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It's important to be silly, to be serious, to be strong, to be frail...for what is life if we only shared a mask?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On Grief, Gratitude and a tribute to the ancestors

It was an intense November, to put it mildly, juxtaposed with themes of grief and gratitude.

When we found out my mother in law died in her sleep, we experienced deep sadness and regret. To me as I thought of her life and how she led it, I was struck by her refusal to be cowed down by the Indian stereotype of a widow who needed to be under a man's protection to survive. She raised her boys, she built her home, she battled breast cancer and won, she lived her life through its ups and downs on her own terms. My clearest memory of her was at her home in Delhi basking in the winter sun on her patio with a few of her friends drinking chai while giving instructions to the electrician to fix the phone, telling the vegetable vendor that his vegetables were not so fresh and having a side conversation with the tenant about his water problem.

She became, over time the architect of her own life. As I mused about that, I realized that power is not something that is granted to us through our titles, our degrees, our marital or economic status. Those are temporary manifestations that don't stay when you lose your job, or go through a divorce or suffer from financial setbacks. Inner power is about the conviction that you are the driver and you own your route. To be able to own your failures as gracefully as you embrace your success. Setting boundaries, refusing to be cowed down and understanding that you have a right to ask for what you deserve.

Two days later, my lovely friend and neighbor had a heart attack and when she was in ER, they discovered she had invasive cancer which had apparently led to the stroke. 36 hours later, Hypatia was no longer with us. Those of us who knew her were shocked at the callous way Death decided to claim her. She was 55.

I attended a beautiful service last Saturday that our neighbors, Katy and Jim organized. As we stood remembering Hypatia, we thought of her varied interests, of people she touched, of kindness, compassion, gentleness and authenticity. Hypatia had a masters in Architecture and at some point in her early years developed a profound interest in vedic astrology. She was one of those rare individuals who was whole brained. She had no problem accepting and embracing her right and her left brain. Seeking to dismiss neither as lesser or greater.

She and I would go on long walks with her rescue dog, Ruga and discuss everything including the moon, the stars and the planets. I remember discussing Facebook with her and telling her "Hypatia, you have to join FB and have a forum to discuss your thoughts on these subjects." She did join FB. She used it sporadically. Towards the last few weeks, she was in incredible pain. Strangely, her beloved dog died a week before she did. I still expect both of them to walk down my pathway expecting to go for a long walk.

She taught me about the courage required to be authentic. No matter who is pushing your buttons to conform, you can stay on your path and continue to weave in the patterns in your life. Life unfolds like a painting which is never completed till we draw that last breath and the colors shine or dim depending on who we invite, share, care, dare, envy, touch, fear or love...

Twas November and gratitude ran through the veins of the month as families and friends congregated celebrating Diwali, Eid or Thanksgiving in different parts of the world.

I found this beautiful tribute from Angeles Arrien's website that I have included in this post.

Blessed be for those who have been here on earth and those who still claim a physical presence. For nothing ever dies as long as we keep it alive.

A Tribute to the Ancestors
In the rising of the sun and it's going down,
We remember them.
In the glowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
We remember them.
In the opening of buds and the rebirth of spring,
We remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,
We remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
We remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
We remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength,
We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart,
We remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share,
We remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live,
for they are now a part of us,
As we remember them.
-- A Jewish Prayer, From a Rabbi's Manual

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Lanie Chronicles

Happiness is a warm puppy ~ Charles Schultz

Yes, that's right. Status updates, pictures and now the note. And more to follow. I agree, we are not the first to get a puppy. Many have paved the path and stores like PetSmart and PetCo make a living charging $10 for a plastic chew toy that is very often ignored by its customers and bling doggie accessories that can dent that wallet.

So when I yielded to tremendous family pressure, including tears, tantrums, accusations including one that insinuated that I hated all animals, I had no choice. My back was literally pushed to the proverbial wall and this ever moving deadline of "we will adopt a pet in six months" finally caught up with me.

Seven years of relentless persistence had finally taken its toll. I must tell you, if you didn't know this, that children are like elephants. They may conveniently forget any promises they make but will remember yours and hang on to it like a life boat in shark infested waters.

Three girls, a full time job and all the curve balls life throws at you isn't exactly the right time to add another member to the family. But life is elastic. Your capacity is elastic. Just like your love can contain a few or contain many.

June had caught up with us and I kid you not, the only topic of conversation, morning, noon and night was THE DOG. My daughters would put up reminders on the fridge, on the wall calendar, sms messages and even sent a calendar invite. We went to the pound a few times. Registered and talked to the counselors there. Spoke to friends and family and scouted online.

I put up a status update and my friend Deb told me about Debbie Lloyd and her wonderful program for autistic families and mentioned that her three dogs just had three litters. Pups needing homes. We saw Lanie hanging out with her siblings and cuddling with her mom, a gorgeous Border Collie/Pyrenees mix and it was love at first sight.

Did I want another baby that would pee and poop and whine at night? No. Had been there done that three times. Did I want to train another to obey the rules of the house. No. Been there, doing that and not sure it works some days. Did I need another who needed vaccines and tests. No. Hate those sterile clinics and waiting to be told about dangerous diseases that can get them.

But here we are again. Little Lanie, puppy of mine who could pass for a baby panda. Lanie who is now chewing on my hand as we speak because those expensive chew toys are not doing it for her. Lanie who has a free flow bladder and an affinity for carpets

Crawl, walk, run...Lanie. Just be gentle on me, please.

Monday, June 7, 2010

If Not Now

picture courtesy www.fotosearch.com

Do you hanker
While it spreads
Like a canker
Within your soul

Sending ripples
Of unease
That ricochet
Never to cease

The starving embryo

In need
In want
A time to gestate
A time to be reborn

The hungry ghost
Cannot be appeased
With stories
Of conformity

If not now, when
If not you, then who
It's not later
It's not them

---Shaku Selvakumar© 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Icarus In Flight

Picture courtesy Herbert James Draper

I have wondered
About the road ahead
It twists and turns
It craves and burns

I have wondered
About the flight of the Dead
Where do souls converge
In oneness or splintered to return instead

I have wondered
About the colour of Love
Is it green, or black, is it blue
Or blood, a reprieve of a fearless vow

I have wondered
About the path of Dreams
Lifting, soaring, flailing, crashing
Breathing barely, fearing a requiem

I have wondered
About the burden of Stones
Gathering, growing,
Silently groaning waiting to be thrown

Now I wander
Through rows of Marigold
Wading in murky waters
Looking for Lotuses to unfold

Who dared the Sun
And touched the Sky
The Gods did he slight
To be Icarus on his flight

---Shaku Selvakumar© 2010

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mothering Day

Got back from Vegas where billboards promised pleasures untold. Huge hotels kept their occupants in the dark, addicted to casino tables, night clubs and other entertainment so they would lose track of time. Was it morning, noon or night…did anyone care. The conference was successful and a few days later, I was happy to be back home. Back to springtime in green Central Texas in time to celebrate Mothers Day weekend.

As you know thoughts are like clouds, they start as a puff, they grow, they disperse, they morph, they shapeshift. I started thinking of all the wonderful mothers out there and like that cloud, it changed to the concept of mothering.

Growing up, I took my mother for granted. Even today, I take her for granted. Something I shouldn't do, I know but I view the love of my near and dear like sunshine. I wake up and I expect a sunrise. I wake up and I expect my mom's love to be there, constant and always present. She lives in Madras (yes you know, I can't call it Chennai...I am trying hard) and we talk weekly or should I say, she talks and I listen. Mom's talks are filled with family news, with loads of advice about my girls and more advice on how I should take more calcium for my bone density. She always says "Just like your girls come first for you, you come first for me. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else."

We then spoke about my sister who just had her third baby, a beautiful boy, on May 2 who decided he couldn't wait till the agreed date. Babies don't give mothers any advance notice about their arrival. Despite the doctor and the parents deciding on a convenient date and time, they look at their own schedule and decide when to make their arrival. Some are early, some are late and those few considerate ones, are on time. When I spoke to her this morning, she was cheerful as a lark despite the lack of sleep and planning gone awry.

Though Mother's day is special and it means that our kids and partners and others will raise a toast to us, it need not be gender specific and confined to the role of child bearing or rearing.

Mothering is defined as "to give birth to; create and produce; to watch over, nourish, and protect maternally". I think of my friend Elizabeth Mendoza, who is a nurse who does this everyday. I think of Diana who helps foster families. I think of Kristen, Hypatia and Poonam who mother all their friends. I think of my friends who mother their pets and take in strays. I think of Karen who mothers her girl scout troop. I think of my friends who mother me from all over the world. I think of teachers who mother their students. I think of others who mother their god children, their nephews, nieces and volunteer as big brothers and sisters.

Most of all, I admire the men out there who push away the world's view of machismo and have no qualms about showing their gentler side.

To quote Oprah, "Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother."

It is not just the hand that rocks the cradle that rules the world.  It is also the hand that is held out that moves the world.

Happy Mothering Day!

Monday, April 26, 2010

On Starfish, Teachers and Appreciation

This note is dedicated to my beautiful aunt whose fight with the deadly cancer ended today.  May her soul rest in peace.  She was a wonderful mother, a devoted wife, a considerate aunt and along with the family she loved, she was a teacher for 30 years.  As was my grand mother and my grand aunt.  Women who taught and left an impression in so many hearts. "Do we ever die, if we can touch one life, change one destiny, inspire one verse."

This post is about celebrating the legacy left behind by these teachers who have spent their lives throwing so many starfish back into the sea.

Coincidently, next week is Teacher’s Appreciation week at my daughters’ schools. A wonderful concept and so well deserved. PTAs have spent time pulling together a schedule to show their teachers that they are truly loved. We will have flowers, lunches, handmade cards and other little tokens.  

As I see my girls in their different stages of growth, I can remember the teacher who told me not to worry that my eldest was so shy. “She will find her way” she reassured. “And I will be there to make things better.” I remember my second one crying when her favorite teacher, Ms Plevich, left school and my little girl was so angry that “she had to get married and move away”. I remember the youngest naming two pillows after Ms Lana and Ms Maribel and talking to them at night.

I can also go down memory lane and like Dumbledore taking a wisp out of his Pensieve, see Ms Carter igniting the love of literature in my heart. Of course, I wince when I think of Mr Delaney’s tiring Math classes on Monday mornings but there was drama and debate and Pierette Spetz’s passionate French classes that kept me spellbound. Indian teachers, American teachers, British teachers…the good ones left footprints in my heart. Some would push us to reach for the stars.  Like beacons and in Gandhi’s words, they helped “turn the spotlight inward.”

If you were paying attention and listening to the clues, some very apparent and some subtle, you experienced an “aha”. Seeing talent and potential that we couldn't yet grasp. The good teachers would take time to write in your report cards. Little notes on your strengths and areas you could improve upon. I didn’t appreciate those notes when I was younger. I would get irritated that someone dared find fault. Oh, the arrogance and impatience of youth. As Jacques Barzun so aptly puts it “In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.” Or more… 

In India, the role of the teacher used to be sacred. Highly revered, teachers or gurus held sway even over kings. And in the order of the universe, they occupied a place of prominence. Mata, Pita, Guru, Deivam…Mother, Father, Teacher, God. Gurus demanded complete faith and obedience in return for knowledge and enlightenment.

Many of us have been mentored or been "guru-ed" at some stage or another. People who have come into our lives. To teach, to guide, to ignite and to lead by example. You can immediately recognize a mentor at an instinctual level. There is a keen desire to listen, to absorb like a sponge, whatever you can. 

Of course, the opposite is true as well where unhealthy relationships are characterized by an over dependence on a mentor. Here you feel paralyzed, unable to take decisions without their express approval.

When you strike gold, you find good mentors who are there to untap potential and provide a feedback loop so critical for development. And when their work is done, they move on naturally.

So here’s to teachers and mentors…may your clan increase. And may we close the loop by passing it forward. Salutations!

“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” Kahlil Gibran

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Seven for Spring

The idea for this post originated on Facebook which I recently likened to my virtual living room. It started simply enough last week. After visiting mail jail again, I put an update out that went something like this "Don't be an email hoarder. Junk those emails that are more than 6 months old. It aint relevant no more." Soon my friends were commenting and I thought hey maybe there are more tips out there. Here are Shaku's Magnificent Seven as my limerick loving friend, Manjul puts it.

Spring cleaning tip #1
Keep what is important throw away the rest. Or the trivial will make all what is important trivial.

As I had to start clearing out emails from years past, I was horrified to find out that I was a secret email hoarder. These emails that were jamming my inbox and my outbox about things that nobody even cared about. Though I tried to have folders, I realized that if you don't clear regularly, you end up cramming your life with so much that is trivial that you lose sight of what is important. This applies from emails, to tasks, to meetings, to lists, to pantries, to refrigerators. I love the Stephen Covey big rock little pebble analogy. Attend to the important and the trivial will sort itself. Ask that question. Is this important? Should I waste XX time over this. Is this argument important or is it trivial. Can I let it go? Do I have to add another after school activity for my kids, can we not just focus on a select few. Once you decide, make peace with the decision. I was watching Robin Sharma's vlog and he says that every year his team decides on what they should focus on and then even if opportunties come by they get tough and only pick up what aligns with their focus areas.

Spring cleaning tip #2
Apply the 70:30 relationship principle. Spend 70% of your time with the 30% who matter.

This is so simple, right. So how come we have trouble applying this principle. I know some folks who make this a priority. Others think they have all the time in the world. Growing up, all I remember is my Dad telling us that we were the most important people in his life and that he was happy spending his time after work with us. Of course, that meant that we would get dragged to all these boring parties with people who would peer at us and say "Oh Selva, what charming daughters you have." or "So when are you getting her married." Like I was some invisible object waiting to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. But, the point is, he made it clear that there were a few people who were important to him and that was that. We all know about Harry Chapin and the Cat's in the Cradle. "When you comin home, Dad." "I don't know when. But we'll get together then, son. You know we'll have a good time then." Who, why, when and where. You and in the now with those you love because time flies.

Spring cleaning tip #3
Make friends with yourself. If you don't enjoy your own company then why should anyone else be interested in you.

Ask yourself this key question. If you had one hour to spend. Would you spend it doing nothing or rushing off to make a phone call, picking up groceries or making a long to do list that made you feel good. Of course, you have to do all the things you have to do. Or bills would be unpaid, careers floating in the toilet bowl, dishes piled up, laundry languishing in the dryer etc. Yes, yes, I know. Been there, doing that and keep doing that everyday. But do you seek yourself out. Do you enjoy just sitting down and allowing your mind to roam. To think, to understand. To replay your reactions to certain incidents. Take a ten minute walk alone everyday. If you can't walk, then go out and sit in a quiet space. Lock yourself in your closet. You don't need to close your eyes and Om. You just need to get one step to understanding yourself and your motivations. Why, because understanding yourself brings you one step closer to understanding your reactions to others. When you do that constantly you will stop being on the defensive.

Spring cleaning tip #4
Let go of toxic emotional cellulite. Get rid of BAGgage. Bitterness | Anger | Guilt. Travel light.

This one belongs to a good friend of mine. Rules of engagement for relationships. Like that Katy Perry song, hot and you're cold, up and you're down. We fight we make up, we kiss we break up. This is true for most relationships. Friends, family, lovers. Over the years we have accumulated so much emotional cellulite that sits like a camel's hump on your back. This cellulite is a living, breathing alien that is made up of bitterness, anger, guilt, jealousy and it is dormant and when you least expect it, it will send out a volley of spite. How do you break regular cellulite, by regular exercise, eating right and it takes time, but at some point your body starts to show the results. With emotional cellulite you have to pretty much do the same. You make a conscious effort to trace the affected areas. Recognition is key. Awareness. Followed by honesty. You have own it and then shield, forgive and love. Forgive yourself and ask for forgiveness and then let it go. Every day is a new day to do it differently.

Spring cleaning tip #5
Recall faded dreams and unused gifts. Plant new seeds of possibility. Doesn't Spring symbolize resurrection?

This one is my personal favorite. I was wandering in my garden discovering new plants and amazed at how quickly growth took place with branches sprouting green. I felt like Jack waking up to that overnight beanstalk. You go for a walk and you see more people smile at you because that is what fairweather brings with it. Spring, flirting birds, blue skies and butterflies make people happy. Just like nature is resurrecting around us, this is fertile soul environment to start something new. Plant a project dear to your heart in the garden of your heart. Invest in it and feel the emotional wellness. The common thread is people saying well I don't really know what I like or what I want to do. But if you go to tip # 3 and spend some time with yourself you will figure it out sooner than you think. There is something that each one of us will do before we tackle the mundane tasks in our lives. For me, I am sitting here on a Friday night, writing. Some like scrapbooking, other's want to open their own restaurant, others want to play in a band. So you may not be able to fund a restaurant, perhaps you join a cooking club. You may not have time to play in a band, perhaps you could learn an instrument. Or you may decide to leap and follow, like Martha Beck would say, your North Star.

Spring cleaning tip #6
Go 3D. Drop the entitlement. Defend your boundaries. Deny energy vampires.

The problem with entitlement is that makes us all a bunch of whiners. It is quite tiring to hang around people who constantly expect to be served a slice of some imaginary pie that was supposed to be baked by someone else.
We have heard this many times and we still let people invade our boundaries. We end up getting into a loop where they invade, we submit and then we complain.
What can I say about energy vampires that hasn't been stated so many times. These aren't even Edward Cullen cute. You don't have to wear garlic around your neck but you do have to figure out the Debbie downers and disengage. According to James Redfield and his ground breaking novel The Celestine Prophecy, we typically steal energy from each other engaging in four key control dramas. So ask yourself, are you dealing with a "poor me" or "the aloof" or "the critic" or "the intimidator". Each one has a way of drawing energy and each encounter will leave you tired.

Spring cleaning tip #7
Create and own your personal mantra. If you want it, chant it.

Find a quiet spot and create your affirmation to bring renewed energy to that area of your life that needs a makeover. I can't tell you how many times, I have written it down and let it go. A year would have passed and when I go back and read it, I am always amazed at the gifts that have come to pass. Say you want to sell your house, write down exactly what you want from the sale.
But there has to be a clause that is part of every mantra that you ask for it to be aligned to your greatest good. Many times we can't see the bigger picture. We can only see the present because the past is over and we are not meant to peek into the future.

There is a common link across the wisdom of ages, that you have to align with the passion for life.  Nature resurrects every spring.  Demeter goes insane looking for Persephone during winter and finds her and rejoices in Spring.  She unveils her Spring masterpiece every year...without demur, without fanfare, without complaint, without resistance, without judgement.

When you do what you do just because you enjoy it, that is the spark that sets off a chain reaction. The more you fret about what everyone thinks of you, the less you are able to trust yourself.

This quote from Joseph Campbell sums it up so well "When you go through life ... it all seems accidental at the time it is happening. Then when you get on in your 60s or 70s and look back, your life looks like a well-planned novel with a coherent theme. Incidents that seemed accidental, pure chance, turn out to be major elements in the structuring of this novel. Who wrote this novel? You did."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I walked into the fire
Before I was born again
The heat was searing
But the heart knew no pain

I knew I would return
To finish what I started
Seeking you out
Offering my worship

Turning anger to love
Chaos contained
Fury tamed
Balance regained

Shiva and Shakti
Wisdom and Strength
Osiris and Isis
Birth and Rebirth

That destiny
Is a thought
A primeval energy
A dream
A priority

I am devotion
Your salvation

I am Parvati,
The Daughter Of the Mountain King

---Shaku Selvakumar© 2009

Saturday, March 13, 2010

In Sickness and In Health

First week of March and there was the promise of spring in the air. I was looking forward to attending SXSW and mingling with all the cool folks whose tweets lit up the twitterstream.  I was fine...happy.

So the pain that hit me last weekend didn't make any sense. Like most folks out there, I don't like pain but I am also stubborn when it comes to medication. I would rather let the pain simmer like a rich stew on the burner before doing something about it. It is almost like this dialogue I have in my head. Is it hurting? Must you fix it? Can't it go away on its own? Of course, you are probably shaking your head right now and thinking what the heck is wrong with you, woman. Just take an Advil and get it over with. Well I did, when I couldn't stand anymore. There is also another funny thing about our bodies and pain. We find the best position to take to deal with the pain. I found that the best position is curling in a fetal position.

The alarm goes off at 6 am on Monday so another wonderful school and work week can kick into high gear. You know the drill, get the breakfast, holler "wake up" three times and then yell WAKE UP NOW or ELSE, check off all the little details till the kids board the bus. That morning I couldn't go vertical and I think uh oh... I call the clinic and say I need to see my doctor. Something is getting ready to burst.

I love these clinics. You walk in stooped and ashen and you sit in a waiting room and look around. Everyone there would rather be somewhere else. Everyone there is thinking I would give anything to be healthy. Everyone there is waiting to take a test and get the results. Everyone there wants a quick fix. Just like me.

There is in sickness, a new found humility. Suddenly you are aware that this body of yours, this exquisite, intricate well oiled machine that you take for granted everyday is prone to age. As you wait you promise yourself that you will take better care of yourself. You will exercise more, eat better and worry less.

Without going TMI here, the doctor orders a few tests, throws words out like biopsy and cyst, talks about surgery on Thursday or Friday and I sadly kiss SXSW goodbye. Fast forward Friday, I am talking to a pleasant nurse who has just moved to Austin and a cheerful anaesthetist who has lived in Austin for 26 years. I am told I will be woozy after the medication has worn off and not to sign any legal document for 24 hours. So before I am wheeled out, I make a pact with my maker. I pray that I will turn over a new leaf and take better care of my body and spirit.

All goes well thankfully and we come home as I am drifting in and out of a deep sleep.

To net it out, life does happen. Sickness happens and mostly without warning. However, I do believe that some ailments can be prevented through an increased awareness of the correlation between the physical ailment and the emotional state. To treat the illness you have to look at both symptoms. When I need a sanity check, I dip into Louise Hay's bestseller, You can heal yourself. Here is a sample on some ailments and the associated emotional blockage. 

Anxiety: Not trusting the flow and the process of life.
Back problems
--Lower Fear of money. Lack of financial support
--Middle Guilt. Stuck in all that stuff back there. "Get off my back"
--Upper Lack of emotional support. Feeling unloved. Holding back love.

Callouses: Hardened concepts and ideas. Fear solidified.
Fever: Anger. Burning up
Laryngitis: So mad you can't speak. Fear of speaking up. Resentment of authority
Stomach problems: Dread and fear of the new. Inability to assimilate the new.
As I write this, I am trying to figure out my symptoms so it can stay away and not come back another day.  I also remember proudly telling my manager, I didn't take any sick leave last year.  I may not have taken sick leave but I do remember feeling run down when December came along.  Now, I tend to think that sick leave should not be used when you fall sick rather when you feel like you might fall sick if you don't stop and take a break.  It could be that one day of rest could avoid a weakened state resulting in a week of bed rest. 

Me, I can't wait to get off these painkillers and out of bed and go for a long long walk. That Austin sun, those blue skies and the hint of Spring cannot be enjoyed indoors.  As for SXSW, I guess 2011 might just be my year.

"It's no coincidence that four of the six letters in health are "heal." ~Ed Northstrum

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The ROI for Life

I was at a workshop this week and enjoyed all the learning that came my way. It was facilitated by two instructors who partnered well despite their diametrically different teaching styles . Phil was a slim second generation American Chinese and Bill was a retired booming alpha male with a Donald Trump personality sans the hairpiece. Could almost hear the "You are fired" echo in the classroom.

I walked in expecting a sedate, boring class where I could possibly open up my laptop and keep working through class. I ended up pleasantly surprised and learning about corporate finance, despite my knee jerk reaction to fiscal prudence.

It is not easy to talk to middle management. They are a bit jaded and tend to feel that they do know it all. Besides they have so much to do, so many miles to go before they sleep. Bill bounces in and gets everyone going, asking us to stand up introduce ourselves and throw three facts, one of which is a lie. That was that little spark that told me that I needed to put my laptop away, sit back and allow myself the luxury of learning.

While Phil calmly provided the foundational input for what we need to know about finance, Bill would jump up, pace the room like a tiger, introduce a simulation where four companies are competing in the marketplace. Each company was given a management team to make key decisions on product mix, production capacity, marketing and development costs. Decisions that would impact our revenue, profit, cash flow and the share price.

To cut to the chase, the teams had fun, competed, collaborated and probably learnt some along the way. On the last day, Bill announced the winning team (which was ours, btw) and said that everyone won. Corny yes, true yes. Everyone did win. At least all those, who for a few days put away our jaded selves and opened our mind to learning once again.

Growing up the popular complaint was always "Mom, can I not go to school today?" or "I can't wait to get rid of my books and not have to sit for another exam." Years pass and we all do grow up, at least in lieu of birthdays. I will not talk about emotional intelligence as that would be another topic for another day.

So the train has stopped at the first station and yes, you no longer have to study for exams. Suddenly you are an adult, eager to join the workforce become financially independent and blah blah blah. You now realize that hey, work means still living by the alarm clock. Projects to finish, politics to grapple with and that hateful word...accountability.

Moving on to the next station, you probably found someone special, settled down and have a couple of kids. Mortgage, rent, taxes, school meetings and you link up with friends from your past on facebook and you are back to reminiscing about the the student life and the good old days.

You reminisce so furiously because you do miss learning. The stimulation of the mind. The joy you get when you have that eureka moment. Even the most cynical of us, cannot but be thrilled when the pieces of the puzzle fit together in the maze in our mind.

On the last day, Bill was very eloquent and instead of telling us to remember ROA, ROI, ROE, he reads out this passage below. I had heard it before. Heard different versions for the last fifteen years, in fact. But hearing it again at a finance workshop of all places, made me stop and pause once again. I went up to him and thanked him and Phil for a great workshop and said "I loved your course" and joked that "I didn't open my laptop". He said "I didn't ask anyone to shut theirs. It is not my place to ask you to choose to learn. That has to be your desire."

I walked away learning about finance and thinking again about the ROI for Life.

"The Station"
by Robert Hastings

Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision.
We are traveling by train, out the windows,
we drink in the passing scenes of children
waving at a crossing,
cattle grazing on a distant hillside,
row upon row of corn and wheat,
flatlands and valleys,
mountains and rolling hillsides
and city skylines.

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination.
On a certain day, we will pull into the station.
Bands will be playing and flags waving.
Once we get there, our dreams will come true
and the pieces of our lives
will fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle.
Restlessly we pace the aisles,
damning the minutes - waiting,
waiting, waiting for the station.

"When we reach the station, that will be it!"
We cry. "When I'm 18." "When I buy a new 450sl Mercedes Benz!"
"When I put the last kid through college."
"When I have paid off the mortgage!"
"When I get a promotion." "When I reach retirement,
I shall live happily ever after!"

Sooner or later, we realize there is no station,
no one place to arrive.
The true joy of life is the trip.
The station is only a dream.
It constantly outdistances us.
"Relish the moment" is a good motto.
It isn't the burdens of today that drive men mad.
It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow.
Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.
Regret is reality, after the facts.

So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles.
Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream,
go barefoot more often,
swim more rivers, watch more sunsets,laugh more, cry less.
Life must be lived as we go along.

The STATION will come soon enough.

Picture credit: http://capeverde-islands.com/station.html

Friday, February 26, 2010

On Transition, Choices and The Four Year Plan

When January finally bid adieu and Feb came skipping along, I thought let's hope this month is not attention deficit and hyperactive. Feb is coming to an end and while it is the month to muse on the path with heart, it has also been the month of transition.

A month of reviewing, clearing and creating space. With two daughters heading into middle and high school in August, I watched them start to gather information about what they plan to do next. It is not easy this place of transition.

My FB status update for Feb 10 went something like this. "This is transition week. We have schools giving me input on what we need to know so our kids will have a smooth move into their new schools in August. And they have it so well mapped out. How come adults never get any transition training to deal with work life and that fine balance?"

In retrospect, the information is out there. There are enough career fairs, open houses, information interviews. Planning is everything. I completely agree, but the toughest part is to sift the information and pick up what is relevant for you.

I still remember my transition period during school. I had no idea what I wanted to do but I knew what I couldn't do. I couldn't get the least bit motivated to study commerce. I had signed up for it. Spent a week in that class when I knew by the end of Day 1 that this was not me. Picked up my bags and scooted over to liberal arts to study literature and sociology where I kid you not, my heart sang.

Funny thing happens when the heart sings. You actually spend more time doing your work and less time feeling tired. This was what I wanted my girls to understand about transition week and making choices that push them gently forward. One step closer to defining what would make their heart sing.

I also liked the fact that my daughter going into high school actually gets to look at a four year plan. While she focuses on her immediate future, she also gets to plan the next three years. Hopefully it will give her the chance to experiment, eliminate, extricate and emerge a little closer to understanding how to find that elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Experiment - Think buffet. Sometimes it's overwhelming to see the array of food heaped in front of you. But you get to taste variety instead of a la carte. Then go back and and eat more of what you like.

Eliminate - If you can't figure what you want to do, work backwards and try to figure out what you don't like. Then remember to write that down. Many people get stuck in repetitive cycles and wonder why nothing has changed.

Extricate - If you have made a choice and that doesn't sit well with you, then have the courage to acknowledge that you have made a mistake and course correct.

So while she is heads down, figuring out her four year plan, I am revisting mine. And in the words of Jon Bon Jovi, we will both "Map out our future, but do it in pencil."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Follow the Path with Heart - Musings for February

I have been pondering over this month's theme. Just to set the record straight, I don't have themes but lightbulbs typically pop when you are busy cooking, working, dreaming. Lightbulbs don't ask for permission. They barge right in and if you are not home, they fuse ever so gently.

So I digress as the theme is not lightbulbs, it is all about HEART. You might argue that heart should not be a theme for one month, it is forever. And you would be absolutely right.

Why now, why this month. Apart from the obvious that Cupid has a dedicated day which retail stores are exploiting, it was prompted by some incredible musings by some gifted writers.

I believe that each one of us knows about this path with heart. Some of us have followed it and some of us have stood on the sidelines wringing our hands choosing the dictates of the head instead. There are no right or wrong answers as to each a journey as unique as a fingerprint.

But and this is a big BUT...

When you look in the mirror with eyes listless, unwilling, dragging your feet.
When you are tired by the thought of Monday.
When you can't remember as you seem to forget too often.
When you feel anxiety creeping, clutching at you with clammy fingers reminding you of possible failure.
When you look back to find a whole bunch of coulda, shoulda, woulda and only ifs

All these whens and there are more warning whens.

Then if you don't stop to have that talk about the path with heart with the man in the mirror. Then you have betrayed yourself.

Now the path with heart is not about chucking your paycheck, getting on that bike and riding the wind. It could be that for some. It could also be about finding that nugget in our treasure chest that brightens those eyes, that lifts the chin, that squares the shoulder. Once you find it, once you have the courage to pursue it, once you understand that no outside voice can quell it, you are set free.

"Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure. You’ve got to find the treasure, so that everything you have learned along the way can make sense." The Alchemist

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Whose Wall Is It Anyway? Letter To FB

Dear FB,

Please don't ask me to write on someone's wall, poke them, ask them to upload a picture or friend people you think I might know. I know you mean well but let's face it you are not match.com

Let's see I joined Facebook June 2006 and I must admit I have been hooked. I was there when all those applications were the rage. Superpoke was big that year, vampire fighting was in and so were all those growing gifts, animals popping from eggs, grafitti on the wall etc. Seen you guys move the dot and assimilate a lot of good stuff. And here's my take on your audience.

There are people who are new to facebook and pacing themselves. I call them the "Gingers". They have just signed up and are gingerly testing the waters. Like my daughter for instance. She joined and she got hit with a bunch of friend requests. She is searching for a profile picture and will not upload one till it is exactly what she is looking for. The gingers will take their time to understand the environment. They are self conscious and do not want to blurt something on their virtual wall and put their proverbial foot in the face. They are also very concerned about what their friends might post on their wall.

Then there are the Divers. Divers typically dive into everything with full gusto. They found something. They will learn everything about it. That profile picture will be on the very next hour. They will import email addresses. Scan their friends friends. Send friend requests. Within a few weeks, Divers would have completely understood the environment and raring to go. Divers will "like" comments; they will comment on links/posts and have those status updates buzzing. They might even bite off more than they can chew. Alpha...alpha...alpha.

You also have the Watchers. These folks have been around for sometime. They are there. They are quiet. They are reading. They may pretend that they are not interested and they will at gatherings say openly that they are too busy for facebook. They might ask Divers where they find the time to facebook. But they are there and they know just what you have been upto.

Another breed is the Sleepers. Sleepers or Dormants are different from watchers. They set up their profile. Probably forgot their username and password and have been like sleeping beauty, asleep for a few years. Now there are many instances when Dormants wake up and suddenly become active like those sleeper agents that Russia has planted in the US.

I would also throw in the Rashers. Rashers are dangerous to have as friends. They can write anything on your wall. Rashers go where no person has gone before. The bull in the china "wall" so to speak. Rashers can divulge information that was to be shared in an inbox. They can make provocative comments that can start a fire...you get the drift. The way to deal with Rashers is to isolate and use those newly improved privacy settings.

Add another important segment the Gamers. Gamers are competitive and committed folks who enjoy the many opportunities to match and win points. There are rural gamers who like the gentle farm animals, or the ones who prefer out and out combat...mafia, vampires, any others out there...bring it! You are either a Gamer or you are not...it is a genetic thang.

There are more. The optimists. The pessimists. The critics. The sage. The jokers. The daters. The mamas and the papas. People who make FB go round and around. So when you ask me to poke, to prod, to friend, to feed, to post, to suggest, remember all friends are not created equal. Jus sayin!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Bridesmaid

Worn around the edges
And fading away
Aging faster, trying hard
To keep Chronos at bay

Memories woven and spun like silk
Sepia scenes embellished,
Enhanced and retouched
Unable to gaze away

Constant chatter clutters the mind
Every empty space crammed with noise
Silence and stillness
No longer a choice

Her eyesight’s fading
Her hearing acute
Her body failing
Her mind astute

Her life was lonely
But not alone
Tending to children
Not her own

A supporting role
The eternal sidekick
Always the bridesmaid
Never the bride

Unsure of her legacy
Of lives she touched
Gifts of music, language
Poetry and love

With every reflection
Faint outlines of possibility
As ethereal as the mists
On the hilltops of Ooty

Do we ever die if we can
Touch one life
Change one destiny
Inspire one verse?

Copyright © 2008 Shaku Selvakumar

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What if 2012, What then 2010?

So the world may end on Dec 21st 2012 according to the Mayans and that would mean a little less than 3 years left on this earth. Whether we take the prophesy literally or metaphysically, the fact is that we are being forced by natural, social, economic and cultural shifts to engage in some serious reflection.

"The Hopi and Mayan elders do not prophesy that everything will come to an end. Rather, this is a time of transition from one World Age into another. The message they give concerns our making a choice of how we enter the future ahead. Our moving through with either resistance or acceptance will determine whether the transition will happen with cataclysmic changes or gradual peace and tranquility. The same theme can be found reflected in the prophecies of many other Native American visionaries from Black Elk to Sun Bear." - Joseph Robert Jochmans

Entering 2010, there is deepening awareness that our time on earth needs to make more sense than just existence. We can always say that 2012 is yet another disaster movie script and it doesn't mean anything. It probably is. Aliens may attack. Some maniac might launch a nuclear weapon. Or the earth may continue spinning on its axis for a very long time till the machines take over. But the point is we all are mortal and every day goes faster than the last.

So if we live like the world might end in three years would our decisions, our choices, our lifestyles, our priorities, our focus, our realities, our reactions, our careers be different? Would we love more and judge less? Would we say no more often to work that brings more stress? Would we stop living like we have all the time in the world?

I love resolutions, bless their tidy souls. At the heart of every resolution lies intention that is so vehement on bringing change. As the days pass, those intentions start rusting due to little or no care. And by the end of January, like boring leftovers, they are tossed into the bin of waste. Till the first day of the next year.

So as I look back at 2009, I mark it as the year when our world shook under the weight of so many revelations and uncertainities. I mark it as the beginning of another phase of constant change. When we became that generation holding the baton as our parents have passed it on. There is no longer any generation to blame only generations to lead.

"Sometimes, when we don't have the courage to change, everything changes around us to direct us to a new path. You cannot stop yourself from growing - evolution requires it." - The Secret

Here's my Nickelback anthem song for 2010 and I am hoping that if I hear it often enough I will not take the free ride in my own life.

"Against the grain should be a way of life
What's worth the price is always worth the fight
Every second counts 'cause
There's no second try
So live like you're never living twice
Don't take the free ride in your own life"