Friday, October 30, 2009

A bit on cultural sensitivity

“Who Am I?” – such a profound multi-dimensional question! The quality, and the timing, of the answer are directly proportional to worldly and spiritual success.

When answered sincerely at the end of a profound meditation, it creates moksha. When answered correctly, during preparation of college admission essays or job interviews , it helps make smart decisions and achieve career success. Interviewers are always trying to gauge the candidate’s persona and genuineness through their questions. When introspected before a social gathering, it could lead to interesting conversations and new friends.

Yet, it is a hard hard question to answer. How do we arrive at the answer? A rare few individuals manage to answer this question on the basis of pure insight. Most of us discover the answer by scanning people around us. Ok so that guy is tall, which means I am short. That guy is poor which means I am rich. That girl scored 75% while I scored 90%, which means I am smart. Obviously, we have certain dreams of how we want our lives to be, things that would make us happy. Now, wise men say that happiness is a choice – but the devious mind calls for confirmation and proof to trust oneself and others and be content. Either one can trust that he/she is capable of facing the challenges in life, or he/she can face the challenges, succeed and then trust that this is possible. The two often form a circle, with trust leading to accomplishment leading to more trust and bigger challenges.

I read a wonderful article recently from the Harvard Business Review on how to adapt to cultures and work with people. Titled “Cultural Intelligence” , Earley and Mosakowski, HBR October 2004, this paper indicates two kinds of intelligences – emotional intelligence, which allows us to define who we are and how we are different from others, and cultural intelligence, which is understanding the values and beliefs that drive different groups. Meditation helps develop both – a keen awareness of who I am and going beyond the emotions, and a sharp perception to discern what works and does not work with people. One need not be a football of anyone’s culture, but being sensitive is important. There are three ways of doing this – through the head, through the heart or through the body. Training through the head involves understanding the beliefs, customs, and taboos of new cultures. Learning form the body involves mimicking small gestures the way others do it – it could be a simple way of shaking hands or small mannerisms. A Michigan professor found that candidates who were perceived to be culturally more similar to recruiters often had better chances of landing the job. Learning from the heart involves being strong to face setbacks and failures and keep moving. People can do that if they believe in their own efficacy. If they persevered in the face of challenging situations in the past, their confidence grew. Confidence is always rooted in mastery of a particular task or set of circumstances. This is where seva is so important, it teaches one to persist, to redefine their limitations and to break them, and to keep moving ahead.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Competition and Contemplation in a 10k race

I ran my first 10km race today. Organized by the Living Well foundation and the University of Florida, it was a contest between students and faculty. The track was pretty, with a lake and woods along the way.

What was most interesting was watching the thoughts and emotions arising in my mind:

1. Pre-Race:
I was a little awkward for this was my first competitive 10k run. I have always run alone, for my own sake, and was nervous about running with others. What if i burnt out, or couldn't finish? What if the others were really good? How could i hope to compete with americans who are so much fitter and train so much more for such events? Maybe i should have stayed at home and studied for the imminent exams.

I just kept saying 'No' to these thoughts. Afterall, how can i ever know what is good/bad for me without doing new things? How would i know how good/bad i am without doing things? I am scared by the thought of restricting myself to a limited set of beliefs and learning little about the world. And this kept me going on.

2. During the race -
I had nearly 25 people ahead of me in the first 5k lap. A part of me was saying run or you would be left behind, another part kept saying go slow, dont burn yourself out. I ignored these thoughts, as they are so tiring, and settled into a steady breathing rhythm and kept running at a pace slightly faster than comfortable. Instead of looking to the leader, i would look to the next person ahead of me and catch up to them one by one. By the second lap, i was in third place.

I was helped by the interval training i have done for the last month and a half. This involves alternating between jogging and sprinting. Plus i have been having a more protein rich diet.

3. End of the race-
Throughout the second lap, i kept my focus on the two guys ahead of me and kept gently accelerating to catch up. They had a 120 m lead which i eventually cut to 20m, and i finished third in the race, at 44:11 seconds, 20 seconds behind the second placed guy. Not a bad debut!

I felt a mixture of emotions - euphoria, that i had not only completed the run but had actually been successful against runners who had participated in many more events. My small mind, which was filled with doubts at the begining, was now dying to get back and announce to the whole world that i had won, i had won.

And then i thought, how futile, how juvenile is this mind, which measures my worth based on how the world is, rather than trusting my capability. Guruji had mentioned in 'Feelings and Fools - "How can a piece of wood (an award) be the most important thing in your life? Don't you know that you are good?" And i felt much calmer and clearer then.

In all competitions i have participated in, the winner is always a person who believes in himself, before comparing himself/herself with others. And that self belief is beautiful.

Jai Gurudeva!