Dream On

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If I were to tell you that dreaming could likely be the single most productive task you’ve done in your life, would you believe me? And I don’t mean having a life long dream that we care to achieve, but dreams that occur on most nights while we sleep and try to restore our energy to ensure that we are ready and fit for all the activities we don’t intend to do the following day. I wouldn’t believe me. I mean imagine yawning, sleeping, dreaming, checking social media messages, snatching the blanket back, dreaming, sleepwalking, dreaming, and finally waking (or not) becoming the logistical mantra for a successful life. It sounds too good to be true.

The first science fiction novel by Mary Shelley, the concept of the theory of relativity by Albert Einstein, the structure of the Atom by Niels Bohr, the composition of the famous hit ‘Yesterday’ by Paul McCartney and The Beatles, the structure of the periodic table by Dmitri Mendeleev, Dr. Frederick Banting’s discovery of the use of insulin for diabetic patients, a few of Srinivas Ramanujan’s mathematical theories, as well as my theory of procrastination, all find their roots in vivid dreams. An argument can be made that a majority of these discoveries are scientific and educational in nature, and if these people decided to not doze off while working, we would have a lot less to study in our schools and colleges. Nevertheless, these discoveries are groundbreaking, to say the least. Take my theory of procrastination for instance. If I had not decided to sleep and dream aimlessly and endlessly, how would this theory ever have come into existence? In fact, I am willing to wager that the impact of the theory of procrastination has been on many more people than the impacts by Google, the Avengers movie franchise, and even sliced bread.

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It’s fair to assume that we all spend a third of our day sleeping, and therefore a third of our life asleep too (except the few spots when we endure ‘all-nighters’ to read comic books on exam nights, to watch our sports team take a beating in a different time zone, to transfer items from the refrigerator into our tummy, which we apparently term as a midnight snack as opposed to a midnight banquet, and even getting thrown out of bars). This is a significant portion of our lives, and studies show that the average person spends about a quarter of their sleep time dreaming. Two hours of dreaming a night? We must have hit that ten thousand hour mark many times over. Now I’m not sure how the eminent people sans one mentioned in the previous paragraph managed to discipline their minds enough to engage in meaningful, structured, and creative dreams. I, for some reason experience dreams that I cannot even begin to explain. They range from ‘shame shame puppy shame’, and falling from the sky (gravity has already been discovered so it’s pointless), to storylines changing faster than the speed of light, ‘pee-pee’ dreams and being on a sports team with pizza slices and muffins (I don’t know what this is even meant to signify, except that I need to stop gorging on them). Or maybe I just haven’t bothered to remember a dream that may have actually offered some guidance and enlightenment.

My point here is that we all have issues and challenges that we are in a constant tussle with. While these challenges exhaust us and put us to sleep, our unconscious mind continues to try and solve them well into the night. Based on several studies by experts, there are numerous areas that our dreams help us in. Here are some.

  1. We have emotional trials that we constantly deal with. While we may not be able to understand or relate our emotional duress to their causes during our conscious hours, our brains are highly capable of joining the dots and forming connections, without our annoying waking interference while we sleep. This allows us to find some answers and obtain emotional balance to a degree. We potentially have a chance of healing over time. We have a free therapist in our head and we don’t even need to be awake as she speaks.
  2. Dreaming helps us reflect on our actual lives on a daily basis. Our unconscious mind helps replay situations, our actions in those situations, and alternate courses of action that may have been apter under the circumstances. This offers perspective and learning for future situations. This is our automatic problem-solving kit.
  3. Often dreams can lead to premonitions of threats and other occurrences in our lives. It gets us battle-ready (or ready to flee).
  4. Creativity can be at its highest in our dreams. Pioneering discoveries and creations born in people’s dreams are a testimony that the deliberations by our mind as our body rests lead to revolutions. It’s probably happened to every single one of us as well. A business idea, an idea for a new advertising campaign, a movie theme, a poem, or even the idea to write about dreams may have occurred in a dream, without our conscious knowledge. So pay attention boys and girls, for your dreams may lead to solutions for first world problems like finding enough storage for the consequences of our compulsive shopping habits, fat burning desserts, self making beds, getting every single one of our connections to like our social media posts, phone charging trouser pockets, and even a spouse proof television remote.
  5. Dreams also act as a sorting mechanism for all the information we absorb during our waking hours. It would be highly improbable for us to retain all the information we encounter in our lives and our dreams help decide what to keep and what to discard.

Research continues to find more benefits of dreaming and if we care to pay attention to them and remember them, we may become mentally and emotionally healthier, and experience boundless creativity. There are several ways to remember our dreams and brain coach Jim Kwik recommends simple steps like making a conscious choice to remember our dreams, writing them down immediately when we wake up, keeping our eyes closed as we wake up and reflect on our dreams, tell ourselves daily that we will remember our dreams, and manage our sleep well to ensure a dreamy nightcap.

The benefits of paying attention to the small little stories in our head as we do what we love most are astounding. It truly is ‘lights out’.

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The Quizzical Life

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When we’re not sleeping, eating, working hard on our social media accounts at the workplace, gossiping, jerking off, or just plain old playing the fool, we have several unanswered questions about the world around us that we ponder over. These questions may have puzzled us for a lifetime, impacted us on a deep level that may have been bothersome, or maybe rhetorical questions that we may seem to know the answer to, but don’t.

I, for one constantly have questions going around in my mind like a nonstop merry-go-round. And once a question is answered, it is replaced by at least two new ones if not more. That’s getting to be a pretty crowded merry-go-round. Since I cannot spend the rest of my life writing this article, neither can you spend yours cursing it, let’s explore only a few of these mysteries.

  • Why do we chase people that barely know about our existence or do not care to? We have enough genuine people in our lives that love us and have professed it openly. Yet, we pine for the attention of the uninterested and potentially unworthy. Are relationships purely based on our egos and to honor our ancestors we feel we must conquer one and all? We neglect the believers and spend our efforts on converting the non-believers until of course, they become believers. Then we move on to the next lot. On our death beds, we may realize that our original circle was the only one that truly existed.
  • How is social acceptance equivalent to a like or comment on our social media posts? A friend or family member may give us profound insights that aid significantly in our development and overall happiness. But no. A mother’s advice or a friend’s concern is no match for a positive comment we may get from Mr. Cool (who we may have last met in our previous lifetime) on our Instagram picture, despite looking like a bashed up bucket in it.
  • Where is time going? How come my last decade has gone by a lot quicker than the previous ones? Is there some global conspiracy I am unaware of? Has Tesla come up with a method to make the earth rotate and revolve faster? Is this why my watch is always showing the wrong time because it’s on a 24-hour/day pattern, whereas now we have just 18 in a day? Or am I taking too long to look up from my handheld devices to realize that people have grown older, opportunities have gone by, and Pierce Brosnan is no longer James Bond (Thank God)?
  • Where are the aliens hiding? Oh come on, I sense they’ve been around for a while but no one seems to want to admit it. I mean if we do believe in a higher power, am I supposed to believe that we, the humans (and our wild and tame pets of course) are the chosen ones to represent and preserve the entire universe? We can’t even take care of our personal hygiene for crying out loud. I suppose while we wait with our hands on our hips, tapping our toes, we have each other for comfort. When is the last time we got or gave eye contact, smile, or had a conversation with someone? I won’t be disappointed if there are indeed no aliens. We have each other.
  • Alice? Who the f**k is Alice?
  • How long do we plan to pretend to not see and not know? I mean the world around us is burning and our fellow men are struggling. We may not be doing so well ourselves if we gauge ourselves on the parameters that matter. How long do we plan to deceive ourselves?
  • What exactly is the opposite term of goody-two-shoes? I mean is it baddy two-shoes? Or does the bad person have just one shoe or no shoes at all? How about beach sandals?
  • How do procrastination and cigarette smoking sell? Both are going to be the end of us, and yet we knowingly do both proudly and copiously. Are we saying that we are not scared of death if we plan it ourselves on a daily basis?
  • Did that top at the end of ‘Inception’ topple over? Now I’ve gotten into spinning tops just to make sure that the stuff that is happening is real like promotions, vacationing in Europe, weight loss (despite the binging), and even when I see an alien walk by (Oops I wasn’t supposed to reveal that. The world isn’t ready yet).
  • What does a cat have in mind as it stares at us without blinking? As I stare back I’m thinking ‘furry purry’. Is the cat thinking ‘hairy scary’?

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  • What makes us truly laugh? No, not funny movies, or jokes, or comical stories. Sure they make us laugh, but not ‘truly’ laugh. What makes us laugh in a manner that the laughter does not die with the moment, but resonates for a lifetime?
  • What does one have to do to be understood? Sure, we are not here to please everyone and everyone is going to have some complaint about us. We tell ourselves (and coaches around the world tell us too) that we should continue being ourselves, that we don’t need validation, and we have to ignore the naysayers. But it’s not always as simple as that is it? Sometimes these people are close to us and genuinely care for us. I mean we can’t disassociate with everyone that fails to understand us. We may be left with no one. So what’s the strategy here? Inception?
  • How’s it going? Are you with it? How you handling it? And so on. I have been guilty of asking similar questions too. I suppose we are all referring to the challenges of life and the word ‘it’ really undermines the gravity of that beast. I mean ‘it’ technically refers to a minuscule item you would find on your kitchen counter or work desk. Life just happens to weigh about 23 trillion times more than these objects. Show some respect.
  • Following from the previous query, what is with people using slangs and acronyms in spoken communication? I mean it takes as long to say ‘oh my god’ as it does to say ‘omg’. I’ve heard people say ‘lol’. We can’t even laugh anymore? ‘My bad’? No it is not. It’s Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ which happened to sell over 30 million copies.
  • What’s with everyone’s ‘me first’ approach? I mean if we all honor ability, deservingness, hard work, consistency and humanity overall, we’ll all get there in due time. If we all try to get there first it is going to result in a global brawl and we may never even get there, let alone get there first. Where is the logic here?
  • What were the choreographers of the 1980s Bollywood flicks smoking?
  • Is our life panning out based on fate or our will? If everything is written, do we even have free will? Are we choosing what is written or is the script developing as we choose?
  • Did the Baha Men ever find out who let the dogs out?
  • Happiness in a bottle? Isn’t Coca Cola and any other soda just two bottles of sugar in a bottle? (Note: This doesn’t stop me from consuming a few bottles every now and again).
  • How is Poker a sport? By that standard even snapping one’s fingers or hailing a cab should be a sport? Now ‘poke her’ on the other hand…
  • Do people refuel their vehicles when they want chips and soda or do they buy chips and soda when they stop to refuel their vehicles? Also, when people order a diet coke with their double cheeseburger and large fries, is that just guilt doing its job or is there a formula I’m not privy to?
  • Are we being watched every second of our lives? Is Google reading what I’m writing this very minute and saying ‘what an idiot’?
  • Who’s watching commercials on television? Everyone I meet seems to hate commercials and claims to flip channels when they come on. And yet the time allotted to commercials during any television program seems to be increasing by the minute. I’m sure advertisers have done their research and are not spending money for charitable purposes. Someone’s watching these commercials secretly. If it’s not me, or you, or her, or them, then who? I think we all need to have a serious word with our dogs, cats, parrots, and goldfish. Someone brave enough better speak to King Kong, Godzilla, and Drogon as well.
  • Why has no one made 1/6 scale action figures from the Brendan Fraser starring ‘The Mummy’?
  • Where can I buy a thinking cap?
  • I see #Nofilter posts all the time on Instagram. Is there one for our character?
  • In a movie theatre which cup holder is mine? If all seats in a row are full and we all have drinks and the person on the outer end decides to use his inside cup holder, are we supposed to communicate down the row using Chinese whispers? Also, how does one stake claim over the armrests?
  • How come most of us use our talent for unlawful, immoral or unethical practices? Do we want to piss people off? I remember never feeling as happy growing up when people called me a ‘bad boy’ compared to how happy I felt when people said ‘good boy’.

I think we are getting to a point where life is calling us back and the reading and pondering needs to stop for now. However, I’d love to hear what preposterous obscurities bother you.

Aasman hai neela kyon? Paani geela geela kyon? Gol kyon hai zameen?…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3O3akbY8UU

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Man Cub Diaries

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I should have thought a bit more before choosing sciences over arts in college. I should have continued to pursue sports (I could have earned as much in a day as I now would in two decades). I should never have trusted my 4-year old with my expensive Kotobukiya Wolverine statue. I shouldn’t have walked into that ‘baby food launch’ meeting in diapers and a pacifier in my mouth. I should never have asked that girl out (Now we’ve been married for 15 years). I never should have invested in the Amazon Echo (Now no one talks to me except when they need money). I should’ve thought twice before using the example of my boss’ exemplary skills on fool’s day. I should have shut that hatch in the private jet only after my mother-in-law would have flown out of the plane.

We constantly mull over the decisions we have taken over the course of our life and beat ourselves over all the events that went south. Some of them are small silly occurrences that make us cringe in embarrassment (like yanking hair out of our nose while obliviously looking into a two-way mirror), while others could be life-altering events. However, there is a reason we are not provided with reset and rewind buttons. We are meant to make mistakes, learn from them, improve, and grow into more mature, resilient, and wise individuals. To err is human.

While we can’t bring back the past and make amends, life often gives us opportunities to guide younger people that might be at a delicate stage of life where we once stood. Sometimes we see ourselves in them. If I was given a chance to mentor my younger self, here is some advice I would offer.

  1. Santa Claus exists. Sure he doesn’t always dress in red, sport a meter-long beard, ride on a sled pulled by horned herbivores, or even look like someone that started eating on Thanksgiving and didn’t stop until after Christmas. In fact, it’s not even the same person all the time but different people that come into your life and gift you with happiness, wisdom, strength, courage, support, and opportunities. They may be permanent members in your life or fleeting ones who leave once they have empowered you. It’s important to keep your senses open, recognize these gems, and appreciate the value they add to your life (Because we tend to take people like this for granted for the most part).
  2. Age no bar. Sure age is a constriction at an actual bar, but it isn’t always a deterrent to acquiring knowledge and skill, possessing wisdom, and making an impact far larger than your shoe size would lend people to believe. Growing up in the 80s and 90s we were given a mandate about what we could do and not do, based on how old we were. Sure certain disciplines had to be rightly followed, but we were wiser and more capable even at that tender age than what we were given credit for. The freedom to express without the egos of grown-ups being challenged is important for developing confidence, courage, and independence. You’re ten? No problem. Express fearlessly.
  3. Follow your passion. Sure, at some point in your life you may feel compelled to jump into the rat race (and we’re prepared for this from a young age starting with potato sack races in kindergarten), but it’s criminal to lose sight of your true passions. Hone the associated skills and live your life in the realm of your passions. You will make money following a career path you may not be crazy about, but you won’t smile as much. However, the joy of a passion oriented career will engulf your life in joy and laughter, and pay the bills comfortably.
  4. Be gutsy, take risks. Fear is real and is probably the oldest human sentiment (considering the prehistoric man was constantly trying to survive harsh conditions). It is perfectly alright to be scared. But, capitulating to your fears will only leave you with an onslaught of events to repent. Acknowledge your fears but also embrace them and learn to conquer them with time. When you address every one of your fears, you take a step towards becoming a stronger and wiser person.
  5. Don’t get bullied. If you’re going to be a pushover, you may as well become a skydiver. And I don’t necessarily mean being terrorized by the school jerk, but I mean getting overshadowed by more dominating personalities around you. A lot of these people will mean well and therefore try to impose their ideologies on you because they will believe it is good for you. Sure, it’s important to acknowledge these people and their intentions, to learn from them, take advice, but not at the cost of subduing your own personality. You have a powerful character to contribute to this world and it’s best done by being you.
  6. Watch your health: eat right and exercise regularly. Sure you can eat twelve pancakes in one sitting and wash it down with a gallon of milk when you’re nineteen, because no matter how much you eat or what you eat, you will be skinny for a while, even if you spend 23 hours a day on the couch (Assuming you do go the bathroom a few times to take up that last hour). The damage is invisible to the eye because it’s happening inside of you. The manifestation of all your bad health habits will be a colossal giant to overcome when you’re older.
  7. Don’t be in blind awe of people. As youngsters if we aren’t the boldest personalities in the neighborhood we tend to follow the ‘coolest’ people blindly. There are a lot of things you may want to do differently but you may find it hard to go against the ‘gang leader’ and will end up doing things on their agenda. Appreciate people for what they are good at, but chart out your own path and follow your own heart.
  8. The guy with the bigger muscles is not tougher than you. Whether you take this literally or figuratively, don’t let the appearance of a person or event scare you.
  9. I don’t care what anyone says, the Hawaiian pizza is awesome.
  10. Problems and pain arising from these problems are real. Don’t spend your time trying to avoid pain but rather accept it, embrace it, and practice how to master it. Pain leads to strength.
  11. Don’t judge your present and future on your past. Whether its heartbreaks or tough times, don’t judge people and situations based on your past experiences. Your past experiences teach you how to deal with these situations, not avoid them. Trust your instinct and give everyone and everything a fair shot.
  12. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it could be Loki in disguise.
  13. Love yourself and believe in yourself. Life’s experiences can make us bitter inwards. Remember to nurture and love yourself through these experiences. Your confidence will take a hit every now and again through the course of life but you need your own backing the most.
  14. Recognize, respect, and reciprocate genuine love and care you receive. Family, friends, and true well-wishers are important. They are rock solid by your side when you hit rock bottom.
  15. Eat your dessert first. Superman is Superman because he wears his pants before his underwear.
  16. Stop trying to please people. I can bet your money that you will annoy, upset or repel someone at any given point, no matter who you are, what you do, or say. Be yourself and let people appreciate you for who you are. These are the people that matter.
  17. Sport adds a lot of perspective to life. Sport teaches us the values of individualism, teamwork, and everything in between. It teaches us how to value not just ourselves, but our comrade in arms, the ethics, and principals that define us, and the entity we represent. Let one sport be a passion.
  18. See the world for what it is and not what you think it is.
  19. Respect time. Time is our most valuable resource and you must put it to the best possible use to ensure that you live a life of purpose and impact.
  20. Do it now. The best time to embark on something is now. Not tomorrow or any other day.
  21. Coolness comes from your personality and character. Doing things to look and feel cool is just insecurity.
  22. Cut yourself some slack. Beating yourself up over all your mistakes and shortcomings will only have a negative effect in the long run. Making mistakes and being inefficient is part of life. Give everything your best effort, pick yourself up if you fail, pat your back for having tried, learn from your limitations and strengths, and try again.
  23. One selfie is enough.
  24. Save consistently. I can’t emphasize this enough.
  25. Bad things can happen to good people. You may believe that you’ve been fair and honest and respectful of people and events in your life. Yet life will take a dump on you. It’s part of the process.
  26. Love your toys and pets. They give you all the joy and no grief for the entire duration of their lives.
  27. Be grateful. While you may think you don’t have what you really yearn or work towards, you’re alive and kicking and an opportunity is about to present itself to you as much as the next person. Thank your stars for what you have, the positive people in your life, the strength, the passion, the compassion, and the desire to make an impact.
  28. Spend a majority of your life outside Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media application that’s luring you into its deceptive web.
  29. Laugh at yourself. There is nothing more helpful in dealing with life’s tantrums than a sense of humor. And when this humor is directed inward, you’re a mighty titan (who may choose to just snap his fingers to get stuff done.
  30. Think beyond yourself. Have a vision that includes more than just yourself. Make a positive impact on the world around you. Give.

I have 14,000,606 more points to dole out, one more than the number of futures Dr. Strange saw in ‘The Avengers: Infinity War’. Just like he saw only one victorious future, we too have just one life to fulfill our destiny. Go make the best of it.

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Run Track Mind

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Fitness is often a misinterpreted term. A lot of people think that anybody that goes to the gym, walks daily, plays sports on a regular basis, makes over a hundred phone calls a day, or posts every hour on social media is likely to be fit. Bulging muscles and a great physique don’t necessarily justify fitness, although they certainly show evidence that the incumbents of these bodies have above average fitness. And this is true to a great extent, where someone who indulges in daily exercises (speaking for 6 hours a day doesn’t count) is likely to have a better level of fitness than the average joe who ensures that the stock price of fast food places stay up and then takes selfies to capture these moments. And it’s incredibly sad how many youngsters are a part of this ordeal (It doesn’t show on them yet but if they continue on this path it will do so a lot sooner than it would have otherwise).

In my opinion, fitness relates to both mind and body. It is the effectiveness of our immunity against illnesses, which are both physical and mental in nature. How good are we in maintaining a lifestyle that allows us to keep a majority of the factors in our environment trying to corrupt our physical and mental being at bay? Whether it’s overindulgence in food and drink (it always is in the unhealthy type), a sedentary existence, toxic people, a negative mindset, the desire to cheat and hurt, disregard for regular health checkups, disregard for people that truly care, supporting the wrong sports teams, and even the News Hour on the Times Now network.

And while a fit mind is of the absolute essence, a fit body is a must to encourage and support that fit mind. I have always noticed a drop in my mental resilience whenever I have been sick or not at an acceptable level of physical fitness. I am disciplined in my work and personal goals and make it a point to achieve my daily goals. However, on the days that I lack energy or feel a bit under the weather, I tend to miss achieving a few things. This leads to frustration and then I try to put myself through the grind even if I don’t feel well (because I am superhuman), and I end up feeling worse health wise because of the duress. And this saga goes around in cycles.

I have played sport for a large part of my life and am generally keen on fitness. I walk/jog regularly, work on my core, as well as try and meditate (at least sit still and not get distracted) for ten to fifteen minutes daily. As useful as this routine has been, it’s served only part of the purpose when I have been undisciplined with my diet. And this brings me back to the point in the opening paragraph about muscles and physiques. All that amounts to nothing if you have a cold every fortnight (And walk around looking like Rudolf the Reindeer). A disciplined diet (it’s amazing how many people think of a diet as not eating, eating very little, or only eating tasteless stuff) is as important as exercising. In fact, someone with a great diet and minimal exercising is likely to be healthier than someone that exercises regularly but lacks discipline in their food consumption. I have certainly experienced this. And a poor diet has led to sickness more often than I would like and has affected my exercising as well as other facets of my daily life.

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For instance, when I experience low energy levels (and I’m speaking of normal energy and not the Doctor Strange type sorcery), concentration during various activities at work and otherwise become difficult. I tend to feel tired easily, my focus is off, and I get less done than I would if I felt energetic. I feel irritable and lack interest in participating in any activity that involves using my mind. I’m happy to snap at the first person that comes in my path, no matter what they are trying to say. During times like these, when I go through the motions of my daily exercises, I feel drained as opposed to revitalized (which is exactly what I feel when I’m healthy and fit) at the end of the session. When I meditate hoping that all my ‘chakras’ will open up and I will sense positive vibrations, all I get is vibrations and convulsions from the coughing fit I get every 60 seconds.

And between these devastating states of existence, I have had moments of complete bliss where I feel physically fit and healthy. I am high on vitality, am more open to people trying to speak to me, I get everything on my planner done, I sleep well, I feel relaxed, I am very positive in my approach to everything, and I also find myself smiling involuntarily more often. How often do any of us smile without reason? In fact, most of us desperately search for that one reason to allow us to do so.

The differences in my mental well being when I am physically fit and healthy as opposed to when I am not, are stark. And while it is important to improve our mindsets and try to incorporate positive thinking continuously, a healthy body is necessary to permit us to do so with greater efficiency. Just like learning expert, Jim Kwik says “When your body moves, your brain grooves”

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It’s not about trying to schedule fitness into our lives but about scheduling our lives to include a fitness regime. This has always served me well. So, are you going to get off your haunches and follow suit?

Jigsaw Jubilation

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Life gives me puzzles, not problems – Quincy Jones

I’m not certain if Mr. Jones was the first to say these words (just like we can’t be sure of several other quotes), but this Grammy legend certainly combined this belief along with his talents to bring music and joy to millions.

I’ve already taken a swing at problems and pain and how we tend to change course or stop dead in our tracks at the first sight of these party poopers. I believe that we create most of our problems in our minds, and don’t give ourselves any chance of dealing with them in reality. That girl is out of my league (Because she has a great smile and I have no teeth). I will never pass my driving test (Despite this being my first attempt, with no history of failure). My prospect is not going to buy this product (Because he looks stern and closed minded). My spouse won’t understand (Because there is no record of understanding spouses in the history of mankind). My boss is likely to be a real handful (Even though it’s only the first day at a new job). I will fail my college examination (Because I didn’t get a chance to revise for the fourteenth time this morning). I will drown in the bathtub if I fill it completely (Because I’m only a little taller than Tyrion Lannister). And you can all add your own examples here to make this the longest list in the world.

Some of these problems are not even ours to bear and don’t impact our lives directly, but we cringe at the outcome already forming in our head (For instance, if the opponent of our favorite tennis player is Roger Federer, we consider the match lost. If a particular political party wins the elections, we consider our country doomed, like the previous one was Godsend. Or, we even fear that Priyanka Chopra may not get along with her mother in law).

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While I don’t always confer the designation of puzzles to all my problems, I have dealt with several challenges in my life by treating them likes games or sports. During my days at an investment bank, I had to put in long hours, which comprised of tough tasks, and a race against time. Now I would come to my office in the morning of a 14-hour work day, and feel like I had a Herculean task ahead of me, and find my shoulders sagging a bit. I am a huge sports fan (if you didn’t already know that) and used sport to keep my drive up. I broke up my 14 hours into a game of basketball or football, depending on my mood for either tackles and brute force or dunks and fast breaks. The first hour was pregame warm-ups. The next twelve hours were broken into fours quarters of play (with a short lunch break at half time), and the last hour as the postgame presentation. My work was my opponent, and being a competitive person, I now managed to convert fear into excitement and determination to win the game. I would plan all along and see where I stood at the end of each period of play, and if I needed to re-strategize. Not only did I make work more interesting for myself, but in the quest to win, I also put in good performances (Plus I would give myself an interview at the end of each day and revel in my achievements…:)).

I have a degenerating spine and am in regular discomfort because of it. I have tried various forms of treatment, physiotherapy, and other fitness exercises for close to two decades now. While I have seen favorable results, none of them have been permanent. And when I get spasms (every 12 to 18 months), I could be bedridden for a good part of a month. This puts a break on all my activities and also negates a lot of work I’ve put in towards my fitness. Rather than get disheartened, I try new techniques and exercises (under the guidance of a therapist/doctor of course) to see how I can finally beat this ailment (Being a cricket fanatic, this is my Indian tour down under, the final frontier). I even talk to my back at times to see if I can solve a thing or two and have that eureka moment where I have found the optimal solution. And what’s more, I make jokes on my back and allow my friends and cousins to do so as well, to always keep the humor and fighting spirit alive. I am India’s Leaning Tower of Pisa (With a tilted body during my spasms).

Thick waistlines and slim bank accounts, daily goals we can’t surmount

Irritable spouses and disobedient kids, flaring tempers that don’t have a lid

Long working hours and short stacks of cash, balding heads, and an uneven mustache

Many words of disappointment but few of appreciation, failing economies and warring nations

More cars and fewer roads, diminishing strength and heavy loads

Crowded trains we cannot board, great desires that we can’t afford

Sour grapes and no wine, big dreams but no spine

– Harsh Chandriani

So go ahead and ask that girl out, and not worry about the outcome. What’s the worst that can happen? She will slap you? So what? It’s about your attitude and how you view this situation. Don’t think she assaulted you, but instead cared enough to touch your face (That’s a positive thing).

The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life – Erno Rubik

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Whether it’s challenges at work, health problems, relationship roadblocks (both personal and professional), financial difficulties, or a plethora of daily inconveniences, we tend to get bogged down by them. We rely on negative past experiences to predict future outcomes. I have come to terms with the fact that life will always throw curveballs at us no matter what, so it’s best to have a little fun and adventure while we’re tackling them. I have made a conscious effort to look at my problems as puzzles (games and sports to be more specific), and deal with them with a pinch of salt and a sense of humour.

Let’s find our own jigsaw fixations, and deal with our problems in a manner that we find fun, quest oriented, and intriguing. On life’s rainy days, while we try and shield our heads, let’s jump into the puddles every now and again.

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Sporting Revelations

I have always believed there are two activities that each and every one of us must participate in on a regular basis: playing a sport, and learning and practicing the art of self-defense. I like to refer to these as lifetime activities (Not only because I believe we should incorporate them as a critical part of our lives, but also because they are likely to add more time to our lives).

Apart from the joy of playing the sport itself, the level of self-development that occurs by engaging in a sport is invaluable. Sport isn’t just for people that are sport oriented, but for anyone that is keen on developing valuable life skills (And yet there are people that would much rather while their time away watching prank videos on YouTube all day, staring at the ceiling, raising their blood pressure as the vixen in the TV soap executes her hideous plan, and studying oneself in the mirror to figure out which part of their face is the good side, so they know how to pose for the gazillion pictures they will take in their lifetime).

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We have people who would rather learn the art of self defense at Indian railway stations and malls (where you get to shove one another, wrestle, pull each other’s hair out, gouge people’s eyes, have a fragrant basket of fish fall on your head, and occasionally push someone on the train tracks, or even onto an escalator headed in the direction opposite to their destination), as opposed to in a specialised class by a qualified instructor. Then there are people, mostly women, who have the optimum self-defense weapon, ‘the pepper spray’ (Wow!! I’m surprised most of the elite armed squads around the world opt for modern firearms when they can easily use pepper spray more effectively). And while these pepper spray touting geniuses are at it, they may as well carry a salt shaker and some cutlery, since they are already offering themselves up for sacrifice. In today’s world (and tomorrow’s world too), there is no alternative to knowing self-defense. You might strut around confidently, armed with your pepper spray, but when real danger arrives, ‘spray’ turns into ‘pray’.

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The benefits of sport and self-defense knowledge are innumerable. Not only do they produce a fit body, but they also

  • improve concentration (even in Math class)
  • increase confidence (you may even be able to give that speech in public speaking class without playing the duck in the shooting alley)
  • make us competitive in a dog-eat-dog world (or doggy dog world, the way I heard it for a good part of my life, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what that was supposed to mean)
  • improve blood circulation and enhance immunity (unless you visit McDonald’s after every session of play)
  • help develop a positive attitude (even towards your boss’ tongue lashings and indifference)
  • indoctrinate discipline (which seems to be a fading trait these days)
  • establish commitment (which also seems to be an alien word nowadays)
  • allow us to maintain a calmer state in pressure situations (unless the bathroom at the badminton court is suddenly out of service)
  • improve reflexes and awareness (you will be fully aware of the brick hurled at you when you ask your professor’s daughter out and be quick enough to evade it)
  • help build mutual respect (and help keep our ‘I know it all’ cocky selves in check)
  • allow us to set goals (and bolder ones than we are used to, like jumping off a plane with a human attached to our back as opposed to a parachute)
  • boost self-esteem (unless you consider Candy Crush to be a sport and have failed to make it past the first stage since 2015)
  • ingrain the art of teamwork in our self-righteous beings (including planning a holiday with the wife’s side of the family)
  • offer self-protection (now at least you will punch your attacker a few times before threatening him/her with pepper spray)

I speak with experience, having played multiple team and individual sports, as well as having learned and practiced Karate. I was enrolled in a Karate class at age 8 and continued for four years before I thought I was too cool for this daily boring regime. I regret quitting, but during those years, my confidence, self-awareness, concentration, performance, health, and fitness were at their peak. And the training has stayed with me and helps me feel safer physically (I can handle an attack by three 6-year olds without a fuss). Fortunately, I played sport for a lot longer, and jog regularly even today (I only call it running if you run for more than a kilometer at a stretch, before collapsing on the pavement). My daily runs (I’ve reduced the distance criteria to 50 meters now) allow me to de-stress, unwind, realign my mind and body, stay focused, stay committed, and stay strong against all odds. As a result, I am more prepared to handle all the punches life throws at me (Except the ones thrown at me by some ferocious homo sapiens, when I accompany my wife to a Zara sale).

I gave up on sport and exercising for a few years because I got so caught up in battling life’s challenges. I decided I was too busy firefighting and didn’t have time for sports and games (I always had time for video games apparently). And yet, I always seemed to struggle in the face of adversity. At the end of each round, I seemed to be down with the referee in my face, counting aggressively. In my quest to address situations that arose in my personal and professional lives, I discarded the very tools that were likely to help me keep up, and even excel.

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Now that I’m back to some of my old sporting ways, I find I’m better equipped to deal with circumstances physically and mentally. And the peace of mind, composure, and the sheer joy of accomplishing small daily goals it brings is priceless. Game, set, match, pepper spray!!

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Inspirational Everyday Strangers

I almost never need any coaxing to go for my brisk walks in the evenings, as I genuinely enjoy a good work out on most days, especially if those days fall in between Monday and Tuesday (But silly jokes aside, I do enjoy my workouts, always have). I’m not fortunate enough to live at an arm’s length (The only thing that close to me is usually the TV remote and a few chocolate bars) from any open green spaces, but the 3.5 kilometer stretch between my home and Nariman Point serves as a convenient alternative (It allows me to walk one way, grab an ice cream at Nariman Point, and hail a cab back home). Walking along the Marine Drive promenade does mean that I inhale as much Carbon Dioxide during my walks, as I do during the rest of the day, in this good spirited atmosphere of Mumbai. I get to wear my shoes out faster, as the concrete pavement and my shoe soles aren’t the best of pals. I get to play ‘Donkey Kong’ with the cars while crossing the road, and invariably have a NDE as there is always some chump on a two-wheeler who whizzes past a red light because he is running at least two laps behind the race leader, Valentino Rossi (Mumbai roads and the moon’s surface have a lot in common and therefore you have automatic and unannounced ‘pit’ stops).

But there are plenty of experiences that are less exciting but certainly fulfilling. For instance, you get to lose a little of something regularly, like your weight and waistline (If it’s too windy, you might lose your wig too, so it’s best you leave it at home. It’s better to let people see that you’ve gone bald over the years and not just in one second). Your stamina increases with time, especially if you’re chased by dogs regularly (You’re likely to stop only if you run out of breath or run into a tree. This not only prepares you for the next marathon but also conditions your head and body to become a serious challenge for Mike Tyson, should he have the courage to come out of retirement to fight you). Your mind gets sharper as your body gets fitter (and puts you in a good position to teach your 6-year old multiplication tables up to 4).

With our new age devices constantly honing in on us and keeping us indoors, it’s nice to get out for a little bit, get the blood pumping through our body, and take in the wonderful sights (People fighting with cab drivers, some trying to cross the road over a four-foot high fence when there is a perfectly good pedestrian crossing 30 meters away, 4 parking lanes and just 2 driving lanes, people having a conversation while sitting on two different two-wheelers, women having a second kitty party on the pavement outside the restaurant they have just had their first one in, and the list goes on). What’s more, you get to feature in a few dozen photographs and short videos (Courtesy of college kids, which seems to be the only thing they do outdoors), and you could find yourself on the cover of the next issue of GQ (Only if you’ve worn your best running outfit and with your wig still on your head while the picture was taken).

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And then there are the serious strangers going about their walks and jogs. Names of who you do not know, but faces that you see every day. You see them go about their exercise regimes religiously and consistently, rarely missing a day (You know that only because you haven’t missed any). You see the impact of their hard work and commitment in the positivity emitting from their bodies. These are not our friends or well-wishers (At least not that we know of. Maybe putting on that sporty deodorant will help), but we still find inspiration from their relentless presence in our lives. Then there are some nameless strangers that will notch up this level of motivation by competing with you and trying to outpace you. With me it’s usually a middle-aged ‘uncle’ who begins to increase his momentum as I pass by and tries to stay a step ahead (This is very encouraging for me, not so much because it shows me that even as you age you need to continue to work on fitness goals, but more because I cannot have an uncle defeat me). The only people that are allowed to go past me are the ones that are out there for their evening exercises on walkers and wheelchairs (You have to tip your hat to these people and be awed by their grit and persistence).

It’s the same story at the gym or anywhere else you choose to exercise (Except in your bedroom, where the only thing you’ll likely be exercising are your fingers on the cell phone and TV remote. Unless you’ve upset your wife, and now you’re about to have a sporting bout of wrestling). Strangers at the gym seem even more motivated (they all seem to have bigger muscles than you, and can lift anything from a 100-kilogram dumbbell to a batch of Zumba girls, all at the same time). And what about those guys and gals on the treadmill? Have you noticed that they are running when you walk into the gym and when you’re leaving (after having inspected every piece of equipment without breaking a sweat), they are still running? They seem to have unrelenting stamina, obstinate almost. If I ever get onto a treadmill next to one of these people, I keep up (When I am done keeping up and my lungs are about to explode, I just slide off the treadmill while it’s still on and let them figure out where I disappeared so quickly). Then there are the other muscled strangers that walk up to you when you are bench-pressing and ask how many sets you have left (Doesn’t that annoy you because they make you lose count of your repetitions, even though you’re still on zero?).

We usually look to our loved ones for support and encouragement but are often disappointed as they seem to have a contrary viewpoint. It’s not like they don’t care for us, but in fact, care too much to see us get hurt. Therefore, many a time they discourage us from doing things that are different or out of the ordinary. This is when we need to look around us for that iota of reassurance. I’ve only spoken of fitness buffs as an analogy, but with an open mind (and eyes and ears that are not focused on our phones as we move about our towns and cities), we will always find people around us that can provide a little inspiration and possibly the courage to do the things we’ve been avoiding. Some that we see regularly, and some that we may see only once. It can be anyone. A young boy hanging out of a Mumbai train with the support of a shoestring and yet finding a way to read that e-book. A municipal sweeper ceaselessly going about her job along a 5-kilometer stretch. A postman going about on foot for hours in the scorching heat, delivering mail (Who still sends these?). The current West Indies team bowling away to the Indian batsmen with no end in sight. And even a couple and their five children balancing on a scooter, hoping to audition for the Cirque du Soleil.

Even a pigeon can be inspirational with their ‘never-say-die’ attitude. Have you ever shooed this annoying creature away (that’s trying to get into your home through the window) only for it to arrive again after a few minutes with that ‘have we met before?’ expression? And this saga continues for a good hour. It irritates me, but it also compels me to write some more, do the extra set of push-ups, run the extra kilometer, stick to my nutrition plan, make some more sales calls, and so on (There is no way I can allow a pigeon to be more persistent than me).

We can complain about our routines and surroundings on a daily basis. And we can continue churning out excuses to not do the things that really matter in our lives and hearts. Or we can find those small sources of inspiration and implement them in our lives. All we need to do is observe, think, feel, and then act.

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