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Music to the ears

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Music can change the world because it can change people – Bono.

How profound is this statement? Music can change people! Many of us can’t get through a day without having our daily dose of music. A day without our favorite tracks playing on our iPods or any other music player doesn’t appear complete. Am sure all of us have a varied interest and possibly depending upon the mood decide to go for one genre or the other.

Listening to music can be viewed in two ways. Either the music we want to listen to is chosen irrespective of or as-per the task at hand. This contrast became clear to me when, while working out in the gym I suddenly heard a slow romantic ballad playing over the gym audio system. I think the problem with such tracks in the gym is that, it makes you relaxed rather than charged-up up for the workout. If you want to workout harder and reach some goal a romantic ballad, I think, should’ve been the last choice. While I am not sure if there is any research to prove this however, I strongly believe that music has a strong impact on our psychology and physiology. Hence, we should choose music type based on the task we want to accomplish, especially when that task is important for us.

If one is planning to get in-shape and wants to make the most out of the gym workout then one is much better off listening to the track below rather than some slow romantic number

 

If one wants to get over a negative phase of life then, one shouldn’t listen to sad songs or slow songs but should select audio that makes one feel positive and motivated:

If one is looking for some peace of mind then one shouldn’t be going for psychedelic music and get disoriented, rather they should select something that is peaceful

If one wants to experience a state of trance, bliss or devotion then one should choose a qawwali or bhajans:

There is one more aspect to this entire suggestion related to music, that’s the loudness at which these songs are heard. Loudness also has its own role to play in helping us reach the stage psychologically and to affect our physiology. All music cannot and should not be heard at the same level of volume. For example, a motivational work out works best when heard at a higher volume, whereas a soothing or peaceful music would work best at moderate to low volume levels.  I would encourage everyone to try this idea of choosing the music track based on the activity to be completed. This might just take your performance at the task up by few notches. Music is indeed one of the most powerful things in the world. It has the ability to control our emotions. We feel the sadness when you hear a sad song.

Hence choose your music wisely!

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Strength is life, Weakness is death

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My mother has the habit of sending quotes along with her good morning messages on WhatsApp. One morning she sent this popular quote credited to Swami Vivekananda which says “Strength is life, weakness is death” I’ve heard this message umpteen number of times yet, for some reason this time it hit me hard. Thoughts started to wander about what is strength, how do we define it? What makes one strong and what makes one weak? Why is strength life and why is weakness death? What is life? What is death? Where does strength or weakness stem from? What can increase strength and reduce weakness?

It became rather confusing and difficult for me to comprehend the seemingly innocuous quote. I started asking around what the actual meaning of this quote was. Started searching on the internet. However, I couldn’t find a satisfactory explanation. I decided to explore it myself.

There is physical strength and weakness and then there is psychological strength and weakness.

Physical strength is relatively easier to understand although it’s difficult to put a definite measure to it. I can see why strength is life in this case. If the physique is too weak, it becomes unsuitable to sustain regular activities that we associate with being alive. Hence strength is certainly life. Yet, time wears down the physical strength, weakens it and eventually death is inevitable! Physical strength we know, increases with repeated use of muscles, limbs against incremental pressure or load and with eating the right diet. Physical strength reduces with excessive rest, illness or improper diet.

Psychological strength on the other hand is not easier to comprehend and certainly not possible to measure. What does psychological strength mean? Does it mean the ability to be calm? Ability to maintain sanity despite vicissitudes of life? Not getting perturbed by setbacks in life? Being hopeful? Does it mean the ability to be resolute? Ability to overcome obvious/non-obvious physical weakness? Ability to accept and deal with whatever unexpected things life throws at us? Deal with shortcomings? Liberty? Having faith in one’s own abilities? I don’t know!

We could probably try to understand this from what is not and look at what is psychological weakness and how to reduce weakness which could possibly increase strength? What is psychological weakness? Being depressed? Being envious? Being greedy? Succumbing to Desires or Selfishness or Fear? Having Self-Doubt? Lust? Succumbing to shortcomings? Does that mean overcoming these factors would obviously lead to psychological strength?

Does that mean, being positive, being calm or selfless or being resolute, fearless, hopeful, accepting and unperturbed in the face of setbacks – Life?

Does that mean being envious, greedy, desirous, selfish, fearful and full of self-doubt is Death?

What is life? What is death?

Life happens by accident to all of us. It sticks on to us till Death. We could do something, or we could do nothing, yet life would continue to stick-on with its idiosyncrasies. Of course, one could end their life prematurely however that’s when one succumbs to their own psychological weaknesses. Thus, if life would anyway stick on to us till death we might as well live it and enjoy it. In fact, instead of entirely surrendering to life’s idiosyncrasies we might as well live it on purpose, live it at our own terms. Live exploring our talents, being hopeful and positive, struggling through troubled times, helping each other, socializing is life! Isn’t it? On the other hand, withdrawing into a cocoon, afraid of exploring our talents, depressed and negative, succumbing to troubled times, hating others, contracting ourselves to being self-oriented/obsessed can’t be called living, if we are not living we are only waiting for life to end on its own volition – i.e. death. Isn’t it?

When we are strong we do the right things, when we are weak we commit mistakes. It is weakness, says the Vedanta, which is the cause of all misery in this world. Weakness is the one cause of suffering. We become miserable because we are weak. We lie, steal, kill and commit other crimes, because we are weak. We die because we are weak. Where there is nothing to weaken us, there is no death nor sorrow. We are miserable through delusion. Give up the delusion and the whole thing vanishes. Similarly Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)

Thus psychologically strength is indeed life and weakness is indeed death! Yet physical strength cannot be undermined as a weak and sick physique might prevent the psychological strength from manifesting. That’s why Swamiji says “How will you struggle with the mind unless the physique be strong?” Hence the need for cleanliness, exercise and proper diet to maintain a healthy physique. The physique probably then unlocks a path to peep into the mind.

Be healthy, be fit, meditate, be happy, be positive, explore talents, connect with people, help others, expand your social circle, recover fast from setbacks, work – that’s lifehqdefault

Caste in Cement

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Dr BR Ambedkar wrote a book called “Annihilation of Caste”.

Can’t annihilate caste. Caste is more than just a lifestyle. In fact, I think that the Battle to annihilate caste is a losing one. When I say caste is a lifestyle, I don’t mean it as some sort of acquired taste based on the economic status of an individual. Rather, I mean it as something that has become a natural habit, so natural that it becomes ingrained in the individual’s DNA. I know this might appear a bit archaic idea and not particularly progressive however, look at the last 70 years of our attempt to annihilate caste. If anything, it has only cemented the idea of caste even more in the minds of the younger generation. Those who give up the idea of caste and try to be caste neutral (for lack of a better word) would anyway subconsciously adopt practices that only differentiates them from the other.

I think, before we talk about annihilating caste it’s essential that we understand what it encompasses. Caste dictates the diction of the language we speak, caste dictates the jobs that we could covet, caste dictates our food habits/cuisine, dictates the deities we worship and how we worship, dictates the festivals we celebrate and our traditional attire, dictates marriage rituals and many more such day to day things; In fact, so disparate are these habits that here one man’s food is indeed another man’s poison. Thus, I believe, caste forms a very integral part of an individual’s identity. Annihilating caste is akin to annihilating a large part of an individual’s identity, hence it hasn’t been an easy task to achieve this goal set by no lesser an individual than Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar. I see people getting appalled by the idea of Indians travelling abroad carry their caste

Indian_Caste_System

identities with them. What’s so appalling about it? It is such an integral part of an individual’s identity, it shouldn’t be surprising if Indians who travel or settle abroad also carry their caste along. I remember reading an article by the historian Dipankar Gupta, where he says that people from lower caste oppressed for ages, are not in a hurry to convert themselves to an upper caste even if they were given a chance to do so. This is very interesting to note, because why would an individual from an oppressed caste leave an opportunity to escape all that and convert to a caste which is privileged? Gupta points out that so strong is this caste identity that a person belonging to it strongly identifies with it, takes pride in its history, it’s culture, takes pride in its own heroes idolize, and they also take pride in the contribution of their respective community towards the country’s success.

There are individuals who try to live caste neutral, they have often been blamed to be too westernized and disrespectful of the Hindu ethos. This also goes in conjunction with our general distrust in many things western which I will cover in a different blog. The emancipated idea of caste espoused in our scriptures, where caste is linked with action or karma and not birth is very difficult to understand and implement. So, what we would have to live with is this unfortunate idea of caste linked with birth!

Does that mean that we can’t do anything about the discrimination that the individuals from some castes face?

Does that mean we can’t ever get rid of this system of reservation that seems to cripple meritocracy?

No, it doesn’t mean that at all. This is where I think we should train all our effort on eliminating caste-based discrimination and not the caste. When an individual’s identity is not threatened, ridiculed or questioned then the individual’s willingness to accept other identities without discrimination becomes relatively easier. In fact, this is what we see in private sector that’s still hasn’t yielded in any way to reservation, people from various caste backgrounds purely on the basis of their merit get selected to work for the corporate. No one cares or bothers about which caste or religion that individual comes from, all they care about is whether they are contributing to the common goal of the team/organization. However, when the individual goes back home or has his meal he sticks strongly to the background that he comes from, no one tries to prove that their habit is superior to the others or that their habit is better than the others. When a manager evaluates an employee, he does so purely on the basis of merit and performance and not because of that individual’s caste. This is the type of society that we should target to create. We’ve to accept that our society is pluralistic in more ways than one. It will continue to have different castes which would’ve disparate habits and yet we have to also accept that no caste is superior to the other no habit is inferior to the other no matter how contradictory it might be.

While I said what I said, I am not oblivious of the history of discrimination suffered by certain castes and some out-castes. A discrimination that has been a sore to which we have tried to apply the balm of reservations with limited to no success. In fact, I feel, reservation might have helped a small percentage of the historically disadvantaged communities to emancipate themselves only economically, however I don’t think it has managed to do much as far as their standing in society is concerned. If anything, it has only deepened the divide especially as jobs become lesser and difficult to get. I am also aware that historically there has been a caste hierarchy based on purity of one and the impurity of the other. Yet I think caste is a difficult and complex aspect to get rid-of. I feel if we focus on annihilating caste eventually what we would end-up doing is create a new caste hierarchy where what’s on the top today would just be replaced with what we have at the bottom. Instead if we just focus on the issue of hierarchy, social discrimination without challenging or hating any of the castes, we might make a faster progress. In this of course people from all the castes would’ve to forgive and forget some of the atrocities meted out or received. This is a given, because this would have been required even the day when caste would’ve been annihilated.

 

 

Am I Good Enough


The problem with insecurities is that it has a characteristic of snowballing into something uncontrollable and big. Once an insecurity germinates in our mind it is best to nip it in the bud. Any time spent in watering the bud, even if accidentally, can be dramatically dangerous for the wellbeing of the individual. In fact, insecurities have been known to have many at its gun point including some very well-known and seemingly successful personalities. In fact, it has a very impressive head count.

To be born as a human means to be born with many vulnerabilities, fragilities and shortcomings.  I consider it to be the beauty of life or nature that it has this inherent characteristic to balance things. Where it gives us strengths it balances by giving us weaknesses, where it gives us opportunities it balances by giving us adversities and so on and so forth and between these pairs of extremes is that beautiful conundrum called life that keeps vacillating between these extremes. Life, thus, is like a series of never-ending struggles. Most of the times our fiercest struggle is against our own internal demons. These internal demons are so powerful that they could make an external situation appear insurmountable.   I think the most menacing of internal demons or human fragilities is ‘Insecurity’. Which means our fiercest and longest struggle for a lifetime is against ‘insecurities’. Although, I must also say that insecurity is a great leveler, as it afflicts just about everyone without discrimination. Insecurities! There is no end to the list of things that we as humans could be insecure about. Thus, how individuals deal with these insecurities is what becomes the sole factor in determining whether we would be happy, sad, successful, failures, contented, depressed or even suicidal. There are many who have fallen prey to their own insecurities and have surrendered their and lives meekly to it.

Where do these insecurities come from? identifying, accepting and dealing with our insecurities are no easy task. Insecurities come from

  • Comparisons
  • Rejections
  • Failures

What are we usually insecure of? Interestingly whatever we identify ourselves with could be the source of our insecurities. For example, I identify myself with my car and if I see someone else with a bigger car I feel insecure. I think insecurities have to do with:

  • Look
  • Body
  • Intellect
  • Education
  • Material Possessions

Yet, if you look at it, without comparison, rejection or failure there is no improvement, no growth and no learning. It could be safely concluded that insecurities are unavoidable. So, the question should not be about ‘how to avoid insecurities’ the question should be about ‘how to deal with our insecurities’. To deal with insecurities we primarily need to deal with the thoughts we tend to have about insecurities. To deal with the thoughts we have about insecurities, we need to understand the characteristics of these thoughts:

They are addictive and tend to snowball

Once thoughts of our insecurities start filling our mind, they are so addictive, we tend to keep dwelling about it again and again and again. We become helpless as more and more thoughts of our insecurities keep rushing in and we feel ok to stay with them for longer periods of time. Also, if we started with thoughts on one insecurity and dwelled on it for some time, soon thoughts about some other insecurity start rushing in and before we realize it snowballs out of control into some massive monster that we find hard to control. However, like any other addiction, you cannot give it up bit by bit. It’s all or nothing game. Also, like any addiction, it’s a lifestyle thing. Once a thought about insecurity strikes us it’s best dropped at once. If it is difficult to drop them then, its essential that we alter out lifestyle to prevent those insecurities from taking control of us. For example, if an individual has had a breakup that has exposed some of the internal insecurities then it is advisable to alter whatever the individual was doing when in the relationship to prevent those thoughts about insecurities from striking back. Like take a different route to office, drink different, meet different set of people, develop new pass times.

They are low energy predators and thus action arresters

Thoughts about our insecurities strike when we are low on energy. The fact that they are themselves energy sappers also makes the matters worse as they ensure we stay in a state of low energy and hence these thoughts continue to feed on it. Thus it’s essential to break this vicious cycle and raise our energy levels by engaging in some rigorous physical activity which could get the adrenaline pumping and also release mood uplifting hormones which tend to increase the level of activity pulling an individual into high energy zone. Thoughts about insecurities are very difficult to strike at this state. Engaging in new activities, especially physical in nature help a lot. Thus, many people after a bout of depression tend to take to gym or long distance running or photography which are mood enhancers as they are high energy activities that make it difficult for insecurities to come back.

They appear real and thus they instill fear

We strongly believe in our insecurities and thus any thoughts about our insecurities always appear real. However, they are just as real or false as our abilities and the thoughts about our abilities. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. As we continue to fuel thoughts about our insecurities they tend to become solid believable images and appear real. We become serious about them and they become insurmountable mental blocks. We need to realize that at the end of the day this is just an image and it can be changed. What matters is whether we believe in these images. Therefore, we need to learn to take life a bit easy, be able to laugh at our insecurities and build an image about ourselves which is favorable to us. Knowing the fact that everybody has their own insecurities, is one way to calm ourselves down. We must accept that we can’t be good at everything and bad at nothing. We need to be able to laugh and joke about our drawbacks and shortcomings which basically beak the image we tend create about our insecurities.

Appreciate the capabilities you have and also appreciate the shortcomings. Learn to embrace yourself along with all the shortcomings. Feel happy that everyone suffers from insecurities. Do not dwell on it much, keep moving, keep the energy high, break the worry habit and replace mental images of insecurity with favorable images of strength, parity and Happiness. That’s the only way of leading a happy and fulfilled life.

TroughFic

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I’ll start with a blunt statement. Governments/State Departments around the world have no incentive in reducing traffic. An explosive statement like that needs to be backed with strong logic. Do I have one? Let me explain. First let’s examine the reasons for Traffic Congestion

  • Lack of infrastructure which means lack sufficiently motorable, well maintained and wide roads
  • Too many vehicles on the road at the same time, including public, private and pooled transport
  • Poor Civic Sense, frequent lane changing, scant respect for rules, road rage
  • Sufficient Parking space
  • Less reliance on Public Transport

Now let’s look at what benefits the Authorities:

  • Car/vehicle sales are a measure of robustness of the economy and all effort is made for increasing the volume
  • More sale of vehicles means greater tax revenue both in terms of sales tax or road tax
  • More the traffic, lower the mileage given by a vehicle
  • Lower the mileage of a vehicle more the consumption of fuel which are all sold by State owned companies and tax revenue as per the tax collected on each liter of fuel sold
  • More the traffic more the chances of traffic rule violation and hence greater revenue for Traffic Police

Yet for ordinary citizens like us, traffic is a huge problem. Why do I say so? It’s because traffic increases travel time this increases stress levels and lowers productivity. There is a higher chance of road rage and accidents. More traffic leads to low mileage obtained from the vehicle thus increasing expenditure on fuel and car maintenance. Of course, traffic leads to loss of productive hours, impacts mental health and certainly impacts personal relationships.

Yet there is a subjectivity to the entire situation. This I say because, it’s foolish to imagine roads without any traffic at all! Then the question is ‘how much traffic’ is acceptable? What average vehicular speed would be considered as optimal, comfortable, plausible and acceptable? Is there a standard vehicle vs motor-able road ratio?

What are the possible solutions? All the large-scale solutions involve an expenditure by the authorities/state which include Improving infrastructure, improving Public Transport and stricter enforcement of rules. Albeit the growth of vehicles on the road could far outpace improvements in any of these factors. While authorities wake-up and start attaching value to loss of productive hours due to traffic or human life and ‘quality of life’. We are left to ourselves to figure out what works for us as an individual or as a community and follow those practices for peace of mind and happiness.