Cherish the friend with the alarm clock

I remember hearing this story:

A zen master had a neighbour who always critiqued everything the master did. While this got on the disciples’ nerves, the master himself smiled on hearing the criticism, contemplated it awhile and went on his way. One day, the neighbour died and much to their surprise, the master began crying. ”who will criticize me and make me look for improvement areas?” lamented he..

Why this story now?

Earlier in the week, a very close buddy (and colleague to boot) sent me a quick message. ”beware, I think you are getting into the fast culture too!”.

This was received when I was ”busy” making some plans for the future growth, analysing some of our losses and typically acting out the successful IT exec role.

This message though – it was a wake up call. Let me explain.

I have always thought ”crazy” (or if you are a Puritan ”big”). Switched roles that were considered relatively low on spotlight value, adapted practices from other industries and another time, learnt to pick up greatness tips from giants all over the world. But you’ll notice, he wasn’t talking about this. He was talking about ”fast”. ”Crazy” was ok – actually fun, ”fast” was a no-no.

Fast as in – rushing to work, rushing work, rushing life itself and then impatiently waiting for the harvest – usually some vague, large USD figure and a label of being a winner. And when the harvest came (if it did) you couldn’t enjoy it because you were ”busy” playing ”fast” somewhere else. This fast I had always abhorred – or so I thought, until my friend’s message arrived. I thought and thought some more – and he had been right – that had been a pretty ”fast” day:
– I had rushed from home, hadn’t said too many endearing byes,
– hadn’t enjoyed watching our very entertaining traffic on the drive to work, had actually got a bit frustrated
– the number of smiles that day was way below average, the number of frowns and raised brows was up
– most of my discussions ranged around those business numbers – why had they not resulted or why they had. Essentially was trying to put a logic around uncontrollables!
– not a single call to a friend with no objective but to crack a few jokes and make his or her day….
– very few appreciation emails sent
– transactional dealings and raised voices
– pulling a title (thank god, I drew the line here!)

Which led me to think about the ladder of fallso eloquently called out in lord Krishna’s opus ”the Bhagavad gita”. The idea is broadly this( a touch embellished, hey but I am not a scholar!):
– first we get a desire – either our own or one we acquire from seeing others (eg. Colleague got a 40% hike – so should work to get that too!)
– the desire makes us undertake actions and think thoughts that we wouldn’t have done otherwise (get angry on the team, eat into somebody’s else’s share, pull management strings!)
– if we don’t get the result we want, delusion sets in (man, this life sucks, are the bars open yet?!)
– delusion leads to anger – expressed (shoot the boss down man!) or repressed (so where did you say those beers were – got a load on my head!)
– these give rise to more negative emotions and over time make us forget the person we are and do something truly bizarre, stuff we’ll wish we hadn’t done (and i dont mean counting how much you can drink when really, really angry!).

The interesting thing is that over time bizarre becomes the new normal. If you don’t believe me, take a look at how the truly painful characters at work are at home. Don’t be surprised if they are very nice people indeed – when not at work. The thing is – the mad rush is on, and everybody at work is running at 500 miles an hour, so you can’t stop to smell the flowers.

We tell folks we’d run a while and then rest – but at 500 miles, you can’t stop and even if you do, you are too exhausted to bother about the flowers.

The buddha therefore advocated ”mindfulness” so you could catch yourself before fast became normal and go back to the land of ”cool” before it was too late. But most of us are not buddha’s (we are more like buddhus which is the opposite of the buddha nature!). And therefore you need a friend who plays alarm clock when you are going out of tune. And you can play the same thing for her too. But you need to be open to them, for they are few in the world and will pass you by if you are not attentive.

So does this mean, we shouldn’t set aggressive goals? How could krishna, a very successful king (and a damn good friend) not espouse greatness? Truth be told, he does. He makes a clear distinction between being fast (called desire-motivated-action by that Puritan again!) and being great at what you do – and maybe we should park that discussion for another day…


  1. Nice one sir. In this day and age, when we are so much after our career and goals there is hardly time to pause and think. Many a times it’s those small, personal moments which bring the greatest happiness in life, rather than big, earth shattering achievements…

      1. As a victim of that “fast” when I felt talking about what it isn’t important to you, I can reckon this well.. 🙂 Well said; the mindfulness got the cognitive explanation too, where the neurons are always negatively charged when we are forcefully putting ourselves in the box, although we could kinda sit on the wall and look around the box above and below, and also when we feel bad about what didn’t happen we were expected to happen (especially when we know that what did happen is happened, and no return), another way you put it “frustration”. As long as there is negative charge, and no positive neuron to neutralize, we tend to loose all those elements of having fun. Having fun is the best way to be fast, without being lost in the fastness..

      2. good one prakash! I am very much in agreement with the last sentence as well!

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