New Habits, New Me — 2018

2018 was a leap year, even if the number is not. 2018 was an odd year, even if the number is not. Some of my evolution as 44-year-old human being, has been beyond my own imagination. I felt that such evolution for every personality is inevitable, and it is good to reflect them at some point of time, such as a New Year.

Some people say calendar is just a number, and time rolls continuously. That is a mundane way of seeing things — it is important to do the pause,reflect,learn and act routine every now and then — the New Year is exactly a moment for that. So, here you go.

Discipline through Rituals

“This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Since my father passed away in 2017, my world view has changed on how to cope with a loss of a dear one. By Hindu traditions, we pay homage to him on his demise ‘star’. This became a staunch practice of ‘praying the sun’, three times a day. Over 2018, I have seldom missed my in-home prayers — called Sandhyavandhana. Every time, I turned westward in the evening to do this prayer, I remember him, my father and Him — The Almighty.

Video grab of Sandhyavandanam — a sun worship ritual.

The biggest learning from the tradition is discipline. For an agnostic person like me, till 2016, this would not have been possible. But the exploration of the meaning behind such practices — where the core is an empowering mantra called ‘Gayathri Mantra’. The other mantras (‘Chants’) seek pardon for all our mishaps — by thoughts, words and action — and surrenders oneself to the Almighty.

It is a 10 minute routine, thrice a day. But to insert this amidst a daily chaos of life, has brought in some rigor of doing other things notwithstanding how the day is. More importantly, it gives me my ‘marbles’. It has infused peace in my mind and has installed my bearings in the journey of life.

This will continue in 2019. More on this in a separate article in 2019.

No milk, but green tea or black coffee

“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

This was a hard habit to break. I am a South Indian — and have been a practitioner of the filter coffee & newspaper routine. As I turned vegetarian in 2017, even milk started creating that inner feeling that an animal based food does. I still take curd, mind you, but somehow, milk was off my list.

The Chinese way of drinking tea brings calm. Courtesy: CCTV news

This was largely influenced by a series of trips abroad, where I got sucked into black coffee ( and they don’t taste bitter abroad), and then ultimately green tea. The largest influence was however, some period Chinese films. The tea chore again brings the discipline of thought through steps, when the mind races with multiple thoughts, the tea brings in the sobriety. The movies like ‘Red Cliff’, the ‘Three Kingdoms’ series brought in many instances of the ‘intellectuals’ bringing about sanity and depth in thoughts — are centred around the tea drinking ritual.

Chinese Period Films

“But it’s not really Chinese, is it?’
Logan was thoughtful for a moment. “I don’t know. I guess you’d say it’s really not if you look back thousands of years. But I don’t think that way. Lots of things start out not Chinese and end up that way.”
Ken Liu, All the Flavors

I had been a history buff. During the early part of this decade, I had read through many a book on Nazi Germany and World War II. I have been awed by magnitude of the colossus of such an event in history. The 10 year episode from 1935 to 45, has been most impactful ever. It is not the weapon or the destruction that fascinates me in such reads.

Poster of Advisors Alliance — Complex plots, strong personalities, deeply crafted storyline & dialogues, strong acting, backed by interesting history.

The human mind that intrigues to chase power, position, glory, morals & money, making many other minds as pawns and players in an intensely gripping game of life & death, sometimes an all-or-nothing effort, where loss means inevitable destruction, challenges the highest form of ‘applied intellect’. Such plots intrigue me more.

The ‘Three Kingdoms’ and the ‘Warring states’ period of the Chinese history unearth such situations. Complex plots, intellectualism bordering genius, crass human thoughts and deeds, create a heady cocktail of events that one does not know the next twist or the turn — appealed to my curiosity.

Starting from the ‘Advisor Alliance 1 & 2’, ‘The Great Survival’, ‘The Red Cliff — Movie’, ‘The Three Kingdoms’, ‘Nirvana in Fire 1 & 2’, ‘1911- the Movie’ are some which were on my watch list in 2018. I watched documentaries of ‘Qin Shi Huang Di’ — the first emperor of China.

The overarching feeling that I carry after such an intense affair with this watch list is that Chinese movie making is deep, complex and crafted to perfection. I had also rejected few of the mediocre stuff — which were more of the ghost, spirit myth in the ‘period garb’.

Bill Gates & the books

This year, I made my major pivot in my reading list. Moving away from ‘how can I be better’ and ‘fiction’ to more ‘issue based non-fiction’ more in the lines of Bill Gates’ reading list. I became an avid follower of http://gatenotes.com, his personal blog.

Screen grab of gatesnotes.com — it is an inspiring communique from one of my mentors

What fascinates me about Bill Gates is his thoughts, which helped me to put some of my key attributes together — to find a better me. Reading, putting technology to solve long term world problems, using capital for good cause, being a family man, and not being lackadaisical about key issues without being political — an uncanny trait that most successful personalities miss — even Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. The above takes away the strain of following a personality — and just being yourself and wanting more of yourself — to do better things for this world.

And in particular, his reading list. The reading list is catching up with aspirational entrepreneurs like me — which gives people who are in my stage of life ( I know far younger people, who have the above personality combo, and my respect to them). I won’t name my reading list, as it is dynamic with every travel. Each book has such an impact and challenges my intellect and understanding. I plan to start my book reviews in 2019.

Part of my 2018–19 reading list. The reading list shifted to esoteric subjects challenging my understanding list.

I read while I travel, for which I have stopped driving. The 20 minute bits with no-signal zones in the underground of Chennai Metro, has given me an opportunity to push 5–10 pages in a sitting. A book is now a constant companion, and has pushed down my social media engagements down.

Less Car, more Metro

The thirst to read more made me find ways be creative about time. I had developed a knee kniggle from my runs or more so with my driving. Also the motivation to use less-used public transport — air conditioned, pollution free, beating the traffic clutter, thereby taking the mental stress of driving, made me adopt scheduling meetings and choosing meeting spots, or travel plan around the metro routes.

Metro transport gives more reading time, comfort, saving time, avoiding stress. — Pic Courtesy Chennai Metro website

Wherever I have travelled in 2017 &18, I have used public transport, especially metros. New York, Dubai, Singapore, Bangalore & Delhi, I have always travelled by metros. And finally in Chennai — a city which is still coming in terms of its economics.

I take my car out only for family occasions or any meetings that I cannot appear with the car.

The Long Runs

“All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.”
Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

After a run — December brought the long runs back.

I had decided in 2013 that I would not race — a race requires specific training, preparation & then pre- and post-race chores. This seemed to intervene in my time with the family, hence I cut back to shorter runs.

With a more understanding spouse, I have started running the 10 milers again in November and December. There was a knee-niggle in July to October, and I could not treat it for the want of funds. But somehow, with some yoga and stretches, and a break from running through September & October, I have managed to restore the long runs.

Long runs again, like the Sandhyavandhana and the green tea, brings about my ‘me-time’ & results in a better me. I intend to run a bit more in 2019, but not going to be still race-worthy.

What I have not been successful in doing is the core strengthening, yoga and other crossfit exercises. This will be my big focus for 2019.

From Night Owl to Early Bird

I had been a night owl. Night owl means not about work — but about getting into unpredictable sleep cycles.Not sure when to sleep, the social media was the go-to time pass — even though I spent major portion of my waking time in long reads. Late sleep, means late wake ups, like 8-ish. This created a sense of loss through the day.

I lost a huge chunk of me-time, and felt less energetic in the mornings. Early morning seemed difficult — as I had to hit the bed around 10-ish & 11-ish. The world seemed agree — better performers are early birds than night owls.

Apple Health indicates my sleep patterns once setup.

My struggle has been to sleep early — as some chores push thing past my bedtime. Apple health has played a major role in this fight for consistent sleep. I intend to sleep early and get up early ( I have been targeting 5:15 am).

Mornings give me the first move advantage than how my day is controlled by fellow beings. That 2.5 hour headstart is so vital- I manage to read, think, reflect and possibly knock off few chores that I would normally be struggling to get across the day. But to be honest, I have not yet mastered it in spite of 60 days of efforts. So further efforts are on.

Family time & Chennai is home

While I am a typical cancerian, emotional, protective and loyal to my folks, the commitment levels in terms of spending time with family say a big rise — when I definitely gave up my efforts to settle in another city for good — Chennai seems to be the home base for the rest of my life. This was a bitter pill to swallow.

“I saw [Chennai]. It had the usual Indian elements like autos, packed public buses, hassled traffic cops and tiny shops that sold groceries, fruits, utensils, clothes or novelty items. However, it did feel different. First, the sign in every shop was in Tamil. The Tamil font resembles those optical illusion puzzles that give you a headache if you stare at them long enough. Tamil women, all of them, wear flowers in their hair. Tamil men don’t believe in pants and wear lungis even in shopping districts. The city is filled with film posters. The heroes’ pictures make you feel even your uncles can be movie stars. The heroes are fat, balding, have thick moustaches and the heroine next to them is a ravishing beauty.”
Chetan Bhagat, 2 States: The Story of My Marriage

The city, I do hate. Not sure, but I feel that this city, its politicians, its posters, have killed a truly industrious clan, and golden opportunities lost to neighboring states. The brainless run the state and the city, the brainful blabber intellectual gibberish and go back into their shells. There are ‘no doers’ in this city, any more.

Finally, Chennai seems to be my home… at least for now.

I had been eyeing New York or Mumbai as two options, or may be Singapore- where my professional interests lie. But the change — my father’s demise, and my son moving towards board exams, and a tumultuous last 5 year in my family led me to finally reconcile to this fact.

With Gayathri and Anirudh — Dinners & Lunches with family increased.

“The capacity for friendship is God’s way of apologizing for our families.”
Jay McInerney, The Last of the Savages

Bonding is a key factor — even trivial stuff like watching a good old movie, some lunch time, some chatter, helps to connect back with folks — eventually, family is home. That was a major return to the pavilion for me — a free wind ( am still at heart). So the dinners & lunch mean much more, than a chore. I discovered more insights into my family’s being and this discovery is on, forever.

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”
Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

The Poet Reborn

“Poets are shameless with their experiences: they exploit them.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

I have been writing poems for now 7 years. I had lost quite a few, as I write on the fly, more an ‘extempore poet’. I focus on single theme, not more than 10 minutes, and a poem reels out. With help of facebook memories and some old emails, I still get the older poems back. You can visit https://www.facebook.com/poetarrati/ for more of my poems.

A screen grab of my Facebook Page ‘Poeteratti’ — an ensemble of my extempore poems

Back as a poet, in 2018, I have written based on some trysts with interesting personalities, or events — or some random thought, mostly an urge to pen, to beat an insipid moment. Such moments did come, quite a few.

I propose to self publish these poems between 2011–2018, and that would a project for 2019.

The Final Word

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”
Robert Frost

I do believe in Charles Darwin’s ‘ Origins of the Species’. Even before that thesis, species evolved, existed and died. Evolution, change and death are quintessential. Neither one can avoid that, nor one can deny. The reality is that you can only pause, reflect and learn, but cannot stop this evolution. Life just goes on.

I cannot still believe that I have been able to adapt and change, and that way 2018 has been a meaningful chapter of my personal evolution. From 2019, I will adapt a different approach to record my personality — introducing my world views on key issues, based on my reading, learning and deeds.

Look forward to 2019!

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