‘Deep cleansing’ of your ‘Mind’

Have you ever thought about how much time, money and effort we invest in keeping ourselves and our environment clean?

Cleansing our body of toxins and the release of muscle tension are parts of what we now know as holistic medicine. A whole industry worth billions of dollars exists helping people become fit and appear beautiful and handsome. We as a society have become obsessed with putting on a show. We want to appear well and present ourselves in the most pristine of shapes in front of others. We use the best tooth brushes (now even electric), the most expensive toothpaste claiming miraculous effects on your smile, use the best of detergents to clean our clothes, kitchen counters, baths; buy designer dresses to look good and spend lots of money in health club membership; all these to look good to others and feel good (is what we assume) for oneself. I see that we like to carry purified water, hand wash liquids and have air purifiers at home and are so much concerned about keeping our environment pristine in order to keep our body and energy levels in top shape.

It’s indeed a curious case that with so much preoccupation on cleansing our body and environment we feel no real need to cleanse our mind from those aspects which can sour attitudes, block our intuitions, tear apart relationships and make us go into a downward spiral of darkness and misery.

What is the use of having a pristine physical environment which is sparkling clean of all dirt and grime but which is filled with garbage internally?

We throw out physical garbage from our homes daily but do we do that with our minds?

Most of us seem to carry our daily mental garbage to the next day and beyond, not to speak of debris which we have been carrying over of a lifetime. We seem to be carrying garbage bins on every dimension of our life; on self, society, relationships, family, work, money, health, and even nation. We do not spend enough time everyday sifting through the mental notes and throwing out the unwanted on a daily basis.

The outcome then will be very similar to what would happen when you accumulate physical garbage over long periods (garbage dump); it will start to stink. You will have stench emanating in all aspects of your life and then it will start to effect your external appearance as well.

While it is easy to clear of physical garbage, it takes a lot more time and effort to remove the accumulated garbage of the mind. More so if you have been accumulating it over long periods. Our life might be like the overstuffed refrigerator containing many unused items of the previous months to our wallet which has bills and papers of the past several months.

Why not start to cleanse our mind of the garbage on a daily basis? Starting today?

Make a list of the garbage you are carrying right now. Typically those would be your worries, feedback to someone which you have not given, fears which arose today and so on. Now look at which ones you can control and the one’s which you can’t. The one’s you cannot control just strike them off the list (for example; someone’s behavior) and the one’s you can control (like the feedback to be given) – do something about it and do not accumulate it to turn into resentment or anger. Be done with them on a daily basis. Start the next day with a clean slate and keep reminding yourselves that you will dump your daily mental garbage at the end of the day. Remember there are a few which are bio-degradable and few which are not. Learn to understand the difference.

Don’t end up becoming a walking talking trash can full of garbage inside. There is no fun in looking sparkling clean from the outside and stinking from within.

What garbage are you carrying today? Are the bio-degradable? What do you want to do?

Throw them at least by mentioning in the comments. It will lighten you up a little…

Path To Happiness🙂

Today’s walk in the park with my wife turned out to be very interesting and meaningful. It started with her asking me the question “What keeps you calm and happy at all time?” This was not the first time we were having conversations around the topic of ‘happiness’. It is one of my favorites. After interacting with over 500,000 people over 25 years of my consulting practice, I have come to the conclusion that the following five points will certainly be a good starting point in your quest for happiness.

  1. Stop judging ‘What is right and wrong?’

One man’s right is another man’s wrong. When you get caught up in judging the rights and wrongs of others action, you start to observe a sense of calm coming over your mind. Most often I see people expend their precious energy in trying to prove oneself right and others wrong. It happens in family, workplace and in the environment we live in. You might have observed that the moment you get into such a discussion where the attempt is to win the argument in your favor, conflict arises and leads to destructive mindsets. You start to throw judgments, insinuations, insults at each other and a toxic climate engulfs your relationship and more importantly your mind. Make it your daily affirmation “that there are no rights and wrongs in this world; and I am not charged with the responsibility to prove otherwise”. In fact I’ve seen that when I make it as a ground rule in some of my workshops, participants become more intent on learning than expending their energy in proving me or each other wrong during deliberations.

  1. That there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’

It is an extension of point one.   The moment you start to qualify things as good or bad, you get caught up in your own mental tangles. What was good today could turn bad tomorrow and vice versa. There is no good or bad; there are only experiences to learn from . If things have gone bad today – learn the lessons it provides you and if they have gone good still learn the lessons and celebrate the moment. Again this has to be an inward looking exercise and not one to judge others.

  1. Stay away from ‘expectations’ and ‘comparisons’

I think the biggest contributors to unhappiness in you is getting caught up in the whirlpool of expectations and comparisons; especially of and with others. When you have expectations of others and they fail to meet those, it leads to unhappiness, bad feelings about the person and also a constant conflict affecting relationship. Be focused on what you ‘expect’ to do than what you ‘expect of others’ and that will release you from the cycle of unhappiness. You know already that what is under your control is your action and not of others. You will find that such mismatched expectations are at the root of all conflicts whether in family, workplace or even in society. Expectations also force us to become attached to the outcome more than the process. You stop enjoying the process or the journey. The other contributor to unhappiness in people is the constant ‘comparison’ with others. You must understand the fact that you will always be having someone around you who has probably got more in life than you. When you compare your life with those of others you will have a tendency to feel inadequate and depressed. This problem has accentuated in our life with the proliferation of social media. I’ve seen people getting depressed over trivial issues like someone getting more ‘likes’ to their posts than theirs, having more friends in the network, going places where you have not gone, wearing designer clothes which you only dream of, happy family pictures which you don’t have yourselves to post, higher position, more money and the list is endless. If you start to compare you end up caught in the quicksand and there is no way out of this state. It is therefore best not to compare your life with others.

Now you might ask, how then do I improve? I say ‘compare you must, but with your yesterday’ and look at how far you have progressed. That’s an inward looking process which can help you enjoy your journey to the fullest.

  1. Learn to be an ‘observer’ of all things

You don’t have to get caught in the drama being enacted by others. Learn to be a silent observer of all happenings and see how it starts to change your mental state. Many of us seem to have an ‘itch’ to be trying to solve other peoples problems and get involved in others life a little more than necessary and sometimes even when others are not asking for it. You would have realized that when you start participating in the drama of others, you get drowned and before you realize you feel the stress yourselves. Visualize others as beautiful mermaids in the sea. If you choose to extend your hand then be prepared to be pulled down under as well. It is your choice. This happens specially in situations when others are sharing their problems with you. What they expect of you is to be just a listener and not be part of the drama. It may seem like they are crying for help and want you to get involved, but don’t unless asked for. By just being an observer and keen listener you actually help them to make their choices and move on. In fact I find people have stopped observing and are simply going through their daily routines in a purely mechanical fashion. They have stopped enjoying the beauty of the nature, songs of birds, the rhythmic symphony of the rains, the wonderful aroma of wet earth. People have eyes but are not ‘seeing’ anymore.

  1. Do what you are ‘naturally’ inclined to

I observe that most people are involved in activities or jobs in their life which may not be in alignment with their nature. Engineers who would have loved to be artists, Doctors who always dreamt of being musicians and so on. Right from school days you are somehow made to live a life which seems to be pre-defined for you. Your natural inclinations are suppressed or channelized towards more safer and secure (that’s what the others would like to make you believe) options. I have met so many of my workshop delegates who share that if they had a choice they would have loved to do something else than what they are currently doing. This is the primary cause of stress in people today. When you do as your nature, you are in the flow and you get a great sense of satisfaction doing it. A bird is better of flying than be in a cage. Do you feel stuck in the ‘cage’ called life? It’s time to be back to ‘nature’.

These 5 points were top of my list towards a more happy and contended life.

What are yours? Share in the comments below – it might just make someone happy…..

Mindfulness to ‘No Mind’ – a journey worth taking?

“Be mindful; stay calm; stay still; be observant; become self-aware; meditate; or why don’t you learn meditation?   I’ve heard all this and I’m sure you did as well?”

The funny side of this story I heard from many people is that “I did try many   and have gone to meditation camps and retreats and even holidays but have achieved little”.  One of my acquaintances said that she was looking around at the ecstatic people in one such session she attended and wondered what the others are going through which she is unable to see or feel? She felt that she was coming under pressure to demonstrate that she is going through great experiences just to be feeling part of the group and so that her husband who took her to one such place doesn’t feel offended. She asked me “Sree is it any good to go and meditate? Does anything come out of it? Have you ever felt the need to meditate?”

I could completely relate to this as I myself have been through similar experiences and see that people who recommend you to such courses feel offended when you tell them that you got nothing out of it or you felt it was a complete waste of time. I also realize that they are probably so caught in by the fancy and the make-believe world of such camps. They probably are also under tremendous stress themselves to justify being there in the first place.

They don’t want to look like idiots who went and spent their time and money on such courses which offered nothing. I somehow feel that they are trying to convince themselves by trying to convince others about the benefits. Some I have seen become aggressive after attending such sessions. They seem to have changed for the worse. They attack those who have a different view contrary to what their gurus have told them. In fact they become the very opposite of what they set out to achieve. They start ‘minding’; ‘become restless’; ‘keep moving’; ‘become less observant of everything else’; and highly ‘stressed’ and move around with a mask of fake serenity and shmuck smile which can be easily perceived by keen observers.

Not for once am I rejecting the idea of meditation or its power. My problem is that the self-proclaimed gurus need to tone down and stop claiming esoteric benefits arising out of meditating. Stop telling stories with imaginative goals and outcomes the challenge to which is brushed off by statements like “you are not yet there” ; “these are things which are difficult to explain” ; “you have to experience it to believe it” and so on…

What is important is to set the objectives clear and also let people understand the ‘why’? behind the process.

Let me explain. What happens when you are asked to close your eyes during meditation? What is the purpose really? I don’t think I need to start setting an objective here that would lead to an early judgment. When you close your eyes, you find that your other senses become alert and their signal strength becomes strong. Especially so your ‘ears’. You start to hear even the sound of the wind blowing ever so slightly; which by now we would have stopped sensing as that has become part of ourselves, our subconscious or our conditioning. We’ve got so used to the noise around us that we hardly pay attention.

It’s to do with our eyes as well. If you are a regular at the park for your morning walk, the initial few days or even month your eyes will see all the beauty around in the greenery, flowers, the path you tread, the people around, the fragrances etc. But over many months, our eyes stop observing and we just go through the motion as our body has been turned into an auto-pilot. It’s a pattern and our eyes do not really need to exert itself unless it finds a serious block staring right at our face. The plants would have grown ever so slightly and the buds would have started to appear but we keep to our walks and running and whatever we go there for. We express our surprise when as we term “all of a sudden” we find that flowers have blossomed and look so beautiful. You know it is not sudden, but a slow and gradual process of growth. However, we express our pleasant surprise. What this means is that we have never really cared to observe .

It happens in our relationships as well. When you first meet your date and the initial days of your romance, you are so full of observing even the slightest of aspects in each other. You admire the beauty in all detail. Gradually there comes a time when we are just talking and stopped observing. In fact even the talking has sometimes turned to ambient noise as you get used to each other and the pattern sets in. At times you even don’t realize the subtle changes happening in the person whom you knew before. You will find that when you stay away for few months or even a year and then meet someone, you are able to observe the changes in each other. You hear parents or friends tell you “hey you have lost weight”; “you’ve grown taller”; “you look different”; and so on.

What does it mean for us. That there is an initial image which we see and then become comfortable with and after that we continue to operate with that image in mind for the rest of our life. Maybe that is the reason why the cliché’ “first impression is the best impression”. Don’t you think that can change? Does it not change over a period? Are you willing to go beyond the first impression?

For that to happen, you need to shut out the past image to look at the present. For that you need to close your eyes and open again. I can tell you with the experience of my interactions with my mom, who is a great cook and used to dish out mouthwatering delicacies on request during my growing up years. Now she has turned 83 but I am still living with the same old image which I have carried of her. Whenever, I visit her I expect her to do the same , dish out some of my favorites. I fail to see (truly) and it needs a reminder from her from time to time that she is not the same person anymore. She has aged, her body is not agreeing to the demands of work etc. That is when I actually start to observe the changes which have occurred to her body. It is not that I would not be concerned, but we get so patterned in our seeing that we have actually stopped seeing. We need to first stop this ‘patterned seeing’ and start probably ‘deliberate seeing’ as a child would do or as you did when you met your date for the first time.

Coming back to why we need to close our eyes for long hours before we open them again is to just stop our ‘patterned seeing’ and start ‘deliberate seeing’ or ‘being observant’ as some masters would say. To observe the subtle changes that have taken place in the environment around us. To discard the images of the past and to be seeing in the present. You know – all that matters is the present.

There is a residual benefit which arises out of keeping your eyes closed.  Your ears become much more active and alert to sounds in the environment around you. You will find that when you work in a highly noisy environment for long periods or if you had a creaking door, a noisy ceiling fan, initially you will be irritated by its noise and your attention keeps getting drawn to it. You don’t want to hear that but your ears somehow keep focusing on it.

This is for me is another funny aspect of setting goals for your senses. When you tell them to ‘not do’ certain things they seem to be doing it more. I am sure you would have experienced it yourself, When you say “I don’t want to see that anymore” is when you start seeing it more, when you “don’t want to hear something” you hear it more as well. So as part of your meditation, my suggestion is do not set yourselves goals. Don’t expect anything from it and your senses will automatically do the job they are intended to do for your safety and growth. You would also find that over period of time these noises or sounds become part of your life and then you are no longer irritated, excited or worried about these noises. In fact you won’t even notice they exist. It becomes a pattern and you stop hearing.

The same happens in your relationships as well, with your parents, teachers, friends, fiancée , co-workers and the whole lot of people who you regularly interact with. With your parents, if you hear them talk the same talk with you all the time, over time you will start to take them as ambient noise and totally ignore the content. Especially so if it is something critical about you (which is mostly the case in our growing up years). When criticism about us becomes repetitive, they become a pattern and then we stop listening or ignoring. We no longer look at the content of the messages around us. We do not give importance to their existence. Similarly with your fiancée or co-workers or friends, in the initial stages of our relationship we are all ‘ears’ as we say to whatever is being said, but over a period of time we start to take things for granted as , maybe it has become a ‘patterned talk or noise’. You learn to live with it and not pay much heed to what is being said. We also get into the patterned response based on ‘who is saying it’ rather than looking at ‘what is being said’.

To understand what you have been missing as part of your sense of hearing you must take off to a remote jungle and close your eyes for a while , you will hear so many wonderful sounds around you that it will give you a great sense of energy. You will hear the birds chirp, the slithering of a snake nearby, the monkeys , the running deer, the roar of a distant lion or tiger, the water flowing in a nearby creek… Oh! there will be so many that you will be overwhelmed, you would have never experienced before. In fact you would also find that your sense of ‘hearing’ becomes essential for your survival.

It’s the same with a mother and child relationship. When you are just an infant the mothers sense of hearing is so high that even the slightest movement in the crib will alert her of your needs. As you grow and start to speak and start demanding from her through speech on a regular basis, she starts to shut out the pattern. You would have come across some parents who remain calm and seem to be conveniently ignoring a hyper active child who throws things around, creates a scene and makes a lot of noise even in public places. You start to wonder what kind of parenting they have. Actually it’s nothing to do with their parenting, it is that they have got used to the pattern of this noise and you have not. It is irritating you because it is away from the pattern of silence which you so got used to.

So when you shut your eyes during meditation, you are actually allowing your ‘sense of hearing’ to be rejuvenated and soak in all the ambience. So it is first important not to find a quiet place during meditation, but to start your meditation practice in a noisy place. Shut your eyes and exercise your sense of hearing. Learn , comprehend and grow from it. Expose yourselves to different environment lest you get used to the same noise as of the creaking door.  That is exactly why when you talk to different people you get different perspectives. The social media forums are one great place which demonstrate this aspect. It is also important to realize that you must not talk about the same things again and again with the same person. It will turn into pure ambient noise. Start talking about varied topics with your acquaintances to keep the energy in the relationship.

This is also amply evident, when you are on your first date, you talk about so many things about each other and your interests which you are not aware of . That keeps the interest alive. Imagine you meet regularly and speak about the same things every day, then you are surely heading for an early split out of sheer boredom or pattern. Try listening to people with your eyes closed and see how well you receive the content and then judge for yourself about the power of closing your eyes during meditation. More than looking inwards, it is first to make you aware of your other senses.

Now let’s say you cannot ‘See’ or ‘Hear’ anything. Your sense of smell will be the first to awaken and have a heightened level of alertness. You start to sniff for familiarity or to learn about the environment you are in. Have you ever had a meal in a place called “Dialogue-in-the-Dark”? You will know what I mean. This place gives a perspective of the world from the eyes of the blind. You are served food on your table and the entire restaurant is pitch dark. You cannot see anything whatsoever and are dependent only on the sense of touch, smell, hearing and speech. When the food arrives on your table, your sense of smell becomes active and tries to guess the dish first based on the aroma. You must try this place once if you have to experience what I am saying.

When you shut out your ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ your ‘nose’ becomes active and starts to catch the smells around. That’s why when someone sneaks in from behind you, you are able to smell it and react to the situation accordingly. The adage ‘sniff you out’ is an indicator of this ability. But again, if you get too used to the smell over a period of time it becomes a ‘patterned smelling’ and you no longer feel its presence around you.

A person who works as a driver in the ‘garbage clearing truck’ of the municipal corporation will get so used to the smell around such work that he won’t mind it or it is part of his job so goes unnoticed as opposed to the truck moving past you and leaving a foul smell around. When you are alone and with your eyes closed and ears shut or used to the patterned noises around, is when you start to get the varied smell of nature. It’s like those animals which have such a powerful sense of smell that they can identify their prey or hunter from miles away. A baby is known to sense first by smell of its mother and gets excited by her presence nearby. Similarly you could tell if your fiancée sneaks in from behind by the familiar smell even though you have not seen or heard them coming. It’s by the smell that early man was able to identify whether a fruit can be eaten or not. That’s probably why we use the terms like ‘sweet smell’ etc. while describing some objects of interest.

Try going to a sound-proof room and switch off all lights and remain there for half-hour or more and you will experience the shift to this third sense of ‘smell’. The reason why many saints meditated in caves was to also shut out the ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ for long periods. To enjoy the food you eat and relish its taste manifold, we must take in the aroma first. It really sets your digestive juices flowing not just in your tummy but in your mouth as well. That’s why we either get put off by the smell or taken in by it when we enter a restaurant or an eatery. Some smells are pungent and off putting and some really attractive. You might observe if you have a baking or cookies/chocolate counter right in the front of the eatery, the sweet smell of baked cakes or the vanilla is quite a pull. I suggest you must indulge at times by ‘deliberate smelling’ of your environment and keep exercising your sense of smell. Don’t just wait for something out of the ordinary. You are living with some wonderful aromas around you. Make your life smell sweet.

Again focusing our attention to the aspect of meditation and the impact it has on our senses. Let’s now look at our sense of ‘speech and taste’. When you keep your mouth closed or shut for long duration, the first sip of water will taste very sweet. But when you have a lot of water, your attention then shifts to your tummy than on the taste of water. Water is an elixir of life only in limited amounts and as much as you need, else you have a chance of drowning in it.

We have been similarly taught right from childhood that you must ‘chew’ your food slowly and deliberate paying attention to the varied flavors. It is not just good for your digestion but also to elevate your sense of tasting food. When it becomes a routine or pattern is when you lose all sense. Today you find people talk of grabbing a bite and are eating while they are conversing, driving or running for work or school. No deliberate chewing, no sense for taste. People actually are taken by surprise when you ask them what they ate for breakfast. They have to pause, at times think long to recall what they actually ate. The reason is that eating has become a pattern and you have lost all sense for taste. Eating while watching TV at home, at the dining table or during a meeting takes away the pleasures coming out of your sense of taste.

There is another role your mouth plays and that is to produce the sound of speech. People do pay attention when you speak little. But when you keep rambling on then it becomes more of a noise for them and less focus is on the content of what you speak. Try keeping quiet or keeping your mouth shut for one day and feel the difference. It not only helps you to elevate your sense of hearing, listening and/or comprehending what is being said but after a long pause when you speak, people will pay attention. Great speakers therefore you would have noticed use the pauses very well to bring your attention to what they are saying. You find that speaker who go on and on during meetings, presentation or any other event lose the attention of their audience as their speech turns more of a noise than anything of substance.

In India, there is a concept of ‘maun vrat’ – its basically about remaining silent for the whole day or week or at times month or two. This helps the person to start with a heightened sense for all other senses and learn and grow more from the environment. Isn’t it the same when a stealth team in combat keeps absolute silence while moving in on the target lest they get caught in the act and in an ambush. There are many areas in our life when keeping quite will be of great help. A verbal slanging match with your spouse, co-worker or boss may end up more as a noise pollutant than achieve any purpose. It is exhausting as well.

Meditation helps you to practice shutting out this sense for some time such that you derive the maximum benefits from your other senses. You can probably recollect several such instances in your life where you would have felt ‘silence’ would have been a great option to choose. It is a good pause to take.

We have now looked at the senses of ‘seeing’, ‘hearing’, ‘smelling’ and ‘tasting/speaking’ in the context of meditative practice. Let’s take it a little further and see what would happen when you have no sense of touch as well.

What I mean is when you ‘stay still’ without movement or touching anything. Initially your butt may ache by sitting in the same posture, but over time it gets used to the floor or the chair you are sitting on and loses all sense for it – you can say, becomes numb to it. In this state you must not even use a ‘japa mala’ or ‘rosary’ to meditate. Nothing whatsoever. That’s precisely when your attention shifts to your sixth sense ie, your ‘mind’. Your thoughts start racing and reflecting on several things at one time. It starts in a very chaotic fashion and then one by one starts to peel into information which has been resident in your mind. Mind you, you can only think of or reflect on what you have already experienced and build on it.

This is one area which will take a long time to shut out. Our mind is so vast and the information stored and the thoughts it generates is bigger than the mighty oceans. You keep on reflecting on various aspects of yourself and the transactions you have had during your existence in this world. As you keep at it for prolonged durations, there might come a point where you have exhausted everything; every little detail you have recollected; right from your birth to this very moment. There is nothing more. Your imagination has run wild enough to be exhausted. It goes blank. That is the moment of ‘No mind’ It gets refreshed like a baby’s mind. You rediscover the child in you and you reach the state of ‘divine’ like the baby.

If you have ever stared at a infants face, you will find the tranquility, serenity, the innocence, the beauty which brings a smile onto your face; a state of blissful existence. The attempt of meditation is to reach that state of ‘no mind’ to rediscover yourself and the child in you.

That’s the reason why when you are in the presence of great masters and you look at them, you will find a child like tranquility in them, a state of ‘no mind’.

When you look at the picture of Christ, Buddha, Krishna or any evolved being you will not be able to attach any specific emotion to them. They will start reflecting your image onto you cause they don’t have any. They are the masters of ‘no mind’. Meditation therefore leads you to possibly Christ consciousness, Buddha consciousness or Krishna consciousness. All mean the same – a state of ‘no mind’.

I hope I have succeeded in some way to explain the act of meditation and where it leads to?

Meditation according to me is therefore a simple process of you taking the journey of the deliberate acts – ‘mindfulness’ to a state of ‘no mind’. It is a state of ‘thoughtlessness’ and suspension of all sensations quite like that brief moment during an orgasm.

Attachment – great enemy of personal growth and Self-realization

Attachment – great enemy of personal growth and Self-realization

Heavy rains lashed the small hamlet of ‘Samsara’ (material world) situated at the banks of the mighty river ‘Gyana’ (Knowledge). The river started to swell to dangerous proportions and slowly started inundating the streets. The village elders and wise men quickly assessed the situation and made a decision to leave the village with whatever they could carry. They knew from experience that once the river reaches such levels there will be devastation all around and nothing will be left of the village. It was in the people’s best interest to leave immediately. As the whole village started their migration the elders saw that one of the members was still at home and unwilling to come along. It was ‘Aham’ (Self)  who took pride in his intelligence and higher levels of education. When asked, he curtly replied to the village head, “You people are fools, running away at the slightest of provocation. I was taught to be determined and persistent and so shall I be.

‘Aham’ had amassed lots of wealth and possessions since the time he started to work in the city and had built a house of his dreams which was the cynosure of all in the village. He was just not willing to abandon everything and run away. He was worried that others will steal all he had, while he was away, so he decided to stay put in spite of the persuasive efforts of his elders.

The story goes that ‘Aham’ drowned in the fury of the river and died. After the water receded the villagers found his body lying in the slush, clinging on to some of his possessions. Alas! what use was it now? Most of us cling on in this fashion – to our thoughts, ideas, positions and are so stuck up that we are unwilling to listen, understand, comprehend and adapt. We are simply not willing to ‘let go’.

Are we not all ‘living dead’ like ‘Aham’?

How ‘labeling’ destroys your life and Self-awareness’?

Labelling comes with a huge cost; the cost of pre-defined boundaries, prejudices, stereotypes and more importantly your inability to become more self-aware.

Right from the time you are born to death ‘labels’ follow you all along and these somehow start to guide or misguide your life.  Precisely the reason most are not completely satisfied with the way they lead their life or it currently is.

Let me explain this with a few examples.  As a child when you are labeled as a ‘brat’ most people around you tend to expect a certain brashness in your behavior and in every action of yours they see a little bit of it.  Repeatedly then name-calling you or terming you that way you start to believe that indeed you are one and continue to rebel against this.  The more you rebel to get to your core identity the more you are labeled and this cyclic process is what you get caught in.

There are innumerable examples like this.  The moment you see a bird which has already been labeled a ‘parrot’, ‘peacock’, ‘woodpecker’ a ‘crow’ an ‘owl’ a ‘vulture, you stop seeing the real beauty of its flight, its color, its character.  So much so that you stop observing.  It ends up just as a tick mark that you spotted a ‘labeled’ bird.

The list of such labelling can go on and on including sensitive ideas like ‘god’, ‘satan’, ‘secular’, ‘communal’, ‘democrat’ and ‘republic’.

The reason I raise this topic for discussion is to ask you this “Did you become self-aware of the several labels you came across in your life?”  “Was it a pre-defined one?”  “How has it impacted you?”

Is it true about yourself?  What have been the labels given to you/on you?

Did you ‘label’ this article in your mind even before you started reading?  What impact/influence did it have?  Did you try to be more aware of the questions I am trying to raise?

Only when you take off the ‘labels’ will you truly enjoy in complete awareness.

Does Your HR Team Feel Threatened By Freedom?

I take the risk of offending many of my friends in the HR community and if this attempt triggers a level of introspection I would have achieved the purpose of writing this blog.

I have found that in most organizations it’s their Human Resource specialist who come in the way of employees reaching their potential. They become counter-productive to the very idea for which they were put in place in the first instance. To the extent that most employees find their HR being hypocritical while propounding organizational values, vision, mission and the people development strategies.

This happens solely because the HR Manager is not comfortable with the idea of ‘Freedom’ for employees to choose their developmental path. He feels that he has the ‘monopoly’ on the HR developmental models and considers that the rest, i.e., the non-HR people do not have any idea of how people development takes place.

Many start-off with a grand plan of ’empowering employees’ and the moment they find that empowerment is taking away the control from them, they tend to bring in systems which come in the way of true empowerment. The switch to the traditional command and control models which gives them the authority to decide and dictate the career trajectory of the employee in his organization.

They get so much obsessed with the models and frameworks which they learnt in their management programs that they start to move away from reality and implement processes which prove to be counter-productive. In fact, I have in my experience seen that many HR Managers while complaining about the lack of people management skills of their technical managers get jittery when they see that the tech. manager is starting to take charge of all developmental needs of his team members. They sense a lack of control and start to intervene and object to reclaim their so called exclusive terrain.

By doing this, they are getting caught up in the game of survival. They want to protect their turf and remain relevant in the organization. They are confronted with the fear that if they give too much of freedom to the line managers, they will lose their relevance and end up doing only mundane job of administering HR policies of the company. This I feel is a great disservice to the very idea of their existence.

Let’s face it, HR in many technology companies to be particular are not held in high regard. They are considered to be the one’s who are existing to just to administration of policies and procedures and nothing significant which contributes directly to the organizations bottomline. In fact in some organizations because of the rigid theoretical approach of their HR Managers, they have started to look at getting in more diverse non-HR people into the departments. You can call it just challenging the hegemony of the HR specialist. In fact in Google, apparently only one-third of their people operation team is with an HR background and the rest are leaders from other functions or roles; like Strategic Management experts, Consultants, Data Analytics professionals etc. It’s not a surprise that Google has emerged almost 30 times at the top of the ‘Great Place To Work Institute’ ranking.

Human resource managers therefore must not be obsessed with the idea of command and control and let go of their monopoly. They must be willing to abandon practice and policies and keep innovating to remain relevant and up-to-speed with the rapidly change workplace requirements. Only then would the organization they work for, achieve true freedom in achieving their goals.

Are You Suffering A Burnout? Check-Out The 12 Stages…..

Burnout is the same. It only comes in different degrees, from your common “I just can’t wait for the weekend” to far more serious “I need a really long break, something like a sabbatical to reevaluate my life” kind of burnout.

Frequent bouts of cold, backaches, headaches, body aches, fatigue are just an early sign that you are getting burnt out. If you are just trying to address them using plain medication then you are heading for a dreaded future of irreversible damage to your health.

Here is a list of 12-stage model of burnout developed by psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North which you may use to check whether you have reached there already or almost have…..

  1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself: demonstrating worth obsessively; tends to hit the best employees, those with enthusiasm who accept responsibility readily.
  2. Working Harder: an inability to switch off.
  3. Neglecting Needs: erratic sleeping, eating disrupted, lack of social interaction.
  4. Displacement of Conflicts: problems are dismissed; we may feel threatened, panicky, and jittery.
  5. Revision of Values: Values are skewed, friends and family dismissed, hobbies seen as irrelevant. Work is the only focus.
  6. Denial of Emerging Problems: intolerance; perceiving collaborators as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined; social contacts harder; cynicism, aggression; problems are viewed as caused by time pressure and work, not because of life changes.
  7. Withdrawal: social life small or nonexistent, need to feel relief from stress, alcohol/drugs.
  8. Odd Behavioral Changes: changes in behavior obvious; friends and family concerned.
  9. Depersonalization: seeing neither self nor others as valuable, and no longer perceive own needs.
  10. Inner Emptiness: feeling empty inside and to overcome this, look for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs; activities are often exaggerated.
  11. Depression: feeling lost and unsure, exhausted, future feels bleak and dark.
  12. Burnout Syndrome: can include total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.

As you can see, symptoms of burnout range from mild but worrisome behaviors you probably encounter every day at work (perceiving colleagues as stupid, cynicism) to utter collapse. Obviously, you want to avoid the most severe ones, but the trick to doing that is to pay attention to more subtle signs rather than dismissing them as an unavoidable part of a hard-charging professional life.

It’s easier to cure any condition if you catch it early, after all, and that includes burnout. So don’t shrug off early warning signs just because they seem mild. If they’re ignored, far bigger problems could be lurking down the road.

Great Leaders Often Spend Time – To See How Others See Them! Do You?

An elderly gentleman went to the Doctor and with a complaint about a gas problem. “But,” he told the Doctor, “it really doesn’t bother me too much. When I pass gas they never smell and are always silent. As a matter of fact, I’ve passed gas at least 10 times since I’ve been here in your office. You didn’t know I was doing it because they don’t smell and are silent.”

“I see,” the Doctor replied as he examined him. When he was finished, he wrote a prescription and handed it to his patient. Take these pills three times a day and come back to see me next week,” he instructed.

The next week the gentleman was back. “Doctor,” he exclaimed, “I don’t know what medication you gave me, but now my gas… although still silent… stinks terribly!”

The Doctor retorted, “Good! Now that we’ve cleared up your sinuses, let’s work on your hearing.”

An extremely useful step in our leadership development is seeing myself as others see me. So I need to understand their perceptions of my behavior. My effectiveness in leading, relating to, or working with others is highly dependent on their perceptions of me. I may not agree with what they see, but their perception is our reality. Those around me have an opinion of who they think the real me is. Their perceived “truth” becomes the way they treat me. Their perception forms their part of the reality of our relationship.

The discussion of perceptions is often a thorny one as we work with individuals, teams, and organizations to improve their effectiveness. For example, we tend to define levels of service or quality through our own eyes and values. That may not be the way our customers or partners define it. There is no objective definition. There is only the reality that I see, you see, he sees, or she sees. Our personal perception is our personal reality. There’s no accounting for taste. Everyone forms his or her own opinion no matter how wrong we may think it is. If we’re going to improve the service or quality delivered, we need to first understand how those we’re serving, or producing for, perceive service or quality.

Like beauty, service, quality, honesty, or integrity, leadership is in the eye of the beholder. I judge myself by my intentions. Others judge me by my actions. My intentions and the actions that others see may be miles apart. Unless I know that, I am unlikely to change my actions or try to get others to see me differently. I can become trapped in their reality and get very frustrated when they don’t respond to me as I’d like.

Getting feedback from others on our personal behavior is tough. It often hurts. The truth may set me free, but it will likely make me miserable first. When we get feedback, we nod our head to the positive and supportive statements that agree with our own views. However, when it comes to our weaknesses or improvement areas we take those to heart and sometimes dwell far too heavily on them. We can get ten rave reviews for work we’ve done and one critical comment. That one comment hurts. If we’re not careful, it can fester into doubts and a loss of confidence. As a result, the truth that may set us free of our less productive habits becomes the truth we prefer not to hear. That’s human nature. What stunts our personal growth and gets us stuck in a rut is when we refuse to hear any more of it. As a parent, boss, or appointed leader of some type, it’s too easy to hide behind our position and avoid feedback.

The wider the gap between our own perceptions of areas to improve and the feedback we’re getting the more we may experience the “SARAH process.” This approach comes from grief counseling. The first letter of each stage spell “SARAH.” The stages are Shock, Anger, Resentment, Acceptance, and Help. When I get open and honest feedback on how others perceive me, I may be shocked, angry, and resentful. But unless I accept that as their perceptions of the real me (their reality of me), I’ll never progress to the final stage of self-help or seeking help from others in taking action on the feedback and making the changes called for.

Human nature seems to endow us with the ability to size up everybody but ourselves. As painful as it may be, feedback is a big contributor to our leadership development. Feedback is often a key element in personal learning and improvement. It helps us to size up and see ourselves as others see us. We may not agree with the perceptions of others, but unless we know how we’re perceived, we stand little chance of improving our relationships and effectiveness with them. Feedback also gives us another opportunity to reflect on our behavior from the view point of others. It provides outside perspectives on the exploration of our inner space.

Not all feedback is valid and helpful. Ultimately I have to decide what fits and what doesn’t. I have to choose the feedback that rings true to me. According to an ancient story, a man once approached Buddha and began to call him ugly names, Buddha listened quietly until the man ran out of insults and had to pause for breath. “If you offer something to a person and that person refuses it, to whom does it belong?” asked Buddha. “It belongs, I suppose, to the one who offered it,” the man said. Then Buddha said, “The abuse and vile names you offer me, I refuse to accept.” The man turned and walked away.

Oranges and Apples Are Fruits, So Is A Cucumber!

“Everything you do right now ripples outward and affects everyone. Your posture can shine your heart or transmit anxiety. Your breath can radiate love or muddy the room in depression. Your glance can awaken joy. Your words can inspire freedom. Your every act can open hearts and minds.”

Wow! What a start to my personality report describing me as an ENFJ.  For a moment even I was swept off my feet with this flattering description of me and was sold on the tool.

It took time for me to come back to earth and start diving deep into my personality report. Its then I realized why it’s one of the most popular tool amongst 3 million fan boys and over 90 Fortune 100 companies.

This report gave me all that I love to hear and in liberal doses and I almost start to believe that its me. It’s like your astrologer who carefully delivers what you like to hear and hides the uncomfortable truths, so he gets to see you again and again and increase his revenues.  When I took the same test a few months later I turned out to be a INTJ.  Had my personality changed, or is this test not all it’s touted to be? I began to read through the evidence, and I found that many of the so-called psychometric tools are  about as useful as some book on zodiac signs which categorizes people into 12 signs and puts a large population under this monthly buckets.

It is but obvious that out of the 100 points stated about you at least 30% may strike a chord in you.  When its about others the focus will be the mismatch of 70% but when it comes to you and your self-analysis, you tend to be more taken in by the 30% match.

We tend to give high accuracy ratings to personality and value descriptions that we believe are written ‘just for us’, when they are typically vague and general enough to apply to anybody.   This is what we know as the Forer-Barnum Effect in psychology and I quickly realized that my test report did not or will not pass the Forer test.

The Barnum Effect refers to the tendency of people to accept vague, generally positive statements about their personality as unique to them even though feedback is likely to be true of most people.

I’m sure you would have taken a personality test at some point in your life and at the end of it came out feeling wow! how accurate the test is.  In fact most of the personality assessment tests use the Forer effect to great use.

Good for selling the tool but is this what psychological tests are meant to be used for?  Can they end up selling dreams and take people away from their reality?  This was termed by one of the psychologist / researcher to be an act of irresponsible armchair philosophy.

Now, if you’re a fan of one of these assessment tools, you might say it’s typical of me as an INTJ to turn to science to defend my position.  But in social science the most important aspect to assess a tool is to look at the reliability, validity, independence, and comprehensiveness of such categorization.    Unfortunately for many of the so called psychometric assessments the evidence points to the contrary.

Research shows “that as many as three-quarters of test takers achieve a different personality type when tested again,” writes Annie Murphy Paul in The Cult of Personaltiy Testing “and the sixteen distinctive types described by the Myers-Briggs have no scientific basis whatsoever.” In a recent article, Roman Krznaric adds that “if you retake the test after only a five-week gap, there’s around a 50% chance that you will fall into a different personality category.”

Then your question to me would be “Why then is the MBTI so popular?”  The simple answer is cause of two very important reasons.  One there are thousands of people who are invested in the MBTI as certified trainers, coaches, consultants and it is too hard to let go of your commitment of time, money and resources for something different.  Second is that the MBTI almost always gives the initial ‘aha’ moment immediately after taking the test, like in my example above and you would like to cling on to that as long as possible.  You tend to as Paul Murphy says get seduced by your own ‘ideal self-image’.  Once this happens, any questions on the ‘reliability’ and ‘validity’ will look like you are questioning the taste of the ‘communion wine’

What’s your alternative then?  Is there something more scientific with high levels of ‘reliability’, ‘validity’, ‘comprehensiveness’ and that which treats every human as unique?

Psychologists and scientists have spent over 50 years in building a psychometric tool which conforms to all of the above and that’s the Big 5 Personality Traits.  It meets the standards above. Across many of the world’s cultures, five personality traits consistently emerge: extraversion, emotional stability, accommodation, conscientiousness, and openness.

With 5 Factors and 24 facets providing 87 nuanced scores on a scale of 0 – 100 the Big 5 provides immense insights on the uniqueness of each individual.  In my own experience of administering the Big 5 psychometric test to thousands of people, I have seen that no two reports are same and there lies the power for greater acceptance for people.

The Big Five traits have high reliability and considerable power in predicting job performance and team effectiveness. They even have genetic and biological bases, and researchers in the emerging field of personality neuroscience have begun mapping the Big Five to relevant brain regions.

Why then is the Big 5 not being used widely in organizations?  You can call it poor marketing or simply the scientists and psychologists were too focused on the content and research to make it deep and insightful than spending time commercializing it.

Even before I start to advocate the use of Big 5 to others, I wanted to check if it will pass the Forer test.  For one, it succeeded in not only showing the positive impact of a personality, it was downright blunt in letting people know the negative impact as well, without sugar coating or fogging that is.  Our test groups were administered the Big 5 test within 5 weeks, 6 months and after a period of 6 years and the results were the same.  It therefore passed the reliability and validity tests as well.

I remember one of the CEOs of a large global IT organization who had taken the Big 5 test as part of a program almost 10 years back who was certain that his personality has changed and wanted to check just that.  He took the Big 5 test again and came to the leadership development program we were conducting for his team.  To his shock and not our surprise, he found that his report of old and the new one were same.  Obviously the scores on the Big 5 scales differed ever so slightly, about 1 – 5 points either ways.  This confirmed not just to him and his team, but our own belief that it was truly a reliable tool which has stood the test of time.

Ofcourse, the thumb rule in all cases of using psychometric assessment is that the respondent is ‘honest’ in his responses and is not answering based on an ‘ideal self-image’ of himself.

Although, I must confess that all the psychometric tools achieve one common goal when used in groups – it does start a conversation around the differences in personality and encourages people to look inwards and introspect about both the positive and negative impact of their personality in their transactions with the environment.

With over 30 years spent in administering, assessing and supporting people and groups, I must say that the primary criteria you must consider before choosing any personality assessment tool is whether it passes the ‘Forer Effect’?

Maybe it’s time to get some real deal! Check out the Big 5 test of your personality?

Asking for help can be traumatic experience!

As humans we are wired to think and believe that we are born equal. It’s the journey which puts us in different contexts or life experiences. It’s therefore not easy for us to come to an acceptance that some of us have less of somethings in life when compared to others. It could be power, authority, money, health, family, relationships, food and many more.

So when someone comes asking for your help, it can be very humiliating or traumatic for the person asking. Remember, the default position for us is that we are all equal. The person seeking help has to deal with his ego and self-esteem. The act in the persons mind is considered as conceding the ground that you have more power or influence or even ability than the seeker.

You find that most misuse this power without even understanding the context of the help seeker. We judge people based on their current state or appearance and start to behave in a way that compounds the sense of trauma or humiliation that person is already suffering.

I have had leaders asking me to teach people in their organizations to seek help when needed. I tell them it is pointless to teach people to seek help as the person giving help or having the power to give help is not going to change. The fact that they are asking me in itself demonstrates that people working in their organization have been humiliated when they sought help. No one likes to be in that state for long and before time people stop asking. Statements like ‘why don’t you figure out for yourselves’; ‘don’t you have brains’; ‘why don’t you grow up’ and so on can be from the many unintentional one’s which would have accentuated the problem.

There is a need for you to be empathetic to people who come seeking help. You have the power not to abuse but to use and help. You are equally a seeker as much as a giver. Do not push people away when they come seeking cause you have a great responsibility.

How many come to you seeking help? It’s a good measure of how you have dealt with seekers in the past.