Friday, January 30, 2009

Cleaner, Leaner, and "Better!"

Yes! YES! YES!!!! I have just finished with the day's unusual work: I put everything on pause, and just deleted - deleted - unsubscribed in the virtual world. I deleted close to 2000 stored messages from Gmail. When I turned to Facebook, I found I was a member of an astounding 210+ groups! I am down to about 140 now. My unread emails counter on Gmail was reading 516. As I am about to turn in for sleep, it's down to a cleaner 67. Over the weekend, I intend to make my virtual world a new place, ready in alignment with my life priorities. 

Internet overwhelms me now. The social networks are too buzzy, and my email is too stagnant. IM has too much talk. Clearly, I was in need of a personal policy. I was rather unaware that I even had an issue until on November 21, 2008, I attended a talk on the Attention Economy. The subject of the talk was the two-word summary lesson I walked away with. 

Earlier I had written on the subject of Attention itself, partly irked by the constant barrage of "political opinions" of the layperson who insist upon being taken seriously and start petitions and protests at the drop of a hat (missile?). When you're in Karachi, Pakistan, there's no power for 10-12 hours a day, you've got work to do and the city can face unpredictable security situation - this kind of dishing out of attention on the frivolous is not just a luxury, it is obscene. Attention is currency. Either we're spending it right and prudently, or we're wasting. Speaking of the Internet being too "full" for attention, shortly after the seminar on Attention Economy that suddenly alarmed me to the Attention Crunch coming - I found support in Seth Godin's warning

So I wasn't getting crazy and edgy for no reason. I couldn't stand another Facebook soap opera episode, another friend-of-a-friend bringing their problems to my home-office dead in the middle of when I am writing yet another article for Triple Bottom Line. After all, how many times can I go over the same stuff that I graduated from back in my teen years? Same information. More of the same information. And then some. 

I had to let some people go. And only when I gently (or not so!) detached in the virtual world did I realize the oddity that I was living: hey, since when does it entitle a person to delve deep into my private life with their private petty affairs and "political" activism which, pray, is no more than forcing people to rally around Facebook applications? 

I often take great care in inviting people to event, putting them on a group mail, or tagging them in a note. I have hardly ever forwarded emails in my 11 years online. I usually do not promote my blogs or spam others with requests to promote my stuff. Unless there is a national emergency - even during which, I have attempted to maintain calm and design rather than stir hysteria. 

But I did still sense that I could be doing the same at some level so to begin with, I have started practicing economy and selectivity with my words. Above all, since I do tend to write a lot, I have figured, finally, that this is my talent and I better clearly consider it my calling. I am still not over the wordiness and the long explanations that wormed into my DNA at some point. Yet this realization that words could be my gift to life as they are life's gift to me - this simple realization! - has allowed me to bring many sweeping changes in my life. Creativity is a priority and just when I wanted to word an explanation of the events, along came Better  by Merlin Mann. He's said it all. Attention Overload is a de facto universal phenomenon. 

And sweeping it is! I have been cleaning my room out for weeks now with long breaks. It's full of my papers and art and what-not. I have sharpened my priorities and opened a Facebook Page to organize content, contacts, and conversations. I feel happier engaging with my loved and dear ones as the public noise is walled off. Tonight, I have deleted much from the inbox and I am certain - much more from my attention. 

That's it! Hallelujah! 

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stayin' Alive!

I don't care if I myself thought it sacrilegious a mere few weeks ago, but George Sampson helped me rid myself of my religion. I am dancing - and it's all for God! 


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Two Types of Plans: The Plan That Fails

Plans are of two types: space-based, and time-based. The first one is spatial - in a coherent and beautiful form, it is always growth outwards from a central point over space. It is organic in nature. The second one is based upon measurements of time - it grows from one point in time to another. It is linear in nature.  

The space-based plan is built inside-out, and its values are determined intrinsically. The time-based plan is built outside-in, and its values are established extrinsically. The first type takes its being from one. The second type shapes one.  

There is oft a warning about plans that fail, urging one to have no plans. This concept may also be known as a "goal-free life." On the other hand, awareness and meticulous planning are deemed a virtue.  

This is a contradictory situation: have no plans, have plans. What is the truth?  

The truth is that both statements are true - but each relates to one kind of plans. It is the time-based plan that is set up for (likely - and in this age, highly likely) failure. This is because Time is a product of our perception. It is a by-product of Space. The speed of the unfolding of Space is Time, and the unfolding of Space is the unfolding of innate Design. In terms of a human, Space is the unfolding of a human's design: their innate talent, preferences, personality - and their context.  

When a plan is set up in time, attention is taken away from the space-based plan - the kind that is demanded of one, the kind that is the able expression of one, the kind that succeeds when one commits. Though success here is not measured against any external variable, but is the fullness and the quality of expression.  

There are two kinds of energy described in the physical science: potential - energy at rest; stored energy - and kinetic - energy in movement. The total energy of any being is potential plus kinetic. When the being is at rest, almost all energy is potential (I say almost, because some is in movement within the system). When the being is in movement, the potential energy transforms into kinetic energy.

How to bring a plan to life?

Attention is a primary human energy. Being alive, in a sensory meaning of the word, is to have potential human energy. Paying attention is the kinetic, the moving, the active, the dynamic form of energy. Attention is life in movement. It is life, lived.  

When we give attention to a space-based plan we engage art, science, and every gift that is human. We bring energy to elements and arrange them in a space which could be conceptual, physical, or virtual (in the computer-world sense of the word). According to the level of innate energy and clarification of the intent of a person, the plan unfolds and "manifests" (materializes) at a certain speed. The higher the energy and the clearer the intent, the "faster" the plan unfolds.  

It does not matter what the timetable of the plan is. There are plans that appear to be fulfilled by a certain time but they have no innate quality. Therefore, they do not fulfill their purpose and are soon in need of repair or elimination or renewal. Of course, even the best-laid plans, the spatial kind, arrive at the same conclusion. Yet it is the life lived and the way it was lived that mattered.  

The question is: "Is a plan - for its entire existence, from conception to initiation to completion to end - a source of increasing fulfillment? Or does it increase a sense of emptiness and loss?"  

Of course, a space-based plan is also bound and often measured by time. Yet in this one, space comes first, time second. Time is determined after the space is established. Time is a slave to this, not master. This is how time must be lived: with a quality of presence, and fullness.  

And this is all I know of this matter so far. 

Image credits: Top - user ba1969 @ | Bottom - Eye Scapes @ Makezine Blog


a poem

I owe myself a few things. 
These are dues that I ought to pay. 
Above all - attention! 
And then, gratitude. 

So it is my practice henceforth 
that no matter what the society 
and its constructs of doing-doing 
and staying forever in a state of lacking 
attempt to make me believe -
I shall not believe them. 

I am worthy of my own trust, my admiration,
my attention upon my affairs. 
My engagement with the world 
is mine, and no one else's. 

This is my life 
and it is for a reason that I am myself, 
and not another.  
And another is not I.
We are by one another, but not another. 

And in this is much wisdom. 

aka The Prophecy

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Healing

Sleeping woman, dressed in white

The year that just passed yesterday, 2008, brought me that which I had not experienced in a long time: rest. Sleep. And ultimately, healing.  

Almost exactly a year ago, I underwent a secluded meditation that aimed to empty the self out, amongst other objectives. Days later, on the New Year night, I woke up in shock from a dream - only to feel a great deal of something leave me. I had just read excerpts from Eckhart Tolle's book Power of Now, with my attention drawn in particular to the phenomenon of the "pain body" - an unconscious entity within the self that thrives on suffering and, of course, unconsciousness. It is that part of the egoic self that thrives on pain to further its illusion of separation.  

At this point, I will go on a small tangent suitable for the strong-nerved. It is this "pain body" (by any other name) that some believe possesses the human - "possession" here referring to that paranormal/extraordinary phenomenon that is described variously in clinical and spiritual literature but essentially refers to the same condition. In movies on the subject, it is shown in its extreme form, within the extraction of the pain body referred to as an act of exorcism. That, of course, is literal truth to some and a commentary on the condition of the individual or collective psyche to others. 

Yet everyday people are overwhelmed by strong emotions that would seem utterly absurd should one be able to step back from and out of the context and just see the situation and the characters within. The greed rampant in the world, for instance, has led to more destruction and chaos than an individual in a scary movie possessed by distorted, horrific, growling demons. We are faced with a crumbling planet and collapsing social-political-economic systems with staggering monetary and intangible costs. We are perfectly used to a media that brings murder, insanity, vulgarity, crassness, and abasement of all kind a mere few inches away from our body. And we engage in this theater. 

By the end of 2008, many, many people and societies around the world have become acutely aware of this phenomenon that may go by any other name. There is a hue & cry for self-restraint, and an active global shift towards "doing good." Entire communities have sprung up around causes of goodness such as care for the environment, promotion of values of motherhood, and paying-it-forward. At the same time, a process of individual and collective purge continues, with very visible effects. 

A year ago, on the night of December 31st, 2007, I woke up a start from a dream where I was being shown into a hospital. Within that swaying state of consciousness within sleep and awakening, I sharply felt something leaving me. I thought I heard a scream and I let out what I considered a sharp yell, but what came out of my lips - as I felt like dead weight - was a faint whispering addressed to my roommate. She thought I whispered in my sleep. As I lay in panic, I felt... empty. After a spike of fear that had lasted only a few seconds, I thought the subject of my roommate and my discussion that eve before we retired to bed - the pain body - had indeed suddenly dashed out of my system. My roommate had been reading through the book Power of Now and had brought the passage to my attention, as part of my work on cleansing my Self. 

Later, I picked out Eckhart Tolle's book and found that he himself had experienced a much more intense version of the same experience. The cleansing of his self from the whirlpools of past and future were spontaneous and sudden. 

My route remained more academic - I was thinking about it, and thinking about a thing makes it grow - and therefore it took me an entire year to proceed with a further "clarification of my intent," as my spiritual method puts it. Certainly, thre were no rituals like we see in the movies to drive out the egoic self - rather a very contemporary approach that involves an opening to life while gently cleansing the heart of malice, envy, fear, greed and other such ailment of the self. 

The result has been a revelation of my life purpose - the meaning which emerges after our inner resistance dissolves. Yet I have not obsessed over outcomes. I have - after a long time in my life, after spending a great period in the academic and corporate world as a "Type A personality" - honored the journey more than any destination that I could preconceive. I have, therefore, rested, slept and wept a great and unprecedented deal the entire year of 2008

To have honored myself and to have accepted my own condition, even as the world around me experiences its own painful ego shattering, has been a tremendously liberating, rewarding experience of my life. 

Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find
all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.
- Rumi

Image credit: "Saturday Afternoon" by Edson Campos - from

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bond of Trust: Two People, One Encounter

Last night, half an hour past midnight, the doorbell rang. It startled me.

I was writing - the windows of my room, that faces the gate, were lit up. I could hear people in the streets, playing winter night sports perhaps. I could hear the laughter of the watchmen though I was not sure whether it was the street watchmen indeed? For a bare month ago, they were driven out of the city amidst tense ethnic strife. I hadn't caught up on whether they had returned, for I have been hibernating deep in the bowels of my home for weeks, oblivious to the world.

I thought I'd check.

With a woolen shawl wrapped around me - both to protect from the cold and to appear imposing to any possible intruder - I stepped out and asked, "Who is it?"

Through the wide slits of our gate, one can see outside-in, inside out from quite a distance. A young boy who appeared scruffy from his hair replied in a broken voice: "Help me! My mother has just died in a hospital!" He did not specify what did he need.

For anyone who lives in highly insecure urban areas such as Karachi - and for myself, whose family has faced a good deal of violence and robbery the memories of which still manage to disturb my sleep - this is ample for alert and suspicion. This is how would-be robbers trick one into opening doors. This is how "they" gauge whether there is a tender-hearted fool in the house who can also produce money at slight prompting. This is how we are used to thinking in Karachi.

I briefly considered the inconvenience of unlocking the door to our terrace upstairs, peering out from the balcony on to the street, look out for accomplices, read the boy's face and body language, and then proceed with a moral analysis of how much money should I give him.

And then I considered the state of my own mind: addled with fear.

For the past few weeks, I have been in a retreat - secluded in my house and mostly in one room - allowing myself to turn out and throw away the conditioning by others from within me, along with the much more dangerous conditioning by my own mental constructions. To just be. To be closer to being a purer human.

If, indeed, this boy who was probably still awaiting an answer outside as I stepped back in after replying with a vague, "Hmmm... OK." (which in my language can also mean, "OK, wait there!") needed help - if he was telling the truth - what would I do?

I sometimes see images of myself... consoling the desperate, putting a hand to their head, and sharing the gifts of God with them: food, comforts, and other rights that humans have over one another. My cowardly turning away was not in conformity with this image.

So I said to myself: this boy, whether a liar or someone who tells the truth, obviously is a person in need. Secondly, his exact story may be true. And if there is indeed a soul out on the streets in the night, looking for consolation or support or charity as his family died perhaps in very desperate conditions, who would help them? Who would be the keeper of the brothers and sisters in desperate need? That there were people in the street and indeed children cackling somewhere in the laps of their young fathers celebrating a late night playing outside on the weekend, gave me some comfort.

I decided: liar, mugger, or truly in need - one thing is for certain. This person has come from God, from within the vastness of this Universe to my door. I do not know what is in his heart. But I can master what is in mine. And my heart choose to believe. To trust. To honor the guest of Allah no matter what his character. For a man might intend to hurt me, but not my God. I do not have the power to help or not help a person. Who am I give or withhold? I have only the power to choose the state of my own heart, and act accordingly. I have only the power to serve from that which is given to me, or to let fear or greed prevent that.

And so, I made the decision: I will choose trust over fear. Love over division.

I went and took a little cash - for my newly faith was weak and still tainted with fear - and stepped out in front of the gate again. The boy, partially covered by the gate's design, appeared to be leaning against it. I asked again, just to make conversation and to gauge the quality of his soul through his voice: "What do you want?" He repeated something broken but made no specific demand. I think he repeated that his mother had died. Some flashbacks of being held up at gunpoint flashed through my mind. My mind whispered that I was a fool who let other people believe they have lots of spare cash. I half expected see the barrel of a gun pointing in my direction through the slit.

I took a deep breath. What a shame that my mind lives in such imaginary violence as if it is really happening! I inched closer to the gate, taking cover behind the adjacent wall, hastily shoved the money through the slit near the wall, stepped back and said: "Take it. Take it!" His fingers slowly pulled out the money. I walked backwards closer to the door of my room, keeping an eye on him - for a diminishing fear for myself, and a growing concern for this urchin. Then I turned back, and so did he.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Believer's Refuge

"Take refuge in the Cave
God will spread Hu's* grace over you, and will endow you -
whatever your outward condition -
with all that your soul may need."

-Qur'an, Chapter Al-Kahf (The Cave), verse 16

...And so, because this verse has affected me deeply, I remain hidden, in my refuge, in the proverbial cave... until times are rendered anew. Until I am ready to emerge, as WHO I AM.

* "His"