Writing

Chipmunks and me

Alvin and the chipmunks, the movie series, brought alive a different world! the world of chipmunks. Chipmunks are from the squirrel family and have impish energy to themselves that is an easy allure. The movie brought them more sheen. I like them for a different reason. There is something that is common between the chipmunks and me. 

Chipmunks hibernate. Or so I thought. They shut down and conserve energy. Then I learnt that they don’t actually hibernate. They get into ‘torpor’. There is a difference between hibernation and torpor. Let’s leave it at, torpor is ‘hibernation-lite’. Heres an excerpt from an interesting essay that I read. “torpor is a survival tactic used by animals to survive the winter months. It also involves a lower body temperature, breathing rate, heart rate, and metabolic rate.”

First, torpor is a survival tactic. It lasts for brief spells. Chipmunks and me share torpor. My version of torpor has been to go silent on social platforms. Twitter. Instagram. Facebook and such else. 

A nightmare as a trigger.

It started with a nightmare I had one night, a few months back.  My recollections of the nightmare are blurred and brief. All I know is that I woke up with a start. In that nightmare, friends appeared. They sported bright red straw hats marching to a tune from a horror movie. A horror movie that was badly made too.  There was venom in their tongue and they kept dipping into a bucket full of poison and smearing it on people. They told me it is a game and invited me to play while jiving to a wicked war dance number. 

I remember waking up with a start and don’t remember other parts of the nightmare. 

Over the next few weeks, there were other pressing demands placed on my calendar.  The intensity of my work and some waves of hospital visits due to family requirements made it apparent that I had to work things differently.  Logging out of most social media and reorganising my time was easy picking.

This isn’t the first time. For the past couple of years, I take 2-3 weeks that I shut down and maintain some level of silence online. It is far from something grand and sexy like a ‘detox’. Closer to being weary, accompanied by a sense of loss and nostalgia of the good old early days of social media and the internet. 

This year, my silence was more pronounced. I would barely surface to write The OWL Despatchthe newsletter for Founding Fuel and a clutch of other commitments like this one. This so happens to be the times of the Coronavirus and the recommendation of social distancing. I am clear that social distancing in the real world does not merit a universal embracing of everything in the social media world. In fact, the social media world has to be handled with even more care now.

Noticing my noticing. 

Looking back, I have wrested peace from the jaws of ceaseless online noise. Vainglory with a veneer of humility. Shameless bigotry, bias and bile. Fake news. All worn with pride. Medal worthy epaulettes if you will. 

When the apps are off the phone and the phone is off my palms there are other things that I am more present to. The love of colour and fear of the that keeps my daughter company. The extra wrinkle in an elder’s face. Kids of neighbours who suddenly seemed taller when I see them in elevators. I have been noticing that I have been noticing far more!  Including the receding sounds of chatter in my mind. 

As I resurface this time, the terms I have set for myself are stiffer. There is an abundant realisation that what gets into my stream of attention should not be only stuff of use, but stuff that keeps me sane. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Linkedin. WhatsApp. All the same. So I have been on a hacking spree. Unfollow. Mute. Exit. Reorganise WhatsApp presence in groups. A few are fun. Some are useful. I have lost count of the useless. 

I resurface yet again from torpor. There is a feeling of greater peace and a sense of what it means to live.

The quiet time has also given me a sense of peace and added to layers of depth to writing and reading. I have plans to read more books than last year and indulge in better conversations face to face. So what if it they are mediated by technology. More writing too!  

For all the lovely folks who reached out and checked if everything was alright, well, thank you. Your mails, texts and calls meant a lot. These days, I am ever so lighter in the mind and wish I could transfer this lightness to the body as well. That is a different story! 

Image Credit : Steve Orlowski from Pixabay 

Spinning the wheel – My reflections on blogging

A couple of years ago, I stood in Kathmandu’s famous Swayambunath temple. I stood transfixed, besotted by all it offered. Of particular interest was a stellar set of prayer wheels. They were exquisite and seemed to offer something deeper and more joyful than what was apparent.

I watched in quiet awe as people came by to spin the wheel, reciting something quick and muted. The older folk turned it with gentle ease and with a ready rhythm backed by an effortless flow. I stood there for a long time. Taken by the magic of it all.

There is a reason why I think of that now.

IMG_5160

A few days ago, I was in Kolkata interacting with some bloggers there. Friends at Blogadda were hosting a meeting and I was passing by and happening to have to time at hand. It was delectable. Both the conversation and the consequent thoughts that it has sparked off. I shared some of my views there and the kind folks there were kind enough to stay put and listen. Some of them reached out to stay connected after the event! Which left me smiling.

Ever since, ‘blogging’ has been on my mind, wondering if I could have been more pointed and coherent.

For, to me blogs are special. They offer the scale and opportunity to thoughts and expressions. Blogging has had a profound impact on my life. So much so, that I could go out on a limb and proclaim that it aided in changing the course of my life.

Here are some reflections on my journey of blogging. Five points. Not much I think. Top five, if you will.

1. Blogging is a craft. People excel in a craft because they love a craft. Awesome bloggers that I know, publish content because they love doing so. While their voice and points of view get heard, it is a relentless discipline at getting better at it, that rests beneath. They treat blogging with respect and intensity. A certain sense of joy and deep value that passionate practitioners of any craft can relate to.

2. Getting the basics right is such an important facet of any picking up a craft. The basics of blogging, in my opinion, revolve around creating good content and finding a way of reaching it to people. Now, ‘good content’ in itself lends itself well to a long conversation. But the idea is this: Content is key. Statistics on the number of hits, where the hits come from, at what time they come etc are incidental. Focusing on getting better at putting the message across makes a substantial difference. You become a great batsman by watching the ball and spending time at the nets. Not by staring at the scoreboard.

3. Participating and building community conversations matter. Making friends via blogs is a natural consequence. The bounty of friends that I have made just because my blogs have been around for a while is a true bounty. Perhaps bounty with a capital B! Blogging is about people and conversation.

I have enjoyed growing with a set of bloggers. Going far beyond knowing them through their blogs and being present when they turned a new page. Grooved by passion and polished by time, this intimacy has evolved beyond the URL. A blessing that is so rich, that it stays outside my limited capabilities of describing it.

4. Responses to posts and ideas over all these years have varied. Swinging from idolatry to the downright dismissive, teaching me a thing or two in the process. The famous lines from Kipling’s ‘If’ has much mindshare now:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…”

To be equanimous to comments and responses after I hit ‘Publish’ has been one huge piece of learning. Blogging lends itself well to comments and staying calm help.

People who read a blog in the initial years happen to be friends and relatives. People who are generally of the kind kind. A heap of good comments can show up every time you published. I learnt it the hard way, that it’s so easy to get swayed by it. I have one piece of advice: Don’t! Keep working on the craft. If you are into writing, do read this book by Stephen King.

5. After you have put down Stephen King, do make it a point to read other people’s blogs. The better ones. The getting better ones. The ones that you disagree with. The ones with a point of view. The ones with a flourish in language. Whatever. Do read.

For reading helps in finding inspiration and establishing a connection. These connections and inspirations span generations and geography. But present an interweave that goes beyond the obvious. And in a good way, will lead you to stay curious. In the present day templatised world, staying curious can sometimes make all the difference!

So there, those are my top five reflections on blogging.

Now, back to the prayer wheel.

The prayer wheel is profound at many levels, as I discovered. The prayer wheel is spun with a meditative stance. You stay focused and get better at it. There are several beliefs and practices that surround Prayer Wheels. There is one that hugs my mind, though. The Tibetan tradition has a practice ‘of dedicating any accumulated merits that one may have gathered during practice to the benefits of all sentient beings‘.

That to me is at the centre of it all.

To share a point of view, with love and a degree of compassion is an opportunity that is available to everyone with a blog. The choices, of course, are ours to make.

Beware the busy life!

We were in the middle of a discussion about possibilities for the future. The future painted itself as an alluring picture. One member of the team that was discussing the problem, was clearly worried. That worry stemmed from the load that the present day and its travails threw in already. There were processes to build. Projects to complete. People to meet. His calendar remained filled to the brim. He wondered where he would pull time out from for this ‘future’ discussion?

It was soon apparent that we weren’t headed anywhere. Nobody competes against a full calendar. Unless you are insanely brave or completely naive! We were stuck. It became clear that if we wanted to get anywhere productive, we needed to step off the ‘busyness’ treadmill. That was tough. Considering how critical the present day challenges were.

We are all genuinely busy. Aren’t we? With overflowing calendars and a constant hum in our minds about how busy we are and how much we miss leisure.

The busy life occupies us and our imagination. In this lovely piece in the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert reviewing ‘Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time’ by Brigid Schulte, writes that being busy has acquired ‘social status’.  ( Here is another review of the same book. This time, by the NYT )

“Keeping up with the Joneses now means trying to out-schedule them”, she writes. Some of us are afflicted with what I call the ‘Full Calendar Syndrome’. The condition that causes palpitation upon seeing a few slots on the calendar ‘open’. Busyness reassures many of us with a sense of worth and progress. But what a travesty, that. More on that later.

Amongst the things that ‘busyness’ robs us of, is the possibility of looking around and seeing beyond our problems. Often times, the very aspect of looking in another direction gives us great clarity on the problems we work on. Full calendars and occupied minds, prevent us from creative thinking and missing obvious solutions that could be staring us in the eye otherwise.

John Maynard Keynes wrote “Economic Possibilities for our grandchildren” in 1930.  Kolbert’s piece pointed to this paper and obviously I downloaded it in some spare time, in the midst of being busy.

Its ten pages long and a fascinating piece to read, and to think of how his mind traveled a hundred years from the heights of the Economic Depression of the 1930s to peer into the future is some thought in itself.

Simply and simplistically put, Keynes felt that a hundred years from 1930 there would be so much wealth in the world that would automatically lead to an abundance of leisure!

His thoughts on the scale of our economic growth are well in tune with where the world has reached. But his posits on the scale of economic growth leading us to having substantial leisure hasn’t seen the light of the day. In fact, we have gone the other way. Wealth has only increased our ‘buysness’ and leisure has almost acquired the status of a bad word.

Bertrand Russell, another of those men, who rode those times with thoughts and words that caused people to pause and think, wrote “In praise of idleness” in 1935. (He makes a persuasive case for a four day work week which obviously, didn’t go a great distance but it’s a great read nevertheless). “The general thesis which binds the essays together is that the world is suffering from intolerance and bigotry, and from the belief that vigorous action is admirable even when misguided; whereas what is needed in our very complex modern society is calm consideration, with readiness to call dogmas in question and freedom of mind to do justice to the most diverse points of view.”

I would call to special attention “..vigorous action is admirable even when misguided..”

While ‘Busyness’ is certainly something to contend with, the other aspect that bears down on us heavily is the hysteria that surrounds our ‘busyness’, in our own minds. How many of us think our days are so packed that we don’t have a minute to breathe? Of course, most of us! On the one hand, we pack our days with much work (and if we don’t, there is worry that seeps in) and on the other our constant refrain in our minds revolves around ‘how busy we are’ and how much that interferes with what we would rather be doing!

The question that begs our attention, large chunks of it, is this : “What am I busy with?” It is but obvious that this question hardly gets asked and the possibility of it getting answered with care and thought, is even more remote.

Too busy to improve

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life” – Socrates

Socrates said it like none else.

There are strikingly simple things that can be done to jump off this treadmill. Simple stuff. For one, a simple scan of our workday will lead us to some levels of insight. Are we really busy with stuff that counts or is it a meaningless routine that we hazily go through the motions.

Conscious Choice
Leading a life of purpose and commitment, as cliched as it may sound, against a life of ‘routine busy’ is a result of conscious choice. It has to be consciously lived by design before it becomes a default mode of living. In the absence of conscious choice and action, there is enough and more of an activity swirl that happens around us that keep us going and suddenly we wonder where the last several years went!

Elizabeth Kolbert further writes, “Our frantic days are really just a hedge against emptiness. Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day”.

She goes on to write, “…so it’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion”

The antidote to this of course is to pause, find some time and think about life! To figure out what you are driven by? How do we want to get there? These need to be thought through and worked out. It is but obvious that several times, our choices are unconscious. From a set of options that popped in front of us because of the circumstances that we are in. Not a set of options that we created in line with what we wanted to do in life! To use the much abused and cliched word : ‘Purpose’!

Our life choices need thinking. Its our life. Even if our lives have many elements of routine, there are always avenues to make them rich and full.

If there was one purpose to this note it is this : to cause you to get to a “pause and ponder” mode about your ‘busyness’.  If you have come this far in this post, well, you might as well consider doing that. 🙂

Writing goals down and concertedly working on it, is a great place to begin. It works. All the time. Far better then when you dont write it down. If you have the time that is. Writing them down is perhaps the wheel that can set your success cart rolling in the right direction! Its a great first step. Of course, most of us know this. The question really is, ‘how many of us practice this’!

Do you?