Eckhart Tolle – A New Earth

Of late I am seeking inspirational books, lectures, Internet articles. After the Landmark Forum and Advanced Course, I have begun to feel that there is more to mind than begin a memory bank of knowledge and concepts. I am seeking books, lectures and Internet articles in an attempt to understand more about the mind. That’s when I came across this book called “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle.
The book is very deep for readers who are looking for a way to figure out the purpose of one’s life. I had always imagined (from my rendezvous with films, TV shows, spiritual talks etc…) that any answer to the question – “what is the purpose of my life?” would either be so complicated that I woud’nt understand it or would be so ridiculously stupid that the answer was just not worth all the trouble.
I have heard quite a few “spiritual” talks and every time the “spiritual” teacher talks about life and its purpose it always seemed to point at things like – “purpose if life is seva”, “purpose of life is sacrifice”, “purpose of life is realizing one’s true nature” and so on. Such answers not only made things more unclear, but also made it appear that the quest for answer to the BIG question is not going to be worth-while. Answers that I heard from most “spiritual” talks looked like they were lifted straight from my primary school Moral Science text books.
Then came along this book. I had briefly heard about the book in the Oprah Winfrey show. I was also aware of the fact that the book was featured in her book club and had become very very popular. During a visit to the Crossword bookstore in Residency Road, I tumbled across this book and read it over the next few weeks.
This book was published much after the super-successful “The Power Of NOW” by the same author. That book talked about how life happens only in the ‘present moment’; not in the past and not in the future – but only and only in the present moment. It took a while for me to truly get this.
  • The past isn’t there in this present moment – which is RIGHT NOW. It only exists in my memory, which of course brings it to the present moment. But the undeniable truth is that the past doesn’t exist right now.
  • The future isn’t there in this present moment as well. It only exists in my imagination of the future and that makes it look present.
  • The present is there in the present moment. And thats just about the only thing thats real.
That brings about the core philosophy of “The Power of NOW” which is – “LIFE IS NOW”. If Life is NOW, then the purpose of life is whatever it is that I am doing RIGHT NOW. If am having lunch – purpose of life is having lunch, if I am writing software programs – purpose of life is writing software programs, if I am speaking with my wife – purpose of life is speaking with my wife, if I am leaving footwear at the door – purpose of life is to leave footwear at the door. As of now I am writing this blog so – the purpose of life is write this blog. If I dwell into the past or future, while writing this blog, then that thing becomes the purpose of life and hence messes up the only thing life has got – NOW.

“A New Earth” is about revealing the structure of the human mind that causes us to not live in the NOW.

For example, when I first came across the philosophy of NOW (outlined above), I reasoned that it is a nonsense concept. Life is just as much about past and future; as it is about now. If I don’t learn from the past then will most surely mess up my present and future. If I don’t have goals for my future, I would have no clue as to what I should be doing now. So the whole thing about “living only in the present” just isnt right.

Actually both the books never advised me to not learn from the past or make goals for the future. All it advised was – “don’t always live in the past or future”. Infact, learning from the past or designing a future also happens in the present. So unless we are ‘present’ about learning from the past or creating a new future, we wouldn’t probably not do a good job at it either.
This is one of the things that the book “A New Earth” talks about. It reveals a structure of the human mind called – “The EGO”, that keeps us away from the present moment.
The EGO’s functionality is to feed on things to derive a sense of self and consume the host (which is the human being in which it dwells) into it – thereby  cause missing the present moment.
The EGO, as the book says, is not wrong. It has its value and place in our life. But allowing it to take over our life – thats where the problem lies.
For example the EGO loves “complain and resentment”. Its a way of escaping the present moment by putting blame on something or someone else and play the role of a victim. From then on the identity of the person becomes “being a victim”. As long as he/she cannot become present to the fact that the ego is driving this kind of “being”ness in them, they cannot separate themselves from being a victim; and hence become and continue to be the VICTIM.
The book talks about how the structure of the EGO is the same irrespective of which person we are talking about. The only thing that changes, however, is the content of the EGO. The content could be my wealth, my looks, my girlfriend/wife’s beauty, my boyfriend/husband’s good looks, my knowledge, my religious alignment, my culture, my country, my company, my friends, my cell phone, my physical fitness and so on… I have met a few people who call themselves very spiritual. After a while it becomes apparent that “spirituality” has become the ‘content’ of their EGO. They use it to define themselves right, make others wrong; to complain about the lack of well-being on the planet and so on.. So, as the book portrays – EGO doesnt care about the content as long as it gets to feed on something and pose itself as the identity of its host.
The purpose of EGO is to fake itself as the identity of the person in which it is dwelling. And this happens in each and everyone of us. So, when two people are talking to each other – its actually one persons ego talking to its percept of the other person!
Here is what I really like about the book. After describing all of this about EGO, it says “EGO is not wrong”. Running behind money is not wrong, seeking a good looking partner is not wrong, seeking to be spiritual is not wrong. The book says that as human-beings we only have to bring about a certain level of awareness within ourselves and observe that “the EGO in me is not me”. What happens after noticing such a separation – that is left for the reader to experience. And it doesn’t take long to experience brief moments of such separation. When that happens – the feeling of ‘I am’ness is awesome :-). I am right now only feeling glimpses of ‘I am’ness, because it is quite a job observing myself all the time. But even those glimpses are worth the effort. I sincerely urge you to consider undergoing that experience.

I love my wife..

Whenever I attended someones marriage or heard someone talk about marriage, I always (over)heard people talk about marriage something like this – “After marriage, life goes down the hill. Sure life’s great for the first couple of months, but then it becomes too restrictive. Too much burden, too many responsibilities…” So naturally I started to believe that my life after marriage would suck big time. Added to that, I fell in love with a girl at college and proposed marriage to her. She accepted my proposal and things were great for about 4 years, after which she changed her mind and broke up with me. At that time, I made a firm impression – “relationships suck”.

When I turned 25, my parents started persuading me to get married and I kept avoiding such discussion time and again. One morning, I was woke up to see my mother dancing. I have never seen her dance so much. And why was she dancing? Because in her hand she held the photo and horoscope of a girl that perfectly matched with mine. I wouldn’t make much sense of the horoscope anyway, so I looked at the photograph. It was love at first quarter of a sight.

Nandini14

I remember the rest of my day – I was looking at the photograph for most of the day. I never believed that a girl’s photograph could actually make so much of an impression. Ofcourse the difference between this girl’s photograph and the others (in magazines, in college group photo shoots etc) was that, there was a good chance that I could marry this girl. Her name was Nandini.

Later that week we (as in our whole family) went and met the girl’s family. After that Nandini and I, we met again at Rice Bowl and talked for a couple of hours before we decided to get married.

It has now been more than a year since my marriage. Much against the idea of marriage that was dumped on me by others, my marriage simply rocks :-). I now have more freedom than before, I am happier than before and I love my life a lot. Nandini is a combination of my best friend, girl-friend, partner and wife. She makes it easy for me to be a myself, which actually makes it easy for me to be a good husband as well. Sure we have our ups and downs in life, but when I look at my first year of marriage – I cant remember a single ‘down’. I value her and my relationship with her a lot and I have noticed that she does the same.

Recently we started looking around and doing our research for buying a car. For the past month or so, every weekend we go out to different car showrooms in Bangalore and take a look at different cars, test drive some of them, gather information about them like – mileage, horsepower, stereo-system, features, space, cost, finance options etc.. Right now there are two very popular cars in Bangalore – Hyuindai i10 and Maruthu Swift. We both just hate the sight of the latter, so we made a decision to not buy that at all.

i10 is a good car, but then most of our friends have that car anyway. It wouldn’t feel special if we bought the same. So we decided to keep i10 as our last option.

Then we saw Honda Jazz. This car is just WOW, but it a bit too expensive. So we dropped the idea of buying that car as well.

Then we saw the other Hyundai variants, Skoda, Chervolet, Tata, Fiat…. The only other car we came close to considering was Tata Indigo Manza. This car is actually bluetooth enabled. As in I can get into the car with my phone and have it automatically pair up with the car. I can receive phone calls by pressing a button on the steering wheel and talk using the microphone and speakers in the car itself! The car was awesome looking as well. But after taking a test drive, my interest in the car went down. It was probably because the test-drive-car was not so good. But we decided to not buy the car anyway.

After several weeks of research, we finally tumbled on Maruthi Swift DZire. I liked the car for a couple of reasons. I had always imagined myself with a sedan car. I don’t like the hatchback car types, not that I would crib about it if I had one. My wife however, did not like the car one bit. She went on and on about how horrible the car looks and how she would prefer to not have a car than have this one. I tried to explain to her the good points of car and convince her that we should go for it. But she categorically refused to even consider it.

So, I dropped my interest in that car and we continued hunting for other cars. Finally we thought of using our fall-back option – Hyundai i10.

Last week, on my way to my customers office, I saw a black Swift DZire on the road. I loved it. I thought of giving it another shot. Friday evening, last week, we went to yet another Maruthi showroom. I asked the salesman to give a demo of the car. Nandini made the ‘whatever’ face. But she decided to tag along and let me take one last look at DZire anyway. On our way to the car I told her – “I always pictured myself in a sedan car. I dont know of any of my friends having a sedan car. Everybody goes for a hatchback and I always thought that it would be cool to have a sedan. I know that this comparison thing is foolish and childish, but its just a kid-like desire I have. Thats why I like DZire more.”. From that moment on, my wife began to genuinely like the car. After another hour or so, she said – “Lets do it. Lets go for this car!”…

This is one of the several instances where she goes – “my husband’s happiness is more important that the things that bring about it and my opinions about them”. Thats one of the several things I love about my wife. She gets my childish nature and wants; and allows me to be. At the end of this whole thing, I realized that it was not even the car. I love the car more so now, because it reminds me of who my wife is for me and what she means to me.

I love my wife…. not because of the car, but because of the wonderful person she is…

Quick Update: We have now cancelled our car and took the advance payment back. Turns out that my brother will be going off to the US on a long-term trip. So, we will be using his car until he gets back.

I have never spoken to you..

A realization hit me a couple of days back when I had a breakdown in my communication with a friend. I realized that I had never personally spoken to anyone in my life; I have only spoken to the perception that I have (of them) in my mind of.

I have an opinion about my colleague, lets call him R. In my mind I have a perception of R that gives me my opinions about him, his work, his communication, his skills, his spoken language etc. Everytime I want to speak to him about something, I can now notice myself organizing the thoughts, creating sentences, adjusting my tone and body language based on the perception I have of R. And all this happens even before I come face to face with him.

The same thing happens when I meet someone new. Everytime I meet someone new I almost immediately remember someone that looks like the person I just met, or has body language/voice/accent similar. So; that person I remember creates my perception for the new person I just met.

The racket here is that I want to be right about my perception of people. So it doesnt matter if I have to modify my conversation with them, or prove them wrong, or ignore them or lose self-expression; but it is big payoff for me to say – “I can figure people out”. To a large extent, I feel sad to admit that I have been manipulating my conversations with people to feed my perception of them.

I am not sure if I can ever stop creating/using perceptions of people. But from now on I will surely try to distinguish perception from real and choose to use either of them freely and take responsibility for it.

“I cant do xyz” – is a racket

I have often heard myself saying “I cant do this, I cant do that”. For example

  • I cant stick to an exercise routine or diet
  • I cant deal with government office officials
  • I cant keep my wardrobe organized
  • I cant manage to find the right people for my team
  • I cant control my temper

It goes on, but I just wanted to list out only the less embarrassing ones. Over the past few days I realized “I CANT” is a racket.

And what is a “racket”, you might ask. It is a fixed way of being and a persistent complaint. It is a front-end behavior (the persistent complaint) to cover up a inner flaw. All rackets have a common structure. By running rackets we get some payoffs at the cost of love, affinity, well being, freedom and self-expression. The most common payoff is “being right and making someone wrong”. Other payoffs are “to dominate and avoid domination, to justify oneself and invalidate others, to win and cause the other person(s) to lose”.

Now coming back to the I CANT racket. Looking at my complaints list dispassionately I can safely say that most of my I cants are either “I choose not to” or “I am just too lazy to”. It is not that I cant, it is just that I am coming up with enough reasons to not do the task in question.

Let me explain how the I CANT racket manifests and establishes itself. Take for example the “I cant stick to an exercise routine” racket. What happened is – I started with an exercise routine, I did it for a little while and then for some reason or the other I stopped. This cycle repeated a bunch of times (gym, jogging, yoga and swimming). And then I made up this story – “I don’t stick to an exercise routine”. That’s where the “I CANT” racket began. One of the most powerful payoffs we get by running a racket is the ability to ‘be right and make others wrong’. So the next time my wife/father/brother/friends enrolled me to yet another exercise routine I somehow have to come up with a way to quit because I have to be right about I don’t stick to my exercise routine. If I somehow stick to the exercise routine then I don’t get to be right about my story. No matter how many times I tried to change this behavior, it never worked. The thing about change, as they say in the Landmark Forum, the more we try to change something, the more it persists.

Working on the other items in my I CANT list, I figured that I have made up a story about all of them. And then I started running rackets to ensure that I am right about my stories.

  • “I cant keep my wardrobe organized” – Every time I clean it up, I have to mess it up again. Because I have to be right about this.
  • “I cant control my temper” – If I do control, it somehow goes against my understanding of my temper. So I have to fire off. I have to be right about “I am an angry young man!”

There are so many people (friends, relatives etc…) that I am no longer in touch with because I have made a story about them. For example I am not in good touch with most of my friends from college. After we all got into our jobs it became difficult to keep in touch. I tried speaking to my friends over phone a couple of times but they were either unable to take the call or speak freely, due to whatever reasons. Then I made a story – “my friends don’t want to keep in touch with me”. That’s when the racket started. From then on I had to create situations that kept feeding my story and making me right about it. I would (unknowingly) call them at all the wrong hours. When they don’t pick up the call, I strengthen my story and hence the racket. When they do call or answer my call I run the racket with them again by speaking sarcastically or not appearing interested etc. Eventually they stop calling me and/or taking my calls. And when that happens I tell – “see, did I not tell ya.. my friends don’t want to keep in touch with me.”

The above examples are rather small and simple. I have applied this on a few more personal issues and figured my rackets there. Once the rackets are distinguished, I can clearly weigh the payoffs vs costs and then stop running them anymore. It has really resulted in freedom and self-expression.

“The Problem is Choice” – Neo – The Matrix Reloaded

Yesterday evening we had a wonderful session on “Living Life at Choice”. I know the title seems to have obvious grammar mistakes, but when we get the meaning of “choice” it all makes sense.

After yesterday’s session I realized that for all my life I have been only making decisions. To decide is to select an option based on a bunch of considerations or reasons. The problem with decision is that the power and authority of selection rests with the consideration or reason, not with me (the person who made that selection).

To choose is to select freely after consideration (of the reasons, facts etc). The catch here is the ‘after’ part. What does it mean to select after consideration. It means that once the selection is made, the considerations dont matter. What matters is that ‘I’ made the selection. The power and authority of the selection rests with me, not the reasons that helped make the selection.

Choosing becomes easy when we have options to consider, but it becomes difficult when we have only one option to consider. The session leader went on to tell that the key to living a powerful and happy life is to choose everything we currently have. Choose my past, choose my present, choose my father, choose my mother and so on. Because there are several aspects of life where we don’t have options to consider, but we still have to select the only option available. The best way to deal with such situations is to “choose” the only option available. Because “If I choose what I have, I will have what I choose and I am left empowered and happy. On the other hand if I don’t choose what I have, I will still have it and that leads to resentment, frustration, stress and unhappiness.

Once I ‘got’ the choice distinction, what I realized was that – choice not only gives us the power and authority over the selection; but also the responsibility of having made the selection. Once I make a choice, I can no longer run away from the effects of the choice and not give reasons for dealing with the highs and lows of the choice.

I have not chosen so many things about myself, my past, my work, my life to the point that I blame the reasons and considerations for their ill-effects on me. By blaming I am only becoming a victim of those reasons and considerations and I dont take the responsibility.

For example – over the years I have recruited quite a few people to my organization (some of whom have left the organization and went to other jobs), but never really created breakthrough results with them. Why? Because I “decided” their recruitment into the company; but never really “choose” them once they were in. I know that I decided, because I conducted a written test, programming test and everything. But then the written/programming test became the reasons and considerations for their existence in the team. Choice is about selecting after the consideration. Had I said – “I choose to recruit xyz because I choose to recruit xyz” instead of saying “I choose to recruit xyz because xyz cleared the written/programming test”, I would have felt more empowered in my choice. Whenever xyz was not performing well I started telling myself – “well he cleared the test. That’s why I took him in. Now he is not performing. Is deliberately under performing? Why are they not delivering results? Why does this happen to me? When will I be able to recruit the right people? Where are the right people? You just dont get good people these days. Is there something wrong with the tests? Maybe he has just become incompetent. Maybe he just doesnt have what it takes….” These dis-empowering thoughts come because the responsibility of the selection was with the “written/programming test” not with me (the person who actually made the selection). So I never took any action to actually figure out what went wrong and how do I go about dealing with the situation. Maybe he needed some coaching, maybe he has some personal issues at that time. Maybe he is not feeling any growth in the company.

The main shift that is happening in me, now that I started choosing, is that I now accept responsibility for my selections. I now fully acknowledge that the reasons/considerations did not make the selection – but I did.

That’s exactly what my Orkut/GTalk tag line says – “You can have anything you want in life, provided you want everything you have”.

Like Neo says in “The Matrix Reloaded” – THE PROBLEM IS CHOICE.


The Landmark Forum

In the month of July this year, I attended the Landmark Forum. The promise of Landmark Education is “Living life powerfully and living a life you love” and I got to tell you; they deliver on that.

The venue was Sathya Sai Sadan, right next to Fourum Mall Koramanagala. A total of 330 people were present for the program. Among the crowd were students, software engineers, project managers, doctors, vice presidents of various companies, lawyers, accountants, housewives, and even celebrities (well one celebrity actually: Rahul Dravid).

The Landmark Forum was led by Mahesh Nambiar, a Forum leader who has been with Landmark Education and conducting such programs for the past 15 years.

I was introduced to the Landmark Forum by Mr. Taranath of G. T. Enterprices who is my ex-boss’s friend. But even before that Prof. Lingaraju, who was my Computer Graphics teacher at JNNCE, was persuading me to join the Landmark Forum. He had completed the “Cirriculum for Living” (which is basically Landmark Forum, The Advanced Course and SELP) a couple of years back. Ever since then he was persuading me to do the course. I was, however, not very keen on taking up the course, for whatever reason.

Anyways, I finally decided to take the course in July. I got to say the Forum itself, though good, was not extraordinary. Many people that attended the program along with me went on and on and on about how wonderful and spectacular the experience was and how they created extraordinary results for themselves. Their feedback was so superlative; that I began to wonder if they were faking their experiences and results.

About a month or so after that, my wife attended the Landmark Forum. She felt just the same: the seminar is good but no extraordinary results.

As a part of the Landmark Forum program, participants can choose to attend the “Landmark Forum in Action Seminar” series, which is basically 10 evening sessions. Every Monday evening between 7 and 10, we have one session. These sessions are being led by Venkat, who is a Seminar Series leader. In each session Venkat revisits one distinction from the Landmark Forum and helps us put them into action. The first and second session were just ok, but from the third session onwards I have been noticing extraordinary results myself.

Two distinctions taught in the landmark forum have impacted me a lot
1. The Distinction Racket
2. The Distinction Identity

Racket, they distinguish, is a fixed way of being and a persistent complaint. It is a front-end behavior (the persistent complaint) to cover up a inner flaw. All rackets have a common structure. By running rackets we get some payoffs at the cost of love, affinity, well being, freedom and self-expression.

In the seminar series they deepen this distinction and help us identify our own rackets. I have always had complaints about “how I cant delegate effectively”, “how I cant find the right people for my team” and so on. On the face of it, these complaints really dont have much to do with me, or so I thought. Venkat encouraged us to consider that these complaints are Rackets. Upon taking on that consideration and understanding the structure of my rackets I realized that I was indeed running a racket. At some point in my life something happened and from then on I made decision that I will for ever be one-up with my peers. Over time I had forgotten about the incident and also forgot that I made the “being one-up decision”; but the behavior and attitude remained. I had to ensure that I delegate tasks in a way that made it difficult (if not impossible) for people to deliver good results. That way I could continue to be “one-up”. The Landmark Forum helped me identify this inner flaw and move beyond it, by declaring a new possibility of being without the “delegation racket”.

Identity, they distinguish, is a set of three strong suits. A strong suit is something we use repeatedly to deliver results and become/be successful. While strong suits are wonderful tools to deliver results, it is also highly limiting. For example my strong suit is “being self-sufficient”. While that strong suit helps me in being independent and proactive, it doesnt really help me when I have to depend on others for creating results. That explains more of my delegation racket. The Identity conversation helped me get why I am the way I am, and why I am not the way I am not. After the session on Identity, I declared new possibilities of being not my strong suits or rackets.

The Landmark Forum in Action (LFIA) Seminar series is still going on. I am thoroughly enjoying the journey of inner discovery that the LFIA is causing. In the coming few blogs I am going share the results that I have been generating and the new insights gotten out of my participation in LFIA.