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.

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 The concept of Me, Monkey and Tesla has been taken from The Keshav Way by Vinay Sutaria.