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AOLfree

I could not help but read more comments on the blog I found against Art of Living, and found them very amusing. People who became AOL teachers had a bad experience physically by doing the Sudarshan Kriya. That maybe true. However, most of the people who complain come across as morons. Here is why. AOL claims that Kriya can cure AIDS, Sri Sri Ravi Shanker (the founder of AOL) is actually God and that he has healing powers, Sri Sri can fix anything, etc. Why in the hell would one believe these claims? Are people so naive and desperate to believe?

In one of my AOL sessions, we watched a video of Q&A with Sri Sri. One of the questions was by an American woman who was religious and a Christian. She asked Sri Sri whether it is okay to believe in him as God since she has seen him and he brought her peace. If so, would that make her a bad Christian. I found that question to be so stupid. As I said in my previous write-up about AOL, you have to take the good and leave the bad. I have found the beauty of meditation, and every morning I start my day peacefully because of it.

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I came across an interesting blog citing negative effects of Sudarshan Kriya, a breathing technique, which forms the basic foundation of the Art of Living. I started attending Art of Living courses to de-stress and have more peaceful moments in my life. I find the fact that teachers are volunteers and not paid, very compelling. My teachers had full-time jobs and are regular volunteers at the center.

Is the Art of Living good or bad? Are the long term effects negative? It is too early to tell for me. I do not practice Kriya everyday, but plan to. I attend the one at the center weekly, and it washes away the stresses of the week. Kriya is a type of controlled hyperventilation; research in this blog indicates that any type of hyperventilation is bad – that maybe true. But is it really worse than what we take into our bodies every single day? I don’t smoke, but every time I walk in the city, people smoke and I take in so much second-hand smoke. People even smoke in the park!!! Not to mention air pollution. Is controlled hyperventilation that brings a moment of peace and rest really that bad then?

Doing Art of Silence introduced me to meditation, and I am addicted to it! Everyday I meditate twice – I may not do Kriya, but I make it a point to meditate. Another benefit is that I started having milk and cereal (lol). I hate plain milk in general. The breakfast in this course consisted of “Go Lean Crunch” cereal with milk, and I found a cereal that I can actually like with milk.

Meditation really takes me to a zen place. I learned to block thoughts from my mind, relax every part of my body completely, and attain a level of peace. I meditate every morning and evening after work but before dinner. I enjoy and look forward to it now. Having such brief moments of peace is amazing! It took me a while to learn to dissociate from my thoughts – they come and go. I have been experimenting with various types of meditation such as Reiki and Mindfulness. Reiki is quite good as well, and mindfulness is something I am still trying to learn. Meditation is simple though. All you require is to practice daily till you learn to not get affected by thoughts and relax completely. In Part 2 (Art of Silence), we were made to meditate long hours and practice a lot, so I got the technique. But regular daily practice at the times recommended by the teacher is what brought me to a peaceful state, and I am finding myself becoming more positive and happier about life in general.

Even though there maybe so much negativity surrounding Art of Living, you really have to take the good and leave the bad. This is not a quick-fix, and in every course I took, we were asked to leave our expectations at the door. In Part 2, we were asked to write our problems on a piece of paper and drop it in a common basket with the belief that they will go away. Obviously common sense entails that it is not possible, so I did not write anything. We had to follow a specific technique that I found ridiculously stupid and could not do it. It was a way of getting people outside their comfort zone, and a lot of people in my class found it liberating. I thought it was silly. Any new learning requires using some common sense rather than following it blindly.

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I just returned from Art of Silence, which is a part 2 course of The Art of Living. I did part 1 in Jan, and part 2 ended today. I feel so disoriented returning to this world and NYC.

I actually wanted to do DSN which is Part 3 since it was being offered in NYC and I heard great things about it. But I needed to do Part 2 before DSN. The only Part 2 course in the tri-state area was in Metuchen, NJ, which I signed up for. It started Thur evening and ended Mon evening. We had to keep silence from Fri afternoon till Mon noon. I am the single talker in my house, so keeping quiet was a challenge.

The schedule went like this.

6:30-8:30am – Light yoga stretching and Sudarshan Kriya which we learned in Part 1. I LOVE Kriya – its an amazing experience!

8:30-10am – Breakfast and seva. We were assigned to different groups, and each group had to do some work (seva) such as serving meals, cleaning meditation area, cleaning up after meals, etc.

10-12pm – Meditation. We did hollow and empty meditation guided by Sri Sri Ravi Shanker’s (fondly called Guruji) recorded voice. It is called “hollow and empty” because he tells you to imagine that certain body parts are hollow and empty. The process is a way to unlearn and become empty of thoughts and emotions. Its funny because as kids we hear our parents and teachers tell us “do this do that” “don’t do this don’t do that”, and we spend our adult life unlearning all of that so we can truly become ourselves!!!

12-2pm – Lunch. Everyday lunch was very light to lower lethargy and tendency to sleep after lunch.

2-5pm – Meditation and something new and probably interactive.

5-7pm – Dinner.

7-8pm – Satsang where we sang religious songs.

8-9:30pm – Our teacher answered our questions and showed us knowledge videos of Guruji.

15 hours everyday spent here. The purpose of keeping people around for so long was to increase commitment. In our teacher’s words, “Come what may I will sit through this process. Even if I think this is silly, I will at least sit through it since I have nothing to lose”.

The most amazing thing about Art of Living is that it is completely run by volunteers – people in all walks of life volunteer their time to teach others the art of living. This makes it even more inspiring because the courses must have so much power that people feel like volunteering their time to share it.

Back to Art of Silence. I learned the difference between meditation and breathing. Meditation is a relaxed technique of breathing which helps the mind attain a level of peace and calm which normal breathing does not. Every kriya and meditation experience was different for me. It helped to get away from daily life. I did part 1 in the evenings after work, so sometimes I was not able to focus because I had thoughts of work and other problems. Art of Silence helped get away for a while from all those problems since it was an all-day event.

The first day I found it very difficult to follow meditation. I was not sure what to do, how to breathe right, and dozed off during meditation. After lunch we did something called death and birth meditation. Other people found the birth meditation very liberating – my skeptical side found it so silly and I had half a mind to walk away. I could not go through the act assigned, and kept trying but just could not do it. In addition, I kept thinking that if all I do all day is rest, I could do that at home as well. Why am I here? But I stuck around. Evenings were harder because I kept wanting to go home and was tired. I kept looking at my watch, but I stayed.

The second day, I liked the meditation. I was able to take very deep breaths, all the way down to my stomach. I have been having digestion and acid reflux problems for a while, and after that meditation all of those problems were washed away. At the end of it, I also felt “hollow and empty” like I was supposed to. I kept dozing off though and had to keep bringing myself back. We also had a drawing exercise which was fun.

The third day I fell ill because windows were slightly open to let fresh air in during meditation, and it was very cold. I am very sensitive to cold air. I also had not slept well at night. During meditation I kept dozing off and could barely meditate. Its strange because each time we were asked to lie down and rest after meditation and Kriya, I could not sleep, but sitting down I was so cozy and dozed off. Some people around me snored while I was the only one who sat and could not sleep. This day was difficult to get through and I felt like leaving early, but I stuck through till 9:30pm. We did a new technique called Meditation in Motion which was more difficult than I expected, but other people made it fun.

The fourth and last day was better. I woke up late because I was not well, and missed yoga and Kriya. This was the only day that I did not doze off a single time during meditation. I had a bad headache, but was able to dissociate my headache during meditation and prevent it from overpowering me. I also learned how to relax my eyelids and forehead, and it made a world of difference. I felt an immense sense of peace.

Part 1 was about forming connections and learning that at the basic level all people are the same. Everyone faces similar challenges in life. There were many thought-provoking open-ended questions with the intention of opening up to others. Part 2 was all about self. If in part 1 people shared “you are what your thoughts are”, part 2 was about learning how to accept the thoughts but not let them overpower you so much that you become them. Part 2 was about accepting and surrendering, becoming “for the world but not of the world” by not letting work, thoughts, worries, etc. overpower the person who doesn’t need to be a by-product of all these things.

Watching Guruji’s videos was very eye-opening. He shared pearls of wisdom that you know in everyday life, but his manner of explaining them was so logical that something just clicked inside of me and made it easier to apply in daily life. One example he gave was of the structure of an atom. The core of an atom is the nucleus which consists of proton and neutron, while the electron rotates around the nucleus. Electron is negative while proton is positive. If we are centered in ourselves and have positive energy, we are at the core and do not need to be negative like an electron that rotates around the core. It sounds silly, but the way Guruji explained it made complete sense. The point was to bring about positive thinking and energy in one’s life to stay centered.

I have been told that I need to keep practicing Kriya and meditation to continue the course’s impact in my life. One hour everyday in the morning for Kriya and meditation, and 20-30 minutes every evening after work in meditation. I am feeling disoriented right now because after spending 15 hours everyday, I am back to life and need to go to work tomorrow. I want silence and peace, and don’t feel ready for work yet. I don’t feel like watching TV – I just like the silence and peace. I had no idea such peace was possible, and I hope to continue with the practice. If I stop practicing, I will forget how to control my mind and bring about peace. It was an amazing experience, and every morning when I felt lazy about waking up so early, three words “come what may” sprang to my mind and brought about energy to wake up and go to the course. I miss it.

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As a kid, I loved watching British shows that came on after 9pm in India such as Yes Minister, Mind Your Language, etc. till American shows such as Friends, Seinfeld, Small Wonder, and Wonder Years took over. I loved Friends, but I like the dry tongue-in-cheek British humor much better than in-the-face American. I could never understand Seinfeld till I spent a few years in the US – back then it just seemed stupid that people laughed at obvious stuff.

I recently decided to start watching Brit shows online, and found my fav Mind Your Language on YouTube. It is a show about a British teacher and his class of international students who want to learn English. Barry Evans is very charming as the Brit teacher Mr. Brown. The class has one person from each country – India, Pakistan, Middle East, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Africa, France, and China. Each character is very stereotypical but entertaining. And of course the matronly Miss Courtney who runs the school and epitomizes the “stiff upper-lip” British. I enjoyed watching the show again even after so many years.

It is unfortunate that even after being such a good and charming actor, Barry Evans lead a sad life. When he was born, he was left in a box outside children’s house and was brought up in orphanages. He acted in a few shows and was popular, but later on his boyish looks made it challenging to get roles depicting his real age. Apparently he was bisexual. Towards the end of his days, he was broke and worked as a cab driver. At the age of 53, he was found dead – the cause of his death is unknown. An 18 year old kid was arrested because he stole Barry’s car and a few credit cards. But Barry had an overdose of alcohol, and a bottle of pills was found near him although he did not take any pills. The kid was later set free.

I felt very sad reading about his life. It is so sad that untalented women like the Kardashians and Hiltons become popular and  mint money just because of their silly useless reality shows. While really talented actors and actresses have to struggle for years. Same thing for designers – “celebrities” like Lauren Conrad who come up with their own clothing line do well, and take the place of really talented designers who would do better with such opportunities. Why is our culture so celebrity-driven rather than talent-driven? I just feel so bad for all these talented people.

I wish I could learn more about Barry Evans’ life. He has faded into oblivion…

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New job

I recently changed jobs and moved to a different industry in a much larger company. Recession and past experience have made me very skeptical about promises made by hiring managers to bring new people in, and I was a bit concerned about whether promises would be kept. In general, I am skeptical by nature and don’t take things at face value.

I deliberated long and hard about a few things related to the position and potential uncertainty, and kept second-guessing everything. AM told me one thing – in the past you have been 100% certain about some opportunities and yet they have not turned out per your expectations, take a leap of faith here and maybe this will be the right decision. I am so glad I took his advice.

It has been just one week into my job, and I feel free — yes, free — to do whatever I want, as I want. Larger companies require a bit of specialization, and you have more people doing the work that you alone did in a smaller company. More brands to manage, more product launches, more meetings to attend. I can pick and choose which meetings to attend, what to learn, and which people to interact with in other teams. I have not been so free in the last two years.

As in my previous job, some retail companies have a crazy environment – micro-management occurs at some levels because every last penny has to be well-spent. I was kept away from meetings so that I did not waste time in meetings and spent more time working. I felt as if all I did was sit in an office and work in a silo. I wanted to interact with more people and give strategic input. The last minute changes and decisions made the work environment very crazy. Smaller budgets made it challenging to do more. However, I learned a lot, much more than I would have ever learned in a larger company, and the experience I gained is priceless. I got to do so many things and learned to operate at a very efficient level and think about the business from all perspectives – technology, customer service, website, merchandising, and marketing.

I don’t see the craziness in my current role. There are challenges, no doubt,  but so far I feel a renewed enthusiasm for going to work everyday and making a strong contribution. I cannot believe how free I am and how free I feel just by being there. No micro-management, no craziness. We even have a cafeteria, and work is walking distance from my apartment. It takes me only 5 minutes to cross the three streets and be at work. I leave at 8:55 and am there by 9. I know that once I get more into the job there will be challenges, but so far I really like everything I see. Another benefit of working in a large global company is that I can move to different teams and learn different things.

Its funny because I joined on the same day with someone who worked for the biggest competitor of my previous company. She had the exact same work environment as I did, and we both sat chatting on Friday expressing how free we felt just by being here. She feels the same level of enthusiasm and we both started contributing on day 2. We knew and had worked with the same vendors – in fact, when vendors heard that I had moved, they mentioned her name and asked if I knew her. Its such a small world!

I am happy, truly truly happy that AM pushed me to make the right decision for me. I feel relaxed, enthusiastic, and FREE!

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You would think that with renovation done and having moved into my new place would mean peace of mind. Quite the contrary. I am finding so many errors, and took the day off today to discuss details of errors with my contractor and run errands. I don’t know how to connect speakers into the wall and found someone in my building who will do it for an hourly fee. I had so many more errands to run, and am taking time off to buy furniture. Buying furniture is no easy feat — which places in NY sell contemporary stuff? Very few. Crate and Barrel, West Elm, and Bo Concept are common. I read reviews and went to places such as Moss and Cassina – Moss had novelty one-of-a-kind pieces (at one-of-a-kind prices), and Cassina had gorgeous Italian-made leather furniture with skyrocketing prices. AM liked one leather chair which cost OVER $6,300!!! Seriously! Ridiculous prices! How come they are still in business? No piece of furniture is worth that much.

So yeah buying furniture is no easy feat because there are very few places in the city. There are small boutique-type places but they must be pricey. Sigh!

Anyway, I was done with my errands by 3 pm, and decided to watch Twilight Eclipse. I watched previous parts on Amazon On Demand and liked the movies. This one I watched in the theater and it was so boring. The entire movie is focused on the love triangle between Edward the vampire, Jacob the werewolf, and Bella who loves both of them but loves Edward more. I tried reading the book, but the book was so much worse. The entire book just had conversations between Bella and Edward, silly conversations. I could not even read half the book. The movies are much better because of the action sequences which I love. But Eclipse was so boring, and I did not see the chemistry between Bella and Jacob – her love for him was so out of the blue. Kristen Stewart is so wooden and dull. Her tone is bla, and whether she is happy or sad or in love, she has the same tone. I could not bear to watch or listen to her. I don’t understand how two awesome guys can be in love with the bark of the tree — really — she is just so yawn. I also don’t get that she was all about Edward and now all of a sudden she wants to spend more time with Jacob. It seems like she is double-dating and expects Edward to be okay with it. Argh! I kept thinking, when is this movie going to get over?

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Google is my favorite company – it is THE apex of innovation. I truly admire the company’s ability to find ways to make more money and provide the best customer experience. It has been making great strides online, and its technology is second to none.

CPC-model is Google’s bread and butter. It started with an algorithm, and has grown into a giant empire. Last year, users were able to type a company’s name and a list showed up with the company’s URL directly in the search query options. While this meant that Google had to forgo CPCs, it provided for a much better customer experience.

In Nov 2009, Google introduced Sitelinks, which allows advertisers to add deep-links to the site on paid search ads. This allows for a more customized user experience, and allows advertisers to provide separate landing pages for each and hence increase qualified traffic and conversions.

In Nov 2009, Google also rolled out product extensions. Advertisers could display their product images in paid search ads.

Last year, Google started testing product listing ads on a CPA basis. If you searched for a product, say iPhone, Google showed ads for iPhone on the right hand side with product images from various sites/online sellers. Users tend to click on organic ads more than paid ads, and ads on the right hand side get even less attention. Having product images show up is an innovative way to increase (qualified) traffic and possibly conversions. We participated in the Beta and were happy with the results. Google talked about adding a promotion to product listing ads, but that has not yet materialized. Google performed various tests, and we never had visibility into any of them. The tests showed by as “Experiment 1” and so on.

This year Google unveiled its new look with several filtering options, and rose to the social media challenge by allowing Facebook and Twitter to show up in search.

Recently I noticed that ratings have started showing up on the right hand side for merchants. This is probably in beta, but its another way to increase clicks, CPCs, and conversions. The ratings are sourced from Bizrate, and I am willing to bet that they are being used from Google Shopping. Here is more information on ratings.

Google has also been using page recommendations at the bottom of search results. So if you type Groupon, you can see Groupon’s competitors at the bottom of the page.

Google has been using the Shopping data feeds in innovative ways for adding images to Google searches; I won’t be surprised if Google eventually does away with Shopping or finds a way to monetize that. Which is a pity because how will merchants justify investment in CSEs if there is no free Google or Bing Cashback anymore? CSEs will have to either reduce CPCs or do a damn good job of driving conversions to compensate for the cost. My peers and I find the CSE program to be the smallest and most expensive, but it is worth investing in because it drives a significant number of new customers. Whether the quality of customers is good is yet to be seen.

Google is trying to figure out how it can leverage its own real estate above the fold to make more money from merchants and yet not impact customer experience. Google never has a “me too” approach – it always stays miles ahead of the rest. Kind of like Amazon. A long time back I was asked in a job interview, “Tell me 3 of your favorite sites”. “Amazon” is always my answer. For the second site, I blanked out and said “Google”. My answer was declined because Google is not really a website, and I had to think some more.

Its amazing that Google never advertises — I remember the old saying that there is no need to advertise something good. Bing advertises on TV shows, online ads, etc., but their algorithm is so bad that I cannot bear to use the search engine. I tried using cashback, but for cashback alone because the search engine is far inferior. One smart thing Bing has done is showing up as sponsored listings on Facebook. So if you search for something on Facebook and scroll all the way to the bottom, you see Bing ads, not Google.

In the affiliate channel, Google has made many improvements to its interface used by advertisers and affiliates. I asked Google’s two biggest competitors —

  • Competitor 1 – Google has made so many improvements to its interface. Do you have any plans to make such improvements to your interface? Their response – “We focus more on growing through affiliate reach and relationships than technology, so no, in the near future we have no such plans.” What a shame. If you cannot fulfill basic data needs without having to go through a complex process, eventually clients will switch. Why not focus on both and stay a step ahead of Google?
  • Competitor 2 – How does your interface compared to Google? Their response – “Our interface is not as pretty”. Google’s interface is not pretty, just easy to use. Intelligent clients would never choose looks over ease of use and and business needs.

On the flip side, Google has certain processes in place and has streamlined all its newly acquired businesses. Which is good for Google, but not so good for clients. A lot of language in their contracts cannot be negotiated. Google is one of the few vendors that comes to meet clients in jeans, brings presentations on recycled paper even though they seem to be of poor quality, and they use both sides of the paper. Which is why I admire the company. Their employees do not need to bend over backwards for clients.

Google employees are happy people. They have a free cafeteria, can work from home, get maternity and paternity leave, and can relocate and still work with the same team virtually. The company truly cares about its employees. No wonder Fortune has listed it as the 4th best company to work for. However, I have heard that the company does not pay as much. And the titles are not as high. You may be a manager in another company and an associate manager at Google, although you have the same experience and possible same salary.

Google and Pixar are my favorite companies because of their innovation and creativity. I don’t hold Apple in as much regard because their technology is not as superior. I truly admire Google, and am looking forward to more innovation from the company.

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