This fleeting life…

If you wonder about the transience of butterflies, whose average life span is about month, here is news for you. Our life span of 70-80 years, is also fleeting and transitory, in the face of the age of the universe. We are were now, gone then!

We live only once in this corporeal body in this planet earth. We are then gone forever.

Under these circumstances it is important to be aware of the following
There is no heaven or hell, no swarga or naraga. There is no afterlife, there is no rebirth. Also there is neither a soul nor is there an atman.

This life, this existence, is all that we have.
Given this fleeting existence, in this lonely planet, that is lost in the wilderness of space, does it make sense to fret, fume, worry, be anxious etc.? It really does not make any sense at all. The suffering, pain, anxieties, worries don’t mean anything in the long run. So the next question is why worry, why be anxious etc.?

Unfortunately it is not easy to break out of this cycle of worry, anxiety, anger and other negative emotions as we have been programmed to behave in this way. These emotions that we experience are the result of centuries of conditioning in our mental makeup. This conditioning forces to react in a particular ways.

When somebody hurts our ego we get angry. When we are humiliated we feel hurt. When we imagine some outcome that is contrary to what we expect, we start to be anxious and begin to worry. We can’t get away from this cycle. However it is good to temper all your reactions with the thought, that your emotions, worries and anger are irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. It may not do away with the ill feeling, but it is still worth a try.

The centuries of mental conditioning will cause the neurons to fire is specific ways, and we can’t make the neurons to ‘unfire’. We can’t swim against this tide of emotions which are reactions to events.

While there is no soul or atman, these may be useful mental constructs to some in  helping them to stick to values.  The soul is supposed to be ennobled by good deeds and defiled by bad ones. The atma is above buddhi(intellect), manas (mind) and the indriyas( senses and is synonymous with the Self. Supposedly knowledge of the Self will result in bliss and peace.

But the soul or atman don’t really exist. If one needs to take recourse to these concepts to maintain a value driven life it is fine. But we should be aware that these are just concepts.

I was reminded of this John Lennon song, Imagine
Imagine there is no heaven,
It is easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky

So in essence, in this short span of existence we should live sensibly. We need to look at life in the correct perspective and not get embroiled in imaginary concepts like swarg-narag, heaven-hall, soul-atman.

While we cannot avoid some of the emotions we must be cognizant of the fact that all good and bad experiences must pass and we will leave this corporeal frame forever.

Moving ahead in life

Our life in this lonely planet may be short (~70 years) in comparison to the life of the universe (13.6 billion years). Yet we need to move ahead in this earthly stint of ours. Here are some general tips to move ahead in life.

Become aware of who you are: If you want to move ahead in life the first step that you need to take is to know yourself. You need to understand who you are, where you are in life and where you want to go. Without complete awareness of oneself it is futile to pursue any action for progress.

Introspect and identify your strengths and weaknesses.  We can only understand ourselves, if we inquire into our very own nature. We need to fully understand where we are currently in life versus where we would like to reach in life. This help us know the areas we need to focus on and the areas we need to improve upon.

Talent:  To move ahead we need an adequate amount of talent.  Talent in people occurs in varying degrees. But it is up to each individual to improve on his talent. Even mediocre people can improve their skill and talent in any field they choose, as long as there is ‘deliberate, focused’ practice. While some people are born with talent there are many who acquire the necessary talent through years of perseverance, enthusiasm and dedication. So lack of talent can never be an excuse for not getting to where you want in life. Finally it is attitude, persistence and practice that makes one an expert with all the necessary talent.

Hard work: Perseverance and persistence are the pillars of success in life. One cannot state the importance of this enough. Behind the fame and success of reputed people are years and years of hard work, unswerving dedication and tenacity to not let go. Even successful musicians, sportsmen, scientist have to keep constantly honing their skills to move ahead in their field. Remember the world is full of talented people and there is a constant necessity to push ahead in life besides improving on your skill.

Street Smarts: This skill in a person is often ignored as against other qualities like persistence, talent and hard work.  But in the long run street smarts or ‘savvy’ is clearly what distinguishes winners from the also-rans.  Savvy is knowing which option amongst the many are the one that count. Smarts is being able to strategize and make appropriate plans for success.  Street Smarts in reality, is making the most of the talent and skill that one already has against the competition.  It is knowing the difference on when to strike and when to stay put.

Street smarts requires dollops of common sense. There are many situations where a smarter player is victorious over a more talented player simply because of his cleverness in applying what he knows.  Life is a game where you skill counts as much as your ability to outwit odds stacked against you.

Hence to move ahead in life we need all the work – Self-awareness, talent, hard-work and finally street-smarts.

Make your decisions count

Life is a series of twists & turns , based on the choices we make. Viktor Frankl, in his book Man search for meaning  states that “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response “.

Hence it is necessary that we weigh the options before us and choose wisely. The decisions that we make are important for this journey to be smooth.

We can divide decision making into 3 categories. Decisions can be

  1. a) Emotional or from the heart
  2. b) Rational or from head
  3. c) Based on common sense or largely what is done by people in general.

The choices we make in life will largely depend on one or more of the above 3 factors.  While there will some elements of all 3 in all decisions, one of the above aspects will play a larger role that the others. Different situations require a slightly different responses.

Here are some of my thoughts on how to make judicious choices

Emotional decisions: Emotional decisions happen when the choice that we make is dependent on our feelings. This is decision that is based from the heart. For e.g. making a career choice should eventually come from the heart and not be based of the head. During the early stages of the career we can make a logical or rational choice. But as we become older it is essential that we pursue a career that we love. This career change should come from your heart. It should be your passion in life.  This is because you are less likely to get frustrated when doing something you love.

Rational or logical decisions:  These set of decisions need to made through cold logic and are more from the head. Your initial career choice are better off based on logic, depending on the avenues for future growth. Your investment for the future of your family should be rational. This investment could be your savings, investments or insurance policies and should be based on sound logic.  There is no room for emotion here. You should calculate how much you should set aside for your child’s future studies, marriage etc. It is also good to plan out your retirement savings. If we are recruiting someone for our startup or promoting someone our decision should be more rational and less emotional.

Decisions based on common sense: This is the third set of decisions that one needs to make.  Many a time we will not have the luxury of following our emotions or passions. For e,g, one may a reasonably talented singer or painter. But does it make sense to pursue this as a full-time profession? Maybe. Sometimes one needs to temper this drive and choose a more common sense approach. For e.g. one could take a more sensible route of pursuing a professional course while continuing with one’s passion. Similarly while buying a new house or a new car, oftentimes we will not be able to afford a house in a posh locality nor will be able to buy the sportscar of our dreams. These times our decision needs to be based mostly out of common sense with some amount of emotion and logic.

In most situations in life our decisions will be based on all the 3 components to a larger or smaller extent. We need to be judicious in our choices that we make so that we don’t regret our choices.

We need to make decisions that really count!

God is not a coat-hanger. God is not a wishing-well.

Our lives can be easily divided into 3 categories. Things we can control in life, things we cannot control in life and then things we ‘like to think’ we cannot control in life.

The first 2 categories are obvious. I am more interested in the last category where we simply dump things into a large space meant specifically for the ‘power beyond us’.

Here I am referring to the omniscient and omnipotent God. In this world, many people conveniently shift their responsibility to a supreme being or a divine power.

It is in this context the following 2 points are pertinent

God is not a coat-hanger: There is a notion that God will take care of one’s problems in life. People wish that by praying they can shift their problems to a super natural being. They feel really relieved and are deceived into believing that their problems have gone away. Unfortunately this is not true.

If an omnipotent, omniscient God has decided to dump problems on your lap then he is obviously expecting you to work them out. You can’t tell God ‘No, no you take that!” and wash your hands from the issues in life. You can’t pass the buck back to God. Your problems are your problems. If you wish or pray, life’s problems will not vanish. In some cases providence or coincidence may come to your aid, but you better not hope that it will always happen

In fact, you will be better off taking ownership of your problems and try to resolve then rather than expecting divine intervention on your behalf. The sooner you come to terms with this reality the better it will be for you in the long run.

God is not a wishing-well: This is another popular and prevalent idea in our midst. People wish that their lives turn out a particular way. They may want some career change, a promotion or to cross some academic hurdle.

Some think that if they pray hard enough or make frequent visits to temples, churches or mosques their wishes will be granted. An omniscient and omnipotent God is not keeping scores for each and every one in this world. You will not get extra marks for having uttered God’s name a zillion times nor will you get special favors based on how fervently you prayed.

Your destiny is in your hands. You are the architect of your future. You should be working to make your dreams come true. Remember “the best way to predict the future is to create it. So don’t keep posting all your wishes to God and hope he will respond to it.

We need to be practical in life, take ownership of our problems and also work towards creating the future we desire.

Having said that, I will agree that prayer does give one hope. And hope is essential in our journey through life. But hope alone does not accomplish anything.

Action does!

2 essential paradoxical truths of life

Here are 2 truths that appear paradoxical but are extremely important in different situations in life.

Stop… to progress in life: This statement may appear more absurd than paradoxical. But if you think on this for a while you will realize the truth behind this paradoxical statement. In our daily lives we are in one headlong rush to nowhere. From the time we get up, to the time we go to bed, we are constantly flitting from one task to another.

We browse the newspaper, rush to office, jump from one assignment to another, return home, flip TV channels, do some browsing and then hit the bed. We repeat this ritual every day. We simply react to external events. We could even say that we are driven by external events in our life. It is important that we come to complete halt in our lives. We must hit the pause button every once in a while.

In fact, it would really help if we allocated at least 30-40 minutes every day where we reflected on our lives. We need to see where we are in life and where we want to go to. We need to look inward into our lives identify things that we are doing right and those that we need to change. We could do this by either sitting cross-legged in a meditative pose, or take a leisurely walk. Others may find some mild exercise, meditative. Whatever method you choose it is really essential that you put a halt to the furious pace of your life and spend time introspecting and charting the future course of your action. Hence ‘to make serious progress in life we must come to complete stop and look inward’

Act by doing nothing: This is another seemingly nonsensical statement. Sometimes in life the best course of action is ‘complete inaction’. In fact the Gita claims “a true yogi is one who see action in inaction and inaction in action’. What this implies is that sometimes the best course of action is inaction. At other times action is futile and is equivalent to no action or inaction.

There are times when simply reacting to a circumstance will tend to exacerbate a situation. It may be more prudent to sit still and be patient. We could let ‘time’ play out her card, observe the outcome and then take appropriate action. An example would be not to retaliate to every move made by a foe. Rather it would make more sense to observe what the enemy is trying to do and then deal the fatal blow. So the time we spend appearing to do nothing is the time we spend in observing what the motive of the foe is.

Even In our professional lives there will be times when nothing seems to go right, you may have some misunderstanding with your boss, you may not have delivered up to the expectations or things may not be exactly hunky dory with your colleagues. Rather than taking hasty action it may be sensible to bide your time while you try to set your house in order. You must not take precipitate action but rather sit still. I am reminded of a Kenny Roger’s song, the Gambler, which goes

You must know when to hold to hold ‘em,
Know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away,
Know when to run’

So it is imperative that we know when to act and when not to act. This is critical in life

These 2 paradoxical rules are key to manoeuvring through the alleys of life.

3 essential do’s and don’ts in life

3 essential do’s and don’ts in life

There are 3 do’s and don’ts that are essential in life

Here they are

a) Go after what you need first, then after what you want:

In life it is extremely important that you go after on what you need first. In other words we must focus the bare essentials in life. To some this may be owning a house, to others it may be getting their dream job. Whatever it is focus on what you need first before going after what you want.

In life we may want many things. Some of us want a flashy car to impress our neighbors, others may want the biggest size TV, while still others may want to take a vacation in the Bahamas.

However it is necessary to postpone what you want, till you get what you need first. What this boils down to is that one must address one’s needs before indulging in anything else. Splurge only after you are satisfied that you are financially secure.

b) In the short term – Do what you must, before doing what you want:

In our daily lives we usually have a million and one things to do.  All too often we tend to do what we like and put off what is important because it is slightly distasteful. We procrastinate on doing what we really must because we dislike it. We keep doing things that we like,  till the task that we kept putting off becomes all too urgent and critical.

In my opinion we must first do things that we absolutely must, whether we like it or not before doing what we like. This is very important. By doing what we dislike, yet we must, we get the task over with. That is one less thing to worry about. Once we have this important task out of the way we can spend as much time on things that we like to do

c) In the long term –Do what you like, not what you must:

In the long term however we must do things that we like and not force ourselves doing that we think that we must do.  We should center our lives on things we have a passion for. We should not spend our lives working in jobs that we don’t have any interest in, but we think that we must to provide for the family. Usually there will be avenues to get the job that you like provided, you look for it. In a famous study, one of the chief regrets of people in their death bed was that “they felt that they had wasted their lives living to other people’s expectations rather that doing what they really wanted”.

So in the long term go after what you desire and what you are passionate about.

These three do’s and don’ts are very important in our day to day lives

Getting from here to there in life

There are 3 essential qualities, if you wish to go from where you are to where you wish to be in life. The 3 qualities are

  1. Grit b) Knowing yourself c) Desire and plan

Grit: By far grit is the most important quality that one must possess to get anywhere in life. Grit is the ability to face problems in life head-on and not flinch from the chosen path. It is the quality where one is able to tide over troubles and move ahead in life regardless. In life there will be ups and downs. There are no exception to this rule. Everybody from the rich man to the pauper, from the saint to the sinner will have face changing fortunes. What sets them apart is how they handle their troubles. Do they break under stress or just bend? Does one become stronger in the face of troubles in life? Those who are resilient and possess the inner strength will be able to tide over any troubles and forge ahead in life. So grit is a critical ingredient for success in life.

Know yourself: To get ahead in life another quality that is essential is to ‘know oneself’.

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Know yourself.
Do you know where you  stand in your personal, professional and social life? Know yourself.
Do you know where you are and where you would like to be in 10 years? Know yourself.
Do you know your wants, do you know your needs? Know yourself.

To know oneself, it is imperative that we spend long hours thinking through ourselves, exploring our inner selves. We need to know what it that we desire is and what is it that we really need.

Once we truly understand ourselves we can take active steps to move in the direction of achieving them.

Desire and plan: Unless one pulls the arrow backward, it will not fly towards its target. So to get anywhere we must have the desire to reach the goal at a minimum. Intense desire must be followed up with a concrete plan to achieve the same. A strong motive is necessary. We must sincerely want to achieve something in life. This is not be confused with greed or avarice. Desire and ambition are necessary for the growth of individual. Once we know our destination in life we must strategize properly to reach there. We must monitor our progress as we move along towards out target

Hence to get from here to wherever you desire in life you must fill your life with these 3 important ingredients of grit, knowing yourself and desire.

3 important laws of life

Here are 3 important laws of life which are extremely important to bear in mind while we travel through  life.

Success is never permanent: Whenever we encounter success in anything we  feel really overjoyed and happy. But we must keep our emotions in check and should not go overboard with it. Many times we live in world of imagined greatness for a long time. We must remember that ‘success is never permanent’ and success like all things in life is temporary. We should accept success with graciousness and humility. Success is never a destination and is just an intermediate stop in life.

Failure is never final: This is another important law that we should keep in mind. Whenever we face failure we should not be cowed down by the defeat.When you are down and out remind youself that ‘Even this must pass” and carry on in life. Failure like success is fleeting and not a permanent. To fail is to learn. We must learn from our mistakes and prepare ourselves to do better the next time.

Problems are a fact of life: This is the 3rd essential fact of life. Buddha said ‘Suffering is inevitable”. This is a fact that we should learn to accept and live with. We cannot  wish away our problems. There will be days when things go smoothly and other days when life will seem insurmountable with problems. We must understand that life’s problems and life’s joys happen and we must learn to deal with them with equanimity.

These 3 laws in life are extremely crucial as you go through life.

Success is more about attitude than talent

That’s right! Success in life depends more on attitude than it does on talent. Whenever we think of great achievers like Michael Jordan, Sachin Tendulkar, Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs we usually think that they were born with innate talent. While this right to some extent what we need to understand is, that it was not their talent alone but their attitude to getting things done was what moved them to the pinnacle of success.

While inherent talent is necessary it alone cannot propel you to great heights unless it is accompanied by the right attitude. Talent can only take you that far and no further. To keep advancing we must have the correct approach in life.

All of us have some talent or another. Once we have identified our talent we need to ensure that we adopt the attitude that is required to take us further. Typically I would highlight the following key characteristics of people who excel in life. They are

Patience: This is first and foremost quality that is needed in life. You can have all the talent in the world but if you are impatient you will not get far. As you try to improve the excellence in your skill or talent you must have dollops of patience. You must be willing to make incremental improvements. Sometimes you will hit a road block in the domain which you are trying to achieve excellence whether it may be playing a musical instrument, writing a book or learning technology. It is important that you don’t get impatient when you see little or no progress. You must be willing to try and try a little more. Patient is critical for excellence.

Perseverance: This quality needs to accompany patience. Besides being patient for the results we must have sufficient motivation to continue on the path of improvement. In order to be adept in any field, we must persevere to keep doing better. We must not rest even if we have achieved a fair degree of success in the chosen skill. We must constantly keep honing our skills.

Curiosity: This attitude is what differentiates those who really make a big splash from those who are just great. As we continue to become better in what we are trying to do, be it swimming, playing the guitar or in cricket, we must have the intellectual curiosity to learn new aspects of the skill, game or art. We must experiment with new ideas. We must work constantly in trying to do things not just better but also explore new areas. You should have an unquenchable thirst to learn.

Hard work & grit: Success and fame never happen overnight. They are usually the result of hard work and grit for a long period of time. We should never aim for instant success. Instead, we should strive for enduring success which can only be the result of hard work and the ability to tide over failures. In other words, we must have the grit to take failures in​ our stride and yet lose sight of what we want to achieve.

If you approach life with the attitudes of patience, perseverance, curiosity, hard work and grit you are bound to encounter success. You must constant work in maintaining a balance between these 3 important qualities and you are bound to go a long way in life!