Drama Therapy

Last week, I did the unthinkable! I went in to attended a Intro to Drama Therapy by Living Arts Counseling It was a tough day, Friday evening, I couldn’t get out of work till late, didn’t get a chance to eat dinner before I went in, had a kinda busy day. I had every reason to NOT go! Apart from my palpitating heart as I walked in – I had to just block out the fear and show up. And super glad I did it.

Drama Therapy is unique in a sense – that it’s based on the fact that our bodies record and store every emotion we feel. Be it good or bad – our body keeps the score. And we live in a world of action – doing things and experiencing emotions. The concept is by acting out the actions and replaying the events of past in our heads – we can re-visit those emotions we felt and thereby maybe get a second chance to look at them objectively. The idea is grand, but the process is work! Since it’s a intro class – I get to witness and participate in some of the core activities of it. The instructor was amazing – she made me realize how some people can live life fully!

In 3 hours, my heart got unraveled. I was cut open up like a fruit and on came those emotions. In that span I went through some nostalgic emotions (remembering about my visit to my grandparent’s place during my summers), falling in love (with Sangita & again with my daughter) to fear & anger (about not being accepted as I am by my father and how in one instance I missed to get one more mark, to make the cut, in a test I took when I was 12). It was raw and intense. I couldn’t feel anything for a day.

Sangita has been asking me to go for a long time. She did it long time ago and it changed her life. I always thought being an introvert and how scary it is for me to act out my feelings, let alone talk about them – would be very difficult. It was difficult but the outcome was totally worth it! It’s like a language – which gives access to all locked up emotions and trauma in our bodies. This mask we wear day in and day out is shed among a group of equally trauma inflicted people and in a very safe environment. There were moments where I wanted to leave halfway through, but being an adamant asshole I am I stuck to it and refused. There was this one act – which is called “I want it, you can’t have it” – that rattled my heart out! I wanted the facilitator to call timeout, as those 3 minutes felt like aeons.

It was very insightful – kinda assured me of my own belief that all the answers that I seek lie within me. More and more in my body locked up as emotions. I am not sure if I will do a full course, because it would mean opening up past wounds and feeling completely lost and raw. A part of me thinks I can and a part of me is scared as hell.

Neutral Now

As I meditate regularly, I see a pattern in how my mind wanders. It’s best represented as below.


My mind wanders between future and past. It continuously reviews the events in the past – reliving the bad and good ones and fearful about the future or numbing myself with fantasy. As I continued to watch these thoughts and after a great long time came a period which I call “Neutral Now”

Neutral now isn’t new – it’s just a habit of observing my own thoughts as they emerge and shuttle in the above matrix. As the habit strengthens – it becomes easy to just acknowledge them and let them go. As I let go of these thoughts, feelings, emotions, trauma etc – my mind settles on something which feels like a forever moment. Like time stopped and focus stood still. That moment is fleeting but it’s there and that feels soothing. I think great amount of healing happens in that moment. I try to get to that point as much as I can.


Like is the new Subscribe

First there was print media. Next came the Internet revolution and it got the 4th estate all riled up and they started out their websites. Blogs started complimenting the news and then came Twitter. People started to talk to each other using tweets and then the idea coalesced into leaders within Twitter providing information. The media was late to it but it joined eventually. The news started getting disbursed in 140 characters matching the 10 seconds attention span. Then came Facebook – colonizing the friendship graph. They pulled in all of us and all our friends and everyone we knew. Enticed us to “Like” each other’s stuff and encouraging activity, eyeballs and addiction. The media was late there as well, but now it’s catching up.

Facebook announced 2 major things last week. In video side of it’s 1 billion dollar acquisition of Instagram. Perfectly timed 15 secs (as opposed to 6 seconds on Vine) – matching the advertisement requirement, videos in your feed. Another thing is about Mark Zuckerberg’s passion to make Facebook as a place to get all your news. I think this is a genius move on Facebook’s behalf. I have literally stopped going to websites to read news – all I do is like them on their site when I visit them first time – and lo and behold I get all my news on my wall. Facebook turned it’s “Like” button into a “interested”, “permission to invade”, “subscribe me” button.

Pretty soon we will have news media saying – “Only available on Facebook“, “Watch it first on Facebook” – because that is where the action is. Because that wall you take for granted on Facebook is definitely a wall – a wall where you put your virtual TV on, a wall where you pin your address book on, a wall where you have your calendar on. Facebook wall is the new Desktop – it’s just that we are not aware of it yet. It’s here and it’s slowly creeping on us.

I feel sorry for Google and Apple – both companies still stuck in the old thinking and investing in good old media hardware – Google TV, Apple TV(the actual TV which is rumored). I feel sorry that Google dropped it’s Google reader which could have competed with Facebook wall. I feel sorry for Youtube Channels because you are way too far from my wall and need a new tab to visit you. It’s just a matter of time before we see HBO exclusive on Facebook wall.

This is how a simple Like turned into a mass consumption channel. A pathway to new consumers.

It is written

If you are Indian you implicitly know when someone says “It is written”. If that word kinda triggers some far far memories, don’t worry I will help you with it. I know as being an American or a non-Indian you are heavily influenced by “Slumdog Millionaire” – I know I know, it was a great movie but using that to bucket all Indians isn’t a good idea. So, anyhow – in that movie at the end of it – like after the whole movie ends – the last scene freezes and the words ‘It is written’ appear.

So what does it really mean? Let me tell you what it usually means and then we will deal with what it really means. Indian people are predominantly religious. A majority of them are Hindus. All Hindu’s scriptures and holy texts have a theme. This underlying theme has some key points and they are:

  • We are all recycled souls in a new body
  • Depending upon our Karmic debt we are born and re-born in various places as various people over aeons.
  • The fate, i.e., where you are born and what will happen to you is pre-determined based on your Karma.

This is the core of all the spiritual philosophy of Hindu belief. Everything else is just masked up stuff to explain this again and again. Don’t believe me? Checkout Ramayana, Mahabharata – those mythologies are nothing but a dramatic version of the above core principles. Bhagavad Gita however has less drama and more explanation and teachings on the above beliefs.

So when Indian people say “It is written” – they mean the fate is sealed and they have no choice. There is no escape.

I personally think that is the wrong interpretation of those words. No matter how hard I tried to rationalize, I can’t convince myself to believe that. I believe the part that we are re-cycled souls – yes Mozart is re-born and living somewhere at this moment. I believe in Karma – every little thing we think, do and speak accumulates Karma and that kinda propels us into the next life form we will take up. But I don’t believe that this Karmic bond is fixed and it’s all already written down.

I think what is written is – opportunities to escape the past karma, what is written is – risks to take from the existing conditions, what is written is – that unique subjective feeling you have when you realize that you *get it*. I think all our lives we build walls around us – physically, mentally and emotionally. These walls prevent us from our best things that we can ever be. Of course there is a lot of risk in bringing down these walls. There is a lot of pain and hurt beyond them. But they also hold our personal freedom and happiness. They also hold unbound opportunities beyond those walls.

I think that is what is written. The thin karmic walls will try to contain us and protect us emotionally, mentally and physically – so that this cosmic drama on this world stage keeps moving. But it’s not written that we are not allowed to go beyond them. I believe people who break these walls and face pure pain – eventually release all the emotional trauma of being a Human Being. Through pain we gain freedom. Through risks we achieve our goals.

Now, this isn’t me judging others from a pulpit. I am equally a victim of those walls. In fact this post is to remind myself again and again that how fragile are those karmic walls and how powerful is my strong will. I am about go on a tumble ride and I accept this with all my grit and faith.

Staying with that thought

Staying with the thought that emerges is a great skill. We are all great escapists. We excel at escaping that thought. Our whole lives are designed in such a way that it’s easier to deny the emerging thought and look for a new one.

Staying with the thought that comes up into consciousness requires courage. Because we never know how ugly, bad, raw that thought could be. It could break us. Just that fear is enough for us go on this never ending roller coaster chase of alternate thoughts.

Knowledge is seeking a new thought, staying with the existing thought is wisdom. Staying with that thought is being present and here and now. A lot of things we need to learn are in those that are dis-agreed, denied by us. That emerging thought is the greatest teacher. Every other teacher is a second hand version of chewed up form of that thought.

The number system of India

Relax for a moment and think about numbers. Everyone has certain feeling attached to them. There is something about them we feel but we can’t put our finger on it. If you treat numbers purely – just as symbols and remove all the meaning, feelings associated with it – then it turns into a whole new science. This is what Bertrand Russell was trying to do using numbers to define the fundamentals of Mathematics.

But today I am not going to dwell into that aspect. I want to talk about the peculiar Indian number system. Peculiar but useful in it’s own way. Different countries treat numbers in different ways and I believe that the meaning, feelings you associate with numbers is linked with the practices and culture around you.

I am going to list few (partial list) idiosyncrasies of Indian numbering system. Some are funny and some are mysterious. Here we go:

1. Age:  This bothered me a lot for a long time. Only recently I have come to add some meaning to this. Let me give you a visual with an example. Say a baby is born in India.

On day 1, when the baby is born. He is 1 day old.

The parents are happy and life goes on. Something magical happens when the baby crosses 2 weeks. Let’s look at it in a little detail. Here is the breakdown of 4 weeks.

As you can see (assuming 4 weeks in a month) there is a tipping point that tilts the age of the baby which kinda gets stuck with him for the rest of his life. Here is what happens.

As the baby crosses 2 weeks mark (sometimes 10 days mark) – suddenly out of nowhere the baby is 1 month old. I have no idea how this is logical (my explanation follows later). It also happens so fast that it’s impossible to detect. There would be some God motherly like figure in the family and some given day within the 1st month- she would use baby’s age in a sentence in such a way that she implies that baby is 1 month old! Trust me on this, I have a lot of these elderly ladies in my own family.

Now even before the baby is 1 month old, he is ALREADY ONE MONTH OLD. Here is another visual to give you some more perspective. This is the timeline for a typical year.

The thing you need to understand here is as the months progresses – the child is always more older than he technically is. When he is around 10 months old (I mean like finish 10 months) – the same old lady would be back and call the child 1 year old. WTF? Now immediately after his 1st birthday cake – he starts to be 2 year old till his next birthday cake!

So, when a Indian person tells you that he/she is 25 years old, you should always (98% of the time) assume that he/she is actually 24 years old and in his/her 25th year.

I know this is weird. We Indians might look like we are rushing to age and reach that nirvana our Gods have been promising us. But trust me – we are humans as well – like any other person we would like to be forever young! But why follow such a weird system then? What is the benefit attached to being always older than you actually are?

I can only think of only one reason. And here it is – India is a very religious country. I have met only few Atheists there. And with religion comes a lot of rituals. Every child has some ritual associated when they are – 3 rd month passing, 5th month passing, 7th month passing, 9th month passing, 11th month passing, 3rd year passing and on and on.

You see a pattern? There are rituals attached to the passing month, not to the end of the month. Meaning, I can shave my daughter’s head ONLY when she is in her 9th month or 11th month or when she is 3 years old. (Yeah you can’t get it shaved in any other months as it would incur bad omen on the child! and what parent would want it?). So, if you are following a lot of ritual associated with your child’s passing month then you would count his/her age in the same way.

I think that is the reason why our counting of age is so lopsided. There is a method to it’s madness.

2. Storeys: I am not sure whether you guys know it or not. We Indians invented zero. Prior to that romans had their crazy system which was useless when it came to division. Egyptians were smart and had something in place but no zero/nada/zilch. The arabs took our zero and created the decimal system.

So in India when we count the storeys in a building it’s always – ground floor, 1st floor, 2nd floor and so on. Some elevators (lifts) also have zero on them indicating that it’s the lowest floor. So imagine the Indian who is fresh off the boat – trying to get to 42nd floor. He is going to miss it by 1. This again, I don’t know the reason why it’s like that but I am guessing it’s because we like to use the zero. It’s also cultural. I bet Google India has the zero floor and all the geeks there grok that!

3. Temperature:  Ok, this one is weird. And I don’t know why. I have noticed that we follow metric system when we want to indicate cold and imperial system when we want to indicate hot. Like we would say – “It’s very hot today, the temperature is 108 degrees” – which is implying Fahrenheit. And we would say “It’s very cold tonight, Delhi is like 8 degrees” implying Celcius.

I have no idea about the disparity here. May be we want to use higher number for hot and lower number for cold! But everything else is completely metric – kilograms, litre etc except land. Land is still measured in Acres. Mostly the farm land. That is the only exception I have come across.

4. Distance: Ok, this one is funny. Ask any American the distance between SF and LA they would say “About 7 hours”.  Ask any Indian the same question they would say “About 350 miles”

This is a big gotcha for Indias. You see, you guys (Americans) measure distance using time because you have freeways. When you say ‘about 7 hours’, it pretty much takes 7 hours – depending on your bladder and eating habits of course. But for us Indians we don’t have the luxury to mesure distance in time. We can’t! Because our infrastructure is busted and half of our animals live on the road. There is no guarantee that I can go from point A to point B in certain amount of time. Because there are frigging way too many variables. All I am guaranteed is that I will reach point B sometime but don’t know when.

The ONLY TIME we Indians measure distance in time is when we use trains to travel. Unlike American rail, Indian rail is HUGE for the area it covers. Indian rail has 1.6 million employees, yes thats double the number of people who live in San Francisco. Take that Amtrak! So, anyhow – the trains pretty much run on time and there are a lot of trains which go overnight. So, in that context we Indians say – it takes a night to go from point A to point B.

It all boils down to – if we are driving, we don’t know when we will see you. If we take a train, we will see you tomorrow morning.

5. Time:  Finally the time. Our perception of time is very very different – I want to write more about it but I think it will take it’s own blog post because it’s connected at so many levels – philosophically, mentally, spiritually etc,. But I would say this – Salman Rushdie‘s quote in his amazing book – Midnight’s Children, sums it up.

“No people whose word for ‘yesterday’ is the same as their word for ‘tomorrow’ can be said to have a firm grip on the time.” 

And the word he is referring to is – “Kal” in Hindi. Depending on the context it can mean yesterday or tomorrow! Go figure.

The empathetic programmer

http://www.flickr.com/photos/adrianruiz/Long time ago – I was interested in all those fancy personality tests that you can take and they will analyze and tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are. I don’t recall it correctly but I think it was the Strengths Finder 2.0 book. Anyhow, after the test it told me one of my strength (out of couple of others) is – Empathy. I have the ability to feel other’s pain, pleasure and understand them/their situation better – sometimes even better than themselves. It was kinda bummer to me. You know I was more like looking forward to some super mental skills – like x-ray vision and mind reading!

So, I didn’t pay attention to it that much and never thought about it. After I started my own business – I had a bunch of Clients and there was a moment where we were working on like 8 projects at a time. I was talking to Sangita and how I was getting lucky with closing the deals and knowing what to do with the project – she reminded me of my strengths finder test. She mentioned may be in addition to luck I am able to read their requirements a bit more with my madz skillz of empathy! It clicked to me and I thought may be it’s not that bad of an idea to accept my strengths even if they are not super human like. I kept it in the back of my head in all my meetings with my clients and in some cases I was able to see the affect it had on my conversations with them.

It always irked me though that – the one top strength I have on my list will never be able to help me in my first love – programming. It still bothered me. Not until couple of months back where I had an insight and everything fell in it’s place. I was grappling with a programming issue. It was a tough bug to crack and when usually I am stuck with an issue – I try to stay with it as much as possible skipping food etc so that I can understand it much deeply. In that wariness – for a moment I saw what I was doing. It just occurred to me what actually I was doing internally. I was using my strength to solve a software issue.

I know this sounds corny, but what I was doing was being the bug. I was sitting there and literally imagining myself to be the issue and see how and why I am getting stuck. And using that information I perceive to solve the problem. I am sure a lot of people do this, but for me more important was how my top strength fell into this big maze of my life. That was it – I am the empathetic programmer. I solve and write software based on how I feel the program feels!

Having Empathy as your strongest point isn’t easy. I mean, c’mon the best suited job for my type is a psychologist or a social worker. How far away is that from building programs? After I understood my strength application – it all made sense. That’s why I can’t watch any medical shows. I mean I literally cringe and sometimes depending on how much I feel – feel the pain of the person who is suffering medically. There were so many occasions where people would describe to me in most vivid details of their symptoms and boom I see them in me too.

Thats the reason why it took me 4 years to finally come around and start watching Gray’s Anatomy and House. Scrubs, I could take but nothing with gory details and blood spewing scenes. It’s funny in it’s own way, but if it would let me solve my programming bugs and make me a better programmer – then so be it. Ultimately, the best debugger in this world is between your ears. 🙂

Meditation and Melatonin Connection

Yesterday I had one of those AHA moments about meditation. I have always read in various books about how prolonged meditation cuts down the amount of sleep you would need. I should admit, I really was trying to put that to good use – when I was working for myself – where the work days would last 16 hours and there was no work/life balance.

Anyhow, what I have always known was – 20 mins of nap during day == 1 hour of sleep during night. And 15 mins of deep focused meditation == 1 hour of sleep during night. I have seen that being said everywhere but I could never understand why.

Yesterday I learned the answer. Here are the details.

Everyone of us have something called ‘Pineal Gland‘. This small almond shaped gland is the end point of our nervous system which connects to our brain. As we get signals from nervous system, this gland kinda vibrates and releases a hormone called ‘Melatonin‘. Now Melatonin is a natural hormone – which we use to replenish and heal our bodies. So sleep is a means to the end of getting Melatonin. There I was like AHA. Now I know.

So basically when you take a nap or meditate – you are making Melatonin. Once our body gets that – it doesn’t need us to sleep longer hours for more and that way you can get away with 6 hours of sleep and still be alert during day.

Again, I don’t think just simple meditation generates Melatonin. What meditation does is to slow down our brain waves and I think when we get to theta level – we are able to produce Melatonin.

I have also learned that in the ancient cultures, people knew about this and focused on Pineal gland focused meditation technique. Usually when we meditate we are asked to either focus on a picture, idol, light or breathing. The more noob the more external things you need to focus on. So, you would start your meditation practice with a picture and end up doing it by focusing on your breath as you progress. But in Pineal gland focused meditation technique the seeker focuses on the back of the head (where the gland is located) and this (with practice) furthers the easy making of the Melatonin harmone. I think this is a very valid technique. Two years back I was taking a Super Memory reading course – because I had way too many books to read than time. In that they teach you a technique which works like a wonder. While reading the book – imagine a imaginary orange behind your head. Just hovering there. Once you do that, your focus kinda shifts to the back of your head and it kinda puts you in a trance where all the external distractions are minimized. It’s called the orange technique and it really works.

Tantrically thinking, I think Pineal gland is actually the esoteric, analogical third eye of Shiva. It’s not a literal one which is between your brows but something inside your head. And as Mythology and Scriptures say – once it’s open it doesn’t destroy the literal world, but your *idea* of this world. This whole shebang you carry around in your head called life is blown away.

Deliberate Practice, Habits and Rituals

A conversation with friends at dinner made me think about deliberate practice a little bit more tonight. I have been thinking about Habits and Rituals for quite some time. Countless articles and books dissect genius and find out that the success is basically nothing but an outcome of “deliberate practice”. It is said that if you practice anything deliberately for 10,000 hours you would be one of the very few masters of that thing on this planet. I believe it’s completely true. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this and everyday some blog post talks about this.

If we all knew that the secret of success is deliberate practice why aren’t we all super stars in our chosen field already? Because it’s far more harder to do that than to say it. I mean the practice may not be that hard at all, but the deliberate part of it is definitely hard. I have been reading Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement. It’s a very interesting idea of looking at our lives from the perspective of *energy*. There are many ways we can divide up our lives. We humans can’t take the whole day by it’s own – we have our own way of chunking and handling our days. Some people divide it by tasks. There is a whole plethora of books, techniques, like GTD,  about how to best manage tasks. Some people divide it by time – instead of taking up a task and doing it, they spend certain amount of time on the task at hand, once the time is up they relax take a break and may be decide to spend another chunk of time on it – Pomodoro technique is one of the many available ones.

But Tony Schwartz talks about dividing it up based on energy. He doesn’t completely define or care about how enthusiastic you are at any given time or whether it’s physical energy etc – but it’s more subtle than that. He talks about how we have certain energy (a mix of physical, mental and emotional) and we don’t have whole lot of it. So, his core idea is – to manage energy. How does he recommend it? Rituals.

Think about it, the most successful people around you definitely have some kind of ritual that makes them stand apart. The friends who are healthier than you are the ones who have a ritual of working out religiously. The people who are peaceful are the ones who attend meditation regularly. Similarly people who are good at doing what they do have some ritual which they follow – no matter what comes into their life.

So these rituals are very simple steps that these people follow to make them who they are. The cool thing about a ritual is – once you get a hang of it, once the body and mind gets used to it – its welcomed whole heartedly. And there are theories around that too (like 21 day rule, or 40 day rule etc). But rituals make or break a successful career, path etc.

Next comes habit – once you follow these rituals regularly and get over that hump of resistance – it’s all smooth sailing from there. It will become a habit. Habit is a mental shortcut. It’s what we do without thinking consciously. It’s the mind’s way to store up a whole lot of instructions in very few synapses. Habits can go both ways. Habits could be a mental short cut helping you or they could also be your blind spots. Habits that are resourceful are the ones that help us.

So what does it entail in the end? Why am I talking about this? I think the only way to make deliberate practice easy is to make a habit out of it. And the only way to create a successful habit is through a ritual. I think that pretty much is a sure path to success in whatever you are planning to do.

Being a programmer it’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the technology that flows by. I am like a kid in a toy store when it comes to all the technology around me (no not the gadgets part of it, but the problem solving part of it). But I can’t be successful in what I want to do if I don’t deliberately practice good problem solving in my career. To make my life easier, here are couple of rituals I have been following –

1. First 90 mins of my day are really important – when I wake up, my mind is fresh and anything I take up at that time just gets absorbed. So, for the first 90 minutes of my day I work on stuff that I love most – in this case – Cocoa programming.

2. Priority List – The night before I sleep I make a list of highest priority things for the next day. That way I can just get on the most important things immediately without wasting time.

3. Email and Chat – When I am focusing, I turn off my email and chat – that really helps.

4. While driving (alone) –  I take up a idea/concept I learned and try to explain it to the non-present 5 year old sitting next to me. Just try to break it down. (I know I know it’s kinda crazy, but it’s part of my ritual)

5. While idle – I try to chant and focus on my breath trying to stay in present.

There are couple of things I want to add to my ritual  like blogging – both personal and technical but I don’t want to overwhelm myself and lose it.

So there you go. The secret of any success is : Deiberate Practice <– Habits <– Rituals. Craft easy and simple rituals and pretty soon you will be successful at what you want to achieve.

Here are some of the books to explore if you want to learn more:

1. The Power of full Engagement

2. The now habit

3. War of Art (not the other Art of War)

Purpose of Meditation (Well one of)

I have been a fan of meditation for a long time. Even though I don’t do it regularly, I have done it pretty regularly in the past and I often try to sneak it into my everyday life. There have been a lot of explanation on as to what meditation does and how it affects us. Internet is filled with that literature. We all know it’s good for us. But I often wonder what would be the end result. What could be the end of meditation?

I came across some answers in the past – which I tried to capture it here and here. But I still keep thinking about it now and then. An another answer occurred to me the other day. Meditation for me is peaceful and it makes me a witness to my life rather than a participant. The days I meditate, I usually tend to have control over my thoughts, emotions and thereby actions. I get into this witness or 3rd person stance where I watch myself on the stage of life.

I think there is a reason for that. I think the reason meditation gets me into witness position is to let me align things. What things? My thoughts, my speech and my action. The triumvirate of my daily life. It lets me subtly adjust these things so that they align. In India there is a word for that – ‘Trikaranasuddi‘ – the matching of thought, word and deed. By noticing myself during the day I become observant of what I am thinking, speaking and doing. Any mis-match produces stress and thereby gets me to correct it.

If you think about it – the stress we have in our daily level comes from this mismatch. If my words don’t match what I think and if I do something other than what I say, there is stress and  meditation usually reduces that. I never understood how and now I think this is the reason why. As always I have made a drawing out of it –