Zen And The Art Of Decluttering

Article in the Mindscape Section of the March 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

A friend of mine who lived in my city for several years, recently shifted back to her country and I was at the cusp of the shifting process. It was shocking to see how much stuff someone can have with them that they might never use and sometimes have never used at all. One of the interpretations of the Pareto principle says that 80% of the time, we might keep wearing just 20% of the clothes in our wardrobes. I think this pretty much applies to all other things that we stock up for eternal non usage. In my view, decluttering is not just about getting rid of junk but it is also about getting rid of your baggage. Here is how you could go about doing it in a progressive fashion.

First, start by looking into your shelves, wardrobes, attics, draws, lofts and closets. Take out everything that you haven’t used in a year and are not likely to use in the next year and put it into a large bag that will form part of the junk that is “to be disposed”. Keep doing this till you can’t find anything that falls under the “to be disposed” category. Then get rid of that bag by selling the stuff in it, donating it to an orphanage or giving it to someone who you think might need it. This is not a suggestion to get rid of something really precious like your ancestral family jewelry or something like your wedding gown that has real sentimental value even if you might never wear it ever again. If you’re one of those people who treats every pin and empty perfume bottle like it was your wedding gown, then try this. Take out those things that you are trying to hold on to anyway and put them into a “to be disposed” bag. Zip up this bag and keep it aside for six months. In six months if you never use any of the things in that bag, then without a second thought, pick up that bag and get rid of it. If you did use any of the things in the bag in six months, then keep just those things aside for later disposal. While getting rid of useless things is just the first step, it’s a great way of not just clearing up physical space in your house but also mental space in your head. It’s like the difference between sitting at an over cluttered and dusty desk versus sitting at an organized and clean desk. Decluttering actually helps you think more clearly.

The second step of decluttering is to look at how you spend your time throughout the day. Stop doing all those things that you do that have no meaning or purpose and don’t add any kind of value to your life. Whether it is talking on the phone unnecessarily, mindless watching of television or channel surfing, cyber loafing and just jumping from one website to another, or checking out what everyone under the sun is up to on Facebook. Just stopping these activities will free out time to do the things that really matter to you, that make you feel good and ones that actually add value to your life.

Thirdly, start decluttering people. We all have people in our lives who really matter to us and who care and reciprocate our feelings and gestures toward them. They are the ones you should be spending most of your time with. Scan your life and identify those people who you might be talking to or interacting with on a regular basis, but who are absolutely wastes of your time. There could be people who just talk to unload their burdens on you, there are some who call you only when they need something and are never there for you when you need them and some others who want someone to while away their time with and in the process sap your energy dry. The idea is not to call these people up and severe all relationships with them in one shot. Rather than pulling the plug abruptly, slowly stop entertaining them and keep your interaction with them to the minimum. This will either keep them at that minimum interaction level or cause them to fade away on their own.

If you’ve managed to do this much, then you’ve really made headway and I’m sure the quality of your life would have increased several fold. Just to add some whipped cream and cherry to your decluttering exercise, you could also try mental decluttering. Watch your thoughts throughout the day and start to identify all the useless, unproductive and unconstructive thoughts that you have. If you like, you could start journaling your habitual thoughts through the day. After a couple of days, if you look back at what you’ve captured you’ll clearly be able to identify the useless and unsupportive thoughts that you are indulging in. This self-awareness really helps because then, every time you catch yourself thinking one of those lousy thoughts, you could quickly and deliberately replace it with a positive one. I’ve tried this myself and in the beginning it’s easier said than done. But with practice, you will start to find it a lot easier to do and the benefits of decluttering your mind and dwelling on the positive and supportive thoughts far outweigh the benefits of merely clearing out the clutter from your closet.

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The Two Things That Wellbeing Is All About

Article in the Mindscape Section of the February 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

Ask five of your closest friends or relatives what wellbeing means to them. Make a note of what they tell you. I’ve done this exercise myself and have heard all kinds of responses like wellbeing is about living a happy life, wellbeing means being fit, wellbeing means not falling ill, wellbeing is being physically and mentally strong, etc. It doesn’t matter what the response is, I’ve always noticed that there is a projection of what people say into the future. Nobody wants to be happy just for the next 5 minutes or be mentally and physically strong just for today. There is a definite undertone of wanting any of this along with a certain level of permanence. At the heart of the feeling of wellbeing are two ideas, Predictability and Control. People really want to have control over their health, their relationships, their lifespans and sometimes even the lifespans of others. While at the same time, a lack of predictability and control can sometimes send the lives of people spiraling downward. Just not being certain that you might have your job a month from now or that you might not enjoy a healthy life for the rest of this year could cause a lot of stress and people even lose sleep over such apprehensions which in turn impact their wellbeing.

People want to control all kinds of things in their lives, starting from the temperature in the room, to their weight to their blood sugar and cholesterol levels, their spouses and sometimes even the lives and futures of their children. It is no wonder that teenagers feel a sense of control and empowerment when they start working and making their own money. One of the things that any illness does is that it rattles you off your sense of control over yourself. The journey to find and experience a cure is really a journey to gain back control over your life. The other side of the same coin is predictability. The best diets in the world are the ones that give you the most predictable outcomes. Exercises where you can predict the number of calories lost which eventually translates into getting into the desired shape are invariably the more popular exercises. There are several parts of the world that believe in some sorts of horoscopes, oracles and prophesies and the unsaid message from people who believe in them is “we want to predict our future”. In fact the whole “happily ever after” phenomenon hugely leans on the idea of predictability.

Predictability and Control might make us all feel a little more safe and secure but it certainly isn’t something to fret and fume over. Sometimes it’s good to let go because the fact is that stock markets do fluctuate, economies do collapse and people eventually do fall sick or die. Don’t be so obsessed with predictability and control that it starts controlling you. Your relationship with life is like any other relationship. The more controlling you get, sometimes the less control you actually end up having. As one famous Chicago tribune columnist Mary Schmich, put it,

“Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday”.

A Place Where Nothing Can Affect You

Article in the Mindscape Section of the January 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

I’m sure a lot of us have heard the story of the Zen master and the earthquake. A Zen master was having dinner one evening with his disciples. A major earthquake struck and while everything shook and swayed, the disciples ran frantically to other rooms and to different parts of the monastery. Some even ran right out of the monastery in an attempt to save their lives. In a while, the earthquake settled down and the tremors stopped. So the disciples started to find their way back to the monastery and eventually into the room where the dinner was served. They found the Zen master still seated in silence with a calm and peaceful look on his face. When the disciples asked him how come he didn’t run out to save his life, he replied that the quake was everywhere. In that room, the next room and even outside the monastery. So the only place you could actually escape to was into yourself. And that’s what the Zen master did.

We sometimes don’t realize that we all have access to a place like this. A room where no one and nothing can affect you. A place where you can be in a state of absolute bliss, despite the earthquakes and hurricanes of life that might surround you. But before you start gaining access to this room you need to identify it and if you can’t do that; at least build one for yourself.

There are some of us who are lucky enough to have found that sacred space early on in life. Either through practicing a form of art or music or meditation or through writing or even just by knowing how to relax. These are the people who almost have a readymade room and the journey they take is just about drifting gracefully in their mental or spiritual space to find that room. And lets also accept the fact that some of us might have come into this world without a blessed space to go to or might be so far removed from that peaceful room that it would be far smarter for us to build a new room from scratch. Here’s what you could keep in mind if you wanted to build your own room of bliss.

First of all, spend time every day, doing something that you absolutely love. Read a book, workout, take a walk in the park, write, practice martial arts, go on a bike ride, meditate or do whatever makes you feel good. Try to pick activities that take you inward rather than keep you distracted from your inner self and take you further away from your center. So things like drinking, drugs, gambling, gaming or television are bad options. When you do the things you love often enough, you’ll notice that the intensity of the good feeling that you experience starts to expand and become more intense. That’s when you realize that your room is slowly getting built. Secondly, you’ll notice that some activities work better for you than others. For some, meditating for an hour might get them into a quiet and serene space while for some others sitting in a café reading a book for a while might make them feel tranquil. Choose what works best for you and stick with it. This is like finding the right entrance to your serene space. Thirdly, repeat your favorite activity frequently. This does not mean quitting your job and doing it all the time. There is great power in spaced repetition. Each time you enter your peaceful room, the more definite it becomes. First you identify a spot, then you mark it, then the walls get built, then the ceiling and interiors and lights and fragrances. The more often you go into this room, the more robust your room becomes.

A final thought is that once you identify your room or build one for yourself, don’t abandon it. I’ve met a lot of people who’ve had a really calm mental space that they could go to whenever they wanted to. One that their parents inculcated or ushered them into or perhaps one that they themselves identified in the process of growing up. But as they grow older and get caught up in the natural disasters of everyday life, they stop going to this room and eventually this room gets abandoned or forgotten altogether. Finally at some point they’re having a midlife crisis or experiencing severe job stress and they don’t know where to go.

So once you know your safe haven, respect it, guard it and enjoy it for life. It’s a place where nothing can affect you.

Don’t Run Away From Boredom

Article in the Mindscape Section of the November 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

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Before I started writing this article, I went onto Google and ran a search with the terms “How To Get Bored”. The results were hilarious. Nine out of the ten results on the first search page were about how to kill boredom. “5 Ways To Overcome Boredom”, “17 Things To Do When You Are Bored Out Of Your Mind” and “10 Ways to Conquer Boredom” were among the search results.
If you have kids at home, you probably hear about getting bored way too often. And unfortunately, a lot of parents resort to the quickest escape route of handing them the iPad, smart phone, laptop or switching on the television for them. Pop culture today seems to be hooked on to ways of getting rid of Boredom with a vengeance. With an endless list of suggestions like, meet new people, join a class, travel, develop a hobby, volunteer, do this and do that. Why? What’s the problem? It’s not a sin to be bored. On the contrary, boredom can be a fabulous way to get more out of life. Here’s how.
First of all, boredom helps in sparking new ideas. The famous writer Robert M. Pirsig, who’s considered to be one of the most widely read philosophers still alive, said that boredom always precedes a period of great creativity. Another one of his famous quotes on Zen and nothingness alludes to the same thing and it reads, “If you stare at a wall from four in the morning till nine at night, and you do that for a week, you are getting pretty close to nothingness”.

Secondly, getting bored gives you the great opportunity of getting more time for yourself. Most often, when you hear people say that they don’t have time, they’re talking about not having time to do the things that they want to do in life. In a generation that patronizes multitasking, getting more done in less time and keeping busy as opposed to living and experiencing a richer life and stopping to smell the roses, many don’t realize that getting bored is the opposite of whizzing past life and missing out on it. In fact, I think, children should get bored. It’s a great way to get them to be more creative and experience time and life in its completeness. The same applies to adults. A lot of adults today don’t give themselves even the remotest chance of getting bored. Even a long weekend is filled with activities and things to do. And before you know it, you’re back at work.

Third and most importantly, boredom is a sure shot way to help people look inward. A lot of your goals, visions, aspirations, dreams, likes, dislikes and desires are happening inside of you. All you need to do is look. But if you’re so distracted with the world around you and the zillion demands that you put on yourself, then you’re bound to drift aimlessly in the high seas. Jim Morrison, the American song writer and the lead singer of the rock band “The Doors”, has this wonderful old aphorism about people.

Those who race toward death.
Those who wait.
Those who worry.

Don’t be among the ones who race toward death or the ones who worry. Just wait. The next time you get bored, don’t reach for your phone, start an activity or schedule new plans. Just wait. Let the boredom set in. Sit through it, experience it, learn to be with it and relish it. You’ll get a good glimpse of who you are, what makes you tick and what you should actually be doing in life.

Are You Suffering From Compassion Fatigue

Actual Compassion Fatigue was a term first referred to in a U.S. document on immigration policy in the early 1980s. It refers to the progressive fading away of compassion among individuals who need to express high levels of compassion as a result of the work they do or because of the life situations they are in.

In my view, the legitimate version of compassion fatigue that results from a continuous exposure to painful situations is clearly understandable. For example, taking care of a bed ridden family member for a prolonged period of time, going through a complicated and traumatic divorce that is spread over years or working a job that involves exposure to people in some sort of pain or trauma. But today, people seem to be victims of compassion fatigue even when there’s nothing in particular to be fatigued about. I’m more interested in talking about the 21st century variant of compassion fatigue, where it’s not just trauma or pain but various other emotions that people are fatigued towards. There is an overload of exposure today towards certain dimensions of life and this in turn leads to people becoming numb to what an acceptable dose of the related emotions might be.

Though leading bodies in the world, like the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association are yet to accept compassion fatigue as an actual diagnosis, there’s simply no debate about a gradual numbing effect that occurs to people’s reactions and perceptions to certain things due to over exposure. Versions of compassion fatigue, in my view are present in several walks of life, even if you’re not in a job that requires taking care of others or showing compassion. The phenomena of eating and drinking out regularly, divorces, depression, traffic jams or long commutes, and several other negative hallmarks of big cities have gone up so much that you might well be partaking in the madness and not realizing it.

For example, in the corporate world, the incessant cribbing that I often hear from people who I meet almost makes job dissatisfaction a given. Monday morning blues and TGIF are accepted norms in most parts of the world. To the extent that if you don’t complain about your job, you might actually stick out like a sore thumb in some organizations.

Another roaring example is social media. With the ever increasing popularity of Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Snapchat, a segment of people are simply too used to sharing every single detail about themselves with the rest of the world. As a result, the sharing quotient of most social media users in the world has gone through the roof. More importantly, there’s this constant pressure of having to portray a good life as if your existing life and what you have is seriously flawed.

The great danger of a continuous exposure to excesses is that it warps your sense of what’s acceptable and what you actually feel like. Don’t get so used to broadcasting your life that privacy means nothing to you anymore. Don’t chase your financial dreams so hard that you’re unable to enjoy the money you already have. Don’t be so obsessed with trying to look better that you stop appreciating your personality and charm. As the Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich put it, “Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.”

Most importantly, Don’t be so caught up in trying to live a successful life that you forget to live a happy one.

What Defines an Alpha Male?

Article in the Mindscape Section of the August 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

The misconceptions about the concept of the Alpha Male range from people seeing it as the ultimate acknowledgement of a man’s virility to feeling the need to be aggressive or flirt with women. Saying that being an Alpha Male is just about being physically fit, behaviourally aggressive or smooth with women is like reducing Osho’s entire range of ideas and philosophies merely to what he said about sex. So what else makes an Alpha Male?

First of all, an Alpha Male is not a bully. He is not out there to get other people or put others down. On the contrary, he is someone who lifts people up and brings out the best in others. That’s precisely what makes him stand out and shine in a group. Quite like the lion that is seen as the king of the jungle and yet doesn’t kill his prey for cheap thrills. But when a loin is hungry or needs to attack, he knows exactly what to do. Likewise, even the Alpha Male attacks only under the pressure of necessity, and when he does, size doesn’t matter. His energy in a fight is immense and mostly drawn from within rather than through practice or technique.

Secondly, the Alpha Male is not stuck up. He is a flexible beast. He accepts mistakes, takes ownership and adapts quickly. He realizes that negative feedback or differences in opinion are not a personal insult to his manhood or to himself as a human being. He is calm, composed and has a striking sense of poise even when things are not going his way. This comes from his quality of not blaming others, taking responsibility for who he is and his remarkable optimism in learning, growing and becoming a better person.

Another brilliant quality the Alpha Male possesses is being comfortable with being exactly who he is. He doesn’t suck up to anybody in the face of hierarchical superiority, greater public image or under social pressure. He speaks his mind out, doesn’t mince words and shoots bullets of honesty through his language and actions. This ability to express himself with ease makes him a fascinating leader, beyond just good decision making or being at the helm of affairs in any set up.

Finally, one more defining factor of an Alpha Male is that he is passionate about life. He sees a clear purpose to his existence and as a result finds more meaning in his work, his actions and his life as a whole. He clearly stands for certain things and that gives him a sense of style and charisma that is truly his and not one prescribed by others.

An alpha male doesn’t need to be young. You can be an alpha male at any age and there could be several other factors that define an Alpha Male to a slightly lesser degree than the ones described above. But for the most part, he is seen as someone who can walk into a room, fill it with his presence, exposing himself completely with uncrossed hands, direct eye contact and engaging others through his entertaining stories and his sense of humour. In a world where political correctness and living for others reigns supreme, the Alpha Male will continue to express himself and yet there is one thing that he would never ever do. He would never try to be an Alpha Male. He will be who he is and that is what makes him an Alpha Male.

The Neutral Line Phenomenon

Article in the Mindscape Section of the July 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

Ask yourself how you feel right now on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being horrible and 10 being awesome. Now how do you feel today in comparison to other days on the same rating scale? You could extend this inquiry into an assessment of how you feel this week, this month or even this year. We all have days that are a 10 or even a 14 while on the other hand, there are days that are a 1 or 0. While it’s absolutely normal to experience these highs and lows, the larger question is where do you spend most of your time? I mean towards which end of the feel good scale?

The neutral line phenomenon is a concept I’ve used to get answers to some of the above questions and process those answers to live a better and more fulfilling life. The neutral line phenomenon refers to an imaginary line that is in between the highs and lows, that indicates habitual behaviour or your customary state. Someone, who at any given point of time feels they are at a 10 probably has a higher neutral line compared to someone who on most days feels they are at a 1 or 2. While 1, 2, 10 or 14 are just numbers on an imaginary feel good scale, the neutral line is real. It is your habitual behaviour or state and in turn is a true assessment of the kind of life that you might be leading. The people who are living an awesome life, are actually the ones who are feeling like a million dollars most of the time while people who are going through a mundane existence or even living a life of struggles are the ones who are feeling down and out or oppressed most of the time. There is absolutely no point having a high net worth, buying a mansion, taking fancy vacations, getting to the top of the corporate ladder or even retiring at 30 if you don’t feel good. Rest assured that you’ve had a pretty lousy year, if you spent the whole year working a job that you hated and doing other things that you were forced to and that you hated yourself for, just to take that 10 day international vacation in December. What this does is that it puts your neutral line way close to the zero mark. On the other hand if you at least did that lousy job for 5 days a week but had a blast during the weekends doing the things that you absolutely looked forward to, then that immediately puts your neutral line closer to a 4 or a 5. Now imagine that you were doing a job that you loved from Monday through Friday and you had other interesting passions that you spent your weekends being involved in and to cap it all you also took that lovely vacation at the end of the year. Now that is when your neutral line would hovering around the 10 mark. I’m sure you get the picture. The bottom line is to push up your neutral line. Rather than aim for those isolated high times of your life that are far and few between, do what it takes to feel good more often and to increase the intensity of that feeling. And I don’t mean do whatever it takes.

Someone whose neutral line is at the happy level, on good days feels happier and on great days feels elated. While for someone whose neutral line is at the depressed level, even the great days are just slightly sad days.

 

Do Good Looking People Actually Have Better Lives?

Article in the Mindscape Section of the June 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

I recently had a somewhat animated discussion with an image consultant about the impact of good looks on corporate and social success. Her point of view was simple yet direct. She said that good looking people find it easier to get a job, keep a job and grow in that job to senior positions. She also added that another natural outcome of being good looking is that you end up having a better circle of friends and in turn a better social life. Now obviously, she isn’t alone in the “good looking people have better lives” bandwagon.

Various Universities seem to conducting research on the benefits of good looks. A Yale University study found that attractive men and women earn more than their average looking counterparts. Another Harvard University study found that investors were more likely to put money into businesses if the man making the pitch is handsome. In fact there is also a study that was conducted at the University of Zurich that correlates higher levels of human endurance with good looks.

This bias towards good looks is not just confined to the corporate world. Its reach spreads way beyond that, including into various social settings. Someone once told me that in many parts of the world it is almost impossible to find an extremely beautiful woman doing the job of sweeping streets or clearing trash. Likewise, it might be equally challenging in many parts of the world to find an extremely handsome gentleman doing a low end, menial job. It is almost as if merely being good looking assures you a better job and a better position in society. For the most part, you might also observe in social circles that it is the good looking people who are more likely to be the social butterflies.  As I mentioned earlier, this is the point of view that the image consultant had and it is one that gets established by the popular media’s huge focus on good looks. Whether it is the age old print medium, banners, billboards, television or the internet, as long as there are visuals, there is bound to be a focus on good looking people. The popular media are almost addicted to good looks. How often do you see an ugly looking man or woman in a fashion, cosmetic or clothing ad? In fact it is almost as difficult to find models who are not good looking even in ads for products like cars, chocolates, soft drinks, mobile phones or home accessories. People playing the lead roles in commercial movies are almost always good looking. On the face of it, this entire obsession with good looks could seem overwhelming and in a world of Bariatrics, Botox and Anti aging, people like the image consultant I was speaking to are actually not out of place.

While the media might flood us with visuals and slogans to keep the importance of good looks in our active consciousness; if we took a step back, we realize that there’s also the other side. There is an inner side to humanity that overshadows the outer synthetic covering and gloss. With some amount of reflection and recollection, anyone would recognize that in almost every field, there are numerous examples of people who don’t necessarily look good physically but who are extremely attractive because of who they are. Even Hollywood and the silver screen in general has numerous stars who are admired by their endless number of fans for qualities beyond looks, like their dialogues, their acting skills and sometimes even the characters they played in movies.

Almost the whole world would unanimously agree that there is a point in everyone’s life when the importance of qualities like inner peace, satisfaction and happiness outweighs the importance of good looks and physical attraction. People are beginning to realize around the world that merely having good looks is not everything. In fact lead researcher James McNulty of the University of Tennessee talks about how absolute beauty is important only in the early stages of a relationship for young couples and that the role of physical attractiveness in well-established partnerships, such as marriage, is somewhat of a mystery. Patricia Sellers of Forbes magazine, who in her 30 year career there has interviewed CEOs, billionaires and other titans about what made them succeed. She published a couple of years ago the 10 things that she has learnt from the world’s most successful people and good looks doesn’t figure anywhere on that list. Also, Eric Barker of the Time magazine published once in its psychology section the 8 Things the Most Successful People Do That Make Them Great, and good looks doesn’t feature there either.

While physical attractiveness and good looks are important, they are only a part of the whole and are in no way conclusive indicators of a better life in any respect. When you first see a person from a distance, the only data points you have are likely to be the ones pertaining to their physical appearance. The way they are dressed, their skin tone, physique or the clothes they wear. As you keep observing the person, you will start to detect more data points related to the way the person walks, moves, gestures or even the overall behaviour. And if you begin to actually interact with the person, you are likely to be swamped with data points pertaining to the person’s profession, background, interests, attitude, values or even beliefs. If you like some of these elements that you discover from your interaction and if they resonate with your own, the person might actually start looking better to you. And I mean this literally. Here are a few examples. An average looking person might start looking great to you after you discover that he or she is a self made business tycoon or is the author of a few best sellers. On the contrary, even a good looking person might start looking average when you realize that he or she reeks or doesn’t have a sense of humour. You are likely to find an average looking person better looking if you get to know that that person has similar ideologies and values as you do. Several mediocre looking individuals start to look better in the eyes of the world after attaining high levels of success in their fields or after striking glory of any kind.

As a matter of fact, there are several examples in the world of people (celebrities included) who might not even appear on the actual radar screen of good looks but who are rated as good looking in public opinion polls mostly because of their achievements and other qualities. Certainly, this is a rating that they would not have received in the absence of their other achievements or qualities. High levels of competence and expertise have a kind of magnetism that goes beyond physical features and appearance. Intelligence, a sense of humour and genius are attractive, at levels that is far beyond the clothes you wear or your complexion. Kindness, compassion and niceness build relationships that far outlive momentary bonds of infatuation or one night stands.

Good looks can’t possibly be the secret to fame, fortune and glory. The real perks in this generation go to individuals who capitalize on their biggest strengths, whatever they are. Barring a few fields in the sphere of entertainment like modelling, in most others, good looks might be nothing more than just an add-on. With the direction in which the world is headed, there are an increasing number of areas of work and entire fields with limited direct human interaction. And this phenomenon is only going to increase in the future with majority of our communication shifting to emails, mobile phones and texting.

These were my closing comments to the image consultant while she still stuck on to her own perspective. I’m sure we might have found each other far more attractive had we agreed on each other’s points of view. After all “good looks” is just another possible entry into the theatre of a better life.

The Connection Between Money And Spirituality

Article in the Mindscape Section of the May 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

If you had to choose between two options, becoming more spiritual or having more money, what would you choose? Where would you put your money – On spirituality or on money? Or, where does your heart lie – In spirituality or in money? What’s more important than making a choice between the two is to understand how one and in turn the other could impact your life. Will having more money make you more spiritual or will it take away from your level of spirituality?

In the year 1943, Abraham Maslow in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”, proposed a theory in psychology called the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In this theory, he represented human needs at different levels in a pyramid with the most basic physiological need right at the bottom and moving upwards to other needs like the need for safety, love or belonging, esteem and finally the need for self actualization right at the top of the pyramid.

A need to make spiritual progress or attain self realization is linked more to the self actualization need which surfaces strongly only after the other lower needs are met. How having money aligns with this theory is that it helps you meet all your basic needs and perhaps even helps you attain the need of esteem or self respect. Having satisfied all these needs, the next logical level is to fulfil the self actualization need and one of the prominent dimensions of this need is making spiritual progress. Some people (not all) who don’t have adequate money might end up spending a lifetime trying to fulfil their need for self esteem or the need to feel a sense of belongingness or sometimes even just trying to ensure the feeling of security in life. This short sightedness might end up curtailing the spiritual progress that they could have made had their basic needs been met.

Now I don’t want to sound as if money is the passport to spiritual growth. It isn’t. But what’s worth noting is that having more money, almost eternally has been linked with having more material possessions. And many of the super rich realize at some point that the mere pursuit of making more money and accumulating more material assets has real limitations. “What next???” is the big question. Especially when you can buy or own almost anything that you can think of, areas like spirituality particularly start to seem like more meaningful pursuits. Some of the richest people in the world also end up being the biggest philanthropists for precisely this reason. While quite a few of the rich and affluent shift their interests to spirituality due to the sheer boredom of material pursuits, many of them actually see spirituality as an area that will help them live a more fulfilling and satisfied life. The song “Can’t buy me love” by the 1960’s band The Beatles has many useful messages in it. There is a line in the song that goes “…I don’t care too much for money, and money can’t buy me love”. And there are many of us in this world who realize this a shade too late in life. It’s not uncommon to find people in the urban working world who spend most of their lives slogging and making money or amassing wealth till one day they are affected by an incurable disease or have lost a loved one. They realize at this point that no amount of money or material possessions can cure them or bring their loved ones back to life. There are a lot of things like love, happiness, peace of mind, contentment, etc. that money can’t buy, for everything else there’s master card. Another very common phenomenon among all sections of society is that as people start to get older, they begin to realize that the money and wealth that they’re working so hard to put together are things that will not help them eliminate loneliness or cure insomnia. Nor are money and wealth things that they are going to take with them when they kick the bucket. This realization often pushes people to explore spirituality. There is no point lying on your death bed thinking of how you needn’t have worked so hard after all and could have spent more time with your family instead of at airport lounges.

Of course, people don’t always wait to start growing old to realize the importance of spirituality. Quite often, this realization hits individuals earlier on in life. T. Harv Eker, the author of “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind” talks about something interesting in his seminars. He says that the best thing about becoming a millionaire or getting rich is not the money itself; it is who you have to become to make that money. In other words, to increase your wealth creation potential, you have to become a bigger, better person in many ways. A strong part of this personal growth is the spiritual dimension, either a meditation practice, belief in god or even appreciation for the good things in life or gratitude. In fact, many of the rich and famous realize that a strong spiritual dimension in their lives will actually help them achieve greater fame and fortune. In the 1992 American Music Awards, when Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff won the award for the best rap album, they came up on stage to receive the award and Will Smith highlighted the importance of being grounded in spite of any kind of success or celebrity status. Many a times, even money comes with a price tag. The success, fame, glory, hectic life style or stress related to stardom are part and parcel of your earning potential. To deal with these effectively, many turn to spirituality.

Finally, spirituality is a great leveller. Your bank balance or net worth might have an impact on steering you towards a spiritual pursuit but might have little to do with the quality of the spiritual pursuit thereafter. In that sense, spirituality could be an absolute leveller. The quality of your spiritual experience has nothing to do with how much money you have. Whether it’s the blissful experience of a soft breeze hitting your face by a meadow in the countryside or a life transforming realization that you have while in a deep meditative trance. For many who belong to the not so financially sound segments of society, a spiritual practice or experience is something that takes them beyond money, status and power. Likewise, for the wealthy segments of society, spirituality and the related higher experiences are things that are beyond what their money can possibly get them.

The Gradual Slip Effect

Article in the Mindscape Section of the April 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

There was this incident that a friend narrated to me about the first time she went to live with her grandmother for a week. Now her grandmother was an independent old woman who lived alone ever since she was widowed and on the day of my friend’s visit, there were other guests there too. At the dinner table, on the spotlessly clean table cloth, first of all there was a spread of delicious food, there was awesome cutlery, the appropriate wine glasses, hand towels, beetroots and carrots cut in the shape of flowers, also actual flowers on side tables that sent out a wonderful fragrance in the room and so on. The next day there were no guests and it was just my friend and her grandmother for dinner but all these arrangements remained. And the next day and the next. So on the fifth day, my friend asked her grandmother why she went through the trouble of making all these special arrangements for dinner even on days when they didn’t have any guests. Her grandmother replied, “It all starts with one small slip my dear. At first you think the fresh flowers aren’t necessary. Then you wonder why you have to cut those carrots and beetroots into designs if nobody else is going to see them. Then you use regular wine glasses instead of goblets. Eventually even the food you cook gets reduced to the “easy to cook” and run of the mill dishes until you are finally eating takeaway sandwiches or cup noodles in your couch”.

The insight from her grandmother’s advice is what I call the Gradual Slip Effect. First and foremost, it is a phenomenon that comes into play only when a person already has an established positive behaviour or habit and when the slip happens, that gradually starts to fade. It is applicable to wellbeing as much as it is to the overall quality of life and various dimensions of it. You never move from having a flat abdomen to having a pot belly over night. The slip happens very gradually. So gradually, that even if you put a camera in front of the person, it’ll be weeks before you notice any change. If you’re a person who’s been working out regularly, it’s quite unlikely that you stop cold turkey. You know the gradual slip effect is at work when you move from working out every day, to taking Sundays off, to taking the whole weekend off, to taking a mid week “recovery” break, to working out at least twice a week to eventually justifying to yourself that if you’re working out just once a week, you might as well not do it at all and then you quit altogether. The same is true with the start of various other behaviours including the usual suspects like drinking, smoking and eating junk food. It starts with being a teetotaller (your established positive behaviour), then shifts to being a social drinker, then an “only weekend” drinker, and I think you know the rest. People develop new behaviours (both good and bad ones) gradually. It is a really precious minority that is able to change a behaviour in one shot. The idea is to catch yourself with a slip that could be ever so slight and ensure that you bring yourself back on track before things go spiralling downwards. If you are a calm and composed person who’s been noticing of late that you are developing a short temper, it would do you good to catch yourself when you are experiencing even an iota of an irritation and correcting that behaviour before you are screaming your lungs out at someone and burning precious relationship bridges.

By the way, there’s no hard and fast rule that you need to workout every single day or that you must drink only socially or even that people must always be calm and composed. That’s clearly not what I am prescribing. People must have the freedom to do what they want to in life. Awareness of phenomena like the “Gradual Slip Effect” and using that awareness to your advantage ensures the development of positive behaviours and healthy habits far more easily.