Is There a Story Behind It?

I recently published my first book and lots of people have been getting back to me appreciating the cover of the book. One morning however I got a question as well, when a friend ended her email with, “Btw, that’s a lovely cover picture. Is there a story behind it?”. What a powerful question it was! When I read it, my entire body jumped up in enthusiasm and I suddenly realized that not only was there a very interesting story behind the cover, the story was actually wanting to be told! It had just been waiting for somebody to pop the question. My fingers have been itching for the last few days to type this story out – and now finally I have a chance to do it.

Mukta, this story is for you, not just because you popped the question that brought it forth but also because of an uncanny coincidence – the protagonist of this story, Seema Swami has a lovely daughter who shares your name.

This story started about a year back when I noticed a lady cycling around the IIMB Campus, stopping now and then and staring intently into the trees and bushes. I used to think I was the only weirdo around who did such things and so one day I asked her what she was doing. She said she was a nature photographer. That made sense I thought to myself, a nature photographer would need to observe nature closely. Later I was to learn that Seema’s speciality in nature photography was ‘macro-photography’, which did actually involve acute observation of nature in it’s tiniest of delights.

One day Seema asked me if she could take my pictures. I was a little stumped by her question but I also felt honoured that someone who claimed to be a ‘nature photographer’ wanted to photograph me. I felt as if she had thought of me as a ‘part of nature’ and so I said yes.

seema-and-meOur photoshoot was a really fun and liberating experience. Later, I was to realize that my dress could have been better put together, some makeup would have helped, etc, but on the day of the photoshoot, Seema did not make me feel self-conscious at all. She explained to me that she was training to become a portrait photographer and this was part of her learning – both she and I got into a roll of experimenting. She even handed me her camera taught me some basics of photography and let me pose her and take her pictures. We had loads of fun that day and I thought that was it! Little did I know that it would be a self-transformation experience for me and the start of what would turn into a beautiful friendship.

At the time when Seema, asked to click my photos, I was going through a lot of turmoil in my personal life. My self esteem and self confidence were both very low. This particular photo shoot turned out to be the ‘confidence-building-workshop’ that life sent my way, at a time I needed it the most. Seema had a talent for capturing and enhancing beauty in whatever she saw and clicked, and she brought that talent to life when clicking me as well. After I saw her pictures of me I could not ever see myself as anything other than beautiful (something that had not been true for me till then). I know that beauty is not skin deep, it is not about colour shades and proportions. There was something deeper that shifted within me post Seema’s photography and I found that I was open and willing to be seen in a way I had not been earlier. I think that having a person see and capture you through a genuinely appreciative and supportive lens, helps in shedding layers of negative self judgement that we tend to pile upon ourselves.

Soon after the photoshoot, I wrote a poem titled, ‘I’m Choosing Life’ which has now become the title of my book a year later. But I am going ahead of the story here. When I wrote this poem, Seema spontaneously picked it up, combined it with a photo she had clicked of me, did some artwork on it and turned it into a beautiful poster. Here is that original creation.

im-choosing-life-poem-card

Fast forward now to a year later, when a collection of poems decided to gang up and become a book with the title, ‘I’m Choosing Life’. The cover photo for the book obviously had to be the same photo that once accompanied the title poem of the book. The poems would just not have it any other way!

So that is the story behind the cover of the book, and I am so glad my friend Mukta asked me the question that brought it forth. The next time I see something beautiful or intriguing I am also going to also ask, ‘Is there a Story Behind it’? Who knows which story is waiting to be told. Do pass this question around and get more stories out in the sunshine!

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Ps: Seema is now practicing portrait photography professionally in Mumbai. She is even conducting photography workshops and you can see more about her work here (www.seemaswami.com)

Here is a link to Seema’s narration of this fairytale (in Marathi) which she had posted sometime back (https://goo.gl/qZEhQf) and here is a link to the wilful book that insisted on having this photo as it’s cover (https://goo.gl/18cpBW)

Influence of Cognitive Biases on Individual and Collective Sensemaking Post Demonetization of Indian Currency

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Free Image on Pixabay – 605603

Today morning, over breakfast, a colleague of mine was beating down the demonetization idea and his central argument was that it was causing a great deal of discomfort to people. In support of his argument he narrated an incident. He told us that he was having dinner the previous evening at a ‘Darshini’ (a local mid-range restaurant), and one of the customers there wanted to pay with a 500 rupee note and did not have any lower denominations. However the cashier resolved the situation by telling him that since he was a regular customer he could just eat his food and pay the tab later.

I connected with this story immediately because on saturday night I had gone to Subway (a sandwich shop chain) with my 9 year old son and his school buddy who was staying the weekend with us. I had assumed I would pay by credit card, but it turned out that the their credit card machine was not working. Just like the cashier at Darshini, the shop owner at Subway (who was present in the shop), allowed us to eat our meal on credit with the understanding we would pay in the next couple of days. In this case I was not even a regular customer. We landed up chatting a bit and I learnt more about our local Subway shop and the shop owner than I would otherwise have known.

The two stories (my own experience in Subway, as well as my colleague’s observation of the transaction in Darshini) were remarkably similar. However what surprised me was that while I had come home that day, touched by the Subway owner’s warmth and extension of support, my colleague was using a similar story to fortify his arguments on why the demonetization initiative was a failure. What led the two of us (my colleague and me), two equally intelligent human beings to pick very similar data and information (in this case the incidents at subway and darshini) and then use it to ‘justify’ or reach very different conclusions? The difference in the conclusions drawn by us is best explained through Confirmation Bias.

Confirmation Bias is one of the most well researched human biases and it is also one of the most pervasive. It is defined as the inherent human tendency to interpret new evidence as a confirmation of one’s existing theories and beliefs. My colleague and I both had our own private theories related to the demonetization well before the incidents at Darshini and Subway occurred. My colleague’s theory was that the initiative is a disaster and will cause trouble for people. Therefore he concluded that the cashier and the customer had been troubled by the ‘experience’. My theory was that this initiative was going to usher in positive change for our country and community. This made me prone to conclude that the ‘situation’ had led to the formation of a refreshingly pleasant human connection.

Decades of research tells us that our private theory in our heads is going to significantly influence the way we interpret the incidents that are unfolding around us. What did you conclude about the demonetization initiative as soon as you heard about it? Did you form an opinion that it was going to help us change as a country, or did you decide upfront that it was going to create trouble? None of us is exempt from the powerful effects of confirmation bias and yet confirmation bias is not the only bias that has been driving our individual and collective sensemaking over the last few days. In fact the effect of this bias has been compounded by two other powerful biases – status quo bias and loss aversion.

Status Quo Bias as the name suggests is the tendency of human beings to hold a preference for the current state of affairs. A large amount of experimental and field evidence has been found in support of the status quo bias from contexts ranging from number driven decision like retirement plans, to subjective decisions like ethical choices. If we become more aware of way this bias is currently influencing our attitude towards the demonetization initiative, we would realise that our brains are wired to lead us against appreciating and supporting this initiative, for the simple reason that it warrants a shift away from the ‘status quo’. To offset the effect of this bias we could consciously choose to give the demonetization effect a greater benefit of doubt (at least in our own minds).

Loss Aversion, the other bias relevant to the demonetization,  refers to the tendency for people to strongly prefer avoiding losses as compared to acquiring gains. One of the implications of loss aversion is that when people frame something as a loss then they process information differently than when they have framed it as a gain. Priming of loss triggers the emotion of fear and fear has the effect of distorting perception and therefore introducing more error into decision making. As Daniel Kahneman, who won the nobel prize for bridging economics and psychology, puts it, – “What actually happens with fear is that probability doesn’t matter very much. That is, once I have raised the possibility that something terrible can happen to your child, even though the possibility is remote, you may find it very difficult to think of anything else.”

With regard to India’s recent demonetization initiative, unless the person in concern has hoarded black money, it is technically neither a gain or a loss. It is just a matter of time before which your currency can be exchanged for the new notes. Unfortunately many people however took the ‘kaagaz ka tugda’ metaphor more literally than it was probably intended and the minute they heard the announcement they mentally construed it as a ‘loss’ related to whatever money they had as cash. Once the mind frames something as a ‘loss’, or even ‘potential loss’, the emotion of fear and panic sets in. These emotions then have the effect of distorting the perception, judgement and decision making processes of the human brain.

In severe cases the emotion of fear or panic can also lead to a phenomenon called Amygdala Hijack. An Amygdala Hijack is defined as a strong, immediate and overwhelming emotional reaction that is out of proportion to the stimulus. This happens because something has triggered a deep emotional threat and therefore the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that handles emotions shuts down the neo-cortex, or ‘thinking brain’ which operates on logic.

In the Demonetization context, what we can do to counter the effects of loss aversion and possible amygdala hijack is to consciously remind ourselves (and others who might be around us) that neither our money nor our lives have been put in threat due to this initiative. The disruption in transactions that we might be experiencing is temporary, and there is nothing to panic about. Once the fear and panic has been brought into our own awareness (and dealt with), then we might actually find that our logical brain starts processing the situation differently.

We cannot and should not underestimate the role that the above psychological biases are playing with regard to our individual attitudes and sensemaking of the demonetization initiative. Further, the effect of these biases are compounded when they occur at a group level, and can escalate exponentially at a societal level. To quote Kahneman again, “We know a lot about the conditions under which groups work well and work poorly. It’s really clear that groups are superior to individuals in recognizing an answer as correct when it comes up. But when everybody in a group is susceptible to similar biases, groups are inferior to individuals, because groups tend to be more extreme than individuals.” This phenomenon is called Group Polarization and has been widely researched in social psychology. Both experimental as well as field data exists in contexts ranging from corporate boardrooms to public policy to social media which show that when members of a group hold similar biases then individuals’ initial attitudes get even more strengthened and intensified after group discussion and/or interaction.

I invite people of India to experiment with examining their own mental frames through which they are making sense of this initiative and the news stories that we are hearing. I invite you to reflect on how these psychological biases might be influencing our understanding and appraisal of the situation and related incidents. I invite you to examine if you are allowing the emotions of fear and panic to override your logical brain in a situation which perhaps might not warrant such panic. Lastly I invite you to consider being willing to be put through some churn and discomfort, for disruption need not necessarily be a bad thing. Could you plant a new garden without clearing out the overgrown weeds that had occupied that space? Would you ask your doctor to refrain from clearing out the pus in an infected wound because the procedure might cause some pain?

I want to conclude with the hope that the next few weeks and months will help us as Indians to discover how resilient we actually are – as individuals and as a society. I hope we use this as an opportunity to forge bonds and connections with our local ‘darshini cashiers’ and ‘subway owners’. I hope we can allow this churn to show us that we as a society are connected by and thrive on more than just money exchanges. I know a friend who withdrew cash in 100 Rs denominations but passed it all on to his cook so that it could go back into circulation. My housemaid’s landlord had told her she could pay her rent next month. I have heard of others as well who are giving and receiving credits and bartering services and exchanges in very creative ways to tide through these uncertain times. Let us carry on this optimism and spirit of ‘jugaad’ in whatever ways we can. Let us not allow this event to break us down, rather let us use this as an opportunity to connect, help and emerge stronger and more resilient than before.

 

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Interest Quotient – the new IQ? & Excitement Quotient – the new EQ?

As a Researcher and Faculty in Management, the one question I have found us looping back to again and again is ‘How do we get our employees and ourselves to be more productive’. How can we work more and procrastinate less? How can we create and generate more and do it with excellence? How do we take our performance from good to great to fantastic?

In this video blog, I don’t claim to have found any answers to these questions, rather I humbly propose that perhaps we have been looking at an incomplete set of levers to productivity and excellence all these years. What if our productivity and excellence depends far more on our interest and excitement levels than we have been acknowledging? Would that change the way we hire people for work? Would that change the way we choose our own work? Would that change the way we approach the so called jobs we have labelled as ‘chores’? Would that change the way we plan Our days? Our careers? Our Lives?

Whispers of Intuition

Now this is going to sound like a fairy tale to some of you. I almost decided to not write about it because I thought nobody would believe me. Indeed I would not have believed it myself (except that because it happened to me, I have no option but to believe it).

I was on my regular evening walk, and as I passed the playground I pass everyday, a patch of grass at the other end of the playground that was glittering in the evening sun suddenly caught my attention.grass-in-sun I felt drawn to it in an almost magnetic way and so I walked towards it. I got a clear intuitive message that can be translated as ‘camera/photo’, and so I took my phone out. I initially thought I was supposed to take a picture of that patch of grass. I took a picture but it was really far away and there seemed nothing special about the picture.

I kept walking towards the grass however, and I tried clicking shots of it from even closer.grass in sun 2.jpg They seemed just normal snaps of grass, but by now I have learnt not to question my intuition too much. So I kept clicking, assuming that someday I might need these pictures perhaps.

In the photos, however, I noticed that the sun was looking really pretty and bright. It showed up as a golden ball of light that looked very special on the screen.sun-1 I started taking pictures of the sun, yet I still kept feeling like this was not the picture I had been called to take.

I heard an intuition that seemed to suggest something like ‘turn around’, so I turned
around and took selfies with the sun. I then even heard the word ‘rainbow’ but I assumed that the reference was to the rainbow effect cast by the sunlight around my head. sun selfie 1.jpgI was clicking the snaps but I was not feeling satisfied. I kept feeling that there was something else I was supposed to click.

I think at that point the elements of nature decided to help my intuition and give me an even clearer message. I felt a few big drops of rain on my face. There was no rain I could see but just a few big drops that I could feel. I heard the word ‘rainbow’ once again and then I actually started putting things together. I started thinking to myself how ideal the whole setup was to have an actual rainbow created – the setting sun, drops of rain….and I turned around to see where the rainbow would get created, if it actually did. As soon as I turned around, right in front of my eyes, a real rainbow began to slowly form. rainbow-1At first I thought I was imagining it because it was so faint, but then it gradually got clearer.

The ‘turn around’ messages were for me to turn around and see the sky opposite the setting sun. The grassy patch I was drawn to was the exact place to stand on from where I could see the entire rainbow form. Like a magical miracle I saw the rainbow create itself and stretch across the sky in a complete arc. Then as the clouds played hide and seek the rainbow intensified and faded alternately and at one point there were two concentric half rainbows.double rainbow.jpg

Then once again the sun grew sharper and there was just one rainbow that spread herself out as she outlined all seven colours in bold intensity against the backdrop of the sky. I had the time of my life gazing at this colourful play of light that lasted almost twenty minutes till the sun finally went down behind the trees. I played with the light, capturing various stages of these rainbows on film and in videos and I even took some rainbow selfies.

full-rainbow

Now I understand the magnetic pull with which the initial patch of grass had attracted me, and I can connect the dots to make sense of the whispers of ‘photo’, ‘turn around’, and ‘rainbow’. I wonder what else is possible, and how much more magic can our intuition possibly lead us to? What if all we need to do is to slow down more, listen more, trust more, and play with the whispers.

ps: As I am picking photos to add to the blog I notice that there are some coloured lights in the photos. I do not know what they are and how they formed. I did not see them when I clicked. I had just focussed on the grass and sun where I felt the magnetic pull. If anybody has ideas on how to interpret them do let me know.

 

 

When we can Out-grow there is no need to Let-go!

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You have probably heard from many places about the benefits of being able to let-go. Letting go of old habits, old pains and grievances, or even relationships. While letting go is great advice, it can sometimes be really difficult to implement. In this video I present an alternate frame we can try to play with, which is to ‘out-grow’. The easiest way to pick up nuances of doing this with ease is to look at children who continuously ‘outgrow’ their past toys, books and even past selves. In the video I muse on how we can embrace a frame of ‘outgrowing’ and apply it to ourselves (even as adults) – for truly we never actually stop growing. As children we are acutely aware of our own growing nature and we embrace the change in our stride. As children, we naturally look at growth as something that is part of life – a process where we morph into newer versions of ourselves and we can embrace that newer version without needing to make the old version ‘wrong’. Somehow as adults we mistakenly assume that our life goal is to ‘settle’ into a sort of comfortable equilibrium or state – and then we fear change (which just might be growth into the next version of ourselves).

Enjoy the video, try experimenting with a frame of out-growing your current self, and please let me know how it works for you.

https://youtu.be/rQbVV8kV5xg

 

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View my Video Series on https://goo.gl/zaxgfv
Read my poems at www.sharingmypoems.blogspot.in
Read my essays, video lectures and online resources atwww.craftingourlives.com
Listen to my TED talk at https://goo.gl/D94pUK
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Playfulness, Peace and Potency – The 3 Ps of the Ocean

I am just back from having spent 2 entire days playing with the waves. Yes, I do mean two entire days. My son and his friend drove the agenda for this holiday and I was initially unsure when they wanted to stay in the sea the whole day. However the other mother with us was game for it and so I also decided to give it a try. The sun cooperated by hiding behind the clouds most of the time and we actually landed up spending dawn to dusk in sea water – coming out only for meals. I totally loved the experience – perhaps it struck a chord with the latent amphibian in me.
I shot a little video blog to see if I could capture some of the ocean’s spirit to share with all of you. On the day I shot it, the energies of the ocean that I could sense most vividly were the energies of ‘Playfulness’, ‘Peace’, and ‘Potency’. I realized that these energies are there in all of us – all the time. However, being near the ocean (or in the ocean) physically provided a shortcut to tap into them and get to vividly experience and acknowledge one’s own playfulness, peace, and potency. I hope this video does that for you, even if in a small way – invites you to connect with your own playfulness, peace and potency.
The Audio might sound like it has disturbance because of the wind and waves – but then that’s the real experience for you :-)! Enjoy!

I Don’t Hate My Degrees Anymore

For a Large part of my life I have hated my academic degrees. I know hate is a strong word, but yes, I have hated them. So what are these degrees I am talking about? I have a B Tech in Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering from IIT Madras – probably India’s best engineering college, and a PGDM (or MBA) from IIM Ahmedabad – probably India’s second best management institute 😉 . I also have a PhD from London Business School, but we can leave that one out of this essay because I never hated it – for reasons that will become clearer soon.

So why did I hate my IIT & IIM degrees? There are three broad categories the reasons fall under

a) I felt like my degrees were holding me prisoner and keeping me from experimenting with my life and my work. Me (and everyone around me) was afraid I would ‘waste’ my degrees.

b) I was privately ashamed of the reasons that had driven me to pursue and ‘collect’ these degrees. My reasons had mainly stemmed from insecurity and competition and not a desire to acquire knowledge.

c) My IIT-IIM Stature had made me a part of a very elite peer group and comparing myself with others in this peer group used to sap at my sense of self worth.

In this video blog I elaborate on each of these points and share what has helped me move beyond these ‘hate factors’. I am now at a place where I don’t hate my degrees anymore and I don’t feel my body cringe when I look at my CV or my certificates. I am able to gladly accept these degrees as important parts of my life’s journey, am able to draw upon them to contribute to myself and others, and have even found ways to leverage them in the work I currently do.

I hope you find this video useful, and if you do please do share it with others who might be struggling under the weight of their degrees. Lets try to transform that burden into something that is a contribution instead.

Creating a way of Learning, Working, and Living that is in line with our Kinesthetic Intelligence

A few years ago a friend sent me a link to a multiple intelligences test. When I saw my results, there was an explosion of acknowledgement inside me, and my body whispered, ‘what do think I’ve been trying to tell you all these years?’. My score for kinesthetic intelligence had dampened out the scores for my next two or three highest forms of intelligence by a huge margin.

I wondered why I had needed this test to tell me this, when ‘Life’ had been telling me the same thing since I had been a kid. Perhaps even though I had been acutely aware of my preference for kinesthetic modes of being, knowing, and learning, nobody (including me) had used the word ‘intelligence’ before. I had only heard (and subsequently learnt to use as labels for myself), words like – ‘restless’, ‘overactive’ and ‘fidgety’. Mostly these had been observed as characteristics that made me unfit and/or a pain for others, during classes, meetings, journeys where one is seat-belted, or concerts and parties where you are expected to be seated throughout.

Apparently, I used to cry a lot in nursery because I hated sitting in class. The only activity (amidst what was offered to me) which I agreed to do, was tag along with one of the helpers whose job was to mop the corridors of the school. So eventually the teachers just let me spend my school hours pottering up and down the corridors alongside this cleaning lady. By LKG (lower kindergarten) however I had been socialized and trained well enough to sit through classes.

One of the telling characteristics of Kinesthetic Intelligence is that it requires you to be able to move the body to be able to ‘think’. In fact kinesthetically intelligent people don’t ‘think’ just in their heads but they ‘think’ in their entire bodies and their bodies often need to move to stay engaged and interested. Even in higher grades, and college, I did my most effective studying outdoors – in gardens, on terraces, while walking, on trees, and even while cycling.

I now teach management at one of India’s leading business schools, and while I have been able to conduct some sessions and activities outdoors, I still land up teaching a lot within the walls of the classroom. Fortunately for me, I get to walk around and move my body as I teach. However, my heart goes out to the students who have to sit boxed up in their chairs for more than an hour and somehow manage to remain intellectually engaged.

Kinesthetic intelligence is not just about the need to move in order to stay engaged and think (although that is an important aspect of it). It is also about being able to ‘understand’, ‘learn’ and literally embody knowledge through and in your body. It includes being able to receive signals and cues from your body and being able to decode and respond to those signals effectively. In 2004, I had taken some time off to go and stay at a yoga ashram, and I eventually got trained as a yoga teacher. This was the first time I was exposed to an institutionalized system that at least acknowledged the role played by the body and attributed some intelligence to it. I have since then been drawn to several modalities like ninjitsu, dance, reiki, pranic healing, and tai chi – each of which included the body (to varying degrees) as a key player involved in learning, performance, and wellbeing.

I have typically found it difficult to sit in cars or airplanes for long durations unless there is a vacant seat beside me to put my legs up, wriggle around into different postures or even curl up and lie for a bit. My body stiffens to the point of making me feel ill and nauseous – unless I allow it to move, shake and twist a bit. For many years I used to blame myself for my inability to ‘adjust’ and sit still. However my judgement around the ‘inability to sit’, vanished when I gave birth to my own son. I watched with great intrigue as my son (and other toddlers) put up heroic battles to avoid being strapped into their buggies. The only times my son would want to sit in his buggy was when he was really tired or if he was falling asleep. I can now only marvel at this magnificent creation of a human body that does not give up it’s rights and desires –  to move, to bend, to twist, to jump, and to curl and rest in varying postures.

I wonder how we can create modalities of learning that recognize that students do not need to be forced to cut themselves off from their bodies in order to sit in class benches to ‘learn’. How about learning as we lie or sit around in a circle in the grass, learning while we hike up a hill, and learning as we sit on rocks – feet immersed in flowing water. I wonder how we can create home spaces and furniture that don’t assume that only a particular posture is best – each time we eat, read, write, watch TV, or even chat on the phone. I wonder how we can design planes and cars and busses that allow us to stretch our muscles, curl up for a bit and enjoy the journey not just in our heads (by watching a movie), but also in our bodies by letting them stay alive. I wonder how we can create workplaces where people will be able to bring their whole selves to work – mind, body, and spirit, in ways that will be win-win for the employee and the organization.
girls-women-happy-sexy-53364I am amazed at the naivety with which we abuse and torture our own bodies and then wonder why they don’t cooperate with us in keeping us healthy and happy. I wonder how we can start tapping into the intelligent capabilities of our bodies and acknowledge our bodies as the living beings they are – not just as empty shells that we inhabit and drag along. I wonder what it will take to see our bodies as the vivacious miracles that they are and to acknowledge the joy and fun of being embodied in them.

 

Dark Side of ‘Mata, Pita, Devo Bhava’

Once upon a time there was a little girl who learnt very early on (it was part of her culture) a phrase called ‘Mata, Pita, Devo Bhava’. Now I (who am turning 40) am no authority on scriptures to understand or interpret the true meaning of this phrase, and neither was this little girl at the tender age of 5. She simply interpreted it to herself as, ‘My Mother and Father are my Gods’. Her parents were amazingly humble and genial people by the way who never ever proclaimed themselves to be ‘Gods’. She picked up this phrase from school and from stories that were based on some of the Indian Epics. This little girl was a very sincere student, always eager to learn and she took this phrase to heart. She created a frame (or mental model) of ‘God’ in her mind and everytime she thought of her parents she processed it through this frame.

Now you might think that this would have been a benign and harmless frame for her to have held in her head, especially since her parents were actually very nice people who always tried to help and support her. However, this frame (that got firmly ingrained in her subconscious) got the girl into all sorts of problems in her later years.

The frames we create in our minds (and the related scripts) form the basis on which we create new thoughts and beliefs and also process the incidents and events in our lives. This little girl had an unbelievable fondness (and obsession) for what she had created as her construct of ‘God’. To her, God was her creator, a loving omnipotent and omnipresent and omnipowerful entity who knew and understood everything, who could never be (or do) any wrong, and who could be endlessly called upon for any kind of help or support. God was someone you could turn to no matter where you were, what your condition was, and how badly you might have messed up. God was infinite power, infinite kindness and infinite energy and God would never say no to helping you. God always knew what was best for you and best for everyone else and you could simply surrender your problems to God and trust that everything would work out according to the divine plan. Most of these beliefs and scripts about God served this young lady pretty well as she was growing up. They gave her a strong anchor to turn to and a faith that kept her alive at times when everything else in her world felt like it was crumbling. However, the combination of her beliefs about God, and the deeply rooted script of ‘Mata, Pita, Devo Bhava’ created some really convoluted traps for her (many of which she is only now being able to identify and unravel and untangle from her unconscious mind). Let’s explore two specific examples.

Example 1)
Combine the idea of ‘Mata, Pita, Devo Bhava’ with ‘God is always Right’.

This combination script is deadly enough to drive any person nuts. This girl’s parents were just normal human beings with their own sets of beliefs, ideas, assumptions, and fears. However, led by this combination script, the little girl would interpret everything her parents said or did as ‘right’. Because of this, each time when there was a difference of opinion between the two parents, or if one or both parents changed their mind about some issue (which they definitely had a right to), her mind would go into a panic of ‘right versus right dilemma’ which has no exit!. Even worse, every time her parents said or did something that went against her own inner knowing (or what her instinctual preference was) she quickly made herself ‘wrong’ so that she could uphold the fundamental script (belief) of ‘my parents are always right’.

This combination script also led her to aim to operate within a reality that was tightly constrained to lie within the intersection of what was ‘right’ according to each of her parents. Being a free-spirited girl, she often failed to stay within these boundaries and each time her being (or her actions) fell outside this boundary of ‘right’, she made herself ‘wrong’. She scolded herself internally and piled on yet another layer of self-reprimanding and guilt.

As the little girl grew older her own personality took wings and she felt like she was constantly at war with a part of herself that was internally scolding her and asking her to stay within the boundary of ‘right’ that she had scripted for herself based on her observations of her parents. She found these boundaries constraining, and even limiting her growth, expression, enjoyment of life, and ability to contribute to others. Since she could trace these boundaries vaguely to her parents values, beliefs and fears, she somehow started viewing her parents as her jailors and started building resentment towards them. But each time she became aware of the resentment, she would immediately scold herself, and make herself wrong yet again for harbouring resentment towards the two people who had been nicest and kindest to her in her whole life.

The irony of this drama was that her parents had never ever ‘forced’ their beliefs upon her or ever emphasized that they were right and she was wrong. They had been fairly liberal and understanding and had mostly allowed her to make her own decisions and choices. It was in her own head that she had created the limiting boundaries and the accompanying drama, by first ascribing to her parents a ‘God Status’ and then operating from her other favorite belief that ‘God could never be wrong’.

The last manifestation of this combination script has been that she was giving her parents a zero margin of making any errors or mistakes. She was expecting them to be right and perfect in every way and at every time. This is a really harsh expectation to have of anybody and it showed up in her behaviour as an unkindness towards her parents, and an intolerance of any failures on their part, all of which she has only started becoming aware of.
Example 2)
Combine the idea of ‘Mata, Pita, Devo Bhava’ with ‘God is Infinite energy and Power and can be Endlessly be called upon for help’.

Even just looking at this combination script fills me with compassion for the parents. It is one thing to hold an abstract concept of ‘God’ and give all your problems and worries over to Him or Her, but quite another thing to do that to real human beings who are already coping with their own share of worries, problems, and anxieties. For this little girl, it just never occurred to her that she might have been burdening her parents with her own worries and problems. In her mind they were magical super-beings, Gods and Goddesses who could deal with anything and so she would turn to them without blinking an eye every time she needed help or support. In fact she even ‘expected them’ to solve her problems for her and if her problems did not get solved then of course the easiest people to blame would be her parents.

Clearly, this was unhealthy both for her and her parents. She increasingly began to hold them responsible for her own happiness and sorrows, success and failures, absolving herself more and more of taking responsibility for her own life experiences and emotions. The parents too, over time began to get fatigued by her over-reliance on them (especially emotionally), but still they tried to be there for her no matter what.

The irony here, again is that she was not a mean girl at all. With everyone else she was usually compassionate and used to go out of the way to help and support others. She hated being a burden on anyone else, and she usually took care to give and contribute to people, animals, and other beings around her. However, with her parents she was just a different person. In her interactions with them she felt free to simply demand and ask for help and support – anytime and anyplace – and she did it from a place of innocence (not exploitation). In her mind they were infinite reservoirs of energy – just like God!

The truth however, was that her parents were human, and they would get tired, and there were times they had to say ‘no’, and there were times they could not give her what she wanted. At these times again she started to internally build resentment against them and blame all her problems on her parents. But then again she would feel bad for feeling resentful towards the very two people who had actually been contributing the most to her life.

This is a very sad example of how there was resentment building between two parties, where both sides were wonderful people. One side (the parents) were two amazingly generous and helpful people who just keep giving. However, the other side (the little girl – though now grown), had a subconscious expectation that they ‘should’ always be there for her and that they had infinite energy and powers because she had equated them with ‘God’. Because this was a combination of two subconscious scripts, she was not even aware that she was processing her interactions with her parents through these frames.

As you might have guessed by now, the little girl was me and the two amazing people who have not given up on me despite my inhuman demands and expectations of them are my parents. Today when I meet them and I will relieve them of the ‘God Status’ I had given them when I was a little girl and I will befriend them again as two amazingly gorgeous, kind, lovable, generous, supportive, interesting, fun-loving, and inspiring people I have been fortunate enough to have shared so many years with. I do not know the wisdom behind, ‘Mata, Pita, Devo Bhava’, and I might have misinterpreted the whole idea but clearly I’d like to dissolve that frame now. I want to give my parents the permission to be human, and to fail, to make mistakes, to falter and to be wrong at times, just like the rest of us. I know that I will love them and care for them whether or not they are super beings and Gods.

Mata Pita Photo

What Are You Hungry For?

I went out for lunch yesterday with a friend and had a most amazing experience. We shared a wrap and a plate of pasta. Both the dishes had been made very well, the restaurant had a nice feel to it, and the waiter who served us was friendly and humorous. When we finished lunch, I felt filled up and satiated, but I just wanted to keep sitting there and not go back. It was then that I realized that I was having such a good time that my body did not want to leave the chair, and my ‘good time’ was not just about the food. There were more dimensions to my feeling of satiation.

My friend and I had not taken any calls during our lunch, in fact we had not taken out our phones at all. We had been completely present with each other and with our food. We had not come out to lunch with any agenda or ‘conversation topic’, so we could just let ourselves be and allow a natural conversation to spontaneously unfold. None of us had specific objectives for the ‘conversation’ and so when one person spoke the other had just listened with full attention. There had been no need to plan in the back of our head about when we would finally get a chance to make that point we needed to make. What we had shared and savoured, was not just food, but a state of natural agenda-less presence. And how delicious it had been!

After I came back I started thinking about my 9 year son and how he really likes to go out to eat. I remembered having heard from several other parents as well about how their children love going out to eat. Usually we parents assume that it is about the food. We assume our children are craving for the pasta and pizza they get to eat in the restaurants. What if, along with the pasta and pizza, what they are also craving for is our undivided attention and agenda-less presence?

Perhaps at home we are more susceptible to distractions, internal and external, making it difficult to give our kids our undivided attention. I for sure know that even though I officially commit to sitting beside my son as he eats, I get up several times to check something in the kitchen, or do a little something else around the home. Mentally as well, I am often distracted, and sometimes I even ‘use’ that time to plan my next activity.

The second point, ‘agenda-less presence’ is something that is even more difficult at home. Especially if I have played a role in planning or cooking the meal, the poor kid’s dinner experience is stuffed and overflowing with mummy’s agenda. The conversations are also seldom agenda-less. They are either about healthy eating, or contaminated with some other ‘learning agendas’ or ‘good behaviour agendas’. I am not saying that any of this is ‘bad’ but just that from the kid’s point of view it would always appear as if somebody (in this case their parent) is trying to use that ‘dinner moment’ to control or manipulate them.

So the next time your kid (or anyone else) asks you to take them out to eat, you might want to also reflect on what they might really be hungry for. In fact this is a good question to even ask yourself – ‘what are you really hungry for?’. By no means am I saying we should not go out to eat – we should definitely go out and try a whole lot of different cuisines and engage in different experiences. However, I think that cultivating an awareness of the many dimensions of our ‘hunger’ can help us come up with alternate and more creative ways to satiate our hunger than only eating out :-).

feeding puppies