Jai Sri Hari to my dearest OS.me family. We seem to be growing rapidly, and we have new members writing some fantastic articles every day. I hope all of you are healthy and happy. Today’s post is an honest reflection of the changes that I have observed in myself over the past few years.

Hetal Sonpal wrote an excellent post titled “You Have Changed” which gave me the idea for this post. Sri Devi Didi wrote a stunning post on Spiritual Self Evaluation that further inspired me to share my journey with you. I will write this post with honesty and candour and hope that you will accept me for all my goodness and faults. T

he purpose of this post is simple. Its a just a simple reminder to myself and my dearest family that change can be glacially slow. In fact, at times, it feels that we are moving backwards. However, given the luxury of a few years, you can clearly see how far you have come in certain areas and how much you have to travel in others. 

The Victory Parade

Let’s start with the good news first. Here are some of the behaviour traits that I have significantly altered because I believed they made me a better person. 

Making Room for Other People’s Opinions

I generally considered myself one of the smartest people in any room that I occupied. I read many books as I grew up, participated in a few debates, and grew up to be a confident and opinionated person. I found a job I loved, was very good at it, and the mixture of reading and confidence helped me think of and present innovative ideas. However, this led to hubris, and I lacked empathy and listening skills. I was a very nice guy but was highly competitive and did not suffer fools. I made every point emphatically, with data and a tone that did not brook any disagreement. One day my boss, a wonderful American lady, took me aside and gave me advice that would change my life in a couple of years. “I know whenever I ask a question that your answer is going to be the best in the room. Other people may know it too. However, they will never follow you until they feel they had a role to play in the meeting.” I did not realize the gravity of that sentence. I nodded to seem wise, stuck up a thoughtful pose, and continued hearing how I was doing a great job. A year later, listening to all leading intellectuals and an inflated sense of ego had turned me into an atheist. The internal struggle was enormous because I was brought up in a very lovingly religious household and loved visiting temples and did a lot of “seva” there. The battle concluded in depression, and my aunt gave me some excellent advice. “You have to accept yourself as you are” sometimes. Don’t be a different person if you don’t want to be one.

I rediscovered spirituality and depression humbled me. The constant feeling that something could wrong meant I could never look at other people and intentionally hurt them. Thus, I began my journey of becoming a gentler person who would listen to people in a meeting and make a point only when needed. I phrased my points as questions versus stating them as declarations. I asked for feedback and accepted faults. All this helped me become a better human being and a successful manager at work. I realized I could influence people a lot more when I was genuine and humble versus arrogant and brilliant. Truth be told, this has helped me significantly financially. My boss and my organization do a lot to keep me there because I don’t play politics, do my work well, and push the boundaries without pissing people off. Let me tell you a little secret I read somewhere. Your market value is not what your organization pays you. It’s the cost of replacing you. So if you are a competent, hardworking, and friendly individual, you get better bonuses, equity, and merit increases. It pays to be nice, and you sleep much better too. 

Becoming a Better Listener

I always thought I was a good listener, but this myth got busted when I visited a psychiatrist with my wife. My wife is three years older than me, much more mature, and I was 22 when I went to her house and told her parents I wanted to marry her. We got married three years later. I am not proud to say, I was utterly oblivious to the changes she was making to adjust to a Tamil Brahmin household. The boisterous, happy-go-lucky girl was losing herself and was hating it. While we lived in Pune and my family was in Delhi, we always had visits from the extended family. Rashmi was an excellent host, but many things took a toll on her. My mother has OCD when it comes to cleanliness, and while Rashmi likes to keep a clean house, she pushed herself to the extreme when my mom came. Rashmi also hated that my mother obviously loved and favored me more while she was doing everything she could to become wholly accepted in the family. Whenever Rashmi tried to discuss this with me, I would brush it under the carpet, saying that you cannot expect older people to change, and my parents are basically nice people. Rashmi also had depression, almost coinciding with my episodes. My horrific listening skills came to light during our psychiatrist visits. I realized she could talk to a stranger and share her angst because he listened to her non-judgementally.

Meanwhile, I, her husband, spent most of my time defending my family or shoving her problems under the carpet. I remember her weeping like a little child after one session. We reached home, and I decided this was not acceptable. I called my parents and told them and had an honest discussion with them. Rashmi also spoke to them, and I have been a much better listener ever since that experience. It also helped me see my family in a neutral light. As parents get old, they become like little children again. They bicker about minor things, become obsessive on particular stuff, and become much more vulnerable. The neutral perspective helps me know when to listen to their whims and put my foot down. My earlier avatar would have kept doing everything they wanted, and that would not have been good for anyone. 

Helping with Chores at Home

The Covid Crisis and lockdowns highlighted how much work women do at home without any acknowledgement or support. Since we did not have any domestic help and my wife had to conduct online classes, the only way to not drive her crazy was to start helping out. It started with me doing the dishes three times a day. Then, it graduated to making breakfast every day since I can start my day later. Now that our maid has started coming again, I make two meals on most days and do the dishes in the evening. My wife still has enough work to fill her day after wrapping up her teaching job. I follow Ranveer Brar for most of my recipes and cook delicious food. It’s incredibly fulfilling to make a tasty dish out of a few basic ingredients and then see your family enjoy every morsel. Our dearest Swamiji has always mentioned creative work as one of the key drivers of happiness, and cooking does satisfy my soul. The dishes I got the most satisfaction cooking were the humble upma and the tangy palak paneer

The Challenges That I Encounter Everyday

Now that I have got all of you admiring me and thinking about how much progress I have made let’s dive into some areas where I have not covered too much distance. 

The Constant Battle With Laziness

“Talented” is constantly the word that has been used to describe me. Every gym coach I have met, fitness trainers I have worked with, and sports coaches I have practised with told me I could be really good with a little more perseverance. Instead of motivating me, their encouragement has generally scared me away. I don’t want to be really good because then I would have to work harder than before. I used to run 5KMs with ease and even managed 10Kms a couple of times before I gave up running. I was worried that at this rate, a half marathon is not far away. Similar stories accompany my trysts with tennis and core fitness. If it were only with fitness, I could live with this flaw. Even when I start meditating consistently, I stop it for one day. This one day turns into a month’s hiatus, and I am back to the starting point. Unless I tie myself down with some fixed rule such as a Gayatri sadhana, it’s almost impossible to stick to a plan. 

The Shadow Battle with Lust

In my late teens, I discovered the joy of erotic literature and soft pornography. Let’s just say it opened a different world for me. While it’s normal for most guys to consume it, I have wanted to avoid engaging in any lustful thoughts for some time. Mindfulness has helped me identify the triggers that can lead to such thoughts and impulses. On many occasions, I can simply choose to focus on a different subject for some time and drop that thought. However, there are certain times when I want to engage in it mentally, and that deepens that neural pathway or seeds of lust in the consciousness. Guilt is one gift that lust gives us. I can probably live with that, but the more significant challenge is being attached to the emotion. When you are so powerfully attached to any emotion, be it lust, envy, or greed, you can never truly be detached or have “vairagya”. When a wave of lust hits me, I consciously push vairagya to the next day while deliberately indulging in the emotion. That’s the most significant danger that lust holds for me. 

A few months ago, I would probably not have put my thoughts on the virtual paper so frankly. But with my dear friend Divya writing about her experiences of sexuality or Neha Singh writing about her struggles with addiction, I found it very easy to share my journey with you. 

Conclusion

My journey has been chiefly about moving three steps forward and two steps back. If I were ready today, I know one compassionate glance of Swamiji is all that is needed for salvation. However, I am not prepared today, and it’s definitely going to be a long journey. However, when Sri Hari is the goal, Swamiji is the guide, and all of you are fellow travellers, the long journey seems a reward, not a punishment. 

Jai Sri Hari Dear Parivar. 

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Akshay Iyer

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