Standing on a whale, fishing for minnows

January 09, 2017

Ever since I first ran into this Polynesian saying, it has conjured a powerful image that has stuck with me in my mind’s eye – challenging, prodding, encouraging, teasing me. Mythology and the science of the expanse is filled with metaphors that are meant to evoke that very response within the conscious beings that we are supposed to be!

This particular adage, while being a simple statement about realizing one’s full potential,  poses several questions: “Why are we filling our lives with seemingly external trivial, trite pursuits; while  there is an infinite treasure that we carry within us all the time? And what can we do about it? ‘We‘ here refers to the individual, to organizations, to countries, to economies.., and what on earth is full potential? It reminds me of a funny but ironic incident when a teacher in my college said to me “Sai, it’s only upwards for you in life..” – while I was rejoicing that moment which I perceived to be praiseworthy, he added, “you have reached rock bottom :)”. Is there an equivalent opposite of  ‘rock bottom’ that represents the pinnacle?

Our lives are mostly an expression of our impressions – almost like the continuum of winding and unwinding of a mechanical toy. While some of this is an automatic phenomenon of our physiological construction, one can’t but wonder if Nature expected more from us as conscious beings endowed with Choice and Will? And we have seen and continue to see examples of this in the course of our annals – political leadership from Lincoln during emancipation, Gandhi organizing a mass contrarian non-violent freedom movement, Mother Teresa’s seemingly infinite compassion, that genius scientific mind of Albert Einstein, the soul-stirring poetry of Subramania Bharati[1], and the Buddha’s courage to get to the bottom of it all!

Who amongst us has not longed for that pure, untainted wonder that we see in a child’s eye? As we go through life, we form subtle impressions that harden and condition us and as we get older, these end up controlling our thoughts and actions and life itself. “You have to unlearn what you have learned”, says Yoda. The human mind is a drunken monkey pricked by a needle, mocks that giant of the human spirit, Swami Vivekananda. And we see this ourselves whenever we try to quiet our mind, only to feel that uncontrollable urge to pick up the phone and respond to the latest cat meme.

There is a beautiful word in Sanskrit – “Sankalpa” which means thought+will. This should be the definition of endeavoring to achieve. To get there, however, requires practice and training, as Luc Skywalker realized.

I wonder what we could achieve as individuals and organizations if there was a Basis of Purpose,  the Will to execute with clarity, and the understanding that value creation needs to be holistic and inclusive – some of the same level-5 leadership espoused by Jim Collins and the organizations and leaders that exemplified this.

I was fortunate that I had some of these crazy thoughts early enough in my life (and that I did watch that Star Wars episode), and found a daily discipline that encompasses training in the regulation of thinking, letting go of inbuilt tendencies through the application of will and a state of inner awareness of one’s place in the Universe. This helps me remember every day, that while I may not quite yet visualize what that pinnacle means to me, the search for it gives meaning and purpose to existence, and anchors a conscious life – one where there’s harmony between the heart, the mind, and the body.

To this, I salute.

[1] Subramania Bharati, I urge you to read his Tamil poetry – “Nalladhor veenai seidhe, adhai nalam keda puzhithiyil erivandhundo” – Does anyone build a magnificent Veena only to throw it in the sewer to be destroyed? The ultimate challenge to realizing one’s  potential, and a jeer at the erosion of value that we often see in corporations and individual scouts .

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