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Creating Flow

The Freedom To Be

Monthly Archives: June 2011


The red circle evoked fear. The misspelt word had been circled. I was six years old. Yet the feeling of rejected numbness, as I looked into my notebook is easy to recall. That is my first recollection of experiencing The System. It had clear guidelines of what was right and what was wrong. If I had to be accepted, I needed to do what was right. If I did what was ‘right’ I would be rewarded by good marks, prizes and the approving look of my parents and teachers. It was also the beginning of wrong Giving up my natural expression and curiosity for social approval. I was on my way to becoming another brick in the wall.

At twenty-four, the education system ejected me to take my rightful place in society. With an accountancy degree, that in retrospect was as divorced from my naturalness, as darkness is to light. I had vague values of being materially successful, by taking up a job in a big corporation. It was glamorous to watch people in smart business suits, with laptops walking into plush offices. I wanted to be one of them. Speak with sophistication and ‘be with it. Cool, trendy,upwardly mobile. Have a nice house and fancy car. Basically well-settled into the mainstream. The Great Indian Middle Class Dream!

Getting my first job gave me a high. From having to depend on pocket money, I could now buy my own experiences. I had at last earned my rightful place in society. It seemed nice to say I am a CA working with a high profile consulting firm. Family was happy. Society nodded in approval. Yet something was not quite right. My work. It left me cold. Actually depressed.  I felt a cold tightening across my chest most of the time. The synthetic corporate environment of result at all cost was stifling. I was a task machine. The people above me did the same, as did the people below me. Was this was how life was to be lived?

I thought the problem was numbers. I preferred people, not numbers. I switched to Human Resources and got into corporate training. Thinking this would satisfy my passion for human development. When I realized that training was all about voice modulation and enacting a script, it was a rude shock. I just couldn’t ‘act’ in training programs. The feedback I got created immense self-doubt.  Then I came across Organization Development. I did not know what it was, but it seemed the answer. Some people I looked up to were doing this. I joined an OD program. However, before this, something happened that changed my life forever.

The corporate system ejected me! I lost my job during the economic recession. It was frightening. Even paralysing. I didn’t know of any other way of life. I had always been told, to get a degree and a job. What else could I do? Yet this was the best thing that could have happened to me. The System had finally spat me out unceremoniously. On my own, for the first time in my life, I floundered and feared yet found my own feet. And my flow!

Having completed my OD program I acquired a new identity that of an OD consultant. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. It was something to do with change management, working with the whole systems. It was more holistic approach to developing an organization than doing trainings. I was exposed to various change tools and methodologies to apply when needed. To build sustainable organizations, that grew holistically. Which in simpler terms means, make profit, not at the cost of human beings and the environment. Soon I encountered the question. Are organizations really interested in human beings?

In a capitalist society ruled by market and money, human beings and the environment are simply resources to be exploited, by a few, for the few. Corporate social responsibility and philanthropy seems like a rich man taking from the poor man’s bowl, and then giving a few nickels back in return. It is not about an individual or an organization. It is about how The System operates. The dual principals of consumption and acquisition on which our culture and economy is built are degenerative. The more we consume, irrespective of our needs, greater the economic growth. The more money and resources I acquire, lesser I need to create real value. My money works for me. Increase in GDP has no correlation to the mental and physical well-being of a country’s population. The rich become richer and the poor poorer. And the middle class sell themselves to pay their next EMI. The common value is “As long as I, my family or my country has enough, to hell with you!” That explains why the richest 1% of world population holds 40% of the world’s resources, while over half of humanity lives on less than $ 2.50 a day.

So why do I talk about economics in the middle of what seemed like a biographical piece? Simply because my journey mirrors The System that created me, for its own consumption. By stripping me of my naturalness and conditioning me to believe, that happiness and self-worth resides in the material success I achieve, through consumption and acquisition. I am not alone.  I carry the world inside me. The microcosm only reflects the macrocosm. Just as feeling a single grain of rice, one can tell whether all of the rice has been cooked or not.

So how does this story end? It doesn’t. It is ongoing. It is not my story. It is a part of a larger story. The Human Story. Just as your story is. We have inherited a human legacy from our ancestors. And are the link between what we will pass on to our children. What is passed on will depend on our ability to see. See deeply into ourselves. Get in touch with our essence. For it is only then, we can truly touch the world, simply being where we are.

I carry the world in me.

I am the world.

 

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The room was well lit. The air, conditioned. The music, gentle. People in coats and ties, some sitting alone, others standing together. Quick handshakes, half smiles, polite conversations. A taste of corporate India one summer morning at the banquet hall of a star city hotel.

The banner read “Learning Conference”, a get together of HR and learning professionals. Practitioners and consultants. To learn about learning. Some eager to share what they had learnt. Others keen to learn from their learning. The power point ready to assist in the learning process.

The proceedings began with a talk. It answered- Why we are here? Why it is important to be here? What we can achieve by being here? A quick speech, delivered with eloquent flair. The audience reminded of their importance now seemed willing to learn.

The first slide flashed “Understanding Psychometric Instruments”, the topic of the day. “What is psychometric?” asked the sari clad elegant looking presenter. A senior executive of a leading consulting firm. A few hands went up. Each answer anticipating being the right response. The second slide flashed “psyche + measure”. A tool to measure the mind. Effectively employed while recruiting, training, assessing, developing human talent in an organization. Larger the numbers, easier the sifting process. Removing the chaff from the grain.

As the slides moved, the room seemed to be divided into vertical and horizontal lines. Square shapes everywhere. Boxes for everything. Measures. Outcomes. Performance. Talent. Growth. Each well explained, well sorted into its own box. The audience seemed satisfied. Things were becoming clearer. Knowing what went where. What cause, lead to what effect and vice-versa. Mental shaped problems fitting into conceptual shaped solutions. Learning seemed to be happening.

Yet another shape emerged within the boxes of that room. A wiggly wobbly hole. A gaping hole inside of me. As though devoid of soul. Seeking human touch. For no reason and no outcome.  Yearning for creativity and relating without any measure. Longing to speak a physical language, without words and numbers. The wiggly wobbly hole began wondering what was its place in a world full of concrete hard squares? Getting no answer it felt sad and disillusioned.

I carried the hole with me that day. Was humanity wrong? Or was I wrong, to question the working of the whole human race? A corporate machine, measuring every action and sorting people into buckets.  Every bucket to be poured into the ocean of organizational outcomes. The abstract had consumed the physical. Result had overpowered relating. Profit had overshadowed people. Index had depleted individual.  Every instinct in me cried, humanity was wrong. It was a lonely place. Being pitted against your own race. Seeing something, which others did not seem to see?  Yet something did not seem right. Making them wrong. Making me right.

As I sat watching the sea that night, the wiggly wobbly hole grew bigger. The isolation felt stronger. Each wave brought a new question, painfully lashing into the recesses of my being. What is the purpose of my life? Is there any value for my values, so distinct from the world at large? What am I to do?  What is my destiny? Each question left me feeling empty and hollow. Another part of me felt as though I was judging the world, putting myself on a higher pedestal than others. I felt lost. Was their a middle path, of holding onto my values, without being self-righteous?

The moon was full that night. Gazing luminously at the frothy sea.  Clouds like unrolled cotton balls, kept changing shape. The waves washed the sands, leaving new imprints with every sweep. The sea breeze carried its salty sticky flavour to the shore, with a differing force each time. The canvas kept moving changing. It occurred to me that everything in nature is wiggly wobbly. No concrete shape, unlike a man made world. No boxes, no squares, no triangles. Shapes keep changing, merging seamlessly into each other, giving birth to new shapes. The moon, the sea, the sand, the breeze and the enveloping blue darkness are all one. Doing a cosmic dance ordered by a supreme intelligence.  With a deep conviction that the immediate now, whatever its nature, is the goal and fulfillment of all living.

Perhaps we humans are a part of that cosmic dance too, only we don’t realise it. As though suffering temporary amnesia and forgetting our oneness with existence. And the perfection of what Is. Even when it seems imperfect. Cutting the physical world into pieces through the scissors of the mind, using dual blades of number and words. Finding fault with it. Then trying to rectify it with effort and outcome.

Suddenly in that moment, words began to crumble. Corporate, non-corporate, values, right, wrong, me, them, squares, holes. All of them. The concrete inner world of concepts became wiggly wobbly. It gave way to an empty silence, in touch with physical sensations alone.

In the silence, all wrong become right. Infact there was no wrong or right. Just IT. An intense impersonal aliveness of the now! IT, was the simplest word to describe a wordless reality.  All purpose became purposeless. Things were the way they were. The way the world functioned and what I felt about it was part of  IT. They were not separate. They were part of the same dance. There was a silent acceptance of them, of me and our disagreement. Also the acceptance of the illusion that separated us.

This was the isness of life.

This is IT.

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