TOWARDS SELF-IMPROVEMENT


HAPPY INDIVIDUALS MAKE HAPPY FAMILIES WHO MAKE HAPPY NEIGHBORHOODS……

which leads to happy nations and a happy world.

We all have probably heard this said before. But, how often have we paused before plunging ourselves and our families into petty quarrels? If only we would pause and think about the grief we are causing, and the happiness we could cause instead by simply emoting differently.

A seething anger at being taken for granted, a terrible fear that things will not be as smooth as expected, a numbing sorrow at having been ignored, neglected or misunderstood – how often do we, day in and day out, let these feelings overwhelm us and make us powerless to feel happy, much less spread happiness around?

Let alone negative emotions triggered by real and expected experiences, we even allow our abstract thoughts and imagined events (that may never be) to drown us in depression or make us tempestuous.

I think it’s important to remind ourselves often that to make a nicer world, we need to be nicer individuals first.

Perhaps, all it takes is to be a little more polite when we are angry, a little less self-absorbed when we are sad, a little more understanding when we are upset.

A little less negative, adds to a lot more positive in human relationships.

Concern, compassion, kindness, love – all such noble qualities need a happy environment to grow.

THE BLUE MOVEMENT – Let’s make a start!

I’m a great admirer of the Green Movement. They’ve succeeded in making each one of us (right down to the grassroots) understand the need to go natural, use organic, support recycling; they have also made governments and international bodies realise that they must at least ‘seem’ to make their policies Green.

Like the Greens, I’d like the Blue Movement to embrace individuals, nations and the world.

All around us such badness and irritants abound. People are selfish, uncouth, lazy, corrupt, downright wicked; there are gossips, nags, worriers, bores, wet blankets and what not! How to embrace them all in a web of compassion?

Let’s take a common, every day incident as an example.

Back home tired after a long, unrewarding work day, you find a sinkful of dishes to be done, a husband neck-deep in newspaper and children at their boisterous best with their favourite music CD on. A lazy ‘Hi’ says they’ve all seen you and acknowledge your existence. But that’s all. A readymade situation to lose your temper, vent your anger, feel righteous.

Can you hold on a moment at that point of time, hold back your anger, irritation, dejection and say: “I’ve had a difficult day at the office. I’d appreciate if one of you can make me a hot cup of tea, and the others help me with the dishes.”

Can you ask: “I’ve had a difficult day at the office; has your day been good? Do you think you can do something to make me feel better?”

If the response is not as expected, can you tell: “I’ve tried, folks, but you’ve not responded. I’m sorry, but I’m tired. So, I’m leaving the dishes to do tomorrow if none of you wants to do it today, and I’m retiring for the night with a hot chocolate. Order a pizza or eat out. I won’t be able to sit through dinner, much less make it. Good night!”

In life, as on the road, even if you abide by the rules, accidents can occur because others may not. Irrespective of who is at fault, accidents cause injury to all parties involved. So, even if you are just in getting angry, it vitiates the atmosphere, not always with helpful results.

The first rule of the Blue Movement could be: Anger vitiates the atmosphere. Try alternative expressions to give vent to your emotions.

EMOTION vs EMOTIONAL

A better empathy quotient and emotional quotient would help transform us human beings into more humanE beings. But, while caring, sharing, soothing, comforting, understanding, accepting and showing ourselves capable of feeling as the others do, while empathising and not shying away from showing our emotions, we need to be careful not to become emotional. While empathising, we need to be careful not to lose our objectivity. It’s so easy to slip from being ‘involved’ to becoming ‘activistic’.

What is right and what is wrong? Who is good and who is bad? There are so many ways of looking at these things. I would even say that the ring of finality to ‘Truth’ is misplaced. Reality may be one, but there could be many ‘Truths’.

The Blue Movement, the movement to make our Blue Planet more caring, compassionate, loving, like the colour Blue – soothing, calming – would recognise this and make an effort to see all versions of the ‘Truth’.

That’s why we need to embrace emotions without becoming emotional; we need to empathise without losing our objectivity. We need to feel as the other rather than feel with the other.
Perhaps, that could be Rule Two of the Blue Movement: Make room in your heart and mind for Emotions, Empathy, but beware of the other E, Extremes.

FAMILY, FRIENDS, FEELINGS

Some of our most wonderful moments are spent with family and friends. They make for many of our most beautiful memories. They evoke some of our most tender emotions. And yet, our family and friends incite some of our worst feelings and moods.

I’d like to now look at the individual in a broader context – as a member of a family and as a friend. (By family, I mean the larger family that includes relatives by birth and marriage as well.)

Family and friends bring out the best in us, and, not unoften, the worst as well: Jealousy, rivalry, pettiness, greed, meanness, contempt, anguish, anxiety, and of course, anger ….. the list goes on.

How did Sue manage to land such a catch, Ney wonders, looking at Bob – the suave man her best friend has got engaged to. And then, Ney steals a look at the father of her kid – too garrulous, quite unkempt, and not nearly as handsome as Bob. She feels guilty with the thought trajectory and tries to shove away to another path, but the mind will not stop comparing and her eyes cannot resist drawing comparisons.

Leo wishes his son Tanya would stop clinging to him and be more agile and adventurous like other boys his age.

Maria wishes her daughter Gloria would cut her hair short; Gloria’s best friend Betsie looks so good!

Chintu is disappointed that his home is always the last stop on his brother’s holiday itinerary, and he resents that the brother who was his buddy in his growing years now always spends the least time with him. Of all the siblings, Chintu’s home has the least comforts – no swimming pool, no golf course nearby, not even a guest room with bath attached. Chintu’s sure that’s the reason and envies the others their good fortune. He had always invested in the wrong stocks, unlike the others. He also ought to have married for money, like his dad said. He is disgusted with his life, and his thoughts as well.

And so the burden of bad emotions keeps piling ….

A WAY OUT?

There’s a story that I often remember when I need to battle with my feelings, with my bad self. The lesson I read into the story is that it is easier to accept the bad in us, the evil in us, and then work towards resolving it than to try to overcome or fight the badness per se.

The story goes like this: An orphan boy is adopted and brought up by a wealthy man who has a mentally retarded niece. When the boy finishes college and is about to launch into a life on his own, the wealthy man prevails on the boy to marry his niece. The boy, who knows he owes his life to his foster father, cannot refuse. But, rather than turn bitter, he decides to fall in love with the girl he is expected to marry.

Having made up his mind, he sets out to build a relationship with the girl. Though he cannot have a normal conversation with her as he would with another person his age, he finds himself enjoying her company as he would that of a child. He also revels in finding that she has hidden gifts – such as for imitating people, for mimicry and for making some remarkably astute judgements about the character of people!

Like the boy in the story who accepts the inevitable and then works at making the best of a situation he cannot avoid, it has helped me often to accept my emotions as they are and then work my way out of them rather than try to avoid them or deny them.

LOVE AND ANGER

Can love and anger co-exist? Does one negate the other? These were the questions I was thinking about before writing this blog. So often, one gets angry with an external source – a person, an organization, a nation, a world – because a loved one is being threatened or a cause that is close to one’s heart is callously treated. Love, then, it appears, LEADS one to anger, often uncontrollable, unreasonable, and even subsumes one’s love for the self, which is, arguably, the most love one feels for anything or anyone in a life time.Then again, we often vent our anger – the vilest of words, harshest of language and bitterest of emotions – on our most loved ones, our nearest and dearest, our family and closest friends. It could be because we want to prevent them from falling into an abyss they are intent on falling into, it could be because they have not lived up to our need for understanding, appreciation, affection.Either out of our extreme anxiety or extreme disappointment, our anger makes us cruel with those we would want to be the kindest.Love and anger, it appears, are more closely linked than we would imagine!

LOVE AND FORGIVENESS

Love means being compassionate. So, does love mean forgiveness, I asked myself. It struck me that forgiveness has a righteous ring to it. We forgive someone and feel we have done something for which the other person must feel obligated. When they do not somehow seem as grateful as we feel they should be, we retract or regret the ‘forgiveness’. We feel slighted, wronged, angry, disappointed.

Compassion, on the other hand, presupposes understanding, acceptance. We empathise with the perpetrator of the wrong act. There’s a story I like very much, which will, perhaps, illustrate the point I’m trying to make about compassion being born of a deeper sense of love for a fellow being than forgiveness.

A STORY OF BUDDHA AND COMPASSION

Once, Gautama, Siddhartha, or the Buddha as he was known, was walking down a street. A person whom he had never met before, but who, apparently disliked the Buddha for his own reasons, approached him. He came near the Buddha, screamed at him, and spat on his face. The Buddha, it is said, calmly wiped off the spit and instead of remonstrating with the stranger or sayin something to the effect that the culprit was forgiven though he had wronged, said: “I’m sorry to have caused you such distress that you feel the need to punish me in this manner.” Needless to say the Buddha’s words, said from the heart, dissolved the stranger’s hatred for the Buddha.

 

COMPASSION ISN’T PASSIVITY OR INACTION

I was talking about the need to make a start, with changes in our individual behaviour, and I narrated a commonplace incident which could make us angry and then zoom into a full fledged domestic upheaval. I had suggested that, in such instances, we examine alternative responses to anger as anger is an alienating force.

Lets now consider some real instances where people could have got angry, but didn’t, but that did not make the world a nicer place or the culprit more humane.

A nearly-blind father – a retired pensioner, a popular professor and a great scholar – has a son. The son, an alcoholic and gambler, in the guise of taking money to meet household expenses, got his father to sign cheques that emptied all the father’s deposits. The father came to know about it only when the creditors came knocking at his door. However, he never confronted his son; only shifted the responsibility of looking after the household to another person he trusted.

The wayward son has not shown any remorse or expressed regret. He continues to live as he has always done, though how he manages to finance his lifestyle now is a mystery to me.

The father isn’t indifferent to his son’s behaviour, though he is not raving, ranting or complaining. He feels that his intervention will be fruitless and that in some way he himself is responsible for how his son has turned out.

Even if the son’s behaviour is indeed a result of his upbringing, the father’s passive attitude is not making the son any better.

How would citizens of our compassionate New World respond to this kind of situation?

Perhaps, with a metarule stating that: While anger vitiates the atmosphere and alternative expressions need to be tried, Passivity or Inaction would not be an appropriate response?

HYPOCRISY – DO WE HAVE TO PRACTICE DUALITY?

We may feel a need to deny the person who we sometimes become because of the feelings and emotions that come into our hearts and minds unasked, as a consequence of our social interactions.

As an individual, we may seldom feel the need to repress our emotions, but as a person interacting with a family or as a friend, we may feel awkward or ashamed to give expression to these emotions, and rightly so too, as it is an emotional cauldron we drown in every time we step out to mix and mingle with people and it’s impractical to say everything we feel or think or carry all emotions to a logical end.

At various times – at work, meetings, social gatherings, even within the four walls holding our intimate family – we find our thoughts, feelings, words, actions not being in sync with each other. Hypocrisy may have to be practiced in the interest of diplomacy, more often than we would like.

But a little bit of pragmatism, some creative thinking and courage can help loosen the grip of external forces on our psyche.

To go back to the examples I discussed (Under Family, friends, feelings), if I were Ney and I find myself envying my best friend, who is engaged to a person apparently more desirable than my husband – better groomed, more handsome, eloquent – I would first recognise my feeling for what it is. I would accept that I am envious. That’s the first step. And it needs pragmatism and courage to face the fact and accept the weakness.

After fully absorbing the fact that I am capable of feeling jealous of my best friend, that I am capable of feeling somewhat ashamed of my husband, that I am capable of feeling desire for another man, and so on and so forth, then, perhaps, I would try to counsel myself about the best way to conquer or overcome these emotions. Maybe I’d also try to convince my husband to go to a better salon or boutique or read How to Win Friends and Influence People or enrol for a public speaking course.

We need to be hypocrites, perhaps, in the interest of smooth functioning of relationships, but at least we can be true to our individual selves and see ourselves for what we are. While practicing duality, we can, at least, desist from self-delusion?

Because, only when we confront ourselves as we are can we do whatever is necessary to become the better person that we think we are or would like to be.

 

THE ENERGY-SAVING POTENTIAL OF SELF-EFFACEMENT

Climb every mountain, follow every dream, win every debate, prove every point; smarter, faster, bigger, better – sometimes, when sanity prevails over overweening ambition, I stop and wonder if it’s worthwhile, if it’s even possible, to always be the best, to always be right, to always lead the pack, to always win.

I, me, myself, mine – how much of physical energy, mental prowess and material resources do we expend every day in trying to ‘sell’ this self of ours, to ‘maintain’ the mirage, to ‘preserve’ the image!

I remind myself often of an anecdote to help me tide over this kind of obsessive compulsion to ‘Win every War’, simply because it’s impossible to win every time and we need not use every event, episode and encounter as an opportunity to ‘prove’ ourselves.

Now, for the anecdote:

In the mid-twentieth century, in the southern part of the Indian peninsula, there was a musician of great repute, called Bidaram Krishnappa. After a music concert, a critic got into a verbal duel with Krishnappa about the rendering of a particular musical piece. Krishnappa insisted that his rendering was classic. The critic differed and a blistering argument ensued.

As the debate progressed, the critic exposed more and more of his ignorance of the nuances of classical music, much to the amusement of the musicians gathered. Finally, the critic placed an ultimatum before Krishnappa: “Either agree to a public debate to settle the dispute or accept in writing that you don’t know music.” Krishnappa opted for the latter option to protect the critic from becoming an object of ridicule in a public forum.

I don’t know what became of that priceless piece of paper on which Bidaram Krishnappa wrote that he was a musical novice. But I do know that while the name of the critic is lost in the annals of time, Bidaram Krishnappa’s name continues to command respect decades after his death.

 

THREE WORDS THAT CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE – “I DON’T KNOW”

An enigmatic statement occurs in a work of ancient Hindu philosophy. A student asks his teacher, “Though I’ve learnt everything you have taught me and I now know as much as you do, you’re still wiser than me. Why is this so?”

The teacher replies, “I know I don’t know and can’t know. So, I know. You think you know. So you don’t know and won’t know.”

It’s impossible to know everything about everything, even after a lifetime in pursuit of knowledge. Still, there’s immense pressure on us to appear to know more than we really do. When we succumb to this pressure, we get caught in an ever-expanding web of deceit to shroud our ignorance. Result: A perpetual feeling of insecurity.

It doesn’t take much to say “I don’t know”. The more we learn to say it, the more comfortable we’ll feel saying it. The more we recognize how little we really know, the more we’ll try to learn. It’s the first step to becoming wiser, as the Hindu teacher said in the anecdote above. Besides removing our ignorance, admission of our ignorance would make the shroud of deceit redundant.

 

IT’S A ‘MEAN’ WORLD! THERE’S NO REASON TO COMPLAIN

“God must have loved the plain people – He made so many of them!” Abraham Lincoln is believed to have remarked once. It’s true, isn’t it? Most of us fall within the ‘mean’ – in terms of appearance, qualifications, achievements and so on. Most of us desire to look good, feel good, be considered good by those we come into contact with and so forth.

But then, most of us are somewhat dissatisfied. There is a vacuum – an empty space in our lives or inside us – that we seek to fill in various ways. But fulfilment is a strange thing. The moment one desire, wish or ambition is fulfilled, another crops up in its place. Greed is a strong word for this emotion, but it comes close. And Greed is eternal.

The ‘seventh pot of gold’ can never be filled. What’s this seventh pot of gold? Well, a poor farmer once found a pot of gold under a tree on his land. It was filled to the brim with gold coins. He took it home, happily. Every subsequent day, for the next six days, he found a fresh pot of gold under the very same tree. And every time, he took it home, happily. But, on getting home on the last day, with the seventh pot of gold, he found that it was not filled to the brim as the other pots were. He went back to his field, trying to see if he had dropped any gold pieces. He hadn’t. He then spent his entire life trying to earn more and more to fill the seventh pot of gold to the brim.

It’s a ‘mean’ world. Most of us are average. That shouldn’t stop us trying to cultivate special skills. At the same time, let’s also enjoy what we have without cribbing about what we don’t have.

 

Criticism? Yes. But who should wield the hammer and chisel?

It’s true that when we expose ourselves to criticism, and respond to it with a right attitude, we can mould ourselves into better persons.

While the change can happen only if we allow ourselves to mull over the criticism instead of brushing it aside, it is important, first, to see whether the person wielding the hammer and chisel intends to sculpt us into a thing of beauty.

We cannot allow our spirit to be broken or our individuality to be stamped out. Criticism that is intended to help us become better can be useful, but not comment that intends us to stop being Ourselves.

But who are We? Who am I? That’s a question that we need to answer upfront. We cannot, need not and indeed must not delude ourselves about ourselves.

I would like to reiterate that self-delusion can lead to disastrous consequences for ourselves, like in the following story. The story has nothing to do with criticism at all, but it does help get my point across – that we must be careful about letting ourselves be led by persons who are either misguided or out to misguide us! And, delusion about who we are and who our friends are can be our nemesis.

The story which follows was in the news in London recently:

Three young men came out of a bar some time in the wee hours of the morning, or late at night. One of them found his aunt, a physically disabled lady, prostate on the pavement outside the bar. He kicked her and when she didn’t get up, poured water all over her. His associate (I hesitate to call the relationship between the young men ‘friendship’, as a ‘friend’ would not have misguided the drunken young nephew of the hapless aunt in the manner I’ll describe presently) zipped out his cell phone and urged the young man on, saying “This is You Tube material!” The young man went on to urinate all over his aunt, who bore it all lying on the ground, helplessly. She died soon after.

Even in a drunken state, surely, the young man who perpetrated the dastardly act on his aunt knew he was doing a vile act! Surely, he cannot delude himself that his depravity sprung from his friend’s ‘encouragement’! And most certainly, the person who urged the young man on to greater vice cannot be called a friend!

 

THE MESS THAT’S THE MIND, AND MEDITATION

Thus far I’ve been talking about individuals’ lives in an every day world, the emotional cauldron they fall into the moment they wake up.

How do we retain our goodness or reclaim it, become nicer, more compassionate human beings if we’re bombarded by negative or undesirable thoughts, emotions and events from all sides?

In my last post I said that it might help to confront these thoughts and emotions, recognize them for what they are and then work them out of our system or do whatever is necessary to alleviate them.

I’m no neuroscientist, but the following thoughts, I think, have more to do with common sense than any science as such:

The GIGO (garbage in garbage out) syndrome applies to the mind as much as our desktops. We are bombarded day in and day out with so many sentiments, emotions and feelings that there is little time to think each one through. Result: accumulated sensations that, not finding release, keep swimming there in our subconscious. I guess this is what ends up causing psychosomatic disorders, such as stress, or worse.

Just as I’m not a neuroscientist, I’m not a meditation guru either. But I have found a certain kind of meditation or mental exercise restful and helpful to empty the garbage from my mind. It doesn’t involve longwinded prayers or mantra intonations. All it needs is for one to set aside 10 or 15 minutes a day for emptying the mind of accumulated, incomplete thoughts.

I first ensure that it’s that time of the day when I can be left undisturbed for at least half an hour. Then, I settle on a comfortable chair, in a comfortable room, in a comfortable position. I tell myself that I shall meditate that day for anywhere between 10 minutes and 20 minutes, depending on other things lined up for the day. Then, I close my eyes and think of something pleasant and neutral: A walk on the beach, a forest scene, a kingfisher, anything.

I tether my mind to that pleasant scene and let my thoughts wander. Every time my thoughts are pulled back, it comes back to the pleasant scene. Then again my thoughts wander. There’s nothing enforced. The thoughts are allowed to roam free, and come back to the starting point when they are done. I just give my mind the freedom to roam, without restriction, for those few minutes every day.

I’ve found this process of making my mind less messy has helped me by making it easier for others to live with me and for me to accept others. It has also made it easier for me to live with myself!

So, we have one more rule for the Blue Movement: Unclutter the mind. Empty the garbage so that there’s room for better things.

2 thoughts on “TOWARDS SELF-IMPROVEMENT

  1. Dear Kshama, I bumped into your blog accidentally and i just loved reading every line. Some of your thoughts are very similar to mine. well, may be its because we share the same name. Are there no recent post or how do i see them. I would be glad to hear a reply
    with best wishes
    kshama

  2. Thank you, Kshama, for visiting my blog. I haven’t been active recently, and your feedback is a motivation for me to get back to it. I hope to be able to, soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s