I began my journey with the Art of Living in the year 2000, so it’s my 17 year association with the organisation.
A confession : In my heart I am a relentless businessman and a dedicated family man. Things that don’t serve these twin purposes quickly fade away in my hierarchy of importance. The Art of Living has remained very relevant in my life and that is because the organisation has considerably added value to my life, mainly because of the things they haven’t taught me:
1.They don’t teach you mind control.
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In the building in which I work – Film Center, Tardeo in Mumbai, I constantly meet young people smoking in the building foyer and compound. I don’t like people smoking and pitch them an interesting idea. I ask them if they would like to quit smoking without having to go through any pain. Almost all of them say ‘Of course’!
So I tell them this narrative – “Smoking is like a relationship. You like smoking and smoking likes you! So, why will you ever part ways? Now, the only way a relationship breaks (consider a Boy in love with a Girl) is when the Boy leaves the Girl or the Girl leaves the Boy. Now, in your case, you will never leave smoking, so what happens if smoking leaves you? That way the relationship will break!”
By now I have their interest and they are listening.
I continue and explain, “If you notice, your body peaks at the age of 19-20. Post that everything begins to decay. Your hair, teeth etc., all slowly wither away. Look at me and my white hair! But, the only thing that stays the same is the breath. Your breath is the same from the day you were born to the day you die. Now, think of the breath as software and the body as hardware. Hardware always deteriorates whereas software is constantly updated and is always fresh. So, if the breath can be programmed like a code to tell your body and mind to NOT like smoking, then smoking will leave you vs. YOU leaving smoking and there will be no pain”.
People nod and listen and I tell them that I was a very casual smoker and drinker and it all vanished without pain using the same techniques.
Takeaway – The Art of Living’s teachings are not obsessed by mind control. Instead, their breathing techniques are so powerful, you can de-addict yourself from anything.
2. They don’t teach you to be hyper competitive
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There are many courses and programs that teach you about ‘getting ahead’, ‘beating the competition’, ‘taking pole position’ etc. The Art of Living courses have not taught me any of these ideologies and processes. Instead, their programs and courses have shown me how doing something together with like minded people can make you feel accomplished yourself. Like the feeling of participating and performing well in a marathon because it’s the energy and participation of other people around you. I doubt there are many people who do 42 kms runs on their own and feel the same ecstasy on completing the distance as they do after a marathon.
The Art of Living organisation is like a giant, massive ocean. It moves in a graceful way with its own waves, tsunamis, placid periods, storms and seasons. When you are in it, you get a sense of being a part of the ocean, not a solitary boat on top. For hyper competitive, aggressive and always ‘on’ people like me, this acts as a really soother – a kind of balm I need in my usual life where I am always trying to create a sense of superior positioning and trying to get one up on people.
Takeaway : The Art of Living teaches you about how you can feel very fulfilled without beating yourself up to be #1 all the time.
3. They don’t teach you to think too much.
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One of my most revered journalists in the world is Edward Luce. He is a prolific writer and journalist. After interviewing Bill Clinton, Edward wrote “Bill Clinton is unique. He is one person I have met who is most comfortable with himself”.
When I read these lines a decade or so back, I could not quite comprehend what ‘being comfortable with oneself’ meant.
But as the years unravelled, the point really struck home. As a highly wired, startup entrepreneur, I was hyper active, restless and always wanting to be doing something. The only time I would close my eyes was when I fell asleep. The rest of the 18 odd hours were spent in constantly thinking, planning, worrying (lots of it) and typically dedicating time thinking either about the past or the future.
In the last few years, I have experience [partially] the ability to be comfortable with myself. Some of the really simple meditation techniques I have learnt allow me to sit on a yoga mat and sit without even moving a finger for 45 – 60 minutes. Of course the idea is not to learn how to perfectly play the game “Statue”! The art is to be not feel disturbed or anxious all the time and to be at peace with yourself. If you still don’t get what I am saying, try this experiment for me – Sit with your eyes closed in a corner of your house and just look at the watch before and after you open your eyes and get up. Unless you have learnt meditation, I bet you will hardly last a few minutes.
Takeaway? To be able to cultivate on demand intuitiveness, creativity and the ability to be constantly inspired, you need to be able to still and quieten your mind. That the Art of Living can teach you.
4. They don’t teach you to be ‘perfect’.
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One of the most startling revelations as I went down this path was the constant reminder to ‘keep room for some imperfection’. As the CEO founder of a hot shot digital startup, this ideology seemed sacrilegious to me! How could anyone allow imperfections?
As the years wore on, I realised that I had developed a kind of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). At restaurants I demanded the waiters and servers not speak between themselves and maintain quietness; the toll booth guy had to have the perfect change all the time; the way people in the office were splashing water in the washroom was horrendous; the junta in airline security queues were not supposed to stand so close to me and touch me. Heck – even the mixed vegetable raita at home had to have the ‘perfect’ size of chopped onions, tomatoes and cucumber so as to look harmonious.
I learnt the hard way that the world would not change and I was just mentally torturing myself. Slowly, the idea of ‘leaving some room for imperfection’ began to make sense. If things were great, there was no need to demand them to be perfect!
Takeaway – Contrarian as it may sound to a professional, allowing a wee bit of leeway in the quest for ultimate perfection is sometimes just the breathing space you need to stay mentally sound. The Art of Living can easily teach you this art!
5. They don’t teach you to try too hard..
I closely observed Donald Trump when he visited India a few years ago to inaugurate the Lodha Trump Tower building. At the CNBC sponsored media event, Trump did not let the elegant Shereen Bhan speak much. He was too much about himself, his achievements, his business acumen, his ability to go bankrupt as a strategy and how he was the greatest. He bordered on being repulsive, but he was also funny. His odd humor kept me at least sitting and listening vs. walking out.
There was one strange point that Trump made constantly at the event. He repeated (maybe at least 5-7 times) ‘Don’t try too hard”. He kept saying “Don’t try too hard. Do your stuff and let it be. You will make it. Just don’t try too hard…”
I could just not comprehend what Trump was trying to say. I had been brought up on the anthem of Churchill who vowed to keep fighting till the very end and stop no matter what.
It took me these last years to realise what Trump was saying. It was to put it simply – not getting feverish about achieving something because feverishness distracts effort and actually interferes with achieving the best outcome. Good or Bad, it seemed Trump wanted to become President and he didn’t seem to have tried too hard to achieve that!
Takeaway – The ways of the Universe of gifting rewards for efforts is very subtle. There is a fine line between becoming desperate and being despondent. Via the Art of Living I [think] I have learned the Art of being at the center. The center is always the best place to be. This is where the spotlight shines and if you right there at the right time, you will receive more than your fair share!