Life is Math

Life is Math

Life is an equation. 

You control only one side, but with that you can affect the outcome. Most of us look at the other side that we don’t control and feel helpless. We forget that it is the outcome that we should focus on and see what number we need to write on our side of the equation to get the number we need in the outcome. 

You don’t believe me? 

Write: 2 x 2 = 4. Then change the first 2 and see what happens.

Newton discovered the principle that action and reaction are equal and opposite. We are not passive recipients of happenings. We decide what will happen to us by what we do. True, most of it is unconscious most of the time and that is the challenge – to make it conscious so that you can influence outcomes; focus on what you can control and you will find that you begin to control outcomes as well.

Luck is not chance at all; it is an outcome of actions. People who plan and work hard tend to be lucky. The same luck doesn’t come across to those who may be in the same environment because they neither planned nor worked for those results. So you can work or you can wait for luck. It will be a long and fruitless wait.

As they say, ‘When opportunity knocks, some people complain about the noise.’

I say, ‘Opportunity doesn’t knock at all. It is like hunting. You have to sense it, track it until it is in sight. Then chase it down while it is trying to get away.’

If tomorrow comes!

If tomorrow comes!

Tomorrow will be October 20, 2016. By the look of things today, I can say with reasonable certainty that it will come. Then why this title for this article? That is to remind myself that whether tomorrow comes or not matters only if I am still here. Only then can I say that
tomorrow came but it is called today. If that happens, it will be my 61st birthday according to the Gregorian calendar. In the Hijri calendar my birthday will be on Rabi Al-Awwal 4, 1438 (December 3, 2016) and I will be 63, not 61.
Our usual custom is to congratulate each other. No problem with that but given the kind of mind I have, I ask myself, ‘What is this congratulation for?’
For having lived this long?
Then I don’t deserve it because I had nothing to do with that. Like tomorrow, it happened because the Creator of the world decided it.
For how I lived?
Ah! Now that is a thought. But is that why I was congratulated? Is that in our mind when we congratulate people? If that is so, then some very famous and prominent people in this world would receive condolence messages, instead of congratulations. Messages to share with them the grief of others that they managed to stay alive an additional year. “If only you had died! So many others would have lived.” Sounds nasty. But that is a reality.
So it is useful for us to reflect on how we lived, rather than for how long. If we lived well, spreading some level of goodness around us, then living long was good. If not? It’s like a race. Everyone gets to the finishing line. But winning depends not on crossing the finishing line but on running the race. It is how you run the race that decides if you are among the winners. Not merely crossing the finishing line.
What tomorrow will also herald is the hour. The hour that tells me that I have one year less before it is time for me to meet my Rabb. So it is a time for some serious reflection and self-correction. Not that I must or do wait until tomorrow to do it.
Every second comes with this message. Every breath I take tells me not to be sure that there will be another to follow it. Every grey (now more white than grey) hair in my beard and head tells me that the day for that meeting is coming. And asking me what I have prepared for it. Every challenge I face in life, every decision, dilemma, cross-road, they all ask the same question, “What will you do and how will that effect you?”
Accounting and Retirement Planning are the two most critical subjects for one to learn. Both must be taught in primary school. But both are almost never taught. I say that because these two subjects teach two very important lessons:
1.      That every action counts and adds to our Balance Sheet either on the Debit side or the Credit side.
2.     And that it will show up in our Retirement Plan – not at 60 or 65 or whatever the statutory retirement age is, but at our real retirement from this life. It will all be there. Either a well-balanced, healthy Balance Sheet. Or a skewed one. If it is skewed on the side of credits with a huge Accounts Receivable, then rejoice for the One who has to pay you, has no resource crunch and will pay you more than you can imagine. But if is skewed negative, then there is a problem because once you and I go over the Great Divide, it’s over. No more entries permitted. No liquidation of liabilities. No reconciliation of accounts. It’s all done, signed, sealed and dusted. Now we only await payment.
That’s why I say that we must teach accounting and retirement planning in primary school. The sooner we learn to think in this way, the better.

So the birthday is a time for reflection, introspection and a time to balance our accounts. I ask for your dua and good wishes. That is all I need.

For myself, I remember the incident of the Beduin and make the same dua for myself;

“O The One Whom eyes cannot see, Who cannot be imagined, Who is beyond description, Who is unaffected by happenings, Who cannot be overwhelmed by the twists and turns of time, Who knows the weight of the mountains, the volume of the oceans, the number of falling raindrops, the number of leaves on the trees and everything upon which the night darkens and upon which the day brightens. No sky can hide another from Him, no surface of the earth can hide another from Him, no ocean can hide anything within its depths from Him and no mountain can conceal from Him anything within its rocks. 

Make the last part of my life the best, make the best of my deeds the last and make my best day be the one in which I meet You.”

Remember banking

Thoughtfulness is a factor of doing the unnecessary.
Always do the unnecessary act of kindness
This is a take on the previous one for the city boys.

Life is a bank account. How much you can draw out depends on what you put in. You put it in when you don’t need it. So that you can draw it out when you do. For those who still don’t get it: if you want people to help you when you need help, help them when they need help.

Most people don’t take the trouble to make a phone call or write an email or drop a card to someone who they don’t need at that moment; but that is when it is most appreciated. That person also knows that they are not influential, wealthy, or otherwise wanted or greatly needed and that is precisely why when they receive that call, they appreciate it. You may be thinking, ‘Well, if they are really so uninfluential, why does it matter whether they appreciate or not?’ One reason only: It is about you, not about them. Our attitudes are our own. And they decide how we fare in life. So take the trouble to connect with people by being thoughtful.

Remember also that others watch what you do and they see you doing thoughtful things and that influences their impression of you. There will always be critics, no matter what you do. Don’t worry about them. Don’t worry about the supporters either. Worry only about yourself and the One who knows what you do and why you do it. The rest will take care of themselves.

I say that life is banking because like banking, the level of your overdraft depends on your deposits and account history. People who don’t deposit or are constantly overdrawn or don’t repay loans are not considered good risks. So also in life. You must earn goodwill – the deposits. You must repay debts – repaying of loans and be thoughtful and helpful – sometimes, simply by being in touch and asking about someone’s welfare; a day will surely come when you will need someone else’s act of kindness.

It is amazing how the world is round not only geographically, but in terms of life itself. What you do tends to come back to you, not necessarily in the same place or from the same people, but it comes back nevertheless. So be sure you send out stuff that you wouldn’t mind receiving. Good begets good and evil begets evil. The truly shortsighted are those who sacrifice long term for short term; a policy that is as disastrous in Working Capital Management as it is in life.
Do insane acts of kindness; unnecessary acts of thoughtfulness. It is only the ‘unnecessary’ that is remembered. Don’t believe all that people say; you are neither as cute as they think nor as bad. And what they tell you depends on what happened most recently between you and them. People have short memories so look in the mirror often.

Focus on Giving

The world loves ‘givers’ and hates ‘takers’.
Now this is not just some ‘nice to do’ thing. Think farming. What do you do if you want a great harvest? Plant lots of good seed. What happens if you eat up the seed? No harvest. Life is farming.

Imagine that you walked into the hut of a poor peasant farmer in India at the tail-end of summer, when the monsoon rains are expected. What will you see inside his home? You will see a few pots and pans, some grass mats, the floor neatly swept and smeared with a paste of cow dung which, when dry, gives it a firm surface. In one corner you will see a small stove; three stones with some pieces of firewood on which his wife cooks their single meal. Depending on the time of the day, you may also see a goat or two and perhaps a calf with his mother tethered to a peg outside the door of the hut. You will also see in a corner, kept safely on a low platform of a few bricks to protect it from dampness, half a bag of grain.

When you talk to the farmer he will tell you how they are at the end of their supplies and are awaiting the rains anxiously. He will tell you that he is himself working as a laborer on a construction site to put some food before his family. Hard under the hot sun, but what choice does he have? You ask him how long before he expects the rains to come. He will tell you that the rain will come in less than three weeks. You will be surprised how he knows with such certainty without access to any meteorological instruments, unless of course you remember that he has thousands of years of primordial knowledge handed down in memory from ancestors long forgotten.

Having opened the conversation, you can’t resist asking him, ‘Why don’t you eat the grain in that corner? Why are you working so hard when that grain is more than enough to feed your family until the rains come?’ The farmer will smile and say, ‘You city types can’t understand us.’ Even more strangely, when you return to his home soon after the rains come, you will see an even more peculiar thing. This farmer, instead of eating the grain is now throwing it in the newly ploughed field and burying it in the mud. You can’t but ask him, ‘Why are you throwing good grain into the mud?’ And he replies in his own mysterious way, ‘So that my family and I can eat for the whole year.’ Ah! If only we learn the lessons from life.

To harvest you have to plant. What you have in your hand is the harvest. What you plant in the earth is the seed. If you refuse to let go what you have in your hand, that is all that you will ever have. Instead, if you give what you have in your hand to the world, it will yield a harvest so plentiful that you can’t possibly hold it in your hand. Keep holding what you have and you starve after it is gone; plant it and you will eat and others will eat with you. Keep your fists clenched and you can hold nothing; open your hands if you want to hold anything. If you open your hands to give, they will be open to receive. If you want to hold what is coming to you, you have to let go what you are holding onto. This is called risk taking and it is based on faith – like the farmer has in the rain. He knows it will come. He prepares for it because he is certain it will come. It is not in his hands to bring rain, but it is in his hands to prepare his field to take full advantage when it does come. 

That is why my principle in life is, I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control. Life, as I said, is agriculture – in more ways than one. It is only when our actions rise up to the Heavens that our destiny descends. The nature of that destiny depends on the nature of the deeds that go up to invoke it. We don’t write our own destiny, but we choose which of our many destinies, all written already, we want to live. So choose wisely for you will have to live what you choose.

Be Resourceful

‘No’ does not mean ‘Never’.
It merely means, ‘Not in this way.’ Or ‘Not just now.’
That’s what makes frustration fun
‘No’ does not mean ‘Never’. It merely means, ‘Not in this way.’ Or ‘Not just now.’ So invent new ways. That way frustration becomes fun. There are too many incidents in my life where I proved this theory to myself. Too many to narrate here. So just take my word for it and have fun. Until the Wright brothers invented the airplane, people couldn’t fly. Even today people can’t fly, but they have a machine that can and so they fly. Never only means not yet.
 Test boundaries: It is a provable fact that many people assume constraints and boundaries and assume that they ‘can’t’ do something. Always ask, ‘How do I know?’ My favorite saying is – ‘Nobody ever knows the best that he can do.’ Our known limit is only the last great thing we did. The next thing we do creates a new record. So always test boundaries. Often the only boundary is in our minds. Remember also that boundary conditions change all the time depending on your own situation, strength, resources, network, power, influence, or knowledge. They also change depending on what is happening in the outside world, so they must be constantly tested and challenged. What was a boundary yesterday may not be a boundary any more.

Have you ever seen a bull elephant in his stable? They tie the biggest of them with a simple coconut coir rope on one leg. As the enormous animal stands there you can see that he can easily rip the rope out of its anchor or simply snap it and free himself if he wishes. But you are amazed that he does not do it. You are amazed that he does not even try. To understand why, you have to go to an elephant training camp.

 When the elephant is a little calf, they tie him by the same leg with a similar rope. At that time he does not have the strength to break the rope. He tries very hard and pulls at it with his little trunk and jerks his leg back and forth and uses all his strength to rip out the rope from its anchor – all to no avail. After some days of continuing this struggle, he gives up. That is when he decides that he is incapable of breaking the rope. That is when he becomes a slave, voluntarily. As he grows, this constraint remains firmly fixed in his mind, that the rope is too strong for him. Even after he grows to his potential – weighs four tons, stands twelve feet at the shoulder, can lift a huge teak log with his tusks and trunk as easily as you and I would lift a tea tray, can push over a fully grown Mahua tree to get at the blossoms and tender leaves at the top that he loves so much –  take him to his stall and put the rope loop around his leg; he leaves his leg anchored to the ground as if it were tied with reinforced steel chains instead of a coir rope. The steel chains are in his mind and are as powerful as if they were truly there on his leg.

 People behave much the same way. We try our hand at something and fail. We take a risk and lose. Then we assume that we can’t succeed. Memory is a double-edged sword; it reminds us of our successes and encourages us or it reminds us of our failures and discourages us. But you know what? We can control the effect it has on us. So what should we do? Well, I look at my failures and take from them what I need to learn. Then I forget them. I don’t sit and brood over them and get depressed. The past is past. It’s only use, and that is important, is to teach us lessons. After that it is a liability.

Interestingly enough, the same applies to our past wins. Brooding over losses depresses you. Dwelling too long over the successes gives a false sense of greatness and glory that has no relation to the present, which may be a far cry from the past. We have too many instances in society of gloating over successes that are centuries old. Even if you built the pyramids, it is no use thinking about them today unless you know how to replicate them and even then, only if you can get someone to pay you to do it.

 Reflect on success to replicate it. Reflect on failure to prevent repetition. After those lessons have been learnt, forget both and get on with present life; it is the only thing that counts and can affect our future which awaits us.