Steeped In Tradition

Reminiscences and Reflections

Category: Uncategorized

Seed for Thought

What tempts us to give unsolicited advice to others? Why don’t people listen to free advice? Well, nobody likes being told what to do. So stop giving free advice! But what if you care about that person and want to share a life’s lesson with them, or turn them towards the right path? How do you make them “really” listen?

I look around and I see parents telling their grown up kids what to do. Spouses telling their each other what to do and how to do it. Friends giving advice to other friends on how to deal with relationships. In all these cases, the “advisor” really does care about “advisee” and offers his/her wisdom with the best of intensions. But again, people never listen, why?

If our mind was an island, our beliefs and principles would be the trees on it. Our advice is like a tree that has grown on the terrain of our minds. When we offer it to others, we are often trying to plant it somewhere else. We barely scratch the surface of the terrain of the other mind. And we rarely have the time or the competence to see what stones(emotional issues) and hurdles lie underneath. Thus, I find it very pointless to tell people what to do. Or stop them them from going where they want to go. Fully grown trees can’t take root and thats why people don’t listen.

Seeds on the other hand, can take root. We can plant a “seed” of advice into peoples minds. A seed of advice has to be concise and in a language the listener understands. It can be a quote or a small story. It could be a joke, gibe or even an insult. It could be a promise they once made to you. Whatever it is, it should evoke questions in the listener’s mind. It should be incomplete like a puzzle or an unfinished poem. One that’s unsettling and leaves the listener wanting more, like movie with a sudden ending. It should force the listener to conjure possibilities and wonder: “what should happen next?”

If we plant a seed right, it will bear fruit. That’s the only certainty you can hope for. It will not look the same as the tree in your mind’s garden. Thats natural and you should be ok with that. If you try to dictate the possibilities, you are altering the natural growth. For a student, the fruit parents should hope for is “become knowledgeable and excellent in a trade of your choice”. You can’t dictate the outcome to be “become a PHd. in Chemistry/ admission to IITs/Berkeley” — thats not a seed, thats already a tree.

The weight of the choice must always rest with the listener. If you have planted the seed right, the persons mind with explode with possibilities and he or she might struggle to make the choice. It is critical you leave them alone even if they ask for your help. This is when you walk away and let thoughts take root in the persons mind. It’s easier for a people to accept outcomes if the choice was theirs. I think thats the hardest part in offering advice, we often try to make choices for people thinking it will speed their recovery.

Our minds have many thoughts and convictions, like trees in a forest. As we grow older, so do the trees in our mind. Our thoughts and principles develop stronger roots. They branch out and intertwine with other trees. An self-sustaining ecosystem forms that can weather all seasons. But the same forest also blocks out the sun. A new sampling will never take root in the midst of the tall trees. If some thoughts have stayed with people long enough, or if they are too old, it might just be too late to plant a new seed for thought in their minds.

To end on a more positive note, about two years ago I saw a touching Malayalam movie: Manjadikuru “Lucky Red Seeds”. The narrator takes the audience back to a time in his childhood in a small village in Kerala. Collecting so called “lucky red seeds” were a favorite pass-time among kids and references to these seeds occur throughout the movie. I would like share the closing words, which I thought were beautiful:

Everyone likes to pick the perfect glossy red seeds
No one picks the dirty dark ones
But they are really the lucky ones
Embraced by the earth
They grow into trees to bear thousands of Lucky Red Seeds
Grandma taught me.

lucky red seeds

We owe to our loved ones and friends effort to enrich their lives with our presence. It might be worthwhile to spread the seeds of our passion and enthusiasm into their minds. You never know which ones might take root and bear more lucky seeds.

Sanctity of spaces

Do you feel tranquility and peace at places of religious worship? Do you feel awe and a sense of history when walking the streets of a city with several hundred years of history? Are there places or spaces where you always feel a certain way? When you visit your parents place, do you find yourself behaving in old ways which you never would in your own home? (Lazy, never showing up on-time at the dinner table)

An explanation to these could be that humans are creature of habit. We see a “cue”, our mind suggests a “routine” to get to a familiar “reward”. Religious places give peace, because our minds have been trained since childhood to feel that way. Historical places feel that way because of biases we have already entered in our mind from our research on these places. We are lazy at our parents home simply because we always have been lazy growing up.

Psychology says its our mind that induces these feelings. But what if there is more to it. What if every “space” has a memory? What if the walls remember how people felt when they were between them?

I think what people do and feel leaves invisible signatures in the space they were in. These signatures last across time and can only diminish by adding different signatures in place of them to dampen. When we visit temples which are hundreds of years old, we connect to the reservoir of faith and peace that has been enriched over centuries by visiting pilgrims. Households which have seen violence, grief might also leave behind negative imprints in the walls. I think its also for the same reason visitors often feel a sense of eeriness in places like Aushwitz or Jallianwala Bagh, which have seen great human tragedy.

If spaces have memory, it gives us a opportunity to add some certainty over how different corners of our home influence us. If we sit on a study table only if we have a clear intent to work on something productive, we will induce feelings of “focus”, “discipline” into that space. The easy chair for reading. The dinner table for friendly chats and sharing thoughts. If we “bank” enough of those feeling into those spaces, we could use them to regain our focus and purpose. If personal projects are lagging behind — sit on the study chair and get cracking. If the mind is troubled — sit on the easy chair. If it needs distraction — sit on the stool and pick up the guitar.

As a kid I was strictly forbidden from studying while on bed. The bed was for one purpose only — sleep. I would like to think because of that, to this day, I always fall asleep within minutes when I hit the bed. I always find myself aimlessly reading stuff on the web as soon as I sit on my chair. No matter what my initial goal was before turning on the laptop, my focus just drifts away and I end up reading a random article on my favorite sites like theatlantic, newyorker, facebook, artofmanliness or one of the news websites. I am working to cultivate my study table to be a space of learning and writing. I am very happy that my easy chair always calms me down and makes me think about family. The stool in the corner of the room puts me in a mood to play and improve my guitar playing skills.

Places and spaces affect us in ways that can be apparent only if we really sit down and meditate. We are surrounded by so much noise and distraction that we rarely can connect with ourselves, let alone with whats around us and where we are. I think with a little bit of discipline we can cultivate spaces that help our minds. The living room can be a place for communication, settling differences, adventure. The bedroom — a place for love and relaxation. I think all forms of negativity and debauchery should be banished from the household. We will be richly rewarded for preserving the sanctity of our spaces.

Perfect Practice

There is a quote by Vince Lombardi, a famous American Football figure, that I think about from time to time:

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. “

These words are a call to put in our best in whatever we do, every time, over and over again. Practice makes permanent. And perfect practice makes the perfect permanent. The “permanent” aspect is important because we all know it takes more time to unlearn a bad habit than to form a good one.

But wise words can be incorporate in our day to day activities only if we have discipline. The problem with them is that they just don’t stick in the mind. I think that is why our forefathers created fables and stories. A story captures the attention of the listener and leaves a lasting impression.

Metaphors are also powerful tools to convey a message. When you cant express something in words, its sometimes easier to use a metaphor. Not only does it tickle the brain to actually think about the message. In certain situations, metaphors might be the most polite way to get the message across.

My guitar instructor shared a metaphor which I thought went very well with the quote by Vince Lombardi. He said that every time you practice a piece of music on the guitar, it goes into a magic hat. When you are performing on stage, you can only pull from that magic hat. If you want only good things to come out of your hat, you need to make sure you put only the best notes and chords in it.