Factory Reset

Factory Reset

How often have you experienced your laptop fan speeding up and becoming a constant background hum as the gadget eventually overheats? The first thing we do is often check the task manager to see if any unnecessary processes may be terminated. If that doesn’t work, we can always resort to powering down and restarting the device, or utilise the disc defragmenter to ensure that space is being allocated efficiently. If the issue remains after these measures, it’s possible that the device has been infected by a virus or other harmful software, at which point we’ll have to resort to drastic measures like formatting the disc or even a “Factory Reset” to wipe it clean.

What if this is happening in our own lives? What if we are feeling tired and worn out, our feelings are running high, and the fan is going full blast to cool us down? How do we decide which processes in our task manager to end and which ones to keep running? How do we figure out which processes use the most CPU, memory, and disc space within our body? How do we know if our operating system, our culture, has not been exposed to bad software, i.e. if we’re with people or things that aren’t good for us? The way we started this journey and set up our cultural compass, is it still showing the true north? Are we becoming more like institutions and living in a culture we didn’t believe in before?

Where is our nuclear option to help us get back to the original factory setting, i.e. setting us back to our original and natural self?

I have been trying to find answers to some of these questions, and this blog shares some of my learnings and experiences.

After taking an introductory meditation course in October 2022, mentioned in my blog The Pursuit of Happiness, I took the conscious decision to meditate daily. This was to find out if the wonderful feelings I got from my first meditation session were just one-off or if they would be long lasting. I was becoming more comfortable with the daily meditation for past four months and the positive impact, and so I signed up for an Advanced Meditation Course, organised by the Art of Living Foundation.

This is where I found the factory reset button.

Silence 🙈🙉🙊

We live in a digital age, so we expect a digital experience with one screen and one click, like a “Google Search” interface, that gives us access to everything we need, such as a world-wide web search, Google Photos, Google Calculator, etc. Silence is that single point, one-click, interface to the self that gives you access to shutdown/restart, disc defragmenter, system optimisation, removing unused programmes, reclaiming and fixing the bad sector storage and memory, and resetting yourself to factory settings.

I realised in the course that silence in words, in actions and in thoughts, is that answer that can help cleanse our mental system.

With over 12 to 15 hours of meditation each day for three days, the online course was fairly demanding. There were breaks in-between, but they were useless to me because of the 5.5-hour time difference between the UK and India. For example, after the lunch break in India, there was a rest period, but it did not help me because it was 9:30 am in the UK. In a way, this was to my advantage because the course used to stop at 8 p.m. IST, when it was only 14:30 p.m. GMT in the UK. This gave me more time to reflect on my life and spend time with myself because it was too early to go to bed.

The main activity of the advanced course was three days of silence. So, what exactly is silence, what exactly is meditation, and why was silence associated with the advanced meditation course?

It should be noted that while maintaining silence was a predefined rule, learning how to maintain silence was not the course’s goal. The course taught students how to let go of things, people, emotions, and their unnatural selves. The course’s main theme was to make one believe that he or she is nothing and thus let things go.

The brilliance of the teacher or guru makes it appear simple and easy to accomplish, even though it is actually difficult. Once one lives the following two steps, the letting-go state follows naturally.

  1. The first step is to make ourselves feel hollow and empty, this is to make us realise that we cannot hold on to anything even if we want to
  2. At the second step, we learn to give up control and rely on a higher power to guide our life, i.e. surrendering yourself

Letting-go is the destination, the above two are the roads that takes us to the journey to that goal.


The realisation that we are all essentially hollow and empty has many positive outcomes: (1) we become more open to novel experiences; (2) we are less likely to hold prejudices towards others; and (3) we are able to reject the idea of living in a hierarchical society, in which one group is superior to another.

Surrender 🙏

The challenges/problems we face in life can be categorised into three broad categories:

  1. Most difficulties can be classified as temporary. There’s no need for us to stress too much about them because they’re only temporary.
  2. Then there are problems that won’t go away any time soon, they are of permanent nature. We might as well just accept them as inevitable and go on; there’s nothing we can do about them.
  3. Some of these difficulties, whether they are short-term or long-term, worry us and give us something to think about. Surrendering to a greater power, a supreme energy, a god or a guru, boosts our confidence in our abilities, provides us strength to face adversity, and brings out our best.

When we accept that we will be taken care of no matter what happens, our outlook improves and we become more willing to take chances, and learn to live in peace.

The Energy Centres ⚡

Before we discuss further the link between meditation, silence, feeling empty and surrender, it is important to know about the energy centres within our body.

If you could feel the feelings in our throats, you’d know that when we’re overwhelmed with joy or sorrow, our throats are the first place we go to express them. Feelings of love or pain cause a heaviness in the chest area, while anger causes a similar sensation to settle on the forehead. Why? This is due to the fact that our seven chakras (or energy centres) each supply a unique form of energy, such as love at the chakra located near the heart, gratitude and grief at the chakra located in the throat, anger at the chakra located in the space between the eyebrows, and so on. There are 108 chakras in total (with the 109th located directly above the crown of the head), but the seven major ones are the ones that really matter.

Those who are filled with hatred are simply suffering from an imbalance of energy in their heart chakra. Ones having anger issues are due to lack of positive energy for the chakra in between the eyebrows that gives access to knowledge, awareness or alertness.

The Chakras – The Energy Centres in Our Body

Hence, it is important that these energy centres are balanced properly and are in healthy state. The idea is to remove any blockages and increase the energy within these energy centres, so that we can live with positive emotions.

Meditation 🧘‍♀️🧘‍♂️

This is when focusing on your breath and meditation might help. Meditation strengthens, expands, and restores the equilibrium of these energy centres. Those who meditate regularly are seen as more loving and calm by those around them.

There are subtle but significant differences between Eastern and Western meditation practises. When practising meditation in the West, one just enters a meditative state without any preparatory breathing exercises, but in the East, this is not the case. When practising eastern meditation, Prānāyam or breathing exercise is important, one breathes in Prān (= energy), then relaxes as one breathes out, eventually entering a state of emptiness.

With the increase in energy levels of these centres, the negativity and bad emotions gradually dies down. As darkness is nothing more than the absence of light, hatred is the absence of love. As the energy level of the chakra associated with love energy rises, hatred fades.

Throughout the course, the teacher emphasised that meditation should be effortless, subtle, and simple in nature. Meditation is not about focusing on an object, a phrase (Aum), a thought, or avoiding thoughts; rather, it is about elevating oneself to a podium from which to observe thoughts as they pass. It is the restoration of calm and relaxation of the body in such a way that there is no one else but you, and positioning yourself as nothing. This is accomplished through guided meditation in the company of an accomplished teacher/guru.

The Silence Rule 📜

Everything we do has either benefits or trade-offs. When we choose a path to gain or benefit, we should be aware of what we have chosen to forego as a trade-off.

Silence highlights the biggest trade-off of our life. We devote time to everyone but fail to devote time to ourselves. Being alone, away from family, friends, work, and digital devices, forces us to converse with ourselves. Solitude brings one closer to the true self, which is free from ego (ego = unnatural self). We are taught from childhood to work hard in order to develop our personalities. Personality is how others perceive us in various situations, and it can be far from reality. The word is derived from the latin root word persona, which means a mask or a literary character who represents the author’s voice. Do we want to live our lives as defined by others, or do we want to decide for ourselves what good looks like for us? Silence and solitude begin to peel away the outer layers, allowing one to see the true nature of the being.

Once I began to connect with or see my natural self, it started to become clear to me that the titles we hold, such as “Principal Enterprise Architect,” etc., do not reflect my true self and only hinder my ability to integrate and live in harmony with the universe and others. In effect, meditation leads to silence, and silence leads to our natural self, which eventually leads to the realisation that we are nothing more than a part of the universe, the supreme energy.

It gets even better: we realise we are the universe, just as the seed comes from the tree, and the tree comes from the seed.

Other learnings 🎓

The teacher taught many other things e.g., the amazing principles of Art of Living. These principles help us to not judge others, and also not allow others to judge us. The principles teach us to avoid judging situations and to accept life as it comes, to live in the present moment.

The course participants pretended to be eight-year-olds and drew a few pictures with crayons, giving us the impression that we were as innocent as children and free of the baggage of titles and names.

I loved the five S’s that were taught during the course,

  1. Nothing is possible without hard work and perseverance. It is critical to perform the Sādhanā, which entails working hard towards a goal and giving everything to achieve it.
  2. Serving without expecting anything in return, to the community, humanity, or the universe, is the real service or Sevā. The best Sevā is to share knowledge and teach.
  3. One of the most important things is to be in the company of right things, right people and right knowledge, which is known as Satsang
  4. To attain knowledge it is important to reconnect to the supreme energy and this is only possible via Silence
  5. We all need a mentor or a guide that shows us the true path, whether it is a spiritual journey or professional. Without surrendering under a Sadguru, a compassionate mentor, it is not possible to find our way to success. It does not matter who we believe in, but surrendering ourselves is important.

The course also taught about the four pillars of knowledge i.e., viveka, vairagya, Shatt-Sampatti and Mumukshatva, and the six real wealths, kshamā, dama, shraddhā, titikshā, uparati and samādhān, more detailed information can be found here.

Summary 🦉

One should follow a daily routine of yoga (Padma Sādhanā), PrāNāyam and meditation (Sudarshan Kriya) to cleanse the subtle body (non-physical aspect of the body for mental well-being), along with the routine physical exercises to improve the health of the gross (physical) body.

The last four months have been transformational for me. I have written quite a few blogs and have also managed to write poetries in Gujarati language, possibly this can be attributed to the increase in creativity due to the increase in energy level of the 2nd chakra or cleansing of overall nervous system, nādi shuddhi. I feel calmer inside and more at peace with myself. This allows me to take on new challenges in life without fear of failure.

During the course, I experienced silence firsthand. While it was difficult, I feel great and my breathing has greatly improved. It may be early days, but I promise to make it a habit and return in a few days to share my experience if the techniques taught in the course and tools provided make a difference in my life.

I should also mention what the teacher said at the end. The person who completes the course gains tremendous energy and can request for anyone to be blessed. I have requested that each of you and your families be blessed.

As the course’s instructor, Dr. Divya Kailash, put it, divinity = love. Please pray for me to continue on this path of divinity, i.e. love. My actual journey begins now.

West 🏗️ Meets East 🕉️🧘‍♂️- Neem Karoli Baba

What do the late CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, and the well-known American epidemiologist, Larry Brilliant, all have in common?

West 🏗️ Meets East 🕉️🧘‍♂️- Neem Karoli Baba

They all had the same spiritual guru from the Himalayas, called Shri Neem Karoli Baba, also known as Baba or Maharaj ji. Surprised to know?

As Steve Jobs said in his famous Connecting the Dots speech at Stanford. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something, your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

Looking backwards – the story of the dots starts with Larry Brilliant.

💉 Larry Brilliant

Larry Brilliant is a physician, epidemiologist, and public health expert, who, along with his wife Elaine, worked with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to eradicate smallpox. He is the founder of The Seva Foundation, which works to prevent blindness in several developing countries.

In 1969, Larry, as a non-official doctor, accompanied a group of people to visit Alcatraz Island to help a pregnant woman from the American Indian tribes when they forcefully captured the Island. After the US forces re-captured the Island, Larry became famous in the media. This gave him a role of a doctor in the movie Medicine Ball Caravan. The cast was paid for an airline ticket to India. Larry and others encashed the money and took a tour from Europe to India. They ended up in humanitarian aid due to a cyclone in Eastern India and Bangladesh.

Brilliant somehow arrived at a remote ashram at Kainchi Dham near Nainital, which was headed by Baba Neem Karoli Bagh. One day the baba gave Brilliant a mission to leave the ashram and join World Health Organisation (WHO) to help eradicate smallpox. Brilliant wasn’t an epidemiologist or a doctor, but baba used to call him ‘Dr. America’. He was refused the job at WHO a few times, and baba sent him back to New Delhi every time. Finally, he approached the WHO to get any role in the organisation just to keep the baba happy, and he was hired as an administrative assistant.

In the 1970s, India was a poor country and Brilliant would have been termed an outsider. Still, the guru and the disciple went on a mission that impacted billions and killed more than 500 million people worldwide. Indians then believed that smallpox was caused by the goddess ‘Sitala Devi’; hence, it was also connected religiously. With no mass media, an extremely high infection rate with every individual infecting seven others, a large landscape, poor infrastructure and low education, this was an almost impossible task to achieve.

But when science, religion and spirituality come together, everything is possible. Over the next few years, Brilliant helped lead a team of 150,000 people from 170 countries to work together to wipe out the last traces of the disease.

📱 Steve Jobs

Baba has influenced and changed the lives of many. Disciples who were previously sworn to the corporate world are being drawn to and have started believing and practising spirituality. Larry Brilliant was a good friend of Steve Jobs (co-founder and CEO of apple). After a series of failures, Steve Jobs was in search of some eternal peace and motivation, so he turned to his friend Larry Brilliant who advised him to go and meet Baba.

In 1974, Steve Jobs travelled to India. However, he was too late, as Baba had passed away. Despite the unforeseen circumstances, Steve decided to stay at the ashram for a while and spend time with the spirit of Baba, learn his teachings and meditate. After a seven-month stay in India, Steve returned to America and eventually started Apple Inc. in 1976.

After Steve Jobs had stayed in India, he mentioned that he had realised how important it is to have intuition.

👥📚 Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg in the year 2015, during a conversation with India’s PM Modi, mentioned how Steve Jobs, Mark’s mentor, persuaded Mark to visit the temple/ashram of Neem Karoli Baba (watch the first 1min 48sec of the video here). This was at the time when Facebook was in serious trouble. Initially, Mark only planned to be there for a day, but he eventually stayed there for a couple of days.

🎭 Julia Roberts, 🏏 Virat Kohli, and many others!

Julia Roberts visited India in 2010 to shoot her movie Eat Pray Love. After that, Julia Roberts became a practising Hindu. In one of her interviews, she said that her life-changing event was when she saw Baba Neem Karoli’s photograph.

Everyone has their doubts when it comes to myths and legends, more particularly spiritual leaders. However, when a miracle happens to one of your close ones or an idol you look up to, you start questioning whether spirituality is legitimate or not.

Why do high performers like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Julia Roberts, Larry Brilliant, etc., from the western corporate world travel to India and have their lives turned upside down by meeting these mystics? It raises the question of whether the materialistic and corporate environment is sufficient or to succeed, we need to extend ourselves to the spiritual dimension as well?

Shri Neem Karoli Baba – An Introduction

Neem Karoli Baba was a guru and devotee of the Hindu deity Hanuman. He was born in the early 1900s and is considered one of India’s most revered spiritual leaders. Many of his followers believe that he is the incarnation of Hanuman, as he has performed many miracles. His teachings emphasise the importance of love, devotion, and selfless service. Baba’s teachings were said to be simple and universal. He would often preach, “sab ek” meaning all is one. Baba taught in a highly personalised and non-traditional way, reflecting the deep devotion to the bhakti path, i.e. liberation via devotion.

Baba was once in the first-class section of a train. Baba did not have a ticket when the ticket checker came. Then Baba was asked to get off the train at the next station, ‘Nib Karoli’. Baba sat at a distance by burying his stick in the earth. Officials told the train to move, and the guard waved the train off, but the train didn’t move even an inch. After many tries, the train still didn’t work, so a local judge who knew Baba asked officials to apologise to Baba and bring him inside in a respectful way. There were also people on the train who agreed with the judge. From then on, Baba was called Neem Karoli.

Baba has many ashrams and followers around India and some in America, his most popular ashram being Kainchi Dham (which was visited by Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg).

Miracles, by definition, are events that cannot be explained by natural laws or scientific principles and, therefore, cannot be verified or disproved. Everyone has different beliefs, values, and worldviews until something astounding happens right in front of their eyes. He manifested many siddhis (powers), such as being in two locations at once or putting devotees in samadhi (state of meditative consciousness) at the touch of a finger. Neem Karoli Baba has performed many miracles, and a few of them have been captured in the book Miracle of Love by Ram Dass.

The Legacy

Even though Maharaj ji physically left us on September 11, 1973, his devotees believe he is still improving people’s lives. He has left behind a vast legacy, some of whom we recognise and others we do not. A baba in the Himalayas was instrumental in eradicating smallpox and saving millions of lives, but we are too preoccupied with our lives to comprehend this. By nature, we in the corporate world are profit driven and have lost our purpose. Spirituality helps us reconnect. However, the irony is we now know of baba ji because of the corporate world. Would you have read this article if this article was not connected to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, food for thought?

About the Authors:

Bhavin Shukla has been working as an IT Consultant in the data space for more than 20 Years. As a Data and Analytics professional, he has worked extensively for years on complex IT Transformation Programmes within Health, Finance and Telco domains.

Prisha Shukla co-authored this write-up and is currently studying her 3rd Year of Medicine at Aston University, Birmingham.

1. Guardrails, An Introduction

Guardrails (Plural Noun): A rail at the edge of something, such as a cliff or the deck of a boat, that prevents people from falling off.

What, in your opinion, should be the first priority before embarking on any new venture or innovation? First and foremost, safety?

At first glance in the photograph, the white car appears to be leaving the arrival gate. The fact is that this is a departure gate. If you look closer, there is a small “No Entry” board in blue, suggesting that this is a departure gate and not an arrival gate. The white double line on the road also indicates that this is the pause for the outgoing vehicle, i.e. the departure area before a vehicle takes the major road.

How did we reach this confusing stage, and how is this linked to the topic of guardrails?

This is called “hard coding” within the IT Engineering area. The “Arrival” and “In” signs were hardcoded into a decorative gate when the train station was built with a thought process to make it look artistic, grand and elegant. However, the most important point missed was that there can be a state change at some point in the future. An entry gate can also become an exit gate in future due to an increase in traffic or a change to other external parameters, e.g. road design, taxi ranks, car size, etc. Avoiding hardcoding and making it configurable would be a guardrail similar to something in IT that could have avoided this situation.

🗽 Boundaries Liberate

Guardrails / Boundaries sound claustrophobic and negative in nature. They are being seen as restrictive, an unnecessary rule that takes away freedom.

Another way to look at it is that boundaries provide safety, it helps us liberate rather than constrain us. For example, children from a school near a busy road could only play in areas where adults could keep an eye on them. This was true until a fence was built, after which the children could play in any area of the playground of their choosing.

Boundaries limit options but also provide freedom of choice from the available options. As Greg Mckeown puts nicely in his book Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, it gives freedom to select the vital few from the trivial many and is central to Essentialism.

It is not about policing and restricting freedom but taking out unnecessary adventures that can risk the overall goal/vision, may lead one to danger, or waste crucial time exploring things that do not really matter. Too many options may not lead us anywhere; guardrails allow us to experiment within the chosen option.

Exploring Examples of Different Types of Guardrails:
📿Guardrails: Religious Beliefs

This is Kutubiya mosque, Marrakech, Morrocco, and no building can be taller than this Meenaret in the old town. This is by design, as it reminds people that principles and values are higher than anything else.

The principles of Islam are Surrender, Submission, Sincerity, Obedience and Peace.

🏳️ Guardrails: Political Beliefs

India’s Republic Day falls on 26th January. This was when the Constitution of India came into effect on 26th January 1950, and India became a Republic.

The word republic comes from the Latin term res publica, which literally means “public affair” or “public matter”, i.e. the power resides with the people.

The constitution is a book of rules, principles and guidance on how the country should operate. It is above any law, politics or religion of the country, which brings “real” freedom to the people by setting up boundaries.

The constitution sets up three pillars,

🏛️ The Legislative Power: Task of passing laws and supervising their implementation

👮‍♂️ The Executive Power: This is the federal government tasked to implement laws created by the legislation.

⚖️The Judicial Power: Interprets law and administers justice; their task is to ensure the laws are complied with.

The constitution is above all these pillars because the power resides with the people, and the three pillars work for them.

It is important to note that the Constitution defines the duty, roles and responsibilities, and power between the Union and the States, as India is a Union of States, i.e. establishing the fine balance between Centralisation and Decentralisation. Without this balance, it is impossible to scale up the governance of such a big country, having a rich diversity of cultures, 1.3B people, different religions and roots in ancient civilisations.

🏨 Guardrails: Organisational Beliefs

British Telecom has a 178-year history, employs over 100,000 people, and operates in 187 countries. 

A code of conduct for all BT employees and principles is established within the Digital area. It is impossible to scale and establish the right culture unless these are defined and agreed upon by the citizens of the organisation.

👴 Guardrails: Personal Beliefs

The three guiding principles in my life of which are constructive.

❤️ Speak Truth (First Person)

Speaking the truth means being true to myself. This ensures that I am always consistent with my responses and do not have to think about them.

🤗 Love (Second Person, Singular)

Loving everyone individually and treating them the way I want to be treated.

♾️ Compassion (Third Person, Plural)

Compassion is for the third person, and it is plural. It is about being kind to everyone as a group.

The other three principles are contrarian and instruct me on what to avoid doing. This is specific to me and my way of life; there is no right or wrong.

🍾 Do Not Intoxicate

Trying not to drink alcohol.

🍗 Avoid Meat

Do not eat anything that is not plant-based, except milk and honey. It’s more like a way of life I’ve grown up with.

🎲 Do Not Gamble

Don’t gamble, and don’t do anything that has to do with gambling. So far in my career, I haven’t worked for any company that deals with gambling.

What are your personal and family guardrails? I would love to hear from you!

Guardrails: IT Architecture, Data and Analytics

As an Enterprise Architect, this is a great topic that is close to my heart. I promise to write in detail about the guidelines for data and analytics in IT architecture. This will include figuring out where to begin, how to define, and giving an assessment of the maturity model for data architecture guardrails.

Coming Soon!

Papa Did Not Praise!

Academically, I was a below-average student. I failed my year 9 exams in one of the language papers and just managed to pass my year 11 science exams. I barely scored 58% in my year 10 (GCSE) and 57% in year 12 (A Levels). You are ruined in India if you get below 85% on these exams. I failed to get admission to a reputed university and then failed three times in my UPSC (civil services) examinations. All this was when we, as a family, desperately needed money, and my parents said nothing.

Eventually, I managed to top the university in Physics at the district level, and I cracked one of the toughest entrance examinations to get admission to one of the most prestigious universities for my Master’s in Physics. I was one of the only students from the entire community to enter the prestigious university, and my parents said nothing.

I could not afford two-time meals and breakfast and was starving at university. I could not attend the convocation ceremony of the most prestigious institution because I could not afford mere 600Rs (£6). I could not further apply for my MBA in the US as I did not have money to pay for the GRE/GMAT entrance examination fees, and my parents said nothing.

I knew my parents were struggling to make ends meet, so there was a mutual understanding. I never asked for support, but my parents were always there if required, and so was I, and we both said nothing.

Thread Ceremony – Dad, Mom, Nani, Elder Brother and I.
With My Mom and Elder BrotherWith Elder BrotherMy Primary School in Surat, Gujarat, India
Family Photographs

They never praised my successes or over-parented me during my failures, as they probably knew what was ahead of me and getting me ready to face the challenges. However, they always openly praised and improved me in that mattered to them the most, i.e. my ethics, moral life, empathy and attitude towards hard work.

Who would have thought in Year 9 or with a 58% score in GCSE that one day I would be leading Enterprise Architecture for Data and Analytics transformations for British Telecom, one of the UK’s most complex and prestigious digital transformations? But even today, papa does not praise me for these so-called achievements but only for the value parameters defined early in my life.

Team BT – Enterprise Architecture, Data and AI

From left: Paul Oliver, Bhavin Shukla, Ravinder Chauhan, Jason Perkins, Matt Penton, Doug Charlton, and Sgouira Lyra.

The skills learned over time and as a way of life have helped me in various roles. The large-scale transformations are multi-dimensional and not based on a single textbook. It is about finding ways to serve different views, opinions and reasons and taking the right decision based on the strategy and vision. My life journey every day gives me hope that things might not be right at this stage, but they can reach the target state with a purpose. The struggle early in life taught me how to adapt and energise to form an anti-fragile nature in a perfect storm and chaos.

I have been fortunate to get a good education in values. As a tradition, it is my turn to apply the same recipe to fine-tune or praise my girls for their righteousness but not their success. Be there if they need me during their difficult time but let them struggle to help them come out of the cocoon because who knows when will they need it and where they will land with or without these essential life tools?

Or maybe the world’s philosophy will change, and my children will write one day, Papa Did Not Praise Enough!

In the world of SMART Objectives, NPS scores and OKRs flying around everywhere, I wonder how organisations measure the value parameters to praise and motivate their employees to do the right thing. Also, what does a “good” employee look like, and how is this measured across organisations on a long-term scale? Hope this is not left to the LinkedIns and Twitters to derive!

Do we, on the ground, genuinely try and understand the diversity of people and how their diverse backgrounds can bring real value to the organisation and its culture, bringing it one step further to achieve its vision or are we too focussed on delivering projects? This is a key question to ask!

The former president of India, the Late A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, puts it nicely, “Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in character. When there is beauty in character, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world.”

The Pursuit of Happiness

To understand happiness, we have to understand how ‘desires’ work. Our desires are formed with the only intention to bring us joy and happiness.

How can we define desire? A simple mathematical formula can help us understand this better.

Desire(s) = Thought(s) + Feeling(s)

We can have thoughts, but not all of them are desires until we develop feelings towards them. The ultimate aim of a desire is to make us happy, it may not deliver it, but at least the desire promises to bring joy. Based on the above formula, we can see that feelings depend on the outcome of desires, e.g. we feel angry and frustrated when a desire is not met. Buddha said desire is the cause of misery when we identify ourselves with the desire.

This is the irony: desires are formed to make us happy, but they are not long-lasting; they constantly change and frustrate us due to the time taken between coming up with the desire and meeting them. The key is to independently watch the desire come and pass through as waves without attaching or identifying with it. For this to happen, our mind needs to remain calm in all situations. How to remain calm?

I was in Bangalore on October 22 and accidentally ended up in a course/workshop called The Happiness Program. I had three free days with no flights available to advance my return to the UK. I had no idea what to do and ended up in this program. I did not want to be out sightseeing and get stuck in Bangalore’s horrible traffic. Yes, when you talk about Bangalore, you have to mention traffic! Not knowing what to expect from the course was one level of uncertainty, but then another level was to live in an ashram (a monastic place or a religious retreat) for three days to attend the program. While it all looks interesting, staying in an ashram sounded outdated. The only hope was that I was well aware of the concept of short-lived vs long-lasting happiness, so I had a bit of a hypothesis and assumed that the course would deal with the latter.

The Ashram

The ashram is owned by The Art of Living foundation, which was started by Sri Sri Ravishankar, also referred to as Gurudev by his followers. The ashram is built on 550-acre land. It is almost as if one is staying in a forest close to nature. The stay is highly convenient and divine. The food is grown locally, less salty, sugar-free, and nutritious. There are dedicated areas for yoga, meditation, herbal treatment, etc.

When I landed in the ashram on the first day, I was told to stay away from intoxication, including tea, coffee or cigarette. This is to ensure the efficacy of the cleansing process.

The three-day happiness course made the participants experience the seven layers of existence. It taught the five behavioural principles and showed us the art of how to live happily.

The Seven Layers of Existence

In one of the blogs, I mentioned the three areas of our system, mind, body and soul, that are key to our well-being. The Happiness course eventually helped me understand further finer layers of existence within us and how they work.

It is important to understand how these layers work. The body (Layer 1) can control the mind (Layer 3) but only via the breath (Layer 2). The logical decisions are not taken by the mind but by the Intelligence (Layer 4). However, even when there are logical reasons why we should perform or not perform a certain action, our past memory (Layer 5), known as Chitta, takes an executive decision based on our previous good or bad experiences. The memory layer sometimes overrides the decision made by the Intelligence. The final override comes from the Ego (Layer 6); Ego is the unnatural self of our true self, i.e. Soul (Layer 7) and prohibits us from living based on our nature.

We need a balance within all these layers to ensure we stay in harmony with nature and our surroundings. The memory layer can be improved by being with good people, also known as Satsang. If the experiences are good, we will have less confusion within this layer. Intelligence is built based on gaining knowledge; hence, we must have access to the true path, which a guru can guide. There are two key parts, mind and ego. Both can be controlled via tools offered during the Happiness program. When our mind is restless, our breath changes. In the same way, if we change the rhythm of our breath, it is possible to calm the mind. These tools are called Sudarshan Kriya and Sahaj Samadhi Meditation.

Sudarshan Kriya and Sahaj Samadhi Meditation

The main teaching over the three days was how to control the rhythm of the breath. Regular practice of a formatted breathing rhythm, called Sudarshan Kriya (SK), followed by Sahaj Samadhi Meditation (SSM), helps cleanse the entire system and balance the layers of existence. The science is simple, when we are sad, we are looking at the past, and when we are anxious, we are looking at the future. In both of these situations, we are not living in the present.

The key to happiness is to live in the present. The breathing technique, Sudarshan Kriya, and meditation, using Sahaj Samadhi Meditation, remove thoughts related to the past and future and cleanse our mind of negativity.

My Experience At The Ashram

I knew no one in the ashram and went there without any expectations, which helped me absorb anything that came my way. The best part of the cleansing process was experiencing Sudarshan Kriya. There was too much hype created during the course, but when it all started, I did not feel much different. Sitting with folded legs, there were cramps and a tingling feeling near the toes after some time, but that was it.

Almost when the Sudarshan Kriya process was about to end, I tried to adjust my leg to make myself more comfortable. It was only then I realised that the entire body below my chest was numb, and I could not move it. This was followed by lying down on the mat for meditation, which I just managed. This was when the magic happened: my hands below the elbow were off the ground without my control. The fingers were curling outwards with cramps. I panicked as I felt like I was being raised off the ground and about to levitate; I was trying to push myself down on the mat. Then there was a shine, some sort of glow approaching me. I could feel a sudden release of energy and the laying of unnecessary baggage leading me to emptiness. Suddenly, this all became pleasant in a split second, and tears started rolling from my eyes. In that instance, I could see my spiritual guru, Morari Bapu, in front of me, whom I had desperately wanted to meet these three days. I meant to travel to his location within these three days and wondered why I was at this ashram. It was clear then that Sri Sri Ravishankar and my spiritual guru are the same.

This happened on the second day of the course at 7:30 pm. The world seemed different to me after I opened my eyes. I was in the vast emptiness. After reaching the UK, I read the book Gurudev to understand more about the phenomena, the master and the AOL foundation. It all made sense when I came across a quote in the book and compared it to my experience; emptiness is a doorway between the material and spiritual worlds and a place where one can understand the nature of the spirit. From emptiness begins fullness. On the one side of emptiness is misery; on the other side, joy. It is your spiritual guru, the master, who will help you to cross over.

The outcome was absolutely brilliant. For the rest of my stay, I had a velvety feeling inside, as if some lubricant had been added to my body. My mind was calm, I could feel the silence in my words and actions. After returning to the UK, 10 days since I landed, I followed the Sudarshan Kriya routine. I feel calmness deep within. During meditation, I feel as if I am breathing from the back of my spine and all the way to the top of my head. I sleep deeply and for a longer duration. My food intake has increased without impacting my weight, and the best part of it is that I feel happy!

I must say that I had a desire after my experience at the ashram, which was to meet the master, Gurudev. It is to be noted that millions of followers come to the ashram, and it is difficult to see him from a distance and forget about meeting him. However, destiny had decided something different for me. Everything was unplanned and seemed unreal to me, and I will write about the unfolding of events that led me to the ashram someday. I coincidentally met an old friend in the ashram, who tried his best, and somehow turned my desire into a lifelong memory.

In Gurudev’s words, ‘when you follow fun, misery follows you and when you follow knowledge, fun follows you.’

I went to Bangalore for a working visit and thought the visit to the ashram was a perfect offer, with one, get another free. Gurudev has plans to offer bigger deals and says, “when you are all with the one, everybody is free!”.

Jai Gurudev!

Wellbeing: Mind, Body and Soul

Our body is like an advanced version of a self-driving vehicle e.g. Tesla. The natural evolution process has trained us to create autonomic systems in our body that can take care of itself. For every driver-less vehicle running on autopilot, there is also a capability for the driver to manually operate the vehicle. In our case, the mind, also termed as monkey in Buddhism, is sitting on the driver’s seat managing the vehicle, and sometimes it gives wrong inputs to the advanced vehicle. We, the soul, are the passengers on a journey, with the monkey on the wheels handling an extremely advanced vehicle, our body.

The challenge then is – how we, the passenger, can train the mind, the monkey, to manage autonomous responses in our body, the Tesla, in an optimised way. Age old yogic practices comes to rescue and shows different breathing techniques to tackle this problem.

Mind, Body and Soul

When we encounter any situation that puts us in danger, let’s say a tiger is after you, our advanced vehicle then initiates the autonomic system of flight or fight, pushing all the energy in our legs so that we can run as fast we can. This is fine, if the situation is going to last for a short duration but it is not sustainable for a longer duration. This action deprives other areas of the body, as the larger share of energy is provided to a selective part of the body based on the circumstances. After a while, the body needs to trigger a complementary autonomic action when it comes to rest or digest, to perform functions that it does only when the body is at rest. In medical science, the autonomic system that controls this is called Autonomic Nervous Systems (ANS) that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions, such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, etc.  The Sympathetic Nervous System comes into action when the body is in flight or fight mode and the complementary nervous system is called Parasympathetic Nervous System, and activates when the body is in rest or digest mode.

Online Well-being Sessions: Explaining the Science of Breathing

When we are at work, every other task, email, meeting or conversation that leads us to stress or panic situation, triggers the flight or fight response and we are facing the tiger or different versions of tigers, 24 by 7 and 365 days of the year, living in dominance of sympathetic nervous system because of the pressure at work or at home. This means that the body is constantly under control of fight or flight response, with minimal chance for the rest and digest to trigger.

It is important to note that both the systems are equally important, without flight and fight we would not be able to survive as our body will not see the incoming danger situation. However, living only in dominance of one brings lot of wear and tear to the overall system.

Online Well-being Sessions: Anulom Vilom / Alternate Nostril Breathing

This is where the breathing exercises come to our rescue to help train the monkey that frequently hits the panic button triggering flight or fight systems. The breathing exercise activates the parasympathetic nervous system and applies brakes to bring us back into the rest and digest state. Research in recent times have shown that the heart rate in itself may not be a good health indicator, whereas Heart Rate Variability is a better measure to track well-being i.e. consistent and regular change of state from flight/fight mode to rest/digest and vice versa.

There is a controlled breathing (Prānāyama) technique in Yoga known as Anulom Vilom. It involves holding one nostril closed while inhaling, then holding the other nostril closed while exhaling. The process is then reversed and repeated. Alternate nostril breathing is said to have many physical and psychological benefits, including stress reduction and improved breathing and circulation. There’s scientific evidence that supports some of these claims.

Practicing Anulom Vilom breathing first thing in the morning may help start your day from a better place and serves as a great relaxation technique to provide a sound sleep. The yogis mention that regular practice of this breathing exercise for 60 days cleanses body’s nervous system bringing freshness to life.

Along with the breathing exercises that helps tuning autonomic systems, what really works for me is my belief system. I just know that there is someone looking after me and whatever happens, happens for a reason. These two things help in accepting things as they are, never lets the stress accumulate and most importantly bringing gratitude in daily life.

I have recently emerged from a very rough experience of Covid. At one point, at 2am in very cold December, when the oxygen levels were going down, with heavy breathing and heart rate completely out of control, I thought I am not going to make it. Sitting next to a radiator and seriously concerned about the welfare of my family, I did Prānāyam and Prayers to calm my nerves, and left it to my belief system and faith in Him to sort it out. At that moment the only thing I wanted was to see through the night and look for the first rays of the morning.

Fortunately, I made it and have completely recovered. This blog has been written to help friends and colleagues working in different areas of the organisations across geographical locations and are currently going through stress either due to lock down or other health challenges.

I am currently working as Principal Enterprise Architect within Architecture and Strategy, leading on Enterprise Architecture for British Telecom’s Data Analytics Transformation. If you would like to know more then please reach out to bhavin.shukla@bt.com. The concept of Me, Monkey and Tesla has been taken from The Keshav Way by Vinay Sutaria.