Saturday, September 24, 2016

Lighting the Spark Within.....

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I often marvel at how kids ask one question after the other, curious to know more about everything. While there may not be answers for every question, most people understand that the sparkle in the eyes of kids should only be encouraged. If there is one trait we need to carry over from childhood, it is curiosity.

“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.
― Albert Einstein

Curiosity is vital at work since it drives learning, but is also the primary fuel for personal growth. Being curious about how things work, cultures, skills, technology, languages, other people's experiences, and so many other things kindles a spark within us of something different, bigger and more meaningful. Knowledge of other cultures helps obtain a global reach for our work and passion. It also helps find meeting ground, shared values and interests. Knowing more languages is a distinct advantage in benefiting from literature and knowledge in those languages, as also in travel and people contact. A genuine interest in experiences of others equips us to learn and benefit.

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
― Plutarch

A lot of the progress we have seen today can be traced back to the fact that there were people who were curious to know more, at times despite opposition and cynicism.
“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”
― Stephen Hawking
Curiosity is said to have killed cats, or at least one cat. The more modern version is “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back”. The modern version is more apt for the times we are in, and our recognition for what curiosity can do for us.

“Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly”.
― Arnold Edinborough

That brings up the question – can curiosity be detrimental in any way? I suppose if one is obsessive and unwilling to acknowledge limitations, it could be? Curiosity needs to be backed by a good amount of patience. There are discoveries which have been made after several decades of work and by passing on the baton of knowledge to a future generation. Astronomy and space science is an example.

“Life is an adventure of passion, risk, danger, laughter, beauty, love; a burning curiosity to go with the action to see what it is all about, to go search for a pattern of meaning, to burn one's bridges because you're never going to go back anyway, and to live to the end.”
― Saul D. Alinsky

Curiosity leads to growth and greater satisfaction if the motive is to learn and possibly benefit a larger community, rather than for personal pride. What do you think?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Net of Things – Millions of Years Old

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I admit this is a bit of a play with words – this blog has nothing to do with the exciting developments in the Internet of Things. This is instead about a net of things we have had since millions, or rather billions of years. 

It is generally accepted knowledge today that the universe emerged from a big bang. This created matter, forces and energy. The universe was a hot small tight fireball initially till it cooled over time. The expansion of the universe created more space – but the universe is still held together as one till today. So the universe has always been a “Net of Things” - held together by forces, energy being transformed and directed.

Well, this was not be a discussion of the physical universe! As it turns out, we many times consider ourselves to be evolved beings, while perceiving the universe as a purely physical entity – somewhat like a building or any other man-made structure. This view however is neither logical nor useful – we are not separate from the universe, but rather are a representation of an essential oneness which has always existed. We cannot break away from the universe nor can it from us – both references are ultimately the same.

“You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.”
― Alan W. Watts

Science has been able to make remarkable progress in sequencing DNA, and also recreating the sequence of the events since the start of the universe. While much remains to be known, what we do know is profound as it is – everything in the universe has the same past. The evidence suggests we have ignored and assumed too much – water possibly has consciousness, and plants can feel. The universe has a delicate balance and anything which happens to any entity affects all others in some way or the other. The universe is truly an incredible “Net of Things” (admittedly we don't like being classified as things!).

“All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.”
― Swami Vivekananda

A view such as this makes a difference to how we view other life forms and the rest of the universe. If we recognize and experience the essential oneness of the universe, we do not need to debate the need for tolerance, kindness and sustainable living separately. While those who practice mindfulness experience this oneness, it is apparent even otherwise. We can be truly happy only if others around us are, and emotions travel very fast. Everything is connected - all part of the "Net of Things"!

While we emphasize the need to celebrate our differences, should we rather recognize our oneness first and celebrate that?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Introspection triggered - by food trays!

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I have had some interesting experiences with food trays on flights! I am not referring to the quality of the food, but instead some life lessons. Well, if you wondering what life lessons can you draw from food trays on flights – read on!

On flights which serve food – snacks & beverages, a fair portion of the time and effort of the flight attendants is spent on doing that. The trolley moves along slowly – checking on meal preferences, assembling the tray, and serving it. There is also the odd discrepancy in preferences on record, or possibly passengers changing their mind, which requires more time and effort. 

The interesting part of the process to me has been what happens after the food is served. The meals are generally meant to be light and more often than not I complete (as do most others I think) them in around 10 minutes or so. This point on – the food tray remains stranded and unattended till it is cleared. Quite logically, the flight attendants wait to allow for all passengers to have completed their meals. This means the tray is in front of you for invariably for a fair amount of time (often around 15 minutes after eating). I personally have found this restrictive – I generally read on flights, unless I am too tired. Neither can you stretch – also the optimized seating cramps you considerably. Often, I have felt a sense of restlessness, and impatience -when will the trays be cleared?! After all, this period is a sheer waste! I am generally against drawing attention to myself and seeking something out of the way, but the temptation to ask the flight attendants to clear the trays faster has always existed.

Over time, especially after practising Mindfulness, I have been able to curb this sense of restlessness. Well, it was pointless, there is nothing lost by waiting a few extra minutes. In fact that time can be used for reflection or to seek calm. While, I still think that food trays can be cleared faster than they are typically, they don't make me restless as they did before!

The addiction to activity has consequences for all of us – we simply cannot sit quietly! We seem to derive our sense of self-esteem from activity frenzy. The toll this takes on mental peace and balance is often not understood. This is a time where activity is overrated, idleness (and consequently sleep) is looked down upon. This is not to imply that one should idle most of the time, of course.

Do you get restless? Have you sought to understand the triggers?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Playground of Monsters

Some important life lessons can be gleaned from the short story Playground of Monsters at my short story blog.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Distraction or Expansion?

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I happened to read two interesting passages on handling stress, conflicts and dialogue.

How do you handle situations such as – being swamped with work, conflicts with colleagues, strong disagreements with friends or family, frustration at differing opinions?

As it happens, many of us unconsciously choose to handle such situations by distraction. We remove ourselves from the source of stress (people, place or circumstance) and focus on some other activity (typically something we find pleasing). This has it's benefits – time dilutes the impact of stress and conflict, a new focus activity which we like gives us some pleasure, and also being active provides us with a sense of self-esteem and a feeling of being useful in some way.

While this can work to handle the current circumstance, what about the longer term? How will we react in a similar situation next time?

This is where expansion is crucial – and needs to at least supplement distraction. Can we expand our thoughts to allow for differing opinions? Can we introspect to understand a differing point of view? Can we react without being offended and justifying our standpoint? Can we recognize that our thinking creates judgement of good and bad?

The universe expands all the time, holding within it remarkable diversity – gas giants vs rock planets, new star vs dying ones, expanding space vs black holes…….

Taking a cue from the universe, can we expand?