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Wellness Through Purpose, Passion and Practice

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Anshu Bahanda: This is Anshu Bahanda on Wellness Curated. Thanks for joining me on this podcast. My mission is to empower you with health and wellness, so that you can then go and empower others. American Bishop D. D. Jakes remarked that if you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion, for your passion will lead you right into your purpose. Today we are exploring how to build passion, purpose and the practice required to achieve a more successful, happier and fulfilling life. Guiding us is Bhawani Singh Shekhawat, a widely respected, well travelled and internationally experienced leader, he has decades of experience working at the top level in businesses and currently leads the Akshaya Patra Foundation, a global leader in food for education.We got so much invaluable information today. Let’s jump straight to the word that everyone is talking about. So wherever I’m going, there’s talk about purpose. I think the pandemic sparked like a purpose, fire of some sort. Tell me, what does purpose mean to you? 

Bhawani Singh Shekhawat: To me, purpose is a way of being. That’s what it is. Because we are human beings, our purpose is not to become something, but our purpose is to explore who we are at a very individual level. I always believe that it is a lot of effort to be human. It takes a lot of effort and this is biology. This is not just philosophy. It is a lot of effort to get through the genetic mutations and various combinations. And of course. now it’s been validated by people like Yuval Noah Harari in ‘Sapiens’, that it takes a lot of effort and a lot of work to be a human being. And I’ve always believed that we are all born geniuses because it takes such a lot of effort. We are diamonds, not in the making, in the mate. And therefore the purpose of human life is to be able to discover that genius, and because we have abilities, find an interface for it in this world. So that’s really my journey of navigating around purpose. It’s truly around exploring the joys of being human. 

AB: That’s really wonderful. And I love what you said about human beings. It’s not about becoming, it’s about being. 

BSS: We are supposed to be human beings and then we somehow craft ourselves into human doings and then human becomings. We want to become something. Unfortunately, what that does in cases more often than not, is that it perhaps even leads us to becoming who we want to become only for us to realise and question if we really wanted to become that. That therefore is not an interim success. It sometimes can be wasted effort. That is what takes you away from your genius. So if really we navigated this whole journey slightly differently by truly first giving attention to what is really our genius. The way in which we inspire ourselves, what comes so naturally to us that it seems impossible to someone else. And that doesn’t mean that we are better. It’s just that we are exploring that part of ourselves that has taken a lot of time to be shaped and that diamond just needed a bit more chiselling and that those are activities, they’re not necessarily pursuits of becoming. So to me, it’s always been more about human beings than human doing or human becoming. 

AB: Tell me something. So there is purpose and then there’s passion. How is it possible to combine the two, to combine your passion with your purpose? What if they’re very different? 

BSS: They can be because passion is nothing other than an expression of your purpose. So if your passion is not an expression of your purpose, one of the two is misaligned. Either you’re not acting purposely or you’re not passionately giving yourselves in to whatever activity you might be engaged in. So to me, the two are aligned but they’re literally like two tram lines. They may never converge but if they were to diverge they would be derailment. So they are actually collinear. They are collinear, your purpose helps you discover your passion and your passion helps you validate and sharpen the saw of your purpose. Purpose is something which is hard to sort of define. It is hard to put into a set of activities, whereas passion can actually be activated. So when people ask me “how do I activate my purpose?”, I often go back to saying that you need to activate your passions, your purpose will be ignited. It’s an outcome as opposed to a pursuit.

AB: And I remember when we were chatting you talked a lot about practice as well. So explain to me what you mean by practice. 

BSS: So to me, practice is what helps your passion become a lot more joyous. And to me therefore the practice is more about the practice, not the outcome. For your passion to be joyous, the one thing that you need to give up is the fear of the outcome. Once you give up the fear of the outcome, your practice really lends itself a lot more passionately and which allows you to navigate your purpose. So to me, practice is something that needs to be dosed daily. It requires every day execution, every day improvement, every day experience, every day becoming better. So there is no outcome orientation to practise. It’s like when you learn to write handwriting, you don’t turn around and say that my handwriting should be like what your mother would say, these should be pearls coming out of your pencil. That’s the best possible sort of you can get with your handwriting. But what it is that you do is that you write something, you try to write better. Then you try to write in italics. Then you try to improve the words from the words.You improve sentences. The sentences lend themselves to paragraphs. The paragraphs lend themselves to a story. So it’s everyday execution that is the practice. And then, passionately, a beautiful work of art in the form of your writing comes out. And then when you read it again, you realise, “oh, this is beautiful” and then “I need to probably change this a little bit, be more authentic here, be more visible here, try and trim these edges.” And then somebody will turn around and say “Anshu, you are so passionate about writing.” So you see how everyday practice can very easily fuel your purpose and then in return ignite your passion. 

AB: Just coming back to this word that everyone is using at the moment, which is purpose. Why is it important to find your purpose in life? 

BSS: If you haven’t lived a life of purpose, you will be called out not by someone else, but by you. At the end of the day, and I literally mean at the end of the day, when there comes a time where you can only look back on your life, there is a period in our lives when we look forward, we say “tomorrow I’m going to do this.” And then there comes a stage in life when we look back a lot more with fondness, hopefully, but it is a look back with trepidation or we look back with anxiety, we look back with regret, we look back. So at the end of the day, if you haven’t lived a life of purpose, you will be called out by yourselves. And that is a terrible place to be if you don’t want to be there and if you want to avoid that situation where suddenly we go “oh God, I should have done this moment” and there is no time on our side, that’s a terrible place to be. That’s the reason why. If there is one reason why the journey of purpose is an important one, or living a purposeful life is an important one, is to make sure that in the ultimate analysis, you are left with nothing else but an everlasting smile. 

AB: It’s interesting what you’re saying, because there are certain things which are happening in the world at the moment, one of them being mental health. And I remember asking one of the great spiritual masters, why there are so many mental health issues today. And he actually said it’s because people are losing touch with their purpose. 

BSS: And that’s a huge thing. That’s not just an amazing thing for you, but that’s the memory you leave behind. But even if you were not to be at the end of life and as morbid as that, I think even in a pure biology physiological manner, the journey of purpose is something that you can only defer, you can never deny it. You can possibly say “I’ll do this tomorrow”, “I don’t have time for this, I have many more important things to do, like finish this Netflix series”, you can keep deferring it, but there comes a time when you don’t have time to defer. And a lot before that we get to a stage of our lives where we look back a lot more, then look forward. And for me, if in the present moment we feel as great as we possibly can now without any fear of the future or regret of the past, that’s a very onerous task, then you are very close to living a purposeful life. That realisation is what is perhaps causing a lot more conversations around purpose. And it’s not just true, it’s true of a human being as much as it is true of an economic being, as much it is true of a corporate organisation, as much it is true of a community, as much it is true of a tree. The thing is, the only difference is that the tree lives a life of purpose because it knows no other way but human beings, because we have choices. We have choices and we have the ability to exercise them as and when we want, more often than not, we end up straying. So it gives us the ability to be courageous, but it also gives us the opportunity to be silly. 

AB: So Bhawani, I want to take you back to something you said earlier in our conversation where you said that purpose and passion work with each other. If they want to find their purpose, they need to ignite their passions. I think that’s what the words you used. But I know a lot of people, some very emotionally intelligent people who are still not able to find their purpose. Can you give us some guidance on that? 

BSS: I can perhaps share some reflection. I’ve always been a big fan of the Bhagavad Gita and allow me to use this little phrase and I’ll explain it in English, the phrase in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a question-answer between two very intelligent people- one who is seeking purpose, another one who is exciting the other person to undertake some activities and says “look, your purpose will be fulfilled, just go and do this thing” without this being a discourse in Bhagavad Gita. So there’s this beautiful concept around what is dharma, which is almost the purpose is a sense of responsibility and the phrase is— sudharma nidhanam shreya paradharma bhayavah, which means your own journey around the compass that you have found for yourselves is truly what you should discover, ignite and practice. The moment you start benchmarking it against someone, you are down a slippery slope. And that is the problem. The reason why people struggle with the discovery of purpose is rather than being on a very almost selfish inner journey, it then becomes an external benchmark. Be it with a person, be it with a situation, be it with a position, which is often in today’s contemporary times, benchmarking of purpose with a position becomes a huge challenge. Seeing someone has become a lawyer, someone has become a politician, someone has achieved a particular position which allows that person to be in front of 1000 people and 2000 other people online are listening, so on and so forth, and saying “I also want to be like that”, now that sort of external benchmark actually disrupts this journey of purpose. What I find useful is that I think we should learn from external benchmarks. We should be inspired by them because those always allow us to see a particular side of things that we otherwise may not notice. But then bring it back to yourselves and bring it back to your context, bring it back to what truly, truly gets you excited, what truly gets you passionate, and then navigate the journey of purpose. Because external benchmarks sadly shift.

AB: That’s really interesting. 

BSS: There’s so much we learn from nature. The human body, we’ve got so many things going on simultaneously, but does the hand want to become anything else? But does the heart turn around and say “look, I do all the work from the time this being started to breathe and I’m there beyond this body as well. But no one really notices me. Even they characterise me differently than I am. They make it a little sign, which is not really my shape.” Does the heart want to be anything else? Every organ in the human body lives their own journey of purpose. Why can’t the collective that is powered by everything live a journey of purpose? There’s no external benchmarking. The lung doesn’t want to be the spleen, right? It’ll be very upset if that was the case. Similarly, look at the earth. We have this major constellation interplanetary system. The Earth is rotating and revolving. The Moon is going around the Earth, the Earth is going around the sun. I don’t know how many other things are happening, but the only reason why all of this is in a state of balance is because every element is fully engaged in their journey of purpose. And there is so much that a human being can learn from this that if we were to not externally benchmark, we would probably be closer to discovering our purpose. 

AB: I talk a lot about this Japanese concept of ikigai, which is purpose, passion, the need of the world and payment, finance, sustainability, so to say. Now, you’ve had 20 years in top level management and leadership. Is that where you develop the idea of the three P’s – purpose, passion and practice? 

BSS: I think I was blessed, unsure to grow up in a family where nothing else mattered except that the greatest joy would be to die for your country. My father was in the air force. I’ve had lots of family in the army, and I went through a bit of air force training myself, wanting to be a pilot. And to me, that always fascinated me, what kind of a life it is, where the ultimate joy or the ultimate expectation is to give yourselves up in service. And that was always fascinating to me that they can be people like this. They can be organisations like this, they can be institutions like this. How do they really get thousands and thousands of people, very intelligent people, along with very intelligent machinery together to activate that purpose? So I think that those seeds were planted in those years. I was also fortunate to then live in many cities. I think part of that shaped me. And then later on in my corporate career, I got to live in different countries, run multicultural, global businesses that had all sorts of things going on, from quarterly returns to passionate pursuit of enterprise and so on and so forth. So I think the seed was planted early on, but I always found it fascinating to say what is truly common between the singularity of a human being, the collective of a corporate organisation, and the mega collective of a nation and the entire family called the world? Somewhere I did find the joy of really triangulating passion, purpose, and practise for the simple reason that it not only allows you to execute better, it allows you to execute better without any fear or joy of the outcome. The joy of being a part of the process is so much more than having to worry about anything else. I find that fascinating. And I also, when I study organisations and collectives, I find that to be the singular difference. And most people call it culture. That’s what people call the triangulation, the execution is what people call culture, that collectively we believe in this. And by definition, culture is something that doesn’t happen overnight, but it doesn’t stop overnight either. You allow it the space to grow. You allow it to incubate. So to me, the triangulation of this is truly what culture is. And culture is what separates a hugely successful organisation, a happy human being, from another one. 

AB: Why is purpose, passion and practise important for our wellness and the wellness of the world? 

BSS: What a beautiful question. I think we haven’t paid enough attention to wellness. We abide by the cliche that for the first 40 years of our life, we plan to get sick, and then for the next 40 years of our life, we plan to heal ourselves. And somewhere later than that, if you’re still alive, we struggle to understand why we did what we did for these eighty years. And somewhere around that, this whole navigation pain of wellness is obfuscated. And to me, wellness is really living this very joyous life. So if you are full of joy, radiating with joy, radiating with energy that is abundant around you, inside you. Now, there is enough evidence that living that life creates antibodies that do not damage you. So you will age without the side effects of ageing.

AB: Wow. That is fascinating. 

BSS: The body will age. There’s a given. However hard you may try, it will age. But do you feel old, is the question. That’s a choice we have. Ageing is not a choice. Feeling old is. Realising that some of your muscles are weaker is not a choice. But feeling weak is a choice. So the journey of wellness and this triangulation of practice, purpose and passion allows you to not only navigate along with what is inevitable, but do that with a lot of joy. Not just acceptance, not passive acceptance, but active engagement. You suddenly realise that I can do things in my 60s, I can laugh at myself in my 60s, which I couldn’t in my 30s or 40s. And that can give me a lot of joy and that gives me a lot of freedom. So you actually live a life of lesser bondage when you are well. 

AB: And what about the world? Do you think the world would be a better place if people followed the above? 

BSS: We are a collective. And the choice that is there for humanity is whether the sum wants to be less than its parts. In the Hindu philosophy or in the Oriental philosophies, that truly is what the era of wellness, the era of truth. Because what is the truth if it isn’t the era of wellness? What is the era of truth if it isn’t the era of something that is perennial? What is the era of truth if it isn’t the era of the eternal? So when the collective actually supercharges each other and supercharges itself in the process, the world is a much better place, not just for now, but it creates the opportunity for future generations to be even better. So to me, that is not a question. It’s not a question of whether, it is a question of realising when.

AB: Can you give us any tips on how people can start, how they can start this process of being well, right now?

BSS: You put me on the spot. It’s a tough one, but let me just share some thoughts. There are three things that one must become a little bit more conscious of. One is how you look after your body, it is a question we must ask. I think it’s a beautiful journey of questions, not necessarily a great quest for answers. We have to ask questions that we have never asked to find the answers we haven’t found. 

AB: Oh, wow. 

BSS: And one of the questions that we must ask ourselves is how do we really look after ourselves? In other words, we must ask ourselves, what do we put into the body? What do we eat? How do we eat? When do we eat? Why do we eat? How do we breathe? Why do we breathe? How well do we breathe? Why do we sleep? When do we sleep? How do we look after our body? I think that is a great place to start becoming a little bit more aware of how we look after ourselves. Then, if you do need validation, who do you need it from? That is another question that’s worth asking. Is it okay for you to validate yourselves? Or is it okay for you to be an influencer on Instagram? So I think those are the beautiful questions. So how we look after ourselves, starting with the body, because that’s in close proximity to us. So it’s very hard for you to do. But children find joy anyways. I think with children, if you just help them understand a world which is not made up of external benchmarking, that’s one service we can do for them as a parent. 

AB: Interesting.

BSS: But there comes a time when we begin to ask ourselves these questions a lot more consciously. That’s a great place to start, like “how do I look after my body?” or “how do I look after myself?” And then you don’t have to. Then later on, at the age of 70, realise that they haven’t spent enough time with self care. So that’s a great place to start. And I think it’s a great place to begin the journey of wellness. 

AB: So what you’re basically saying is become more mindful about things to do with your body and with yourself. 

BSS: Exactly. And it all begins with when you say, let’s be more mindful. It begins with first acknowledging that you must give yourself the permission and the space to be mindful. It’s important. And then giving yourself the discipline to be able to practise that until such time this becomes almost commonplace, it becomes a part of mindfulness, becomes a part of your breathing. You have to first train the muscle of mindfulness and therefore one needs to activate itself. One needs to understand how to activate their mindful muscles. Then you train it and then the muscle takes care of itself. So it starts with acknowledgment and permission. Be disciplined and see persistence. 

AB: Any parting words of advice? 

BSS: Living a life of passion, purpose and practising it is not a privilege. It’s our responsibility as a human being. And if we enjoy and we expect others to be responsible, then maybe it should start with us. It’s not an honorist responsibility, it’s a joyous responsibility. 

AB: And I think this is something very important that you said in the chat again and again about joy. Because when you are in alignment with your purpose and your passion, you’re exuding joy. You can’t help it. 

BSS: Yes. Then people would want to come to you to receive joy. You exude joy. You exude wellness. You exude warmth. And that is the journey of the human being. 

AB: Wonderful. On that note, thank you so much for such a lovely chat. Thanks for joining us. Hope you enjoyed the Wellness Curated podcast. Please subscribe and tell your friends and family about it. And here’s to you, leading your best life.