Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ambition in a Bottle


Yesterday, I found myself sitting across the lunch table with my friend - a successful product designer who's been hired as a design specialist by a celebrated perfume brand, headquartered in Spain.

The problem the brand was besieged with, my friend explained, was how to create a new Perfume bottle (and a Deodorant canister) that would appeal to young 30something people who are career oriented and work for high-energy new economy startups, people who work from home and on the move using an assortments of tech gadgets almost as frequently as they work from traditional offices. Thus far, he added, the perfume industry has taken this notion of ambition and personal mobility quite literally and the aim was to create new aspirational scents housed in trendy tech-tinged bottles and cans that boosted their confidence and conveyed a unique differentiation.

My friend said that he was cynical of this approach but, he admitted, he didn't really know where to start. It's one thing to evaluate critically the current thinking, he confessed, but another thing altogether to know how to actually improve upon it.

In an effort to be helpful as I come from the same league, I suggested that the consumer ‘wants’ aren’t always really about the brands you own or in this case, how the perfume bottle looks at the shelf. Rather, it's about ideas and the sublimal connection, something much more than just who the consumer is and what he/she does for a living. It's more about being true to the individual and having that truth reflected in the products we design and the advertising we create.

We both agreed it was a tricky goal and I'm not sure how this might eventually influence my friend’s thinking, but I believe that it can only lead in the right direction and hopefully, the right fragrance in the right bottle!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Surveillance (2008)


Lynchian Serial Killer Whodunit

Surveillance is a disturbing time-warped thriller blending suspense, horror and a little black comedy, that has all the visible hallmarks of its director – Jennifer Lynch, daughter of Twin Peaks and MulHolland Dr creator – David Lynch. While her last mainstream effort 15 years ago – Boxing Helena starring the beautiful Sherilyn Fenn was a bizarre love story that flopped, Surveillance is a top notch return to form that should fetch her good work.

A serial killer-on-the-loose whodunit set in the scenic Santa Fe desert which mixes twisted cops, suave FBI agents and some great photography to good measure, Surveillance has a fairly long-winded plot that left me clueless where this was heading but it all soon connects and your patience is rewarded with a satisfying climax that actually surprised me. A 2008 Cannes Film Festival entry with Bill Pullman, Julia Ormond and Michael Ironside for company, this is 97 minutes of time very well spent. Highly recommended.

Megaupload - http://8f252d21.youfap.com/

Single Link 700 MB Avi Download - Cut, copy and paste into your browser.

Skye Edwards – Mind How You Go


Gorgeous Music to Die For

'Mind How You Go' is the fantastic debut album of Skye Edwards following her exit from Morcheeba, the Trip Hop band famous for the worldwide hit "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" among others. Though Skye Edwards (Shirley Klarisse Yonavive Edwards) was the original voice and face of the British outfit and the one responsible for much if not all of Morcheeba's cult popularity among Trip Hop fans, she was still booted out callously by the Morcheeba founders - the Godfrey brothers (DJ Paul Godfrey and multi-instrumentalist Ross Godfrey) due to creative differences and ego issues.

Undeterred by the unceremonious exit, Skye Edwards went on to produce this masterpiece of an album, teaming up with the likes of longtime Madonna collaborator - Patrick Leonard, Dido/Kylie Minogue collaborator - Pascal Gabriel and industry veteran - Daniel Lanois. Mixing lush melodies, trip-hopppish tempo and Skye’s cathartic voice, ‘Mind How You Go’ warrants countless repeat listens. The first 2 tracks are absolutely stellar and my favorites. Download and enjoy.

Skye Edwards – Mind How You Go

Mp3 Download - http://63eb353d.youfap.com/

"love show" – 4:03
"stop complaining" – 3:37
"solitary" – 4:55
"calling" – 5:23
"what's wrong with me" – 3:37
"no other" – 4:04
"tell me about your day" – 4:00
"all the promises" – 4:08
"powerful" – 4:43
"say amen" – 4:31
"jamaica days" – 4:24

Friday, January 16, 2009

Shock to the System

An Essay on Scientific Progress & its Social Costs

Just 50 years ago, there were no PCs, Mobile Phones or Credit Cards. The Web was unheard of, so was Satellite Television or the omni present ATM booth. Our daily lives are now dominated by the fruits of scientific triumphs, from super vaccines and genetically manipulated food to GPS devices and automatons. Our century has seen knowledge breed at an unparalleled rate. It has sent man to the moon, conquered hunger, disease and pain and allowed people to reach out to each other over colossal distances.

Of all the revolutions that have shaped our evolution, the technological revolution stands out for one simple reason - speed. The Internet revolution in particular, has been like the last industrial revolution compressed in time by 90%. If air travel, rail and roads altered the way we travelled, email and the internet besides the vast array of other communication devices have fundamentally transformed our way of communicating, faster, cheaper and in a variety of ways.

To see the difference, compare a person transported from 1800 to 1900 to a person from 1900 transported to today. The former would be completed disoriented by the present cities of millions where only towns of a few thousands once stood or short air trips of days that had once been months or years. In contrast, the latter would find some analogy between airports, train stations and ship ports, and between shopping online and buying goods from distant factories.

Even if traditional scientists believe that there will soon be nothing left for them to discover, the applications of what we already know are sure to occupy us well into the next millennium. The impact of Knowledge and Technology on our every day lives has become so intertwined that separation of its power is just impractical. At the end of the 20th century, the visionary words of Francis Bacon that “Knowledge is Power” have indeed come very true.

The Change For Change
The technological revolution is now part of our everyday existence, rapidly transforming both our society and our expectations for the future. This impact of knowledge is emphasized by powerful global dynamics around us: flourishing populations and elevated life expectancies, free trade, privatization and de-regulation, unparalleled money movements and ever bigger transnational corporations, all of which serve to sharpen the need for quick communication. The ‘Go to Market’ between discovery/invention, production and marketing is closing very fast as both trade and the end user demand innovative and better services.

In the last century, our usual work day was twelve hours of manual labour – in the field or the factory - a mechanized industrial society so to speak. Communication was limited to the friendly neighbourhood postman. Even the massive growth of transport after the Second World War failed to end the vast logistics of distance. Our present work day in contrast is shaped by varying sway of electricity, computerization, communication and minimal physical labour. Technology is rapidly eroding the previously unchallenged significance of geographical location. Communication innovation is starting to free men and women from their desks and creating more options over how, where and when, we choose to work.

Telecommuting is now an every day reality for millions of people worldwide. Employers are welcoming the trend; after all, providing office space for every worker is an immensely pricey overhead. And, as an important bonus, the web, video-conferencing and online chats have radically reduced the need for business travel, so reducing the financial costs and to a certain extent, the road congestion, pollution and the stress of commuting.

Nevertheless, these changes conceal veiled hazards. Since technological advance is relentless, social change is unavoidable and these major shifts in the social order are already upsetting our work lives and personal lives more than all those tech gadgets combined. Experts are already calling this a new “society of Knowledge”, a society in which information and technology, as the fourth means of production, will become more important than the long-established three - Assets, Wealth, and Labor. Single parents and high rates of divorce worldwide are a case in point of this pattern. It's something that society as a whole has been struggling to fix for the last generation.

We are used to businesses having to adjust to change. Now folks must learn to do the same if they are to remain employable. The work world has now become more Darwinistic. Incredible prospects exist for the strong and bitter failure awaits the feeble. Careers have become more intricate and less secure. These days’ even trade unions talk of a worker’s “employability” – meaning that each individual is responsible for making him- or herself fit for the job market.

In the same time, it is a myth that technology means fewer jobs; as new developments renders certain skills obsolete it also creates new disciplines. The real challenge therefore, is to equip both the growing generation and today’s workers to take personal advantage of the new revolution. Specifically for this reason, occupational researchers and employers strongly advocate job seekers and workers to continue their scholastic and technical education on an ongoing basis and obtain so-called ‘soft skills’ – on their own initiative.

Despite much cynicism and vacillation, business on the Web has taken off. Far from experimenting with a toy, companies are reaping rich monetary rewards from the Internet. The subject of total number of web users and the tempo of growth is no longer pertinent. The Net is here to stay and will keep growing in size, ultimately encompassing the entire population of the world. After all, the Internet is creating a unique shared global knowledge and communication space, the likes of which has never existed before.

The technological riot has also completely altered our roles as a shopper. From a role of an inert buyer, we are moving into the driving seat. We are entering an age where as customers; we are enabled to uncover new possibilities – that can produce the most value for ourselves, by exploring, redefining and choosing what makes best sense for ourselves. We will determine the what, why, how and when for products and services and this is great news for companies too. No more do they have to invest in making intelligent guesses about what consumers want. They can let the consumer co-create the products with them.

New Age Culture
One of the other big changes that technology has brought about in the last half century is that no nation can afford any longer to seal itself off hermetically from outside influences and pretend it is an island.

Certain ideas and structures of modern life are being spread throughout the world by globalization and differing traditions and values are disappearing into a giant global melting pot. Consider the case of McDonald’s. Every day some 40 million people in over 100 countries go to a McDonald’s food joint. At first look, this would seem to confirm the global influence of the American way of life but dig deeper and you will find that its menu range is adjusted to local traditions. In India, for example, you can treat yourself to vegetable desi style nuggets and in Israel, you can buy kosher burgers .

At the same time, cultural fads are taking on sharper shapes in the face of global structures or are, in some cases, becoming well-defined. The sms savvy youth of most developing countries are living examples of this expression – their allure to Hollywood, penchant for Western brands, KFC and Coke are perfect examples of this influence. No wonder, one can very well understand why MTV is the worlds most successful television channel and David Beckham is an international superstar.

Culture is not seen anymore as a stationary arrangement but as a porous river of various meanings which makes new relations, new links and new communities. The term "Community" may sound outdated but ironically in our high-tech age of instant information, that is, the kinds of communication we seem to love, This has resulted in an incredible diversity of subcultures, both mainstream and underground, small clusters of people that have arisen and are distributed across intercontinental boundaries. Immigrants, students, artists, academics, activists and scientists are all forming transnational virtual communities on the web which are connected through some sort of social, professional, personal and spiritual commonalities.

Progress or Prudence
The amount of knowledge at our disposal is currently doubling-up every five years. What effect this is having on our society? We don’t know? 50 years ago, there were no PCs and no kids surfing the web. 50 years from now, what new things will surface? What amazing discoveries will we see? These questions throw us a remarkable argument. In their ruthless quest for new knowledge, science and research represent a two sided coin: they can lead to both improvements in the quality of life and also threats to nature, and therefore to humankind. We couldn’t predict the past 50 years. Can we do better with the next 50?

Atomic energy, particularly, raises questions about the penalty of scientific progress. Atomic power plants, once renowned as the new age solution to all the world’s energy problems, have and continue to leave us with huge amounts of highly radioactive and dangerous waste, the removal of which remains a key dilemma. Equally, automobile emissions are making a generous contribution to our climate’s destruction and the greenhouse effect is forcing scientists to develop innovative technologies designed at reducing the ecological injury.

This negation in our conviction in new technology is this more obvious than in bio-technology and genetics. The credence that every human is a unique individual is one of the elementary canons of our society but yet it is now becoming clear, that in principle we can reproduce human beings and consciously make and alter genes in the process.

If the use of modern genetics were aimed at solely treating and preventing genetically related illnesses, they would probably gain broad social acceptance. But is this where we will stop? How will we one day respond to parents’ wish for a perfect intelligent child? How will we respond to programs to “improve” humankind, something which the Nazis actually tried during the World War II? Moreover, will we be able to prevent the commercialization of this genetic know how? Life insurance companies and health insurance companies could demand information on the genetic characteristics of their customers. People who have a disposition towards a particular illness would then have to pay higher premiums or be denied insurance. And what are we to do when it comes to the patient’s right to ignorance? Will we be obliged to inform the patient that specific “genetic defects” in him/her will eventually lead to fatal infirmity?

Questions of this kind inexorably lead to a dispute on social values and ethical boundaries. These discussions no longer only involve those parties solely engaged in the growth of technology but also ethical experts, lawyers, theologists, sociologists, economists and historians. More than ever before, changes in the ecology and culture on the doorsill of the new century raise important questions about the possible and suitable future of knowledge and technology.

Stop and Go
Progress in science and technology is supposed to shrink distances but they don’t necessarily bring people together or make them safer. Superior communications may give people a wider array of programming choice to choose from but it does not warranty that they will be more tolerant of diversity. And whether its history of previous purchases, medical records or simply individual tastes, personal privacy – a vital ingredient of social fabric is threatened with disappearance as technology and the Web impose new norms everywhere. Knowledge may be a tool, but it is dangerous and dodgy.

The delivery mechanisms for knowledge are today in the hands of fewer and fewer people who propagate a singular monoculture suited to their own vested economic, religious or political slants. It is when this culture is advocated as the only one to aspire for that it causes social disparities and unstable societies, eventually, inciting a radical backlash against an indifferent elite and an apathetic global culture.

Today’s Knowledge may offer a chance to jumpstart technology but ironically science by itself is never the answer. The commercial values that drive the Internet Age today are the same corporate goals that drove the Industrial Age an era ago. Unfortunately, it still boils down to the money bottomline arithmetic with no room for ethics or civility. Consider the case of Indian Media during the recent 26/11 Mumbai attacks where one could witness the blatant corporatisation and editorial slaughter in full glory. On the spot delivery, exaggerated dramatization and irresponsible sensationalism are increasingly becoming the trademarks of modern day journalism - events are shown but real and neutral explanations hardly ever given. So much for New age free journalism!

Because expanding the spheres of understanding is an intrinsic part of our human behaviour, turning back the clock is not a rational substitute. Nonetheless, it is imperative that scientific progress is scrutinized seriously and that its results are vigilantly investigated. For that reason alone, we must step up a meaningful dialogue between scientific progress and modern society. Without this realistic outlook, we would soon be lost in a quagmire of a world that is socially evolving at an incredible rate, a lot faster than what we had anticipated. After all, we do not wish to end up like those wishful tourists in 1950 who acquired tickets for the first space package tour to the moon. Yes, tickets to the Moon! Jack Gavoy, the American businessman, had promised March 15, 1975 as the date for the moon voyage. The tickets have now been invalid for 34 years!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Positive Consumerism


In Advertising and Marketing, Does any one care for the Consumer?

What on earth is Psychology doing in Marketing? Psychologists are, of course, strange mortals who are treated by others with, occasionally, well-placed cynicism. Let me tell you, if you are ever trying to get rid of someone at a social gathering or are trying to make them edgy, try telling them you are a psychologist or a psychiatrist and watch them suddenly change posture, scratch their ear fiendishly and finally retreat at speed to refill their already-full glass.

But Psychology is not a black art and it’s no secret that the Marketing and Advertising world is full of psychologists, amateur or otherwise. Coming from a totally different background to most agency staff, I tend to look at things from a different point of view. And I suppose that's why I am constantly perplexed why the personal likes and dislikes of clients have such a enormous participation into the final decision making process.

You may, or may not, be aware of the expression 'Social Loafing’. This is a phenomenon which occurs when you have a large number of people working towards a common goal and, together they are less productive than they would have been if they had been working as individuals. Now, if a psychologist was to decide to conduct research into the details of ‘Social Loafing’, the last person they would ask to identify the variables that impact on productivity is the boss (or the client). This is because the boss/client will have every kind of preconceived idea which will colour their judgement. You get the idea. The objective way to do it would be either to observe dispassionately exactly what is going on or better still, talk to the people and see what they say.

So why is that the personal preferences of clients and agency personnel for that matter get built into the process that arrives as the final creative execution of any promotional marketing or advertising concept? After all, the target audience is rarely the board of directors on the client company. And when you look at the people who make the final creative decision, they all have different agendas. The Marketing Manager wants to sell something that is original and stimulating, inventive and chock full of freshness. The Advertising Agency wants to win awards and design/produce something that makes the rest of the world sit up and take note.

But what about the end Consumer? Do they really care if the advertisement/promotion is nominated for a "Best Sales Promotion" or "Best Advertisement" award? Does it matter to them if the advertisement promotion is held up as a signpost of the way in which the industry is heading? It seems to me that no many occasions it's the down-to-earth and sensible approach which wins the day. Take for example, the ‘buy one, get one’ promotion which offers an extra product free.

Added value is hardly original but, after all, the shopper buying the product, actually likes the product so what better incentive could there be than to give them more of the product they like? And before agency staffs hang their heads in despair, there is no reason why a tried and tested technique can't be give extra creative sparkle. It’s proven psychological fact that most people would choose a $50 bill today rather than a $100 bill promised next week. So maybe the creative/advertising industry should be looking in greater detail at what the consumer actually wants rather than what both the client and the agency, want the customer to want. You get the picture?

Note: At our company Ideasonic, we ensure that the Customers needs are addressed first, coupled with our creative juice and the clients requirements.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Eden Lake (2008)

Brilliant British Chiller in the Woods

I saw Eden Lake on a wet afternoon without any inkling of what to expect. After watching it, I was happy to see that intelligent British horror is still very much alive and you don’t really have to spend millions on special effects if you can get the story and mood right.

Directed by the young James Watkins (born – 1978) who also wrote the brilliant Big Brotherish 2002 horror – My Little Eye, Eden lake stars Kelly Reilly last seen in Nicholas Roeg’s moody mystery Puffball and the German star Michael Fassbender (300) who are a 30ish couple seeking a romantic weekend on a scenic lake spot which soon transforms into a hellish fight for survival. For many, this would seem derivative, something like Deliverance but Eden Lake is more intense, bloody and violent, a perfect holiday gone inexplicably and viciously wrong. Accompanied by great photography and gut wrenching score by David Julyan (Descent), Eden Lake is highly recommended, provided you've got the stomach. Download and enjoy..

Free Video Streaming/Download Link - VeeHD

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Lads and New Babes - Dating in a Post Feminist World



In a changed world populated by post feminist women and new men, dating is not as simple as it used to be. Let us explore the ins and outs of post-modern romance.

'Going on a Date' - Its a curious, technicolour-tinged expression, somehow more evocative of fumbling innocence and teen tentativeness than grown-up social interaction. Something that we grow out of, file away under Experience and replace with a less rule bound approach to finding a partner. We insist that we know the difference between love and infatuation, between wanting a relationship and scoring status points among the peers. Dating, we tell each other, is something you do when you are still learning, something you scrunch up and throw away once you start to notice its elaborate, unreal ritualism. Or do you?

Certainly, when you're older you don't get on, or get off for that matter with people the same way you did when you were younger. No one does. These days you're in a world of careerists and power brokers, of new men and post feminist women - or as they have been rather more accurately dubbed, New Lads and New Babes.

It's a world where men are expected to uphold solidly right-on values chickwise, yet still determinedly acknowledge that there's nothing wrong with having a lustful conniption at the sight of cleavage, a stocking top or spike heel. Similarly, women feel, quite rightly, that they should be treated as equals, while still feeling free to acknowledge the sexual and romantic appeal of 'traditional' male roles.

The boys want to look after the sexy girls sometimes. The girls want to be looked after by the sexy boys sometimes. The modernity of it all comes from the way that we acknowledge the roles we're insisting upon and responding to. We're equals in that we're all equally certain of that we want, what we expect. And if all the cake in the entire world were gathered together, we'd expect to eat it, even if we threw up afterwards.

This requires of dating a whole new approach, or at least something that looks like a whole new approach, even if it's the old approach dressed up in a new set of clothes. For example, when enquiring around about who should ask for the date in the first place, the knee-jerk reaction is that it really doesn't matter, that if you see someone you like it shouldn't be left to the male to make an approach. And yet, when quizzed further, most women admit that they like the man to make the first move. As one friend said,”It could just be their own insecurity, and scared of rejection if one asked, of putting oneself on the line, even though men have had to face that risk all along. And it's nice to feel desired. If a man makes the effort to show that he's interested, it's flattering".

Men tend to admit that it seems more 'right' to make the first move and ask for the date. There's much to be said for a girl who makes straight out and admits that she'd like you to go out with her somewhere. The distantly echoing laughter of a girl and her mocking friends as we trudge back from blurting out a genuine request for a date cuts deep into the male psyche, testosterone or steam. Having said that, there is a balance to be achieved.

"I remember one girl," a male friend tells me,”who came on to me really strong. She took me out, invited me home, leapt on top of me kissed me and what not", "Part of me was thinking. This is how women should be - assertive, strong of what she wants - but another part of me was terrified. Next time I saw her I ran away as well", he tended to run away the next time he saw her.

Another male friend agrees that there should be a balance. "I like strong women, but I don't like women who think that power means taking on the worst of male values. An aggressive domineering woman would scare me on a date, but I'd also be ashamed of myself if I behaved like that. It's like that phrase, 'a woman with balls.' I don't want a woman with balls. if I wanty one, I'd ask out a transvestite."

The thrill of a date comes from the uncertainties, not just from the romantic uncertainty that hovers, literally, at its heart, but also from the relearning and the redefining of the rituals that coddle it. For example, if you're on a dinner date, who pays?

"I like the man to pay," admits a female friend, "but only if I want to encourage him. It's hard to say exactly why, but there is an element at play that if I let him pay I'm suggesting that I'm interested. It's the same if a man opens a door for me or carries my bag. If I'm not interested in him, I'll open it or carry it myself, but if I want to flirt, then I'll let him. All these things are signals. But while I'd ideally prefer the man to pay, in reality my expectations are not that high. There's a difference between what you want and expect, and what you get and accept."

It's the bag and baggage, if you'll pardon the expression that is automatically taken on board by such unspoken signs that cause so many problems for men. You want to carry a bag or open a door as a sign of tenderness and curiously respect but you don't want to appear to be treating a girl like she's handicapped. You want to pay for a meal, but you don't want her to think that you're trying to buy her favors.

Julia Roberts may be sexy as hell, but submitting any date to a Pretty Woman routine is frankly, unlikely to pan out. Inevitably, everyone has different demarcation lines. As one male friend remembers,”I went out with a girl once who said that all men should pay for everything and that they should open doors and stuff. She wasn't a simpering, submissive type, but she said that it was the way it should be. A couple of days later I was on a bus and I got up to give my seat to a middle class woman, and the woman started shouting at me in front of everyone, saying that she was perfectly capable of standing up. I guess when you're in the private world of a date you're allowed to do those things, because they're very obviously aimed at one person rather than at women in general. It is difficult, though, to know exactly how to behave."

In the face of all these problems, it's often easy to forget exactly why you're on a date in the first place. Perhaps that's the way we want it to be. Love, lust, infatuation, whatever, gets pushed under the table-cloth, shrouded by etiquette, nervousness and most importantly, a desire by both participants to refrain from acknowledging the nub of proceedings. Often, the determinedly romantic excitement of a date comes from the resistance to blurt out the reality of mutual attraction, from playing cat's cradle with each other's heartstrings while talking about the weather. The worst date in the world would be one where someone kicked off a conversation with: "So do you fancy a shag?"

Another male friend remembers his best date. "We went for this long meal in this tidy little restaurant and we talked for ages about everything except each other. But all the time there was this incredible tension just bobbing beneath the surface. We got outside bided Good-bye and neither of us was the slightest bit surprised about what we were doing."

Ah, the cab home, another knotty problem. In these post-liberation days, sleeping together on a first date is far from inevitable. High-powered jobs that necessitate getting up early in the morning, the stop-and-think mentality engendered by AIDS and the simple desire to elevate the proceedings beyond the more skuzzy implications of the one-night stand, all add up to the conclusion that people are starting to get off on romance rather than just getting off. And the good-bye kiss before you wander off alone into the night can be charged with far more eroticism than instant sexual abandon. I remember one such date which concluded with something less than a snog but more than a kiss which even now makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, while sexual encounters with other girls have faded into monotone.

"It's all about the suspense, about telling each other that something is going to happen, but that it's not going to happen this time, that you're both going to get a thrill from anticipation rather than consummation. And all without saying a word." that's the thrill of a date.

And where do these unspoken collusions take place? The Restaurant Date remains the first-choice location for a variety of reasons, not least its neutrality. The fact that you're asking someone to go for a meal alone with you signifies more than casual interest but allows you the luxury of a certain privacy, a seclusion from The Date as Spectacle to be watched by others; As a shared experience it's hard to beat for intimacy and, while the actual act of eating rarely reaches and levels of fulfillment, the food provides an instinctively comforting centre around which you can weave your increasingly tangled webs. And, since neither of you are on home turf (unless you make the rather daunting gesture of taking a date somewhere where you know the entire staff on first name terms), you've nowhere to seek refuge from any nervousness except in each other's company. Even culinary disasters can be bonding, since neither of you is directly to blame. Toss in a bit of humor and you've got the perfect date.

Art galleries and exhibitions are apparently reserved for Moody intellectual wannabes but a trip to the cinema resonates with promises of flickery fumblings and inevitable journeys of physical unexpectations.

Long walks are good and it's fun deciding exactly when you are going to hold her hand as are long drives to romantic locations like beaches and hilltops. Sporting events are fine as long as both people are taking part. The jury is still on whether to take a date to a private club or bar where you happen to be a member. On the plus side, it allows you to show off not only to your date but also to the bartender, to your friends and to anyone who will be impressed by your good taste. And with luck, you can convince your date of your desirable social standing and convivial grace.

Those plus points can easily turn themselves inside out however. Among friends the date can become the cynosure of all eyes. Some contend, however, that the Modern Date has become part of a larger social gathering. "Definitely," admits one girl, there's a lot less pressure when there's other people around and you can still flirt with each other, then if you decide you don't like them you can go off and talk to your friends. As long as it is pretty informal and they don't try and push you together, it's the ideal date.

Dating may well be supposed to be an art, that is too romantic, to be described on paper. Relearning the subtly defined intricacies, rediscovering the half-forgotten thrill of uncertainty, innocence, flirtness and, if you're lucky, love & marriage is finding more and more advocates. And, even if the date fails, remember, when it's good, it's brilliant and when it's bad, it's never bad enough to stop you going back for more. Good Luck!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sex on the Beach


Last week, I had Sex on the Beach! Yes, really but not the one you are probabaly thinking about! What I had was the Vodka based cocktail mixed with Vodka, Peach Schnapps, Cranberry juice and Orange juice. A International Bartenders Association Official Cocktail, it is also referred as "Fun on the Beach" to avoid the sexual connotation. Try it, its refreshing.

Well, this got me thinking and I am presenting below a Cocktail story I wrote a long time ago..

Cocktails are drinks with drama, snappy mixtures of sophistication and fun. And tales of how the name came to be are like illusionary cocktails themselves - intresting blends of fiction and fancy served straight up. One legend tells of the king’s daughter who mixed a drink for a visiting dignitary. Her name Coctel. Then there is the tale of Betsy the Barmaid who pulled a feather from a cock’s tail to mix a drink for a Frenchman; one sip and he exclaimed, “Vive le Cocktail!” And let’s not forget the savvy horse trader who gave his tired old nag a mixed drink of spirits to jolt him up before the sale; why, it even made him cock his tail.

By any legend, however, the cocktail remains the same - a mixed drink made with spirits and flavors and served cold. Scores of drinks have been mixed and fixed since the word cocktail first came into use in the early 1800s and thousands more were created when the great international cocktail rage began following World War I but most of these drinks were momentary showpieces and passing fads. Only a few have weathered time to become classic cocktails. They are the drinks that refresh the mind, raise the spirit and put problems into perspective.

BLOOD MARY
The Bloody Mary was born in 1921 when Fernand Petiot, the bartender at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, felt the world needed a better way to face the morning after. To those who knew hangovers best, Petiot’s vodka and tomato juice-based drink quickly became a treasured friend. When Petiot moved on to the king Cole Bar at the St.Regis hotel in New York city in 1934, he brought Mary with him, where the cocktail made new friends, even among those who had never known a hangover. Nor did they know that Mary was not its original name. Born the Bucket of Blood, the drink was later called Red Snapper and Morning Glory before finally being christened Bloody Mary; supposedly after American entertainer George Jessel accidentally spilled one of the crimson beverages over a young woman named Mary.

DAIQUIRI
The Daiquiri was born at the Daiquiri iron mines in Cuba around the turn of the century when American engineers drank a mixture of light rum, limejuice and sugar to ward off tropical fevers. Evidently, it did keep fevers down - and spirits up – and a local preventive became a worldwide pleasure. For a basic Daiquiri, combine two teaspoons fresh limejuice. One-half teaspoon superfine sugar, two ounces light rum and three ice cubes in a shaker. Shake vigorously. Strain into a well-chilled glass. For a frozen daiquiri, place ingredients and blend until it has the consistency of snow. For a banana daiquiri, add half a sliced banana.

GIN AND TONIC
The source of Gin and Tonic is the British Army. Time: 1800s. Place: Far East. Impetus: malaria. In an age when the only remedy was quinine, gin helped the bitter medicine go down. In time quinine was given the carbonated water, citric fruit and sugar and called quinine water or tonic. By the 1920s, quinine was out, gin was in, and gin and tonic became one of the world’s most popular cocktails. In a tall glass, add ice cubes, two ounces gin and a wedge of lemon or lime. Fill the glass to the top with six ounces (or more) chilled tonic water.

MAI TAI
One in 1944, Victor Bergerson, the man who started the Polynesian-styled trader Vic’s restaurant, decided to invent a new drink. He took a bit of this, a bit of that, shook it with ice and served it to a friend visiting from Tahiti. The friend declared it “Mai Tai,” roe ‘ae,” or “out of this world, the best”. The declaration became the name and in the decade since, many devotees of the drink believed they were enjoying the true flavour of the south pacific. Not quite. The drink was created in California, chiefly out of the products of the Caribbean and today is one of the Caribbean’s most popular drinks. Call it the multicultural cocktail.

MANHATTAN
Appropriately enough, the Manhattan began at the Manhattan Club in New York City in 1874 when Jenny Jerome gave a party for Samuel J. Tilden, the newly elected governor of the state. She asked the bartender to mix a special drink for the occasion, which she named after the club. Ms. Jerome went on to become lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Sir Winston and the Manhattan went to become one of the World’s most enduring cocktails.

MARGARITA
Like all classic drinks, the Margarita’s origins are shrouded in legend. In most stories, Mexico is its native home and since the drink is based on the Mexican spirit Tequila, it is a likely story. Whatever the setting, the tales remain the same; a beautiful woman named Margarita; thwarted love in some versions a number; and in all versions, a bartender who creates a drink in her memory. Rub a lemon or lime peel around the rim of a cocktail glass to moisten and dip the rim into a saucer of salt, in a mixing glass, combine two ounces tequila, one ounce cointreau or Triple sec, one-half ounce lemon juice, one ounce lime juice and ice cubes; shake well. Or add crushed ice and blende until slushy. Strain into salt-rimmed glass and serve.

MARTINI
The Martini is the quintessential cocktail-pure, cold, dry and elegant. An American creation, the drink dates back to the nineteenth century when, as one version goes, a bartender in San Francisco mixed half sweet gin, half sweet vermouth for a traveler on his way to nearby Martinez. From this sweet drink to Martinez, the dry Martini was born. By the end of World War II, the Martini was a mix of two ounces dry gin, one ounce dry vermouth. From then on, the distance between ingredients lengthened with Gin going up and vermouth moving down-a half ounce, a drop, and a whiff. Along with passion over proportions, there was the minute of mixing. Some devotees declared that lemon peel in a martini was heresy, while James Bond decreed it must be “shaken, not stirred”. Purists were themselves shaken, not stirred, when vodka became a fashionable substitute for in the 1970s and began to nuzzle its way in to the martini. It was vodka’s taste- free neutrality that made it so easily adaptable, although, as one of my Russian friends explained, “Vodka is not tasteless; it merely lacks favour”.

OLD – FASHIONED
Venerable and loved, the old-fashioned—is actually an old fashioned Whiskey cocktail that was created at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky and probably introduced elsewhere along the East Coast by Colonel James Pepper, a bourbon distiller. Place a lump of sugar in an old fashioned glass with a drop of water to dissolve it. Add a dash of Angostura bitters; add ice cubes and a twist of lemon peel. Fill with whiskey (bourbon or rye) and stir. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.

PINA COLADA
According to some colada lovers, Ramon portas Mingot invented the drink in 1963. To others, Ramon Marrero Perez first blended it in 1954.What is certain are that it came to life in the Caribbean when one Ramon or the other whipped together some of the islands natural wonders: Pineapple, Coconut and Rum. In a blender, combine an ounce-and-a-half of rum, two ounce Pineapple half-half ounce sweetened cream of coconut and a scoop of crushed ice. Blend until smooth. Serve in a tall glass and garnish with pineapple.

PLANTERS PUNCH
Soon after prohibition ended, a new generation of drinks were invented and one of the first was planters punch. Since then, the drink has moved south and today its home court is the Caribbean Island, especially Jamaica. While there are many recipes for the drink, authentic versions include Dark rum. Combine the juice of one orange, one lemon and one lime, three dashes of grenadine, one-half cup pineapple juice, two ounces dark rum, three teaspoons confectioners sugar and cracked ice. Stir well and strain into a tall glass. Garnish with an orange slice and serve.

SAZERAC
The Sazerac is to New Orleans what the Margarita is to Mexico; it creates the mood of the place and tells a story. First concocted in the 1850s from Sazerac, a French brandy of the Sazerac coffee house on Exchange place in the French Quarter. In 1872, the Sazerac House opened on nearby Royal street with a 125 foot long bar manned by more than a dozen bartenders; Sazerac was quickly dubbed the bar’s signature cocktail. By the turn of the century, the Sazerac had evolved from a brandy-based drink to one made chiefly with rye whiskey. Soon after, bourbon became the spirit of choice. Fill an old-fashioned glass with cracked ice. In another old fashioned glass, moisten a cube of sugar with water and crush with a spoon with water and crush with a spoon. Add a few drops of peychaud’s bitters, a dash of Angostra bitters and two ounces bourbon or rye. Add several ice cubes and stir. Empty the ice from the first glass, add several drops pernod and swirl around the glass until the sides are coated; then pour out. Strain the mixture into this glass. Twist a lemon peel over but do not drop the peel into the drink. Serve.

SCREWDRIVER
The screwdriver was created, so the story goes, when a group of American oil rig workers in the Middle East were given a supply of canned orange juice as a substitute for the local water. To spice up the juice, the men added vodka and since they were out in the field, they stirred the mixture with the nearest utensil-the screwdriver that hung from their bells. Place three cubes in a Glass; add one-and-a-half ounces vodka and four ounces orange juice with an orange slice.

SINGAPORE SLING
Gin is at the heart of this drink, so named because it is a sling (an long drink usually sweetened with cherry brandy) first made at Raffles Hotel in Singapore in 1915.In a shaker, combine two ounces gin, one ounce cherry brandy, one teaspoon sugar, one teaspoon fresh lemon half dash each of Angostura bitters and Benedictine. Shake well with ice and strain into a tall glass.

TOM COLLINS
The Tom Collins is the tallest cocktail, a kind of long lemonade with a zip. First made in the late 1800s with sweetened gin and very likely named for the gin’s brand, Old Tom, it changed its style with time. Today it is strictly a dry gin drink - never mind that it is also made with sugar. Place five ice cubes in the tallest glass you have, add three ounces gin, the juice of one large lemon and one tablespoon sugar. Fill the glass with club soda and stir.

MINT JULEP
Mint Juleps made with rum, brandy and various rye whiskies have been known in America since at least that early 1800s but according to lore, the real thing was created in Mint Springs, Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1842 when for the first time, someone stuck a sprig of fresh mint into a glass of bourbon. Today the drink enjoys its greatest moment at Kentucky Derby time, when mint is in bloom. In a small glass, crush two sprigs fresh mint with one-teaspoon superfine sugar and a little soda water. Add two ounces bourbon, stir and strain into at tall glass filled with crushed ice. Stir until the glass is frosted. Garnish with mint sprigs.

Some Cocktail Recipes - A Few Cocktails require immaculate details while preparing them…

Mixing a Martini: Into a clean shaker filled with ice, pour exactly 3oz.of Gin or Vodka and ½ oz. or less dry vermouth. Shake but don’t stir and then strain into a martini glass for class. Then garnish with an olive or lemon twist.

Mixing a Mai Tai: In a sterile shaker, combine exactly 2 oz. of high quality dark rum, 1/2 oz.of Triple sec, 1 oz.of lemon juice, 1 oz of simple syrup, 1/2 oz.of lime juice and ½ oz. of orgeat syrup. Shake well with ice thoroughly and then pour.

Mixing a Manhattan: Into a clean shaker filled with ice, add 1-1/2 oz. of good quality Bourbon, 1/4 oz. each of both dry and sweet vermouth and a dash of Angostura bitters. Shake well, strain into a glass and garnish with a Maraschino cherry or Lemon twist.

Mix them well,add plenty of Ice. Enjoy!!

Casual Friday Dressing for the Office


Casual Clothing vs Formal Dressing - You Decide

Upto to now most of us have not had to think too hard about what we wear in the office. Most of us have four or five suits or a similar number of Van Heusen and Arrows that we wear in the office. We have four or five suits which we rotate in strict order. Our shoes circulate likewise. And then there are ties, a window of opportunity, albeit a small one.

But soon in India, we are all going to have to work much harder at our office dress sense. The American ritual of “Friday Wear” is already on its way full speed across the Atlantic on the way into India, as if it hasn’t entered already. Anyway, the idea – to let employees wear what they like to work on Fridays – was first developed in California’s Silicon Valley as a means of breaking down the rigid hierarchies of the office and promoting a team spirit. Now half the companies in the Fortune Top 500have the same policy, ranging from American Express and Microsoft to SAP and HSBC and not to forget Dot Com & new generation start-ups,.

Casual does not necessarily denote jeans and T-shirts. It might mean an open-necked shirt, a polo shirt, blazer chinos and a pair of loafers. And that is not such bad news. Giorgio Armani, for one, thinks the idea of encouraging employees to wear casual clothes in the office on Fridays is “a tremendous accomplishment, a goal that has finally been reached”. Armani and many of his fellow designers have been banging on for years about the restrictions of the office environment. They see men (and women) as closeted, repressed individuals wearing dull grey uniforms to their dull gray office, their individuality submerged within an Orwellian five-day-a-week existence.

In truth, designers have been offering more relaxed alternatives for sometime now. Italian businessmen especially, dress with style, flair and sophistication, designer-labeled up from their Fratelli Rossetti shoes to their Gucci ties. French and German businessmen escaped the straitjacket of the suit long ago; a smart jacket or blazer and pair of trousers is judged equally acceptable in most business situation. And now the message is getting through to the Anglo-Saxons. Loosen up urge the designers. If you don’t wear a suit, it doesn’t mean you have to look like a slob. Try shaking up your wardrobe, try doing what most women have to do every day of their working lives.

Don’t ask if it will really catch on here in India. It already has. The corporate offices of many American businesses are leading the way with “dress-down on Fridays”, from a liaison office of a large MNC at Kochi to the Headquarters of a Fortune 100 ginat at Mumbai. British and our own Indian companies have followed suit,albeit slowly and some are expected tentatively, over the coming months. While researching this article, I heard a rumor that the Bank of England, a relic of the conservative British empire and our very own Reserve Bank of India is already trying the scheme.

The problem with dress-down Friday is that it turns offices into minefields of potential disaster. As anyone who has ever worked for a company with a Friday Wear policy; the Managing Director who was mistaken for an intruder and refused entry to the blinding, the executives panicked by unexpected meeting with a top-notch client into dispatching couriers to their homes to retrieve their suits. Most companies, rather like armies, still thrive on strict hierarchical definitions; when the troops are allowed to abandon their uniforms, who knows what chaos will result?

Journalists have never had to worry too much about what they wear, but everyone knows what it feels like to get it wrong. A few years ago, a friend of mine was working for a magazine which was bought out in a secret deal by a rival publisher. The gray suits arrived on the doorstep on a Monday morning, midsummer. It was one of those steaming hot days when all conventional dress codes had been abandoned and the entire office was decked over in shorts and Hawaiian shirts. As the news of the takeover was announced, all felt like naughty schoolboys called into the headmaster’s study-sartorially ill equipped to face up to the new man agreement team.

But legitimate casual wear in the office is a different matter, and raises some interesting questions. Do companies really operate most efficiently by being run like military establishments, complete with suits as corporate uniforms? In many industries, the suit has already become a redundant form of clothing. These days you often see men remove their jackets and ties the moment they reach there desks-the jackets–and–tie combinations serving merely as an absurd carapace for traveling to and from the office.

And who’s to say that we won’t garner some psychological benefit from enjoying dressing for the office. It will give the old brain cells a stretch first thing in the morning. It might even make getting out of bed bearable and going to office a pleasure.

At Ideasonic, we are game for anything and Casual dressing is 100% OK unless we are meeting a real stuffy client. How about your office?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Chile - The Catalyst for Mexican Food


In Traditional Mexican Kitchens & Trendy Nouvelle Restaurants, the Pepper is King

I love mexican food. Yesterday, I was asked by the editor of a Food mag to dig up an article I wrote years back for a Travel guide. Its about Chilli or Chile, whichever you prefer and quite enlightening. Read on..

For Mexicans, Chile is its own food group. Many a Mexican will have fond memories of aromatic chile roasting in the autumn air. Mexicans celebrate their beloved child with festivals, countless child cook-offs and even an annual convention. At any given times, a Mexican somewhere is probably eating chile, whether it be salsa and chips, green chile finely diced in a sandwich or burger, or a burrito smothered in red chile. You get the picture; Mexicans eat chile on just about everything, anytime, anyday.

Legend has is that it was in 1598 that the Spanish Mexican Settler-Onate's expedition brought the first chile seeds from Old Mexico to the United States and rest of the western world.. Anthropologists and Native Americans, however, say that the plant was there much earlier. Wherever it arrived, the chile pepper was and is certainly there to stay and not in America alone. Along with corn and beans, chile is the foundation of Mexico's home cooking and a newer haute cuisine that is waking up taste buds the world over. As much a part of the Mexican heritage as its architecture and arts, Mexican distinctive cooking is different from what you'll find in the U.S., Spain or India or even elsewhere in the American Europe.

Despite a limited number of ingredients, early cooks created an ingenious repertoire of dishes, many of them-but not all-highly spiced. Enchiladas, buritos, carne adovada, and huevos rancheros are among the popular dishes in Mexican traditional restaurants, where chefs often work from old family recipes, that use traditional local ingredients in inventive new ways. Regional organic farms grow a wide range of food and spices. For added variety, exotic ingredients are flown in from around the world, as gourmet restaurants with international fare cater to sophisticated travelers.

Nonetheless, whatever you dine in modern world -even in Chinese restaurants and bagel shops-you're likely to be confronted, sooner or later with the ubiquitous chile pepper. Hence, it's important for the first-time diner to understand the complex nature of chile. (Note that in Mexico its spell with an e, which is the traditional Spanish spelling.)

First of all, the chile pepper is a fruit-even though it's sometimes referred to as a vegetable. Second, it can be an ingredient, a sauce or a hearty stew. Third, and most important, chile peppers range from the mild bell pepper to the hot-as-Hades habaneros. Many chefs like to use a pinch or so of the latter in their sauces to add some heat to the flavor. Not long ago a Mexican legislator tried to have "Red or green?" declared the official question. It is asked where ever where chile is served. If you're not sure which you prefer, ask for your chile "Christmas style". You'll get both. Red and green chile come from the same plant. Chile is green when picked early, red when allowed to ripen on the vine. To the question of which is hotter, the answer is: It depends. Heat varies with the kind of chile used, with growing conditions and with the cook's method, so ask your waiter about the chile being served. If eat concerns you, ask for your chile on the side.

Psst : if your chile is too hot, don't reach for water. The best way to quench the fire is to take a bite of something sweet, like a honey-laden sopaipilla-or have a glass of milk. Dairy products can ease the intense chile experience, which is one reason fro the sour cream topping on many dishes.

Not sure about you're chile every night? No problem. There are more than 100 mexican restaurants in India, ranging from corner restaurants to Fivestar establishments featured in international magazines-something for every pocketbook and every taste. You'll find urbane dining as sophisticated as that of worldclass restaurants in New York or Paris - or easy going cafes just like in India.

Mexico's native grown chile gives its cuisine a flavour that distinguishes it from Tex-Mex or New Mexican dishes. Let's's run down a typical Mexican's daily menu :

Breakfast: 1) Breakfast burrito-scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese, and a choice of ham, bacon or spicy chorizo (pork sausage) wrapped in a flour tortilla and either smothered or filled with either red or green child. 2) Huevos rancheros-corn tortillas covered with fried eggs, pinto beans, chile and cheese.

Lunch: 1) Green child cheeseburger-a true Mexican staple. Every place says theirs is the best, you decide. 2) green chile stew-vegetables, meat and green chile, another favorite.

Dinner: 1) Carne adovada-cubes of pork marinated in red chile and baked until tender. The best almost melts in your mouth. 2) Enchilada platter-corn tortillas either rolled up or stacked flat like pancakes with any combination of beans, meats, red or green chile, or both (Christmas), onions, lettuce, tomatoes, sourcream, or guacamole. There are many variations and enchiladas can usually be made to suit each person's tastes. Insider's tip: order a fried egg placed over a flat enchilada.

A true Mexican favorite is the sopaipilla. These pillow-shaped, flour pastries are deep-fried in oil until they fill with air. They are served at most Mexican restaurants and are simply delicious with honey. Many restaurants also serve sopaipillas stuffed with beans and meat, and smothered with chile as entrees. For a truly cross Mexican experience, sample Native American cuisine. Try fresh-from-the-horno fry bread at a roadside stand. Indian tacos are fresh lettuce, tomatoes, refried beans, guacamole, sourcream and chile piled, open-faced, onto puffy tortillas or fry bread. paper-thin sheets of piki bread are excellent dipped in stew. They are made from finely ground corn cooked in boiling water until it turns to mush and then spread over a hot flat surface.

What's hot? Your Glossary Guide To Mexican Food.

Atole - Thick, hot corn gruel.

Burrito - Flour tortilla roller around beans, beef or chicken, cheese &/or potatoes, smothered in chile, sprinkled with lettuce, tomato & onion.

Carne Adovada-Pork marinated and cooked in red chile, garlic & oregano; often served in a burrito. A true Mexican specialty.

Carne Asada-Roasted or barbecued beef or pork, cut in strips.

Carnitas-Strips of beef or pork marinated in green chile & spices.

Chalupas - Corn tortillas fried & layered with beef or chicken, beans, shredded lettuce; topped with guacamole & salsa.

Chile con Queso-Melted cheese & green chile served as a dip.

Chile Relleni-Green chile roasted, stuffed with cheese, dipped in egg batter and deep-fried.

Chimichanga-A deep-fried burrito, smothered with chile & cheese.

Enchiladas-Corn tortillas layered with (or wrapped around) onions, cheese, chicken or beef; covered with chile.

Fajita - Strips of grilled streak or chicken, sauteed peppers & onions, served with a salsa (see pico de gallo); rolled inside a flour tortillas (a make-it-yourself burrito).

Flautas - Tightly rolled, deep-fried enchiladas.

Huevos Rancheros-Eggs, usually fried, served on a corn tortilla and smothered with red or green chile & cheese.

Jalapenos-Very hot chiles, used in salsa or as a topping.

Menudo-A soup of tripe & chiles.

Nachos-Topstadas topped with beans, melted cheese & jalapenos; may be served with ground beef or shredded chicken, guacamole & sour cream.

Pico De Gallo-Salsa with tomatoes, onions, chopped fresh chiles & cilantro.

Posole-A hominy stew which is simmered with red chile & pork.

Quesadilla-A fried flour-tortilla turnover filled with cheese or other ingredients such as beef, pork or chicken. Refritos-Refried beans.

Salsa-A mixture of fresh chiles, tomatoes & onions.

Sopaipilla-A puffed, fired yeast bread that's eaten with honey.

Taco-Corn tortilla fried crisp and filled with meats, chopped lettuce, onions & tomatoes.

Tortilla-Round flat bread, available in corn, blue corn or flour.

Tostadas-Corn tortilla fried into chips.

Yes to a hearty Appetite!

An Inner Journey


A Spiritual Journey for the New Year

Its a New Year and this is a Journey I intend to take. Intend? Time For a little Websnacker philosophy

We travel to discover new worlds and experience new environments. We travel to experience ourselves in different ways, free of the normal constraints of our lives. We travel to see ourselves mirrored in other people and cultures in the world - at some deep level recognizing that we are all brothers and sisters, and reveling in our diversity, our uniqueness, even our eccentricities. We travel to face our fears-and to overcome them. We travel to test our mettle and expand our own boundaries. We travel to seek fun and excitement. We travel because, at our core, we humans are explorers and yearn for adventure. We long to break the monotony of our civilized, ever-so-rational, planned-out lives.

Discovery and adventure are also accessed through an inner journey, however, and, because it ultimately holds the potential fulfilment of all our desires, the inner journey is the most exciting, challenging and rewarding one there is. It is a sacred quest fraught with challenges and opportunities for growth disguised as obstacles. So many of our wisest teachers tell us to "know ourselves" and to "go inside" to search for the answers to all our questions. Jesus said, "the kingdom of heaven is within". The Hindu sage, Nityananda, said, "the heart is the hub of all sacred places-go there and roam". Religious historian Elaine Pagels said, "when you know yourself deeply, you will know God, because you will discover that the divine is within you". In the highest sense, knowing ourselves means getting a glimpse of our ultimate divinity. Our main responsibility in life is to go within to discover who we are and then become the best "us" that we can be. Only we can do that; no one can do it for us. This is a universal imperative, regardless of gender, race, color, nationality or religious background.

So let us travel within-fearlessly. Inside is a fountain of courage and a source of infinite strength. Inside we finally find the relief of self-acceptance, the peace of understanding, the joy and humility of living with purpose. When we "come in" we are energized and enlivened by an inner resolve, a potent inner force. Inside is where we recognize our essential humanity-and connect to the spark of divinity that we all contain. It is also where we come to the realization of our oneness, where we find self-respect and, consequently, the respect of others. It is where we touch a love both tender and vulnerable -a love that hurts for the tragedy of the human condition and for our abused and neglected Earth. We discover a universe within as unfathomably limitless as the one without. Passion makes its home there, as do dreams.

On this journey we must also face our inner demons and nightmares-our shadow side that we have attempted to suppress. Throughout this never-ending journey of self-discovery, we must strive to remain open and integrate all of ourselves, the good and the bad-no longer rejecting parts of who we are. While inside, we discover how much we have become conditioned. The inner quest prompts us to analyze and often deconstruct entire systems of belief-not which we have previously interpreted reality- and which no longer serve us or fit who we are becoming. Inside we regain our lost innocence. We discover that the fear holding us back is only an illusion-a self-imposed imprisonment as pathetic and vulnerable as the Wizard in Oz trapped behind his razzle-dazzle effects, his curtain of smoke and mirrors. Inside we tap into the source of our creative expression; we discover and deepen our innate intuitive sense. Inside we find the only thing that will really fulfil us: our selves.

There are many paths leading us to the inner world. Meditation, in its various forms, is one of the most effective. The main goal of meditation is to quiet the mind, so that we can temporarily halt its constant thinking, analytic and problem-solving functions. In meditation we strive to focus the mind in the present moment, rather than giving it free rein to obsess about the past or fantasize about the future. When we learn to free ourselves from the mind's constant schemings and preoccupations, the result is an abiding peace-an indescribable scene of relief-as well as flashes of insight, increased clarity of thinking and unanticipated solutions to our problems.

In some ways, breath work, which may be considered a from of meditation, could be though of as the autobahn to the inner world. It works very fast, and even new practitioners can attain high meditative states the first time out of the pit. Traditional Indians have been using their breath for healing and as a means of reaching altered states of consciousness for thousands of years. Besides their healing effects, conscious breathing techniques, such as rebirthing or holotropic breathing, can generate a profound sense of spiritual connectedness.

Chanting is another meditative practice that helps quiet the mind, potentially leading to deepened levels of inner peace and heightened states of being. Chanting works best when done for a substantive period of time (at least 30 minutes to an hour) and helps us to allow free expression to our innate feelings of devotion. For those who are physically inclined or who have short attention spans, meditative practices involving movement may be most effective; these include yoga, tai chi, qi gong, walking the labyrinth and ecstatic dancing.

Yet another way of going within is communing with nature. Solitary moments in beautiful natural settings can lead to profound inner peace and a deep spiritual connection. Our bodies quiet and relax as they become more attuned to the cycles of nature.Besides the many benefits gained from these and other spiritual practices-such as deepened insight, an expanded sense of self and a richer awareness of our oneness with the universe-a life that works better is the icing on the cake.

It is important to realize that a likely result of exploring the inner landscapes is a propulsion into action. Having faced our inner demons and dropped our old identities of woundedness and vicitimization, we reemerge transformed as the beings that we really are: empowered compassionate, loving, ready to make a difference in the world and fully able to embrace the totality of life. In this sense, coming out means emerging as who we are really are.

Having discovered who we are at a deeper level and experienced our connection to all life and to the divine, we often emerge as spiritual travellers, environmental activists, moral leaders, change catalysts, social reformers and justice workers. In a sense, going within and coming out are two sides of the same coin, the inhale and the exhale. For, as James Allen says in As we Think (new world library), "You cannot travel within and stand still without". Once we reestablish our rightful place in relationship to nature and the rest of the universe, everything else falls into place. We begin to treat the Earth, its resources and its other inhabitants with respect.

In terms of taking action, the single most important thing we can do in life is to go for our personal best. Tom Waddell, the equal gender activist, once said, "To do one's personal best is the ultimate of all human achievement", Whether we stretch toward personal excellence step by step or leap by leap, the move forward is the ultimate goal. In making our own unique contribution, we will find fulfillment.

It all begins with the journey within. Inner space: the final frontier. This is the ultimate adventure, the real test, the answer to our questions, the resolution of problems. Therein lies our happiness and our life's fulfillment. So, start your journey today.
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