Know Thyself | Guides to the Journey Inward

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind
Zen Mind, Beginners Mind Cover

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: I discovered Zen Mind when listening to a talk by the Instagr.am founders on Stanford’s eCorner. They suggested Zen Mind to help you listen to your gut better and it aroused my curiosity. The book is a series of short lectures (5 to 8 mins of talking) by Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of the Zen movement in San Francisco, US. It does not assume any basic religion or any knowledge of Zen and is great as a starting point for understanding the Zen approach to life.

The book teaches learning one’s original self-sufficient mind, or beginner’s mind. This is everyone’s own internal map or true nature. The teachings in the book stick by basic Zen concepts and allow the reader to decide how much they would like to gain from it. For instance, you can choose to have joy as a gaining idea from your Zen practice, or commit yourself to an even higher path. The book also emphasizes practice in just sitting in the Zazen posture to imbibe it’s learning. What you will not find detailed in the book is Zen directly applied to your day-to-day activity – that is essentially a gap you could fill with the help of other guides such as ZenHabits. In other words, if you would like learn just basic Zen practice, this is the book to get.

For me personally, I found the book valuable in learning to accept and make deep change internally, realizing the need to go inwards to refresh perspective, tuning my approach and attitude to work amongst other things. I admire people who are relentless in their approach to their work and this book helped me understand and absorb this phenomena a lot better. Let’s just say that the results have been interesting and I’m curious to see what else I can do with this behind me.

I recommend the printed edition, hardcover pocket size to take where ever you go. It turns out, this book is also on Steve Jobs’ favorites. You also have an audio book option you can listen to in your car or on your mobile.

Related links:
* I am Nothing – Paul Buchheit.
* Get Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind on Amazon.

Customer DNA

A 1,000+ emails sent. Worked with the largest, to the smallest customer, all the way down to their end-users. Stumble occasionally but get back up and keep course – and then completely out of the blue, you strike the right note with someone. Can’t help but share this badge I earned.

What a delight to read your letter this morning as I opened my daily emails! You belong in customer service as you understand the pure human intent inherent in the term! Several things… thank you for communicating to me what my next step is; sending a message having a tone that tells it’s reader it was generated by a human being; and for being culpable, responsible for the information being sent out. Again, thank you for starting my morning off today with a happy, oft absent, nod to being genuine! Kudos to you!

(dec. 8th, 2011)

Merry Xmas & a Happy New Year to all!

Related:
* Fab.com: Customer Service Tips.

Return to Main

This post has been the most unusual one to write. It has been an effort of well over a year now to gather what I have learned and put it into proper words. Some introspection, a series of conversations with family, other entrepreneurs, friends and mentors helped me find them, and yet it must remain unfinished.

In April this year, I took up a full-time with ShopSocially and have been working there ever since. Before that people, including some who I did not even know – used several words to describe where I was at, including ‘struggling’, ‘stuck’ and so on. It was never a secret that times were difficult. Speaking carefully, I only recently discovered that my work on my venture was missing heart.

The problem did not lie in what I was building, or any of the million other things that I might have felt. It had simply become of paramount importance for me to succeed, and by staring so hard at only this one thing – the emotional content necessary to make things work vanished. With no freedom from failure, every thought became rigid, the negative amplified, and small details sadly missed.

It has been a hard-earned lesson, but a valuable one.

Fortunately, life decided to take me over and cut off my past. My time with those around me at work and home has given me an opportunity to train in their inherent cycle and recover original perspective to build on. Yes, I am not in a venture where I am in a position of risk, and I get that we all want to be that proverbial Tiger hunting it’s prey. I also think I understand now that in order for the Tiger to be a Tiger, he must put in the same amount of intensity in hunting a mouse as he must when hunting another animal that is much bigger or faster than itself.

If you read up stories of founders who made it (or did not), that will tell you that they did not know before hand all that they were building – but with uncommon sincerity did they mix their lives, work and ambitions to lay down layer upon layer. Take this blog site for example, I have to work on not only it’s contents, but how it looks and feels as well to make it agreeable to you. In order to discover that I must first write and so on further in. Same principle.

So what lies ahead? Truth is, all I know right now is the compass-bearing and am taking on challenges one at a time. I have plenty of moves left to get me to where it is that I am going. I am also constantly tinkering with my self to improve. For those of you who believed in me, encouraged me, I might be slow to come around but I stay in your debt as I go forward.

Related links:
Secret Trait of Every Successful Entrepreneur – Inc.com.
Secrets of the Accidental Entrepreneur – Techcrunch.
“How not to die” Paul Graham.
The struggle is not failure, but …

Living the night-shift life

About 4 weeks ago, an opportunity came up to work night hours. Since then, I have been starting work roughly around 5pm and ending up at 5am. By blogging about how it went I think I’ve gained some insight into how a portion of India’s night-shift workforce works and feels.

The first 3 days were easy. Staying up was not a problem as long as I slept the next day through noon. On the other hand, it’s difficult to sleep in an active household any time past 10am. My 7-month old is up and about before then, house cleaning has to be done and calls from different services start coming in. I would wake up┬ánaturally and feel rested with the few hours of sleep behind me. By mid-week, sleep caught up and staying up until 3am was starting to look difficult.

To fix: extend your sleep for some portion of the afternoon. Or, keep your sleep area quiet for enough time (thanks to Akshay for the tip).

With the shift in timings, the next challenge was food. I continued to eat with everyone else at regular times and unwittingly went on just snacks, or a chocolate bar between 10pm and the next morning for the first few days. Within a couple of days, headaches and acid reflux became a feature.

To fix: have a proper meal around or after midnight to keep yourself full (thanks to Anjali for this one).

The wee hours after 3am were difficult to get through but only because if you think to your self, “let’s get this done by 4am.” – that sounds naturally absurd to the body, mind and you begin to look forward to some shut eye once you are done (or reach 4am :-)). With that in front of you, concentration dips automatically with mistakes that show up only the next day. Managing this must be a nightmare for teams – I have no idea how they do it.

To fix: loose track of time and constantly test for details.

I found that there were some advantages of doing this – you won’t encounter any traffic on the way home, you can get bank related and other weekday work between 10 and 12 amongst other things.

It would not have been possible if I hadn’t been covered at home, work and without Vipul’s constant company.

There were several more questions that were left unanswered, for instance:

What about the social – presence side of things?
Should you maintain the same pattern through the weekend to not have to put in effort into it again on Monday?

Also, inspired by:

* Living on rs100aday.com

* disrupt your self – FAKEGRIMLOCK.

An update: I also discovered that I often forgot day-activated memories and tasks. For instance, if you need to buy groceries – you need to encounter an empty refrigerator or set a reminder to buy groceries regularly. I can imagine that services such as freshmandi would be very compelling to professionals who work nights.

Forgetfulness

Those who know me well will tell you that I tend to be forgetful at times. I know they are right, I have been forgetful from my childhood days. At school, I found it hard to get around remembering dates in history, chemistry equations and the like. Greater the effort I made at remembering things, the more annoyed I would get. ‘This effort is simply a waste because I am going to forget all of this anyway’ I would think to myself.

This trait isn’t helpful in day-to-day activities. I remember one of the many instances where it got me into deep trouble. Graduate students at RIT were required to have counseling sessions with their graduate advisors. My own graduate advisor was a particularly interesting personality who also happened to be the department chair. As you can imagine, for someone holding two posts it was hard to get time with him.

In the run up to one of our first meetings, I had an absorbing assignment due for my distributed systems class. Working late night and through the day was a usual and my 3’o’clock with my advisor was conveniently forgotten. A couple of hours after the appointment time had come and gone, my memory nodes activated and a feeling of sheer terror came over me.

I immediately ran up to his office and apologized giving my assignment as an excuse and rescheduled another appointment.

Needless to say I missed that one too.

I am fortunate that I can look back at those days and have a laugh as my advisor didn’t completely turn his back on me.

I am also fortunate to live in a time where my calendar ensures that I get a SMS notification and a popup on my laptop screen so that I am mindful about my appointments. And yet my laziness continues to persist.

Trust me, this is not an endearing trait. To my credit, I have forgotten birth dates of my near & dear ones, credit card payment dates and anything else that has a date and time attached to it, is important or unimportant. At one time, I have even forgotten what my signature ought to look like.

Every occasion has left me with a sense of guilt. Should having to rely on Facebook to remind you your friends birthdays make you question your sincerity? To play the devil’s advocate, I have also observed that I do remember some things very well, over others as if they have been at the top of my mind all the time.

Above all of that, the true challenge I have found is that for someone who can forget so easily – forgetting the ‘self’, that just does not seem to happen spontaneously at all!

I am Tinnitus, the sound in Jack’s ears

I’ve known Jack for some time now. It is hard to say when we were first acquainted. He probably became aware of me when he first encountered silence. Only in silence is it easy to pick up on sounds that you do not hear in the ordinary din of every day noise.

I wasn’t always this loud. His ear declined with age and in turn, I increased in prominence. His frequent bouts of ear infection did not help. Eventually, I became loud enough to annoy him every day.

He felt he could no longer listen to music the same way he did. He would wonder what different frequencies he was missing out on. He knew it sounded different, but did not understand what was different. It became important to him to find a solution.

Unfortunately modern medicine has not been able to find a ‘cure’, or eliminate me. Since I am only the dying siren of ear cells that cannot be replaced, medicine can only treat my symptoms – say by increasing blood flow, or by calming frayed nerves.

Let down by medicine, his focus turned to alternatives. When he tried a specific pose suggested by yoga, he became uncertain if he was soothing or aggravating me. When he google’d, he found only temporary relief in treatments such as relaxation music, the sound of rainwater, brown noise or other noises.

If a solution was effective, it would only keep me down for some time. Even an innocuous cup of coffee would bring me out roaring. My persistence and constant presence kept Jack occupied, confused and without sleep. As is common in such cases, he began to feel a sense of hopelessness, impatient and approaching depression. Outwardly he was changing and incessantly worried that I was making him worse.

What Jack didn’t know was how to come to terms with me. By allowing me to turn into an annoyance, he had gone to war with himself. I had become a convenient excuse to not meet his own expectations. When he finally understood this, he took it upon himself to master his mind first.

He’s now come to accept that I am a permanent part of him. The word one might use is ‘habituation’. By strengthening his mind he can finally begin to work on reducing his sensitivity towards me. This could only really be a cure from within himself.

* I am Jacks …