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Thriving Mindfully

Category: Friendship (Page 2 of 3)

Finding honest critique in the age of constant gratification

In today’s age of hyper-connectedness it is easier than ever before to share your your life, your work of art with the world.
We have cleverly designed platforms that we choose to express ourself through.
While these social media platforms have simplified the act of expression,
It has also sowed inside us, a seed of constant hunger,
Of seeking validation.

Today, the act of creating itself cannot find the isolation it needs.
We are busy sharing that we are going to do something, we have just started doing something…..Up until we are finished with doing something.
We fail to shut the door on the world to actually get to the process of creating something without distractions.
It is the result of the clever architecture of these platforms that are dictating our behavior and psychology.
We need to feel we are relevant,
We matter…
We are but,
human after all.

As a contemporary artist, I’ve always felt the process of creation never finds the isolation, incubation and single minded dedication it calls for.
The continuum of creation is always interfered by the parallel world of validation (read social media) we choose to dabble with.
In a way we are driven to be ‘Like’ minded .

This culture is detrimental to an artist’s growth in the long run in my opinion.

Once an artist shares his labor of love, he expects people to take notice, like it and share it with the community at large.
The feedback comes through a single click,
A like button, a heart shaped button and their many cousins…
This cursory appraisal is only valued when it comes in numbers.
There is no way of knowing how much what you created affected another person.
Maybe a masterpiece of a portrait you worked on for months got 20 thumbs up and a goofy selfie of yours got 200.

But maybe the 20 people were moved by your art, and majority of the 200 encouraged you out of habit and the prospect of reciprocity.

A pertinent question here is,

‘How does an artist find honest critique amid this culture of numbers, of short attention spans and a juggernaut of new feed?’

Here is where good old friendship and mentorship stands strong.

On social media you’re more likely to find cursory attention than love, virulent hatred than critique.

A friend or a mentor on the other hand, cares about your growth. You are more likely to find honest opinion, encouragement and suggestions about avenues to grow, when you share your art with them.
It is a matter of privilege to have these handful of people around.

If you still wish to get a sense of how many lives you touched through your art through social media,
Look for how many people took out the time to write something about your art.
Did anyone feel moved enough to leave you a comment?
The written word means so much more than ten thousand clicks on an icon.
What would you remember more,
A number or an emotion you stirred in someone’s heart through your art?

As an artist, for the sake of better art, we need to stay clear from the culture of constant gratification.

Only when we give ourself the isolation to work with all our heart,
Can our work add up to something remarkable.

Also, as responsible consumers of content, we should choose the written word to express our feelings more often than giving someone a thumbs up.
We are capable of being more articulate about our emotions than that !

Once we look at life as art in making and choose to voice our opinions in a more conscious manner, we will enable a better atmosphere for art to find expression and constructive critique.
And Life,
as art,
will inevitably,
Thrive.

 

 

Who is a friend?

How we define a friend changes with age doesn’t it?
I remember when I was little, anyone who would choose to share time and space with me was my friend. And what an eclectic mix of friends did I have !
The carpenter working at home was my friend, so was the lady selling Jamun berries on the street. The scientist uncle who introduced me to the wonderous night sky to the toddler rocking in the pram next door,
The immediate world around me was full of friends!

But over time, as it happens to all of us, the group of friends narrowed down to a chosen few. We had limited time on our hands and had only so much of our attention we could give to people around.
Friends became our world but that world also shrunk considerably as compared to childhood.

We share a mysterious friendship with a childhood friend. Even if we haven’t talked to them in years, the moment we hear their voice over a phone call, we feel a profound camaraderie.
Why is that?

A few reason I can think of that could explain it :

1) A childhood friend reminds us of our roots, of who we were,
Of where we’re coming from. (Past)

2) They not only serve as a repository of nostalgia but also a messenger that informs us how much we’ve grown from who we used to be. (Present)

3) And most importantly, they care about our growth, about where we are headed. (Future)

It is a precious bond indeed.

Over the course of my bicycle journey I experienced an emotion I had never experienced before.
I felt a deep sense of friendship towards people who I was meeting for the first time. It almost felt as if they were all similar to a childhood friend in some mysterious way.

I realised that most of the people I met on the road exhibited one of the three above mentioned qualities

For instance, a little Thai kid on Phuket beach who lit a bonfire for me reminded me of my playful and exuberant childhood. He reminded me of where I came from. (Past)

A sister teaching her brother how to ride a bicycle on the street reminded of how difficult it was for me to learn to do the same. It had taken me several months.
And today, I’m fearlessly Bicycling into the unknown.
They reminded me of how far I’ve come.(Present)

Or an old Thai grandma who on realising that I had a long uphill ride to finish before sundown, chose to push my bicycle while I was riding to help me get to the destination.
She helped in whatever way she could because my growth, my progress mattered to her at some level. (Future)

These experiences only opened up my mind to consider everyone I meet as a friend.
Every beginner reminds me of who I was, where I started, where I’m coming from.

Every expert, through his work, helps me yearn for betterment. Despite not knowing me personally, I still see a friend in them because I’m sure my growth would matter to them if they came to know how much they inspire me.

Every contemporary guides me about my growth over the course of time I’ve known them.

I am of the firm belief that we can only design a better world if we all grow together, collectively.

For the growth of the world, personal growth is indispensable.

How do I see the growth of the world in the light of friendship?

To me, a friend is someone whose growth matters to me.
If I wish to see positive growth in the world, I need to see the same in the individual, in each human being.

In the interest of engineering a better world, we ought to care about each other’s growth, even that of a stranger’s.

Having this worldview helps to cultivate compassion towards everyone around us.

Your growth matters to me,
And hence, You are a friend in my heart.

I hope, in your heart,
I too am a friend.

And I believe,
Our collective growth,
Our collective friendship and brotherhood
Will engineer the change in the world we all wish to see.

What do you think, my friend ?

 

On importance of old school friendship in the age of social media

We are living in times where we dwell in two worlds at the same time. One is the real physical world, where all our interactions happen, and one is the virtual world, where we curate how we want our life to be seen as.

In the real world, a person experiences a whole range of emotions. On one hand he experiences pain, sorrow, rejection, depression, anxiety, diffidence…
On the other hand he also experiences pleasure, happiness, exuberance, emancipation and a sense of confidence.
The real world is a kaleidoscopic experience of all these myraid emotions.

But in the virtual world one dwells in, one always projects the happier state of being. All pictures shared by someone, be it of a momentous point in life to the banal selfie stream, it all has a positive connotation.
On social media, everyone is happy.
All seems to be well.

But is it?

If our life was seen only through our curated virtual identity, all of us are living an incredible life with no trace of pain or sorrow.
But deep inside, we all experience challenging emotions as much as we enjoy positive ones.

Our indulgence with social media has consumed our time and mind space which would earlier be engaged with real conversations with friends.
With friends, we would talk about what pains us and what makes us happy in the same breath.
But now we don’t have time to speak to a friend. For some reason the dopamine rush of social media validation eclipses the experience a real friendship promises.

This culture of curating a happy state of being comes at a cost. The challenging emotions like sorrow and diffidence that test our character are being avoided at all cost.
But how will one shape his character holistically if he is in such a state of avoidance ?

In life, one should always strive to have a space to speak about what pains him, what makes him sad and how lonely he feels at times.
For such a space to exist, trust is a must.
And that can only be found in the company of a trustworthy friend.

Speaking about challenging emotions brings forth clarity in one’s mind about who he is, while avoidance only enfeebles and diffuses his identity.

If you wish to have great emotional health, foster a trustworthy friendship. And share things with a friend as frequently as you share your curated happy state of being in the virtual world.
It will do wonders to your understanding of your own self.

To your wholistic growth,
To acceptance of happiness and sorrow as it comes.

 

 

The art of listening

After a 52 day sojourn in Thailand, I reached India a couple of weeks ago. I had the fortune of staying with my friend’s family in Kolkata. I was fed home cooked food with utmost love by his mother for a whole week.
Both her sons are working in different cities and her husband is a working man who isn’t home for the most part of the day.
I would love to spend time with her in the afternoons, which she would usually spend alone, all by herself. She enjoyed my company too, and shared so many of her stories with me. It felt as if she didn’t have anyone to speak to for a long time.

On the first day she seemed to be a shy and introverted woman. But as she got to spend time with someone who would listen to her patiently, she opened up and spoke freely with joy.

During my stay in Kolkata, I also met with a school friend who’s been preparing for an entrance exam for a year at home.
We met up and he spoke on and on for hours on end. I felt happy to be there and give him company, for it felt as if he had not spoken to someone openly for a long time.

While in Delhi, I met a brave friend of mine who’s mother has been bed ridden for four years now. We used to play a lot of music together and share great brotherhood.
He also, had so much to talk about when we met. He spoke of his struggle, the hardship, his mother’s fighting spirit and his newfound belief in Buddhism. Despite his extroverted nature, I knew he had few people who he could talk to about matters of the heart. His sharing felt like a catharsis.

On my last day in Delhi, I found great company in another close friend’s Mother. When she came to know about my ambition to bicycle up North in the mountains, she started sharing her suggestions with spirited encouragement. Over time, she opened up and talked about her dreams, aspirations and nostalgia. Within half an hour, it felt as if she had shared so much of her life in the conversation.

These experiences got me wondering about a person’s desire for expression.
Anyone who has heard their own voice in a recording would say they do not like it at all. It sounds weird and whiney. One might sing to himself when alone, but would not record himself and listen back. It doesn’t sound as good !

But that is merely the physical aspect of our voice. Our true voice is in our thoughts and actions. The act of speaking merely helps to communicate.

Most of us are convinced that we do not have a good voice.
But boy, do we not love to be listened to?

In that moment, one forgoes the idea whether they have a good physical voice or not. While speaking to someone, what matters most is the voice in the heart.

It is tragic to see that despite our hyper connectedness, many of us do not have a patient, judgement free space/ friend to speak to. The voice deep inside our heart never finds expression.
But the moment, one finds a conducive space, even the most introverted of people share their life and experiences animatedly.

I wonder, maybe the best gift one could give to someone, especially to the elderly, is to just lend them a patient ear and listen with intent. There is plenty of learning and avenues to grow in the exercise.

Listening is an act of compassion.

And sometimes, the easiest way to be accepted and loved is to just listen,               with an open heart.

 

 

On friendship beyond context

I had the fortune of meeting a friend yesterday in Delhi. We used to play a lot of music together until a few years ago.
That was the context we grew closer in.
But despite being far away physically and not playing music together for so long, we both felt our friendship had grown over the years. It was a deeply reassuring feeling.

We made great conversation over a car ride and he dropped me at the metro station.
There I met my old student who I used to help learn how to play drums.
We reminisced about how our classes used to be, full of openness and fun. We used to discuss problems of Mathematics, philosophy, logic and science and learnt drumming in the process.
We both were students in those 40 minute sessions.
Now, I am no longer an official teacher to him. But we’re great friends, despite the distance.

These interactions made me realise how one can make the choice of fostering lasting relationships in life.

We all meet our friends in a certain context. We meet them either in school, college, an activity group, while playing sports or at work…you get the picture.

While we are interacting with them in the context we meet them in,
are we open to share our ideas and beliefs beyond the context of our interaction?

Can we talk about how to live a good life, what our dreams are, what we want to change about ourselves and the world around in the same breath as we talk about say pottery, if we met our friend first in a pottery workshop?

The longevity of a relationship is determined by how resilient is it in the face of changing contexts.
We are all growing, ageing, evolving, getting married, changing jobs, chasing dreams, becoming parents…
Can we still talk about minutiae over a margarita, the profoundness in finding purpose in life?

As they say in evolution it all boils down to
‘The survival of the fittest.’

The healthiest of friendships are ones where there is a constancy in love, care and respect for your friend despite the dynamic shifts in contexts life takes us through.

That in my opinion is a fit friendship,
a lasting frienship
A friendship that would truly,
Thrive.

 

 

My fuel and fire

Touring with a bicycle comes with its own baggage. Quite literally. I have two pannier bags and a backpack strung up to the carrier at the rear of my bicycle. Collectively, with three liters of water and bagful of fruit, it would weigh around 25 kgs. My bicycle itself weighs around 18kgs and I weigh close to 54 kgs.
Adding all that up, we are a unit of 97 kgs.

The sight of the bicycle when fully loaded up is quite different from when it is not.
On first look, it almost seems impossible to an onlooker that a bicycle could support so much weight and bulge on the sides.
Often while bicycling through rural parts of Thailand, I would be greeted with curious stares from perplexed village folk. They would seem to be looking too closely at the bicycle as if trying to spot an engine or a motor that’s fuelling the loaded up beast of a bicycle I fondly call Mowgli.

When I would stop at a roadside shop to eat, they would look at my lean body frame and wonder how I am even biking this thing onward. I would be tendered sympathy and encouragement in equal measure by locals.

I wondered why it seemed so impossible to all the people I met with.

Then, I took a good look around to see all the other vehicles on the road.

Ah, they all had a big fuel tank!
My bicycle doesn’t !
And that’s where lay the difference.

I moved on to embrace the approaching breeze on the highway.

Curiously I asked my bicycle,

‘Mowgli, I just realized why people stare at us with such wonder !’

‘Really? What do you think the reason is?’

‘Because we don’t have a fuel tank !’

‘Ah, that’s not true’ dismissed Mowgli.

‘What do you mean?’

‘We definitely have a fuel tank!’

‘Really? Where is it?’

‘The fuel tank is right there inside you.
In you mind.
It has always been there.
And each new adventure, each new experience, fuels us up even more.
No wonder we don’t have to stop to refuel like other vehicles. In fact we have to keep riding to refuel!’

‘That’s wise of you my bicycle! But if there was always fuel in my mind, why did I not start a journey earlier?’

‘Oh ! Simple.
Because you did not have an ignition to kindle the fuel inside you.’

‘And what’s that ignition Mowgli?’

‘My humble self,  your bicycle, isn’t it so?’

And I wondered,

Yes!  This humble bicycle has ignited my fuel to head on a wonderful journey of deep discovery,
of worlds inside and outside.

Singing to the soothing breeze, our collective unit of fuel and ignition, with all our luggage and love,

Head on in search of newer lands
Of friends to be.

 

 

Choosing the right path

I was due to leave Thailand in a couple of days. Wondering how to get my bicycle packed in a case, I looked around for a bike shop that could help me.
Fortunately, I found a bike shop, ‘Bok Bok Bike’ run by a kind gentleman named Ma.

I went in to be greeted by his warm, welcoming smile. I felt as if I had arrived at the right place.
I asked him if he could help me get a cardboard casing for packing my bike for the flight back home.
He readily agreed and said I could come on the day I had my flight and pack it up the way I wished.
I felt relieved on hearing his offer.
I asked him for the best way to get the bicycle and my luggage to the airport. He got wondering. He seemed to be thinking of ways I could transport my bike. He suggested that I could book a big cab to the airport.
The following day I reached his shop at 2pm. The box was already waiting for me inside. He helped me pack up my bicycle in the best manner possible.

I asked him what I owed him for his help. He smiled, just the way he did the first time we met.

‘It is free for you. Enjoy your ride back home!’

And I knew I could never make an even offer with money.

‘Ma, can you help me book a cab?’ I asked.

Oh, one of my friends stays close to the airport. He will be visiting me in the evening.
You can go with him to the airport in his pickup truck. Just pay for the toll.

You’ll save time and money.’

At that moment I felt grateful and helpless at the same time. Grateful for him abundant kindness and helpless for I could think of no way to make up for his help on an immediate basis.

I rushed to my bag and took out my Polaroid camera.

Ma, I have a little project I wish to share with you. I click pictures for all the kind and helpful people I meet on my journey.

Can I click a picture for you?’

He readily agreed and I clicked a candid picture for him in his shop.
I hugged him goodbye with sincere hope of meeting him in India when he bicycles here on a tour.

Today, I reached Kolkata, India.
Here, I am staying with my childhood friend’s family.
I had issues with my SIM card not being active when I came back to India. My friend’s father sent me with his driver to the mobile store to get my sim reactivated. The driver, Ratanjeet, a chatty Bengali folk made good conversation all throughout our ride to the store.
He helped me communicate with the mobile store staff in Bengali.
We were told that the SIM will be activated only 48 hours later.
As we were leaving the shop Ratanjeet asked me,

Sir, it would be so much trouble to not have a phone for two days.
We can get a new SIM for you in my name. You can use it for two days and then give it to me when you leave.
I’ll use it later as needed.’

I was pleasantly surprised by his eagerness to find a solution.

Thank you so much Ratanjeet, but I think it will be okay for me to not have a number for a couple of days. ‘

In the evening, I sat back and wondered about these two incidents that happened with a span of 24 hours in two different countries.
Two complete strangers went out of their way to help me in the best manner possible. In fact, it wasn’t even about me. I am sure they would have gone out of their way to help someone they thought they could help.

Then I realised,
These kind humans,
are not going out of their way at all.

Helping people in need, is the only right way in their eyes.

We often hear elders tell us to choose the correct path in our life. After meeting these two gentlemen, I am convinced that the correct way,
The noble path,
Is one where there are avenues to help others.

Grateful for the profound lessons my friends Ma and Ratanjeet introduced me to,
I too am enthusiastic to join their tribe,
Of kind strangers,
On the noble path,
Of helping people with an open heart.

My new Thai name!

Hello…Sunny….
me…near park…
you go here. Okay?
said Lucky , maybe in her first conversation in English over a phone.

Okay, Lucky. You wait for me.
I come to you.

Chai, chai (Yes, Yes in Thai)’

And I started to ride around the park trying to spot my friend Lucky and her husband Pravee. In case you’re wondering, Sunny is my Thai name which this lovely couple gave me, since it was difficult for them to pronounce my real name!
After a five minute search, we spotted each other. I crossed the road and went to see them. There was such excitement in our spirit to be meeting each other again. But we did not have a common language to communicate in!
Like overjoyed kids we opened our hearts and smiled ear to ear as we greeted each other.

We put my bicycle at the back of their pick-up truck. I went inside and sat on the rear seat.
What a joyride it was for the next three hours !
We managed to communicate using different aids. Sign language, English- Thai translator, exaggerated expressions and of course, unbridled laughter when we would fail to understand a word of what the other person was saying.

There was a childlike innocence in their demeanor. Lucky had a book called, ‘Working conversation to perfect your English -Thai Edition’ which she routinely referred to for asking questions.
The excitement and enthusiasm this couple shared despite the language barrier was adorable to witness.

After an intimate tour of Bangkok, they dropped me back home. They had a long conversation with a chatty watchman which had the word ‘India India’ in almost every other sentence. They would point at me lovingly all throughout their talk.

Okay Sunny, Goodbye.
See you India’

Yes, In India, you stay my home Okay?’

‘Okay Okay!’

They left shortly afterwards. I waved them goodbye till they were beyond sight.

I had met this couple by accident at a bicycle rally in South Thailand. And we had exchanged our contacts.
They had so much love in their heart that they wanted to see me again just to show me around. They didn’t speak English and communication was an issue.
But their alacrity to make a new friend was so sincere that nothing could come in the way.

They gave so much love and energy that I came to believe, I was Sunny !
I would happily identify myself with that name.

Beyond names,
beyond languages,
beyond all barriers,
Is the language of the heart.
Once you communicate from there,
You will find a deep connection no matter what.
My cheeks hurt by smiling so much all throughout the day in their company.

With a new name,
new friends,
And with the promise of keeping an childlike heart,
I assure myself,
To carry the spirit of friendship on and on.

A high five

A high five.

What a wonderful way to celebrate a little success. Be it sports teams, business colleagues, friends or even whatsapp emoji ,this gesture has great charm and acceptability to it.
However, the person who initiates the High five, takes up the risk of being embarrassed if the gesture is not reciprocated. There’s a risk of looking silly in the midst of a crowd. And people make fun of the initiator in such a situation.

It is a leap of faith that the other person shares the same enthusiasm as he does.
And more often than not we take the leap of faith. We raise our palms in the air in celebratory anticipation.

How about having the same celebratory anticipation in being kind to each other?
It is indeed a leap of faith. It might not get the same kind reciprocation as our kind gesture. But, is it not worth a risk taking in the interest of creating a kinder community?
And unlike the case of a high five, if you’re not met with the same friendly kindness from the other end, onlookers will empathise with you. You would find kindness in onlookers.
Then, is it not worthwhile to choose to be kind?
Building a kinder community can only start with our enthusiastic initiatives.

If you agree,
Could we have a high five ?

Priceless Bananas

The shadows were getting longer by the minute.  As I passed by milestone after milestone, I found myself still quite far away from the nearest town. It had been a long day bicycling under the full sun.
I was hoping to buy a bunch of bananas for dinner. I only had 29 Baht with me to spare. With no ATM around me on the highway, that was my allowance for food for the night.

On the way, I saw a few shops adjacent to the road selling food. I slowed down to see if any of them had bananas.
Luckily, one of them did. I stopped to catch a breath before I spoke.

But as it happened, I didn’t need to speak at all. A lovely woman stood up and put a big bunch of bananas in a bag and gave it to me.
Since I didn’t have much money, I wanted to ask how much they cost. I took out my phone and gestured her to type in the price in the calculator app.

To my surprise, she spoke back to me in fluent English.
‘No No, you don’t need to pay for this. It is a gift from me to you.’

‘No, I must pay for this !’ I insisted.

She smiled and continued,
‘These bananas are from my farm. Very delicious. No problem for me. You can enjoy them.’
And she put another bunch in the bag for me.

‘What is you name ?’ I asked her.

‘My name is Onn. I live in this village.’

‘Onn, I am from India.’

‘I know. I can tell from your face.’

Her demeanor had a warmth and innocence as if she was trying to make the first friend of her life.
I wished to give her something for her kind gift of a couple dozen bananas.

‘Onn, can I click a picture of you?’

‘Yes, Okay!’

‘This is a special camera. It is called a Polaroid. We will have the picture come out from the camera instantly.’

‘Oh really! ‘ she exclaimed and posed.

I clicked the picture and waited for it to develop in the dark.

‘You like Thailand?’

‘Yes, a lot !’

‘Why?’ she inquired.

‘Because of people like you!’ I shared gladly.

She wore an excited look as I gave her the Polaroid picture.

‘This is wonderful. I like it. Thank you !’

‘You can make it your ID card !’ I joked.

‘Yes yes ! Next time you come in this area, come again, I always have bananas from my farm.’

I joined my hands and bowed down to greet her Namaste.

‘Yes I will, I promise.’

I got on my bicycle and headed onward.

She waved goodbye to me, just like kids on the street do, knowing well that they would never see you again, and not allowing that awareness to quell the exuberance in their greeting.

I’d heard from marketers that to create a relationship with a customer, give free stuff to them when they least expect it. By doing so, you’ll create loyalty around your brand.

But this beautiful village woman, far removed from the context of business, shared what she had, without seeking any business in return.
She was just happy being an embassador of goodwill.

Had I paid for the bananas the usual way, she would have had money and I’d have had the Fruit.
But she chose to be generous,
And both of us have a beautiful memory,
To reminisce,
To share,
And most importantly the desire to carry the spirit of empathy, compassion and goodwill within us, on the journey of life.

Later in the night, I tasted one of the bananas. They were certainly the best ones I’ve ever tasted.
She was right to not put a price tag on it.
For certainly they are,
Priceless.

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