Saturday, March 31, 2018

Embracing the Steve Smith in Us

I felt the same intense anger that cricket fans all over felt when I learnt about the ball tampering incident. After the “brain fade” in India, Steve Smith did not leave much love on the table. We always knew he was not the most honest guy around.
And then on Thursday, he broke down at the Press conference. Those tears were real. One felt sorry.
Which Steve Smith is the real Steve Smith- the one who cheated or the one who cried and repented? Both.
In my last blog I wrote about how narrow definitions of growth confine and stifle us into spaces that we don’t necessarily enjoy but end up being in. While doing so we suppress and submerge those parts of ourselves which are truly ourselves- our core selves which make us feel truly alive.
Steve Smith was probably caught in such a place- the part of him that wanted success at all costs and could not take failure was dominant and active. Infact it was the dominant part that put on Whites and walked on to the field. This was the part that played hard cricket, competed down to the last run and set high standards, all desirable traits. This part spurred him on from being spinner and part time batsman to a top Order batsman and world champion . But, this is also the part that said “win at any cost”, “can’t afford to lose come what may”. This is the part that led to the brain fade, and now tampering. It killed him in the end.
The part that emerged at the press conference and cried was his purer self- the boy who played the game for joy, the boy who grew up wanting to wear the baggy green and represent Australia, the honest, well meaning hardworking young man who loved the game and played it for the love of the game. All of us who have played any sport will know this part. Where just being on the maidan or field is enough, where the blazing sun or the bleeding leg don’t matter, where running in to celebrate a wicket is the most beautiful thing on earth and where you respect the game and those who play it. Where the spirit triumphs the outcome, where how to play is as important if not more than who wins.
In the frenzy to win, to succeed, Steve Smith submerged this part deep within himself, its feeble voice drowned out by the sound of sandpaper against leather.
We have both Steve Smiths in all of us- with similar tussles and struggles. How we balance the pusher and achiever with the one who lends sanity, balance and anchors in a value system will determine if we end up living a journey possibly with fewer wins but with a lot more achievement and inspiration or end up crying at a Press conference.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

What does growth mean?

Have been in a few conversations recently where career growth, progression etc. have been the hot topic of discussion. Realized at the end of it that we as a society have started to place too much value and hence focus on external validation of growth. Titular growth, accompanied by material markers of success seem to be inextricably linked to conventional definitions of growth. This is leading to conflict because two distinct individuals might want to grow towards the same title, and more importantly and sadly it is taking away from a more individualistic model of growth which is anchored in individual identity as a starting point. 

Needless to say, for the latter to take place, individuals need to take charge of their own growth and development. What does this look like (or not)?

Let’s first start with a rudimentary definition of growth which I lay no claim to on authorship but identify very strongly with

Individual Growth= “Being a better version of oneself”

While seemingly a rudimentary definition, it anchors in the self and propels forward. Implicit in this definition is a journey view of growth rather than a milestone while suggesting a work in progress mindset. And because it uses “better” it somewhere assumes the “Good” is already in place. In a way it promotes a constructive view of development, rather than a deficit fixing view.

To come back to how can one be this way (“being” being the operative word here)
·        Cultivate self-awareness- If one has to be a better version of oneself, constantly being in the mode of self-awareness is a necessary condition (read more here on how- Our Inner Voice)
·        Bench-marking values/ways of being- Rather than being caught in bench-marking practices that others might be involved in, seek out values or ways of being that are inspirational. For e.g. instead of blindly doing charity because the neighbor seems to be doing it, think about what Cause energizes you and how you would want to make a difference there. This will help you distinguish between the means and the ends.
·        Unshackling self-limiting habits- Go after habits that are coming in the way of the growth mindset. Employ a coach, consult friends and work with yourself in going beyond. There is nothing sweeter than conquering the naysayers in one’s own mind.
·        Take others along where you can- This serves two purposes, it gives you meaningful social connections and also gives you the opportunity to get feedback. Feedback is an important tool in the journey of being a better version of oneself
·        Make values based choices- Being aware of and centered in one’s core values helps make choices that grow you. Remember growth is as much about knowing when to walk away.
·        Be goal oriented- Have internal yardsticks on what you are growing towards. Measure yourself against these yardsticks even if nobody is watching. Be accountable to yourself
·        Be happy- Don’t postpone your happiness or link it to some material acquisitions and milestones. Choose happiness. Here and Now. Period.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Our Inner Voice

“Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains”- Jean Jacques Rousseau, “The Social Contract”
In the book Man’s search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl talks about how you can take everything away from a man but hope. Confined to a concentration camp by the Nazis, seeing death and distress around him every day, Viktor Frankl managed to get in touch with something deep within himself that helped him cope with the fear and suffering that was all around him. Mind you there was much to fear- Fear of death, fear of torture, fear that he will never be able to see his beloved wife who was in a similar camp elsewhere.
Viktor Frankl managed to outlive the concentration camp, become a famous psychologist and author, while many of his friends and colleagues at the concentration camps died, even before they were gassed by the Nazis.
How did Viktor Frankl survive?
He did not lose hope. He found meaning within the fearful existence of a concentration camp. He says in his book
“Everything can be taken away from man but one thing: the last of human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way”
Unfortunately even though the Nazis have long gone but even today many of us remain confined in our self-created concentration camps, choosing to let ourselves be victims to the Nazis within us. Yes within us.
What is this concentration camp within us?
This concentration camp within us has many voices- the harsh voice of the critic who tells you how you have failed to do many things in life, or how you take shortcuts or how you have let your loved ones down. The voice of the pusher, who makes unreasonable demands of you, makes you do things that you don’t enjoy doing but end up, makes you act in ways that are not aligned with your own values. It is also often the voice of pity who says “oh poor you, how big a loser you are!”  or “how you deserve everything that you are getting!”
We were not born with these voices inside us; we acquired them as we grew up with people around us. In some ways, we allowed these voices to setup camps within our minds, gave them space to grow and now they are like encroachers who refuse to leave, wanting to stake claim to the mind space they are occupying.

Your true inner voice
One of the earliest voices within us is our inner voice. This is the voice that gives us hope, makes us want to sing and dance, be a free bird, try out new things, make friends, explore the world and become who we can be. This is the voice of our true self; believers might call it the voice of God. As we grow up and hear people around us, we tend to suppress our inner voice so that we can blend in, we can belong, we can be part of some group, family, community etc. Over a period of time in trying to adapt to the world, we drown out our inner voice completely, letting the outside world tell us what we should pursue, what our dreams should be, where we are lacking, how we are an utter failure etc. We allow these voices into our own heads, submerging our inner voice, sometimes burying it so deep that even when it speaks we can’t hear. Mind you the external world might sometimes be trying to help but the way we hear those voices and allow them to settle is the equivalent of creating concentration camps. For e.g. someone criticizes the way we dress up, we store it in our heads as “Oh I am undesirable!” This voice them rings in our heads every time we wear something, or every time someone comments on how we are looking. It doesn’t matter if a thousand people tell us later that we are looking awesome, the inner Nazi voice wins.
Rediscovering our true inner Voice
It takes time, to drown out the noise and hear the voice. Some practices do help though
·         Ask yourselves, what is it that gives me joy, something that given a choice I could do every day? Whatever it may be, find time to do this particularly activity for some time every day. It might be painting, writing, music, helping others, teaching, playing a sport. Doesn’t matter what it is, do it every day
·         Journal your feelings- write about what made you glad, mad, sad during the course of the day. Write about the high points and low points in your daily life; write about what you felt as you went through them. Be honest, even if nobody’s checking. You owe it to yourself.
·         Share your life- Find that trustworthy friend whom you can confide in, a friend who hears you without judgment. Open your doors and your heart to this friend. In return become a confidante to this friend, hearing him or her without judgement, become a safe place to them.
·         Try and go beyond yourself- see how you can help someone who needs your help, it could be that little kid in the building who wants to learn cycling or that colleague who is struggling with a particular office routine. Put your hand up, volunteer, start small, stay with it.
·         Stay silent and hear yourself- Every day find time to sit in silence in a peaceful place, close your eyes, just by yourselves and witness what is happening within you. Remember the idea is to just witness, not judge. It will be difficult at the beginning, you will feel uncomfortable, and you will feel impatient to open your eyes. Stay as long as you can, silent and with yourselves. Nothing that you think about is good or bad. Everything that is coming to you is ok, witness it and let it go. When you do this long enough you will start hearing your inner voice. You will know it when you get there.

And last but not the least, practice self-compassion. Those who are angry and harsh with the world are actually beating themselves up a lot within. Move away from this space by treating yourself with self-compassion.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Self Compassion- a dialogue with oneself

It’s exam season. Everyone around seems tense, there seems to be so much at stake, for children and more so for parents. One feels sad and pitiful. It could be so different.

I was fortunate to be raised by parents who for some reason did not pressure me ever over academics. I do not recall any instance of an altercation with either my mother or my father over studying, how many marks I got, why did I lose marks carelessly etc. In retrospect, maybe this is why for me, the process of learning has been an enjoyable one. I do not feel nervous around it or hate it; in fact I look forward to the intellectual stimulation that comes with it. Those of you who know me will also know that I didn’t do too badly at academics in school and college (Engg being a different story altogether though!)

When I reflect back now, with some grey hair, and a better understanding of human behaviour, I realize that there was something that my parents did then which was quite right. They balanced responsibility with kindness. And that in turn instilled in me confidence to face exams with the best that I could put forth. Responsibility was a daily affair, I had to take care of my own homework and study my daily portions. Kindness surfaced when I struggled with concepts, they let me take my time and figure it out, chipping in as required. In the end I realized through a process of patient learning that it is possible to master most things well, giving it time and disciplined attention.

Kristin Neff talks about self-compassion as an extension of some of the above aspects- she calls it kindness towards self, common humanity and mindfulness. Kindness towards oneself begins with a language that we inherit typically from those around us (see my last post on this). If this language is of judgment then kindness is likely to be the first casualty. This then begins to haunt us down every time the teacher circles something in red in our answer sheets or we lose marks to “silly” mistakes. Now this label “silly” goes and attaches itself not to the mistake but to the individual. And because someone starts seeing themselves as “silly” they pretty much stop working on getting it right. The judgment takes over. Some might argue that kindness to self means lowered standards or lenience. It’s useful to be aware that treating oneself with kindness is possibly the best way to move towards better performance in a way that is aligned from within. Judgements are external drivers, beyond a point they stop working. So is the case with external comparisons, it does no good to your child’s sense of individuality and self-esteem. Leniency is a sign of weakness, kindness comes from a place of strength where you choose to offer yourself support to grow using a language that focuses on what is possible.

Common humanity, the second aspect of self-compassion, acknowledges the frailty that all of us possess and works from that broken space. It shuns the language of the victim that says “Why me?” knowing very well that the very meaning of life has failures, disappointments, difficulties and challenges. In fact it goes further and understands that as humans we are connected in this suffering, and there is a shared inclusive reality that all of us are going through.

The third aspect, mindfulness, is an acknowledgement of the present from a detached place. It does not mean avoiding emotions but carrying a witnessing element towards them. I like to term this “Wrestling in the mud” with the emotion, rather than getting clouded by it. Touch it, feel it, sense it, describe it, make friends with it. Witness what it does to your body, to your thoughts, the behaviours that it urges you towards, witness it all. While doing so become aware of how these thoughts and feelings are here for now, and a while later some new ones will take their place. Mindfulness is mindful awareness.

All of us need to cultivate this language of self-compassion if we want ourselves to be kind, compassionate and empathetic human beings. Compassion, like charity, begins at home, with yourselves.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Booting the Aam Aadmi out of the Box

BCCI booting out Harsha Bhogle summarily reeks of the mindsets of Kings and Nobles of medieval Europe and India who would have you beheaded just because they don’t like your face. And in this case, on recommendation of a Bollywood actor who prides himself on being a gentleman, apparently. There is also the suggestion that Harsha had an argument with some powerful BCCI personnel and rubbed them the wrong way.
In India power gets you what you want, money makes it easier to get to power or power centers. The BCCI is run as a fiefdom of the powerful where the moneyed have to queue up to have their shot at being considered to be part of the inner circle. The common man who makes Indian cricket what it is and therefore lends all the clout to BCCI is at best playing usher to the Badshahs who control the game today and those who feed their fiefdoms in exchange for a share of the power.
In this context, Harsha’s achievement has been two fold. One, entering a commentary box which has been largely the reserve of ex-players who love holding a mike, two, breaching a largely impenetrable bastion of powerful people who have never held a bat professionally yet control destinies of some incredibly talented young cricketers. For youngsters who grew up wanting to wear India whites, and mostly failed, Harsha was their voice on the field, their voice on air, their conscience keeper of the game. His earnest approach (which did fade away to mostly cocky humour), grip over history and humility laced with a certain curious innocence made him that quintessential face, apart from Sachin, who was default on tv whenever India was playing cricket, any format, anywhere in the world. His commentary was balanced, thorough and while it did not have the magic of a Benaud or the drama of a Grieg, you could trust him to tell you what was real, and not take sides, ever.
So when Mr. Bachchan (I still have a little respect left for him, very little though) decided to go jingoistic and point fingers at Harsha indirectly for speaking too much about foreign players he was in effect pointing fingers at the common man who made him what he was. The same common man who prayed no end at temples around the country when he was injured shooting Coolie. The same common man whose dreams he played with and made pot loads of money off using Kaun Banega Crorepati. The same common man who believed that their legendary hero who bashed up villains on screen, was a good guy off it too. That common man feels let down because one of their “heroes” who succeeded in being the face of Indian cricket commentary through sheer hard work, talent and the right set of values now has been arbitrarily dismissed just because “Mr.” Bachchan felt so.

Mind you this is not just about cricket; it is about the social structure of this country, where class is the caste in urban India. Anybody who does naukri (derived from naukar of course) can be asked to pledge their lives to their rich employer toe their line, do as they are told. The slightest breach though can get you thrown out, with ad hoc reasons, or in cases like Harsha’s without. Won’t be surprised if the BCCI even expects an apology from Harsha Bhogle! Welcome to the new India, which by the way, is still the old India with some new clothes

Sunday, February 01, 2015


In God we trust is a very powerful line. Trust is the basis for all human interaction and while we might not think overtly about it, it is a constant companion to who we are, who we meet, who we deal with, who we keep in touch with, who we call friends, family, lover etc.
An essential element of trust is the trust that you have in your own self. An ability to imagine oneself being able to live up to promises made to oneself and made to others. This trust is fundamental and determines how we trust others or if we trust others at all or not.
Trust is a deep dialogue within, sometimes in feeble voices, often in angry retorts and sometimes in woe struck laments. There is a voice within that either trusts one’s own identity more often than not or doesn't
trust as much. This forms an essential part of identity, who I am, how I interact with society, family and the others in my life. Trust is that voice of identity; it’s not your conscience, in the sense that trust is probably a by-product of the experiences that form your conscience. The voice of conscience shapes the voice of trust and if your conscience is broken probably your trust is too. Trust is the child of conscience. A conscience that feels happy and not let down is one that trusts its own being. A conscience that has had to compromise does not trust as much. And this lack of trust manifests in many overt behaviours- anger, jealousy, overly pleasing people, underlying all of it being a lack of trust in meeting the world as an authentic being with a mix of strengths and frailties. And this perpetuates a falsehood which distances the identity and sense of self further from reality. The voice of conscience and that of its child trust gets drowned in multiple voices of anger, disappointment, fear, jealousy and much more.

Honesty within is a powerful element of an identity that can trust oneself and therefore the world. The goodness of the heart is like an ocean of trust if well nurtured. And this ocean hugs every shore that it finds and takes on many hues and colours. It lashes, it drifts, it floats, it meanders but it remains trusting of the paths that it meets. That trust is really about the trust in its own character as an ocean. An ocean that never ends or for that matter that which never begins. Trust is like that.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sach an Indian

Many of us grew up hearing the story of Rama, the righteous king who lived his life through dignity, sacrifice and high sense of ideals, protecting what was right, till the end. His kingdom was perfect. We also heard stories in moral science classes about honesty, humility, sacrifice etc. These stories were meant to be imbibed, inculcated, understood and practised.  And then we met the real world, which was anything but. The conflict confused us and our parents too who seemed to have answers for everything, shrugged and asked us to be practical. Ideals are fine, but there was a life to live. The two seemed incompatible. Something died within us as we quickly adapted to the ways of the world which meant ego, greed, false pride, short cuts, jugaad….
And then a diminutive young man entered our lives in the early 90s.  It was almost like a Yuga had begun, and it truly was, as we’d realise later. An era which would tell us, Mumbai, India and the world that the pursuit of excellence is possible, that we could take on the world with our own Indian-ness one step at a time, one ball at a time, with honesty, humility and with sheer hard work. It wasn’t the first time that this was happening. About 70 years ago a khadi clad man had taken on the might of the British Empire single- handedly through truth and non-violence, He had conquered the world with his unique approach, and it isn’t mere coincidence that Gandhiji was also a man of short stature.
We exulted for many years in the company of this new found gem, handling him with care not letting anything hurt him. It was all glory for him, for the country, for us. I still remember the outrage when Mike Denness questioned his integrity. Knives were drawn, but the way Sachin conducted himself reminded us, yet again of the Indianness of his actions and showed us the path.
 And then he slumped. Apparently did. And the wolves were out, classical Indian criticism- can’t play on foreign soil, plays only for himself, can never take India to victory etc. Yet he never let his emotions show, surely must’ve hurt. We tried to make him Captain but just like Mahatma Gandhi could never be PM, spare Sachin the task of leading the team. The Genius had the larger task of carrying the morality and hopes of an entire nation that was his true captaincy.

He understood that this criticism is all out of love, just like in our families, where too much love means extreme cynosure. Nothing is allowed to go wrong, everything has to be perfect. He knew that he still carried the hopes of millions; they wanted HIM to be perfect. He put his head down and just played. And played. Conquered the Gentlemen at Lords, the ruffians in Australia, the Springboks in South Africa. The records came, the bat rose for the straight drive, the covers parted to reveal the cover drive. India breathed in relief; all is forgiven welcome back home it said. Sachin just smiled to himself, adjusted his helmet and took strike.

He started ageing. Had to, was inevitable. The bat came down fractionally slower; he seemed brittle, losing wickets to ordinary street side like talent. India couldn’t imagine this, we just wanted to shut our eyes and forget it. Even calls for his retirement were to just spare ourselves the pain of seeing him falter, fumble. Selfish India, didn’t want to lose that one Indian who we could point at with pride and say that is Indianness, that’s what we are all about. Yes he. HE.

So while he departs, the game is poorer for sure. And India is too. He is the Lord Rama of our times. And when he walked away as if into exile, the whole of India wished him not to go. But he had lived by his dharma and walked away when the time had come. We didn’t want him to leave; we wanted him to be there forever. For whenever we were down, he was there, whenever we felt good, he made us feel better. When the world spoke about India, they spoke about Sachin. When fans world over rose for an Indian they did so most often for him. They gasped when he started his career with that rare combination of class and aggression and nodded and nodded as he never relented. It was endorsement for a country that had been insecure for too long of its place in the world. And when the Don told the world that he saw himself in Sachin, we knew that the world had been conquered by this one man who we couldn’t have enough of.

We heard him speak yesterday.  We were used to his bat doing the talking, this was different. We were stunned by the story of this man. In his own words. And everything that we had constructed this man to be- humble, simple, grounded was unravelling in front of our eyes…tears, tears, more tears. You could see sadness in his eye, a tear of two; he said he was feeling emotional. The icon of our hopes, the Rama of our times was human after all. Yet above all that you could still see an innocent glint in his eyes, the same glint that one had seen many years ago when as a 14 yr old he had said in his first interview “I just want to play cricket”

And when he walked alone to the pitch at Wankhede, bent over and touched the ground to pay his respects for one last time, a teary eyed nation found solace thinking that our boy remained what he always was….A true son of India's soil.