Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why do geese fly in V formation?

Have you ever wondered why geese and many other migratory birds fly in V formation?

They have found that flying in inverted V shaped formation accords birds the best aerodynamic configuration reducing air resistance and getting boost from the wing flapping of birds in front of them. Granted that benefits increase from first row to the last row. First row, there is only one bird. It does not get any other help. Flapping of its wings, helps two birds in the row behind it and so on. So, after a while the leader is tend to get tired. That's when some other bird which was coasting along nicely benefited by all the wing flapping of other birds, replaces the leader and the leader takes the most benefited position to rest and fly with maximum aerodynamic benefits. Pretty smart.

Some birds while flying also make honking noise. That is not random either. It is the sound to encourage each other do their best and help themselves as a group.

If a bird is injured mid-flight, two or more birds accompany the injured bird to safety and recommence their journey after the injured bird recovers or dies. Sometimes they join another flock of birds to benefit from aerodynamics.

It is no wonder that only with such smart tactics, these birds are able to cover thousands of miles from one place to another for migration.

Don't you think we can learn a bit from these birds and make our team work more successful?


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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Birth & Death

"How come we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved." - Mark Twain

Mark Twain quotes are funny. What's new?

However, birth and death are two loaded terms. Most of us do not seem to think much about birth or death. We all remember our birthdays. But, do we think anything more about our birth itself? Not about the biological process. But, birth as an event. What does it signify? Is that a distinct event at all? Or birth and death are imaginary markings on a continuum called life. Time is continuous. Days, weeks, months, years, calendars are all imaginary markings created just so that we can frame time for our convenience.

Engravings on Osho Rajnish's tomb, it is said, read as "Visited this planet between this date and that date." I think that is right. It ties well with another quote "we are not human beings on spiritual journey but spiritual beings on human journey." It is all goes back to the concept of soul. Soul has to evolve from life to life. So, it needs a vehicle. That vehicle is body.

Buddhist philosophy explains concept of soul very beautifully. Although essence is same as the one found in Hinduism. Buddhism has explained it much better. Soul is on a long journey. It is so long that one vehicle is not enough to complete the journey. Every time the soul takes a new vehicle, we are born. After many years of driving that vehicle, vehicle reaches its end life and soul discards the vehicle and that is death. What happens to the soul after death? Buddhists say that soul rests in a resort like place called 'Bardho' waiting for right vehicle to show up. Then comes right vehicle, right circumstances, right parents, right family, right race, right society - all just perfectly right for soul to complete its next leg of the journey. Soul hops on and begins the next life.

This explanation is beautiful.This helps understand why we are the way we are, why are our circumstances the way they are and so on. We have everything perfectly right for us to complete our journey. Since we are not capable of knowing the truth and the whole truth, we may not understand everything but explanation seems to make sense. Right circumstances and right means for right journey. Our problems, worries, hardships are all part of that right combination perfect for our soul to complete journey. At times it may feel very hard but if we have to evolve, all this is necessary and firmly believing that we are perfect the way we are and our circumstances are perfect goes a long way in alleviating suffering that we create for ourselves. That's why it is said -pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2009


"Humility is the embarrassment you feel when you tell people how wonderful you are." - Laurence J. Peter

How do you act when somebody praises you? Are you able to maintain your balance and receive the praise with grace? Not seen many people who are able to do so with grace.Some people act as though they did not deserve your praise. Some care less about your praise. They are nonchalant. Some are embarrassed and make you feel guilty. Some immediately start thinking what may be your hidden agenda even if you do not have one.

"It is hard to be loved than to love." I believe same thing holds good for dealing with praise as well. We do not seem to know how to handle praise at all. It is not all our fault. Let's face it. Praise is hard to come by. We are reprimanded or scolded more than we are ever praised. So, we do not get to experience praise as much as we experience other forms of judgment. So, who can blame us if we are not good at something that we do not that often?

It is really a skill to deal with praise showered on us. We certainly want to be careful but should not be very paranoid that everybody who praises us has a hidden agenda. Agreed we have been back stabbed by people who have praised us to get something done from us or just to get some other form of reward. It hurts to realize later that people had some hidden agenda.

When we receive praise with humility it does not necessarily have be an embarrassment. It can be done gracefully as well. Most effective way is to look right into the eyes of the person praising you and say a solid 'Thank you.' Say a genuine 'Thank you' regardless of what you think the motive of the praiser is. Your genuineness only makes the person good if his or her praise is genuine or miserable if they had some other agenda. Let them decide how they want to feel.

See, basically, we do not depend on other people's judgment for our sense of security. Feeling good when someone praises and feeling down when someone else reprimands is not helpful at all. If we depend on others like that, we will be bobbing up and down like a buoy. Where is the sense of balance in living like that? Do not get me wrong. It is not easy. But, if we have to mature as people, we just can afford to let others control us. "No body can offend you or hurt your feelings without your permission." They can say anything they like but making yourself happy or miserable is all in your hands. You do not control the stimuli but you can surely control the response.

Praise or reprimand - let's take it. Both are better than being ignored. "Love me or hate me, I got you. Ignore me, I lost you."

"It is better to be looked over than overlooked."


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Monday, February 16, 2009


"Frugality without creativity is deprivation." - Amy Dacyczyn

In these days of economic problems, 'frugality' has come back in fashion. Everyone is trying to be frugal. Sometimes stupidly frugal. Going several miles off to get gasoline at few cents less per gallon is an example of stupid frugality. Buying items in way too much bulk is another stupid frugality. By buying several items to last for an entire year can result in few thousand dollars up front. That is money locked in without any interest. In the mean time, prices of some of the goods may go down. You may end up throwing away some items if they have expiration dates. Long live stupid frugality!

Desperate times drive people crazy. People who have splurged all along get suckered into all sorts of frugality gimmicks and lose out big.

Why not be frugal all the time? That way hell or high water, your financial situation is always manageable.

It always helps to stay a few steps behind the curve in terms of purchases especially electronic goods. Electronic goods go down in price sharply year after year. Simple example - a decent GPS navigator cost more than $300 in 2005. Now excellent GPS navigators can be purchased for less than $100. Same with iPods, digital cameras etc.

What are the items now selling at premium? iPhone, Kindle, Flat screen TVs etc. Do we need these right away? Nope. Wait for the prices to go down.What is the necessity to keep up with changing technologies? Are the new features in those gadgets must have? People do not use most of the features anyway. For example, Cell phone - as long as you can make and receive calls and access your contact list, that should suffice.What other feature you really need? So, it does not make sense to upgrade. Live with your gadgets for few more years. Rule of thumb - use all your gadgets for 5-7 years before buying a new one.

Cash is king - anytime and all the time. Cash or cash equivalents should be amassed if you need a sense of security. All other items can not be converted into cash easily. But cash is versatile. Cash can get you anything in a minute. Worst case scenario is to make sure you have a few credit cards with a combined credit limit that can cover 5-6 months of your living expenses. This not ideal but last resort.

Also, if you want to be frugal, start shopping online more. First it is easier to compare and shop online. You can find several deals and compare. You do not do much impulse buying online because it takes some time to register with the web site, enter credit card details, provide shipping address etc. These slow you down. If you are lucky, while you are doing all this extra steps, you may decide not to buy the item at all.

You know, they said roof over head, food and clothes are the most basic necessities of life. It has not changed at all. If we can simplify our lives and focus on basic necessities, life becomes simple, life automatically becomes frugal and your money worry goes away automatically. Reducing most of your purchases to basics does not mean that you live a spartan lifestyle. You just need to be creative to make sure you meet your basic needs in style. Have we not all seen people who dress nicely with a limited wardrobe? And there are people with tonnes of clothes but can not seem to have one good pair for Monday morning. Either their wardrobe is full of ill fitting clothes or they have accumulated so many clothes that they can not manage their wardrobe anymore. Once again simplification. Few pairs for work and a few pair of leisure is all you need to keep a tidy wardrobe. What more?

It is simple to be happy. It is most difficult to be simple. One way to simplify is to start eliminating all that you do not need. Hesitate to throw something away? Fine. At least start sorting things out first. Sort all your possessions into two pools. 'Keep' and 'Trash'. After a few months, look into items in both groups and re-evaluate. By then, you must be able to say whether items in 'Trash' are  really trash. If yes, get rid of them mercilessly. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Simplify your paper work. It is mind numbing to see how much paper people accumulate. First step is to reduce the amount of paper work you get. These days most of the service providers happily provide only electronic receipts. Opt in for that. Eliminate paper at the first step. Then for the papers that you must keep, maintain a simple filing system. Few files at most. That's it. If you still feel compelled to have copies, scan your paper documents and get rid of actual paper. As long as you have some sensible way to store soft copies somewhere securely, you are well off on your way to reduce the clutter.

As less you carry in your head simplifies and rejuvenates your brain, so will simplifying everything around you. Somebody said 'renounce and rejoice.' I would modify that to say 'renounce junk and rejoice.'


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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Driving Crazy

"Don't let people drive you crazy when you know it's in walking distance."

Funny indeed. Why would you let anyone drive you crazy? It's really walkable. Life has become like that. You do not need someone else to drive you crazy. You yourself are capable of walking yourself to craziness. They say - idle mind is devil's workshop. On the flip side, I dare to say - occupied mind is God's workshop. Mind occupied with good thoughts and plans for doing something good for the larger humanity is a very fertile ground.

We drive ourselves crazy in many ways. One way is to always think only about you and your needs and wants. This is a surest recipe to make oneself miserable. I agree we  all have a life and it does worry us from time to time how the things will be in the future. More bigger and complex your life is, more the worry. How will I pay for this or that? Job? My money? My family? - there is no end. Despite all this, we have to remember that if we want peace of mind, we have to stop or at least reduce how much time we spend thinking about only those things that matter to us. Remember a time when you were free of all worries. There are only two times. One is while you were sleeping soundly like a log. Second is when you were fully occupied doing something you truly enjoy. We are designed in such a way that we truly enjoy those things when we do things that benefit larger humanity.

Not to worry about our life is not meant to say take a fatalistic approach. That is not good either. If required, be genuinely concerned about yourself and your life. Concern results in planning and consequently action. Worry is a serious immobilizing force. Does not let you do anything. It freezes you to death. Anxiety is worry at its worst form.

If not for anything else, stop thinking about only yourself and your needs and wants for your own sake. They have found that people who think only about themselves are prone to all sorts of allergies and minor but debilitating illnesses. Minor aches and irritations are aggravated when our immune system is unnecessarily excited. It anticipates some attack when there is none. Our mind has manufactured some fictitious attacks by its mindless thinking and immune system goes into overdrive and thus results in such symptoms. Simple exercises such deep breathing which provides much needed oxygen to brain cells, thus calming them, goes a long way in reducing such minor irritations. Always remembering to say some simple positive phrase when you are free or doing activities which do not require full attention will also help. Watch those elderly people in rural India. They are always saying the name of their favorite God when they are doing mechanical tasks like doing dishes or their daily chores. Most commonly said  is - Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare. You do not have to choose this if you do not like this. You can choose any such simple prayer that works for you. Or you can make one up for yourself. Say it whenever possible. Say it loudly when you can. Say it silently when you can not. Just before you have to switch tasks or stop praying, take a few deep breaths and resume. Keep doing this and watch how it has soothing effect on your nerves. It calms you down before important encounters, it lets you sustain yourself during encounters when you need all faculties to be at their best and calms you down after an encounter.


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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Scriptures.....Reading, Understanding and Internalizing

Scriptures - such as Bhagvadgita, Bible, Quran etc. - I regard them as user manuals written by God to explain how we should use his marvelous creation called universe.

Common complaint about scriptures - they are hard to understand. Bland to read. Written long while back with scenarios of that day which are not applicable any more. So on and so forth. All in all, scriptures are hard to read, understand and make sense for today's life. Some smart people have written commentaries on major scriptures. Commentaries may be easier to read and understand. It is not a bad idea to read them to begin with so that at least the wisdom of some people can trickle down into us.

Recently read a very inspiring small story in some blog about this very topic. Can't remember the address of that blog. So, if you read it somewhere else, all credit to the original blogger.

Story goes like this. There was an old man who was very pious, religious and spiritual. He always used to read Hindu spiritual classic 'Bhagvadgita'. He used to say that everyone should read Bhagvadgita and that it had solutions to all the problems. He had a young grandson who use to see his grand father always read Bhagvadgita and praise the glory of the Lord. One day, young grandson picked up Bhagvadgita and started reading. Within no time, he got bored. Grandson was a smart young man. But, he could not make sense out of cryptic stanzas and could not see anything useful in them. He told his grand father that he tried reading the Bhagvadgita but he could not keep himself absorbed and got bored because he could not make head or tail.

Grand old man was a smart chap. He pointed to a bamboo basket at the corner and asked his grand son to go out and get water from river in that basket. This bamboo basket was used to haul coal. So, it had accumulated coal residue and become very black inside. Due to black coating  inside, it seemed to have no gallery like porous appearance and seemed solid to hold water. Son left with the basket and filled water in that and headed back home. It was a bamboo basket and unlike a solid vessel, all water leaked out of small pores by the time grandson reached home. His grandfather asked son to go back and try it again and again. Diligent grandson tried and tried but every time by the time he reached home there was no water in the basket and it had all leaked out.

Grand son was ready to give up. He was tired of this meaningless exercise. He said so. Grand father now asked grand son to bring that coal basket and asked to see. After having brought water so many times, it was clean now. All the coal black had been washed away. Now it looked like any other bamboo basket. Grand father explained that  all though bamboo basket did not hold back any water, the very act of bringing water in it had cleaned the basket nicely. Water had washed away all the coal dirt out of basket.

Moral of the story - when we read spiritual classics whether in original form or as a commentary by some learned men, we are not going to understand all of that. In fact, we may not even understand much of it.But, in the process we start washing away the mental dirt. Our basket starts becoming cleaner and cleaner. We start seeing bamboo basket for what it is. Full of pores from where all the water is escaping. Once we realize that we can either start using a different basket or more appropriately block those holes so that water does not leak out.

When we take to spiritual reading, we are taking the first step. Initial years may mean nothing but cleaning process is going on. After some years of spiritual reading we will start seeing all those pores from where our vital energy is going away. Most common outlets for vital energy are our meaningless pursuits of material happiness, wealth, people etc. We start seeing those clearly. We become alarmed at this colossal waste of our vital energy. We start changing our ways and make sure that we start retaining as much wisdom as possible. That's when we either get a new solid vessel or paint the basket from outside plugging all those pores so that we can retain all the wisdom.

Great little story. That's what I felt when I read it. So, next time spiritual classics start boring you, you can remember this story.


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Tuesday, February 10, 2009


"Is there anything worse than being blind? Yes, a man with sight and no vision." - Helen Keller

What an irony it is to have sight but no vision. Where do we go to get our vision? Where else? Back to basics. RTFM - Read the Fine (?) Manuals. God gave us manuals he meticulously put together to use his wonderful creation - this universe. As we do with other appliances, we hardly ever refer to those manuals. It takes extraordinary circumstances to force to even remember that manuals exist. You know - I have come to believe that all the hardships we face are meant to serve as reminders to go back to basics and  read those manuals.

What are those manuals? All holy scriptures. Ever since I picked up Bhagvadgita (specifically Sri Easwaran's three volume commentary), I have come to rely on it as my manual. I am no where close to understand even a fraction of wisdom densely packed in that spiritual classic. So, adapting it to daily life is far from anything close to reality. But, one thing is certain, at least when I read it, there are several times, some kind of epiphany happens and at least for a moment some solution seem to appear. It is a different matter that many of us revert to our old behavior. Hopefully we learn from mistakes.

Sri Easwaran said somewhere - we are all busy making  'To Do' list. What we should be focusing on is to make 'To Be' list. What do we want to be? If we can start nailing what we want to be and use that to drive our 'To Do', that will go a long way. 'To Be' is our vision. 'To Do' is a list of steps we need to get to where we want 'To Be'.

Cheers to your visioning!

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Pessimist & Optimist

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;
an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
" - Sir Winston Churchill

Honestly, I admire pragmatists more than pessimists, optimists and realists.

As Churchill says above 'pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity.' We do not want to be pessimists.' Optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty' - I am not sure if I buy that fully. What's the point in looking for an opportunity in every difficulty? Even if an opportunity exists in every difficulty, is it worth our time and resources? As they say 'It does not make sense to fight every fire. We probably are better off fighting only those fires that are on our way.' So, I am ok not to become a pessimist but do not want to become a pollyannaish optimist looking for opportunity in every difficulty. More on that later.

Churchill does not speak about two other types of people. They are realists and pragmatists. Realist see it for what it is. Sees opportunity as opportunity and difficulty as difficulty. Sometimes, it is a great quality. That is seeing it for what it is. It helps to take stock of situation. Being a realist is also the necessity for becoming pragmatist.

Pragmatist is my favorite type of person. A person who has right balance of optimist and realist. But, this right balance alone is not enough. Pragmatist takes it one step further. He acts. Acts with capital A. He seizes the opportunity and does away with difficulty. Every difficulty does not require a solution that you have to personally deal with. Many times if you have right resources most of the difficulties can be expensed away. 'If you can buy yourself out of a problem, it is not a problem but just an expense.' Many times dealing problems as expenses is the right thing to do. This is because by trying to deal with every problem in your own signature way requires way too much effort. What is the opportunity cost? What all you could have accomplished while trying to deal with a problem which could have been merely expensed away?


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"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." - Alexander Pope

"Fools rush in...." - I think this is the title of a book which described in gory details what happened during the merger of AOL and Time Warner a few years back. I think it was the largest merger back then. Also a very special one. A new economy company was buying an old economy company. AOL which was only few years old had astronomical valuation due to its stock price which was not anywhere close to earth. With that kind of valuation it was not difficult for AOL to make a bidding for Time Warner which is a large solid brick & mortar company. What followed is a history! That merger like many mergers did not work out. Destroyed billions of dollars worth of market value of combined company. AOL was anyway a dot com company. But, Time Warner was a solid old economy company which got sucked into the madness. It took several CEOs to clean up the mess. Despite all that Time Warner never regained its old stature. Funny thing is that Time Warner, after a few years, had enough. By then it was also clear what was real value of AOL. Reality and common sense prevailed. Some smart heads in the company started seeing AOL part more of a liability than asset. They decided to spin off AOL and be done with it. Thus ended one of the largest corporate jokes of all times.

"Fools rush in" is a great read.


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"God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages." - Jacques Deval

"Any relationship should be like that between fish and water. Not like fish and fisherman."

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Foolish & Wise

"You must not think me necessarily foolish because I am facetious, nor will I consider you necessarily wise because you are grave." - Sydney Smith

Facetious - this is not a common word. So, needs some explanation. Here is the dictionary meaning of word 'facetious'

1 : joking or jesting often inappropriately : waggish <just being facetious>

2 : meant to be humorous or funny : not serious <a facetious remark>

Once we know the meaning of facetious. The meaning of this quotation is pretty straight forward.

Another quotation to warn us not make judgments based on someone's external appearance or impression.

Some people are by nature very easy going and jolly. Similarly some always keep a serious face. We should not judge jolly people to be foolish and serious people to be intelligent. There is no proof to that.

Regardless, on any given day, I will take a jolly person who can work hard than a person with death like seriousness dancing all over his face. Serious people make things more complicated than they really are. When things start going south, serious people get all the more serious and put the entire team into some kind of depression. Jolly people on the other hand lighten things up with their humor and funny nature.

'If you do not feel good. At least try to look good.'

I always admire people who can laugh things off. It is a real gift. I think jolly people who can laugh at the problems are really philosophical even if they do not realize. Great scriptures say 'life is nothing but a dream that we see while we are awake.' If that's the case, then life should be handled the way we handle dreams. We all have serious dreams. While we are having the dreams, they do seem as real as anything in life. Ask people to watch you while you are sleeping for some days and ask them if they noticed anything. Chances are they tell you they noticed that you were mumbling and doing some gestures with hands etc. Dreams seem utmost real while we are actually having them and our responses are also equally real. In the same way, life is nothing but a dream. We fail to see it that way and that's the root cause of all our problems in life. If we can start seeing life as a dream and start taking it in little lighter vein, all our problems start to look trivial as like the problems we may see in dreams.

Sometimes I feel God makes us dream to teach us this very important lesson. The lesson that life is also a dream. God makes us dream to show that dreams can get as real as we want. Still after all that turning and tossing in sleep, dream remain what they are and last only as long as we sleep. Same is true with life. We are in a different sleep mode and call that life. Learn to treat life as another kind of sleep and dream pattern and you are free.


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