There is a very small but ubiquitous tribe of people who would give an arm and a leg for a new experience. It doesn’t necessarily mean blowing money on heading to Dubai. It means at a profound level, investing in yourselves to widen horizons. These are the men and women would rather learn cooking or carpentry than add more stuff to their online shopping cart, who would invest in teaching English to underprivileged kids do the mall-shop-movie-wine-repeat jig every weekend, in half comatose.
In ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, Viktor Frankl saw three possibilities of giving meaning to life – work (doing something significant), love (caring for another person) and courage during difficult times. Taking this theory a little further what if we gave meaning and a purpose to life by spending a fortune in acquiring experiential wealth than material possessions. Of all the ways of best kind of investment, ‘investing in oneself’ appears the most meaningful, pleasing and gratifying. Amassing wealth, incessantly buying, upgrading gadgets and acquiring material possessions may be helping better lifestyles, but not lives. We have this only one mind and body we are living inside. Why not make it enriching, beautiful, pleasant, clean and wonderful while we live inside it alone.
How would our individual lives in particular and the landscape of humanity in general alter if we start taking the concept of investing in ourselves very seriously?
This year where we have seen angst, violence and rebellion by individuals who were living on the fringes of the society. Newer kinds of assaults on psyche with body shaming, trolling and cyber bullying have been invented. While the world around us is becoming increasingly intolerant and compassion deficient, we could do with a few human beings who are happy, content and living a life that they really love. This is the most important time ever in the history of humanity where there is an urgent need to make an individual’s lives beautiful. Remember it is never, never too late to begin something right, something you love, something new, something that makes you happy.
These individuals would then go ahead and make beautiful societies, with less negativity and make beautiful people. There are life lessons waiting for us to learn and apply in our everyday lives. These lessons would be imparted less likely by a new kitchen ware, a gadget or a new wardrobe.
Scuba diving and ‘planning the dive to dive the plan’
In Scuba diving, there is a rule that one is asked to repeat many times during the training. “Plan the dive, dive the plan”. Before getting in water, you have the time allotted, directions written down, what samples to bring back and what notes to make. You don’t make any change to it, come what may. You are dependent on an oxygen container that would last only a designated duration of time. One gets delirious underwater and loses the ability to make decisions, therefore any change in the plan underwater could prove fatal. Divers have claimed of reporting vertigo, not knowing which way is up, in deep sea.
In the overwater life, how often do we start with something we want to do but midway give up? While in the middle of it, or just about to start it, we are overcome with fear and doubts. Very successfully, we are able to reason ourselves out of it. However, much later we are left with a tiny guilt in our gut, telling us that we should have gone ahead with what wanted to do in the first place. It could be not hurrying through a meaningful conversation, going for a swim after a day’s work, making that meal during the weekend or finishing that piece of work we had set aside for the day. But excuses galore, few being lazy, tired, unsure, distractions.
So next time you are set out to do something, just get out and do it. Silence the brain chatter that stops you. Shush it up politely and say, “Thank you, but I really don’t want your opinion now, it’s too late, am doing it anyway.” Break out of that inertia, plan the dive and dive the plan.
Running and the secret sauce adrenalin
As many people run, there are as many reasons for running. Most of the runners run for the sake of running. That’s what we all say. However, there is a secret as well. Whoever has run long distance, knows and knows it too well. It is the well-kept secret of the adrenaline rush. Adrenaline is the hormone produced in the body under stress, when you are in a fight or flight situation. That scientifically, makes you feel badass and the king of everything in sight. You hit it, but the rule is first you have to give all you have got. When you think you can’t run even a single step more, then you have to run a little more. Then you feel that spurt of electricity, weightlessness and energy that seizes the day.
Running teaches you to not give up too soon, particularly when you are down and out. You would never know that you were just an iota away from success or winning. It kind of teaches what was written in the Hindu scriptures of Bhagawat Gita, ‘Continue with your actions without worrying about the rewards.’ There is nothing you would want to trade off with the sense of accomplishment you feel after a really hard day’s work.
Basketball and dealing with adversity and the fear of unknown
As a child, the thing that scared me the most was when the ball would be in my hand and I had to go ahead and dunk that shot while playing basketball. So scared I would get, I would shut my eyes as I got closer. In my journals from years ago, there are scribbling of a tiny girl praying to god, day after day, to make her strong enough to keep her eyes open while entering that seemingly impenetrable wall of opposition. One day, the coach called me aside and screamed in my face to ‘go in with open eyes, just try once’. Just go, head on. I did. I did. I did. As a tiny kid, I went in and made a basket. I never forget that day. No one does forget the moment when they triumph over deep-seated fears, do they?
Many times, in the face of adversity, we manage gathering all the courage, being all equipped, but fizzle out in the last mile, the last shot, and the last breath. We are unable to tell ourselves that if we do walk with gait and speak with all the calm we can, the world will make way and shut up and listen. It’s the fear. Of not trying. Of the unknown. Of not even putting up a fight. So whatever it is that is bothering you today, that colleague, of yours, that neighbour, that chipped out nail, that conversation with your teacher or boss, that move to the new big city or the shift to the school, trusting a stranger, owning up to your feelings, ghosts under the bed at night, learning to drive the car, having a baby, making a shift in the career – just stop imagining the worst and chickening out. Try to do what you are afraid of. Once you do, it can scare you no more. Let it not keep you awake at nights. Don’t feed to the fear. Instead, eat it, chew it and spit it out.
Kathak and the power of now
Ta thayi thayi tatt – aa thayi thayi tatt. That is the first thing you learn in the Indian classical form of dance Kathak. Seemingly very simple and doable, it is probably the most difficult of the feats to achieve, more difficult than mastering the longer and labyrinthine steps. It is almost like focusing on your breath. Like meditating. And why is meditation difficult? Because our mind is a monkey, wanting to run from one branch to another, one tree to next. After many attempts in vain and tired of repeatedly starting from the beginning, my Kathak teacher smiled at me and said, for the next moment, do away with all your worries, all your thoughts, all your trouble and just listen to the beats and sync. There I was, dancing my past and future away, tethered to the NOW.
We dwell in past and weave our future. At work we are worried about home, at home we think of friends, while with friends we think of things we have to buy, while buying things we think about where we have to be, while being at the place where we have to be we drift to the past when we were hurt, or how we wanted to do things differently. We forget the golden mantra – now is all we have.
French and the art of keeping a gullible mind
Learning a new language makes one sheepish and apologetic in equal measure. Without realizing, the state of mind slips into the mode of ‘I know nothing.’ ‘What is that called’, probably becomes the most used phrase. As human beings, we use languages to not just communicate but also to be understood. The wall between you and the world till you learn the new language forces you to relook at the world with childlike wonderment.
As adults, we get comfortable in our routine and environment. We feel too lazy because we are set in our pattern and ways. Treading out of comfort zones keeps us sharp. Something as simple as learning a new a language is a fresh stimulus keeps our senses keen and sharp. Being open to suggestions, changes, criticism is an art that abandons us as we grow up, becoming too adamant to change. A language forces us to be students of life again. The zephyr will breeze in only when the windows are open.
Pick anything that supplements your interests and personality, nourishes your soul and makes your being dance. Try something new that is in conflict with your personality. See the magic happening within you as you interpret yourself and the world in quite a new light as you learn newer things from things you learn.
[This article was first for written and published in The Times of India]