Kill Your Darlings

William Faulkner famously advised writers to edit fearlessly, to remove particularly those sentences that they loved.  Faulkner knew that the narrative and cohesiveness of a novel is ruined by sentences that are incongruent, no matter how beautifully written.

Kill your darlings, he said.  If Faulkner were a psychiatrist, he would have said the same thing in psychotherapy.

The goal of all growth oriented therapies is to help people become more truly themselves, to be free of neuroses and worries, inhibitions and self-defeating behaviors.

We are usually unaware of how our mind conspires to trap us in old patterns of being and behaving; having looked through the same cloudy lenses for so long, we mistakenly think that the imperfections we see are of the world, not our perception.

To see the world clearly, we have to fearlessly question even our most closely held belief about ourselves and the world. We have to be willing to let go of old beliefs and assumptions, even those that we hold dearly.  This is why a lot of spiritual exploration occurs during times of crisis and confusion. Also, spiritual exploration can easily throw a person into a vortex of existential confusion.

So examine your beliefs with courage, gentleness and compassion.

As part of a meditative exercise, begin to challenge your assumptions, even some long standing ones. For example, what is your definition of success?  When was the last time you examined your assumptions about material success?   If you redefined it radically, what would that do to your life choices, and to the evolving narrative of your life?

Or, what are your assumptions about what you can or cannot do?  What if you were completely wrong about the limitations you have set for yourself?

Some self-definitions keep us comfortable but stagnant.

When we let go of these assumptions and definitions, we are free to become ourselves. When we kill our darlings, our story begins to flow again.

(From my column in Outlook Business)

Living Lighter

We all have expectations and demands from life. When they are not met, we feel sad, angry and hurt.

For many people still,  unfortunately, this sense of deprivation is real, and tragic –  those who don’t have  food, water or shelter.

But for a growing number of people in the new India, this sense of deprivation is not real, but a construct of the mind. After all, no matter how much you achieve, you feel deprived if your needs are infinite.

Recently, a 30-something man in his third session of therapy with me said, “I get angry when my wife doesn’t take care of my needs and my employees don’t do what I want them to do.”

Soon, it became apparent that he was irritated by having to explain what he wanted. He had an unconscious expectation that those close to him should know exactly what he wanted, even without him asking for it.

He remembered feeling the same way, as a child, when his exhausted working mother would put him in the playpen, from where he would scream angrily to be let out and held. Some expectations come from experiences and some are learned over the years.

Some we know consciously, many are unconscious. Some expectations are reasonable and a few very unreasonable.

We often toil under the burden of unrealised expectations without knowing so.

We are like Sisyphus, except we don’t know we are pushing a boulder.

So, let go of unrealistic expectations.

You can begin the process by asking yourself: what are my demands from life? What situations make me angry? What do I expect from life as my birthright? Keep writing until there is nothing more to say.

Then read what you have written as if you are an observer, a dispassionate and wise person. Eventually, the weight of unreasonable expectations will fall away, leaving you light of spirit and relaxed in the mind.


Note: As always, cases are composites (using facts from multiple cases, with all names and identifiers changed)

(From my column in Outlook Business)

The Clearing

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.


In order to change unhealthy behaviour, we have to first acknowledge to ourselves that the behaviour is unhealthy.

We have to say to ourselves, “What I have been doing all along is hurting me, or those around me.” This can be frightening, because to acknowledge that we have been wrong is to see the past as a wasteland of unfulfilled dreams.

Consider Santosh, who has been irritable and impatient all his life. He has alienated many people; his employees, his wife and children live in fear of him. Occasionally, when he pauses long enough to see the fear and discomfort in his family’s eyes, this awareness becomes overwhelming.

If Santosh’s sub-conscious could speak, it would say, “If the past is bad, and I cannot change, then the future will be bad as well. Therefore, if I see my behaviour as bad, then my past and my future will seem like a waste. That is too scary a realisation, and so the only thing I can do is to conclude that my behaviour is not harmful.”

Without knowing it, the frightening awareness of his dysfunctional behaviour was quickly buried under the many layers of his mind.

It may seem like there is no solution to this, but there is a way to cut through this vicious cycle and break through the paralysis of fear: by accepting. Acceptance means that we do not judge ourselves — we stop assigning values of “right” or “wrong” to ourselves, instead we examine our behaviour objectively by remembering, “It is my behaviour that is wrong, not who I am.”

When we see through the clear eyes of acceptance, we can embrace every aspect of our personality and then, without judgement, fear or self-criticism, we can let go of behaviour that is not serving our purpose


Note: As always, cases are composites (using facts from multiple cases, with all names and identifiers changed)

(From my column in Outlook Business)

New Year’s Renewal

Forget about resolutions you are not going to keep. Try renewal instead

Depending on your perspective,  Time is infinite and multidimensional. Or Time is linear (with a past, present, and future) and finite.

Our calendar, our clocks, hours minutes, days, years  – these are constructs, we made these to organize our world, so we can make appointments, and meet and do business and ensure an efficient usage of time. Of course, the notion of “efficiently” using time will not occur to someone who sees time as stretching outwards, possibly into infinity.

New Year parties are a celebration of linear time, a celebration of a social construct. And New Year’s resolutions are a manifestation of this perspective.

But the truth is that resolutions have to come from within. They cannot be forced.

You tell yourself that you want to lose weight, that you want to get some exercise, you want to achieve new sales targets, spend more time with family and so on.

If you are really diligent you might break this down into specific goals – lose 2 kilos a month by joining a gym and eating 10% less and so on.

But unless you have made a shift within you, these resolutions will soon be ignored, or worse still, the oppressive weight of  unattained goals will begin to sap you of the very energy you need to attain your goals.

So, instead of making resolutions, I suggest you take this time for renewal.  (If this sounds a bit New agey or flaky, let ,me remind you (as articles often do this time of year) that most new gym memberships in January are wasted.)


Today, instead of making a list of resolutions, set some time aside for reflection and meditation.


Consider the following:

The highs and lows in your life this past year: visualize significant events and allow the emotions to wash over you. Note down what action of yours you were the proudest of, and what action you were least proud of.

The first memory you have of yourself in 2011 – what were you feeling and what were you doing?

How does this contrast with your most recent day? What is different and what is the same?

Reflect on the fears that inhibit you.

Consider what you are passionate about.

Gratitude for what you have – your health, your family, your friends, life.

Reflect on any new people in your life, and those who are not so much a part of your life now.

Consider the billions of people on this planet, each having experienced a year of significant events.

Reflect on the infinity of time and the briefness of one year.

Consider your existence on this planet, the briefness of it relative to the eternity that surrounds you on either side of existence.

Accept all that has happened to you  Accept where you are at present. Accept that everything will happen as it should.

Have a Happy New Year!