To be human is to be….A view from the Devi Lens

Devi Cover for Outsider European Enlightenment Kindle 190506

WIth the Devi’s Blessings. Cover art by Jayant Kalawar 2018.

By Jayant Kalawar

When I wrote the essay Outsider Deconstructing European Enlightenment it was a way of describing what it means to be human, by telling a story of how some humans have done things with each other and with nature around them. Many of us call such descriptions history.

So these humans I describe have a quite a bit of potential to act in different ways. However, much of it has not been switched on (yet).  Most of these humans seem to be very good at utilizing some of their potential, for example: to survive, reproduce, acquire material things and consume them.

That leaves out the potential for courage to be compassionate, to connect with all species on Earth and the Earth itself and to explore and connect with cosmic spiritual vibrations. Such potentials, in most humans, remain untapped. In my essay I talk about how each of these seven potentials (yes, if you go back and count you will see there are seven) are channeled through seven chakrAs.  which I posit makes for being human, when you see humans through the Devi Lens (all that in the essay).

What switches on these potentials? The culture you live in and how you are nurtured plays a big role in throwing these switches on and off. It’s this cultural driver that I focus on in my Outsider essay, to show how it switches on some of our potentials and lets others remain dormant.

In current usage in our digital world, we all live in now, I think it is better to call this driver memetic complex, rather than culture. New memes are produced and old ones are morphed or die every day now in this relatively new digital age. So unlike the past, we have a real chance to develop many memetic complexes (is that the right plural? – but you get the point) that may switch on the entire range of potentials in humans.

I think there are two more drivers for switching on potentials in humans.

One of those drivers I think is the natural environment we interact with, including through breathing, consuming and generally our physical living conditions. I want to explore how this driver actually works within us at the cellular level, through gene expressions and protein pathways. I have barely begun learning about this. But at the moment, my sankalpA is to write my next essay on how natural environment and genetics drive the switching of human potentials on and off. It took me about 3 years to write and self-publish the Outsider essay, after almost 15 years of reading and research (not knowing where it would take me, if at all). So, I have no sense of what may emerge and when that may end up being an essay about this cellular / endocrine driver and how it is tied to the chakrAs. But the general broad intention is present.

The other driver is personal practices, sAdhanA leading to upAsanA. You will notice I am not translating when I drop Sanskrit words into what I write here. It is easy to find meanings with Google search these days. If you are really interested you will do so and in the process perhaps get more and more comfortable with living in a global memetic complex! That one is so personal that I am not sure it could even be an essay. Perhaps a short memoir, some distant time in the future, when some sense emerges that there is something worthwhile to share.

Notice the use of emerging. Rather than aspiring.

If you do download and read my Outsider essay on Kindle, I hope you write and post your comment here. Especially how it made you think differently about what it is to be human and how we go about doing things in this world.

Contemplating on the Fallacy of Work-Life Balance

By Jayant  Kalawar

I often hear people talk about the stress of balancing work and life. So I decided to do some research on how that sense of separating work from rest of our life came about.

Work-life balance appears to have become a term mentioned with increasing frequency in popular media in the last quarter of the twentieth-century, according to a contested entry in the Wikipedia.  This particular quote from a popular book captures the sentiment that appears to inform the work-life balance problem eloquently:

“There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”

Then there are solutions offered to balance work and life. Mayo Clinic tries to help in this regard by providing practical tips to a better work-life balance like time management, learning to say no and nurturing one’s self.  What does “nurturing” yourself mean? According to one generally accepted definition it includes: “Eat a healthy diet, include physical activity in your daily routine and get enough sleep. Set aside time each day for an activity that you enjoy, such as practicing yoga or reading. Better yet, discover activities you can do with your partner, family or friends — such as hiking, dancing or taking cooking classes.”

If we are honest, all this only adds “more things to do” on the already overflowing plate of our lives, resulting in juggling more activities and stresses.

There is inherently something not quite right in the whole Work-Life balance movement:  How can one see “Work” separate from “Life,” as is implied in this framework? Do we not spend more time and energy at work, in our whole life time, than in any other activity? Do we put “Life” on hold when we are in the “Work” mode? It just does not make sense, does it?

Let’s look at balancing our life from a different perspective by approaching our work, relationships and money as the three key theaters in our life and that we play different roles on each stage in each of these theaters.   At work, we play roles as colleagues, subordinates or the boss.  In relationships, we are spouses, siblings, partners, parents, children and friends. With money, we are earners, savers, creditors, debtors and investors.  Much of the time, we play these roles without giving enough thought except, perhaps, at work where our performance is measured frequently and rewarded (or not) accordingly. Along the way, we inadvertently may play out parts of scripts of one role appropriate to one theater on to a different stage in another theater of our life.  For instance, what we learn about our roles at work may help us function with excellence on that stage, but if we bring that role into our personal relationships, without being aware of what we are doing repeatedly over long periods, we risk becoming substandard role players on the stage of personal relationships.   So being a great boss at work does not necessarily translate into being a great parent or spouse.  When such slips happen they are mundane instances of actions without awareness.

Only when we start distancing ourselves from the roles we play without identifying with those roles will we begin to excel in playing them over a cycle of days, weeks, months, years. To excel in all our roles in all our theaters of life of work, relationships and money, we need to learn how to act in awareness.

Awareness is a subtle potential that we all have. We can strengthen and deepen our awareness potential through specific contemplative, breathing and meditative practices.  With a deepened awareness potential we develop the ability to observe what we do and how we act out our roles , learn how to gracefully refine what makes sense and to let go of all that does not to achieve what we want for a balanced life.

For each one of us this set of roles, and the deft balancing acts that are required, is different at different times in our life.

Jayant Kalawar is the author of The Advaita Life Practice, available at Amazon.

Socializing, Intimacy and Privacy in the Digital Age: Socializing – Part 1

Is Your Socializing Fragrant 180701

Bring the fragrance of jasmine to your social group! (Photo by Socialpictures CH on Unsplash)

You may have noticed that when there are times we want to be alone and we give it a positive value. At other times, we may feel lonely even when we are amongst family, friends, colleagues and so on. The physical situation may be the same, but the time and place that the situation of being lonely is happening is something we do not want. Then we give it a negative value. What makes for being alone and what makes for being lonely?  I hope to write about this in a series of posts in a contemplative exploration of what being alone means, in the context of socializing, intimacy and privacy that each of us may relate to and practice in different ways.

Many people inhabiting the 21st century digital world feel that being alone provides the opportunity for rejuvenation within the boundaries of privacy. They want only a certain amount of socializing. And with certain individuals of their choice, they would like the intimacy. There is a balance between intimacy and socializing, which seems to be managed by signaling privacy boundaries.  When that balance is right, we may get to the alone time we value. When that balance is skewed, we may either end up with too little of the alone time or too much of the alone time, which at some point becomes lonely time.

This may happen both over time in different phases of our life cycle, and across the spaces we inhabit. When young, we may sense the need for more socializing and less alone time. When older we may feel the need for more alone time. It may also differ from person to person the same age group, due to a myriad of reasons. Join me in this contemplative, intuitive exploration.

In this Part I post I will explore socializing and what it means in the digital age. Future posts will cover socializing in the context of different degrees of intimacy and privacy factors, how we create boundaries and manage them and how it comes together in giving us positive alone time sometimes, and leaves us feeling lonely and hungry for company at other times.

Socializing

The framework I use for this contemplative exploration is from the Advaita Vedanta perspective (and this is just touching one point of the shore of the surface of the breadth and depth of the Vedanta framework on being human): the human is considered to have 4 capabilities – physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. In these contemplations I articulate that perspective using 21st century memes.

We socialize physically, by being present in a team meeting or on the playing field or at the coffee shop.  We cannot have the physical presence in our digital social interactions (yet – sometime in the future that may change given augmented reality and holograms and so on, they may be able to produce the sense of smell and touch, which is part of the core of our physical socializing).

During these social physical together times we interact emotionally, often times with the full range of emotions: from affectionately positively friendly to angrily upsettingly negative. Being in the same physical space and in a group, makes for moderating influence. We are more circumspect on both sides.  On the other hand, when we have emotional social interactions digitally, we may end up not being so circumspect. Losing some of our composure and expending physical energy in the process.

We socialize intellectually too: we have conversations about politics, education, health care, welfare. We have opinions based on our observations, we propose them using models we have in our minds. We defend and argue about our models. And learn and sometimes change our models (often surreptitiously, without admitting it) in the process, so we can argue better next time. Those are the steps of an intellectual process. Scientists and academics do that more formally. This type of intellectual socialization may work in a digital space, especially if we leave our emotional interactions at the door. That happens more in a physical setting, and not as much in digital settings, as we notice in the flame wars on social media sites.

As I have grown older, I find I value socializing less and intimacy (which I expect to explore in a future post) and alone time more. I manage it through setting privacy boundaries (which also I will explore in a future post in this series). I see a similar pattern both in those close to my age around me, as well as my children, as they get closer to 30. My work based socialization has become very focused individual or group based problem solving interactions, strategic and wide ranging as they may be. My socialization outside of work projects, coaching and satsanghs is down to a few select friends. My alone time is filled with long walks, meditation, chanting, reading, writing, doodling, sketching (and lately sporadically knitting a scarf).

I have reached over the 800 word limit already on this post, which apparently is the expected attention span of a digital interaction. I will continue in my next post.

Meanwhile, on a scale to 100, I would say I value socializing at 30, intimacy at 30 and alone time at 40 at this stage of my life. How about you?

Where There Are Many More Losers, Very Few Winners

Corporate Pyramid by Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash 180613

The Pyramid Game: Very Few Winners (Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash)

By Jayant Kalawar

Most of us are driven to act by desires much of the time. And by fears some of the time. Some mix of the two most of the time. Sometimes we act out of habit. We have an inertia about changing how we act. Even when the driving desires and fears are no longer in us. Today I am going to talk about some consequences of acting in situations when desires do not give expected results.

Many of us have the desire to acquire and maintain a certain social status. That social status requires income, assets, acquiring of objects such as houses and cars and jewelry and clothes and college degrees. Many ands can be added. Career is one way of getting social status in the corporate (and remembers it’s only a little over a hundred years old!). The career structure is a pyramid. So people compete fiercely to get to the next level on the pyramid. It’s like playing musical chairs.

When someone else gets ahead in the pyramid, some of us feel that it was unfair. They did not get a fair shake. Those who got ahead were from the ‘in-group’. The others were favored. And so on. Factually it is likely that all that is true. When the desire to get ahead in the pyramid gets doused, many of us feel frustrated. Most of us reach this stage somewhere in their 40s and 50s. After all it is a pyramid. Only a few people can get to the top. We begin to see a few of our class mates and colleagues soar. And you know from way back that you are better than them. The frustration sometimes begins to boil over to resentment.

Getting resentful about not being able to get ahead on the career and social status pyramid sets the stage for some not very sensible actions. Such actions, born out of frustration, have consequences.

These not very sensible actions may show up as objections and snide remarks at meetings. Negative water-cooler talk is another vent. It may show up in a more passive aggressive way – in the form of internal corporate survey responses for example. We may assume those survey responses are indeed confidential and not shared. Most internal corporate surveys may be assumed to be used as barometers of where an individual is in terms of being a team player. So survey responses used for venting may have negative consequences. Perceptions in HR and senior management may turn negative. A venting team member cannot be relied upon as much.

So what can we do? Life is not fair. We learned that in kindergarten. We keep forgetting it. The odds are stacked against us, all of us, as we go up each rung in the pyramid. Those of us who are lucky, and much of it may be just luck, to get to the next rung, begin to think we are really good and better than those who did not make it there. We begin to think life is fair, so we made it there! Then when we cannot make it to the next higher rung, we are suddenly shocked that life is not fair.

So what can we do? The pyramid game is a finite game. There are many many more losers and very few winners in that game. Switch to playing the infinite game. The cosmos is infinite. We live and act in a microcosm of that cosmos. The microcosm has everything that the cosmos has. Remember the first verse of the Isha Upanishad:

Purnam-adah Purnam-idam, PurnAt Purna-mudachyate,

Purnasya Purnam-Adaya, PurnamevA Vashishyate

The switch from playing the finite pyramid game to the infinite game takes a cognitive shift within ourselves. Deconstruction out of the pyramid game to resonating with the cosmos.

So that we may begin hear the birds sing and flowers bloom, and notice the waxing and waning of the Moon.

Live to the rhythms of the universal clock within us, to sync with the cosmic cycles all around us.

And yes, it is very hard work to get there. But some of us may feel it will indeed work to get us there.

Are you one of those few?

(c) 21BanyanTree and Jayant Kalawar

Two Birds on the Tree of Life

Two Birds on the Tree of Life - allan godfrey 180429

Two Birds on the Tree of Life (Photo by Alan Godfrey on Unsplash)

By Jayant Kalawar

Many of you may know about the metaphor used in the Upanishads. Of the two birds on the tree of life.

It is a way of deconstructing ourselves, to become aware of how we function in this world.

We are the two birds. The tree of life is the cosmos we perch on.

One of the birds is the eater bird. The other is the observer bird.

The eater bird has desires and it has fears to match its desires. It desires to eat the fruits it sees on the cosmic tree. It starts by eating what is nearest to it. Then its appetite increases and it hops to other branches. Higher branches, with apparently big juicy fruit. We start by only wanting to eat, be just about warm and to sleep. Then we want to have fun. Then we want to have social status: more food, more house, more car, more degrees, more fashion statements, more show-off. Many of us want to have children. We want them to maintain and increase our social status. We do this every day and night. We are either nibbling or grasping off the cosmic tree or we are plotting and planning how to eat more and more.

The eater bird starts triggering its fears as soon as it starts desiring. What if I do not get to the fruit. What if some other eater bird grabs the fruit before I can eat it all. What if there is no more fruit on the branch I am on. What if I cannot jump to the higher branches. What if other eater birds knock me off this branch. What if they do not let me get on to another branch. What if. What if.

Those are the fears we carry with us all the time. Free floating anxieties. Many times those fears come true. It is an uncertain world out there. We, as eater birds, have very little control. We may deceive ourselves to believe that we are in control of some part of some fruit. We know we are not in control. And it reinforces our anxieties.

Many of us hear inner voices sagely telling us to stick to what we know. In our comfort zones. Those voices are our fears talking to us. They are telling us how to manage our fears down and make the most of the fruits in hand. We give it fancy names. Managing risks down. Maximizing returns. We feel good that we are sophisticated and modern. We are eater birds on the cosmic tree. Eating fruit we do not own. On which we have very little control on.

And then hopping along with the eater bird part is the observer bird. Always there, besides us. If only we were to look. It is that part of us which has an understanding of the nature of the cosmos and our part in it. When we connect and immerse ourselves in the observer bird part of us, we may be able to calm down our desires. As our desires become minimal, so do our fears. When our fears become minimal, we can sleep better. We are more energized with less.

There are primal desires that never go away. We manifest in this physical body. It comes with the desire to survive. And the other desire most of us come with is the one to procreate. So while we may be able to minimize material and social desires at a personal level, these primal desires of the eater bird need a culture that helps manage these primal desires to a minimal level, without being violent with each other. That is where the personal become social.

The cultural fabric seems to be collapsing in slow motion around us, as science and technology of the material becomes our master, ruling how we live and connect with each other under the guise of Reason. We seem to be slowly but surely becoming even more disconnected from the observer bird part of us.

The challenge is not just at a personal level. It is even more so at a social level. And it is global. Start with a contemplation: what will the world be like to really act out that we desire minimally and flourish as observers of the cosmos. Step back, from time to time, from being an eater bird, and be the part that is naturally you: the quiet observer.

Have a great week.

© 21BanyanTree.com and Jayant Kalawar

A Tiny Spark of Desirous Energy: A Contemplation

Tiny Spark of Desirous Energy 180208

Contemplating Desire (Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash)

By Jayant Kalawar

Embedded in dense vibration

A tiny spark of desirous energy

Seeking a stage to act.

 

Visualizing space-time stage

Many scripts playing

In many theaters

So many plays to choose from.

 

Choice made, birth taken

Name given

Script taught

Role rehearsed.

 

Acting out desirous energy

Immersed in role

On space-time stage.

 

New desires layered on

Dense vibration forgotten

Pleasures of desires

Fears of loss.

 

Music stops, role ends

Exit space-time stage

Grieving the loss

Many desires remaining.

 

Back to dense vibration

A tiny spark of desirous energy arising

Seeking a stage to act…

(c) 21BanyanTree and Jayant Kalawar