GO and BO

The Good One (GO) and the Bad One (BO) live within me.
They pull me in opposite directions in whatever I try to be.

GO and BO are always around, available at a moment’s call.
Both of them have an opinion about everything, big and small.

GO wants me to be the best version of myself.
But BO is like– later, and put things on shelf.

GO wants me to work and complete my todo list on time.
But BO makes me procrastinate till the task is on the line.

GO wants that I go early to bed and early to rise.
But BO distracts me at night and then I miss the sunrise.

GO wants me to exercise, be active and walk / run a 5K.
But BO is a couch potato and will try to lead me astray.

GO wants peace, to calm down my mind and to meditate.
But BO will bring up random thoughts and disturb peaceful state.

GO truly believes in me and trusts that I can do great things.
But BO thinks I’m an imposter and doubts the capability of my wings.

GO makes me feel guilty when I listen to BO.
Whereas BO says just chill when I listen to GO.

Sometimes GO wins and sometimes BO.
Makes me happy and then sometimes low.

Sometimes it’s hard to find peace while being in between them.
Their constant pull in opposite directions can easily overwhelm.

GO and BO keep chattering on and on and pulling my mind.
But apart from both their opinions, the path is mine to find!

IC: Photo by Mario Dobelmann on Unsplash

Self Sea Sun

Imagine that our Self is on a beach. And the collective of our thoughts, feelings, ideas, emotions make up the ocean. These keep coming continuously to the beach in the form of waves. Some of the thoughts, feelings, ideas, emotions are on the surface and are easily evident. While others are deep and hidden and not easily known.

Our Self keeps observing the waves, and almost always, finds a wave of interesting thought, feeling, idea or emotion and chases it into the ocean. Our Self is a proficient surfer and swimmer and it then glides from one wave to another of these thoughts, feelings, ideas, emotions. One wave leads to another, then another and another. Eventually it realizes that it has been in the ocean for too long and then it comes back to the beach. Again it observes the waves and pretty soon another wave catches its attention and it’s back in the deep end! And this cycle continues!

But gradually and hopefully over time, our Self gets less and less attracted and distracted by the waves. The waves which were once distracting are now just music to the ears. An interesting wave is not able to pull the Self to the deep end. The Self acknowledges the presence of an interesting wave but does not chase it or run behind it. The Self is able to peacefully sit on the beach observing the Sun at the horizon while the waves continue their play!

IC: Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

The Witness

Moment after moment, moment after moment,
Moments roll by.
Day after day, day after day,
Days roll by.
Week after week, week after week,
Weeks roll by.
Month after month, month after month,
Months roll by.
Year after year, year after year,
Years roll by.
Lifetime after lifetime, lifetime after lifetime,
Lives roll by.
As long as this loop goes on,
The Self within just witnesses it all.

Image Credits: Photo by Henning Stein on Unsplash

Lessons from Padma Awards

I was looking at the recent Padma awards, and reading the award descriptions, and it was so inspiring! People have been awarded in multiple categories for their contributions in science, medicine, social work, industry, sports, entertainment etc. Every awardee has made a major impact in one of these areas.

Looking at the awardees who are themselves so diverse and have such varied contributions, I noticed that there is one thing which is common among all the awardees (this is true for atleast the recent #PeoplesPadma awards since last few years). And the common feature is that each one of them has worked to make things better for others in the society. And they have done it in their own unique way.

Also, it’s important to note that they didn’t do that hoping to get a Padma award one day, but because they actually wanted to bring a change in some aspect of society. I noticed that each one of them has two main qualities: 1. They are passionate about something and want to improve things in that context in the society and 2. They have faith in themselves. They believe that no matter what the circumstances are, they are capable and they can bring a change.

Most of us operate very differently in our daily lives as compared to the awardees and I guess that’s what makes them special. We take most decisions in our life, the with primary objective to make things better for ourselves or for our family. For example, choosing one job over another just because it pays more or taking up roles because it will look good on the CV or saving up to buy a bigger house or a better car. Most of us operate like that in the world.

On the other hand, there are a few who think differently. For example, they think on the lines like: how can I teach others, how can I do research find a cure of a disease, can I build a company which solves a particular problem faced by society, how can I do something for specific groups of people in society and so on. Their primary objective is to act such that they can best contribute to the society. And the best part is that in the process, they do well enough for themselves and their families (which is the primary aim for most of us). I think another added benefit is the immense satisfaction and peace they must be deriving through the process.

Each one of us is capable of working for a greater good. We don’t even need to drastically change our lifestyle. We just need to change our vision and objective. When making any decision, instead of thinking which act will be best for me, we need to flip it around and think which act will be beneficial for people around me. Instead of focusing on ME we should start focusing on WE (by the way WE includes ME!). And together we can make a much better society for everyone!

Also do read about Harekala Hajabba who sells oranges in Mangalore. From his earnings of Rs. 150 a day he built a primary school in his village! Or about Tulsi Gowda, who never received any formal education but she has planted thousands of trees and is famous as the Encyclopedia of Forest due to her vast knowledge of diverse species of plants & herbs. These stories are so inspiring and show that literally anyone can act for societal good. If we are not acting for the greater good of society, then that’s just an excuse, because truly each one of us is capable. Hope one day, most of us will act primarily for social good rather than our own interests. That day it will be all the more difficult to shortlist people for Padma awards.

Thank You Teachers!

Wrote this 10 years ago as a FB post, thought will also put it up on the blog.

You taught me to read and write
Made my life cheerful and bright
Never ever made me feel alone
Backed me up when I shone

You were there when I needed you
And supported me like a friend too
You motivated me to seek the unknown
Thus you made diamonds from the stone

You guided to be ready for change
To broaden the mind’s thinking range
Inspired me to explore and innovate
And to be positive and optimistic at any rate

Thus numerous lives have changed
You may find this a bit strange.
But I am sure that all will agree
A teacher demonstrates us how to “be”

Some teachers come and some may go
But each one has a new seed to sow
Every seed sprouts up as a new thought
So each one of you is precious of the lot

In my life I may move on and on
But from my heart you will never be gone
Each one of you is special for me
As it’s you who made me as I could be

You will always remain special in my heart
Of my life you are an important part
All of you are the biggest STARS in my view
So today all I can say is a small “Thank You”

Wishing all my teachers a very Happy Teachers’ Day!!!

September 5th, 2011

Tetris

A tetris block moved down and hit the base.
But the game suddenly changed & slowed its pace.
It’s not known when or which block will come next.
How will it position and align and where it will rest.
So now the tetris block waits for blocks to fall unstudied.
To arrange in rows so that the game can proceed.

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

Book Review: A Life on Our Planet

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A Life on Our Planet by Sir David Attenborough

A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future by David Attenborough

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book like this can only be written by someone like Sir David Attenborough. He has not just written about the things elaborated in this book, but he has actually lived and experienced it. And this lifelong vision brings up long-term big picture which is clearly evident in this book.

The key takeaway of this book is that we humankind as a whole are close to the tipping point of long term sustainability and survival. If we continue to act in the way we have in the past with massive deforestation, melting snowcaps, ruining oceans, increasing global temperatures and more, the future is bleak. However, we are smart and innovative and have solved grand challenges in the past and we are capable of doing that now. It is an urgent need of the hour to work in ways such that we can sustainably coexist on the only place we know, our planet Earth!

The book is wonderfully organized. It starts with a section on the experiences of Sir David Attenborough around the planet, of his journeys around the world capturing wildlife on camera so that we could watch it from home. It is like reading NGC / Discovery! However, the adverse effects of exponential unsustainable growth are evident and presented with real-life examples. The next section looks at the future and predicts what will happen if we proceed to act as though everything’s fine. And the picture is definitely scary! Next section is how we the mankind can take steps in order to move towards an alternate version of a more sustainable future with a lot of biodiversity and where everyone can coexist. And it is presented in very well defined indicators. It is almost like a dashboard of key factors on which our survival depends which is called the doughnut model. Final section highlights how building a sustainable future is the greatest opportunity for our generation indeed! We can together build the future we imagine!

Major changes are required in many aspects of our lives, like adopting a plant based diet, recycling every thing that is used, using clean energy, minimizing carbon footprint and in general empowering everyone around the world. And it won’t be sufficient if just some people do it. We need to build a system where it makes sense and is possible for everyone to adopt such lifestyle. Thus everyone including the government, agencies, regulatory bodies and individuals need to come together will a common initiative to build a future we want.

Only when we give back more than we take, can we bring back balance in the ecosystem. In the past, drives for saving a specific species have worked, now it’s time to take steps for the “whole natural world”. We are not “saving the Earth” but rather “saving ourselves” by building a sustainable future.

Profound and highly insightful book! One of my best reads of 2020!

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Book Review- Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective

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Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective by Kenneth O. Stanley and Joel Lehman

Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective by Kenneth O. Stanley and Joel Lehman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read. And I could relate even better because I work in the area of AI like the authors and many of the examples and the final case-study is from this area. Also it’s inspiring to see such deep insight coming from the tool they built called Picbreeder.

The core idea presented in the book is that “objectives” are unnecessary and rather a hinderance while solving “complex” problems. Objectives might be useful for simple problems where it is easy to chart out a path to the goal. However in case of more complex problems where the route to the goal is not known, objectives cause more harm than good.

Next, an alternate model is presented called the novelty search. It finds solutions based on how “interesting” the solution is rather than how close it is to an “objective”. The authors connect this idea to the stepping stones, which is a great analogy. They argue that a complex goal lies somewhere in a hazy lake with a very low visibility. It is difficult or impossible to reach a specific goal in this lake and an objective in this case is like a “broken compass”. However, it is much more relevant to explore the lake by finding new stepping stones based on novelty or interestingness and how many new stepping stones it can lead to. True success lies in exploring the space of the lake rather than trying to reach a specific imaginary point.

Finally, a variety of use-cases are discussed from education, innovation to evolution and AI where a novelty based approach makes more sense rather than an objective based approach.

This book presents an intriguing idea which can literally change the way we operate in life. Sometimes it gets a bit repetitive but overall it drives the point. I highly recommend this book!

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Goal vs Process

In this post, I’ll elaborate on the two kinds of approaches we can have while working on any task– goal oriented approach and process oriented approach. We’ll see what do we mean by these approaches, how these are characteristically different, some interesting examples of both these approaches for the same task and finally if one of this approach is better than the other.

Goal oriented approach primarily focuses on the end goal of the task. With this approach, we try to reach that aim in the easiest possible way. No wonder, we optimize and do whatever least is required to reach the goal using this approach. How something is done– is not as significant as long as we finally obtain the goal. Also two people who have achieved the same goal are similar from this point of view although they might have taken different paths to reach that goal.

On the other hand, process oriented approach focuses on the way of achieving a goal rather than the goal itself. With this approach, we care about how things are done. There is an inherent motivation to do things well rather than just getting things done. With this approach, we are okay if it takes longer to get something done if we are able to improve the process. And when we look at two people who might be at same level, we focus on how they reached where they are instead of where they are.

Let’s take an example, consider a student who is learning a new course. A goal oriented student who aims for an A grade will do what it takes to get that grade. He might not focus on aspects of the course which will not contribute in adding to the grade. On the other hand, a process oriented student will focus on learning all the skills he can from that course. There is an intrinsic motivation to actually learn and know more about a variety of aspects of the course.

Similarly, take a person working on a project at his workplace. A goal oriented person will do whatever he has been told to do, and nothing more. On the other hand, a process oriented person cares about the work he is doing and takes ownership of the project. He does not just stop at doing what he has been told. But goes a step forward and thinks of ways in which the project can be improved by maybe automating something, updating the algorithm of a module etc.

Also, it’s not the case that goal oriented people don’t care about the process and process oriented people don’t care about the goal. It is not just possible but likely, that a goal oriented person follows a process and a process oriented person has some goal. Thus both these aspects go hand in hand. But the approaches tell what we primarily care about while working on anything– is it the end-goal or is it the process of achieving a goal?

In my opinion, mostly it is lot more fun to do things in a process oriented way instead of goal oriented way. In goal oriented approach, we think that we will be happy when we achieve the goal. It is indeed true that we are happy on achieving a goal, but that happiness and satisfaction is short-lasted and pretty soon we are ready to go after another goal. On the other hand, following a process oriented approach, one can be happy of following a particular process and there is also great satisfaction is improving a process. If we quantify the total satisfaction, I’m sure we are lot more happy and satisfied following process oriented approaches rather than goal oriented approaches.

Failures strike much harder in a goal oriented approach. There can be a variety of reasons due to which we might not be able to achieve a goal we planned to achieve. And a goal oriented approach makes it much harder to accept failures, and it is likely that instead of learning from the failures, we might take these failures personally due to our inability to achieve a goal. On the other hand, failures are very different in a process oriented approach. Failures are about a particular process not working well for the task at hand. And there are always other alternate ways to try and different lessons to learn. Thus it is easier to understand, accept and learn from failures this way!

Goal oriented approach is useful in situations where it is urgent to get something done. Sometimes the intense pressure can be useful to innovate and optimize the way of achieving a goal. It can be productive and useful in the short run. However it might be difficult to sustain this approach during the long run.

Goal oriented — Stepping stones || Process oriented — Steering ship

I thought of an interesting analogy of these two approaches. A goal oriented approach is like jumping on stepping stones. We are completely focused on landing firmly on the next stone and then on the next stone and then on the next stone. All our efforts and vision is focused and directed on the stepping stones and everything else in the background is a blur. On the other hand, process oriented approach is like steering a ship. Ofcourse one has a goal to reach but in this case, the primary focus is on how the ship is steered. Also on the journey, one can look at the scenery around, spot birds and fishes and enjoy. It is not a distraction from reaching the goal, but overall a more satisfying experience.

Thus, we can approach the things we want to do in life using either of these approaches. And the same thing can be done very differently using either of these approaches and in turn it can be a very different experience for us. Process oriented approach can let us enjoy and learn during the journey while goal oriented approach can make us strongly pursue the desired outcomes! Finally the choice lies in our hands regarding which approach we choose!

Image Credits:
1. Stepping stones – Background photo created by kjpargeter – www.freepik.com
2. Steering ship – Vintage photo created by v.ivash – www.freepik.com

Book Review: Cities and Canopies

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Cities and Canopies: Trees in Indian Cities by Harini Nagendra

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fun and informative book with details of not just the trees of Indian cities but with lots of childhood memories, historic events, poems and recipes interleaved! Reading this book feels like talking with fellow nature loving friends. Although it is an easy read, it is well researched and has been written by authors who are expert ecologists and researchers in this area. I throughly enjoyed reading this book and came to know of many interesting facts which I wasn’t aware of.

Some of the most common trees like banyan, peepul, tamarind, palm among others are covered. Apart from the usual facts, there are references to different events which happened in context of trees, references of some of these trees which can be found in our scriptures, how they have evolved over time to become part of the system, poems written by some famous poets around trees and also fun dishes which can be made using parts of these trees.

Along with trees, overall ecosystem around the trees is also discussed. From birds and insects which reside on trees, the effect of trees on environment, how tree plantations and grooves were protected by the commons in the past, movements to save trees, positive effects of having trees around to medicinal properties of parts of trees, everything is are covered.

This book also took me down the memory lane. While reading the authors’ stories of games played around trees I was reminded of the great times I had with friends around trees. From climbing trees and riding it as ships, playing hide and seek among trees, collecting raw mangos and guavas, collecting caps of eucalyptus flowers and many more memories.

This broad perspective with respect to trees makes us aware and ponder on trees around us. It highlights how important and urgent it is to have trees specially in the concrete jungles of cities. I’ll definitely be more cognizant of trees in my future walks. Almost everyone likes trees, but this book can rekindle our love for trees and a green surrounding in general! Hoping for a second part of this book covering more trees (specially mango tree) and more stories and events around trees!

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