saar’ (‘Get in Sir’ in Kannada), turns the meter on and zooms ahead once I am seated. No haggling. No cheap tricks. Pure professionalism.
 
After a while, I settle down and the usual autodriver-customer banter begins. We bitch about the state of roads, Municipal Corporation and the shitty weather. We are ten minutes away from my place. Unable to resist, I ask him why he didn’t ask me for more money when he could have easily got it. He gives me a stunning answer:
 
“Sir, I am a simple, hardworking person. I have heard somewhere that no matter how many corners you try to cut, Karma always catches up with you. I have seen these autowallahs charge hundreds of rupees extra from helpless customers. They don’t realize it but they usually end up losing that money and more in bribing the corrupt cops, repairing their autos which breakdown for no reason or getting caught by moneylenders whom they owe money. I have been driving this auto for 20 years and it has broken down only twice before.”
 
I am at a loss for words. I just smile. He deftly manoeuvres his auto between two cars and continues, “The funny thing is, I have seen some customers who are equally strange. Some are generous and end up giving me an extra 20-30 rupees. Some fight with me for their remaining 1 rupee. People don’t seem to realize that there is no shortcut in life. Either for success, money or fame. No person has the power to be God no matter how much power he accumulates. I guess you need to have nothing at some point of time in your life to understand the value of things.”
 
I nod and agree with him. We near my street and I ask him to bank left. A stray dog barks at us. It suddenly hits me. ‘Mu’. The meaning of the Zen story. All beings do possess Buddha-nature. But the very question of a dog would not exist had the disciple realized his oneness with all beings. The ‘Mu’ was supposed to negate and crush the student’s personal barriers and concepts and set him free.
 
The auto reaches my place. The meter shows 130 rupees. I thank the auto driver, pay him 150 and get out.
 
Is there any point searching for wisdom outside? In books, thoughts, lectures or speeches?
 
Mu!