The Season Within!

Varala_Statue

Finland experiences a very harsh winter. Many years back when I visited Finland in the peak of winter season, I asked one of my Finnish colleagues, “It must be very hard for you to endure the harsh winter and snow all around just like we in India endure harsh summer season.”

He replied, “In fact, my kids wait for winter and snow so that they can go skiing and do ice fishing on the frozen lakes.”

I quickly realized that I underestimated human ability to choose an attitude. I understood that

the season outside does not matter as long you carry your own spring within.

Don’t we all see people who are grumpy even when weather is pleasant and ones who are pleasant even when weather is grumpy?

The nights and days may be gray but if there is joy inside, if there is hope that snow whirling from sky will eventually give way to sunshine and blossom, any season is a good season.

From that day onwards, I gave up cribbing about the weather, for I know that I and we carry our seasons along.

I am reminded of a 100 word story that I wrote in 2013.

A retired weatherman was once questioned by a friend, “What kind of weather is it going to be tomorrow?”

“The kind of weather I am going to love,” was the instant response with a gentle smile on his wrinkled face. “How do you know that it will be the weather you will love?” the friend was curious.

The weatherman went on to explain, “35 years in weather department has taught me just one thing: there is no bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. To make the most of everything that doesn’t go as planned is an attitude thing!”

– – – – –

And here are some more pictures from that amazing trip to the land of frozen lakes.

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Snow capped trees on the banks of a frozen Nasijaarvi lake, Varala Resort, Tampere, Finland.

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Frozen Pyhajaarvi lake from the ridge of Pispala, Tampere, Finland.

Pispala_Bench

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. 

– – – – –

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?

The Fog of Life

Our train to Chandigarh encountered heavy fog on that winter morning. At one point when visibility was less than 100 meters, I thought the train will not move forward. We had little choice but to stay put and trust that things will start moving. And it did, although quite slowly.

It was an interesting setting. When I got down of the train at a quaint station to click some pictures (and also stretch a leg after hours of non-stop journey), my mind went on a train of thoughts as it usually does during travel.

The train. Dense fog around. People moving here and there on the platform. The hazy trees at a distance. It all seemed very familiar. I felt as if I had seen this before. We all have probably seen it before.

A lot of our life is like this. If you can clearly see the path before you, you may be amongst the lucky few. For the rest of us, it is mostly difficult to see past the haze and uncertainty of the very next moment. But we move on, even if slowly, with a hope to get to clearer views. We trust something within ourselves and something beyond us and that keeps things moving. We persevere and keep the faith and suddenly, the vistas clear up offering magnificent views. The struggle through the fog makes it even more special.

The next time I am surrounded by fog in life, I will remember this – that the tracks are still in place, the green hazy trees at a distance will get clearer, hope will guide me there. That I need to trust the process.

That I need to just keep walking.

 

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

The Roads We Take

The other day, I was reading out a short story of Akbar and the wise Birbal to my daughter. On his way back to Agra, Akbar encounters a crossroad and gets confused about which road to take. So, he stops a boy named Mahesh Das (later named as Birbal) and inquires about the road that goes to Agra. The young boy replies that none of these roads go to Agra. Akbar keeps his anger in check and seeks an explanation to which Birbal replies,

“Roads never go anywhere, people do.”

Life is the journey and a lot of it is shaped by the crossroads we encounter and the road we choose to take (if at all we get to choose). Then there are diversions, dead ends and slopes.

We may create grand plans and elaborate goals for our lives not knowing what lies ahead of us. Goals provide a good framework to direct our efforts but problem starts when treat our goals as our destination. I have learned that goals are simply milestones along the unknown path that we are onto. Worry too much about the milestones and you miss the beauty of the journey itself. Be anxious and it robs the joy out of the pursuit.

“Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.”

– Margaret Lee Runbeck

Much more fulfilling is to take this journey one step, one day, one moment at a time. To choose our path according to what we truly are and what kind of human being we want to become along the journey. To be driven by a grand purpose that makes a difference. To remain open to possibilities of life. To embrace abundance. To respond to changes in our journey as we encounter them. To slow down and notice things. To wander. To be driven by joy of doing things. To enjoy the ride and every moment within it. To work our way through diversions and get back on track. To evolve and learn from everything that we encounter en route.

Never regret a single moment of the journey. If it wasn’t your destination, it was preparation.

– Unknown

Then, the journey is not just a means to an end – it is the end in itself. Journey is the purpose.



Also Read: The Journey is the Purpose: An Inspiring Tale of Nek Chand Saini at QAspire Blog

Paper Boat Memories

“These paper boats of mine are meant to dance on the ripples of hours, and not reach any destination.” – Tagore

This one was floated by my daughter last year when first rain of the season soaked not just the parched earth but also our hearts. The fragrance of the wet soil filled our souls as we breathed a sigh of relief from scorching summer heat!

My daughter had a big smile on the face as she launched her maiden paper boat into the water. Seeing those folded words moving with the water, I reminisced my own childhood when I used to tear pages from school books to make paper boats and play with them in the puddles and streams.

Each time I would launch a paper boat, it merrily sailed along trying to protect the sides, putting up a valiant fight before finally giving up. And then, I launched the other ones till parents noticed and got furious about the reducing size of my books!

That day, I joined my daughter and made a few paper boats myself experiencing immense joy of revisiting simple things in life.

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!

A Date with Butterflies

Last weekend, I spent two hours amidst wilderness of the Butterfly Park in Chandigarh.

Watching these beautiful winged creatures hover around, rest on the flowers and then swiftly move to wherever their heart takes them was a truly meditative experience.

Here are some pictures from the visit:

At 10:00 AM, I was the only visitor in the park.

Walking along the nature trail in the park is almost like walking in the jungle. Butterflies prefer wilderness and the park offer a perfect environment to them. Host plants for butterflies are carefully selected to ensure that a wide range of butterflies can live here.
 

I sat on the edge of the trail facing the plants for 2 hours and made friends with some of the most beautiful and delicate creatures on the earth.

To really experience the beauty of life, one has to embrace silence. I did just that and soon became a part of their world.

I watched butterflies for about a couple of hours and I did not want to leave the place. For those two hours, my world had shrunk and all the worries and anxieties just melted when I saw these butterflies happily hovering around me.

To me, butterflies are a sign of hope, belief and life itself. They start their life painfully, struggle to emerge from their cocoon and then blossom. A short and fleeting life span does not deter them from adding so much beauty to the world.

And finally, here is a short poem that I really loved.

Flutter by,
Butterfly,
Floating flower
in the sky.
Kiss me with your
Petal wings—
Whisper secrets,
Tell of spring.

– Author Unknown

Make the Ordinary Come Alive


Do not ask your children

To strive for extraordinary lives.

Such striving may seem admirable,

But it is a way of foolishness.

Help them instead to find the wonder

And the marvel of an ordinary life.

Show them the joy of tasting

Tomatoes, apples and pears.

Show them how to cry

When pets and people die.

Show them the infinite pleasure

In the touch of a hand.

And make the ordinary come alive for them.

The extraordinary will take care of itself.

– From the Book “That Parent’s Tao Te Ching” by William Martin

In the Pic: Wooden artifacts at Kurfi, Shimla

Sunset at the Lake

What do you do when you are alone and family is away for a few weeks? I tend to fill my spare time doing things that may mean nothing in itself but that give me joy. I sing along, take long walk along the lake, watch sunset, go out on photography excursion around the city, sketch a bit, read great books and write a lot. These things fill me with contentment and convert my loneliness (which is generally seen as a negative space) into solitude, a tremendously positive and meditative space. My opportunity to connect with my own self.

Last weekend, I took a long solitary walk along the Sukhna lake – the heart of Chandigarh city surrounded by Shivalik mountain range and enjoyed the sunset.

Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh

“It is up to you to see the beauty of everyday things” – Anon

Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh

“A setting sun still whispers the promise of tomorrow.” – Jeb Dickerson

Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh

“When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in worship of the Creator” – Gandhi

Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh

“Life just is. Birds don’t analyze life. They just live.”

Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh

“O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh

It was a beautiful evening and time well spent.

How can I NOT be  grateful for this wonderful life?

The Meaning of Life?

Nicolae Tanase is the Excellence Reporter who asks thought leaders from different walks of life a single question: “What is the meaning of life?”

This is one question that I secretly hoped no one ever asked me. I have been thinking all the time about business related topics and any question that did not have defined boundaries was difficult for me to respond to.

And it happened. Nicolae asked me this question and threw me into a whirlwind of thoughts. What emerged as a response was as follows:

Life is so profound, enormous and ever-expanding that it has no meaning.

When I photograph birds, I learn something about life. A bird, enlivened by the same life energy as us, never goes around trying to find the meaning of life. It just follows its own nature — to fly, to sing and to simply be what it really is. They are peaceful with their self not lamenting about what happened to them in the past or what will happen to them in the very next moment. They live in here and now; in perfect harmony with their inner nature.

I see the same life energy manifesting itself when I see my three years old son jumping on the bed merrily singing rhymes. Joyful for being alive, he is the most complete expression of life, just like birds and other elements of nature are.

The quest for meaning of life is the quest to connect with our inner self and let that shine bright. Nothing outside of us can help in finding the meaning of our own life. We can see the abundance in the world only when we connect with the abundance of life that is within us. Only then can we see the possibilities that life brings to us. Only then can we truly express our real selves through our endeavors. Only then can we expand our consciousness about life. Only then can we move beyond mere survival and truly live our potential.

Connecting with our true inner nature is almost like diving into a deep ocean to find a precious pearl. It may not always be attainable but it is this pursuit that makes life worthwhile and beautiful.

~Tanmay Vora, Excellence Evangelist, lifelong learner, blogger, author and IT business leader who writes at QAspire.com

This response originally appeared here.