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Creating Flow

The Freedom To Be

Category Archives: Personal Growth

“Finding a purpose to life is man’s primary motivational force.” writes Dr. Victor E Frankl in his book Man’s Search For Meaning. Dr. Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist endured years of horror in Nazi death camps, by finding something worthwhile to live for.

This article is about meaning.

What role does it play in our lives? Where does it come from? How do we find it? Does it change over time? Do we define it or does it define us?

I have two choices.

Choice one. Explore these questions from a variety of intellectual perspectives.

Choice two. Explore the lives of few people I know, including myself, to see how these questions on meaning and purpose have unfolded in their lives.

The people whose lives I will explore are real people. I know them. However, the dialogues, settings and names are fictional. The idea is to bring forth the meaningful essence of each person, as I have experienced them, not so much to reproduce accurate data.

Let’s hear what they have to say.

The Corporate Achiever

I met Neeta during a work assignment.

I was conducting interviews to understand the organization by meeting a few employees. It was the last interview of a tiring day. As she walked into the room, I noticed her tight fitting black trouser and plain white corporate shirt.  Hair tied in a bun and eyes tired after a long days work. We shook hands and I explained to her that there was no structure for the interview. She could start by sharing about her background and then about her work, colleagues and future aspirations. She picked the glass of water lying on the table, took a sip, and after a pause started sharing.

“I come from a small town in Gujarat. My father was a school teacher and my mother a housewife. I am the only daughter. I have two brothers, one elder and the other younger. Right since my childhood, I was a go getter. I did well in school and never let anyone take me for granted. It wasn’t easy, since men were always given preferential treatment.

I had a great desire to prove myself. I still do. It is like an aggressive energy driving me forward. For me it meant going to the city, getting a high paying job and being in a senior position of a corporation. Which I did. The first time I came to Mumbai was to study. I joined an Art school, since I was quite creative. However, I was clear that I had to get a corporate job. It is my ambition to be the head of an organization. I took up this job of heading the creative department of a publishing company. I have worked for seven years here, however I realize if I have to grow then I have to be in business development. Selling is at the forefront of any organization and if one has to grow, one needs to be able to get more business. Soon I will move to the sales team.”

“What about your relations with your colleagues and your future plans?” I inquired. “They say I am short tempered. I agree. At times I loose my temper, but then I cannot tolerate mediocrity. If there is a task that needs to be done, then it needs to be done! Sometimes my temper gets me into trouble. I am working on it. However, I do not wish to let go of my aggressive nature. Achieving my goal is essential to who I am. It gives me meaning. Eventually I would like to be the head of an organization. I know I am capable of it. ”

The Musical Banker

I met Naresh during a trek some years back. Our friendship has stood the test of time. We had a lot in common. Both came from urban middle-class families, were qualified chartered accountants and had corporate jobs that did not satisfy us, but were a means for a livelihood.  Naresh is an amiable fellow and makes friends easily. He has a passion for music. Classical music.

We met at a club. He shared that the current financial crisis may cost him his bank job.

“They are laying of people. I do not know what I will do if I lose my job. Probably take a sabbatical for two months. I don’t know if I can afford to do that.” he shared.  “But Naresh, you have been saying that to me for the past three years, and you still have your job.” I interjected, unsure whether I wanted him to lose his job to do something meaningful or retain it for the financial security it gave him.

Yes I do, but you never know. It is just a means to earn a living. I go there do my work and come back. I have been doing more or less similar work for the past seven years. Moving files and shuffling papers.” he says with his trademark humour. “The boss is a pain. But that is how we middle class people make money, pay our EMIs and take care of our families. We do our time over the week so that we can live our lives over the weekends,” he added. “What do you do on weekends?” I questioned.

“I go for my music classes. I have been practising that for the past ten years. My grandmother introduced me to it and I shall always be grateful to her for that. When I sing, I feel closest to God. It is the cornerstone of my life. At times, I attend concerts with my mother. It is a soulful experience.”  “Can’t you do something around music?” the idealist in me inquired.

“Who will pay me for it and what could I do?” he responds “Let us be practical after all the world is maintained by people like us who do 9 to 6 jobs, six days a week. No one is interested in whether you find your job meaningful or not. I do my job and that is the end of it. It is a job after all.”

The Teacher Mother

Lakshmi works as a senior executive in an education company, that has created a successful brand of franchisee schools. She has worked there for the past seventeen years. She started her career in the same company as a pre-school teacher. A chance encounter with the founder, when the company had only begun with a single pre-school.

She has a twenty three year old son Tapan, who is pursuing his graduation studies in Australia.

One pleasant morning, during one of our occasional morning walks, I ask her “What has been most meaningful in your life?” She looks at me, a little surprised at the question, unsure what to say. “I am writing an article on what different people find meaningful in their lives,” I add, hoping to elicit a response. It does.

“My most meaningful experience is of being a mother.” she responds in a voice laced with emotion.

“My son is the most precious to me. Nothing in the world is more valuable to me, than him. When he left for Australia three years back, my world came crashing down. My entire world revolved around him. Suddenly there was this huge emptiness. I could not eat for days. I spiraled into a depression. Thankfully, my friends stood by me. It was the most difficult experience of my life. Letting go of my son. It left me detached and wondering at the play of life. It gives and then it takes away. I just could not make meaning of it. My desire to find some explanation made me join astrology classes. Now I can see things from a larger perspective. Every person has his own destiny. There is not much in our hands beyond a point. That realization brings balance into my life.”

We walk silently for the next few steps.

“What about your work?” I probe further.

“When I began I was extremely passionate about what I did. I taught toddlers in pre-school. Since the organization was just beginning I did all kinds of work – clerical, marketing, training, curriculum development, even being a school principal. There is no department I have not worked in. I did not mind working late. As the company grew, we began to corporatize systems. I was moved to central office as an executive. My interaction with schools was restricted in my new role. That killed my passion. All that was meaningful for me, was taken away by my new role. The irony was that I had a better designation and a bigger salary, yet the fulfilment I got from my work diminished. It became a job. It is funny when I look back, the organization that gave me meaning, also took it away when we became successful.”

“What keeps you going then?” I ask

“I still like my work, but the passion of those initial years is missing. Once I am able to fulfill my financial responsibilities, I would like to work with underprivileged children in a non-profit organization. Not for money, just for the joy of it. That would give me new meaning.”

The Urban Seeker

This is about my journey of finding meaning and purpose in life.

Different things have been important to me at different times of my life. Yet if there is one thread that ran through all my past experiences, it was to find my calling. To be able to do work that would quench my thirst for self-expression. Interestingly that journey began after my education, when I started working.

“I have met many people who are doing things that they are not meant to be doing, yet I haven’t  come across anyone who is as divorced from his natural self and the work one does, as you are” said a friend to me once.  At that time I was working as management accountant, in the finance department of a multinational company.  She was right. I did not like my work one bit. I have no interest or aptitude for numbers, which people find hard to believe considering I qualified as a chartered accountant. I attribute it to a cocktail of poor awareness, fear of being a failure and desire for social recognition. I could further attribute it to a poor education system that rewards learning by rote, parenting that defines success by social parameters or my destiny. Having said that, yet if I were to look at it from a larger perspective, everything had its place, time and reason. What did not make sense earlier, made sense later. The fact remains all that I have learnt is from unlearning all that I had learnt, like peeling layer after layer to uncover my natural self.  Perhaps it is essential to lose yourself, before you can find yourself.

It was not an easy process though. I remember the time when I quit my high paying job, with the hope of becoming a corporate trainer. I thought then, if I had to work with people that was the only way to go about it. I remember the vulnerability of not having a job for a few months. I remember going back again to the security of a job, out of the fear of not being able to support myself. I remember the immense boredom of it, yet not knowing or having the guts to try again, after having failed once. I remember moving from finance to human resources, something unheard of. I remember the dissatisfaction and failure at being a trainer, simply because I did not believe in it and could not modulate my voice to engage my audience. And, I remember clearly sitting one day with my head in my hands, with every cell in my body crying out for self-expression, yet not knowing what it was, that I was meant to do.

The work I do now is not only an expression of who I am, it is a culmination of a long journey in finding meaning. There is no path I can point to and say it got me here. Yet one thing stands out. All that I did, that was not organic to me, dropped off one after another. Borrowed causes I call them. Every  new turn, even though scary at that instance, got me closer to what I was meant to do. What finally remained was truly mine.

There are various labels to what I do now. Organization development consultant, management consultant, human resource trainer, facilitator, coach or change catalyst. Yet the truth is all I am doing is being myself. Just as writing this article does not make me a writer. It is simply a means of self-expression. In hindsight, the journey was not of finding my calling; the journey was of finding my-self.

It feels like coming home.

***

I am unsure how these stories answer the questions on meaning and purpose in your life.

Perhaps there are no absolute answers. Each individual has to find his own answers. And his own meaning. Often the questions and meanings keep changing. What used to be the answers once, get converted into questions later.

Dr. Frankl would sometimes ask his patients. “Why do you not commit suicide?” From their answers he could find a guide line for their therapy: in one’s life there is love for one’s children to tie to; in another life, a talent to be used; in a third perhaps only lingering memories worth preserving. These slender threads weaved meaning into people’s lives and gave them a reason to live. What gave them meaning, gave them life.

As Nietzsche, the German philosopher says “He who has a why to live can bear with any how.”

***

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I was excited when I first went through the brochure of the Learning Societies Unconference. For two reasons. One, it was a gathering of people, in a manner I had never experienced before. Two, they seemed my kind of people. They were expecting more than three hundred people from across the world, with a variety of backgrounds to explore new ways of learning and living. Moreover, there was no structure to the conference; hence, it was called the un-conference. It would emerge as we went along. It worked for me. Anything that questioned mainstream education and economics and believed in going with the flow definitely had my vote. It seemed as though I had found my community at last.

As I reached Hideout, the rural venue, three hours from Mumbai, it took me a while to settle into the variety of people I suddenly came across. People who had attended earlier conferences greeted each other with shouts and hugs, like long lost family members. I smiled politely and shook hands. I was new to this family. Yet the distinctive character of the community was felt. These were people who had walked out of mainstream institutions, schools and corporations, and were searching for new ways of educating their children and living more authentic lives. Some had covered ground in that journey, while others were just beginning. Most importantly, it gave me a sense of community. I felt mainstream here!

The next five days were to be devoted to learning, sharing, listening and bonding. Each day began with an open space and members offered to hold workshops on a variety of topics. The workshops offered were mind-boggling! Ranging from the power of spaces, making of caps, sharing unschooling experiences, effective listening, radical honesty, creative letter writing, tarot cards, non-violent communication, belly dancing and the much anticipated unconventional relationships – to name a few. I offered one on finding inner authority. Then there were mela-shops of different organizations doing a variety of work in the developmental sector ranging from education to ecology. This seemed like a learners paradise.

I floated mostly. Without any agenda.  Allowing the day to unfold. Here is what I learnt.

On Learning

My primary learning was that learning and unlearning is a myth. There is nothing to learn or unlearn. Every learning or unlearning results in a new answer. Another concept. And each concept comes in the way of experiencing life. We keep replacing old concepts with new ones and perpetuate the illusion of learning. Giving precedence to learning over living.

Each time I think I have found a new way to live, to relate, to educate I feel fortified with answers. Until the answers crumble when dashed against the incomprehensible mystery of life. Then the mind searches for new answers, new masters, new books, new theories. Once it finds the new answer, it rests for a while. Until the cycle is repeated. Little realizing that the problems of living stem from the mind, the questions come from the mind and the mind finds the answers too. The mind labels this activity learning or unlearning. A poor substitute to living.

On Relating

Just as the nature of the mind is to create constructs, we look for the ideal construct to relate. Marriage, the traditional construct having failed, the mind now looks for new answers through unconventional relationships. Each construct – open marriages, polyamory, fidelity, commitment – is picked and examined closely. A hidden hope that the exploration would give the magical key into this mysterious terrain of relating between a man and a woman. Some of us have questions, some have answers, while others have stories to share.

In the search for a new construct, I realize that I am missing a crucial moment of relating. To myself, in this very moment.  And if I am not relating to myself, how will I ever relate to another.  Thus theories, concepts and constructs relate to one another other, leaving feelings unfelt and needs unarticulated.

On Authority    

Every time I seek an answer from another, I create authority. Every time I give an answer to another, I become an authority. From some I seek answers. To others I give answers. What is common is my need for answers. Where does this need stem from? What is it like to live without answers? Is it possible?

Yet I speak. I speak of how to be free, when I am bound. I speak of becoming independent, when I cultivate dependence. I speak of relating, when I myself do not relate. I speak to humans, when my own humanness awaits expression. Have I become a commentator on living, at the cost of living?

On Freedom

Does freedom mean being unbounded? What if my unbounded expression creates inconvenience to another? How does one then live as a free individual within an interdependent community? Is being free flowing, allowing for chaos to create, letting it evolve organically, indicative of my ignorance or my reactiveness to the system that confined me for so long? Can individual freedom truly exist without agreed norms and boundaries?

In the absence of basic norms, who decides? In absence of clear time boundaries, who waits? In the absence of clear roles, what remains undone? If my primary purpose is to learn, when will I learn that freedom and boundaries go hand in hand?

On Sensitivity

I talk of being sensitive to the environment, to nature, to the value of hard work and honest labour. But what of my sensitivity in communication to fellow human beings. Does not sensitivity have more than one flavour?  How swayed am I by my commitment to a singular value, that I am blinded to my own verbal violence? Am I so lost in my own story of sensitivity that I do not see my insensitivity to others?

How different am I from the terrorist or the rioter who kills for his value? Have I lost my sensitivity and rationality in my story of self-righteousness?

On Facilitation

I wish to facilitate inclusiveness. Facilitate listening. Restore peace and harmony. What is my need to do so? In the process am I giving up my authenticity to play a role, live up to an image of what I aspire to be? Am I listening to myself? Am I at peace and harmony? Have I explored myself deeply enough or am I seeking solutions from the outside?

What would happen if I gave up the security of a technique to communicate? Or the crutch of an approach to facilitate?  What if I got up one day to see all that I had learnt had been erased? Would I then get in touch with what I felt in the moment? Would I then risk becoming vulnerable to express my need to another? Or would I become immobilized if there was no one to facilitate me? And I run to find another mask that would make me socially loved and accepted?

On Feelings

Why is it so hard for me to be in touch with my feelings? The most fundamental aspect of my being. What draws my energy constantly towards the concepts and theories of the mind? Seeking answers, giving answers in a symbolic language that by its very nature is untrue, fragmented and static. Inadequate to meet the needs of a life that is dynamic, animated and whole. How do I perceive this whole without fragmentation?

Am I myself fragmented? Seeking completion, belonging and acceptance from family, friends and community? Will my search ever end?

On Creating A New World

In my pursuit to create a new world, a better world, for my children and the generations to come, am I missing out on another world? The world inside of me. Have I ever looked inside. Not introspecting, analyzing or interpreting, but simply looked and noted without words. Or am I so busy setting the world right that I have no time to stop and note the world I carry within.

Can I ever bring integration outside, if I am divided inside? Can I bring peace and harmony to the world, without bringing it first into my heart and mind? Is the world a reflection of my own mind? Am I the world?

 ***

During the conference I stayed in a dormitory in the home for the aged run by Christian nuns. It was reminiscent of my growing years in a convent boarding school. There was fixed time for everything. The gates of the home shut at 10.00 pm sharp. Often we had to wait outside in the hope that the Sister would be kind enough to open it. She mostly did and we would scamper inside muttering “Sorry” under our breath.

What I loved most about the place was the lake adjoining it. There was a dam and the water flowed into a small pond with rocks and pebbles. I went there for a bath every morning. It became my morning ritual. Often as I used to go for my bath, I would come across a few participants gazing at the sun. Drawing energy from it. Everything about the place was so energising. The cool air, the green cover, the gushing waters, the still rocks.

As I stepped into the waters and took the first dip. I entered another world. A fluid world of swirling gushing current. The world above me lost for a moment. Till I emerged for a breath of air. The sun continued to shine radiantly. The morning breeze played harmoniously with the trees, caressing the leaves with playful curiosity. For moment everything seemed perfect. Everything in nature seemed as it was meant to be.

Was I not an integral part of nature? Why then why did I seek perfection? Change? Evolution? Growth? Standing right in the middle of The Garden of Eden I sought it everywhere, other than where it seemed to be. Inside of me.

As I arrived in Mumbai I needed a day to ground myself. Even though I had traveled a mere three hours, I experienced a mental-emotional jet lag of many eons. I felt as though I had journeyed into the cosmos of each person present there, a catharsis leading to a realignment of my own cosmos.

Bringing me closer to myself.

***

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While running on the treadmill, I noticed a woman, who had newly joined the gym, at the adjoining machine. She was middle aged and perhaps never been to a gym before. As the instructor got her started at a very slow pace, she strongly gripped the metallic handlebars in front of her. Interestingly her daughter who had accompanied her, saw her slow movement. After a while, she encouraged her mother to increase the pace and let go of the handlebars, as she was hardly exerting herself. The woman shook her head, uncertain of herself. It was evident that she felt she would be swept away by the pace of the treadmill if she let go, have a fall and injure herself.

As I watched the drama unfold on the treadmill, it occurred to me as the perfect analogy for how we live our life.

We are born vulnerable in an uncertain world. Whether we are prepared for it or not, life’s treadmill keeps moving. Often the pace is quite overwhelming and frightening. We look for certainty and security by holding on to the handlebars of an educational qualification, a job, a marriage, a family. We make great effort to follow the moral and religious codes prescribed by society. Trying our best to be a good person – son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, friend or citizen. Hoping to be in the good books of all concerned. Believing that this will provide enough financial and emotional security against the uncertainty of life. And yet, in spite of so many anchors and endeavors to secure ourselves, life sweeps us of our feet. There is fear of a relationship breaking up, of losing a job, of children leaving home, of old parents dying, of unexpected illnesses – essentially the treadmill of life moving faster than our capacity to run with its pace.  And, the other side of the coin is, if life’s treadmill moves at a slow same pace, we suffer a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness, with nothing to challenge us. Either way we suffer.

What then is the solution?

Probably the solution lies in being solution-less. We want a certain answer, theory or direction of how to live. Hoping that will secure us. Perhaps that is at the core of all the insecurity we experience. We are always looking for answers and anchors outside of us – books, gurus, parents, philosophies, power, position, money, codes of conduct – and yet it does not rid us of our misery and anxiety. On the contrary, it magnifies our suffering. We cannot match up to the ideal society or we ourselves have set for us. Our current reality is far away from the ideal image of ourselves, of how we wish our life to be. There is always a desire to be more successful and achieve more in all areas of our life – material or spiritual. Our lives are ruled by, what “should be”, what “could be” or what “should have been” or “could have been”. There is never an acceptance of What Is.

No, this article is not about living in the moment or harnessing the power of now, recommended in many books as a panacea to overcome human distress. This article is about exploring what stops us from letting go of the handlebars and embracing whatever life brings – pleasure or suffering.

“Suffering is an ingrained part of existence” declared the Buddha 2500 years ago. The sight of an old man, an ailing person, a corpse and an ascetic moved him to find the way out of human suffering. Not that we need a Buddha to validate human suffering. We all have suffered at some point or the other. Loneliness, emptiness and rejection contribute to greater suffering in the contemporary world, than they ever did during Buddha’s times. Just as the Buddha did, we too seek a way out of suffering in our own unique ways. After all, whole of life is a pursuit for happiness and completion. Whether one stays in the thick of things and pursues worldly success or chooses to opt out and seek moksha – an imagined state of eternal bliss. The pursuit remains the same. Fulfillment of a desired goal in the future.

What would happen if we stopped pursuing anything?

Would we become vegetables? Would there be anything to live for? How would we know how to direct our lives? Who will pay the bills? How will we survive? Is it even possible? Isn’t it normal to desire pleasure? Isn’t it natural to avoid suffering?

The whole idea of not wanting is so alien to us, that it immediately brings about much resistance and questions. The idea of “becoming something” and “achieving something” is so culturally ingrained in our system, that we do not know of any other way of living. Perhaps there is something for humans to learn from nature. Nothing in nature is trying to become, it simply moves according to its own unique intrinsic nature. Of course, it can be pointed out, that other than humans no other beings have the freedom of choice, of exerting their will power and the capacity to think.

Choice, will power and thinking are all synonyms of the same activity.

What if I were to tell you, choice is an illusion. As illusionary as the person who thinks he chooses. Neither truly exist.

I wonder what would be the answer to the following questions, if one were to avoid falling back on our conditioning that there is a God, everything happens due to the law of karma or some planetary configuration. If one were to drop for a moment, whatever our special brand of religion, culture or philosophy has taught us. The You that I refer to in these questions is, whatever you think of yourself as a separate independent identity.

Where was the “you” before you were born? Did the “you” choose you to be born? Did the “you” choose where you would be born? Did the “you” choose your genetic coding? Does the “you” regulate your inner body functions? Did the “you” arrange for life giving forces of food, water, and sunlight so that you may survive ? Where does the “you” disappear when you are asleep?

The existential answer to all these questions is a simple unknowing Silence. It is foolish to trivialize life by using borrowed concepts to explain it. Life Simply Is. Existence Is. The only thing that cannot be disputed is that I Am. I Exist.

Yet we choose to overlook this simple fact of our existence and live in an abstract world of theories, philosophies, knowledge, check-lists, plans, images, assumptions, beliefs – passed on to us from the past. Is it possible to drop all of it? Yes, absolutely all of it and live. Simply Live!

Live as though we are already complete, just as we are. Not seeking something to better us. Live as though spontaneous self-expression is our birthright. Not seeking the right conditions to do so. Live as though our feelings are the only authority of our reality in the moment. Not seeking anyone’s permission to feel our natural self – no matter how wild, evil and impure it may seem. Live as though life is made of many colours of love, hate, joy, sadness, lust, care, jealousy, compassion and all these colours belong to us. Not seeking to become white by hiding the black. Living as though life is a river and we are simply flowing with our destiny. Not seeking to live in the illusion of controlling the flow of life. Living with full abandon, sucking the juice of every living moment – be it joy or suffering. Not seeking to make second-hand meaning of our experiences or understand life.

We suffer for self-expression, as much as we suffer for choosing not to express. We suffer being lonely all by ourselves, just as we suffer being lonely in a crowd. We suffer being in a meaningless job or a relationship, as much as breaking away from it. If suffer we must, then why not suffer for something that gives us life. That takes us closer to our natural intrinsic self.

Finally, two sentences that sum up everything.

Let go of the handlebars.

Give life a chance!

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Having just completed a workshop for a group of young and energetic twenty year olds, I wondered what I would have to say to myself if I came across my 20 something avatar now. Here is a letter to him with a decade of experience.

***

Dear Ajay,

Relax. It will all turn out fine.

Actually, it is all fine even now. Except you think it is not and that you need to do something to make things right. A vague haze of getting a job, making a living and getting married someday. The haze will lift in its own time, until then it will make you run in circles, leaving you dizzy and exhausted at times.

All your hard work to become a Chartered Accountant will be reduced to nought. You will forget all that you studied, except the three basic principles of accounting. Which you shall not make use of anyway. The only time you will mention your degree will be to share about your journey from numbers to people. Mostly to emphasize that people need to follow their passion. Infact that will become your passion – helping others get in touch with their passion.

Your girlfriend will eventually marry your college friend. You will be confused how best to relate to the opposite sex for a long time. Just know you are not the only one. You will come across many definitions of love. Neither of it will help you in anyway. For love cannot be learnt, much less taught.  You may find it hard to understand this now, yet, love has nothing to do with a man-woman relationship. Neither, is it exclusive or conditional. It will take another decade and more than a few heartbreaks for you to live this insight. You will discover many flavours of love. Intimacy is one, letting go is another.

You will struggle very hard in your corporate life. It will not interest you. Yet you will not know what else to do. You will shift from finance to human resources thinking it will give you a chance to work with people, growth and awareness. Gradually you will realize that that the prime purpose of corporations is to grow profits not people. Human resource training will be mostly scripted modules where the latest leadership model will be delivered, in an entertaining manner. The impact of these trainings will be temporary and will not have any lasting impact on organisation or human reality. Some day you will drop all models and theories of change. Become empty and realize the value of ‘I don’t know’. You will call this flow.

Many gurus and ashrams will feature in your path of self-discovery. A good amount of books and workshops too. They will give you a new identity of a seeker. It will make you a scholar on the subject of life. Not a practitioner. You will forsake being in touch with your so-called negative feelings of anger and lust, to be perceived as a spiritual person. One day you will have a volcanic eruption and all that you have suppressed will emerge. This will be far more therapeutic than all the books you would have read on self-expression.

There will come a time when you will feel as though you are standing on crossroads, not knowing what action to take. Anger and fear will give birth to so many voices, that you will not know which one is yours. You will borrow other’s voices for a while, until you find your own. Until then it will be a lonely existence. You will think all is lost. Just hold on because the night is the darkest before the break of a new dawn.

Even though you do not feel him now, there is a frozen child inside of you. He holds all the secret to your joy, love, spontaneity and wisdom. You will have to warm him and bring him back to life. You will receive help from others in doing this, the most unlikely people. You will meet them when the time is right. Just remain open to receiving them. Do not think too much about it. Some will come and go. Others will remain.

You will realize that work is simply an expression of who you are. Moreover, there is no shame in following your bliss. Giving names to relationships robs them from the joy of relating and love can operate only in freedom, not obligation.

Eventually you will come to a point where you will realise self-analysis is not self-growth. Thinking about the past and hoping for a better future will not take you anywhere. Neither will it secure you. You will learn to embrace insecurity as an integral part of being alive. And you will someday, accept yourself as you are and consider what comes with the least effort as what is natural to you. At this point, you will relax into your being and flow in life’s river, floating effortlessly.

Of course I know, no matter what I say, none of this will stop you from falling and hurting. That is essential for you to own your insights. Just want you to finally know.

Relax. It will all turn out fine.

Yours,

Ajay

***

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This is the story of three characters. Me,You and We.

The story begins with Me.

Me was born. A girl child.

Like most newborn babies Me cried when she felt hungry. Me’s parents came running to feed her. Me learnt when she needed something all she had to do was cry. And Me did. And sure enough someone came running.

As Me grew to be a toddler, she was admitted in a playschool. Me came across other Me’s. For the first time Me realized that she was not the only Me. There were others like her. Small Me boys and small Me girls. Each one crying for attention.  Me now had to compete with other Me’s.

And, boy was there competition! They called it exams. They called it sports. Someone stood first and someone stood last. Someone won and someone lost. When Me won a prize, her mother gave her an extra warm hug. Her father gave her an approving look. Her teachers patted her back.  No one paid attention to the Me’s that lost. The worst thing that could happen to a Me was losing. If a Me failed, they were called failures. It was frightening!

That’s when Me gave birth to You.

Me realized that if it had to survive and thrive in the world it had to please You. You Parents, You Teachers, You Friends, You Everybody else. Gradually she lost touch with Me. And got pre-occupied with You. She didn’t even realize when she stopped being Me.

For many years she lived as You. For You.

You did all that others told it to do. It wanted their approval, their love, their affection. It was hungry for others to like it. Could never get enough of it. You graduated with distinction, got her dream job, even had a grand marriage. You did all the right things. Like everyone else. You ran the mainstream race. Yet the more mainstream she became the more marginalized she felt. As though life from her very veins was gradually being sucked dry. She began to feel hollow. And this emptiness seeped into her life. She lost her marriage to her job. She lost her job to the economic meltdown.  And one day she realized that she had lost herself. She didn’t know any longer who she was. Or what she wanted. As she sat on a park bench, watching the children play, she reflected on her life as You. She was angry with You for ruining her life.

That’s when she re-discovered Me.

She thought she had lost Me forever. Yet it was there. Hidden somewhere in the deep recesses of her being. For the first time she spoke to Me. “What do you want?” Me did not respond. It was extremely angry. Hurt at being abandoned as a child. She realized her mistake. She knew that she didn’t have a life without Me. Me was the source of her life. She apologized to Me and they decided to become friends.

Now there was Me. An angry Me. A rebellious Me.

Wanting to make up for all those years it had lost, Me only cared for itself. Like a petulant child it wanted everything for itself. She blamed her parents, her friends and her ex-husband. For being selfish. For making her sacrifice. She believed that the world is selfish. And from now on she would be selfish too. Now she would live only for herself. She got another job. Another apartment. Another car. And indulged herself. She only had Me to please. She moved from one relationship to another. She didn’t believe in love anymore. Only loving herself. She covered herself in a hard shell of cynicism borne from her bitter experience as You.

She distanced herself from her parents and relatives. She hardly had any friends. She got into fights at work. She was angry most of the time. She knew that this was not who she was. In her fight to reclaim Me from You, she had lost out on Me.

She wondered. “How can I live as Me, in a world full of You?”

She quit her job and went on a sabbatical.

She read books. Met holy men. Visited ashrams. Attended workshops. Each had something to offer.  Yet the answer eluded her. Just when she was beginning to give up hope, something happened.

She was sitting at the seashore watching the sunset in the distance. In the fading sunlight she caught the sight of geese flying in a V. We! She had an epiphany at that moment.

We was born.

From experience. From wisdom. From lessons learnt as Me and You. We was a space where Me and You could co-exist. She could now be Me without making You a villain. We knew how to draw boundaries to protect Me. Yet engage with You. She got her answer atlast.

Without You, Me could not exist. And without Me, You had no meaning.

She got up and dusted the sand from her clothes and looked up once again. At the flying geese in the distance and wondered….

How did the geese learn to fly in a We?

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“At times you can see where the inner compass is pointing but are conditioned to turn a blind eye to it. Perhaps along with the compass you need the guts to swim against the tide, have blind faith in the compass or sheer madness!”

That was a response I got on my previous article on the ‘Inner Compasshttps://creatingflow.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/32/

It reflected most other responses. It is one thing to know and another to have the courage to do it. This then seemed like the logical exploration for this article, as the sequel to the ‘Inner Compass’.

Does change happen to us or do we create change? What is change? How do we know we are changing? When is the right time for change? What is necessary for change?

I wondered where could I find a change expert at short notice to answer my questions. I gazed at the books lying on the table next to me. One book caught my attention. ‘Conversations  With God’ by Neale Donald Walsh. The author finds his questions answered by God. Enough answers to fill three volumes. Perhaps I could invoke a God of Change and get him to answer my questions.

I close my eyes and invoke Change.

I ask my first question.

ME: How do I know that you are the God of Change, not a part of my belief or imagination?

CHANGE: Isn’t that what God is?

ME: Huh! (after a thoughtful pause) But how can I trust you to give me the right answers?

CHANGE: There are no right answers. Just as there are no wrong answers. What makes you reflect and make conscious choices is perhaps right.

ME: Hmmm…Ok. Let’s get down to business then. My first question on change is what most of my readers are asking. We often know what is best for us yet we don’t have the courage to follow it. Why?

CHANGE: Fear of the unknown. What you know is a lit circle. What you don’t know is the darkness beyond. Most people prefer to be in the comfortable warmth of the circle, even if it burns them gradually. Then there are other times that people think they know, yet they don’t really know.

ME: What do you mean ‘don’t really know’?

CHANGE: Knowing is not different from action. When one knows by putting his hand into the fire it will burn, he chooses not to do so. It does not take courage to keep his hand away from fire. It is common sense.

ME: But life situations are never so simple. There are many factors and people involved.

CHANGE: True. Yet the final choice is between what gives you life and what takes it away. Does your life situation enhance life or deplete it.

ME: Like I said, it is difficult to give a clear answer. Each situation has its pros and cons. Things are never so black and white.

CHANGE: Yet people continue to be in relationships long after they have stopped nourishing them. Both at work or home.  Often it is an unwillingness to know themselves beyond who they currently are. They hold on to old tattered clothes, rather than expose themselves and wear fresh new ones. The old identity wants to survive at all costs.

ME: But isn’t that natural? The desire to survive.

CHANGE: Isn’t it natural to die too. Nature is cyclical. One season follows another. Life follows death. And death follows life. It is ironical that more people die because of their desire to survive.

ME: Hmm…I am touched. That’s a powerful statement….

CHANGE: Be with it. What touches you can grow. It has the seed for new life to emerge. What doesn’t will eventually perish.

ME: Can I ask you a direct question?

CHANGE: Sure.

ME: When is the right time to end a relationship that is not working?

CHANGE: There is no right time, just as there is no wrong time either. Moreover, relationships never end. They continue inside you.

ME: C’mon! Don’t be vague. Give me a straight answer.

CHANGE: Okay. Tell me, what is the most important thing in a relationship?

ME: Love, commitment, trust, acceptance…

CHANGE: And what builds all of that?

ME: I guess it’s built over time. Isn’t it? (reflecting) Why don’t you tell me what is the most important thing in a relationship?

CHANGE: Honest communication. When a relationship does not allow honesty to yourself or the other, perhaps it is time to give it another form. Like energy, relationships never die. They transform.

ME: And what about work?

CHANGE: When work becomes a job. It is best to change. Work is a creative expression of who you are. Anything less than that is something you do to earn a living.

ME: Are you saying that we all quit our jobs to follow our passion! Is that practical?

CHANGE: Most of you are not educated to follow or know your true self-expression. Your education prepares you for a job not life. In your compulsion to be practical like everyone else, you give up on your true self.

ME: Is there anything such as a true self?

CHANGE: True and false are words. What is real is your experience. Examine it closely. It will speak to you. Do you look forward to work when you get up? Are your relationships nourishing you? The answers to these questions can point you in the direction of your true self.

ME: That brings us a full circle. We began with knowing what is best for us yet not having the courage to do it. So what is the solution?…wait, I almost know what you will say “There is no solution. Life is all about choices.”

CHANGE: (smiles) Yes, and each choice has a cost and a benefit. I don’t think you need me anymore.

*****

ME: Hey wait before you go! I have one last question. Who are you really?

CHANGE: I am a part of you. The part that knows. Free of fear or confusion. I exist in every person.

ME: Then why don’t you guide everyone.

CHANGE: I would. However most people don’t really ask.

ME: Ask what?

CHANGE: Questions.

*****

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“You tell me what to do?” she said.

I looked out of the large sliding windows and noticed the morning sea go about its business of creating waves. The water merged with the mangroves acting as a green bridge between the concrete promenade and the sea. A boundary indicating the end of nature and the start of civilization.

We sat in a sea facing apartment. It was where she had grown. Her parent’s home. This very room where we sat, had bunker beds where she and her two sisters had spent their childhood. She had occupied the top bunker. So, she told me.

“My elder sister never liked me. She thinks we are adopted children. We have had terrible fights. Terrible.” She emphasized. That word heavy with difficult memories.  “I always did what my parents told me. I was a good daughter. Whenever, I didn’t  know what to do, I prayed to God. I recited the Gurbani – a holy Sikh chant. And, I got an answer in some form or the other. Once, while going to school, I forgot to take money and had to buy a bus ticket. I chanted and found a 25 paise coin on the railing. I always got an answer in some form or the other. ”

I nodded. It was fascinating to hear her talk. Watching her story unspool before my eyes. She felt I could help her. At cross-roads in her marriage. With two small daughters. She did not know what to do.

“He says my contribution to our marriage is zero. He doesn’t understand my contribution as a mother….” she trailed, as she reached for a tissue to wipe her tears. Unable to contain the hurt of being unacknowledged for her contribution. “He doesn’t understand what I say. He does not believe in self-growth or change. He is now filing for divorce. I don’t know whether the marriage will last or not.” She picks another tissue.

I gaze out. The sun’s rays reflected on the waters, creating a sparkle in the sea. Like a piece of jewellery tossed on the bobbing waves. Few people walk on the promenade. The afternoon heat claiming its space, keeping people away.

“What have you thought about it?” I ask.

“I have two close friends. One says I should know my rights as a wife and go to a lawyer. Which I did. The other friend says that I should not even think of leaving the marriage. What example will I be setting for my children? Which is what I would like to do. Yet it is difficult. Very difficult!” she explains her dilemma.

“But you know what! I think there is a pattern between my relationships. Between me-and-my-sister and me-and-my-husband. I think there is something common in both. I don’t know what it is. I am hoping you can help me. Perhaps the answer lies in that pattern.”

I looked at her for a while. Searching for a response.

“Where is your inner compass?” the question emerged, catching even me by surprise.

“How do you navigate yourself? How do you make choices?” A chain of questions, one linked to another. “At the moment I see you being guided by forces outside of you – parents, friends, books, God – each telling you how to live your life, pulling you apart fragmenting you. Where is your inner compass?” I repeated.

“I don’t think I have one. How do I build it?” she asked.

I wondered. Can it be built or is it lost. Buried under layers and layers of conditioning. Under the mountains of expectations, we build for others and ourselves. Does a plant need to be told that it needs sunlight and rich soil to grow? Does the sea need to find its natural tidal rhythms? Does a baby need a timetable to announce its hunger? We are born with a natural primitive instinct that knows. It knows what nurtures us and what doesn’t. Our feelings broadcast the messages from our soul, if we care to listen. The inner compass knows our calling. Our natural gifts. And where we belong. It is perhaps our only true guide in the ever-changing contours of the world. We do not need to build it. It is there ticking, under the mental sand dunes of social dos and don’ts, should and should nots. All we need to do is dig, dig, dig…and find it.

“What do you wish to create?” I gave her the shovel to dig.

She noted that question in her small diary. “That is something I need to think of?” The question seemed to find its roots in her. Perhaps the digging had started.

Meanwhile the sea outside continued its shimmering game with the sun.

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