Sunday, January 10, 2016

a different perspective

The key to good photography is perspective. The key to excellent photography is having the ability to capture different perspectives of the same object. It's incredible how a different view of something that might be quite common place can offer us new insights.

I had an experience of this today whilst talking to a good friend. We were speaking about the topic of temporality when she said something quite astounding.

"I find comfort in the temporality of this world."

It invoked a lot of curiosity in me as for most of us, it is the very temporality of our lives that causes us great anxiety and fear. Whether it be death itself or the "mini-deaths" we experience in our day to day lives that manifest in the form of change (i.e. whether it be successes or failures), suffice it to say, impermanence is something that does not sit well with most of us.

And so, I asked her what specifically brought her comfort. Her answer was simple but profound.

When we understand that the world and everything in it is temporary, it has the capacity to take a lot of pressure off of us.

Let me elaborate. Relationships, whether personal or professional affect us greatly. The words and behaviours of others can wreck havoc on our ego and emotions. However, if we view those same experiences through this perspective of temporality, it can invoke greater peace within us. How so? Because we recognize that those words or behaviours have a limited shelf life and in due course come to the conclusion that defining our value and self-worth on something that can change and fluctuate so quickly is a bad investment.

We learn not to take ourselves (and our ego!) so seriously. We become more compassionate with ourselves and others. And for some, we can start taking risks. Whether it be volunteering to give a presentation (which we would have never dreamt of doing!) or learning how to compromise in a situation where we really want to do things our way, recognizing that everything is temporary truly can take the pressure off.

What would you be inspired to do if the pressure was taken off of you?

Saturday, January 2, 2016

care for some feedback?


Feedback. It’s a word we hear a lot these days whether in the context of work, relationships or personal development. But what does it really mean?

As the New Year begins, resolutions are on the rise and determination at its peak. Most of these resolutions take shape in the form of goals to accomplish. And often, to achieve those goals, we require feedback.

Feedback is often associated with a negative connotation as it’s something that the ego rarely wants to hear and resists against greatly. That’s probably why the feedback sandwich has been constructed as it has – speak about a positive quality/accomplishment, “room for improvement” and another positive to remove the sting.

Rarely do people focus on the two positives. Rather, the ego latches on to the “room for improvement” and often justifications arise internally. Any spark of willingness or eagerness to improve gets doused and instead we can feel misunderstood.

It’s these type of situations that we associate feedback with, which I think is part of the challenge. The truth is, we are receiving feedback at all times:

If you are speaking to someone, you can be guaranteed that you are receiving feedback.

The thing is, we don’t call it feedback. We call it communication. But feedback and communication are one and the same. When we interact with someone, we are getting insights into how we feel about us. It may not come in the form of words, but in the form of body language. Being oblivious to it is what hurts us the most.

As a spiritual mentor of mine always says, “The world is constantly giving us feedback.”

And so, as 2016 begins, I encourage us all to change our perspective on feedback. It’s all around us, in the form of communication. It’s up to us to choose what we wish to do with it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

who do you serve?

Verse 4.38: In this world, there is nothing so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism. And one who has become accomplished in the practice of devotional service enjoys this knowledge within himself in due course of time.

The quest to figure out who were are and what we are meant to do is one that many have embarked on. Perhaps you are on this very quest yourself.

For some people, its a journey they've been on since childhood. For others it's one that they have embarked on later in life. Perhaps, like me, these questions started occupying your mind towards the end of high school when you felt pressured to choose a major in University.

The Gita provides the answer for all of us.

We are spiritual beings (having a material experience) and we are meant to serve.

The answer is so simple and elegant. Know what the best part is?

It is applicable to everyone regardless of gender, nature or culture.

Personally, I have always struggled with "what it is I'm meant to do". The Gita's answer that we are meant to serve is a powerful one for two reasons:

1. It isn't prescriptive. It takes into account that everyone has different natures and inclinations.

2. It indicates that consciousness behind an action is more important than the action itself.

When speaking about service, the Gita is defining it as a mood, intention and attitude. It's not the service we receive as part of a business transaction but rather the understanding that everything we do is in service of something or someone and is done with a particular intention/consciousness. Whether we realize it or not, the thing we serve most is often our own minds!

For this week's challenge, we invite you to stop once a day to ask the question "who am I serving?" before doing something. It's a powerful question and the answer might surprise you!

Friday, March 27, 2015

ask yourself "why?"

Verse 4.37: As a blazing fire turns firewood to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge burn to ashes all reactions to material activities.

Motivation. It's the hidden catalyst behind everything we do. Whether we acknowledge those reasons or turn a blind eye to them, the fact remains, we are motivated beings.

Those motivations lead us to act which naturally bring some type of result; that is essentially what karma is all about.

This verse, however, indicates that there is a missing component to the karma equation. That component is intention.

The difference between motivation and intention is a subtle, but an important one. Whereas motivations deals with the reason or willingness to do something, intention reflects a specific purpose or attitude in performing an action.

It is the intention behind our actions that deems whether any karma is associated with it. An action in and of itself is neither good or bad. It is neutral. It is our intention that colours it.

Today's verse highlights the power of intention.

It also encourages us to do the inner work that is necessary. This begins by taking a good look at our motivations. Although we can try to change our intention without looking into our motivations, it can, sometimes be premature. Looking into the reasons why we do things, forces to face what we are looking for, whether it be validation, power, security, love, etc.

Personally, it is something I struggle with on a daily basis since it can be extremely confronting and disheartening. It's much more convenient to turn a blind eye to our motivations.

But turning a blind eye handicaps us. When we see the reason why we do things, we become aware of not only ourselves but why we behave in certain ways with certain people. From there, we can start to tangibly work on transforming our intentions.

Every week now, we are challenging ourselves to practically apply the Gita in our lives. This week's challenge is to take five minutes out of your day to reflect on one action you took and ask yourself why you acted the way you did. Feel free to leave your observations in the comments below!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

"i'm doing" challenge update

On Sunday, we challenged ourselves and any other interested participants to the "I'm doing" challenge. That is, we invited everyone to transform one of your "I knows" to an "I'm doing".

As we're over mid-way through this week, I thought I'd share something that happened to me, even prior to hitting the publish button for Sunday's post. I was sitting in my room writing when one of my family member's called me down. Joining them in the foyer of our house I asked "What's up?" and was immediately greeted by the accusation "It's because of you we're going to be late!" Looking back in hindsight, it wasn't anything major; rather, it was just an expression of a dear one's frustration.

That said, it was unexpected. Immediately I got on the defensive and offered a legitimate explanation as to why I was not to blame. I was pretty worked up. There's little that bothers me more than being falsely accused of something.

As I walked back to my room, only then did I realize - I had already failed at my challenge! LOL.

I know better than to react when someone else is worked up and yet I did exactly that.

A simple example no doubt, but a powerful one. It left me with the realization that the practice of transforming knowing to doing requires one to be:

1) conscious at all times, and
2) willing to do the work, even if we don't want to.

In this case, I wasn't conscious and therefore didn't even realize the opportunity I had in front of me. In cases where I am conscious of the opportunity to "do" there is often a bigger hurdle and that's my ego. Often it prevents me from doing the right thing because the right thing doesn't provide me with immediate satisfaction.

How have you been finding the challenge? We'd love to hear your experiences and invite you to share in the comments below.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

"i know!"

Verse 4.36: Even if you are considered to be the most sinful of all sinners, when you are situated in the boat of transcendental knowledge you will be able to cross over the ocean of miseries.

Spiritual life begins with hearing; hearing from someone who walks their talk. The Gita refers to such persons as self-realized souls. Their words have impact on our hearts because of the power that comes along with practicing what you speak. It's through this hearing that we cultivate knowledge, and as this verse states, this knowledge is the vehicle by which one can begin their journey of self-discovery.

For those who have started that cultivation of spiritual knowledge, and especially those who continue to cultivate it year upon year, you'll know that the journey that doesn't end there. In fact, arguably, that could be the easy part -

Practical execution of said knowledge is often the most challenging part.

As I child, I would often say "I know!" In reply to almost any piece of advice or guidance that came from my parents. Want to know something funny? I haven't changed much! Although I may not say those words out loud as often anymore, I sure do think them! Whether it be when I'm listening to a class, reading a book, discussing an initiative with colleagues, or having a conversation with a loved one, my mind often screams "I know, I know!" in relation to any good advice, ideas or guidance that may be shared.

One thing I'm realizing more and more is this: Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether "I know" if I don't DO anything about it. As the saying goes,

If you don't use it, you lose it.

That knowledge which sits within us waiting to be used, will be lost if we don't act upon it. All the information we have stored regarding our spiritual life, relationships, work/career and being a good human being is at risk of being lost. That's serious! All that time and effort spent will amount to nothing!

The act of waking up early to engage in spiritual practices or minimizing our tendency to procrastinate when we get a project assigned to us at work is the hallmark of doing the real work. Knowledge is just one piece of the journey. You can't escape the work part!

I invite you to join me in challenging yourself this week to transform one of your "I knows" to an "I'm doing". Feel free to share your observations and realizations by leaving a comment. Wishing you good "doing"!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

mistaken identity

Verse 4.35: Having obtained real knowledge from a self-realized soul, you will never fall again into such illusion, for by this knowledge you will see that all living beings are but part of the Supreme, or, in other words, that they are Mine.

Ever been mistaken for someone else? How did you feel? I've been mistaken for someone else a few times and its normally resulted in an awkward/amusing encounter once I've let the other person know that I'm not who they think they are. It's often followed by an apology and sometimes even an explanation - i.e. Wow! Your hair looks just like my friend's.

Although its personally never happened to me, I've heard rare cases of people insisting that they are right, saying things like, "You have to be such and such person! You're trying to fool me!" I can only imagine the poor recipient of such words. I'm sure if that type of questioning and conversation carried on for sometime, the recipient could get frustrated and even angry.

Regardless of the circumstance, the point is that in the majority of cases, we are quick to correct if we are mistaken for someone else. It highlights how strongly attached we are to our identity and ensuring that we recognized appropriately.

In fact, it's rare that we question and ever think that we might not be who we think we are.

The Gita flips this illusion on its head. Think you are the mind, ego, intelligence or body? The Gita resoundingly answers "No! You are experiencing a case of mistaken identity!" The Gita proclaims, "You are the soul! A spiritual spark that is part and parcel of the Divine."

This central teaching of the Gita has the capacity to revolutionize our lives and is exemplified by a beautiful analogy given by the great bhakti-yogi Prabhupada. Once a man visited his friend who had a bird which lived in a bird cage. The man was very proud of his bird cage and took great pains to ensure it looked shiny and new. The friend, when entering this man's house remarked upon the bird cage and praised the man saying that it looked beautiful. He then asked, "What's that smell? What happened to the bird?" The man looked inside and was shocked to see that the bird inside his beautiful cage had died.

In this analogy, the bird is the soul and the cage the body. Often, emphasis is placed on maintaining the body to ensure its health, beauty and abilities, which are, no doubt, important. However, the Gita explains, solely focusing on the body can result in ignoring the precious cargo it carries inside - the soul.

The purpose of physical yoga is to ensure that the body is strong enough to engage in activities which serve to nourish the soul. Activities such as hearing, chanting, meditating, serving etc.

So take heed of the reminder that the Gita gives us: there's a soul inside all of us that's crying out for nourishment. Please make sure to remember to feed it.