Languish vs. Dormant

Psychologist Adam Grant had given a label, ‘languish’ to the feeling of ‘blah!’ that many have felt and continue to feel in the last twelve months. Several friends, with whom I shared the article, felt that it described their own state of mind accurately.

These are the key extracts of that article:

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

The term was coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes, who was struck that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving. His research suggests that the people most likely to experience major depression and anxiety disorders in the next decade aren’t the ones with those symptoms today. They’re the people who are languishing right now. And new evidence from pandemic health care workers in Italy shows that those who were languishing in the spring of 2020 were three times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself. [Link]

He notes that giving oneself uninterrupted time and focusing on small goals are antidotes to languishing. But, some of the answers may be a case of Catch-22.  But, I liked this last line and therein lies the clue to why mental illnesses are not attended to at all. We are in denial of them all the time. Almost all of us:

We still live in a world that normalizes physical health challenges but stigmatizes mental health challenges

There was a response to this article by who wrote that he was not languishing but that he was consciously dormant. Of course, the moment one is conscious of what one is doing, they cannot be languishing.

This is a fair point:

But one has to remember that naming doesn’t just describe the world, it creates the world, too. As Brian Eno says, “Giving something a name can be just the same as inventing it.” 

In these lines, it looks like he is trying to make a case for acceptance as an answer to the situation we face:

It seems to me that the reason that so many of us feel like we’re languishing is that we are trying to flourish in terrible conditions. It is spring outside — or the “unlocking” season — but it is still “Winter in America,” and, as any gardener knows, if you try to wake a plant out of dormancy too soon, it will wither, and maybe die.

in other words, there is a time to lie low and not do anything and such dormancy is a part of flourishing when the conditions are propitious. Being patient when conditions are not propitious and respecting the reality that there will be winters and then springs, etc., is what he is alluding to here:

It is a mistake and a misreading of nature to think that you, a living creature, will be flourishing all the days of your life.

We learn, from the article that Michelangelo lost four years of work to dealing with a lawsuit. In other words, stuff happens.

I like both the articles for different reasons. Adam Grant’s article helps people recognise what they might be going through. They do not have to feel very worried. They will feel a bit better that it is rather commonplace and widespread, in these times. The response by Austin Kleon too is good in the sense that, indirectly, it makes the case for acceptance and not resisting what cannot be resisted or what may not be possible to resist.

The omitted variable in CSK’s success

Today, I saw the header in Cricinfo.com. See the picture below:

CSK

A thought crossed my head. It is not as though CSK played badly last year. They won a few matches in the end. If I recall correctly, at least two matches were very close. In one match, Dwayne Bravo sustained a groin strain and could not bowl his last over. 

This year the players are almost the same, except for Shane Watson. Suresh Raina is back. But, the bulk of the players is the same. So, what has changed?

The header says, ‘change in attitude’. The oft-used word is ‘intent’. What about ‘luck’? Why is not mentioned? Should everything be in our control? Is it the case any time? Most of the time, it is not.

The team had the same set of skills, talent, experience. To be sure, they might have pledged to apply themselves better. But, success breeds success. Suddenly, people begin to look for reasons for success. It might be a small stroke of luck here and a small stroke of luck there. Had not Russell lost his leg stump by moving too far inside the line, KKR might well have won their match against CSK. Or, had Nagarkoti taken a single and given the strike to Cummins, they might have won the match. Who knows?

[Parenthetically, I should mention here that Riyan Parag should have taken a single and given the strike to David Miller today in their 20th over against the Mumbai Indians. Perhaps, who knows, they could have added ten more runs to their total.]

Humans look at success and want to explain it as reflecting their endeavour, their application, their hard work. My point is not that these things don’t matter. I doubt if there is such a big difference in these aspects from last year to this year. Luck plays a huge role in our successes and failures. We can call it ‘Divine Will’ or ‘grace’ too. That is required.

Although not directly applicable to the above situation, the quote below resonates:

……While we are rather willing and even eager and relieved to agree with a historian’s finding that we stumbled into the more shameful events of history, such as war, we are correspondingly unwilling to concede—in fact we find it intolerable to imagine—that our more lofty achievements, such as economic, social or political progress, could have come about by stumbling rather than through careful planning. . . . Language itself conspires toward this sort of asymmetry: we fall into error, but do not usually speak of falling into truth. [Link]

That quote is from the review article by Malcolm Gladwell on the book by Adelson on Albert Hirschman.

 

Effective teams

Mr. Ravi Venkatesan, founder-promoter of GAME (Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurs) had shared an article that Charles Duhigg had written in February 2016. Today is a day for revisiting old gems, it looks like.

Charles Duhigg knows how to write and how to tell a story. He weaves well. His 2018 article, ‘The case against Google’, incidentally, was a classic. It is worth reading. Still relevant. Perhaps, more relevant.

His book, ‘The power of habit’ is in my Kindle app. Yet to read, though.

This article leaves me with somewhat mixed feelings in the end. I would have preferred the words, ‘openness’ and ‘trust’ that openness would not be exploited or used against a team member than the word, ‘safety’ which is a word in fashion these days.

Some key extracts (as I saw them):

But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations….

Trust is one word that captures the above.

what Silicon Valley does best: figure out how to create psychological safety faster, better and in more productive ways.

If one thinks of the nation and its people as a team, is Silicon valley really raising the level of psychological safety, in all key issues of the day – whether it is political ideology or Covid handling, etc.,? In other words, is Silicon Valley or Google, living up to (1) above, for America as a whole?

She wanted her teammate to be sensitive to what she was feeling.

Understanding someone takes time and effort and so is establishing trust. If we are lazy, we don’t do that and hence, we resort to heuristics and short-cuts and slot people into pre-existing mental  boxes in our heads that we think we understand.

In other words, if we delay or, better, avoid sticking labels to people, we will be doing well as members of teams inside an organisation and members of a larger society or nation or the world.

What will we do with (or without) Housel’s delightful nuggets?

Again, thanks to my friend, Gulzar Natarajan I read Morgan Housel’s blog post tilted, ‘A few short stories’. It was written about five days ago.

Indeed, as always a very delightful read. But, if I may dare say, Morgan Housel has also become sort of predictable with his collection of stories. There is a part of me that asks, ‘So’? – similar to the guys who landed on the moon and asked if that was all there was to it.

Beyond reminding us to be humble because we don’t know much and we may not even know what we don’t know and that we all may be victims of the Dunning-Krueger effect (that we overestimate what we know and underestimate our ignorance or are not even cognisant of it), my only hope is that at the right time when I need them, these nuggets of wisdom come to my rescue. Of that, I cannot be sure either because I have no idea how my brain works 🙂

  • That risk is something that happens to others – my dad used to say this repeatedly, when you are young, you think old age is something that happens to others.
  • That the lady who had her blindness cured regretted it – law of unintended consequences
  • John Nash’ remark – that is an important reminder – that the same person who could do some out of the world thing that you liked could do another out of the world thing that you did not like. We accept one and cannot accept that both stem from the same personality trait or skills or attributes that he/she possessed.
  • That the anticipation of something was always more exciting than the reality – the story of the astronauts who felt underwhelmed on landing in moon – used to be referred to in the context of marriage. 

But, the problem with all of these is this: what do you do with it? The hope is that subconsciously they seep into us and that, at the right time, our brains put them to work and save us from some mistake, blunder, disaster, calamity, etc., just as it struck the British commander that if they could rescue soldiers from Dunkirk, Germans could cross the ocean too. I hope that such intuition and insight comes to the top of the mind surface from the recesses of our consciousness, where all the imprints of these readings are stored, hopefully.

Emptiness of evil

Destruction is an inverted form of creation, which brings into being a new entity known as nothingness. Since God has cornered the act of creation, the devil can only imitate this creativity by trying to break up God’s handiwork; but this means, to Satan’s eternal chagrin, that evil is dependent on good, and is always belated in relation to it.

There’s a long tradition for which evil is a kind of lack or absence. It may look frighteningly real, but it really springs from an incapacity for life.

When evil people feel agonised by the sickening void inside themselves, they try to fill it by annihilating others. Only in the act of destruction can they feel alive. Only by spreading their own nothingness around themselves can they hope to escape from it. Yet one can also view this from another perspective.

One reason why the evil detest human life is because it is messy. Evil is unnerved by the untidy and unfinished. Materiality is shapeless, mercurial stuff which seeps all over the place. The evil, however, are purists and disciples of order who find chaos unbearable, and who are therefore deeply hostile to the human body.

Evil has the mystery of things that are motiveless. This is one reason why it is sometimes seen as glamorous, compared to the prim world of virtue. In fact, virtue is also a matter of doing things for their own sake, rather than for profit and reward, and thus has an unnerving resemblance to evil. The devil, one should recall, was once an angel. Evil may appear full of energy and exoticism, but that is just outward show.

Vice became exciting when virtue grew boring. For Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, virtue is all about abundance of life. By the time we arrive at the philosophy of John Locke in the late 17th century, virtue is now a thoroughly bourgeois affair — a matter of thrift, prudence, chastity, temperance, honesty, sobriety and a number of other qualities for which one feels more admiration than affection. No wonder, then, that with the rise of the middle classes evil finally comes into own, as Milton’s magnificently rebellious Satan overshadows his stiff-necked bureaucrat of a God. Dickens’s heroes have all the virtues, but his villains have all the life. One would rather knock back a glass of whisky with Fagan than share an orange juice with Oliver Twist. How to make goodness interesting becomes an exacting artistic problem. A few centuries later, “wicked” would come to mean “great”, and Gothic would be all the rage in university English
departments.

If only the evil could let themselves go, they might recognise that there is a more fertile kind of nothingness than destruction, namely the act of self-dispossession. Only in this way might they be open to genuine life. [Link]

Somehow, when I was reading this, a paragraph I read in the wonderful review of Laurence Freeman’s ‘Strategy: a history’ by Professor Avinash Dixit:

Finally, Clausewitz recognized that even a seemingly decisive battle was seldom the end of the story. \A defeated enemy might rise again. … As victory might be temporary … it might be prudent to negotiate a settlement under more favorable terms when the optimum position has been reached” (p. 93). This is true in real-life games more generally: every game is embedded within a bigger game, and a seemingly winning strategy in this game may be bad for the larger game. The more game theory I learn and understand, the better I realize that what your mother told you was \the right thing to do” is often also the best self-interested strategy for the long run and for the bigger game. [Link]

When in doubt, act

I am surprised that I had not blogged on this article the first time it was shared with me by my friend Srinivas Varadarajan in 2013. The article had originally appeared in 2013, of course. Malcolm Gladwell wrote it. It was a review of a biography of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman, a Princeton historian. It took me four years to click on the link that my friend Srinivas Varadarajan had sent and now, four years later, the article is back in my space.

Somewhat interestingly, my friend Gulzar Natarajan shared a paragraph from that article with me yesterday. It is worth repeating it here:

Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be……

……While we are rather willing and even eager and relieved to agree with a historian’s finding that we stumbled into the more shameful events of history, such as war, we are correspondingly unwilling to concede—in fact we find it intolerable to imagine—that our more lofty achievements, such as economic, social or political progress, could have come about by stumbling rather than through careful planning. . . . Language itself conspires toward this sort of asymmetry: we fall into error, but do not usually speak of falling into truth. [Link]

The last line is a gem and it can be interpreted in ever so many ways. It fully reflects the play of human ego. Errors are not ours. They are accidents that are no fault of ours. But, correct solutions are not serendipitous. We engineered them. We don’t stumble into achievements. We actively planned and made them happen. It is beautiful and yet wholly unsurprising that we have even made the language reflect this strong belief of ours: faults are not ours but achievements are!

I am presenting below some extracts from the article and comment on them when I could not resist myself from commenting!

The phrase that Hirschman and Colorni would repeat to each other was that they hoped to “prove Hamlet wrong.” Hamlet shouldn’t have been frozen by his doubts; he should have been freed by them. Hamlet took himself too seriously. He thought he needed to be perfect. Colorni and Hirschman didn’t. Courage, Colorni wrote, required the willingness “to always be on guard against oneself.”…. Hirschman would come to recognize that action fuelled by doubt allows for failures to be left behind.

The extract below resonates with us when we confront choices between ‘tried and tested’ and the unknown. Or, when we look for a new job, between an established employer and a start-up, say. Of course, there is no right or wrong decision. Each one of has to be clear about our preferences and what we are comfortable with. On a whim, Hirschman relocated to Bogota, Colombia.

Of course, eventually it turned out to be a very happy period in his and in his family’s life. I am not sure that we will be writing about it if he or his family members encountered something very harmful in those years. Even he might have called his own decision reckless and his philosophical attitude to experimentation ver. certitude and between doubt and conviction might have evolved differently. Who knows?

Writing to her parents about the family’s decision to move to Colombia, which was then in the midst of a civil war, Sarah explained, “We both realize that you should think of the future—make plans for the children etc. But I think we both somehow feel that it is impossible to know what is best and that the present is so much more important—because if the present is solid and good it will be a surer basis for a good future than any plans that you can make.” Most people would not have left a home in Chevy Chase and the security of a job in Washington to go to a Third World country where armed gangsters roamed the streets, because they would feel certain that Colombia was a mistake. Hirschman believed, as a matter of principle, that it was impossible to know whether Colombia would be a mistake. As it happened, the four years the family spent in Bogotá were among its happiest. Hirschman returned to Latin America again and again during his career, and what he learned there provided the raw material for his most brilliant work. His doubt was a gift, not a curse.

It is not very difficult to relate to this extract:

Obstacles led to frustration, and frustration to anxiety. No one wanted to be anxious. But wasn’t anxiety the most powerful motivator—the emotion capable of driving even the most reluctant party toward some kind of solution?

It is not that difficult to believe that it is the restless mind or that it is the unreasonable person that comes up with extraordinary answers that alter the status quo, that shows a new path, etc.

In other words, what Albert Hirschman is saying is that when there is no conflict between different ideas, when there is no doubt in our heads, when you are so sure of yourself, you make no intellectual progress. Being restless and being anxious and prone to self-doubt is a path to creativity, intellectual growth and progress, according to Prof. Hirschman.

We can extend this notion to nations and societies too. When there is no openness of conflict between ideas and when alternative ideas and views are suppressed, nations do not make progress. Further, when nations undertake policies only when they are sure of themselves, they will never take decisions.

It makes sense to undertake policy experimentation, learn, make changes, improvise, improve and move along. That is why he says, interestingly, that when policymakers think that they got it right when, in fact, they are wrong, that is when creative solutions emerge just as they do, when they are in doubt and still have to act. Of course, it also means that one is simply lucky. The two examples to support this assertion are the case of the Troy-Greenfield railroad. It was an impossible task. But, because the planners did not know how difficult it would, they had ‘recklessly’ begun construction. But, it turned out to be a game-changer for the good, for America! The second example was that of Karnaphuli Paper Mills in Bangladesh.

Sometimes, I admit, it is also difficult to draw the right lessons from these examples for ourselves, except to remind ourselves of our fallibility and of the limitations of our own knowledge and the vastness of our ignorance.

When I reached the end of the review and I saw the story about school vouchers and of the differences between exit, voice and loyalty, I could connect ‘exit’ immediately to passive-aggressive behaviour and voice being the opposite of it. So, it was with a pleasant sensation of being proven right, that I read the sentences below:

Exit is passive. It is silent protest. And silent protest, for him, is too easy. “Proving Hamlet wrong” was about the importance of acting in the face of doubt—but also of acting in the face of fear. Voice was courage.

Exit is also escapism just as passive-aggressive behaviour is. The latter is a sign of unwillingness to hold oneself, one’s own views and actions to scrutiny. We are not confident that they would stand up to scrutiny. Hence, we withdraw and not confront a situation, we don’t engage in dialogue, we don’t resolve it one way or the other, durably. We withdraw, we sulk and we make it worse for all concerned.

In short, I am glad that my friend Gulzar Natarajan brought the article back to my attention and I am glad that I had the time and the mind to re-read it.

One does not have to agree with Hirschman to find him charming. It may be easier said than done to act in the face of doubt and to accept lack of certitude as a permanent feature of one’s thinking. It is not easy. It is  unsettling. Others may find us ‘useless’. Only very few can understand such an attitude as one of intellectual honesty and humility and not as a sign of weakness or incompetence. Further, constant experimentation can also result in failures and sometimes, rather seriously so. So, it is easy to find such an attitude ‘charming’ in hindsight.

But, the admonition that the mistake of Hamlet was that he took himself too seriously is well worth heeding.

IPL 2021 early impressions – the elder one has to grow up

Nothing is likely to come close to the scowl that the camera captured on the face of Krunal Pandya, on seeing the amusingly floundering attempt to stop a boundary of Johnny Bairstow by Trent Boult. He did not succeed. But, his running after the ball – whether deliberately done for amusement or not – was quite amusing. Unfortunately, Krunal Pandya could not see the funny side of it. Trent Boult did not misfield. The ball was travelling too fast for him. It would have been good, for a change, for the elder Pandya to have seen the funny side of it. He did not. His scowl showed that he takes the game seriously. Good. But, it also revealed that he takes himself too seriously. Not good. I can believe  Deepak Hooda even though the Baroda Cricket Association has banned him on disciplinary grounds for showing dissent. Perhaps, it is someone else who needs to be disciplined.

In this regard, his younger brother has made more progress in recent years. India’s captain Virat Kohli has done better than him too. Even the man with multiple perspectives like Ashwin Ravichandran has to traverse some distance on this one. It was very good of India’s batting maestro Sunil Gavaskar to tell Ashwin, in their conversation, that the one advice he had for today’s stars (rising or risen) is not to take themselves too seriously. Very relevant to all of us and never more so than for people in the limelight or prominent people or both.

Let us stay with Ashwin. After going for plenty in the first match against Chennai, he came back very well against Rajasthan and it was not a good decision on young Pant’s part not to bowl out his full quota. I felt that way even before Stoinis went for fifteen in his over. Of course, the match turned early enough when Pant was run out. The pitch was very different when he was batting. RR did not look like making it. Avesh Khan leaked in the 18th, I think. So did Rabada, surprisingly, in the nineteenth. Tom Curran was always suspect given he had neither pace nor was there any swing on offer. Ashwin would have been a better bet in that over too. It was good to see Ashwin in form against Rajasthan. It is important for India.

The fact that Morris swung it for his team must have caused a few fresh questions on Sanju Samson’s instinctive decision to refuse him a single in the 20th over in their very interesting encounter against Punjab. I back that decision. Sanju was batting in a different zone in that game. He was right to take it upon himself to finish the match. It was not to be. Notwithstanding dropped catches, he was sublime. It was a match about which both the captains could be proud. Rahul played beautifully. But for an utterly difficult catch that Tewatia made look ridiculously easy, Rahul would have added another 10 or even 20 runs in the last over of Punjab’s innings. Hooda’s sixes on the offside were special.

Punjab’s loss to Chennai was triggered by Rahul’s brilliant runout by Jadeja. I was joking with my Chennai fan-friends that Chennai was having an ‘off day’, as they clinically dismantled the innings of Punjab. Chahar bowled quite well. Rituraj is not firing. That is disappointing. Quite a few young guns are not. Shubman Gill has not set the stage alight. He looks to be in good touch. It is early days for Padikkal of course. Mayank Agarwal is having a lean trot that began in Australia. Manish Pandey looks unable to switch gears. Vijay Shankar has always batted well below the required strike rate this format. He really needs to go back to the drawing board. The catch he dropped off Kieran Pollard in the game against Mumbai on Saturday probably cost them the match.

Staying with batters (or batsmen), good to see Prithvi Shaw come good against Chennai. He must continue for India’s sake. India’s bench strength looks good. But, the pipeline must continue to keep the talent flowing. Ishan Kishan’s form is indifferent. I would like to see Priyam Garg, Abhishek Sharma, Rihan Parag and Shivam Dube come good this season. Let us see. Hyderabad has to find a way to fit Kane Williamson and go with just Rashid Khan in the overseas player list and use Indian bowlers. They need better batting.

As for their bowling, for all my love for Natarajan and his big hearted bowling, I do feel that his economy rate needs to be a run lower, in this IPL. Bhuvi appears to be leaking more than he should, considering how well he bowled against England. His two sixes of the last two balls against Pollard on Saturday (17th April) were decisive. Two other bowlers who are yet to strike form are Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur. From the India angle, it will be good to see them among wickets for fewer runs. That will boost their confidence. That Jadeja is back somewhere near his peak is a good sign as is the form being shown by Pant with his bat. Sundar is perhaps trying too hard. He needs to go back what worked for him in IPL 2020. His economy rate for the most part of the tournament was below six runs per over last year. Mohammed Siraj is doing well for Bengaluru. I am pleased with that.

Mumbai losing their first match against Bengaluru was actually not a good sign because that is how they have started in recent years and gone on to win the tournament eventually. I went to bed before their match against Kolkata got over. I was shocked to see Kolkata squander it as did Hyderabad yesterday. Great to see Bumrah holding a rampaging Bairstow in check. The good thing about Boult is that he comes back strongly even if batsmen knock the leather out of the skin of the ball off his bowling, from time to time. Even though Rahul Chahar did not do well in his outing for India – I expected him to do better – he has come back well in the IPL. Good for him.

As for Suryakumar Yadav, he was batting in his own zone against Kolkata. On Saturday, he looked set to repeat that before Vijay Shankar snapped him up off his own bowling. I like his confidence. But, there are only thin lines between confidence, overconfidence and arrogance. He needs to watch out.

These are still early days to predict the final four although from a competitive interest angle, it is disappointing to see Mumbai pulling ahead. It would be interesting if they were the underdog going into the second half of the tournament. That does not appear to be the case. Every other team seems to have more problems than they do.

I am rooting for Rihan Parag, Padikkal, Rituraj, Priyam Garg to do well. In bowling, I want to see Karthik Tyagi perform. He impressed me with his attitude last year. That is why he went as a support bowler. Well, how can I end this post without mentioning Chetan Sakariya. The boy has tremendous attitude and what a catch he took in the match against Punjab to get rid of Nikolas Pooran. The umpires took forever to confirm the catch. I was reminded of the catch that Malan ‘took’ for England against India in one of the ODI matches. The batsman was Suryakumar Yadav. That was given out when it was clear that the ball had clearly touched the ground. Here, young Sakariya was in full possession of the ball all the way through. The boy has come through tough times and a difficult background. Has shown tremendous character to get to where he is, today. May he succeed and stay grounded while making sure that his catches are not, as he did the other day.

This young man bowls above 130 kmph and as he puts on some weight, he will definitely crest 140. Would love to see both him and Tyagi operate in tandem for India, one day.

Prayers on Tamil New Year Day

  • That I revoke my citizenship in the sovereign state of ‘Kama, Kopa, Lobha, Moha, Madha Maatsarya’
  • That I revel in inner peace and not look for external developments to feel so
  • That people who come into my life are authentic, sincere and transparent in their affection and friendship and that they don’t fake it
  • That they would tell me when they think I have harmed or hurt them so that I can either seek their forgiveness or dispel their misperception
  • That people around me – friends and family –  are more willing and inclined to tell me what I need to or ought to hear than what I want to hear.
  • That people around me stop me and warn me when I act inconsistently with values I espouse or claim to stand for
  • That I remain smart enough to recognise cleverness in others but good enough not to practice it
  • That I am able to secede completely from people who mistake my goodness for stupidity
  • That I can see the big picture and not lose myself in trivia
  • That I remember all the time that I am not the master of the Universe
  • That I remember all the time that I have to put my best foot forward in any situation but that is about the best I can do and that does not guarantee outcomes.
  • That, if I succeed with my efforts, many others that I don’t even know about have contributed to that success
  • That I don’t take myself too seriously
  • That I remember that there are no magic wands nor answers in celestial bodies and the best answer to a tough situation is to accept it and grind it out
  • That I am able to withdraw from the need for external recognition or markers and remain in a state of surrender always and forever
  • That the people who come into my life have similar prayers as above

Select verses (Ch. 5 and 6) from the Bhagavad Gita

As I keep going through Swami Mukundananda’s commentary, I decided to pause (I am now in chapter 14) and go back to the earlier chapters to refresh and reinforce. I started from Chapter 5 because I had already captured the ‘key’ verses from the previous chapters earlier, in this blog.

this is a very nice message:

(1) (BG:Ch5:​v3):

 
jñeyaḥ sa nitya-sannyāsī yo na dveṣhṭi na kāṅkṣhati
nirdvandvo hi mahā-bāho sukhaṁ bandhāt pramuchyate​​

Karm yogis continue to discharge their worldly duties while internally practicing detachment. Hence, they accept both positive and negative outcomes with equanimity, as the grace of God. The Lord has designed this world so beautifully that it makes us experience both happiness and distress for our gradual elevation. If we continue to lead our regular lives and tolerate whatever comes our way, while happily doing our duty, the world naturally pushes us toward gradual spiritual elevation.

 

There is a sweet story that illustrates this concept. There was once a piece of wood. It went to a sculptor and said, “Can you please make me beautiful?” The sculptor said, “I am ready to do that. But are you ready for it?” The wood replied, “Yes, I am also ready.” The sculptor took out his tools and began hammering and chiseling. The wood screamed, “What are you doing? Please stop! This is so painful.” The sculptor replied wisely, “If you wish to become beautiful, you will have to bear the pain.” “All right,” said the wood, “Go ahead and do it. But please be gentle and considerate.” The sculptor continued his work again. The wood kept screaming, “Enough for today; I can’t bear it any further. Please do it tomorrow.” The sculptor was undeterred in his task, and in a few days, the wood was transformed into a beautiful deity, fit to sit on the altar of the temple.

 

In the same way, our hearts are rough and unfinished because of endless lifetimes of attachment in the world. If we wish to become internally beautiful, we must be willing to tolerate pain and let the world do its job of purifying us. So karm yogis work with devotion, are equipoised in the results, and practice attaching their mind to God.

 


(2) (BG:Ch5:​v​22)

 
ye hi sansparśha-jā bhogā duḥkha-yonaya eva te
ādyantavantaḥ kaunteya na teṣhu ramate budhaḥ

Worldly pleasures are finite, and hence the feeling of deficiency remains inherent in them.  One may feel happiness on becoming a millionaire, but the same millionaire becomes discontented on seeing a billionaire, and thinks, “If only I also had one billion, then I too would be happy.”  In contrast, the bliss of God is infinite, and so it gives complete satisfaction.

 

Worldly pleasures are temporary.  Once they finish, they again leave one with the feeling of misery.  For example, an alcoholic enjoys the pleasure of drinking alcohol at night, but the next morning, the hangover gives him a splitting headache.  However, the bliss of God is eternal, and once attained, it remains forever.

 
It makes a lot of sense but elsewhere it is also stated that there is so much illusion (Maya) that we don’t see (or, are prevented from) things that way.
 
​(3) (BG: Ch6:v1):
 
hrī bhagavān uvācha
anāśhritaḥ karma-phalaṁ kāryaṁ karma karoti yaḥ
sa sannyāsī cha yogī cha na niragnir na chākriyaḥ
 

Shree Krishna dismisses all these concepts. He says that such external acts of asceticism do not make anyone either a sanyāsī or a yogi. Those who can renounce the fruits of their actions, by offering them to God, are the true renunciants and yogis.

 
 
(4) (BG: Ch6:v2):
 
yaṁ sannyāsam iti prāhur yogaṁ taṁ viddhi pāṇḍava
na hyasannyasta-saṅkalpo yogī bhavati kaśhchana
 

In the purport to verse 5.4, it was explained that there are two kinds of renunciation—phalgu vairāgya and yukt vairāgyaPhalgu vairāgya is where worldly objects are seen as objects of Maya, the material energy, and hence renounced because they are detrimental to spiritual progress. Yukt vairāgya is that where everything is seen as belonging to God, and hence meant to be utilized in his service. In the first kind of renunciation, one would say, “Give up money. Do not touch it. It is a form of Maya, and it impedes the path of spirituality.” In the second kind of renunciation, one would say, “Money is also a form of the energy of God. Do not waste it or throw it away; utilize whatever you have in your possession for the service of God.”

 
The distinction Swamiji makes is important. God-realisation is different from renunciation and we should seek the former and not the latter. 
 
 
(5) (BG: Ch6:v4):
 
yadā hi nendriyārtheṣhu na karmasv-anuṣhajjate
sarva-saṅkalpa-sannyāsī yogārūḍhas tadochyate
 

A person will be considered detached from the world when one no longer craves for sense objects nor is inclined to perform any actions for attaining them. Such a person ceases to look for opportunities to create circumstances to enjoy sensual pleasures, eventually extinguishes all thoughts of enjoying sense objects, and also dissolves the memories of previous enjoyments. 

 
 
If we can connect the above important practical aspects of our relationship with sense objects with practical experiences from our own lives, we realise how critical each step in this chain is, as described here.
 
​(6) (BG: Ch6:v5)​:
 
uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet
ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ
 

In order to be able to use it as a friend, it is important to understand the mind’s nature. Our mind operates at four levels:
Mind: When it creates thoughts, we call it mana, or the mind.
Intellect: When it analyses and decides, we call it buddhi, or intellect.
Chitta: When it gets attached to an object or person, we call it chitta.
Ego: When it identifies with the bodily identifications and becomes proud of things like wealth, status, beauty, and learning, we call it ahankār, or ego.
These are not four separate entities. They are simply four levels of functioning of the one mind. Hence, we may refer to them all together as the mind, or as the mind-intellect, or as the mind-intellect-ego, or as the mind-intellect-chitta-ego. They all refer to the same thing.

 
He refers to 2:41-2:44 and 3:43 in this verse. So, key messages from these verses:
 
 
2:41: the mind develops desires in accordance with the knowledge of the intellect. [Link]
 
Swamiji’s commentary on 3:43 contains the beautiful analogy of the charioteer (the intellect), the passenger (the soul), the reins (the mind) and the five horses (the five senses). Ideally, the passenger guides the charioteer as to where to go and the charioteer then uses the reins to guide the horses to go in that direction. If the passenger is clueless or has gone to sleep, then what happens?
 
See here.

Two recent gems from Morgan Housel

My friend Gulzar Natarajan shared this post from Morgan Housel with the following extract:

Nassim Taleb says he’s a libertarian at the federal level, a republican at the state level, a democrat at the local level, and a socialist at the family level. People handle risk and responsibility in totally different ways when a group scales from four people to 100 to 100,000 to 100 million. In the same way, a management style that works brilliantly at a 10-person company can destroy a 1,000-person company, which is a hard lesson to learn when some companies grow that fast in a few short years. Travis Kalanick at Uber may be the best example. No one but him was capable of growing the company early on, and anyone but him was needed as the company matured. I don’t think that’s a flaw; just a reflection that some things don’t scale. [Link]

Then, in response, I sent him these comments:

That is so so true at all levels. I  have seen it with many of the entrepreneurs I have invested in and also entrepreneurs that I continue to observe. 
“What brings you here cannot take you there.”
At the same time, it is difficult to recognise that. Not easy at all. There is the emotional connect. There is a difficulty in recognising that some other skill set is needed. Especially so if one had succeeded remarkably well up to this point. Hard to believe that you cannot extend the streak or continue to succeed.
It applies in many contexts – business, politics, fund management. Running a small fund with spectacular success will be difficult to replicate with a big fund size, for example. 
Even if we find someone to take over, hand over the reins and fade into the sunset or do something else, your fellow travellers may not cooperate with the new person.
These things are hard coded into humans. That is why all these things will be so obvious and apparent and crystal clear to external observers or with that benefit of hindsight. That is the nature of the beast. 
“We are like this only”.
It will most likely apply to NNT or MH even if they were to do the same thing. It is true for ALL HUMANS.
Very few recognise the Peter’s Principle and stop or withdraw a step before that.

Then, a few hours later, I read the full post by Morgan Housel. There are different interpretations and lessons one can take out of the post: (i) Size is not everything; (ii) You cannot grow too fast too quickly; (iii) You have to have a long horizon; (iv) ‘Get rich quick’ does not work most of the time; (v) Be patient and (vi) What works in one context does not work in another or that what brought you here won’t take you there, etc.

That is the beauty of the writing of Morgan Housel.

In the process of reading that, I read this post too of his. I like this one too. It is titled, ‘Investing: the greatest show on earth’.This piece was written few days before the one above. Both are related. The key messages from this post are these, for me:

Breakthrough drugs are amazing, and we should cheer them. But few things are as effective at fighting lung cancer as the boring advice of telling people to quit smoking….. The solution to 90% of financial problems is “save more money and be more patient.” Nothing is more powerful or more capable of moving the needle. But it’s so boring. It makes you sound like a kindergartener. Smart people don’t want to devote their careers to it. They want derivatives, high-frequency trading, offshore tax shelters and The Lightning Round.

In both cancer and investing, things that are boring but effective are discounted relative to things that are exciting but knowingly less effective.

On investing, he goes on:

It offers lessons on things that apply to many areas of life, like risk, confidence, and happiness. Few topics offer a more powerful magnifying glass that helps explain why people behave the way they do.

How people manage their money is a window into what they value, who they want to impress, what they think they’re good at, what they’re clearly awful at, what they’re insecure about, and where they see the world going.

It shows how people go crazy in groups, obsess over what they want to be true and ignore what they don’t.

When I read this, it brought a smile to my face because nearly fifteen years ago, after I had to close down my hedge fund because things did not go the way I would have liked them to – either with respect to raising money or with the investment returns – I began to speak about how investing could be truly spiritual.

He concludes on this note:

The point is we should go out of our way to learn about investing by looking at things that have nothing to do with investing. And we should learn about things that have nothing to do with investing by looking at investing.

I could not agree more.