Verb: Think about deeply and at length
Take it easy
Take it easy
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels
Drive you crazy
When The Eagles (along with Jackson Browne) composed and sang the beautiful track called “Take It Easy” in 1972, they would have had no way to know the seminal significance of these words, nearly 50 years later.
The new Normal
A new normal is a state to which an economy, society, etc. settles following a crisis, when this differs from the situation that prevailed prior to the start of the crisis.
According to Roger McNamee, an American investor/ venture capitalist, who is often credited with coining the term for use in contemporary times, the new normal is a time of substantial possibilities if you are willing to play by the new rules for the long term. In the new normal it is more important to do things right than to succumb to the tyranny of urgency.
One of the earliest usage of this term can however be found, from Henry Wise Wood, “Beware!” in National Electric Light Association Bulletin (December 1918), after World War 1:
To consider the problems before us we must divide our epoch into three periods, that of war, that of transition, that of the new normal, which undoubtedly will supersede the old. The questions before us, therefore, are, broadly, two: How shall we pass from war to the new normal with the least jar, in the shortest time? In that respect should the new normal be shaped to differ from the old?’’
So what indeed, is the new normal? After more than 100 years, we are still to find “The New Normal”. The reason: The New Normal is not a uniform reality for the whole of humankind, at any point in time. It will never appear to the inhabitators of the world at a common time, but only to a select set of people who are able to discover it, for themselves.
The Second/ Third Wave
The second wave and in some countries, the third wave of Covid, has taken the world to the brink – not of extinction yet, but of complete mayhem and global instability. But we are still speaking of the present and possibly, the subsequent few months or years. How many more waves, strains, viruses, pandemics and illnesses in the future will we face and what intensity of disruption will they cause? And how about the entire range of disasters of the colossal kind – earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, forest fires, avalanches, drought, floods, which seem to be only gaining momentum in the last decade or so. What proportion of havoc will these wreak? Also, the threat of human-made disasters only seem to be growing – terrorist attacks, cyber-crime, war and other horrific deeds of individuals, groups and even entire countries. More importantly, how can we cope, overcome and surmount these great global challenges? Will there be a New Normal in the aftermath of all of these catastrophes?
After the stupendous success of the international best seller, Ikigai, author Hector Garcia (and coauthor of some books Francesc Miralles) seems to have carved out a spectacular career of writing books based on life in Japan. There are a series of books on every aspect of living in the Land of the Rising Sun. One of the popular titles in this series is the 2019 publication – Ichigo Ichie. This Japanese phrase implies ‘Making the most of this moment as it will never come again”. The very interesting book by the authors, takes us to various practices which help us cope with daily challenges and live life better. The most absorbing parts of the book are in Section 2, which is focused on Living Ichigo Ichie – which is about: the Art of Listening, Looking, Touching, Tasting and Smelling. Art of? What makes these mundane and routine human actions an art? What human instruments help us accomplish this? Lazy readers can bypass the entire book and turn straight to the last section. The epilogue contains the Ten rules of Ichigo Ichie. Five of them are being shared here:
- Live as if this were going to happen only once in your life
- Dwell in the present
- Practice Zazen (sitting Zen)
- Apply mindfulness to your five senses
- Be a hunter of special moments
Do you notice a common thread in these?
The difference between the Lowest Low and the Highest High
Let’s discuss the fortunes of one of the most formidable Cricket Teams in the world – South Africa – especially in the two decades – 1990 to 2010. If we consider the 50 over ICC World Cup events during this period, the one team which started as either favourites or joint favourites was the South African Team. Ever since their return to international cricket in the early 90s, this team went from strength to strength in every department of the game and the players had legions of fans across the globe. But the team seemed to fall short somewhere in every event. Let’s consider two instances – the semi – final game of the 1999 World Cup against Australia was a heartbreaking one. In this match played at Edgbaston, Birmingham, England, Australia had the opportunity to bat first and scored just 213 in their allotted overs. Obviously, Australia made it difficult for them and at the end of 49 overs, South Africa found themselves at 205 for 9 wickets. Though just one wicket was remaining, nine runs seemed achievable because Lance Klusener was at the batting crease. What a fine all-rounder he was – the first two balls of the last over were deftly dispatched to the boundary by Klusener. Just one more run to get in 4 balls – South Africa definitely on top, right? But when Klusener hit the next ball and went straight to the fielder Lehmann, the non-striker Alan Donald panicked and barely survived a run out scare. 3 balls remaining to score the winning run. But despite this close call, when the next ball went straight to a close in fielder, they decided to dash for a nonexistent single. Mark Waugh of Australia threw it to Fleming who threw it to the wicketkeeper Gilchrist, who broke the stumps. With two balls still remaining, the South African innings had folded and because of the prevalent rules, Australia advanced to the finals, despite a tied score (and won in the Finals too). The South African team would have learnt their lesson right?
But in the next World Cup in 2003, the team repeats the disaster, this time on home turf. While playing Sri Lanka at the Kingsmead in Durban, in response to Lanka’s 268 for 9, South Africa were progressing quite steadily until the rain gods intervened. The dreaded Duckworth Lewis rule intervened and South Africa had a revised target. Again, it was the dashing all-rounder Klusener, along with an even better wicketkeeper batsman, Mark Boucher. When the game resumed, the batsmen had a slip which told them what score they had to match in each ball should the rains interfere once again. For victory, they had to exceed this “par score”. On the last ball, when they had to simply get a single (or more) to sail into the next round, the batsmen didn’t run because they thought they were ahead of the matching score. In reality, they were tied, which dismally, saw their exit from this World Cup too. In two consecutive World Cups, the likely Title winners had gifted away their opportunity to the opponents. The cricketing world began to label them unfairly, as chokers! This would damage the confidence of this team forever right? Wrong!
And then on 12th March 2006, the match regarded as the greatest yet, by many cricket aficionados, unfolded at the scenic and legendary “Bull Ring” at Johannesburg. To recollect even some of the major events of this match would take a full article by itself, but we shall draw from Mark Boucher’s autobiography “Bouch – Through my eyes” as also a very interesting piece from the CricketCountry website. “A few South Africans couldn’t help but have a quiet laugh considering their pitiable position. What else could they have done, though? The batsmen were relentless and the bowlers’ attempts futile. Ponting finished on 164, Hussey smashed 81 at a strike-rate of 158 before Andrew Symonds performed the last rites with a 13-ball 27. Australia amassed a world record 434 for four. Never before was it done on the international stage, and some thought the record would stand for a few good years. Who could’ve blamed them?” says the article by Karthik Parimal. Then came the innings break. One can only hazard a guess at the jubilation of the Aussies and the dismal atmosphere in the South African dressing room. What happens next? It wasn’t until Jacques Kallis, with a straight face, chipped in with words to the effect of “OK, guys, I think the bowlers have done their job. Now it’s up to the batsmen. They’re 15 runs short; this is a 450-wicket,” that the other players came out of their shells. No player really believed it to be possible, but they decide they had nothing to lose going after the score. The Australian bowling was massacred and the masterly 175 from a reportedly hung-over Herschelle Gibbs took them to the brink of victory. Still 9 wickets were lost and the match went right down to the wire. Memories of the Lance Klusener-Allan Donald fiasco on that overcast day in the summer of 1999 came flooding back but Mark Boucher saved the day and achieved the impossible. South Africa had surpassed the highest score and scored a momentous victory. Not only that, South Africa went on to cross the 400 barrier even thereafter, a record five times subsequently. What made the biggest difference? Gibbs? Perhaps…..but most definitely Kallis!
What transformed the dented confidence of the South African cricket team from the defeats of 1999 and 2003, to a heroic “never say die” one in 2006. Mindset!
What faculty of the human constitution brings about transformation from a victim mindset to a victor mindset? Especially in deeply disturbing times?
The New Normal is a function of the mind!
Three years back, I wrote an article for Talenttalks (The Mindful Talent Leader – Talenttalks) bearing this title, beginning with the story of Elon Musk as a young boy. Since that time, Elon Musk has only grown in stature as a visionary and his fortunes have multiplied. Every word he utters seems to impact millions on the stock market and even the world at large. Quoting from that article, his mother Maye said “he goes into his brain, and then you just see, he is in another world”. His biographer Ashlee Vance writes – “For Musk, these thoughtful moments were wonderful. At five and six, he had found a way to block out the world and concentrate on only a single task. He could clearly see images in his head in extraordinary detail”. Elon Musk himself said “It seems as though part of the brain that’s usually reserved for visual processing – the part that is used to process images coming in from my eyes – gets taken over by internal thought processes”. Welcome to Mindfulness!
Warren Buffet is also called the Sage of Omaha – how did he earn that epithet? The human mind is always excited by action. People pay millions of dollars for moments of pleasure. The brain is gripped and captivated by busy-ness. French mathematician Blasé Pascal noted “man’s misery is a result of his inability to sit still in a room alone”. Going back to Buffet, what did he do after nearly two decades of stunning investment returns in the 50s and 60s? He folded up his investment partnership in 1969, as a result of “an over-valued market”. What happened next was completely bizarre, considering a successful professional who was ever busy. For the next four to five years, Buffett sat still. He spent much of his time playing bridge but made no investments. He did nothing! And because he was doing nothing, no one really paid any attention. And yet, he was able to compound returns at an astronomical rate over the next decade. He followed that up with another blazing trail in the decade after that. All because of his ability to “do nothing”. What comprises the “doing nothing”? Thinking….deeply….and at length. Mull!
The New Normal is to Nor-mull
Once upon a time, there was a very strong woodcutter, who got a job, at a leading timber company. The pay was really good and so were the work conditions too. Naturally, the woodcutter was determined to give his best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he was supposed to go about his work. The first day, the woodcutter brought timber from eighteen trees. “Congratulations!” the boss said, encouraging him to continue that way. Very charged up by the boss’s words, the woodcutter tried even harder the next days, but he could only bring in fifteen trees. He tried even harder the third day, but could bring in only ten trees. Day after day, he started bringing in lesser and lesser wood.
“I must be losing my strength” the woodcutter thought. He went to his boss and apologised expressing that he did not know what was going on. “When was the last time you sharpened your axe?” the boss asked.
“Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my axe at all – I have been very busy cutting trees!”
Notice the irony? If only the woodcutter had taken time to sharpen his axe….
Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” An axe is a strength multiplier. You can be the strongest lumberjack in the world, but with a dull axe, you will cut nothing….
Sharpening the axe in our frenetic turbulent and disruptive times, is about doing nothing – but being Mindful! In his inspiring book, “Mind Master”, five-time World-Championship winner, Chess legend Vishwanathan Anand writes: There’s something to be said about working towards achieving a goal without obsessing over how far you are from it or how hopelessly you are missing the mark each time. Once you shut out the clamour of the result, success is bound to be yours!
What are the simple ways in which we can shut out the incessant clamour which is eating us, due to the combination of professional demands, personal ambitions, health concerns, financial pressures, uncertain times, global instability, and more?
The practices for the New Nor-mull: Silencing the Sound of your own Wheels
Being mindful is the opposite of being mind-full. The gradual shutting out of clamour, of our minds, enables us to not only reduce stress but take better decisions about truly matters to our future. In another earlier article, “From Well Being to Well Done”, I had offered a few suggestions connecting the four kinds of Yoga together to bring about alignment of Body, Mind, Intellect and Spirit and about which steps we can take at the Workplace. Almost all of them continue to be relevant, even more vital now:
- Undergoing coaching for Right Effort (s)
- Constantly expanding one’s Circle of influence
- Taking a walk, with attention within oneself
- Attend Webinars on Emotional Intelligence, consisting of experts
- Best Video picks and Simple readings on EI and related topics
- Focussing on one’s breath for five minutes, after every two hours
- Service through activity in a needy neighbourhood
- Mentoring younger professionals within your organization
- Exercising an Attitude of Gratitude through a Gratitude Journal
- Practice of self introspection at the start and end of each day
- Other techniques focussed on heightening mindfulness, such as Meditation
- Maintaining a consistent Wellness Regime
Michael J Gelbs, one of the most prolific authors on learning from the life of Leonardo Da Vinci, claimed by many as the greatest genius born so far, explains in his book “The How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci Workbook”:
Leonardo complimented his interpersonal intelligence with a lifelong commitment to developing his intrapersonal intelligence viz. Self knowledge.
When each of us “does nothing” through the practices of the New Nor-Mull, we can aim to not only silence the sounds of our own mind wheels, but also gain knowledge about ourselves – using which, we can begin to truly normalize our own world, despite the rapid waves of disturbances in the world!