Life’s Good

trail

Everyday is a journey and the journey itself is home.

At Sukhna Lake, Bird Watching Trail.

Wilderness, thin-layered clouds overseeing the mountains, water bodies with deep jungle in the background and birds chirping around – life is good!

I am.

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My son loves being a cop and always ends up making a thief of me. The other day, during this role play, I asked him, “Who are you?” and he almost instantly replied, “I am no one.” I instructed him to say, “I am a policeman” and we resumed our play.

Later that day, it occurred to me that kids don’t really have an identity outside the confines of home and school. As we grow and learn from things around us, we pursue learning and endeavors for years to build an identity. The quest for an identity, of being “someone” often feeds our false beliefs and egos – so much so that we become immune to new experiences in this process of becoming someone.

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What if we chose to just “be” – perfectly in harmony with our real selves, going where our energy takes us, being in the moment and doing stuff that we truly love? What if we just enjoy every step along the journey as a celebration of our being? What if we just do the work without worrying about what it will make of us? What if we are driven by love rather than anxiety?

Life is never a race, but a glorious opportunity to uniquely express ourselves through our endeavors. And when we are immersed in the joy of expressing ourselves through our work, every thing around us melts. We become no one – just like my son who doesn’t have time to care for who he is while playing with his toys!

The path to “being someone” is to first “be no one”. Only when we keep these self-delusionary external labels aside that we can focus on our true expression. Only then an we become truly human with others. Only then we rise!

We think we are in this world and therefore try to find our place in it. But the reality is that our world is within us and that space within can only be tapped when we break through the chains of external identities.

I am not this or that.

I just am. 

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Pictures from my December 2016 explorations – Amsterdam and Chail (Himachal Pradesh)

On Presence, Noticing and Pursuing Joy

“Its not repetition, its discipline!” – many say. For me, repetition beyond a certain point is the way to boredom. I like to do things, even if they are repetitive, with a sense of curiosity, exploration, understanding and joy. Because, after all, if doing something is not fun, either the pursuit is misdirected or it is done the wrong way.

A few months back, when I decided to get back on the health track, I knew that approaches I adopted  in the past may soon lead to the same result – that of giving it up. So, I decided to turn my quest for better health into something I can enjoy on a daily basis, something that enables me to take a deeper view into things around and within myself.

I track my activity through a health app on the mobile phone. Constantly flashing numbers on the screen while you work out can easily lead to anxiety and rob the joy of pursuit. So, I decided to overlook the measurements and intentionally focus on noticing things along the way. Chandigarh offers some really amazing places to work out – from the garden of roses to a huge park rightly named “leisure valley”. When I walk along the paved roads in these parks trying to increase my pace, I notice things in the spirit of exploration and experience. I notice how my heart races when I jog while the morning Sun tries to break through the haze. I notice the increasing chill in the air and the bees hovering on the flower buds. I notice grass blades that have grown taller since yesterday and the dog owners chatting in the park while the dogs playfully run around. I notice that man who so lovingly feeds the birds in that park every morning and that affectionate old lady who comes to drop her grandkid to the school bus. I click a few pictures of these seemingly routine but magnificent things that I notice and attach them to my activity log in the app. And then, it does not remain a “workout session” (passive pursuit) that feeds the physical body but an active exploration that feeds the mind and soul as well. It is an exploration of the inner world through presence in the outer world. It slows me down, makes me more aware about everything around me and enables gratitude. The other day, I just paused for a moment so that I don’t disturb a little squirrel feasting on a tiny flower bud on the track. It was such a refreshing sight!

Cycling has only multiplied my excitement to remain fit. I have fallen in love all over again with the whole idea of moving without any engines. It is such an organic way of commuting where you only move to the extent of your own effort. Isn’t that something so many of us easily forget when we get access to our first motorized vehicle? I am glad I found that joy again!

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Cycling is such a rejuvenating break from the boxed ways of commuting. It is a treat to watch long and empty stretches of canopied roads in the early morning, wave at the other cyclists, touch the leaves from leaning branches of roadside trees, feel the fresh morning air against my face, notice the elevation and slopes of the road which we hardly ever notice when driving a car and finally take a much-needed break at the lakeside watching silhouettes of rowing enthusiasts against the rising Sun from behind the mountains. This morning, while returning back, I stopped at huge roundabout which was beautifully decorated with rock monuments and finely manicured trees. I just spent a few minutes observing details of the roundabout and the purpose it serves – that of being an oasis in the middle of traffic mess. Did I waste those few minutes? Absolutely not!

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My friend Nicholas Bate says that we should focus on “quality of life” rather than “standard of living” and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be living in Chandigarh – India’s first planned city that offers both in equal measures. But that is not really the point. The place or task does not really matter as much as your own attitude towards it. The simple act of being present, fully and completely, in the moment is an art that we desperately need to learn, especially in the anxious times we live in where increasing efficiency seems to be our only goal. In my experience, this applies to everything we do in life and at work.

What happens to the work out, you may think? Surprisingly, whenever I focus on exploration, experience and finding the joy through these activities, numbers invariably take care of themselves. Surpassing my previous bests is just like cherry on top of the cake. Joy is the cake!

I wish the app on my phone gave me badges of honor for contentment I derive from these pursuits, just as it does when I meet my defined goals for the activity. Wouldn’t that be incredible?

Limitless

Treading along in this dreamlike, illusory realm,
Without looking for the traces I may have left;
A cuckoo’s song beckons me to return home;
Hearing this, I tilt my head to see
Who has told me to turn back;
But do not ask me where I am going,
As I travel in this limitless world,
Where every step I take is my home.

– Lao Tzu

Hat Tip to The Hammock Papers

Be

 

Always we hope
someone else has the answer,
some other place will be better,
some other time,
it will turn out.

This is it.

No one else has the answer,
no other place will be better,
and it has already turned out.

At the center of your being,
you have the answer:
you know who you are and
you know what you want.

There is no need to run outside
for better seeing,
nor to peer from a window.
Rather abide at the center of your being:
for the more you leave it,
the less you learn.

Search your heart and see
the way to do is to be.

– Lao Tzu

From Kalka to Shimla: A Train To The Mountains

For me, journey to the mountains has never been about the height I physically climb, but the depth of experience I receive while traveling. It is said that nature is within us and what we see outside (and the depth of our experiences) is just a manifestation of what lies within us.

On our recent trip to Shimla (in the Himalayan mountain range), we decided to take the toy train journey from Kalka.

It is one of the most sought after train journeys in the country covering about 96 kilometers and offering exotic views along the way. It passes through 20 quaint stations, some 800 bridges and about 120 tunnels. The narrow gauge train line was built in 1903 by Britishers to access Shimla which was then, the Summer capital of the country. This train line is now on UNESCO’s world heritage rail sites.

“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” – Corrie Ten Bloom

As the train ascended to the mountains, crossing dark and long tunnels followed by gorgeous views at every turn, lovely terrains and majestic mountains at a distance shadowed by the clouds, I could not stop thinking about how this trip resembles our own lives. Just like this ride, the journey of our life starts happily, goes through dark phases of struggles followed by good times and this cycle goes on till we reach our destination. When in dark tunnels, we surely could see the light at the end of every tunnel!

Old and colorful small stations along the way offered a refreshing break, although very brief. The air at these stations was crisp, fresh and filled with fragrances of food being served at the stations.

The play of clouds and the mountains was mesmerizing at best with every turn along the way offering spectacular views.

Seeing the distant villages on the mountain slopes and colorful houses made for quite a sight.

Every man has a train of thought on which he rides when he is alone.The dignity and nobility of his life, as well as his happiness, depends upon the direction in which that train is going, the baggage it carries, and the scenery through which it travels. — Joseph Fort Newton

My 9 years old daughter was so fascinated by the scenery that she could not help pulling out her drawing book and start sketching her own version of what she saw from glass window of the train. For me, it was easy to (try and) capture the beauty using my camera but for my daughter, the only tool she had was her own imagination – a gift we are all born with but lose eventually as education takes over.

When we finally reached our destination, seeing so many people at the station, we felt that the journey itself was much more interesting than the destination. And so it is with our lives too.

So, now that you have got onto the train, don’t forget to enjoy the ride!