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My observations after one year of travel.

In writing this post I can sit down and try to make sense of the changes happening to us because we are traveling and because in a way we are vagabonds. In the past year we have covered over 80,000 km (twice the circumference of our globe) but mostly we’ve been traveling up and down Asia. Our goal is to slowly make our way to South America next. We’ve averaged about a month in each country so we can get a good feel of each culture. India (http://tibetannomads.com/2014/02/28/we-are-now-a-digital-mobile-family-or-a-digital-tibetan-nomadic-family/) was more a time for visiting family. We travel slow because we have children with us. The experience has been amazing, our senses are completely engaged because everything is new and strange. We have enjoyed some amazing views, I favor the moments where we are just by ourselves and where we were able to relax and soak it in. We have been able to meet childhood friends and beautiful people all around, the brief companionships are heart warming. We are eating some delicious and interesting foods, I have gained weight which is not good. We have had some travel related challenges (items lost, I got held at gunpoint once, rip currents, accidents, missing flights, the shits and so on) but it has mostly been a smooth and very fulfilling ride. We don’t use guide books, we mostly find our destinations from the locals or we just venture out and enjoy the surprises. Sometimes we visit tourist traps but mostly we try to experience local life. We find the human spirit is mostly kind and caring everywhere we go, our daily encounters with people is a reminder to us of the nature within us all to seek happiness and to find meaning in what we do. We travel light, on budget and our camera is an iPhone.

Many people think of us as being brave and such but we are traveling comfortably. The internet makes everything easy. We try to live like locals as much as we can and it gives us satisfaction. The risk that we took in selling all is actually not a risk at all. It depends on how you look at it. The world may seem hostile if you view it from the living room. People fear poverty and in turn they fear humanity. When you travel you find that most fellow humans are genuinely welcoming and peaceful.

True risk and adventure in travel come from experiences like my parent’s generation when they left Tibet for India during a highly tense situation. They didn’t understand language or culture, many of them suffered great poverty not knowing how they were going to feed themselves or get shelter. They were in the most vulnerable circumstances imaginable and they faced tremendous hardships before they were able to find a peaceful set up later in life. They found great generosity by the governments of India and Nepal. Their priorities were about achieving some sort of happy life. I grew up mostly spoiled by the love from my parents and uncles and aunts. I had it easy. These type of stories are rarely told.

For me this journey is all about increasing awareness. We have less attachments. Travel in a way gives us an astronauts view of the world even though we’re at street level. Mindfulness and awareness kills any form of judgement and while you truly gain appreciation for the people and our planet, you also get a first hand experience in dysfunctionality at every level of society. We humans are in some ways regressing into a primitive stage of consciousness, GDP keeps increasing but GNH is stagnant or getting worse. Huge disparities in society and the harm to our planet is running at a rampant pace. Many people just don’t appear to have found happiness. There is a mechanical nature to society everywhere. Why are we collectively under utilizing our minds on issues where human well-being matters? We have evolved in such a way that we find meaning in our lives by increasing our capacity to buy more crap.

Travel is incrementally giving us a different understanding of what it is to live. I agree with whoever said that there is no meaning in life but to just live. We are gaining a better sense of freedom at an personal level. Tibet was a land that historically dedicated its genius to a better understanding of happiness and to conquer suffering. The Chinese claim that material progress is the answer to ending the Tibetan people’s troubles from primitivism. They could have realized the truth from the very Tibetans they imprisoned. There are many Tibetans who spent decades in prison in Tibet and experienced great physical hardship through torture and torment. Yet many of them came out unscathed. They came out as truly happy humans like nothing had happened to them. Why is it so? No human can fake that, it has to be genuine. I believe the answer is that these Tibetans were able to do so because they were fully aware of who they were at their core and they experienced freedom in its truest form. Suffering was deflected by their inner confidence. Which truly is the primitive society? The ones that were in harmony with nature and the inner workings of our consciousness? Or the ones possessing hate and weapons and are racing towards a mad future of more things to buy?

The core space in which our consciousness exists is the reason we are all the same. How we allow thoughts, beliefs and emotions to enter this space is why we are all so different and that is what creates our many boundaries. These boundaries when you look at it on a large-scale are reasons we have different gods, different hierarchies in society and so much suffering. I used to feel a stranger everywhere I lived like I didn’t belong because of my ethnicity. Now I feel a commonality with all just as the Dalai Lama teaches us by his example when he travels around the world.

We are educating our children. I believe one of the main errors in educational systems is not allowing students to doubt freely. I did my schooling in India and college in the US. I benefited greatly from my education but it also limited me in many ways.  Learning must come naturally out of innate curiosity, not by the forced hand of a regimented program.

It is a challenge to come up with a way to set up a foundation of freedom in my children’s education, it is our own experiment. We are noticing that they are developing their own interest in certain areas and creative expressions are forming. We facilitate this freedom with love and support and space. We are trying to find a balance between what they need to understand world knowledge for their future, there are some great online resources to help(Khan Academy) but also we want to allow them to find their creative side. World travel obviously helps in giving them exposure to all its complexities.

There is no right and wrong in how we live, we just go by the instinct to find a happy balance. We may stop or continue. It doesn’t matter, we just live by our terms. We are free. This is where I am after a year of travel. The journey continues.

How the Seahawks uses mindfulness to win.  

“What do you say we build a masterpiece together”- Pete Carroll to Sports Psychologist Michael Gervais after their initial meeting in 2011.

I’m a Seahawks fan because I lived in the Pacific Northwest for 24 years. We left Seattle for our journey a few days after the Seahawks beat the Broncos last year. Now I’ll be watching the Superbowl game at 6:30 AM Monday at some bar in Bangkok. I’m assuming there will be a loud breakfast special crowd and I am assuming that the Seahawks will beat the Patriots by about 12 points.

As a Seahawks fan I have been fascinated by the shift the team made after Pete Carroll took over. We’ve suffered as fans for many years through Hassellback, Rick Mirer and countless horrible teams. A break down of how winning teams are able to make one incredible decision after another is difficult to understand. I think I may have found the answer about how the Seahawks find their way. ESPN did an article on this approach about a year ago but they really didn’t dive into the details about why exactly the organization’s approach to mindfulness works. To me it was just a lazy form of journalism.

I found the answer in a video online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuhy4DDX1qg in a discussion between Seattle Seahawks psychologist Michael Gervais and Wisdom 2.0’s Soren Gordhamer back in March 2012. They discussed how Michael joined coach Pete Carroll in 2011 and the two created mindfulness objectives, one at the organization level and one at the individual level and then brought them together to create what indeed is a masterpiece of a great decision making team. The Seattle Seahawks have demonstrated winning through mindfulness very well, with the latest display in what seemed like an impossible 4 minute comeback victory against the Packers .

Here is how Seahawks developed winning as an after effect through mindfulness.

1. Create a culture around one expression.

Michael explains that at the beginning they first started by forming energy and enhancing attention to detail through one expression “one heart beat”.

He explains that while conventional use of the word “competition” is to compete over and dominate others. The Seahawks defined “competition” as a way to strive together and to embrace a culture where people are allowed to express and feel what they are called to do. The word “winning” isn’t used at all but rather the focus is to be engaged at a rich level with what’s possible within our life. If this resonated in the organization, winning and other benefits would just be an after effect. They learned to measure their success by how other people felt what it mean’t to be them at their highest moments.

At the organizational level this philosophy is implemented with clarity and at the individual level the coaches help the athletes develop skills to “have a sense of confidence in any situation and to generate a sense of calmness and roundedness in any environment”. They are also trained to refocus better in a moment than they have ever able to do before.

These foundational skills are developed with great importance so that the coaching staff can then truly trust the players and let go, which in itself is the “necessary piece to be immersed and be here”.

2. Bring mindfulness into the preparation.

The “one heart beat” attitude or culture was followed throughout the organization. Pete Carroll asked people around him to be mindful of themselves in a way that allows them to explore themselves and this was followed by the coaches working with the athletes to come to a clear understanding of what is possible within themselves. This helped them come together in preparing a strategy of how they could achieve this possibility physically, mentally, nutritionally and technically. The framework was basically to come to an understanding of what is in your control and to invest in it in an intelligent manner.

3. Embrace failing fast

The organization learned that mistakes happen and no game can be played perfectly. After accepting this they build a skill set that develops the fastest recovery from mistakes. The team in essence embrace failing fast. This reminds me of the attitude amongst successful new businesses to accept failure as part of the process and in turn these companies are leading the world in innovation and profit.

4. Bring mindfulness into play

He points out an interesting fact that in truth athletes are constantly at a vulnerable stage in a very high intensity environment. If an athlete is not able to handle that moment they come up wanting and are in pain due to the fact that they are not able to be themselves during that moment of high intensity. With mindfulness skills one can become aware of how the athlete is doing within himself and his engagement with his immediate environment. This awareness during high levels of engagement during a moment of high intensity combined with technical skills that are precise can dissolve the pressure and make that moment no more complicated than any other.

5.  Erase ego without really challenging it.

He mentions that athletes are usually obsessive, anxious, perfections and they usually develop skills that gets them recognized at an early age between 9 and 12. During this age a child should be allowed to explore their identity but for athletes there is a foreclosure of identity, i.e. there is a fusion of who they are and what they’re doing and this forms an attachment of their identity to failure. So they give it all in order to avoid this failure and this gets them to the level that brings them into the limelight as professional athletes or high achievers. But once they’re there they have a difficult time believing that they’re there and they yearn to be themselves and they yearn to have a better understanding of themselves and to feel a freedom inside. It brings about a conflict between their ego and who they really feel they are and the inability to express themselves without ego.

However with mindfulness when they are able to be absorbed in that high intensity moment and find the immersion so rewarding and engaging that the ego dissolves and they truly feel themselves at their best and they begin to recognize that and want to experience that more often. Here again without really challenging one’s ego it just disappears away from that moment.

6. Be mindful and aware in every moment

Coach Carroll teaches the organization to be mindful and aware in each game and in each moment equally. He teaches them that there is another opportunity for another moment.

7. Breathing

He also teaches them to be mindful of breathing through which awareness and mindfulness becomes nourished.

Great teams distinguish themselves more for the decisions they make in those most intense moments than by the athletic ability of any individual. This discussion explained to me why many of the players were able to pause those intense moments into slow motion type responses and they were in sync and even calling out the plays before final two drives against the Packers. This explains how Russell Wilson was able to make that two point conversion to go three points ahead with an almost impossible pass, why Sherman could play with a hurtful arm (there are footages of him focusing at himself on the bench) and why the game winning touchdown pass came to the very target that had resulted in four interceptions. They were able to bring a calm awareness to each moment of highest intensity, they were able to fail fast and recover, they were able to feel themselves at their highest level and make the plays look routine just like they were in practice. This explains to me how underrated or low draft picks in the Seahawks have been able to find within themselves what other much more gifted athletes haven’t been able to do so on other teams. This explains to me why the Packers weren’t able to find within themselves an awareness that they were in the driving seat and could have easily made a number of plays to be in the Superbowl.

Mindfulness as taught in Buddhist and other philosophies is not a religion teaching but rather a skill set that brings awareness to our existence. With awareness we are able to see the truth in each moment and with this truth we are able to make decisions to achieve an outcome. The Seahawks way to mindfulness can be applied to all our lives.

I myself am a novice in this understanding but what little I know has brought me much greater clarity. Even as a fan I clearly understand where my passion for the team comes from, I clearly understand that this is just a sport between very well paid athletes who get much more limelight than they deserve and the tribal nature of fan appreciation and the fact that come Monday morning everything will be the same. All of us will continue to go about our businesses and anticipate another football season.

I am going to be watching the game a bit differently now, I’ll be looking to see if they can continue to be mindful throughout the game by their body language, the way they execute during those high intensity moments, the way they bounce back from the failures and I will be mindful of my own experiences as I watch the game. Beer and breakfast and Sawedee Krup from Thailand. GO HAWKS!

Racism is caused by our failure to connect.

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We’re in Melbourne, Australia. It is cool but warming up by the day here. Today we enjoyed a gentle breeze and a clear sky, a perfect early summer day. After many months in warm humid weather it’s actually a bit of a relief for us to wear a light jacket.

Yesterday,  as we were approaching a grocery store, we experienced a rather blatant display of racism against us. There was hate in his eyes as he snarled at us and my immediate reaction was equally angered and hateful. These occurrences can immediately conjure up the past, like the open disdain displayed by the immigration lady during our passport check at the airport, the stories related to us by a Tibetan woman about blatant prejudice at her by an all white workplace in Melbourne or the group of Australian women we met in Singapore who, if you can believe it, contemptuously blurted out “we’re surrounded by Asians on all sides” and hurried off in embarrassment after hearing my daughter’s fluent American accent. It conjured up many instances of the past that caused me pain and anger. However a few moments later a smile from a little child in the cereal lane quickly disconnected me from this frustration and the compassionate lenses kicked in again. It’s not a refined process to get to this state but I’m working on it.

The night came and I drifted off to sleep quickly. I was awakened early morning by my restlessness kids who were having difficulty sleeping due to our time change. So I massaged both of them to sleep and during this I thought about writing on this issue for the blog.

As I laid awake at night I was able to reflect back to my own mental journey on the issue of racism. As children we are all born free of racism. I was fortunate to go to a diverse school in India where we bonded at a young age with kids of many different backgrounds. As we grew up we began to learn about racism but it was very difficult to grasp. I remember memorizing the definition of “prejudice” because I could not understand it as we studied Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. India has its share of dysfunctionality – class systems, religious groups and great economic divides but race wasn’t that big of a factor for me as I grew up there.

In 1990 I went to America and spent a year in Alabama. I remember thinking about prejudice in a whole new light. My own reactions to racist experiences have been varied, in some situations I became angry, defiant and aggressive and in other situations I felt self pity, demoralized and lacked confidence. I was flexible..in situations where I felt genuine friendship I gave people my love and in situations where I felt hostility I was an aggressive and angry man. Once at a Guns and Roses concert in Alabama these three big white guys shouted “Pig!” as they looked at me. Before I knew it we were in a fist fight and I ended up with quite a bloody face. A good feeling came upon me that I stood my ground but it also gave me a sense of hopelessness. The experiences continued as would be expected in a society dominated by one race.

My daughter has also approached me on racist experiences she had at her school. I wonder if some of my anger may have rubbed on her perspective. My son on the other hand is not at all aware of this issue.

There is another part of racism that is seldom talked about and that is by the people who feel victimized. They too hate in retaliation. It is an equal and opposite reaction. It might not cause as much damage to the other person but it is equal in terms of hate. Look at all the recent incidents in USA, both sides are at fault yet both sides only see the fault in others.

Racism is acquired as a part of the process of growing up in society. We all grow up to be racists. As I see it, racism comes from our inability to compassionately connect with each other without first noticing our differences. Why is that? Why is it that we notice each other’s skin colors or our societal differences as a first response when we meet people. We didn’t do that as children. Why do we fail to connect? Why doesn’t the educational process try to eliminate this great incompetency? Why can’t we all have an astronaut’s frame of reference as they look back on earth, they only see one race – the human race. Yuri Gagarin’s initial reactions when he looked back at earth was the silliness he found in his identity as a communist Russian, to him all the boundaries we have on earth seemed ridiculous-there is not boundary line visible from space, all he saw was one beautiful earth.

Racism is just a small branch of our inability to connect to each other as humans-there are plenty of other reasons why we fail to connect. We have acquired this incompetency to connect through our religions, our education, our passports, our languages, the politicians, the media, our cultures, our economic status, our social status, our inability to observe our egos, our styles, our music interests, our families and our total lack of maturity as human beings. We’re all culturally incompetent human beings. We do not know how to connect.

As we travel we are trying to develop this skill in making connections. As a family we are learning to approach people with a genuine wish to make a connection, to emulate with our speech and body language that we are genuinely interested in making a connection. We have to try and emulate a compassionate nature in which we try to listen and provide something of value to the people we meet. I don’t mean value in a materialistic sense but of providing a valuable human exchange. We are mostly observers so this makes it easy, we have in many ways escaped societal pressures and obligations. We are just drifting and observing. We have met some great people along the way. They come from various backgrounds but I can frankly say I do not remember them by the color of their skin but mostly by the way we felt a genuine bond. These people have provided me a great insight into our human experience and it is the best part of our travel story.

So in my past life of ignorance I dealt with racism in anger and hate. Needless to say, it was a wasted effort. Now I try to bring up my compassionate lenses, and I see the other person as a simple human being who is unaware that he or she has been taught to hate. The compassionate reaction is many times delayed but it is a worthy objective to have. We are still working on the ways to bring this as our innate nature but for now, it is good enough to have this awareness.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has provided a great travel advice and it would be of great value to anyone who seeks to connect with our fellow human beings. He said: “When I meet people in different parts of the world, I am always reminded that we are all basically alike: we are all human beings. Maybe we have different clothes, our skin is of a different color, or we speak different languages. That is on the surface. But basically, we are the same human beings. That is what binds us to each other. That is what makes it possible for us to understand each other and to develop friendship and closeness.”

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Vanakam!

Vanakam! Vanga Vanga! We’re in Kuala Lumpur for a short time and we’re only 1/2 a block away from Vishalatchi Food and Catering restaurant-we hit this spot again after 4 months. The food is eaten with your hands and the Kesari desert was heavenly. Malaysia has about 2.5 million people with South Indian heritage so its now Malaysian heritage too. Check out Mike Mein’s (http://migrationology.com/2012/11/south-indian-food-kuala-lumpur-vishalatchi/) review of the food:

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Kesari – Tamil Halwa

 

 

Empower yourself by understanding the big economic machine

I encourage you to share this with your family, your parents, your children, with people who need to empower themselves by taking better care of their finances.

We’re all looking at our daily actions or transactions with magnifying glasses, up to close. All our emotions are drawn from looking up too close. It is important to understand our selves from a further perspective and notice how our actions are many times a response to where we are in an economic cycle. Ray Dalio, investor supreme (he never looses) has put together this video to enhance our collective understanding of our existence, at least in the material sense. I think his motivation is to allow people to better manage their finances so they don’t fall into the traps of a recession or crazy debt. You can plan your finances accordingly and recognize what is occurring during the good times and bad.

If you understand his theory you will be able to see how each of your actions, whether you buy that big screen TV that you can’t afford, an investment, starting a business, a big house, a trip across the globe or an effort to save money, as a tiny microbe in a massive organism of transactions that are swinging in short term and long term economic cycles. You will also understand why we experience economic cycles. You’ve heard it before, what goes up must come down and vice versa, but here’s a fantastic description of why?

Throw away those travel books, travel on your terms

We are coming to a quick conclusion that to enjoy travel you must do it on your terms. That means you don’t necessarily have to follow the books, or follow the tours, or pay for every package, or fight the crowds or shed those tears of boredom visiting monuments that really don’t mean anything to you. Travel needs awareness, it helps to be aware of who you are and what it is that you want to accomplish for the day. You could be lazy or one of those freaks(nothing but respect) that gets up at 4AM and needs to accomplish 50 things by the end of the day. What is it that interests you and what is it that is feasible within your budget. Are your plans solely for a future slide show? Or are you really inquisitive about the plan for the day. Do you want to be surprised or do you know exactly what to expect? Are you really interested in standing in those long lines?

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Much of history is sad and the monuments which may be architecturally fantastic bring nothing but sad emotions. Yet why do we keep visiting them? We did that just the other day-the Korean War Memorial in Seoul which is a monument to the horrors of war, we were saddened by the history but to be frank our mood was great because the kids ran around the tanks and planes and had a great time playing. Why should I set them into a somber mood? Why not have them just play? Why not just do things on our own individual terms.

Our time in Seoul is hardly a Korean experience but we have found great richness in being comfortable with the idea of just staying at one spot. We got to experience life like the locals, we were treated like family and we have inherently expanded our family of friends. We didn’t visit many of the tourist sites-our travel within the city was prioritized by what’s easily accessible, is there room for our children to run about, will we get a good feel of different Korean demographics, will there be good and genuine local food and was it low cost or free? Our budget constraints had us avoid many fee based theme centers but we managed to make the most of the local parks, street vendors, a walk to a stadium, watching the para olympics, intentionally getting lost a few times and just following the locals get around their daily lives. We did this on our terms and the result was that we are very satisfied.

Here are some considerations when reading a travel guide. It helps to be aware of who exactly wrote the book? Is it written by someone who is paid to fill out the pages with destination guides and just shares the result of spending an inordinate amount of time visiting mostly historical sites whether they like it or not. They seldom put in their emotional responses to these places. That’s just left to travelers to find out the hard way. And I don’t care how fantastic a monument maybe, if I suffered during the process it always leaves a bad taste.

I am finding that blogs by locals are a much better way to go. Why is it that in every city you don’t see many of the locals enjoying their day at the tourist spots? Or the historical monuments? Do you do that in your own town or city? The locals are usually hanging out with each other in fun neighborhoods, going about their business of daily living but also trying to enjoy a good quality life. Why not just follow the locals around? We like it. 

Enjoy your travels and if you can, try to do it on your own terms and talk to the locals. I promise you will have a much better time. 

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