Awaken the artist in you

A common, and unfortunate, myth about spirituality is that it demands renunciation. That it asks of you to give up something in order to gain inner peace. Nothing is farther from the truth. Spirituality asks nothing of you. It does not even ask you to awaken. It is, in fact, only when you awaken, when you understand who you really are, when you realize the purpose of your creation, that you turn to spirituality. Spirituality is always there. As is ‘everything else’. It is only when your inner awareness blossoms that you look to spiritual experiences and want more of it. And you find, in your awakened state, that ‘everything else’ is so very insignificant.  

Elango: Realize and Indulge
Yesterday I had a unique learning experience. I was invited to an art show and auction. There were two artists on stage. One was the celebrated painter A.V.Elango and the other was the famous pianist Anil Srinivasan. As Anil played the piano, Elango painted. For over 45 minutes all of us in the audience were in a trance. We watched, in amazement, as Elango created a ‘Krishna with a Cow’ on a blue canvas, even as Anil had us mesmerized with his soulful piano recital. When invited, Elango spoke very briefly, preferring to let his art speak. However, what he said appealed to me greatly and I share my learnings with you. He made three major points:

  • There is a surrendered Nandiand an arrogant Mahishasura in each of us. We need to let more of the Nandievolve, through total surrender to Life, in us. (Both Nandi and Mahishasura are bulls with unique characteristics in Hindu mythology)
  • Let us learn to be happy being alive. I am happiest when I am painting. That’s when I merge with the silence that I really am.
  • There is a simple difference between a saint and an artist: “A saint realizes and renounces. An artist realizes and indulges.”

How true. There is an artist in each of us. We don’t need to be able to paint magically with oils like Elango does or make music the way Anil does. There’s something that truly brings us alive. And it is unique to each of us. A friend of mine simply loves cooking and having friends over. He cooks each dish and serves his guests personally telling them how he has prepared it. Another friend loves to sing old movie songs sharing trivia on how the lyrics came about or nuances of how the music was composed and such. Similarly, there’s masterful artistry of some form in you. In me. The artist in each of us is often dormant for most of our lifetime, waiting eagerly, patiently, to come alive. But because we are so busy being “career professionals” and providers, we don’t have the time to be the artist that we really are. But whenever the artist in you awakens, the real youis unveiled.

Elango invites us to experience, perhaps even as an experiment, that state of awakening. We can get there provided we don’t come in the way of Life. Provided we stop being arrogant, like Mahishasura, and stop thinking we are in control of our lives and that each of us has to play the all-important role of protector, provider and lead performer in this lifetime! He says we can get there by simply surrendering, through what gives us joy, to Life!

By surrendering to Life, he is not advocating that we become saints and renounce the world. He is saying just the opposite. He says indulge by all means. But indulge in what gives you joy. When you realize and indulge in what makes you joyful, with the artist in you coming alive, you grasp the essence of spirituality. You will then not feel burnt out. You will not feel you are working harder yet are getting nowhere in Life. You will not be seeking “something” despite having everything. You will then be peace. You will then, like a flower, bloom every single day. You will then be bliss – because the artist in you is awakened!

What’s your net worth?

Wait! Hold on a sec! Don’t get your calculator out! The question must be understood slightly differently: When everyone’s obsessed about their net worth, how do you compute the value of, well, simply living with what you have and doing what you love?

Some years back I visited a businessman named Giuseppe in Capannoli, near Pisa, in Tuscany, Italy. His business was doing badly. And the company I was working for was interested in buying his business over. I was down there for a due diligence exercise to check if his books of accounts and assets were indeed as he claimed them to be. From whatever I saw, it appeared that this businessman and family were in a sorry state. All their assets were repossessed by their bankers, the tax authorities had frozen all bank accounts and their ancient, 120-year-old,family villa was due to be auctioned in a month’s time. Giuseppe said to me several times during our meetings and endless reviews over coffee that he really, really hoped my company would bail them out. He had no personal cash on him and had to often get his uncle to swipe a credit card to help him fill gas in the car so that I could be ferried around. But despite all this gloom, Giuseppe made sure each evening he showed me a bit of his beautiful country within vicinity of Capannoli. So, one evening we went to Florence 50km away. And on another we went to Pisa, 25km away. One afternoon he took me, using his professional acquaintance’s connections, to visit the Piaggio plant in Pontedara, a 20 minute drive from where I was staying. He played the perfect host, taking care of my every minor need. I marveled at Giuseppe’s ability to be happy. One evening, while he baked me a pizza in a grand wood-fired oven in his kitchen, and while we sipped exquisite red wine made from homegrown Sangiovese grapes, I asked him how he managed to stay so cheerful in spite of what he was going through. “I never focus on what I don’t have. I have learnt to focus only on what I have. For now, I have your company, I have this opportunity to bake you this pizza and I have my favorite red wine to drink. Life cannot be valued by how much money you have alone. It can only be valued by how well you have lived with what you have been given,” replied Giuseppe heartily.

Yesterday, after all these years, I thought about Giuseppe. It has been a difficult month for me and my family. Stressful is a mild word. My wife and I sat in a coffee shop, just to get away from all the activity we have had to manage in the past several weeks, sipping green tea all afternoon. There was no agenda. We had nothing specific to talk about. We could have discussed the myriad problems we were faced with. We could have worried __ because we had plenty to worry about too! But we did none of that. We both read the books we had carried with us. We occasionally looked up to smile at a little baby girl, about a year old, who kept waving to us from the next table. We didn’t have to say it. But we both thoroughly enjoyed just being with each other. That’s when I thought about the pizza night in Giuseppe’s kitchen. While I must confess what he had said did not make any sense to me then, when I was hardly 28, I couldn’t agree with it more now.

In a world where everything is valued basis a price tag, how valuable is a moment of companionship? In times when you are judged basis your net worth, basis your bank balance and your assets, how valuable is happiness? In Life when everything is driven by a calendar, by an agenda, by Return on Investment (including time), how valuable is simply being, reading a book or aimlessly savoring a child’s smile? Each of those instances, however insipid they may appear to be in the wake of the problems we end up being faced with, you will agree, is priceless.

Make your Life worth living by counting how wealthy you are with simply the opportunity to live! Not everything can be measured from a conventional net worth point of view. Certainly not reflections over green tea. Nor   sips of Tuscan red wine in a cashless, yet big-hearted, man’s kitchen. Or for you, or others, it may be playing the piano or writing or talking to a stranger or shooting candid pictures on the street. Whatever it may be, at least now, choose also to do what you love doing. You may have chosen more ‘paying’ or ‘commercially rewarding’ options as careers! But take the time to do stuff that you love to and that which make your Life worth it. Only then will you realize what your true net worth really is!          

From nonsense to non-tense living

Living completely requires you to be non-tense. Which is you must not allow anxiety, worry, guilt, fear, anger __ in fact anything that makes you tense or stressed __ to affect you in any manner. To be non-tense, we must learn to drop all memories, all expectations, all desires and simply embrace the present, the NOW.

At the core of all human suffering are memories, expectations and desires. Most of the time we are saddled with painful memories of what once was. We either want to go back in time or we want to rid ourselves of the pain and suffering we have been through. But how can you get rid of anything that you cling on to? Then there are our expectations. We expect that all our integrity and hard work is always rewarded. That all our wants are always met. When that does not always happen, as it may possibly not, you agonize. Then there are our desires. For a future that is not yet visible. We want Life of a particular order. We don’t know if it will happen or not. So we worry about the possibilities, about the odds, all the time.

To avoid all this suffering, you need to do three things:

  • Stop living in your past __ and the memories will no longer come back to haunt you
  • Expect nothing – simply receive what you get, with joy, with humility, in acceptance
  • Desire nothing – In the absence of desires, think about it, there will be no future to worry about

Earlier this week a friend from the hospitality industry pinged me. He frantically wanted some advice. He lived and worked out of a South Asian country and served in one of the most premium beach resorts there as an Assistant Manager. His wife and one-year-old daughter live in India. He said he had been to India on vacation until 10 days ago. And confessed he was very homesick. He had stopped enjoying his work because he wanted to be living together with his family. His wife was not too keen on leaving India for another South Asian country and preferred moving to the Americas, if at all. To compound matters, his company had overlooked him for a promotion. He was disillusioned and wanted to quit his job and get back to India. He said he wanted to do something to make his situation better. We chatted a bit on Skype. Here are snatches from the conversation.

Me: How does quitting become the “something” you want to do to make your situation better?

Him: At least it will get me back to being with the family!

Me: Oh! So, you don’t need to be earning right now to support your family?

Him: No. No. I do need to be earning. I have not much savings, so, yes, I need to keep my job.

Me: Then how does quitting the one you have help?

Him: I am so frustrated. I just think quitting will help.

Me: Since you ask, let me tell you, you must not be quitting, but must create value in whatever work you do.

Him: Create value in a job for an employer who does not value me and has passed me over in the recent appraisals? I don’t get you!

Me: The employer has passed you over. That does not stop you from creating value. Yes, you probably need to find a lasting solution to your twin problems of a. living with your family and b. finding an employer that values you. But clearly quitting is not the way forward. Accept first that you are not living with your family now. So, let go of the immediate past, your vacation, that haunts you and makes you homesick. Accept also that your employer does not value you the way you would like to be. So, drop that expectation totally. And think of what best you can do every day. You can probably make your tenure as an Assistant Manager invaluable by creating value in your role every moment from now on! Just do that. Because that opportunity is in your control.

Him: So, what do I do about getting another job? Are you saying I don’t try at all?

Me: That doesn’t mean you should not try! Of course, just as you can create value in your role every day, you can apply to new positions every day. But do both these things without delving too much into the past or without worrying about the future. Work without pressure….work immersing yourself in the present, in the opportunity available to you, to create value!

That was my friend’s story. He signed off promising he would think over our conversation. Yesterday he pinged me again saying he had had a candid conversation with his current boss __ the one who had overlooked him for a promotion. And he said he kind of understood now the rationale behind his appraisal being the way it was. He declared that he was a lot more peaceful now. He said: “When you accept things for the way they are, you are no longer tense about how they will be or over how they once were.”

Honestly, I did not expect such a meditative point of view from my friend. But so deep has been his learning – he discovered the power of non-tense living! And I share it with you.

Your own Life situation may be different. But a non-tense way of looking at it may help you create value too than just acting in haste, and emotionally, in times when you don’t get what you want. A non-tense Life is always more fulfilling, more practical, more peaceful, because it is based on the only reality, the only truth available to each of us __ which is, the NOW! When you are not in the now, you are actually dealing with a lot of nonsense – emotions like worry, fear, anxiety, anger, that waste your now away. If you are focused on the now, on the other hand, there is no past, there is no future. There just is, what is. And so, in the present, there is no tension of what was or what will be. So, there will be no more wasteful emotions, literally, no nonsense!

Here’s hoping you live a truly non-tense day today!

Living with worry, fear, guilt, anger and more…

Many of us hope, through techniques and methods, to get rid of debilitating emotions like fear, worry, guilt or anger. But the truth is you can’t ever rid yourself of worry or fear or guilt or anger. You can only__and have to__learn to live with them. By learning to not give them any attention, you make them powerless. When they don’t rule your thinking, your mind adapts to your native state of peace, love, abundance and joy!

There are two states in which we naturally operate. Sub-conscious Doing and Conscious Doing. Intelligent living lies in making the important shift to Conscious Doing.

Let’s take the example of driving a car on a highway. There are so many things you are doing. And most of them are being done sub-consciously. You are driving, of course. But you are also having a conversation with someone riding with you. As you are doing this you are changing gears, switching your feet between the pedals on the footboard and keeping a sharp watch on the road ahead. This kind of doing is Sub-conscious Doing. It also comes from practice – when you are habituated to doing something.

Take another example of driving the same car through a very bad traffic jam. You are doing the same things with the highest level of focus and intense vigilance. This is Conscious Doing.

When we worry or fear an outcome or  grieve over something we are often actually doing it sub-consciously. Think about it carefully and you will agree with me. Which is, we don’t even know we are worrying, but because we are worrying we are not present in the moment. Long periods of time in a day are spent by many of us being absent from the present. You are, for instance, in a meeting at work. It is closer to 3 PM. And you are actually worrying if your kids got home and ate their meal because you have not got an SMS yet from your older one. You are worried how your younger one, who went to school with an upset tummy, is now feeling. A colleague shoots a question at you and you snap out of your worry-filled reverie and quickly struggle to get back into the meeting. Worrying cannot be eradicated entirely. But you can choose to shift from such sub-conscious worrying to, let us say, conscious worrying. Which is, by shifting from not knowing you are worrying to knowing exactly why you are worrying and knowing how to not feed your worry any attention anymore! You make this shift by increasing your level of awareness. And that comes from practicing, diligently, daily, not to give certain, especially those debilitating foursome, emotions too much attention. The secret lies in choosing what you want your mind to attend to.

So, if you choose being calm consciously, you avoid sub-conscious worrying. And even if you must worry__let us say over the health of a loved one__you do that from a positive, productive perspective. Your worry then leads to constructive action and not to debilitating grief or sorrow. Through repeated practice, and through consciously, consistently, choosing to be calm, you become your state of being __ you are then aglow with the Universal Energy.

The Buddha was asked this question: Why do the noble beings who have developed their minds appear so calm and radiant? The Buddha replied:

‘They sorrow not for what is past,
They yearn not after that which is not come,
The present is sufficient for them:
Hence it is they appear so radiant.
By having longing for the future,
By sorrowing over what is past,
By this fools are withered up
As a cut-down tender reed.’

Indeed. It is not as if the calmer folks you see around you have nothing to worry about or fear or get angry over. Anyone will get angry if there is a provocation. Anyone will fear a consequence which one has not experienced. Anyone will carry the guilt of a mistake. And anyone will have to face worries that surface in the mind. Because all of these emotions are led by thoughts. And thoughts are like waves. They keep ceaselessly, untiringly, lashing on the mind’s shore. By training the mind to only do things consciously__including thinking__we have an opportunity to live freely, fully, without fear, anger, guilt, worry and more bothering us. Without any of them taking us away from living in the moment!

When you are fully aware, you need not suffer anyone, anymore

There are some people in whose presence we feel extremely uncomfortable. Something in the way they conduct themselves puts you off. And at another level you do recognize that you are made very differently and there can be no chemistry at all between both of you. So, every time you have to meet this person, you go into a agonizing dilemma. You are thinking of ways and means to avoid the encounter. You make excuses. And when you can’t avoid anymore, you suffer deeply in this person’s presence. Your physical discomfort morphs into awkwardness and eventually into unhappiness.

I have been through such experiences too. And at many times I have had the urge to tell the person, whom I loathed meeting, what I felt deeply about her or him. But social niceties, the intricacies of the relationship between us, would force me to not express myself frankly. Even so, suppressing what your true feelings are always leads you to more unhappiness and grief.

I used to have a neighbor who is very, very wealthy. He simply loved to talk about his wealth. He talked about his cars. His yachts. His vacation homes. His businesses and how much profits he had made from recent projects __ giving details brazenly of which politician or bureaucrat he had bribed. And he talked endlessly. He would accost me in the elevator, in the parking lot or even, at times, invite himself over into my living room to launch off into his completely unwelcome self-expositions. There was no way I could escape his tyranny because he simply had no sensitivity. He didn’t bother about another’s time, space or privacy. For several months I suffered. It came to a point when I would dread bumping into this neighbor and so I would be very wary of even stepping out of my apartment. I would rush out or in so that he did not see me. It was a stupid way of living in my own house. But there seemed no other way! I could have perhaps told him off. Or had a showdown with him and put him in his place but then he was a neighbor and nobody wants to spar with a neighbor. So, I simply kept suffering.

That’s when I read this story about Swami Vivekananda. Just before his famous trip to the USA and his iconic speech in Chicago, Vivekananda visited Jaipur on the Maharaja’s invitation. The Maharaja gave Vivekananda a grand reception that was worthy of a king. There was a public procession…flowers, lights and the royal works. In the main court, the durbar, of the King, an elaborate dance performance by the leading courtesan, a devadaasi, of the King was organized. When the performance was about to begin, and Vivekananda came to know that the dancer was a prostitute, he rushed up to his room and locked himself up. He refused to come out. He was afraid the prostitute’s presence would corrupt his moral pledge to be celibate. He was even angry with the King for having the audacity to invite a prostitute in a Swami’s presence. The King came up to the room and profusely apologized. But declined to send the prostitute away because his value systems prevented him from sending anyone away from his court. He said he could not insult or humiliate a guest in his court, even if she was a prostitute. The prostitute, when she heard of what was going on and delaying the start of her performance, was very hurt initially. She had heard a lot about Swami Vivekananda’s brilliance and had considered it her privilege to be dancing in his presence. She then took a momentous decision to begin her performance without either the King or his important guest being in the Court. She sang as she danced. The song is very beautiful. The song goes – “I know that I am not worthy of you, but you could have been a little more compassionate. I am dirt on the road – that I know. But you need not be so antagonistic to me. I am a nobody – ignorant, a sinner. But you are a saint – why are you afraid of me?” As the song wafted through the palace corridors and reached the young Swami Vivekananda’s ears, something happened to him. He confessed later that he was defeated by the prostitute. He came out of his room. And he watched the whole performance in the court. That night, he wrote in his diary: “A new revelation has been given to me by the divine. I was afraid… must have been some lust within me. That’s why I was afraid. But the woman defeated me completely, and I have never seen such a pure soul. Her tears were so innocent and the singing and the dancing were so holy…. Sitting near her, for the first time, I became aware that it is not a question who is there outside, it is a question of what is.” Surely, with that experience Vivekananda transcended to a new level of consciousness. He became fully aware.

Reading this story, I awakened too. I realized that in the context of either my bombastic neighbor or in some other key relationships, where there was a complete absence of chemistry, wherever I was struggling, I needed to look deeper. I needed to look at what isthan who is there outside. What is behind the exterior, behind the packaging is the same beautiful cosmic energy that powers each of the Universe’s creations. The diversity is in the packaging. The shapes, the sizes, the colors, the bells, the whistles, the bows and ribbons, mislead us. We develop a distaste for and suffer people, or even start hating their very presence, without focusing on what is in them. My awakening led me to learn to tell people, like my neighbor, politely that such intrusions and self-expositions were not welcome anymore. I did this with complete equanimity__no agitation, no hesitation, no fear, no pride__and honesty. And ever since I told him that, he stopped behaving in that manner with me. In another relationship, I simply told the person that the chemistry between us doesn’t work. Period. Even so, I have learned to appreciate people just as I appreciate myself. I still struggle sometimes missing ‘what is’ for the packaging, but my awareness does a great job playing the role of a reminder service. It quickly reminds me to go beyond the outside, the exterior, the packaging, every single time. With this awareness there is no more suffering, no more unhappiness, in anybody’s presence!

It is Life’s ironies that make it beautiful

Some riddles fox us __ keeping us charged, engaged and wanting to try harder! Isn’t Life one such inscrutable, unsolvable riddle itself?

In the 1971 Hindi movie, the classic, Anand (directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee) Yogesh Gaur wrote an iconic song that Salil Chaudhary made immortal with his music. The opening lyrics of the song go like this:

Zindagi … kaisi hai paheli, haaye
Kabhi to hansaaye … kabhi ye rulaaye

It means:

Life’s a riddle …. oh!

It makes you laugh sometimes

And sometimes makes you cry…

The song is a moving paean to Life’s ironies. Even so, it is Life’s paradoxes that make it beautiful.

Last week someone very close to me, well, at least on a theoretical, relationship basis, conceded that I could not be trusted anymore. I greatly appreciate that person’s honesty in at least telling me so even though  the sentiment hurt me badly. Yesterday, someone who I don’t know too well at all, apart from him being a social acquaintance, contacted me, on his own, and without my even asking for it offered to help me out with a complicated situation. While thanking him profusely, I said I was not sure if he knew me well enough and therefore appraised him so that he could be doubly sure if he really wanted to help me in the manner he was offering. This person cut me short though, saying: “You don’t need to say all this Sir. I know you need this help right now. Don’t think too much AVIS. Because I am not thinking about this too much. I implicitly trust you.”

I woke up this morning thinking about this irony. It was both stark and beautiful. It was tragic and moving. Tragic because someone who I considered “my own” did not want to trust me anymore. And moving because a rank newcomer was willing to. While I humbly submit that some of my conduct, circumstantial or otherwise, may have led to the erosion of trust in the first instance, I am still unable to comprehend the compassion of the person in the second one.

But such is Life. An enduring mystery. A logic-defying experience every single time. Unique in the way it treats each of its own creations. You will have experienced such moments too, just as I have, several times over. Yet, we must not even try to solve the Life riddle. Because we will get confused and even go bonkers. Life does not conform to any concept, framework or mindset.  Trying to make meaning out of Life is futile. We will never understand the meaning of Life. It is impossible. The only way to live is to make this lifetime meaningful!

Think about it.

For instance, those who have everything material are often searching for the most easily available treasure – happiness. And those who have nothing, while working hard to acquire everything material, are perhaps happier, because they know they can live, as they have lived so far, without them. Or those who have gone through a Life-changing crisis have often found a great inner peace. Because despite their upheaval, they have understood the impermanent and transient nature of Life! But when you think logically, when a storm ravages one’s Life, you expect pain, grief and suffering. Not inner peace. Yet ask anyone who’s been  tossed up by Life and thrashed down, and they will swear that Life’s trials and tribulations have made them stronger and more peaceful.

Interesting isn’t it? This paradoxical quality of Life! That’s perhaps what makes Life beautiful __ and worth living.

Here’s an interesting Life riddle that German philosopher Friedrich Neitzsche (1844~1900) poses: “Is man merely a mistake of God’s? Or God merely a mistake of man?” Keep thinking. And may be when you do get an answer to that question, you will have unraveled the mystery of Life itself!

On being happy despite your circumstances

The key to being happy is simply __ being. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Let’s say, taking a very operational instance, this Monday morning, you are in an aircraft that is already late due to inclement weather. Finally, after push back, your aircraft is 12thin the take-off sequence. You have woken up early to make this flight. And the way things are looking, you will miss the first couple of meetings of the day, which means you may have to stay overnight at your destination. Which means the schedules of the rest of the week are also going to be affected. You are extremely unhappy with the situation. You dash off a few emails before the crew order you to put away your phone. And, with a deep sigh, accept that this is one of those weeks. The young lady next to you starts chatting, wanting to know more about your phone and its much touted efficiency and features. In several minutes, you are airborne and you are laughing and joking with your new friend. Now, think about this situation deeply. How is it that your mood changed from being agitated, confused, perhaps angry, over the delayed start to the week, to one of relaxation and ‘take it easy’!? Maybe the young lady’s question and her influence on you helped. But the most significant influence on your mood, was your ‘deep sigh of acceptance’. So, in this context, your acceptance of what is, parachuted you from a state of unhappiness to a state of being __ being comfortable with the rest of the journey in the company of an interesting co-passenger! Now, think of the other possibility __ what if you had not accepted the situation and if you had been angry with the weather, with the ATC and with the crew for ordering you to put off your phone? You may well have been a victim of your circumstances __ and far, very, very far from being in acceptance, or being happy!

This may seem like too general an instance. You surely can relate to this. Because this happens to all of us. Not just in an aircraft but in every day traffic or even when waiting in check-out queues at malls. You may well agree that it is perhaps possible to accept practical challenges to everyday living and be peaceful and happy __ by simply being. But how do you be happy in or with bigger, complex, Life-changing situations __ when something or someone you held dear to you has been taken away by Life? When Life has wreaked irreparable damage to you? When what’s lost can never be got back? How do you accept Life when it has been unfair and unjust to you? The answer is pretty much the same __ you do it by taking that same ‘deep sigh of acceptance’. Because there is no other way to deal with Life.

Osho, the Master, I think it was him, used to say this story.

A big dog saw a little dog chasing its tail, and asked, “Why are you chasing your tail?” Said the puppy, “I have mastered philosophy, I have solved the problems of the Universe which no dog before me has rightly solved: I have learned that the best thing for a dog is happiness, and that happiness is in my tail. Therefore I am chasing it, and when I catch it I shall have it.”

Said the big dog, “My child, I too have paid attention to the problems of the Universe in my own way and have learned something. I too have understood that happiness is a fine thing for a dog, and that happiness is in my tail. But I have noticed that when I go about my business, it comes after me. I need not chase it.”

So it is. That simple. Irrespective of what happens to you, what circumstance you are placed in, simply go about your business. In total acceptance. And with immense gratitude for what has been given, for this lifetime, for this experience. Simple or complex, general or unique __ all situations in Life, all circumstances, have to be accepted. Acceptance of what is always takes you to a state of simply being. It is only by being that you will be happy!

Know that on one note, Life is an endless celebration. Each day is a festival. Each moment is an opportunity to arise, awaken, learn and evolve. On another note, Life is like a ball of wool. Deal with it calmly and you will be able to weave a beautiful tapestry. Get keyed up and you will end up in knots. And occasionally be prepared for it to be snatched away from you, knotted up and thrown back at you to untangle…..! Somewhere between all the celebration and all the untangling, an entire Lifetime is woven. You__and I__must simply keep weaving. Don’t worry about the design. Keep celebrating. Don’t worry about the knots. Because your duty is to weave well. Your duty is to celebrate well. Each Life’s tapestry is part of this inscrutable cosmic Masterplan. And, what I have learned from Life is that, the Masterplan has no flaws!

Learnings on the Power of Nothingness

Today’s a Sunday! And you may be “busy” doing something or the other. Like watching TV. Or catching up on your reading. Or running errands with your kids or for them. You may want to do several things today which you can’t do during the week. Which is why I cautiously say you may well be busy!

But have you considered doing nothing? And just being in a state of nothingness?

Let me share some learnings that will also help clarify some myths we hold about doing nothing and being in a state of nothingness!

Doing nothing does not mean not thinking. Because the mind can never be thoughtless. Doing nothing is about getting your mind to be alive than active. About getting it to differentiate between ‘action’ and ‘activity’.

The human mind, research has revealed, on an average, processes 60,000 thoughts daily. A good portion of those thoughts are about different forms of activities. About getting things done. Or they are about debilitating emotions like worry, anger, guilt, anxiety and such. The mind goes on churning these thoughts leading to a series of activities at a pace that defies logic. Which is why half the people in the world are struck by stress even before they are 40! Doing nothing slows down the mind. It will still process 60,000 thoughts, but at a manageable pace where they will lead to mindful action and not mindless activities. A mind that has experienced that state of nothingness is more aware. When you are hungry and you eat, it is action. When you just keep on tucking into the next cookie or samosa at the conference table at work, that is just activity. When you are listening to your child talk about her day at school, and watch her every emotion, then it is action. When you merely hear her speak, but choose to check your mobile phone for mails, it is activity. Our daily lives are filled with thousands of such activities and very little or no inspired, informed and intelligent action. Which is why we are unhappy. Which is why we feel a sense of loss __ of working so hard and yet not enjoying it!

Nothingness cannot be experienced by doing something about or for it. It is about being. Sundays are a great time experience nothingness. You literally don’t have to do anything. Or necessarily go anywhere. No posture is required. No preparation is needed. Just spend a good part of the day being silent. You be silent, that’s enough. There is no need to silence the environment. Look at an inspiring sight, from your window or balcony or terrace, of Life itself. You can possibly see a tree or a garden or a street. And simply watch Life happen. Now this is important – as your mind strays towards a worry or a schedule for tomorrow or a painful memory, just bring it back to attend to Life as you are experiencing it. Remember the mind is like the human body. It will resist any new regimen that you insist it embraces. Besides, the mind, through years of your “worldly-wise” conditioning, has confused itself into a perpetual, stupid, silly “hyper activity” mode. In fact, unless you tell your family that you are embarking on this “unique experiential journey”, chances are that you be chided for being lazy, for “doing nothing” and will be demanded to help with the dishes at least!!! Remember also that through your entire nothingness experience you must be silent. Our focus eventually is to stop the endless chatter in your mind, to calm it down and for it to think and act intelligently than just react hyperactively. Your physical silence then is a simple, but important, contributor in that direction.

The founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu (600 BC ~ 531 BC), wrote this famously, prophetically too, in his book “Tao Te Ching’ (The Book of THE Way): “Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.”It is such a profound and yet so stark, awakening, revelation of our lives in. In our perpetual hyper-active mode, doing things and getting things done, we have lost the ability to simply be. We are extremely busy. But when we look back we have done nothing memorable in terms of living __ intelligently! The years have gone by. But we have still not lived our lives completely. We have been taught again, sadly erroneously, that an “empty mind is a devil’s workshop”. So we have allowed our mind to be filled with gibberish __ worry, fear, anger, sorrow. We have allowed our mind to always be in a frenzy __ processing one activity after another, as if it were a sausage machine. This frenzy may have helped us created more wealth, more assets, but has robbed us of our health, our inner peace and has left us searching for happiness! If we haven’t been happy with our Life, what’s the point in having lived it? Haven’t we then been simply busy doing nothing?!

Only when we empty our minds of all wasteful emotions and rid it of all activity, will it experience nothingness. In that state of nothingness is where you will find your consciousness, your Universal Energy recharge point, your bliss.

Everyone has to bear their own cross in Life

Life and grief comes to each of us in different ways. Often times something may not be hurting you directly. Someone you love may be going through, pain, suffering, agony and grief. Watching that person suffer, will force grief on to you! The situation gets amplified when it is someone very, very dear __ a spouse, a child, a parent, sibling or very close friend.

How do you handle a situation where someone else’s suffering is consuming you?

There is no easy or one way to do this. Even so, it is possible to avoid being consumed by someone else’s suffering. Surely, you can make a beginning by seeing the situation as an opportunity to train yourself to be detached.

Yesterday, a friend called to say that his teenage daughter, who often has been prone to depression over the past few years, confessed to him that she “had lost interest in Life”. My friend lamented over the phone that he couldn’t handle “her suffering” anymore. The girl had been under medical treatment and was receiving counseling regularly. Her parents, I know, had been the most understanding, despite their conservative background. I could understand and empathize with my friend’s sense of helplessness and grief. “I am suffering watching her suffer. I feel I will break down. I need a solution. I demand to know why my child is undergoing this turmoil and why we have to be put through this,”he exclaimed.

“Why” is the simplest and the most profound of all questions! Answering Life’s “Whys” eludes all of us uniformly. Well, if only we knew the answers to our “Whys”, Life will no longer be a mystery, right? So, think of such a situation, as the one my friend is facing, as an opportunity to understand Life itself, your role in it and to practice detachment.

Understand, first of all, that each one in Life has to bear her or his own cross. In India, actor Sanjay Dutt’s impending return to jail, over a folly he committed 20 years ago, is making headlines because of the Supreme Court awarding him the sentence finally. Most people know that Dutt is both guilty and repentant. But despite his huge fan following and his network of admirers and believers including the powerful in India, Dutt may still have to go back to jail. Unless of course the Governor of the state pardons him. I remember seeing pictures of Dutt’s father, Sunil Dutt, waiting outside the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai, for days on end, during his son’s frequent incarcerations there. Dutt Senior did his jail duty diligently as long as he was alive. I am sure he was pained. Maybe he even died with some of that pain and a sense of incompletion that he could not see his son’s name cleared. This is true of each of our lives__that each of us has to face and endure the Life given to us. Obviously, this includes what even your own child has to go through! Very simply, the moment we are born, our Life meter starts ticking and our Life’s screenplay starts unfolding. A good amount of that screenplay will have several episodes of pain. If we grieve for each of them, either our own or for others, we will end up spending an entire lifetime simply grieving. Not living.

Once you realize this truth about Life, accept that the painful experience someone is going through is for them to learn something. Pain is a great teacher. She teaches us to stop expecting Life to be painless. She also teaches us that suffering is a meaningless option, that we often end up choosing by default! Without pain, there would be no suffering. Unless you suffer, you will not realize that it is a completely wasted response to Life. So, if someone you know is suffering, believe that they are actually learning something. When your child is studying hard, staying up awake most nights, for a school or University examination, do you grieve? Don’t you admire your child for the focus and resilience? Then why do you grieve when your child is having to face a real Life examination? Well it may not be a child all the time, but know that whoever is facing Life’s tests is surely learning invaluable lessons too.

Finally, this person you grieve for is not going to be there forever. Death is bound to separate you. If not now, some day. So, let go! Detach from wanting for things to be different for that person. Accept the current reality and the eventual reality__of a physical separation__and practice detachment. This does not mean you should not feel or pray for the person. Of course you must if you can and want to. Just don’t grieve though. Because grief debilitates. It takes away your spirit. It draws you further out of your inner core of happiness and peace.

All of us grow in Life. Our families have grown. We have grown. Our assets and wealth may have also grown. That growth’s pointing to the physical, financial and biological aspects of Life. But there is another dimension. Growing intelligently. Using such trying situations as personal growth opportunities__to practice detachment__is about evolving, about growing intelligently in Life!

Living completely requires spontaneity

Anything incomplete is dangerous. And the horrible truth is we are all leading incomplete lives.

Check it out for yourself. Are you saying what you really want to say in all your relationships? Are you doing what you love doing all the time? Are you feeling comfortable in all contexts of your Life? If you answered ‘no’ or ‘not quite’ for any of those questions (and these are not the only ones) then you are, your Life is, incomplete.

At the core of your unhappiness__both stated and unstated but felt__with your Life lies your incompleteness.

You hate your job. But you go on doing it because it ‘provides’ for your family’s upkeep and maintenance. You are incomplete. Your don’t relate to your spouse anymore. But you go on suffering in that relationship because you don’t know how__or want__to get out of it. You are incomplete. You don’t like what someone in your family is saying or doing. You hesitate to speak your mind because you don’t want to sound rude. But you squirm in the person’s presence. You are again incomplete.

Your incompleteness helps no one. Least of all you! German philospoher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844~1900) memorably said, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” So it is! In a preparatory Life you can afford to rehearse, put off your best act for the final performance. But what is the point in living an incomplete Life when this is it! When this is the only Life you have?

Life is not an examination. It requires no preparation. It requires living. Living completely requires spontaneity. When you see a beautiful sunrise or a flower dance in the breeze or a child smile, you ideally don’t think of anything else – you just soak in the beauty of that moment. The moment you think of something else, you miss the moment itself! Then you are not being. You are not present. You are physically there. But mentally lost in worry, anxiety, guilt, anger, sorrow __ whatever. Bottomline: you have missed that moment! You have missed living it!

This is how we remain incomplete. This is how we miss living. Missing moment after moment after moment __ and often an entire lifetime! All our lives we prepare for a tomorrow and then for another one and then another. Or all our lives we cling on to a dead past, a memory, a guilt, a pain __ and we suffer endlessly.

I have nothing against theorists. But people who talk of karma and say that everything is ordained are encouraging, perhaps inadvertently and unintentionally, us to give up on living fully. Perhaps indeed everything is ordained. But to live the Life that is given, and not to suffer it, is still an intelligent choice we may like to exercise. You can’t be living in fear all the time. Then you are not living. You are dying. Of course, we all have to die one day when our physical presence ceases on this planet. But why die suffering a Life that has been given to us to enjoy, to live?

Here’s a simple perspective. Easy to understand. Simpler to practice. The reason we fear Life is because we have been taught to fear it. If you don’t study, you will fail. Fear. If you don’t go to work, you will lose your job, lose your income stream. Fear. If you don’t be loyal, you will lose the trust of people around you. Fear. Every action is being driven by fear of a consequence. That explains why we have not learned love to Life! If we were told to love learning, love knowledge, than merely get grades, we would have no fear. Then we would have been better at learning! If we were encouraged to love creating value, making a difference, work would become play. Then we would not fear or loathe work. If we were taught that loving is what living is all about relationships would have been far more meaningful and would not mean simply conforming to societal norms and frameworks.

To be sure, we complicate a rather simple Life by thinking too much, by whining, worrying, strategizing and analyzing. All this analysis creates paralysis, crippling us far more gruesomely than we even realize. That’s why we don’t see the beauty and magic in each moment, in each day. The moment we stop being incomplete and start living spontaneously, we will live and love__and not fear or hate__the Life we have been given!