I remember Shalini as if it was yesterday.
I was in my first job, a systems trainer. She was my student, the kind who asks endless questions. I remember the looks of exasperation on the faces of the other students each time Shalini shot to her feet. Not that she noticed, or could have given a damn if she had. She was indifferent to what others thought; she focused only on what she wanted.
I was teaching the batch how to write a financial accounting software using Cobol (yup.. I am THAT ancient.. 🙂 ). Shalini was the first to submit her project, in a record three days. If you have ever tried Cobol programming you would know what a mammoth task it was. It took me two full days to follow the innovative logic she had used. I had to dry run it with paper and pen to understand it. It remains the most refreshingly original program I have ever evaluated. My head was swimming by the time I finished dry running it all.
She keyed in the program and called me before she compiled it. This is particularly significant because a Cobol program spews out errors by the hundreds even in a twenty line program- merely because the programmer missed on period in the second statement. Shalini’s program was a mammoth eight thousand line long! Imagine the errors it would generate!
I will always remember the quiet confidence with which she refused to run it and check for errors before she ran it for me. The entire program ran without a single error! Every option worked like a dream; every check- point was faultlessly executed. In almost thirty years since that day, the wonder of that focused, precise mind astounds me. Shalini’s effort helped me define my own benchmarks for extraordinary performance.
A keen intellect; the capacity for innovative thinking; the ability to focus intensely and all- exclusively; a talent for invincible optimism and a tireless competence: these are the qualities I admire deeply in people. To find a person who was the embodiment of them all seemed like manna in the heaven to me. She needed to do nothing more to win my wholehearted devotion and love. A student like that makes you feel blessed. You wonder how you got so lucky.
With immense grace and absolute aplomb, this youngster either wore pavadai thavani (the traditional half- saree worn by Tamil girls) or a full saree. At less than five feet tall, she looked like a little girl dressing up in her mother’s clothes. But when you conversed with this quiet, composed girl, you were left in no doubt that you were holding a discussion with an extraordinarily sharp- yet joyously playful- mind.
I did not understand much about Shalini back then. But now when I think of her, I know that she was a self-aware spirit. She knew what she wanted in life. She was aware of her likes and dislikes. She was unapologetic about her talents and took her limitations in her stride without making too much fuss about them, as many of us do.
She knew that her actions must demonstrate the quality of her spirit. There was an inherent congruence in her inner and outer world. She had no dichotomy, fissures or fragments in her. She was an integrated human being. She was only nineteen years old!
A self-aware person knows why she does what she does. She is perfectly poised inside. She is quietly and calmly focused. She doesn’t waste her mental energy frivolously. She may seem intensely keyed up and stressed to the point of bursting but can be most relaxed when her goals are reached. Her choices are internally driven. She may make mistakes, but she will still rely only on her own counsel. She is a truly empowered being and knows she is free to lead the life she wants.
The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.
~ Mark Twain
Most people are unsure of what they want in life. They have no idea what their internal drivers are because they are unsure of the values they hold as important and precious. They allow a conflicting external world to dilute their value system by throwing a blanket of ambiguity over things that ought to be sharp and inflexible.
As a result, their internal dynamics are at the mercy of external forces in the form of rules or protocols set by the society, their family, teachers or friends. They end up living their life according to someone else’s standards and never demonstrate their own. The worst of this is that they go through life unaware of the need to demonstrate their own standards.
A fully engaged consciousness is one which is able to hear its own truth clearly without seeking validation from another. It is at peace with itself and feels no compulsion to explain or justify itself. The consciousness knows that it is its own justification. The evaluation and judgment of others is never given undue importance. The consciousness is fully engaged in experiencing and living out its own truth. It is supremely and superbly free to engage with others as an independent, self- reliant being.
A person possessed of such a consciousness, is able to demonstrate extraordinary levels of performance. A lack of internal clutter frees the mind of confusion, fear and worry. All work becomes creative effort, approached with a spirit of joyous confidence. Road-blocks are viewed as temporary challenges to solve, knowing full well that they will be solved.
I’m nothing great. But I’m a rose… I’m a rose whether I’m admired or not, I’m a rose whether anyone’s crazy about me or not… Like I said, nothing great. Just a rose… But, do you know what it means to be a rose, my friend? Being a rose means ‘freedom.’ It means not existing by the praises of Others or not ceasing to exist by their disapproval.
~ Serdar Özkan
Imagine a bunch of 8-12 year old children erecting a tree-house. Imagine the energy and enthusiasm with which the children would devote hours and weeks of patient labor to erect it. The project is not a ‘job’ for them; it is done for the love of doing it. While the project goes on, they will think of nothing else. They will forget to eat and to watch TV.
They would forget their favorite grouses and their wounds and cuts will not even register in their minds. They will become undefeatable and untiring. There is no challenge for which they will not find a solution. They will never wonder if they have the skill or ability to finish the project; they have no time to spare for such inconsequential thoughts. No matter what, they will build their tree-house… because they are fully engaged… and because they love it!
Live your life, sing your song. Not full of expectations. Not for the ovations. But for the joy of it.
~ Rasheed Ogunlaru
In the process of becoming adults, kids lose this ability. They acquire fear and doubt. They need to be encouraged and motivated time and again. They need validation and pats on the back. They acquire an unhealthy obsession with the opinions and evaluations of others. They lose their connection with what they love- and what they ARE! Their inner voice becomes silent after years of being ignored.
From the capacity to live an empowered and free life, they descend to a level where they voluntarily crawl into a dungeon of their imagined limitations and themselves wear the shackles of fear and doubt. They throw away their magnificent inheritance which is the key to their freedom. They lower their expectations of themselves.
To hide this fact from themselves, they sentence themselves to the joyless existence of a rat-race. Their biggest concern is no longer the joy of creating something unique, it is whittled down into earning enough to keep body and soul together. They no longer make a vibrant joyful life, they make a living. They cleanse their memory of their capacity to build tree-houses.
They willfully murder the Shalini within them.
Note: With humble gratitude, I dedicate this post to Dr Maya Angelou. May she rest in peace.