Insight, Inspiration, Motivation

Time for Reflection and Renewal

Christmas is gone, the New Year is fast approaching. What better time for self-reflection and renewal can there be?

Confucius said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.”

How does one go about this process? How does one know it is being done ‘right’?

The important thing is to set an intention. Then, set the stage, to quieten one’s mind, by putting aside about three uninterrupted hours for oneself. Create a space – where one can sit, without any distractions – a clean space, without any clutter, and those who like it can further enhance it with candles or whatever else they like.

As for the process itself, the first thing to do is, take stock of one’s life. I usually do this under different headings including physical, mental, emotional, financial, career, spiritual, family, friends, community, etc. I also specifically look at what went well in the last year and what could have been better.

If there are any experiences that are strong enough to still produce a significant emotional response, then try to work through them, by first acknowledging the emotion. It is important then to ask oneself some ‘smart’ questions, in order to understand the experience better, and to work through the lessons therein. If the experience was a negative one, and we want to improve things, then it makes sense to understand what made it a negative experience, and what needs to happen to make it better. The most important thing is to recognize our own role in the creation of that experience, and what we need to change within ourselves to create a positive experience in the future.

It stands to reason that one must be honest with oneself for this kind of reflection to work, if one is doing it without the help of a coach or a friend who can be objective. Writing things down is a great way to reflect, since one cannot deny what one has written, when reading it again later, no matter how surprised one may be!

Writing often helps to clarify matters a great deal. It is important that the writing be spontaneous and not edited, for good lengths of time, so that the subconscious mind has enough time to express itself.

Ultimately, it is imperative that one makes a plan, for all the reflection in the world does no good if no action is taken. The plan has to be as clear, as specific and time-bound as possible, with smaller steps laid out for bigger goals, and rewards also specified for achieving milestones.

Accountability is the one thing that is often forgotten, in all the goal setting that is done, and sets apart the 5% who are successful, from the rest! A life coach offers the best possibility of accountability, but in the absence of one, the best way to make oneself accountable is to have structures in place to counter any possible obstacle to following the plan. Obstacles may include lack of motivation, resources, time, energy… you name it. One has to foresee what these are likely to be, based on one’s lifestyle, and put in plans to overcome these as they arise.

While such detailed reflection and planning can be done at the end of the year, self-reflection ideally should become a daily habit, and will bring great rewards, if practised regularly, especially along with regular journaling.


December 30, 2012 Posted by | Personal Journey, Psychology, Self Improvement, Spirituality and Religion | , , | Leave a comment

What Else Happened on 9/11?

On September 11, 1893, Swami Vivekananda gave his opening address to the Chicago Parliament of World Religions. He got instant attention of the audience – and the world, by addressing them as ‘Sisters and Brothers of America,’ and went on to deliver a message of Humanity and Harmony.

WELCOME ADDRESS – Chicago, September 11, 1893.

Sisters and Brothers of America,

It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.

My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: “As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”

The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.” Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

Speaking of the divisive forces, of bigotry, sectarianism, and fanaticism, he said, “their time is come” – and yet, in 2011, we find those forces are still alive, and causing untold misery and suffering in this world.

What will it take, to wipe them out?


September 11, 2011 Posted by | Personal Journey, Psychology, Self Improvement, Spirituality and Religion | 4 Comments

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

I just came across this very poignant piece of writing by Bronnie Ware, who worked in palliative  care for years.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of  life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

True, it is far better to pay attention long before death comes knocking, so that we don’t have to bear the burden of regret.

July 4, 2011 Posted by | Personal Journey, Psychology, Self Improvement, Spirituality and Religion | 2 Comments

Maturity and Age

Recently, at a spiritual gathering, a person spoke about how he had, as he grew older, stopped seeing things as black or white, and had started seeing many different shades of grey. He explained, for example, that his opinion about abortion was not so cut and dry any more, whereas when he was younger he definitely had an opinion.

This person was a lot older than me, and I realised that I already saw a lot of shades of grey, and did not see anything at all as black or white. I then started to think of all the people I knew and of all the opinions I had heard them express. I realised that the shades of grey in the mind do not appear along with the grey hairs necessarily! I have seen many people much older than the said gentleman, who still see things very much in black and white, with no grey in between at all. I have seen many younger ones with lots of grey in their outlook and none on their heads!

My conclusion was (and I plan to bring it up at the next meeting) that the grey shades are a sign of maturity, and not just of age. Some people mature early, some with age, others just don’t. Those that  seem to mature are the ones that generally tend to look within and ask questions, who tend to be self-aware to some extent, and who have the humility to learn from their mistakes, and are willing to change.

June 10, 2011 Posted by | Personal Journey, Psychology, Self Improvement, Spirituality and Religion | Leave a comment

True Knowing

St. Teresa of Avila, in the ‘Interior Castle,’ wrote, “Would it not be a sign of great ignorance if person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea… or from what country he came? Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls… All our interest is centered in the rough setting of the diamond, and in the outer wall of the castle – that is to say, in these bodies of ours.”

What St. Teresa was trying to say was that we spend all our lives focusing on our bodies, paying little attention to our souls, even the existence of which many of us only know because our Faith tells us so. We need to experience this soul, and know its working for ourselves. It is not enough to simply believe because it so, but to independantly and uniquely experience that connection to the Divine that cannot be described by any human language.

How does one achieve this kind of intimate knowledge? Well, first there has to the desire to know. This desire will lead to a search for the knowledge – reading the scriptures, listening to lectures or sermons, or whatever appeals to the individual. The unfortunate thing is that the majority stop here, content that they are ‘religious’ enough

But most important is the turning inwards, checking in with the soul. Religion cannot be separate from ‘real’ life, and if what is  taught cannot be practised in daily life, then it is of no use. A lot of what is said in the scriptures is  in the form of parables, much of which may not sound real in present times. It is important to recognise these as symbolic and absolutely practical, in any time period, if only  their true meaning is understood.

In the book, Autobiography of a Yogi, Sri Yogananda Paramahamsa describes his master, Swami Yukteswar’s method of instruction. With any scripture that was read, after they had their discussion aboput it, the desciples were asked to sit in meditation until the full meaning  became clear to them, however long that took. For every hour of reading, Swami Yukteswar advised two hours of writing and four of meditation.

Contemplation and meditation will help us tap into our inner wisdom, and find the ‘diamond’ that St Teresa so beautifully describes in the Interior of the Castle.

May 23, 2011 Posted by | Personal Journey, Psychology, Self Improvement, Spirituality and Religion | Leave a comment

Observe without Judging

In ‘Mutant messages from Forever’, by Marlo Morgan, I have been reading about the traditions of the Australian Aboriginal people, who suffered great hardships, being driven from their land, their newborn children being stolen from them, and many even being killed.

One beautiful message is to observe, not judge. This is nothing new, since every culture, every tradition teaches this in some form or the other. But each time we hear it, the message sounds fresh, perhaps because it is such a crucial one for our healing, for our spiritual journey, that it cannot be said often enough.

 Judgement involves deciding right or wrong or degrees thereof. Where there is judgement, there needs to be forgiveness as well. When you judge, you must also experience and learn forgiveness. For every moment you spend judging, you will ultimately have to spend an exact same amount of time in forgiveness, at some time or the other.

Observation, on the other hand, does not require the step of forgiveness. According to Benala, the Aboriginal woman in the story,  “You acknowledge all people as ‘Forever’ souls, acknowledge all people as being on their journey through the school of human experience, and acknowledge all souls possessing the gift of free will and freedom of choice given by the Creator. In other words, people different from you are not wrong. They are just making different spiritual choices.”

“…Each of us must decide what is right for us to help support a positive journey. In turn, we are responsible for serving others who cross our path.”

If another person’s ways don’t resonate with ours, we should just bless their way of thinking and walk away. We don’t need to judge it  in any way. We merely observe what is taking place, and decide  that we don’t wish to take part in it.

Personally, I would love to be this way. I try often to stop myself from judging. And I do succeed – when the stakes for me are not too high, when I’m not too emotionally involved. It is when things get close that it becomes difficult!

The truth is that the Aboriginal people suffered great personal tragedies, and they still were able to continue thinking as they always did. This takes a lot of faith, and more importantly, the Grace that comes as a result of such undying faith. I guess that if we can practise consciously telling ourselves, and asking for that Grace, we can be sure that it will soon be ours, and what we practise will soon become a habit.

I would try this, if only for the selfish reason that I don’t want to need any more forgiveness in my life! For that would mean the need for healing. I would rather heal all the little ailments that I have and get completely healthy – and stay that way!

April 18, 2011 Posted by | Personal Journey, Psychology, Self Improvement, Spirituality and Religion | Leave a comment

Tradition of Respect

Last night, I attended a music recital by the famous Sarod (an Indian stringed instrument without frets) maestro, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan in Montreal. The ustad was accompanied by his two sons, Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaad Ali Khan (who were also excellent musicians in their own right), and two percussion artists playing the tabla. The performance was sublime, breathtaking, and even my daughter, who knew nothing about Indian Classical music and had no appreciation for any Indian music whatsoever, came away transformed.

This blog I am writing is however, not about the music itself. It is about all the little gestures I saw there that reminded me of the culture that I had grown up with. These gestures, I had taken for granted then – but now, I noticed each one of them – and was filled with pride as I explained them to my daughter during the course of the evening. I think this is what made her experience so much more meaningful. I will try to enumerate as many as I can remember here.

It is important to note that for any one ritual in India, there may be more than one interpretation, since India is not one coutry but a collection of many tiny cultures with some common origins.

As the Ustad came onto the stage, he was greeted with applause from the audience, which he received with his hands folded.  I will explain this later. Before stepping onto the dais, he touched the floor with his fingers and touched his forehead. This is similar to touching the floor with the forehead – and is simply a means of showing respect to the earth –  for allowing us to use her resources. In this instance, it could also be symbolic for deriving blessing or energy from Mother Earth before the recital.

When he spoke, his first words were, “Namashkar” which means  “Namaste” – which is said with the hands folded. This means, ‘I respect the divine within you’. He held his instrument with great reverence, while he tuned it.

Another tradition in Indian classical music recitals is that during the recital, each accompanying artist gets at least one chance of a good few minutes, to show off  his talent. This occurs as part of each piece that is played. This part of the music is particularly challenging, and very entertaining to watch, since it really brings out the best in these artists, and gets them their own recognition. The percussionists on the show gave an excellent performances and received great applauses for themselves last night.

The Ustad’s sons gave a brilliant performance as well, and after that, when the father came  back on the stage, they each touched his feet. This is to seek his blessings – both as father and as their guru. They all then played another piece together, which was the grand finale.

These are but a few examples of simple gestures that probably were done unthinkingly by them – but when I paid attention to them, the significance of this culture of reverence and respect all around seemed very impressive.

I have to admit very sadly that except in the world of professional dance and music,  in some very orthodox families, and at religious functions and weddings, such respect does not show up a lot these days.

March 14, 2011 Posted by | Personal Journey, Spirituality and Religion | Leave a comment


Have you ever gone to a conference, a leadership workshop, or a spiritual retreat, and come away totally excited, with many new, great ideas about how you would change things in your life or your work? Have you read a self-help book or a really uplifting story – and decided to do something different with your own life?  Did you ever hear a really motivating speech and decide that you were going to start exercising daily or become a better person or parent?

How long did it last? How long before  you realized that you could not sustain that newfound euphoria – that the high energy that you find in conferences and workshops do not translate to real life? Have you felt let down?

This happens in every walk of life, and people say that ‘real’ life is different, and that the principles that they learn are not ‘practical’. What happens is that when everybody in a room is thinking about the same topics, along similar lines, it is not very difficult to put into practice any new principles. Cooperation and support are more likely found in these circumstances. When one goes away from such a group, into the regular crowd where people have a multitude of priorities and differing beliefs, the energy gets diluted and it is difficult to sustain the enthusiasm, especially if there is a lack of support.

Herein lies the value of satsang. Satsang is just a method of harnessing the positive effects of ‘peer pressure’ and using it to our advantage.  In simple terms, Satsang means good (sat) company (sang). It refers to the sharing of wisdom between like-minded individuals.  

In the Indian tradition, it usually meant spending time in the company of a spiritual guru who imparts his wisdom, and also leads the followers in chanting or reading religious texts. Held at regular intervals, these satsangs help people stay on their respective paths, as much as possible. 

If we translate this to the sharing of any kind of knowledge or skill – spiritual or otherwise, that helps bring a positive change in our daily lives, one can easily see the value of holding such ‘communions’ with like-minded people on a regular basis. It helps anchor the skill or wisdom acquired, reinforce it again and again, and keep it in memory longer each time. Also, support from the others helps everyone to commit better to self-development.

This is the secret behind the buddy system that is often suggested for weight loss programs and for quitting smoking. The  ‘support groups’ for various social and medical problems also function on the basis of this principle. People come together as a group, and find comfort and a great deal of strength from one another and together, they achieve far more than any one of them can, individually.

I know that I have taken what is seen as a highly spiritual principle and brought it down to a very worldly level. But that is the beauty of Vedanta – it is indeed a way of life. It works equally well at any level of spiritual maturity – or immaturity for that matter!



February 20, 2011 Posted by | Personal Journey, Psychology, Self Improvement, Spirituality and Religion | 2 Comments


 In the last couple of decades, meditation and yoga centres have mushroomed all over the western world. With so many people taking courses and even more people teaching these courses, one would have expected the collective energies to have risen over the entire western hemisphere. However, where-ever you look, you see discontent, unhappiness, resentment, conflict, depression, anger, hatred and many other negative emotions. Common themes at conferences include ‘workplace stress‘, ‘professionalism’, ‘emotional intelligence‘, and so on.  

The problem I see is that yoga and meditation are sold to the western public as an exercise routine – something that is good for their health. Somehow, somewhere, the mental and spiritual subsets of health got taken out of the equation and the ‘modern’ person came to understand health as relating to the physical body only. Herein lies the trouble. If practiced  as a spiritual exercise first, the mental and physical health would be so much easier to achieve. This is a secret that is clearly not taught widely for some strange reason which I would hate to speculate on.

When I discuss meditation with friends,  they often say that it is difficult to control the mind and that it is impossible to have a mind empty of thought. Obviously, this is how they have been told it should be done. I feel sorry for anyone trying to thus control the mind. Imagine if you are told,”you shall not think of a monkey when you eat a banana”. What do you think your first thought will be when you eat a banana? In fact, the monkey will be positively difficult to banish from your mind!

The idea of meditation is not to empty the mind but to observe it, to be present and aware of the thoughts that are going through it. The aim is to achieve a ‘presence’ of mind, so that we fully experience the richness of each moment that we live. Being so present helps us make better choices, and thus become better people. Being present in each moment also takes away regrets and resentments from the past, and worry, fear and anxiety about the future. Life certainly could get more peaceful, if everybody went around, ever immersed in the present.

“Meditation may require a lifetime to master, but it will have been a lifetime well spent. … If you want to judge your progress, ask yourself these questions: Am I more loving? Is my judgment sounder? Do I have more energy? Can my mind remain calm under provocation? Am I free from the conditioning of anger, fear, and greed? Spiritual awareness reveals itself as eloquently in character development and selfless action as in mystical states.”– Eknath Easwaran

January 22, 2011 Posted by | Personal Journey, Self Improvement, Spirituality and Religion | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Atheism of Christopher Hitchens

I watched with interest the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair, about whether ‘Religion is a force for good in the world’ on BBC world news the other night. While Mr. Hitchens spoke about the various atrocities committed by man against one another in the name of religion, as his main reason for condemning religion and choosing to become an atheist, Tony Blair used the exact opposite argument that of the various acts of compassion and love, inspired by religion. C. H was the more forceful and persuasive of the two, and won the debate, although T.B. did a very good job of bringing his point across too.

What struck me was that in his closing statement, C. H. said (in better terms) that if you choose religion, you must pay the price – which is your intelligence, and must accept another human being as an interpreter of the divine message. Somehow, I found that this was a wrong impression of religion. Somewhere, I had read an opinion that an atheist has more knowledge of religion than a believer – and had been briefly impressed but I am not so sure, after having had debates with a couple of atheists, and after hearing C. H. speak, I was disappointed!

If he has become an atheist, simply based on what he saw of organized religion, its common practices, ie, the politics and the dogma of it, then he hasn’t given it a fair chance. As far as I know – and I do not claim to know a great deal, by any means – I do not think the sacred texts of any religion says that God wants you to follow his chosen representative who understands him better than you ever can! In fact, most ancient texts say that ‘God’ is within you – now, it is up to each one of us to interpret that to our satisfaction.

Atheists, I find, are very intelligent and sensitive people. Instead of turning away from religion altogether, I wish they would make an effort to study the ancient scriptures, and  interpret their message, as they are totally capable of doing. Then, I wish they would confront  those bad elements that misrepresent God and misinterpret the ancient wisdom,  and educate them with the same forceful conviction and passion – these ‘atheists’ could actually change the world!

January 2, 2011 Posted by | Spirituality and Religion | , , , , | Leave a comment


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