Today I got to validate the existence of a way of thinking that has continued to hold me back. I still cannot do a headstand on my own despite refining the fundamental poses that lead to this. So the teacher asked me to stay behind after class to practice a bit more. She taught me a different technique than my usual way of getting into an inversion. She asked me to lift one leg all the way up then lift the other, following the lifted leg. The moment both legs lift up, I falter, get super tense and end up falling back. She asks me to stop trying and instead sits me down and asks me why I think I am doing that.
As I thought about the answer, a wave of clarity swept over me. I always fall back because I make sure that my legs are ready to catch me when I do so. So I don’t lift but pull back. She says that I am unable to proceed because I continue to think of falling back when what I should think about is lifting up. It does not make sense to think about holding back when where I want to go is up. She assured me that I have all the foundation down pat and that my strength can lift me and keep me up there. I just have to shift my way of thinking.
Such a fitting metaphor to how it is at work now. I can’t think of holding back when the goal is to find order while upside down. Uncertainty is a big part of work’s reality and if I continue to shun and avoid being in uncomfortable situations, I will remain to be in a state of not ever realizing my fullest potential. It’s not time to aim for safe and certain. It is time to set sights higher and to stretch the capacity to get there. To do so creates a space where excellence and flow thrive amidst the chaos.
We often say we want to do things. We say it with much conviction because we think it really is what we want to do. But our actions speak otherwise. If we really wanted it, we would’ve done something about it. We would’ve taken steps to move that desire to do forward. This was today’s very clear reminder from Derek Sivers’ blog. Actions, not words, reveal our real values.
We say we want to be a better daughter but we rarely reach out to the folks. We say we want to be a better parent but we are not fully present when we are with the kids. We say we want to be a good friend but we don’t spend time catching up. We say we want to be a good partner but then we succumb to our quick temper. We say we want to succeed but do other busy work instead of those that add real value. The misalignment between what we think we want and what we actually do is a gap worth reflecting on.
Why do we do otherwise? Why do we not do what we said is important to us? Because these are the harder things. Because it takes effort to commit to. Because these leave us feeling vulnerable if they don’t work out. For the other future things that we think we want but do not really do anything about, it is worth asking whether these are really what we want to do. Do we want it badly that our soul yearns for it to the point where you can’t think and just do? Because if it does not move you that way, maybe it’s not really what we deeply long for. Hard reflections but questions worth asking ourselves everyday.
I have recently finished the book “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes”. A key takeaway is the truth about the power of a quiet mind. It is a mind that is not idle and passive in its quiet state. It is one that is like a hunter, active and ready to divert its attention on what it needs to focus on. It is a mind that is present, undivided and deliberate in sifting through what it is observing. It is alert but mindful not to pounce on the first stirrings. The space between attention and action is where the powerful mind thrives.
I’ve always followed what I deem to be a strong intuition. I prided myself that I can read people and circumstances well. I’ve been proven wrong and I’m thankful for all these instances that I was not right. It is a wake up call to constantly revisit my assumptions and if you know me well you know how quick I am to make such judgements. On the surface it is not obvious but sometimes I have made my mind up even before I have gotten my facts straight.
A quiet mind is one that I aspire for. As I see myself being faced with more and more decision making opportunities with the work that I do, it is imperative to know how to think. It is also important to be mindful of my tendencies and inclinations, accepting that they exist and that they sometimes color my judgement. And it is an everyday practice to keep the mind in check. We can only will this alert mind if we continue to nurture it through training while doing.
What is that we desire the most? Some have ready answers to this question, having known what they want to focus their energy and time on. Others are discovering it while dabbling in different things to figure it out. While some have resigned to just going with the flow since they think they don’t have the capacity to find out the answer to this or that they can’t afford to even think about this question since they just have to do what they do to make ends meet. It is a privilege to even ask this question. But it is worth asking everyday. Doing so inches us closer to that which we truly desire.
For the longest time I did not have a ready answer. Lately though clarity has been bestowed on me. Not as an accident but as a result of deliberate practice of asking what is it that I truly want. I realized that I want to create and build value in all that I do. And why this desire? It stems from my own need of being valued and a strong urge to use my highest potential for a greater good. Ultimately I realized that it rises from a deep longing to see the divine in all that I do.
This compass becomes the lens by which we see the world. It is the intention that directs our attention, guiding us as we choose what to focus on. Discovering it does not mean ceasing to ask questions. A constant revisiting and reclarifying is important to keep it within the realm of deliberate thought and action and not as a comfortable default. An openness to calibration as our context and circumstances shift is the vigilance needed to keep it as and active choice. And if we are not yet sure, let us be okay with a semblance of clarity, for now.
One of the things that I learned from running that I try to apply in work and life in general is the importance of process over goals. Goals are there as guideposts but they can be overwhelming and at times seem unreal. But what is available now for one to do is the day to day process of getting there. What actual tasks can I hold in my head and can do now to take me closer to where I want to be at? This is the process, building everyday habits to achieve what we set out to accomplish.
Focus on the process is harder at the start as you weave it into a routine. But as it becomes integral to your personal operating system you get better at it. The gains may be incremental but over time you get to see the progress steadily building up towards the goal that you set out to do. What is critical though is to continue to be mindful how you practice it so that it’s not just about doing tasks in autopilot but paying attention every single time for opportunities to optimize. There always is room to get better at it.
I want to do more of this process- centric thinking at work. Admittedly much can be improved here. I have yet to get to a certain rhythm so I can operate with some semblance of clockwork. Semblance because I have to embrace the fact that startups are by nature bereft with uncertainty. What may work then is to make room for this inevitability in the systems and processes that I set up for myself and my team. The challenge is not just how to operationalize but to thrive and flourish in a culture that integrates experimentation and rigor. Now how to do this. I don’t know yet but perhaps we can start by just showing up to the tasks that we said we would do everyday.
As I try out varying methods of meditation, I realized that there are various kinds of attention. I read about this too in the book “Search Inside Yourself”. There is the focused attention that one uses during meditation where the concentration is on the breath and on the various sensations that the body is feeling. There is also the open attention that is similar to close observation of everything around you. It is about taking things in through the senses without passing judgement. There is also the meta-attention or the attention on attention. It is the focus on where the attention goes.
We can combine these types throughout our day and it may manifest via various applications. The focused one I typically use to start the day. I try to experiment between a guided one and a quiet one and use either depending on how I am feeling when I wake up. The open attention I try to practice throughout the day as I actively listen, pay deliberate attention to what I am doing, savor what I eat or sense how certain things make me feel.
But it is not an easy thing to do with the many external and internal murmurs. There are way too many distractions to deal with and it is important to be mindful of what we take in. Setting filters for ourselves is necessary but we also have to make sure we revisit these filters for their relevance and context. This is where meta attention works as we try to pull the focus back to the present, observing its movement as the the day flows along. Allowing this attention to just gently hum in the background does wonders to presence.
My favorite part of the movie Wonder Woman was not the action-packed scenes but those that showed how powerful, statuesque, beautiful women raised and trained the young Diana. I want to be just like one of these strong Amazonas, exuding strength and confidence while remaining to be nurturing. They fight with as much passion as they love those they hold dearly. I wanna grow up just like them.
I had to grow up quickly given my circumstances and pretty much learned all that I know about adulting as I ambled along. It is a strength and stubbornness that was borne out of need. One of the things that worry me as I raise my children is that things are much easier for them and because of this they will grow up weak. That’s why I often remind them to figure things out and let them be so they can find their own stuff to do. We raised them to not need and want much, imbuing them with positivity and gentleness.
But sometimes I don’t think what I say or do is enough to equip them with the resilience that will allow them to thrive in the world. I don’t know any other way but to just show them through the daily practices that I do. From play to work to rest, each one hopefully communicating to my little ones that it is the process of gaining strength that is most important. I hope they will also learn to show up in all that they choose to do and in doing so they grow up to be the strong and compassionate individuals who bring value to the world.