Best Books I read in 2014

Did you get a chance to read any from the ones I suggested in 2013? I sure made it a point to lend those to as many people as I could. Even though I bought a Kindle this year hoping that it would help me reduce my paper footprint and will help me improve my reading habits, I couldn't find as much time for reading as I would have liked to. Most of my reading was compressed into few short sprints. And here are the ones which I found the best:

1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky - If you have read this book, seeing this book here wouldn't be a surprise to you. I found this book in a Reddit post called 'books that single-handedly made you change your life'. After reading the book, finding it in that list didn't seem too far fetched either. This was Dostoyevsky's magnum opus about which he said that he had written everything that he ever wanted to say in that one book. And boy, has he said it. 

  Illustration by Yours Truly

Illustration by Yours Truly

This is a voluminous work by all measures - it took me a long time to read it. It would have taken even longer had I paid attention all the time to the incredible detail that he has put in explaining the human nature and behavior. It is amazing to see when some authors weave psychology together with great storytelling to give us a beautiful reading experience. 

I can go on and on in praises of this book but nothing that I can say would do justice to its depth. Suffice to say, read this book, and you will not be disappointed. 

2. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac - As I wrote in my book review, it filled me with an energy for life even with just its backcover. I would recommend this even before Kerouac's otherwise more popular On The Road. From the book review:

The back cover speaks of lines such as these: "descriptive excitement", "poetry jam sessions", "marathon drinking bouts". And never have I felt such a violent surge of energy inside me to go explore the world and do something crazy. I am not sure how much of it would I be able to do but it has made me sit down and write these few lines at the least.

3. Daily Rituals : Find Inspiration, and Get to Work by Mason Currey - This book tells us the daily habits and rituals of the leaders who have shaped our history and culture. Learning about the lives of all the great scientists, musicians, writers, politicians had a profound impact on me. It is surprising to see how many of these people were creatures of habits. I learnt that the best work is produced under constraints, usually self-imposed. A lot of my regular activity on this blog can be credited to inspiration from this book. 

Other notable mentions:

  • On The Shortness of Life by Seneca - Almost made it to the list except because of the reason that I read it only a week back and I like to give a book some time after reading to check how much of it stays with me. 
  • Show Your Work by Austin Kleon - As a writer, this book couldn't have come to me at a better time. It shows a no-nonsense way of the Whats, Whys, and Hows of sharing your work online. 

Hope you get around to reading some of these books. For more book recommendations, articles on minimalism and leading a simple life, you can sign up to the mailing list

Mindfulness - An Introduction

If something’s happening to me, I’d rather be around.
— Albert Camus

After coming back from work, I put on some music and stood in the kitchen, peeling off an orange. But, I wasn't really there. My mind was somewhere else, wandering off into the distant world of events past and the What-Could-Haves and What-Should-Bes. Suddenly, I heard the music - really heard it for the first time. And my feet started tapping of their own accord, a smile appeared on my lips and my mind started noticing what was happening. That was such a good feeling.

Mindfulness is being aware of what is happening around you in that particular moment, every moment. It means not ignoring the present in anticipation of the future or in memories of the past. 'Flow' and being 'in the zone' are the same concepts with different names.

All of us have experienced it in some form or the other. Perhaps you are a coder who gets lost in his code when being in the zone. Or while playing a sport, you probably give your best when your focus is on the game and not on some altercation you had with someone. A good movie drowns you in its fantasy world. Or you are texting and it takes a couple of shouts by someone to bring your attention away from your phone. The world fades away, for a brief few moments you lose sense of what is around you. You don't notice how your mind is working but it just does. That is being mindful. 

 

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT IT

This moment is your life. The moments to come may or may not be what you imagined. But this moment, right now, will never come back again. 

Be mindful for the simple reason that it makes you attractive to other people - you may not know it - but I observe this for sure. I am automatically attracted towards people who seem in a flow, self assured and thus confident. Being mindful makes your relationships better - wouldn't you rather have a friend actually listening to what you are saying rather than wandering off into the distance? Some of your best work is produced when you are engrossed in it. Food tastes better, music is nicer and conversations are more enjoyable. 

Imagine dipping into ice cream and it melting into your mouth as you imagine the fruits it contains. You really let the tastebuds experience the true joy of feeling the ice cream caressing your tongue. This might seem like a lot at first because you have to train your mind. But, I feel it is a good way to live life. Otherwise, you might arrive at each destination and wonder what's next. I don't recommend it for the sake of finding a deep answer or anything of that sort but for the simple reason that it feels so good. Haven't you experienced it yourself - maybe you are watching a great video and someone calls your name - you totally don't hear that happen, right? Compare it with a situation where you are watching that same video or movie but your mind is somewhere else and you probably don't enjoy it as much. 

You know the times when the mornings seem brighter, sweets sweeter and all that, wouldn't you want to have it all the time?

 

How to practice mindfulness

The simplest way to be mindful is to actually practice it in your daily life rather than finding a time to do it. Experience the juices of the food that you eat mixing together as they fill up your mouth. Feel the food travelling down your throat drenching it with the superb taste you were craving for. Read a book and imagine the author writing those exact words, scratching, and writing again with his pen on a piece of paper. Imagine his thoughts preceding the line you are just reading. Try it out right now. Let the music fill your ears, notice each different instrument in a song and how they all sound different yet together. Imagine the earth moving down a little as you walk - it really does even though it is a very small amount. Lie down under the open sky with your arms outstretched and feel the earth rotating and revolving at the same time. 

Truly live each moment, be aware of what is happening around you - there is never nothing going on. Take stock of the realities and don't ruin it by imagining the possibility of a bad future. Stop looking for the next kick and try to be at ease with the OK-ness and enough-ness of now. Indulge yourself in the activity at hand completely.

What you have right now is enough at this moment, isn't it? You are surviving, breathing, living life wherever you are. You can't bring time back. So why be lost in the events gone by when you can rather be in the present and enjoy what you have right now. I don't mean ignore the contemplation but choose a deliberate time for it. Bring your wandering mind back into the present, tell it to wait a little longer and finish off the task at hand. 

It isn't easy and probably is a lot of work but it is totally worth it. I can tell - my orange tasted so much better. 

 

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Jack's complete lack of orientation

One day you are in Delhi. Same day in Indore. Next day in Mumbai. Then you might be in Gokarna. You are Jack’s complete lack of orientation. 

You see faces passing by, you stop to look at them, pretending to yourself to be curious about the world around you. But, you don’t care anymore. Sounds are muffled, faces blurry, your actions involuntary. You are going along with the wave that is sweeping everyone into motion - the ticket counter lady, as she wakes up everyday to enter some numbers on a piece of plastic to produce a piece of paper; you explain Murphy’s law to her after having switched queues multiple times and still ending up in the slowest one. The steward who greets you and everyone in front of and behind you - "Hello Welcome", while thinking about what he'll do after he gets out of this job of serving the great Indian upper middle class. You can still hear his words as you move ahead in the aisle - whether he is actually saying it to someone else or it is the echo - it is the same to you - you can’t make out the difference. As you type, the only sounds you hear are your keyboard’s and the only smell is the stewardess’ perfume as she closes the luggage compartments. You crack your fingers. You write about cracking your fingers. Then you are blank, wondering what to write next. You start noticing the complete lack of the concept of private space as one guy starts playing music - the fact that he plays Bandeh by Indian Ocean makes you feel less .... umm.. what's the word - you can’t think clearly anymore. You hear people speaking broken English in the horrible Indian accent that we've been blessed with. You cringe at its sound. Probably you are a jerk for thinking so. An honest jerk. Does that make it better? I wonder how and when people started lying. Why would you need to? You can’t think through the answers. You think about your blog and question yourself whether it is too preachy. You drink water. You write about drinking water. You look at the hostesses and try to imagine what kind of a person she would be in real life. The chubby one with a smile on her face - she looks like someone who likes to spend time with her family. The good looking one with high brow - she's the one who likes to party. You judge and stereotype everyone. The steward with an apologetic smile on his face - you still hear his "Hello, Welcome Sir". You judge people around you although they haven't done anything to trouble you. Perhaps they have - you think you want them to disappear. But, you are not sure. You notice a lady wearing huge sunglasses enter and place her wide ass on the business class seat. You judge her. You think and wonder at the sense of entitlement people have. You peek at the laptop of the foreigner next to you. Your eyes are droopy. Another hostess - she has a nice smile. Not the sexy, hot kind of smile. Not even the cute kind of smile. Your girlfriend has a cute smile. No, what this hostess has is an ‘innocent’ smile - as many of my friends in the one-way street of love will say. The flight is ready to depart. 

"Ladies and Gentlemen - this is a seat belt. "

"Put on your own mask before assisting someone else." 

"Mutual funds are subject to market risk…"

“To attract attention while wearing your life jacket, take off your clothes."

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Hello Welcome!"

You listen to a story by the Foreigner who is an assistant director. You remark on how remarkable the story is.

You smile a condescending smile looking at the guy who is wasting his life on Candy Crush. You judged him. 

“Sir, please switch off your laptop"

You fiddle through the in-flight magazine. You see the beautiful places you want to go to. Plans of going to such places begin shaping up in your head. 

You look at the glossy ads of bathroom equipments with beautiful girls. You no longer remember the name of the brand.

“We’ve begun descent into…."

You close your eyes. Your thoughts jump from one to another. Your head hurts. 

Thuk!

“Thank you for travelling with us."

“Hello Welcome!"

10 Steps Guide to Mindful Online Reading

Have you seen Death Note? It is a brilliant Japanese Anime series that I am watching these days. One of the characters, L, has a habit of sitting on his haunches. This, he says, increases his deductive reasoning capacity by 40%. I don’t know how true this statement is but this was the position I was sitting in while reading an article on controlling our attention by Mark Manson. If you haven’t read his blog yet, you should. I had included it in my simplified reading list and I don’t ever regret doing so.

A combination of his thought provoking article, and the feeling of over-consumption that I've been struggling with lately, led me to a chain of thoughts which culminated into this post. While reading an article online we have a habit of jumping from one to another, sharing and commenting without even reading through the whole thing and in general, rushing on to finish it off the checklist. I figured, there has to be a better way instead. So, without further adieu, here is the 10 step ‘guide’ to mindful online reading. Perhaps, try out these techniques with this post and let me know if it was useful.

  1. Keep your laptop away from you, preferably slightly more than one arm distance that you have to stretch a little bit to touch the keyboard. Our fingers have a habit of being finicky and they keep bouncing around clicking here and there and in general making a nuisance of themselves.
  2. Finish reading what you have on the screen and once you’ve done that, move on to the next scroll. Don't keep scrolling after every few lines (unless you have a problem viewing what's written at the bottom of a page). The constant flickering of the screen causes a major distraction.
  3. Keep your phone at a distance. 
  4. Keep open a notebook/pen, an Evernote window or anything else you use to record your thoughts. You don't have to record anything though, no pressure.
  5. While reading, feel free to take breaks - not to check a new message or notification but to think through what you’ve just read or simply just to take a deep breath.
  6. Your mind will wander off every once in a while - to that conversation you had with someone in office, or that thing you have to do tomorrow. Gently bring it back to present. 
  7. After finishing, take a few moments to think through the message and if it resonates with you or not.
  8. Share your opinions and the article with a friend - not on Facebook or Twitter, although you can do that as well. But, share it in person, or over a phone call or in a private message. Have a thoughtful discussion around it.
  9. DON’T jump on to the next article right away. Do something else, walk about a little bit aimlessly.
  10. Respond to the author with your thoughts about it. Hearing from their readers is one of those things which writers cherish a lot. And some of the best connections start with a single email.

The purpose behind this step by step guide is to ensure that your really immerse yourself in what you are reading. I acknowledge that this borders on the line of being too painful to go through for everything your read online. But, every once in a while, for a really good article you find, try following some, if not all of these steps. 

 

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Simplifying everyday living

Our life is a sum total of the consequences of all the decisions that we make everyday. Every single day, we make countless big and small decisions which shape the course of our lives. What to wear, what to eat, whether to go out for dinner with that friend you haven't seen in a while or stay home and cook, so on and so forth. This constant decision making in every moment can take a toll on our mental space and leave us feeling exhausted. 

How do we cope with this? One way is to simplify our decision making. But, even after you do that, you still have to make those decisions. How about taking it one step forward and automating the decision making process? This, automated, simple and well-thought out decisions then become rules. 

Creating rules for your daily routine tasks frees up not only your day but clears up a lot of your mental space. These rules are based on your pre-thought out decisions. They are not made by any authority but by your own self which increases the chances of you actually going through with it. 

How do these rules look like? 
They can't be too generic - like Eat Healthier. This is not a rule. It is a state of life you want to reach to. Eat less sugar - this leaves ambiguity in the definition of what 'less' is. How about saying - Eat one sweet a week? This is actually a rule that I personally follow and so far I have been able to keep it up reasonably well. By making it time bound and by allowing a few treats I am also making it easier for me to follow since no sweet is much more difficult to do than one sweet a week.

There are multiple benefits with this. First is obviously that I eat less unhealthy stuff. Secondly, it is completely upto me to eat whatever I want as that one sweet of the week. I can choose to treat myself guilt free and without inhibitions.

Here are some of the rules that I intend to follow:

  1. Creating restraints - Eat one dessert over the weekend, one in a weekday is OK; check social media two times a day for 15 minutes each; one hour of leisure internet in the evening. This gives me the time do indulge into those guilty pleasures while keeping a check on them taking over my life.
  2. 30 seconds rule - After a work meeting, or after finishing up an article or after a movie, take 30 seconds to think through and if possible write down what happened and what you would like to remember about it. 
  3. Zone out time - This is the voluntary zone out time to let your mind wander. While doing our everyday tasks, our mind has a habit of wandering off. When this happens, our tasks get delayed, work gets affected. Instead, what we can do is notice that this is happening, tell ourselves to keep this thought for the zone out time to think about later and gently bring the mind back to the task at hand.
  4. Once a week clear up - Clear inbox over the weekend; clear Pocket queue; organise Evernote; clear out excess stuff from the house. This is to ensure a minimal style of living.
  5. Eat that frog - This is a technique that I've actually been following for quite some time. Do the most difficult task first when your energy levels are higher. Keep the smaller stuff for later.
  6. 15 seconds of mindfulness - Before starting a new activity, take a few moments to think if you actually want to do it or is it happening on its own accord. Be deliberate and take a few extra moments before rushing onto the next thing. 

These rules are intended to free up your mental space so that you can divert your time away from the mundane, unimportant or trivial to the more important stuff. Hope this technique serves you well.

For further reading on this topic, I recommend this Zenhabit's article.

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The Problem of Plenty

In the last two years, we've produced more information than that was produced in the entire history of mankind before that. This is incredible. While it is an absolutely amazing thing that more people are creating and sharing their work than ever before, it also poses a problem of what to consume and what to focus on. There are thousands of ways to spend your time with. New videos on YouTube everyday, more movies released every week, and millions of blog posts like this one, released regularly. What you follow and what you do with the things that you involve yourself in, thus becomes critical to the quality of life you lead and the satisfaction you derive from it.

Recently, I started noticing my consumption habits which I take the liberty to presume is common with a lot of folks around. Even before we finish reading an article, we are thinking of ways to share it. Before a song ends, the mind starts wondering which one to listen to next. Or the video you clicked on and the witty comment you are going to make on it. Or the picture you just took, and your brain starts processing all the possible tagline you'll post it with. All this sharing and consuming leaves little scope for actually incorporating the lessons you've learnt from it. 

And it is not just with sharing things online. Even if it just consuming for personal use, life seems to become a checklist. That movie your friends said you have to watch. Or this incredibly funny video someone shared on Facebook that you have to see. But, hold on. What if, you do not click on that? Would it be too extreme a step? Would you be missing out on something important? Maybe, but probably not. Perhaps, you can live without watching another funny video, another movie trailer. 

We click multiple pictures during our travels but never see them again. How about clicking only a few? Pictures are definitely a good way to record memories but how about skipping just this one particular sunset? A picture will remind you of the good times you spent somewhere. But, what if you don't have a memory of it in the first place since you spent that time clicking pictures. 

One of the things that are at play here are our fear of missing out. This in itself is the biggest reason for our passive consumption. We all want to feel like we belong somewhere, and thus we involve ourselves in things that everyone else is talking about. But, it is for us to realise that whatver is happening is right there with you in that particular moment. 

Realise that you are never going to finish even a tiny bit of all the articles you want to read or all the movies you have saved in your hard drive. So, isn't it wiser to make the experience of whatever you already have a little better? How about growing deeper rather than wider. This of course doesn't mean you should restrict your experiences. But, whatever you are doing in that moment, immerse yourself in it completely.  

In my life, for instance, right now I have about 25 posts which are in draft. Before, publishing this, I couldn't decide on which one to finish. But, unless I finish one, I can't move on to another one. I recently purchased a Kindle, and I found my reading habit go down instead of increasing as I had presumed it will. The thing is, that even though I had multiple options, I couldn't decide on which one to finish now. Thus, I now have more than 10 unread books in various stages of completion. I couldn't derive pleasure from my reading as much as I used to earlier. 

The simplest way is to start with one and finish it if it interests you. Instead of running after the next shiny thing, finish off the one at hand now. Create simple rules like an hour of leisure browsing. Take time to sink in what you've consumed. Let it digest much like food. Form your opinions around it. See how you can use it to make your own life better. If not, just notice how you feel after reading it. Are you more energised,  happier or perhaps just a little entertained. If so, take stock of it. The thing is when you don't so this,  chances are you are going to move from one to another post and eventually get tired of all the jumping around and switching of context. But, if you feel happy with this moving around, by all means. 

Take 30 seconds - that's it - no more. Think about what just happened. Or after coming out of a meeting with someone, take a minute to record what you felt. Or don't even record it, just think it over. Of course if you are doing it for entertainment, that's fine and you can ignore this suggestion. But, make a deliberate difference between your entertainment habits and learning habits.

Pick a few things and pursue them. There would be distractions for sure but ignore them. Otherwise, you would be left after a year of all half done things and stuff you haven’t completed. We can never do it all - the number of things to indulge ourselves in are too many out there. Choose wisely. Even if you can't do that, immerse yourself in what you have at hand. Do things that matter - there is the very popular 80-20 rule. 80% of your life is shaped by just the 20% of things you do. So, it is better to choose that 20% wisely. 

I am a compulsive consumer thus I have had to devise some strategies around my consumption patterns. One is I read much lesser when on the move. I just like looking outside instead. Some of the best things in the world have come out when the mind is wandering aimlessly. Or sometimes like it was for this post,  I write most of it on the move. I started simplifying my reading habits and my decision makingGradually, I am beginning to move into simplifying my wardrobe. The basic colors - whites/greys/blacks. And things which team up well with multiple items.

But, I am not very good at this myself. Even while finishing this article, I took a break for a few minutes to have dinner which then got extended to watching a movie (a pretty cool one by the way) and then a complete one day delay. Each of these small things add up and take away minutes/hours/days of your life. Your life then becomes a journal of what all you've finished doing and what else is pending. If you have a technique to sort this out, please add in your comments.


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Hampi

If Stanley Kubrick made Star Wars, Hampi is where he would choose to shoot at. 

Sitting in an auto for the half an hour ride from Hospet station, as I entered Hampi, the words ‘Wow’ leapt out of me. My jaw dropped and I sensed the feeling of wonder swell up inside me. The scenery before me was surreal - a vast area of land showered with huge boulders and ruins which still looked magnificent in every direction your eye could see. I was awestruck at the scenery and I don’t remember any other place having such a strong effect on me at first look. It was something completely other-worldly.

A friend of mine had told me, “Hampi is not a place to just travel to, it is a place to live in”. Naturally, I went there with high expectations. And, I wasn’t disappointed. Many centuries ago, Hampi was the seat of the Vijaynagara kingdom and the ruins of the grand empire are what remain today. The river Tunghabhadra separates the two sides of Hampi with the majority of temples on one side and most of the ruins on the other. A boat carries you to and fro across the river. The place is pretty much a tourist-only destination. I presume that all the industries that exist there are meant to cater to the tourists - the numerous cafes, bike rental shops, guest houses and the numerous grocery stores. Phones don’t work too well so if you plan to split up from your friends, it is advisable to decide on a common meeting ground and time. Food is an important aspect when I travel, and I am happy to report that Hampi served us delicious food. 

I stayed on the temple side of the river in a guest house at the edge of the river, overlooking the flowing stream. The sound of the rushing and gushing of water was such a joy to the overworked mind and ears. The place has a very good vibe about it - relaxing and chilled out. People seemed nice and friendly. The best way to explore the place would be to hire a moped and roam around. The 'hippie' area is on the other side of the river if you care to know. Although, some might argue that you can build your own hippie haven wherever you are depending on whom you are with. 

During my stay, I climbed up the ruins/mountains whenever I got a chance. On the hike up the runis, you could relax in the shades of what might have been temples long time ago. I went in one such temple and there was a sadhu of some sort who sat there contemplating. He wasn’t praying but just sitting there casually in complete darkness. I joined him and sat there in silence. At this point, you probably expect that I got some life-changing insight. I did not. But, it was good to just be quiet for a while and feel that the whole world is just a small place inside that dark temple ruin consisting of two people who are sitting silently contemplating on their own lives. 

Another time, as I was writing in my journal, under the shade of one such temple, I had a brilliant scenery all around me. The Tungabhadra separated me from the coconut trees in the distance. In the horizon, I could see huge boulders sprinkled like oregano on top of your pizza. A small climb awaited me on my left beyond which another one of these many temples peeked out at me. On the right, downhill, were some more stone structures and I wonder how they were made. To top it off, the cool breeze in hot sun was a godsend. 

While writing, a small kid came up to me to sell me maps and other souvenirs. I struck up a conversation and one of the first things he asked me was my mother's name. That's not something I expected. I mean, I don't go around asking people their mother's name as a conversation starter. But, for this little kid, I guess it was pretty normal. He told me his name was 'BaSaVaraJa' and his mother's name 'KaNaKatna' - that is how he wrote it in my diary. Meanwhile, a Spanish couple collected memories in their cameras and we exchanged a few pleasantries in my primitive Spanish. 

I made friends with an Englishman, Jasper and we went riding on our mopeds together. We stopped to hike up some mountains. And we kept climbing higher and higher. The thing with mountain climbing, we discussed, is that once you start, you just want to keep on climbing up. We eventually did find a spot to rest. In our 360 degree view, we could’t see a single other soul. We sat together talking about life and sharing stories. He was traveling in India for quite some time and had worked in a Kerala guest house for 3 weeks in exchange for a place to sleep and 3 meals a day. This, I feel is a good arrangement. You can do it too, there is a site for that: Workaway - this is available in many countries and it seems like a great way to travel and explore other cultures. 

We met a french dude who had bought a dog during his travel in India and was carrying it around wherever he went. The dog was called Singham. Often he would run away and after coming back, people would shout "Singham returns" - I don't think he ever got the joke. He spoke like there was no tomorrow and told me a story as to how he got the money to travel. He had had a motorbike accident and the insurance company paid him some money. The exchange rate did the rest. An economics dropout, he was going to go back and study art. 

I stayed in Hampi for only a day and looking back I feel I did so much in that one day. But, never for a moment did I feel that I am rushing through things. Would I go back? Umm…maybe. Would I want to climb those ruins on which stood many centuries ago the empire of a major South Indian kingdom? Hell yeah!

Lull

For the past few weeks, I haven't been able to find the pool of creativity which earlier I was able to reach into. In the recent past, I could summon ideas almost at will but now I feel uninspired. This has resulted in discontent and a sense that if unchecked, this could turn into a longer term state of mind. Thus, I write this post to investigate this feeling and find a way to come out of it.

I call this state The Lull. Lull is a period of inactivity and of dissatisfaction because of it. This is not the same as depression though you can call it one stage before that. In fact a lull can occur even when your life seems interesting from an outside point of view. Even the best of us are susceptible to it - Stephen Fry's note on it is a recommended reading. Or much closer, I am reminded of Dhanya who moved out of his country even though he was happy since that wasn't it for him. 

Why does it really happen? I mean, have't we been taught that aiming for happiness is a good way to live life? Personally, I put it down to a skewed ratio of consumption vs production. I've always had a constant urge to create something to feel relevant and good about myself. And in the past few weeks I wasn't creating anything. My writing was gone, I wasn't learning much of Spanish, no exercise, no playing guitar. I even stopped playing Snooker. I was just consuming by way of watching movies, partying out with friends, so on and so forth. 

So, how do we fix this? First step is to actually realise that you are going through this phase. It seems like a flippant statement to make; it is anything but. Notice that you are entering a lull and if you let it take it's course, you can spiral down into a negative place. 

How do you notice this change? Chances are that you'll suddenly find yourself in this situation and break down or just be absolutely frustrated with how you ended up there. But, more often than not, this happens gradually and not overnight. So, notice small changes in your best habits. For me, it was writing lesser and lesser. Writing was one thing that gave me peace of mind. But, lately, I had not even been able to write in my journal, forget about writing blog posts. This then went on to procrastination and quitting on the targets I set for myself. 

Second step is to notice what are you doing instead of that habit. I started deriving acknowledgement from writing small Haikus and showing off to my friends who were more than generous with their praise. This, then gave me a false sense of accomplishment which prevented me from doing my long due writing project.

Next, ignore your mind. You see, whenever you want to take up something against inertia, your mind will give you reasons to not do it. Waking up early would be tough because it is too cold outside the blanket. You don't feel inspired enough to create that tune you always wanted to. You don't have a good idea to write a post about. Or, going for a run is too troublesome. But, stop this thinking.

It will seem a monumental task if you think through the whole thing. Shut your mind off. Just pick up the tool of your trade. No one's asking you to do anything with it, just pick it up for a few moments. Take one single step. Get off the bed and stand for one second. Hold the guitar in your hand for 5 minutes. Take a blank piece of paper and a pen. Tie your shoelaces and take a step out of the door. This is it. That's all you need to do in this moment. 

Figure out priorities and lower your ambitions. Focus on even fewer things. Take just one single thing and do it. Not even do it great, but just do it. If you are navigating your ship in stormy seas, you don't care about whether your ship's paint is coming off. You just want to make sure that your ship doesn't sink. You can worry about the fancy stuff later. Similarly, in a lull, just focus on getting out of it. Avoid being overtly critical of how you do it and what you did during that time. 

Create the most fertile ground. Figure out the scenarios that you were in which enabled you to feel inspired. If it is the set and setting that has changed, find a way to create those situations yourself. Perhaps you were spending more time alone. Or, maybe you were hanging out with a lot of new people. Or maybe, you had a good routine. Whatever it was that helped you be calm and content earlier, try to set it up again.

tldr; Check your consumption vs production ratio and go back to that one thing that gave you the peace of mind in the first place. For me, this post is a start in that direction.


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The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac | Book Review

This book review is broken down into two parts. One that I wrote just after reading a couple of pages and the other one after a couple of weeks of completing it.


Part 1:

19th August, 2014

I am a gullible man. Strong personalities, events and emotions influence me easily. Thus, I like to read good books.  They push me to take action and make me feel empowered to do things that aren't ordinary. They inspire me to lead a life full of experiences that could be worthy of, one day, becoming folklore. But, time and again, I find myself in a situation that as soon as the memory of the inspiration fades away, I lose my interest and that desire to take action hides away into the deep recesses of my mind. 

But, there are a few exceptional times when the combination of the inspiration and personal drive brings something to execution. Today, I received my copy of The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. The back cover speaks of lines such as these: "descriptive excitement", "poetry jam sessions", "marathon drinking bouts". And never have I felt such a violent surge of energy inside me to go explore the world and do something crazy. I am not sure how much of it would I be able to do but it has made me sit down and write these few lines at the least. 

On reading these lines, one feels compelled to follow their heroes and tread the path guided by their inspiration. But, then you hit a roadblock. You realise that you can't do it since you are bound by the rules and regulations of a society where you exchange your time and freedom for a sense of security. And what's worse is that it is you who has chosen to do this by complying to it. We have full control to make it right. Instead, we, like many others, are held back by fear, uncertainty and responsibilities.

But, no more. Don't let the moments of your inspiration waste away. Act. 

Soon after writing till the above point, I started sharing this with my girlfriend and check a bit of email and social media. And all of it was so energy sapping and flow interrupting. To get actual work done, we must stop thinking about how we would like to share it with others. Do for yourself and do it well. As a writer, write something which you yourself enjoy reading. And stay focused, don't get lost in the endless stream of noises coming from different sources. The trade off between a moment of cheap entertainment or the need to feel acknowledged and involved versus the loss of yet another precious moment of your life is just not worth enough to make. Our fear of missing out with the world renders us vulnerable to missing out on the most important thing - our own lives. 


Part 2

19th October, 2014

I have a silly problem of forgetting the characters and incidents from the books I read. What stays with me is the feeling that book has evoked. And Dharma Bums, even after 2 weeks of finishing the book, has left in me a certain energy to really be alive. The sensation of having read and experienced - or I would go so far as to say, having lived the characters, lingers on in me. Such, is the power of this book.  

While discussing this with a few friends, who themselves are wanderers and explorers to say the least, we ran into the practicality and the reality of the stories in the books. They said that a lot of the events and stories in the books are exagerrations and fantasies of a restless, creative mind. This, I think, could very well be the case. But, I argued, it doesn't mean that we cannot shape our lives that way. Someone else's fantasises could very well be our reality - if only we want to work towards shaping it that way. 

The simple fact that I started writing down about this book even before finishing it betrays the power of this book. Jack Kerouac is a master at channeling your internal energy towards real action. Even though it is less popular than the more ubiquitous and oft quoted (including on this site) On The Road, I find it more empowering and a deeper joy to read. Both books talk about the beat generation but I would like to live like a Dharma Bum rather than be On The Road.

Auroville

Words and Pictures from my stay at an international township building human society from scratch

 

The day after leaving Auroville, I am catching up on my sleep at a friend’s place in preparation for the party later in the night. It is going to be a great night, I can feel it. The next morning I am set to leave for Hampi with a few friends. And from there on, wherever the wind takes me. Inspite of all these plans, I feel a little sad and nostalgic. It feels as if I’ve just left home to travel. That is what Auroville does to you — it makes you feel like you belong there.


INTRODUCTION

 

Auroville is an experimental township in the erstwhile French colony of Pondicherry. It belongs to no one in particular but the people who manage its affairs are influenced by the words of Sri Aurobindo, poet, nationalist, philospher and The Mother, who was his spiritual partner. 

What I’ve experienced in Auroville is that it is as close to an ideal society as you can get — this is of course based just on the 11 days that I spent there. It has its pros and cons but people have accepted it as the realities of life. Most people that I met there were happy or more accurately, content. This could either be put to the social dynamics that are prevalent there or the strong spiritual atmosphere or a combination of both.

Life there is unhurried yet efficient. People are laid back but productive. They are also very occupied with their work but you can also find time for an hour long breakfast conversation. Whomever you meet and greet, will have a smile on their face and enough time for a short but comfortable conversation with you. I feel they value human connections a lot over other aspects of life but at the same time are very inward focused in terms of personality improvement. They don’t want to change you, but you feel a different person yourself around them. 

There are 5 kinds of people in Auroville — Guests, Volunteers, Newcomers, Aurovillians and Locals. About 50% of all are non-Indians. Guests are people like me who go there on a vacation, pay for their food and accommodation, do some activities there and come back. Volunteers work on different aspects of the society ranging from office accounts work to reforestation and body healing. In exchange, they get room and board. Aurovillians are the residents who have bought a house in Auroville and now spend time building up the society in whatever way they can. Newcomers is a one-year long status before you can become Aurovillians. Locals work there just like any other job and live either inside Auroville or in the nearby villages.

I arrived in Auroville as a guest and this is what I would recommend to first timers who just want to take a vacation to relax and chill for a couple of weeks. If you want to explore a different style of living, then maybe Volunteering for a couple of months is a good option for you.  


Living

 

I stayed at Vérité Guest House  which is an easy to miss place surrounded by trees. Most of the area inside is covered in green and the architecture of the place is simple yet tasteful. It runs purely on sustainable energy — we had our own Solar cells and a full blown wind mill. Rooms are simple, clean and functional. The intention of my trip was to sort myself out, figure out what to do next and find my purpose. And funnily enough my room’s name was Purpose. Other rooms were also interestingly named such as Humor, Gratitude etc.

There was a decent enough library which was, unsurprisingly, populated in majority by books on spirituality or about life from a 10000ft. view. There was a Guest Lounge where you could make your own tea/coffee, access the internet and just relax and talk to people. Vérité Hall was a big multipurpose hall where a lot of activities, which I am going to talk about later, took place.

The food was the rare combination of healthy and delicious. We were served vegetarian organic meals with some of the fruits and vegetables plucked right from the farm inside the premises. We ate together huddled around one big table. If not, you can always join anyone’s table for a good meal-time conversation. And since, it is less of a guest house and more like a community living, after meals, you wash your own dishes.

 The kitchen and indoor eating area

The kitchen and indoor eating area

There is no direct internet connection into your room, you have to go to the guest lounge and access it. This was the best thing that could have happened. Technology detoxification did me good, not to mention that I broke my smartphone on the trip as well. 

It was a no smoke, no alcohol, no drugs place. And frankly, I didn’t feel like taking any. The fresh air, good people, nice food were reasons enough to stay aware and in your senses. 

You don't carry cash around much for the simple reason that it is useless over there. They have the concept of Auro Card which is what you use to pay everywhere. It is basically a sort of card where you feed in some money and for every transaction, money is debited from that card.

Commuting is either by motorbike, bicycles or by foot in that order of preference. People do have electric bikes as well. The distances inside Auroville aren't great (usually around 2-4 kms from one point to another) but the roads aren't pucca and go uphill and downhill, so riding a bicycle or walking could become tiring after a while, thus a motorbike is what I'd recommend.


DOING

 

Since Auroville is a proper society of people and not just a tourist destination, it provides for its residents activities which engage them physically or mentally or both. I am a sucker for trying out new things, hence I took part in a lot of them and saw a lot of mini industries thriving inside. 

In the mornings, you could do group meditation or take part in one of the many classes of Yoga of different forms (Hatha Yoga in Iyengar tradition was the most common one in our guest house). One of the days, we attended a South Indian Cooking workshop. I enjoy cooking so it was fun to learn cooking from the locals. We made delicious Dosas, Chutney, Rice Pudding, Banana flower cootu and cutlets. 

Come afternoon, and you can visit the small industries like Swaram - a music instrument production space. These guys create their own new instruments and you could go in their workshop and see how they do it. If you have some skill that they can use, you can volunteer as well. And if you want to buy some, you can do that as well. 

The Bamboo centre was an incredible place. I never knew that Bamboo is such a useful plant. It grows really fast - up to 100 cm a day. It was thus used as a torture method in earlier days - tying up a prisoner above a growing Bambaoo, you can imagine the rest. It has strength of steel yet is very flexible - a quality that it teaches everyone of us - bend but do not break. You can eat it, make clothes with it which are better in material than cotton, make soap out of it, charcoal, houses and a thousand other things. It stop soil erosion much faster than any other plant and gives 30% more oxygen than other trees. They say that you can just live off Bamboo if you want. 

Evenings can be spent doing things like watching movies of all languages which are played daily inside the community theatre. There are dance parties - mostly Salsa and Tango. Or you can enjoy watching shows like Kathakali. If it is full moon, you can go for a moon bath and meditation.

There are a lot of therapies which keep on happening like the past-life regression therapy which I was interested in ever since I read Dr. Brian Weiss. It is basically a therapy where the healer takes you to your past life and tries to figure out parallels from that life to this one to solve any of the problems you have, not that I had any in particular. But, I eventually decided to ditch it as per recommendation of some people.

Sound Bath

I enjoyed two things specifically - Dance Space and Sound Bath. Allow me to elaborate on that. Sound Bath is where guys from Swaram bring in their instruments and give an aural experience that quite literally shakes you to the core. You lie down with your eyes closed forming one piece of a circle while Swaram does its magic. They start by playing a Sitar and then move higher with bringing in more instruments. And all this music moves around you as they move around in the circle with the instruments. Your body can literally feel the vibrations of the big chimes being played right over the top of your body. And goes without saying, these guys were masters of their art.

Dance Space is a form of improvised dancing where you lose your inhibitions since nobody's going to judge how or what you are doing. There are on instructions, no rigid form - you do what you want. It feels very liberating.

A lot of people go to Sadhana Forest to work on reforestation. Just like in my guest house, which uses completely sustainable resources of energy, Sadhana forest is building a way of living as we used to when we were in earlier societies —  the gatherer phase of humans.  

One afternoon, I even cooked lunch for all the people in the guest house - of course with the help of the Ammas and volunteers - people who diligently took notes of what I would need for cooking. I taught them how to cook proper Aloo Parathas, made Aloo Pyaaz Rasa and Vegetable Pulao. I was so glad and relieved to see that they enjoyed the food. They even had to put a sign "Each one take one" in front of the parathas to ensure everyone gets to eat at least one.  


PEOPLE

 

I’ve said this earlier, saying it now and will say it again in the future - the people you meet are going to make or break your travel experience or for that matter your day to day living. You could work in a shitty job and still feel happy if surrounded by nice and happy people - vice versa holds true as well. I was lucky enough to find nice and happy people in Auroville. I don’t know what it was about the place but most people I met there were genuinely content with their lives. Be it the guy who has stayed there for 22 years or a newbie who is just visiting the place to our auto rickshaw driver. Here are a few snippets about their lives:

Out of all the people whom I met there, no one had a bigger effect on my experience there than Paola, my friendly Mexican neighbour. She had returned from Australia after a year of study+work in Sustainable Development which she was very interested in. She taught me how easy it is to be happy and content with what you have, where you are and whom you are talking to. She told me Mexicans are like that - friendly and like to celebrate life. We used to spend time singing songs on the bike ride, waving and shouting Hola at everyone on the street.  Or we used to chill in the guest lounge telling each other stories - like the ones she told me how she sky dived solo with just a day of training. Or we would make tea and discuss Indian mythology. Or she would bring her skipping rope and show me some cool tricks. Or we would chill in our rooms, listening to music and showing each other pictures of our childhood. Once, we read our diaries to each other and it was interesting to read how the same incident could be viewed by two different people. Mexicans know Salsa like Punjabis know Bhangra. So, she helped me out with a few moves as a preparation for the Salsa party. 

In Auroville, I encountered the question — Is the purpose of life to be happy? I had met Dhanya, who was a very happy man in Holland. But, he was looking for more but didn't know what. He has been in Auroville for 22 years and seemed to be the calmest person I have met. We had good long chats about how to live life. I asked him about the ‘purpose’ of life and he gave me an advice which works well for me and I would like to share with you - We can either pick one thing and focus on it completely thinking this is the purpose of our life and constantly seek change. Or we can be OK with where we are and seek to do our best. And by doing this, our purpose will emerge. If we find ourselves in conditions which we don’t like, we can try and make the most of it and find the best out of it but if we can’t, we can try and find a way out of it. 

I guess, for us, happiness is not enough. We are always looking for something more. There will always be a conflict that arises in our minds. 

Ivana was a very funny Czech lady who was a budding painter and took our meditation classes. 
Ivana checked my heart coherence too which is a device used to track how well you are doing in meditation. Coco, a South African lady runs the art gallery in Auroville and she was such a sweet person who has finally started to like India.

Met Mila, spanish woman of 51, who had closed a book of her life and moved to India to open a new one. She said she is happy at Auroville and her happiness was effusing out of her infectious smile. A lot of people come to Auroville to unwind and explore a new way of living. Some of them have closed their earlier chapters of their lives and have moved here in hope of finding something new. 
  
Marcella, a Brazilian who has just sold off her car rental company told us stories about the death of the Brazilian presedential candidate in a flight crash and the conspiracy around it. Rajaveni, was a very funny lady who was in charge of the kitchen. She used to be a dancer and had toured the US in her younger days. Inge, Dutch, travelling in India for a long, long time and a damn good photographer. She told me about the Ultimate Frisbee competition that happens at the beach in Auroville. I never knew there were proper international Frisbee tournaments. 


Beach

If I am anywhere near a beach, I cannot not go in and take a swim. And since, the beaches at Auroville were much cleaner than the ones I have seen elsewhere, say Goa for an example, I spent an insane amount of time at the beach. They are less crowded and if you rise up early enough, you can find yourself to be the only one at the beach and soak in the morning sun which rises up from the sea and sets behind the trees. There is a decent surfing scene as well. By the end of my trip, I was totally tanned, sunburnt and happy. 

Marcella taught me a phrase in Spanish - Vamos a la playa! (Let’s go the beach, it is used whenever you venture out to do something interesting and adventurous). At the beach, Paola, being Paola, introduced herself to a few people and became friends with them. She even befriended a gang of Rajasthani boys with whom I played football.  

The evenings beach visits were very different from the morning ones. In the evenings, the dusk sky becomes a plethora of colors as if god’s own children had spilled bottles of color across it. Not sure if it was the darkness or the high waves but we found ourselves in reflective mood.

Afterwards, we used to go out for North Indian meals. These girls loved it and made a point about how Indians use the breads/rotis as forks to lift the food. I find it funny because I never thought of our eating habits like this before. Marcella wasn’t sure about having Indian food because she is not into spicy food. But, I talked her into it and it was a good decision. Sometimes, when you know you are doing something based on your knowledge (more than the other person), then you should take command and make a decision for the group without worrying about the outcome. You went in with the best of intentions and good heart and that is all that counts. 


Pondicherry

True that

The people in Pondy were nice too — I went there with Paola, Rajaveni and her small son Samaran. I roamed the streets and drank coffee as I waited for these ladies to get a haircut. As I sat there in the coffee shop and thought of how to thank the lady for the coffee, it didn’t come naturally. Anger and sadness comes naturally to us — whereas being happy is almost an effort. Gratitude is not a thing that comes naturally to us. I eventually did say that it was nice coffee. This simple appreciation was reciprocated in a loud and clear thank you sir which felt real. It feels great to give out positive energies — you get lots of them in return.

Lakshmi, The Ganesha Temple

Pondy has a nice enough promenade where we went. There, looking at the litter thrown around everywhere, Paola asked me why are the beaches so dirty and why do people not care about it. I think it is not just because people are not educated. I believe there is a deeper reason — we haven’t experienced economic prosperity, our basic needs aren’t met yet — maslow’s law, thus rest of the things such as behavior, culture etc just don’t come into our minds. This is obviously an inference from a result. 

Ganesha temple — we were told the story of the elephant Lakshmi, who is tired but still stands there day in and out. I found it sad but maybe likes doing what she does - blessing people in exchange for the food they give her.

Aurobindo Ashram is also located in Pondy where there is the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo. I am always amazed at how one person can yield so much control over the way so many people live their lives. For the sake of understanding it better, I bought a few books by Sri Aurobindo. The thing that I like about him is that to me, he feels like a poet first and a spiritual leader later. He had served in the army and written lengthy, beautiful poems, Savitri being the magnum opus. However, what impressed me most was his book praising Bankim Chandra's poetry. I took his fanboyism and respect for Bankim Chandra as a sign of humility from a great leader.


MatriMandir


With its construction beginning in 1968 and coming to completion 40 years later in 2008, Matrimandir is a magnificent structure. Other than the one at the top, I don't have more pictures of it but you should definitely look it up online to understand its beauty. It stands next to the Banyan Tree which is the geographical centre of Auroville. Matrimandir is an architectural wonder to behold with numerous golden discs covering the whole outer surface of the dome like structure. Everything is well maintained and you have to take permission to go inside especially when you are a first timer inside the mandir. It is named after the mother (matri, matre in french) since she had dreamed about setting up a place like this. Once you enter the mandir, you become aware of the quiet and calm that floats in the air - and first timers like me are also left awestruck.

The inside of the dome has water running down along its pillars. There are passages through which you move up a steep, spiral walkway to the inner chamber where people assemble to concentrate. You would be amazed to see what’s there — nothing. Well, nothing except a crystal ball which has a beam of sunlight falling upon it straight at the top. This sunlight alone provides for the light in the room. As you focus on the light and the ball, everything else seems to dissolve away. This beam of light then passes through the crystal and falls on another crystal ball which is placed in a pond, outside in the garden.

The dome is surrounded by 12 petal shaped structures each one of which has a meditation chamber of its own. And all of this is located inside a huge garden of unity which again has many smaller gardens. You can also go to the Banyan tree which has some good and powerful vibrations about it. Hugging and touching the tree to feel the vibrations is a common sight. Overall, it felt as if the visit to matri mandir helps to give a perspective on our place in the universe. But, I guess this experience is personal to me, others might feel differently. 


Mahabalipuram

Shore temple in Mahabalipuram is a place of importance which I've been reading about in my textbooks since my school going days. And since Mahabalipuram is an hour and a half away from Auroville, we decided to visit the place. It has some fabulous sculptures and the craftsmanship of the people of that time is breath taking. Mahabalipuram also has the cleanest beach I've been to in India - white sands, clear blue water and few people. Here are some pictures from the visit. 


A Day in the life

Time at Auroville flies very fast. Even though you feel like there is a lot of time to do things, it flies by you without making you feel restless or rushed. My usual day at Auroville used to begin with a knock on the door by Paola. She woke me up every morning before 6 so that we can go for meditation together. Half an hour of that and I preferred to catch up on my sleep. After about an hour of napping, we were served a breakfast of freshly cut fruits, curd, porridge, multi grain bread and home made jams of fruits which I had not even heard of. 

The rest of the morning we had to ourselves. We spent it in the guest lounge, telling each other stories of our lives. There was one time when we were chilling and sipping tea, we were making plans to go to Mahabalipuram and I started telling Paola about Indian mythology. While talking, it felt as if I am in love with our culture and country all over again. People from all over the world come to India thinking that it is the spiritual centre of the world but we fail to realise how culturally rich our history and our present customs are. 

Lunch was simple yet delicious — all organic food with great quantities of salad along with it. The non-Indian non-vegetarians eating with us said they would convert to vegetarian if they get this kind of food everyday. There was one particular old man from China who used to eat just white rice and vegetables. He didn’t speak English so our conversations were limited to smiles which was at times more than enough to understand his state of mind. 

 Outdoor eating are at Vérité

Outdoor eating are at Vérité

Sometimes, a siesta followed lunch. If not, there was always the option of going to the beach. Evenings were spent socialising, meeting new people during the various events and all the activities that kept on happening .

On most days, we visited the cafes inside Auroville, howling at people — “Hey Mate, join us”, drinking copious amounts of coffee which probably explains the aforementioned behavior. The coffee was great — it’s south india,  this is pretty much what you would expect. 

  Le Morgan Cafe

Le Morgan Cafe

There was one evening which I clearly remember. I was riding my bike under the moonlit sky, with open fields to my left and right and a dense space of trees ahead of me. It felt like a scene out of a Hayao Miyazaki movie with me as the main character. 

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac kept me company when I wanted to read something. And I couldn’t have picked up a better book. Even then, I spent more time meeting people and listening to their own personal stories. 

I wrote a lot on the trip — it helped me notice my thoughts. There used to be times when I wanted to write one thought, I used to start on it and then even before it was over, another thought would come to me. Like right now, I was thinking about some random email I got in the morning. Now, I’ve learnt to notice when my thoughts take me away from the task at hand. How to bring it back in the present is a much more difficult task which I have to learn.

As I was writing one evening sitting in the garden under an orange sky with sun peeping from behind the clouds, with sound from a session of Sound Bath leaking from inside the hall, I kept taking breaks to talk to people who came to say Hello to me. 

Each day’s diary entry felt like the perfect way to spend that day. It felt that I wouldn’t change a single thing if I could from that day. And I am grateful that I got a chance to spend my time like that. In fact, this is a line (or a version of this) I find in my diary often - “I am in a very good space right now”. "I feel content and blessed." "I am grateful for these days.”


Closing

Auroville is not a cult, though it can seem like it at first glance. It is simply a group of people who want to experience a new way of living by coming together and building a new culture and society from scratch without the conventional dividing issues such as color, nationality, language etc.

All the good things about Auroville doesn’t mean there is no problem with it. But, it is as close to a utopian society as I have ever seen. Also, my experience has been so good because I wasn’t doing any work over there. I think that people who actually work over there might have a slightly different version of Auroville than mine. But, even so, most people I met there were enjoying their lives and seemed content and at peace with where they were. 

This trip made me realise how a good vacation and travel especially alone is not about the places you see or the architecture. It of course does play a part in your overall experience but it is a lot about the people you meet, their stories and the friendships spanning across continents that you make along the way. It feels good when you know that across different cultures, the basic qualities for friendship are still the same — love, respect, trust and I was lucky enough to make a few friends along my journey. 


Notes to Self

Here are some of my notes to self during my time at Auroville. I hope they are of some use to you.

  1. Don’t rush into one moment from another
  2. Be in the moment, that moment is unique and will never come back
  3. Be unequivocal in your thoughts and speak what you are feeling, it helps solve a lot of things
  4. Let the possibilities of future problems not worry you in the present moment in case you can’t do anything to solve them right then.
  5. Don’t judge people for being different — more often than not, they have a reason to do what they do.
  6. Make yourself a schedule
  7. Focus on the task at hand and forget about the rest. One moment can only be occupied by one single task
  8. Sit in proper posture, use sunscreen
  9. Walk towards people to greet them with warmth in your heart, smile on your lips and eyes and no preconceived notions and an unjudgmental attitue and devoid of any -ve thoughts. greet them as they are already your friends
  10. Take small portions of food instead of wasting.
  11. You don’t have to agree with everyone to avoid conflict or continue small talk. This does not mean you have to contradict someone every time their opinion is different from yours. Choose your battles.
  12. The importance of universal human quality is the ability to make people smile and natural warmth. This is a universal quality which transcends boundaries and cultures so it is a good habit to develop this skill.
  13. Discover that one thing that will make you happy whenever, wherever. Paola’s was 'sharing'. Find yours.
  14. Easiest way to feel nice is to make others feel nice.
  15. ‘Big, Open heart’ came up in my conversations often.
  16. Don't rush yourself into planning something for the future while wasting away the present. Find a balance.

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