Oct 30, 2023

Visit to Apollo Book Store, Mahabalipuram

 During our recent trip to Chennai, we visited the historical town of Mahabalipuram. While googling for the places to visit, I stumbled upon "Apollo bookstore". It was around 11 AM when I walked down the road that has many cafes, gift shops, and boutique stores. An elderly man was cleaning the front side of the bookstore with the shutters closed. I asked him, "When will the shop open?". He requested me to wait for a couple of minutes as he opened and cleared a few items for me to enter. He also placed a small bench for me to sit and browse the pile of books stacked up on the floor.

I spent the next 30 minutes, browsing through his collection of various books. While billing, I had a short conversation with him in Tamil. Here's how it went:

Apollo Store Owner Mr Kumaresan (AK): "Sorry madam. there's so much dust. I haven't cleaned the shop in the last few days. I didn't even arrange the second-hand books neatly. I just stashed them in heaps"

Me: "That's okay. People who love books don't mind digging around to find gems"

AK: "Many tourists used to visit earlier. Now, look at this street. Totally empty. Many have shut shop"

Me: "Why? Isn't this tourist season?"

AK: "Many backpackers used to visit this town earlier. I did very good business. But due to Covid and the current geopolitical situation, there are hardly any backpacker tourists."

Me: "What about the local tourists? I noticed quite a lot of crowd near Shore temple"

AK: "Except for a few people like you, no local tourists would visit a bookstore, madam. They come to see these monuments and return. But backpackers always carry a book with them and sit in a cafe or by the beach and read. I have books in 18 different languages. There were times when I was one of the leading sellers of coffee table books in India. Now the business has reduced so drastically. If it was just a business with money-making intentions, I would have moved on to something else. But this bookstore is my passion. I don't want to let it go. "Aasai aasaiya seyara business ipdi dullaa poiduchenu nenaichu nenaichu odambukku vandhirichu (All the stress has resulted in physical ailments). I have also taken up a part-time job. I feel so bad to let these books gather dust."

Me: "I'll try to spread the word. Please don't lose hope"

Offline bookstores run by small business owners can survive only if we support them. Large chains like Crosswords will diversify or move onto some other lucrative business.

If you are visiting Mahabalipuram, do take the time to visit this cozy, little book store - Apollo Books, Othavadai Street.

Oct 18, 2023

Protecting an ideology/belief/faith

 I was hesitant to bring up this topic, but I decided to go ahead with it, given the observations in the past few weeks.

At home, we play a Board game named Pandemic. As the name suggests, it is a collaborative game where players take the roles of specialized professionals to cure the world of 4 different viruses and eradicate them.

The cure for a virus is found through certain rules, but the eradication happens only when there are no more cities infected with the virus.

The rulebook states, "If no cubes of this color (*color indicates the specific virus*) are on the board, this disease is now eradicated".

If we want to protect an ideology/belief/faith and do not want it to be "eradicated", we can achieve the same ONLY through our individual actions.

There is no point in raising outrage over the comments raised by politicians (who play the religion card as always to win votes), watching YouTube/FB videos and news channels that indulge in hate-spewing discussions, and sharing and commenting on such videos, adding more fuel to the fire. These only affect our mental and emotional health, and increase our blood pressure and cortisol levels.

Let's ask ourselves

  • Are we taking the time to understand our scriptures deeply?
  • Are we making the effort to learn the language used in these scriptures?
  • Are we practicing the rituals as prescribed?
  • Are we learning the meaning and purpose behind various traditions and customs?
  • Are we ready to seek a balance between material pursuits (money, title, fame, power, status) and spiritual pursuits (peace, stable mind, strength, resilience)?
  • Are we ready to slowly detach from worldly pleasures as we age? (as explained in the Ashrama system)

Most importantly,

  • Are we spending time with our children/grandchildren to pass on the wisdom - teaching stories and values and giving them experiential knowledge through rituals and practices during festivals and special occasions?

A belief/faith will only get eradicated if no more followers are passing down the teachings to subsequent generations. Let's leave the politics aside and proceed down the path of conscious habits and discipline toward learning, practicing, and teaching the principles.

These questions are for everyone, including myself.

Small steps I have taken in the past few years in this direction are:

  • daily evening prayers by lighting the lamp and chanting a few shlokas and chants
  • all festivals celebrated traditionally, with voluntary effort
  • visiting a temple every weekend (Hanuman ji temple on Saturdays mostly)
  • practicing spiritual sadhana based on Yoga philosophy
  • connecting with the divine and surrendering my efforts in whatever I do
  • started to learn the scriptures and roots of Indian philosophy
  • sharing the principles learned using stories (thanks to Amar Chitra Katha) with my daughter

I have a long way to go, but I'd rather focus my efforts on my actions than watch umpteen videos on Whatsapp/FB/YouTube and feel rage/anger, which serves no purpose in upholding Sanatana Dharma.

Oct 13, 2023

Work and physical activity

 Work and physical activity were intertwined so closely in our previous generations. Work mostly involved physical labor. No one would have to go for a jog or rush to the gym after work.

Even in our previous generation, there was adequate physical activity - be it commuting by bicycle, long walk to reach their workplace or shops, or traveling by public transport that involved walking, standing, or climbing stairs.

There was a clear balance between physical and mental work.

In today's times, for a larger population, especially those working for the knowledge economy, achieving the required balance between physical and mental work is a big challenge.

Comfort, convenience, and the sedentary nature of work have tilted this scale, due to lack of time for any form of physical activity or lack of need for physical movement.

We are now required to take additional time out of our work schedule to consciously incorporate physical movement in the form of walking, jogging, Yoga, gym routines, etc. 

A question also arises whether an hour of physical activity followed by hours of sedentary work makes a difference. If we go by the principle that "Something is better than nothing", then that one hour does create an impact if done consistently. But is it sufficient enough to maintain our physical health? When combined with conscious food habits, proper sleep routine, and resilience to stressful situations, this might still be a better option (depends on the individual as well).

Walking to the nearby supermarket, taking the stairs, sitting on the floor, and participating in offline activities that require physical movement (gardening, cooking, cleaning, etc) are a few ways to experience physical movement spread throughout the day.

Physical movement implies the movement of many muscle groups. When we prioritize activities that only make use of a few muscles - walking 10K steps for example - we might end up overexerting certain muscle groups, while underutilizing the rest.

The body requires movement.

The mind requires stillness.

Oct 10, 2023

9 points to ponder on World Mental Health Day

 World Mental Health Day is observed every year on Oct 10th.

Mental health awareness is increasing over the past few years. At the same time, things that destroy our mental health are also on the rise.

Here are a few thoughts to ponder.

(1) You don't have control over many things happening around the world, but what you can control are YOUR thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

(2) Your state of mind at the end of the day is determined by all your responses to various events, people, and situations you encountered during the day.

(3) Be extremely wary about the inputs you are feeding your mind. Most of the movies and OTT series these days are filled with gore, disturbing violence, and expletives. You might brush it aside, thinking that these are the norm or that such visuals are not affecting you, but these disturb your subconscious mind and increase your anxiety levels.

(4) Discipline is the highest form of freedom. Prioritize activities that help improve your overall health - eating the right foods at the right time, physical movement, sleep hygiene, and awareness about feelings and emotions.

(5) Do not succumb to artificial pressures created at the workplace that demand night-outs or long meetings (scheduled during meal breaks). Evaluate all those that come in the way of respecting your circadian rhythm. Do not compromise your sleep for any reason. Not worth it!

(6) Take the time to listen to what your heart truly wants. Invest time in activities that you enjoy and cultivate offline hobbies.

(7) Question your ambitions, desires, and wants. Are these coming from a place of boosting your ego or self-esteem? Are these arising due to jealousy, comparison, competition, or societal pressures?

(8) Going inward is the only way out in today's times of unreasonable demands that are either self-imposed OR imposed by others. Disconnect from the external world more often to connect within.

(9) Identify the paths of Yoga that most suit your personality and build your inner strength by following one or more of them. Choose from the paths of willpower (Raja Yoga), action (Karma Yoga), intellect (Jnana Yoga), and devotion (Bhakti Yoga).

Oct 9, 2023

One Insight Series

 "You are one insight away from changing your life"

I heard this quote many years back and I strongly believe in it.
Books are the main source of such life-changing insights for me.

Off late, I have been seeing videos/courses where people proclaim that they can summarize a book in 5 minutes. It is a tall claim, quite unreasonable in my opinion.

I find it challenging to summarize the key takeaways of a good book within an hour during my book club sessions. How can you get the essence of the whole book in 5 minutes, I wonder.

Good books need time and commitment from readers, which many of us are unable to allocate amidst our busy schedules.

Starting this new series called "One Insight" on YouTube, where I focus on one impactful insight that I learn from each book. Planning to keep the video length to 7-8 min max.

The intention behind this series is the hope that one insight might resonate with the person watching the video, he/she then becomes curious about the book and starts reading it.

Will keep adding more videos to this playlist shortly. Subscribe to my channel if this series will be of interest to you.

Oct 7, 2023

Book Review: Messages from the Masters by Dr Brian Weiss

 I read "Many Lives, Many Masters" by Dr Brian Weiss three years back. The author, a psychiatrist, summarizes his interactions with one of his patients that led him toward the concepts of past lives, reincarnation, and messages transmitted from divine masters.

His book "Messages from the Masters" conveys his experiences and interactions with various people over the years, when he brought about healing through past life regression and hypnotherapy techniques. As each experience unfolds, he beautifully captures the essence of the soul's journey in crisp and impactful words.

We are here on this physical plane as humans, to realize our true nature. He correlates our existence to that of a school, where we enroll in a curriculum, learn specific lessons, and move on to the next. The cycle of life keeps repeating until our soul has learned the required lessons and experienced the qualities of our true nature. The soul then moves onto subsequent planes, where it can choose to give guidance to people in the physical plane, without taking a physical form. Such souls are referred to as "Masters" in this context.

The author gives various examples of how people tap into the power of intuitive abilities and listen to the messages from these Masters.

The soul tunes itself to the vibrations and energies around it ever since the in-utero period. This is relevant to help us understand the emotions around us as we grow from a fetus to an infant to a young child.

The author also talks about how relationships are like a living laboratory that helps us test if the lessons are being learned. He elaborates on the various obstacles that come in the way - anger, fear, insecurity, closed mindset, etc.

He warns about spiritual teachers, healers, and mediums who can mislead us or make us dependent on their advice. It is imperative that we believe in our innate powers and tap into our intuitive abilities to understand our present life situations and lessons to be learned. Some of the practices suggested are quietening our minds and listening to the inner voice, meditation, and visualization techniques.

If you believe in the Universe, the power of signs and coincidences, and the cycle of life, you will find this book insightful.

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