Meaning Meaningless

“What’s happening?” Have you ever had anyone ask you that?

As a beginner in meditation, I’ve often struggled with both sides of the question. At times, I’ve felt that my practice has resulted in a whole lot. From deep insight to even the occasional hallucination. At other times, its nothing at all. Perhaps reality is somewhere in between? You are just sitting down, watching the mind. And then again, there might just be something happening. Like a glacier scraping down a mountain side, its fingerprints are everywhere and its easy to miss recognizing what’s changing the landscape.

Three years down the road, I’m only now getting to a stage where I can occasionally turn my attention to the physiological state of the body to sense how far along I’ve come in a meditation session. In the beginning, the mind is stormy, tumultuous and ragged. Twenty minutes in, I discover the body is at peace, stable, quiet. Needless to say the mind follows.

And then there’s the pace of technology.

When I first saw the Muse headset at Le Web, I was blown away as it had the potential to marry metrics (a favorite subject) with the mind (another favorite subject).

I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. The team of Mindfulness Inc. saw that too and have recently shared their invention with the Kickstarter Community. I learned about it through a friend who tweeted it out. A lotus that blossoms with changes in you brain waves. Wow?! Talk about great design. That was way better than I’d imagined it.

The Lotus is a great idea for someone starting out like me. This is what meditation actually does and you can see it happen better this way than any other inorganic method. Meditating with the Lotus can realistically improve your chances of staying on the wagon. Although I do wish it were to come with a warning. If you’ve come so far as to start a practice in a search for answers, I’d share that getting past that mindset instantly is exactly what this is all about. The earlier you deal with this question, that much better for your practice.

As a Zen master once referred to the mystery of meaning,

“If we are looking at something, it can vanish from our sight, but if we do not try to see it, that something cannot vanish. Because you are watching it, it can disappear, but if no one is watching, how is it possible for anything to disappear? If someone is watching you, you can escape from him, but if no one is watching, you cannot escape from yourself.”

– Shunryu Suzuki.

A Hundred and Fifty Years of the Bishop’s Colours

This year it will be nineteen years having left school. In the years gone by I’ve done little to stay in touch with the school. In that time familiar teachers have moved on. Times have changed and old school friends have drifted away to be replaced by new ones.

Earlier this year, Principal Friese invited alumni to a special assembly. Bishop’s was going to turn 150 in 2014! At the assembly he asked for assistance for the upcoming year-long celebrations.  The assembly rekindled a deeper connection and natural curiosity. Had the school ventured to change their teaching methods? Did they still place great emphasis on all-round development? I had no excuse for having stayed away for so long.

At the sesquicentennial committee meeting I was surprised to see alumni from as far back as the 1960’s. Some had children who were studying at Bishop’s, others were simply there to help. I met alumni from the IT committee, Marketing committee, other old boys and teachers. The committee was chaired by the principal and the headmasters of each of the three schools in Pune.

The school appointed historian related her findings. She’d found verifiable documents (maps, plans, communications) that Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington had planned out an offensive against the Maratha’s (Second Anglo-Maratha war 1803 – 1805) from the bungalow that currently serves as the Principal’s residence. She’d also verified that the original underground Peshwa-era water supply pipeline did pass through the school grounds.

A couple of days earlier I’d met with the  historian who interviewed me for interesting anecdotes and to learn how the graduates of the ’94 batch had done in life. As I recollected details of the alumni I was still in touch with, the list consisted of entrepreneurs, industrialists and even a film director (ever watched Karthik Calling Karthik?). Everyone had done well. Recalling school days wasn’t easy emotionally. In my opinion, my teachers at Bishop’s stood out for their commitment to the general welfare of their students. I say that with great care and an educational background spanning two universities across continents and two schools. The old boys themselves are the greatest testimony the school could have.

As I watched the committees share their progress, their spirit was infectious. I headed back and I thought hard. I’d contributed to the history book and I felt I could do more. Although I wouldn’t be an effective contributor at this late stage I could help in other ways. As I reached out to my professional network to other old boys I was amazed by the enthusiasm with which they got back. Would they like to contribute their memories, reach out to other alumni? Yes, of course they would.

Today, Bishop’s has grown from one school campus in Pune, Camp to two new areas – Kalyani Nagar and Undri. However, they’re still constrained in their teaching methods. Having been around for a long time can be both a boon and a curse. Another entrepreneur Phil Libin Founder, CEO at Evernote shared his insight into the same paradox earlier this month – his dream is for his company to endure for a hundred years and to continue to innovate despite it’s age. The hope is that with this renewed connection back to the school and with the help of other parents, we might have a hand at influencing the course the school charts next.

As the celebrations shape up there’s a lot more that could be done. If you’ve attended St. Helena’s or St. Mary’s Pune, do get in touch. Our historian would love to get your views on the Bishopites you knew or met. If you’re an old boy and have photos, anecdotes or anything else you’d like to share – please get in touch as soon as you can. Your material will make it to a coffee table book that will cover the school through the ages. If you intend to travel to attend the celebrations in 2014, follow the school website for event dates and details.

The Unmatched Gender

Not so long ago, my wife let me know as to how upset she was that I was still differentiating between our Mothers. She’d asked me to call them both Mom and I’d always sneak off to find a way to make them more addressable in my head. “Could I call them ‘Mom’ and ‘Mum’?”, I came back. “How would I know who’s who when I want to tag a photo?” I said frustrated. With that I’d escaped to the insensitive man-cave of logic. The surprise is that there is indeed a subtle rationality to what she was asking of me. I’ve pondered over and presented my case here.

We’re brought up in a world that values big goals over little ones, performance over uniqueness, scale over nurture, efficiency over engaged. Essentially we’re creating tradeoffs, but for women tradeoffs are absolutely useless. Imagine believing that you’re giving up on time with your child for time at work, or that you’re giving up your home for someone else’s? How would life work if these were indeed rational choices? In fact, how would things work at all without the simple belief that everything changes and the necessary encouragement this belief gives in making the choice presently? It is not that men discriminate more than is necessary. But it is that women are presented with truly difficult choices and they seem to be getting better at making them work. There is that inescapable argument that we’re missing out on developing this certain quality.

I face difficult choices as I go along and I do need to get better at them. Just the other day someone I respect stated with a razor-like clarity that if one were to build and take a product to market, the founders better be 100% committed. This is how the product startup eco-system works and it’s fair if we think about the expectations of those invested. Anyhow what’s right isn’t the point. Let’s look at it another way. The act of choosing could’ve easily dissuaded Zuckerberg, Gates – should I leave Harvard to build Facebook, Microsoft? and the Google founders – finish PhD. or start a Search company? If these choices appear to be straightforward through their eyes, think of the many Gates’, Zuckerbergs, Brins and Pages who did not build a Google, Microsoft, or Facebook in favor of a Harvard, or a Stanford. Reality is that we won’t know a good thing until and unless we see it through.

Women make such choices work out all the time. They’re figuring out how to be themselves and yet be a part of a workforce dominated by men. They’re figuring out how to be good homemakers and yet play a meaningful role in the world outside their homes. They’re figuring out how to be a good Mother and yet grow their career. They’re figuring out how to be a good Daughter and yet found a new family. They’re applying what is universally acknowledged to be a key Business leadership trait*. They’re doing this at the level of an entire gender that accounts for half of everything on this planet. Indeed, what if they were running things?

Dedicated to the Women who’ve helped breath life into this post. Wish you a Happy Woman’s day.

*Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking.