Book Review, Summary & Notes

Two Minutes from the Abyss by Vijay Eswaran

11 Pillars of Life Management

Two Minutes from the Abyss by Vijay Eswaran
Vijay Eswaran
My Rating


Two Minutes from the Abyss by Vijay Eswaran

The truth is that nothing is promised and today might be your last day on Earth. Vijay Eswaran uses stories, personal experience and insights to explain 11 pillars of life management.

Today I want to share my notes of Two Minutes from the Abyss with an intention to inspire you to live in the now.

Biggest lesson: tomorrow is not promised and your life is ending every second, make the most of it.


In this book, Vijay Eswaran, a Malaysian entrepreneur and the Executive Chairman of the QI Group, shares 11 pillars of life management. He explains how to live in the present moment, deal with adversity, be grateful for what you have, be a better leader parent, spouse, friend, and human being.

Notes & Quotes

The young monk smiled and in a single sentence in what appeared to be Tibetan, said something to my guide. His answer, when translated, led to the defining moment of my life. The young monk said, "Are we all not just two minutes from the abyss anyway?"

I realized instantly how true that statement was. It remains true from that day all those years ago, until this very moment. Any one of us at any given time remains just two minutes from the abyss.

Do we realize how close we all are from the abyss at any time? Do we even acknowledge it? Do we live our lives in a manner respectful of that understanding?

Some of the most incredible warrior tribes from around the world such as the Lakota Indians from the northern part of the United States, the Gorkhas from the Nepalese lowlands, the Tuareg tribesmen from Morocco, the Comanche warriors, the amazing Cossack horsemen, and the Tartars of Crimea to name a few, all had a unique practice in common. They all said a variation of the same prayer or war cry in song or in verse, one they repeated every time they got up to greet the day, or go into battle. It went like this: Today is a good day to die!

I realized that we must come to terms with this reality, that any day could be our last, that any moment we walk this earth we are but two minutes from the abyss. Until this state of mind actually prevails within us, we are living a lie for nothing else is true except for the fact that we are all simply two minutes from the abyss.

The beauty of stories is that they are easy to remember. They stay with you long after you have heard them, or the book has ended. I love how a complex philosophical concept can be conveyed so easily and so simply through a story while continuing to resound within your mind throughout your life.

Nikola Tesla once said: “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.

We are a product of the forces that make us—our parents, our upbringing, our culture, our friends, and our inherent nature.

Today, I have come to realize that in order to continue on the path to success, you have to ignore both the garlands that are bestowed upon you and the gravel that is thrown upon you. Both are of little or no significance.

Time is not something that we have. At that moment, a sense of urgency began to rise within me.


If you live with a sense of urgency, in an instant, life and every breath you draw gets supercharged. You change from ambling along the path of life to racing along the same path.

A true sense of urgency is one that you wake up to every morning. It drives you as much as you drive it. It is a beacon of light and it draws from your inner well-being. It should come from a disciplined source, one that you have absolute control over.

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you are the lion or a gazelle—when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

Getting up in the morning with a sense of urgency is a necessary condition. Something we need to welcome. A sense of urgency is not an option; it’s a necessity. It is something we must cultivate, recognize, and renew every day.

A life without purpose is a life not lived. A burning desire must be driven by a purpose.

“Sacrifice is necessary to achieving your goals. A sense of urgency drives you to willingly and freely sacrifice. If you are not sacrificing at some level, be it time, money, or desires, it indicates a lack of a sense of urgency.

We cannot afford to change gradually. We need to change before we become irrelevant. We need to change before we are made redundant. We need to change before we are made to change. We need change as much as we need fresh air and clean water. Not recognizing this is one of the fundamental weaknesses of a great majority of failures in our own lives.

Life is about decisions and constant change. They are both intertwined and inseparable. Decide and be free. Remain undecided and be derided. The choice is yours.

Andy Warhol, the artist who revolutionized visual arts in the 1950s, famously said, "They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."

People become much more reluctant to change as they head into the final years of their life. The world seems bewildering, very different from the one they were born into. They find themselves unable to adapt thereby inevitably becoming bystanders. This is understandable at this point in life, but not when you are in the midst of life. You cannot and must not stop. Any kind of change is better than not changing at all.

A child prodigy can grow up to become a famous composer, and yet remain the same child who fell in love with music from the very onset. Despite the many years between learning to play and becoming a famous composer, the single constant in his life is his love of music. His skills and talent may have grown, but his love remains what it always has been; a simple and deep love for the music in all its form. His love for the music remains the truism, which is the central core value of this composer’s life, one that does not change.

Losing your values is not change. Losing your values is the opposite of change. It is a reversal, a regression. Change should be about growth at all times.

The more you learn, the more you know. But one fact remains—you can never know all.

It is the application of that knowledge that is called wisdom that is relevant and no one can take that away from you.

How many professors of finance have you seen drive a Rolls-Royce? These are academics that have spent a lifetime in the pursuit of knowledge on the subject of money. Hence, one would assume a professor of finance knows everything there is to know about money. Yet does he know how to make money? That is an entirely different process.

If you go to a waterfall with a teaspoon, how much water can you bring back? Does the problem lie with the waterfall, or with the utensil you carried to it? Many times we stand before a mentor or a guide, who has a waterfall of knowledge and innate wisdom to share with us. But if we carry a teaspoon, how much of that wisdom can we take/hold? Your learning equates to your yearning. As you yearn for more, the utensil you carry transforms from a teaspoon to a cup, then a cup to a pail, and a pail to a barrel.


Stages of Learning

  • Discernment
  • Analysis
  • Total focus
  • Detachment

Sadly, we end up confusing our identity with our ego. We end up thinking that by defending the ego and its position, we are defending ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The ego manifests in two forms. In some personalities it comes out in the form of aggression. In many others, it manifests in a more passive form. The aggressive ego is more easily identifiable than other forms of ego and therefore, to a greater extent, easier to deal with.

Emptying your cup means rejecting the idea that you know everything so that you can lean new thingsOnce you start assuming things, the learning process stops.

Ancient Vedic texts refer to the concept of Maya. According to the texts, the world we live in is illusory, a Maya. The concept of Maya is given this seductive feminine form. She can seduce us into this false sense of security making us forget our true purpose in life. If you think about it, and apply it to the world we live in today, Maya is nothing but the comfort zone.

In our rush, we risk everything to gain almost nothing.

No one consciously seeks the comfort zone. When there is a lack of change in your life, or a lack of desire for change, you end up in a comfort zone.

When you recognize that you are not taking any risks, you know you are right in the middle of the comfort zone. No risk, no life. Or as the saying goes, no pain, no gain. If you are not in some kind of pain or taking some kind of risk, you are back in the comfort zone.

You remain blind to the comfort zone until you are in it. If you are not in motion, you are in demotion. The comfort zone dulls your senses and lulls you into a false sense of security.

Ninety-eight percent of the planet is sheep, so that is how most people think.

One of the fundamental traits of sheep is to blame the world for everything that happens to them.

Lions are individualistic. They do not characterize themselves by following in the footsteps of others. Sheep need footsteps in the sand to follow. It is always difficult to find the first sheep willing to move.

The lion cannot be stopped by a fence. The sheep never dares to look beyond the fence.

Expectation is the most crippling aspect of adversity. Expecting something to happen is one of worst practices you can indulge in.

You need to outlast the conditions causing the adversity. Everything is temporary. All adverse situations come with a time limit. Inevitably, they need to end. The key is to survive it first. Survival has two aspects: Never give up and never give in.

If you do not have the willpower on one level, you will not have the willpower on another level.

Adversity twists reality. When you give in to adversity, it is a long, dark, and dreary road that pulls you in. It is a hard road to leave when you are challenged by fear, despair, frustration, anger, and the various negative emotions experienced by human beings.

Every person you encounter is the right one.

Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.

Everything begins at exactly the right moment, neither earlier nor later. When we are ready for that something new in our life, it will be there—ready to begin.

What is over, is over.

Adversity is the force that moves you forward. Adversity is a function of success. You do not need to revel in it, but you certainly need to manage it.

One of my favorite quotes is, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

The fundamental truth about purpose that is sadly not realized by many, is that one doesn’t actually find purpose. More often than not, purpose finds you.

Success does not stem from the belief that something can work; it is the belief that something must work!

It’s not the money, real or imagined that turns our life around. It is our belief that gives us the power to achieve anything.

Application of knowledge is the path to wisdom. Knowledge by itself, without application leaves one just an academic.

I believe simply listening to someone’s speeches, and reading books, or articles they have written, can be considered mentorship.

You cannot find a mentor by looking for them. You find them in the process of looking for a higher level of perfection in your craft. You find them because they inevitably appear in your path.

Repetition is your mantra. The most important lessons are not learned by understanding them, but by repeating them.

As the monk walked away, he said something that is perhaps the most powerful lesson I have ever learned: There is no substitute for practice.

A number of practices exist in Eastern and Asian traditions that can help suppress the ego. For example, it is customary for aspirants in monasteries and traditional schools of Eastern philosophy to bow their head to display signs of obeisance, and to do humbling tasks on behalf of their teachers or mentors. Many Westerners believe this is for the benefit of the mentor. It is not. These practices are more for the benefit of the mentee. In the process of doing these humbling tasks, the student learns to quell his ego.


Expectation is ego driven and is therefore a precursor to disappointment. A man without expectation is rarely, if ever, disappointed. Acceptance is the earmark of a good student or mentee.

We do the best things in life when we have no expectations, and that’s also when we reap our greatest rewards.

Expectation turns life into a transaction. To truly live, we cannot expect. We have to learn to simply accept.

That is the first step towards mastering perception management. Seek a truthful picture of yourself, because you can only work with the truth.

Please, thank you, and sorry. Perhaps the simplest gesture, as incongruent as it may seem, is asking someone, “how are you today?

The good thing about speaking the truth is that you do not have to remember what you say. Lies require you to remember what your last lie was about.

The truth is always more painful on the onset, but almost invariably rewarding over the long-term.

The reason I recall this incident, is to highlight the fact that to try and fail is simply better than not trying at all. Knowing that something’s wrong and not saying anything is as good as telling a lie for the damage is the same.

Influence is not about pandering. Influence is winning the other person’s respect.

The right tone does not have to sound sweet. It has to sound sincere. It is not about camouflage nor is it about persuasion. It is about care. It is about sounding humane.

Someone once said revenge is a dish best served cold.

You cannot expect your principles to be reciprocated. People lie, and this is a sad fact.

There will always be a difference between how you recognize the concept of success and how you choose to achieve it. I define this difference as the missionary versus mercenary approach.

In the path of the mercenary, the end always justifies the means. In the path of the missionary the means are of crucial importance. As a matter of fact, that is the only thing that is of importance to the missionary. To the missionary, the journey outweighs the destination. More accurately, the journey itself is the destination.

Sacrifice is the ultimate cost of success. What you are wiling to sacrifice in your quest for success defines who you are and who you will become.

The missionary path involves sacrifice, self-discipline, and internal balance. The price that one pays is an internal price.

The fact that the missionary gets rejected a hundred times or fails in achieving what they set out to do one hundred times, does not detract them from their purpose. To a missionary, success and failure are part of the path to the goal. The goal is ultimately to master oneself. A mercenary is always attached to immediate results.

To a missionary, the objective is the process itself. Failure is just another stepping stone along the way.

Lord Acton, a nineteenth century historian and moralist once said of absolute monarchies, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

An important way to identify missionaries in your team of leaders is to look for the people who are the most open to being criticized, confronted, and challenged. Their main focus is on improving who they are.

11 rules of confrontation

  1. Check your emotions at the door.
  2. Never confront the person, always confront the issue. Avoid using and I and you in the discussion.
  3. Never argue your point for the point’s sake; only lawyers do that. Discuss it instead. The objective is communication, not domination.
  4. Listen as much as you talk.
  5. Begin with listening. The more you listen the more effective you become in addressing the issue.
  6. Confrontation with egoism, anger, hatred, jealousy, or malice of any kind is bound to fail. Even pity as a motive is self-defeating as an objective.
  7. Always confront with love, failing which you can also do so with kindness, compassion, or understanding.
  8. Never digress. It will be highly tempting to bring other issues in. Resist and remain focused. Make one point at a time.
  9. Never forget whom you are doing it with or what you are doing it for—yourself.
  10. Be ready to compromise. Confrontation without compromise is only possible for a principle, never for personal gain. If you find that you are getting emotional at any juncture, bring in a neutral third party and have them mediate the confrontation.
  11. Confront to learn, not to teach.

We are all but two minutes from the abyss in so many different ways. In every day a chance that may have been our last, is lost. An opportunity that may never be regained is lost. There is no perfect timing but now. All else is clearly illusion.

Being two minutes from the abyss means living in the now.

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