9 Sep 2013, 10:42am
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Visit to the village palai

As a part of Prakash Foundation’s efforts for rural development, I visited Palai on Diwali last year. It was my first visit to the rural India, and I didn’t know that such an awesome experience lay in store for me.

As soon as I reached there, I saw villagers thronging around our Bus. They had been waiting eagerly for our arrival since morning. A huge pandal was setup for the evening programme.  After giving a quick introduction, we arranged the projector, and started showing the movie SWADES. In the movie, an NRI returns to an Indian village and works for its up-liftment. We were trying to do something similar, and the similarity between the movie and our mission was quite striking. I had seen such scenes in films and television, but now it was happening for real. The feeling was simply surreal.

On the next day, we arranged for a cultural program, in which we encouraged the village youth & children to show their talent. They were encouraged to sing, dance, tell jokes, etc. In between, we discussed topics of common interest. It was heartening to see them open up after showing so much initial hesitation. After the event, we did a candle lightning ceremony. The scenes of every one holding candles in different formations will remain etched in my memory forever. We also showed the movie Lagaan to inspire the villagers to believe, and to stand up for themselves. The movie was received very well, and I smiled from ear-to-ear upon seeing villagers happy faces and hearing them laughing and enjoying at every moment. It was real education as well as fun.

In the night, I decided to stay with the villagers at their home, rather than going back to our guest house. This allowed me to have a closer look at the difficult situations that villagers live in.  In the morning, I went for a walk into the farms and the nearby canal. I got to know about the various crops that are being sown, and the challenges villagers are facing.

Next day, before leaving, we clicked photo-graphs with villagers in different scenes and wished them a very happy Diwali. Overall, it was an experience that I will never forget in my life.

30 Jul 2013, 12:58pm
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Vipassana is a Must-Do

Recently, I went for a 10-day Vipassana camp at Jodhpur. It was a challenging, yet a very satisfying experience. I am sharing my experience for the benefit of everyone, and to debunk the myths that might be associated with it.

Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique discovered by Gautam Buddha, as a way of controlling your mind to get rid of suffering and achieve complete salvation about 2500 years ago. It become extinct from India after about 500 years, before it was brought back to India from Burma by Mr. S.N.Goenka in 1969. The technique is taught in 10-day programme, which includes about 10-1/2 hours of meditation every day starting from 4:30 am in the morning, and following a strict code of discipline, which includes 5 guidelines: no stealing, lying, indulging in sexual activity, etc. Along with this you have a maintain noble silence for 9 days, which means no talking to anyone apart from instructor and management, no use of phones, laptops, reading/writing materials. Food is served only 3 times a day.

On Day 0, the day before the camp started, I reached jodhpur via train, and went straight to the center. It gave me time to acclimatize with the place, and in the evening, I gave away all my valuables, including mobile, laptops, reading materials, which were kept in safe custody. Through an initial discourse my Mr. S.N. Goenka, I got to know about the origin of vipassana, understood the importance of the code of discipline imposed, and learnt the process of Aana-Pana, which means becoming aware of the breath. Also, it was re-iterated that everybody has to stay for 10 days.

On Day 1, we started practicing the Aana-Pana. We are told to keep our eyes closed throughout the session so that our mind doesnt get distracted. In the first morning session, it was really difficult for me to keep my eyes closed for the 2 hours session. I opened it just to find out that only 3-minutes were remaining. Still a big achievement, as I had never kept my eyes closed for this long consciously. Enjoyed the discourse in the evening by Guruji, which became my look-forward to feature of everyday. These every day discourses sought to clarify the purpose of what we were doing, to clarify on what religion truly means in its un-corrupted form, and the history of Vipassana.

On Day 2 & Day3, we again practiced the breath-awareness, along with becoming aware on which nostril the breath is entering & leaving, and where it was touching the inside of the nose. We also practiced becoming aware of sensations inside and near the nose. This is done to sharpen the brain.  We learnt not to react to any sensations mentally and physically. As per the discourses, these conditioned reactions are what causes our misery. We hate painful sensations, feeling anxious, and we get attached to feel-good sensations – wanting them more and more, finally ending in misery. I somehow stuck it out, even though it brought out a lot of anxiety within me, just to be sitting around. In one-particular session, I found it really extremely difficult to manage my overwhelmingly anxious thoughts. After struggling for an hour, fast breathing for a few minutes ultimately cleared my head.

On Day 4, we learnt the actual technique of vipassana, which included taking the mental awareness to different parts of the body and experiencing sensations in different parts. We had to again practice not reacting, not getting attached to any sensation – good or bad, and practice equanimity. We learnt about the adhishthan – which is taking a vow to not change posture. It came from Gautam Buddha, who has taken vow one night, not to change posture till he achieved Bodhi/Nirvana. From now on three sessions of 1 hrs were designated as adhishthan sessions during which we were encouraged not to change posture at all. I laughed inside and thought to myself – that this would be impossible for me.

Day 5 included a pleasant surprise for me. In the second adhishthan session of the day, I went through without changing posture for one hr with my back erect. This was nothing short of a miracle for me. Going forward I achieved this feet in almost all adhishthan sessions barring one or two, despite any amount of pain I experience. Also, I practiced not reacting and maintaining an equanimous nature to pleasant or unpleasant sensations.

Day 6,7,8,9 – included further refinements to vipassana finally also going inside the body to feel the sensations within. Experiencing sensations has a deeper objective of realizing our body as just a combination of waves which are produced one instant and destroyed the other. This deep realization has the power to dis-associate ourselves from the irrational thinking that we are the BODY, when we realize it for ourselves as nothing but a combination of waves.

On Day 10, finally we learned about Metta meditation which is wishing the very best for all our fellow beings.. This is done at the end of Vipassana meditation. After 10 am, we broke the noble silence, and we interacted among ourselves, took photographs. Still, the 3 adhishthan sessions were conducted as usual.

Vipassana finally ended on Day 11 after the morning session of 4:30 to 6:30. In this closing session, we were encouraged to continue practice of 1 hr in the morning and 1 hr in the evening every day.

Overall, this meditation camp was a really fulfilling experience filled with achievements and learning. I had heard a lot about Vipassana and the fact that it is very hard and very few people are able to get through it. It was definitely challenging, but at no-point the thought of quitting crossed my head. My main objective when joining this camp was to get the ability to sit for 20 minutes for meditation. I achieved it by handsome margin. Also, I realized what real religion is and how it has been corrupted by making it filled with rituals and practices, losing the essence. Also, I learnt about the importance of realizing things ourselves, and why it is so important for our growth and progress. Just by reading and doing debates is not going to give us real progress, unless we experience it and incorporate it in our lives wholeheartedly.

I strongly encourage everyone to attend this camp at-least once. This will give you a tool to manage your mind very effectively, which will serve you throughout life. Don’t be discouraged by the hard discipline and long hours of meditation involved. In extreme cases, you can discuss with the instructor who can accommodate any special needs you may have. More details can be found at http://www.dhamma.org/

24 Apr 2012, 11:59am
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Should our happiness be dependent on getting what we want?

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed” – Mahatma Gandhi

You live in a house on rent and feel unhappy that you don’t have your own flat.
You feel unhappy that you don’t have the latest TV, or the big sedan. What makes you feel unhappy when you don’t have these things? Do you think you need that flat, that TV, that big car to be happy. Are these things your needs or wants? Is there a difference between a need and a want?

Needs are our really basic necessities of life. A little amount of food, adequate clothing, and a clean shelter are our only basic necessities. Food is a NEED, but having food at an expensive restaurant is a WANT. Having adequate clothing is our NEED, but buying a costly garment that we really like is our WANT.

We all have WANTs and it’s OK to have them, but our WANTs become a problem when we become unhappy when we don’t have what we want. We unconsciously become unhappy because of our endless wants, and consequently start running after them, believing that once we have them we will be HAPPY. We keep cribbing to our partners for that big house, big car, and spoil our relationships. In the process, we forget to appreciate what we do have.

There is no end to WANTs. Once you have that big car, a more stylish, a more expensive car will become attractive, and you will start feeling unhappy. The newer and better gadgets will keep catching your eye, and you will keep chasing them.

So, Is it wise to base our happiness on these ephemeral wants? We can remain peaceful, happy, contented, and grateful for what life has given to us. Carefully choose what we really want and would like to have in our life. We can go after what we want with a peaceful, patient, and happy state of mind. We will be that much more likely to achieve the desired result.

23 Apr 2012, 12:10pm
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How to choose your work

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do”         — Steve Jobs

You would be spending approximately ½ of your waking hours in your work. So, making this passion, work, love, interestchoice carefully is immensely important. If your work energizes you and you are having fun, then there wouldn’t be much difference between work and play. If your work contributes significantly to the society then it will fill your life with meaning and purpose. On the other hand, if you cringe every time Monday arrives, and throughout the week you are waiting for the weekend, you are in for some serious trouble.  The dis-satisfaction spills over into other areas of your life as well.

So how should we go about making this critical choice? What questions we need to be asking

–     Should we look at the market to see what the hot professions are with most salaries?

–     Should our choice be one amongst those professions that are considered most prestigious?

–     Should we look at careers that can give us the fastest access to money and luxury?

Before we can accurately make the choice, we need to clarify on our values.. What is important to you? What do you want to get out of work?

–        Is Money, Prestige, and Social Approval most important to you?

–        Or love, expression, & satisfaction more important?

–        Are you OK with doing something which may fetch you less money in the short-run, but will definitely give you more satisfaction, joy, and freedom?

Once you have clarified your values, Get to know yourself, and clarify on your dreams, interests, and talents, etc. Ask yourself –

  1. What do you really really want to do?
  2. What would you regret not having done on your deathbed?
  3. What is something you wouldn’t mind doing for free as well?
  4. What are some things in the world that you want to improve upon?
  5. What comes naturally to you?

Once you get to know yourself, using the above questions, you will begin to see some patterns and threads to help you make your career choice intelligently.

20 Jan 2012, 7:44pm
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You have to assimilate great ideas to make them work

We have all read quotes like “Your attitude determines your altitude”, “Experience is the best teacher”, “Simple living and high thinking”, “Everything happens for a purpose and it will serve you”, etc. These are all excellent ideas and can work wonders for you if you truly assimilate them in your lives, e.g. assimilating the idea that “Everything happens on purpose and it will serve you” will make you ask the questions: “What is the purpose of this event”, “What can I learn from this event”, “How can I use this as an opportunity to become better”, rather than asking “Why this has happened to me?”, “Why do bad things always happen to me”. Depending on what questions you ask, your focus of life will be different, and consequently the results that you will get.

But how many of us know how to bridge the gap between knowing an excellent idea, and digesting and assimilating to make it work and come to life for us. Most of us just read these ideas with awe, with no knowledge of how to assimilate it. For us, these just remain platitudes.

I consider assimilating an idea as developing relationship with a person. In the first meeting, you are just introduced to the person, and it takes some time to develop a relationship so that you know the other person deeply: likes/dislikes, ambitions, future plans, family, strengths, weaknesses, etc, etc. The more you interact with him, the deeper your relationship becomes, and you reap the rewards through emotional support, referrals, extra business, etc.

Similarly, when you read a good thought/idea you are just introduced to it. I repeat — just introduced to it. It will only come to life when you develop a relationship with that idea. So, as you will do with a person, you have to do it with the thought. Define it for yourself, and then ask “leading questions (Why, How, what, who, when) about the thought to gather information about it. The more questions you ask and try to answer the better you understand the idea.

Time for an example:

Let me illustrate the process with the idea “Your attitude determines your altitude”.

What is your definition…(This could be different for everyone but the essence will
probably be the same)

Your level of success & achievement in life will be determined by the attitude you adopt
towards life. If you adopt a positive attitude most of the times in my life, your life will be a
big success irrespective of the challenges/difficulties I might have to face. Similarly, if you
adopt a negative attitude, then my life will be dull, boring and full of stress for the most part, irrespective of any amount of outward success (money, car, girl friends, etc), you seem to have.

Where have you seen the idea in action, and how was it being played out

In this case, I have seen a lot of people who seem to achieve huge success because of their
positive attitude.

Mahatma Gandhi
Having a positive attitude helped him achieve freedom for India, despite facing so many
obstacles.

Stephen Hawking
In-spite of facing a life threatening disease and being crippled for life, he went on to
become a great physicist.

Dhirubhai Ambani
He went on to establish a huge business starting from having almost nothing, only because
of his positive attitude.

Now once you truly understand and feel comfortable with the idea, then and only then can you decide whether you want to bring it to life by acting in accordance with it. Sometimes, just understanding the idea is enough to make it usable and it doesn’t take too much effort to use it. In other cases, it can require a huge amount of mental shift to make it usable. I will be discussing this mental shift and how to cross those hurdles in the next edition.

I would be glad to hear your comments & feedback on this.

20 Jan 2012, 7:32pm
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Life is parallel

Over time, I have seen a lot of people focusing on just one thing like full time job search, or studies, etc, and feeling dissatisfied with life in general. They focus on one activity so exclusively that they don’t eat properly, dress properly, keep their rooms clean, spend time on hobbies, etc.

They seem to be making one activity the sole aim of life, in the process loosing hair, vitality, energy, etc. Even if they get that one thing after sometime, they are just a little happy about it. They don’t see that life is passing them by. They are in fear and rat race, following others footsteps, giving up their own ability to think.

Life is actually a parallel process, and you need to balance between these different areas. Unfortunately, our current societal structure seems to be against it.

Overloaded with study, students don’t have time to spend time on different other activities, that are important for managing the vitality.

How can we change the schooling and college structure?

20 Jan 2012, 7:20pm
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Networking is nothing but building relationships

I remember my first day at the B-school, where I was told briefly what networking is all about. You have to confidently go and say Hi. After that you introduce yourself and offer a handshake, smiling at the same time. Next, you ask about the other person, and how they are doing. Appear to be interested in what they are saying. Ask some questions, and get their business card. Then move on to the next person to network. I did this a few times, and found it too mechanical. It felt as if networking is a strategy to get as many business cards as possible.

My mind asked me “Why do I need to network?”. The only answer I could give at that time was I needed a full time job, and you get jobs through networking. A lot of people approach networking from a point of view of finding jobs, building business, getting consulting projects. It’s always about getting something from the contact.

Another question that came to my mind was “How many people I should network with?”. “As many as possible”, was the answer. The more people you know the better is your chance of getting that thing you are looking for. Having studied probability theory during my undergrad, I agreed.

Finally, I also asked, “I am just going and meeting people and I have been doing that all my life. Suddenly, people are teaching me networking. Is networking any different from what I have been doing.” No…It wasn’t. Then why was I made to learn this new art.

The more I thought about these questions, the more confused I became and Networking just seemed to be a superficial way of knowing people, as opposed to building relationships that I had known. I couldn’t get enough business cards. I also realized that people sense when you have a hidden motive for networking, and the relationship goes downhill from there. In other words, I was an utter networking failure.

Having gone through so much confusion about networking, I thought there must be a better way to figure it all out. I applied a top-down approach for that:

Why do I need to do networking?

=> To get contacts, full time job, build my business, etc.

How will I get these things through networking?

=> The people who I network with would refer me or directly buy something.

Then I asked, what would make them refer me or buy from me?

=> Only if they trust me, in my abilities; only if they really know me.

 

Now, if people have to really know you well to be able to refer you or buy from you, you can’t get that through the networking method B-school taught me.

What would make people really know me to have faith in my abilities?

=> They are my relatives.

=> They know I graduated from such a such premier school.

OR

=> They have talked to me, have been with me for some time, and have seen that I can provide some real value.

 

So, this actually turned networking on its head. Instead of you looking to get something, you have to first provide some real value for people to know you, have faith in you and then and only then will they be able to provide long lasting value to you.

 

My other two questions answered also got answered from this.

How many People should I network with? If I have to provide value, I have to spend time with someone, know what they want and so, it’s better to have 2-3 good contacts from a meeting, as opposed to having 15 business cards.

Is it any different from relationship building?

– No. It is not. It is exactly what you have been doing with friends and relatives.

As opposed to building superficial contacts list, networking is about knowing people, building relationships and providing value to others. Once you form relationships and some bonding, you can then get referrals and business effortlessly.

16 Nov 2011, 7:24pm
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How to deal with the Fear of Criticism?

Are you afraid of criticism from your family or friends for saying or doing something that your heart is saying you to do, e.g. You want to pursue acting as a career but are fearful of critical behavior from your family, or You love someone very much but are intimidation by the fear of unfavorable response from your family.

I want to assure you that you are not alone in this fear. Most of us at some point or the other have faced this fear and stopped our inner voice. One of the biggest fears that stops us from pursuing our intuition and the voice of conscience is the fear of criticism. We feel scared of the reactions of our near ones, our family members, relatives, friends, etc. We feel ill-at-ease at the prospect of being criticized. How do we handle this fear, and pursue what we really want to do.

First thing to understand is that criticism is not always bad. In some cases, it might give you a better perspective of things so that you can make a better decision, e.g. if you want to pursue acting as a career, and if your parents say that you should not pick that up as a choice as a very few people succeed in acting and you should pick it up as a choice only if you are willing to put in that amount of effort.  This criticism is constructive as it gives you additional information and your parents’ perspective on it.

However, not all criticism is constructive. At times people around us have their own understanding of life, and agenda for our lives and they try to impose that on us, discarding our views. In that case, we need to be firm in our conviction and find a way to make them understand our view-point, e.g. if parents are adamant that you should become an engineer, whereas your heart is set on wildlife photography, then you can tell your parents that wildlife photography might give you less money than an engineer may make, but you will be satisfied, you will live your life fully by becoming a photographer.

Sometimes, it is not clear whether a criticism is constructive or not. In those cases, you can ask a question to clarify it, e.g. if your parents oppose your choice to become a wildlife photographer, than ask them why do they oppose it.

You will only be able to apply the above strategies of handling criticism effectively if you don’t take criticism to your heart.  Once we take criticism to our heart than it makes us feel hurt and we loose our calm and cant handle the situation effectively. Try not to take criticism to your heart – take a few deep breaths if your emotions start to rise, and then ask a clarifying question to see if the criticism is constructive or doesn’t have any base.

In any case, never let criticism stop you from following your passions and creating a life of your dreams. Utilize constructive criticism positively and ignore the rest. Upon some practice, you will surely be able to follow your heart, and not feel crippled by this morbid fear.

 

12 Nov 2011, 10:05am
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Are you living your life by-default or by-design?

A lot of us feel dis-satisfied from life. We feel that our life is going on a treadmill, and we are just passing it by. We wake up every day, get ready go to work, have food, watch tv, and sleep. We do this day-in and day-out, and loose track of why we are doing what we doing. Gradually, we feel totally dis-engaged from life, and feel burdened by all the responsibilities and expectations that seem to be thrust upon us. We loose the sense of excitement and wonderment we once felt in our childhood. Why does such a situation occur, and is there an alternative to this treadmill of life?

We feel like this because we are not living our OWN life. Instead, we are living according to other’s expectations.  Since, our childhood we are told to behave in a particular way. We are asked to take up certain careers, we are told to marry at a certain age, and as soon as we get a job we forward to buy an apartment. This is what I call life-by-default, i.e. Living according to default way of living, without questioning whether we really want to be this way, whether we really want to take that career, or buy a particular house, or marry at a certain time.  No wonder we are always running around and feel empty inside.

An alternative to life-by-default is life-by-design. In this way of living, we first carefully think about what we want to accomplish in our life, in all its major areas. We think about what is important to us in our work, in our relationships, in our health, our leisure activities, contribution that we want to leave in this world. We clarify on these important areas and create a blueprint of how we want our lives to look like.

Once we have created a design of life that we truly feel aligned with, our next step is move towards the realization of this life. We break down our vision into smaller goals and work on accomplishing them one-by-one. Each step that we take brings us closer to our dream life. Instead of just watching life pass-by, we become an active participant in the creation of our life. We look forward to everyday as a chance to get closer to the life of your dreams. The joy that comes from progressive realization of our vision makes living on the whole very worthwhile.
Please share your views on the above article.

16 Jun 2011, 2:08pm
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Feeling worried about the interview – Follow these simple steps

You have an interview very soon and you feel constantly worried about what the interviewer is going to ask you. You feel you don’t know anything. You don’t feel confident about answering even the simplest of questions.  A lot of times you think that interviewer can ask us so many questions. You wonder what to prepare and what not to prepare.

It is quite normal for us to feel anxious about the interview as we feel really in need of that job or position.The following structured way of preparation will ease your nerves and allow you to put your interview preparation on the fast track.

Start by researching the following three three things:

1. Yourself

Do a quick analysis of yourself: list down your major achievements, your strengths, your work experience, your interests, etc.  

2. Organization you are interviewing with

Once you are done with your self-analysis, analyze the organization. Check out their website, and read about them. Read the about us page and get a thorough understanding of their mission, vision, and values.  After that read about their products and how they are doing in the market.  Try and talk to someone working in the same organization, and ask him about the organization, what is the work culture like, how is the performance evaluated etc.

3. Position you are interviewing for

Understand the position very clearly. Understand the roles and responsibilities.  What is the daily work schedule like. Talk to someone in the same position working with the same or a different organization. Ask him a few questions about the role and get a clearer understanding of the responsibilities and expectations.

Once you are done with the research. You are ready to answer the two most important questions that are asked in any behavioral interviews.

Question 1: Why do you want to join our organization?

In the answer to this question, you need to connect your own values and mission in life with the values and mission of the organization. Tell them how the work that the organization is doing resonates with you. 

Here the interviewer is trying to assess what you know about their organization and are you there just looking for a job or have made a well thought out decision based on your values and aspirations.

Question 2: Why do you want to work in this position?

In the answer to this question, you must match the skills required for the position with the achievements that you have had in the past. You may want to give illustrative examples of how passionate you are about the subject matter, by telling them about the work you have done in the past.

Here the interviewer is trying to know how much you know about the position, its roles and responsibilities, and why do you think you will perform well in this position.  

A lot of other commonly asked questions will get answered with this research and questions preparation, e.g. If he asks “tell me about yourself”, you can give a quick overview of your major salient points related to the position and the organization. For every question try to connect yourself with the position and the organization.

In summary, in order to prepare for the behavioral interviews you need to know about Yourself, the Organization, and the position that you are interviewing for thoroughly.  Also, you need to be able to make a strong connection between yourself and the organization, and also yourself and the position.

Wish you all the very best for your upcoming interviews.

Please leave a comment below on the above article or suggestions on what topics would you like to see covered in the future articles. Your comments are really appreciated as they allow me to improve the quality of my blog.

Image courtesy of bpsusf via Flickr