There’s a Celestine conspiracy to make you better, stronger and wiser!

Everything that’s happened to you, is happening to you and will happen to you is part of a Celestine conspiracy. A Master Plan, if you will. And it has NO flaws.

We label events as good or bad based on expectations, assumptions and conditionings we have. If someone we know dies, we believe it is a bad, a terrible, thing to have happened. If someone is born, we believe it is a good, a great, thing to happen. But in reality, nothing’s good or bad. Almost everything is going to a plan __ and that plan is to make you, make me, make all of us, stronger, better and wiser through this journey called Life.

The house where Ramana Maharishi was born in 1879
About nine years ago, even as I was grappling with finding inner peace, I started the practice of ‘mouna’. Of practicing silence periods. It was a struggle. The practice required me to be silent __ and not strive to work on making the environment around me silent. After almost eight weeks of intense trial and error, I completed my first 21-day cycle of observing an hour of silence each day. The next morning, I had to take an early flight to Madurai for making a day-trip to a place called Tiruchuli, that I had never heard of. I had no knowledge then of why Tiruchuli was significant historically nor did I have an inkling of the profound impact it would have on my Life. I arrived at Madurai and my cabbie drove me up to Tiruchuli in about an hour. I found Tiruchuli deserted at 8.30 AM in the morning and it looked every bit a one horse town. My meeting here was not due to start until 11 AM and so I asked the cabbie suggestions for ‘killing time’. I asked him this more out of making polite, aimless banter and not out of any serious intent. He, however, responded enthusiastically. He declared that Tiruchuli was the birthplace of Ramana Maharishi (1879~1950), the revered 20thCentury saint from South India. This came as a pleasant shock to me. I had heard of Ramana Maharishi. I did not worship or idolize him as many did. But I thought it only sensible to invest the couple of hours I had free, to kill, on me, to “look up” sites of historical importance. The cabbie took me to the house where Ramana grew up and to the ancient Siva temple where Ramana occasionally mediated in the years preceding his move to Tiruvannamalai where he eventually set up the famous Ramana Ashram. Like at any heritage site in India, worn out boards told the story of Ramana Maharishi and his connection with this place__of his birth and early years. My two hours were spent even without my realizing it. I even spent quality time practicing ‘mouna’ at Ramana’s house! As I got ready to leave for my meeting, and got into the car, a man rushed out from Ramana’s house. I recognized him as the caretaker. He thrust in my hand a badly produced pamphlet extolling the Life and times of Ramana Maharishi on one side. A quote on the other side read:

“Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try as you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.”
― Ramana Maharishi

I must have lost that pamphlet somewhere on the flight back to Chennai that day. But the learning from that message I continue to carry even now. I needed that lesson perhaps very badly that day. My Life was heading into a dark abyss then. I had leaned on to ‘mouna’ hoping to find solace. After some strife I had made its practice a habit. And here was a cosmic sign, through a “messenger” of one of the greatest seers the modern world had known, that I was on the right track! I didn’t immediately realize the import of the experience I had been through that day. I do realize it completely now. My problems have not been resolved as yet. I find my Life in the same abyss and it continues to be very, very dark. But I have no fear, no anxiety, no guilt. Because I have learned to live in acceptance. And have learned to remain silent__especially in times of extreme provocation and intense turmoil!

This makes me believe that there is a Celestine conspiracy that is working overtime__pushing us, nudging us, elbowing us, often to our chagrin, towards our destinies. This makes me believe too that when the student is ready, the teacher, always, does appear!

Beware of the fog of denial

The more we deny, the farther we are moving away from happiness. Denial is the first sign of your mind taking over your Life. Denial thrives because the intellect thrives. And whenever the intellect is at work, you can be sure that the mind is controlling you and not the other way round.

Life’s problems don’t happen all of a sudden. They always build up over a period of time. We don’t see the problem as it is because of the state of denial we are often in. A smoker knows smoking will lead to cancer. But he or she keeps denying this reality will affect his or her Life. And so goes on smoking. Many, many months before my Firm went bankrupt, a wise client (and a close friend) of mine had told me that “if you continue running your business this way, pretty soon you will go bankrupt”. I denied his sage counsel. I thought since he belonged to a generation ahead of me, he was conservative and hence not a risk-taker. So, I did not heed his advice. Eventually, when my Firm’s fortunes came crashing, I awakened to the realization that I should have never denied the problem we were in all that while.

Denying something even though you know it exists__a financial, relationship, health or self-belief problem__doesn’t make the problem go away. Or simply, denial does not help you avoid experiencing pain in a problem situation. It, in fact, increases your suffering. Because, since the problem doesn’t cease to exist, and continues to nag you, you are forever consumed by your fears. Wherever there is fear, suffering will be there too. To be sure, on the other hand, accepting__and not denying__a problem too does not make the problem go away. But because you accept it, and therefore you attempt to work on solutions__however long they may take__despite the pain, despite the circumstances, you do find inner peace and happiness.

There are no two ways to live Life. There is just one way __ total acceptance. The moment you bring in denial of whatever is happening, of whatever you are going through, you are not saying yes to Life. You are not saying yes to WHAT IS. Your fog of denial not only blinds your thinking, it devours your happiness. It is only in denial that you will find all the debilitating emotions of fear, anger, guilt, sorrow, suffering, jealousy, anxiety and such. When you accept WHAT IS, when you say yes to Life, there is nothing more required. Examine your Life and expunge all denial from it. Know that saying yes to WHAT IS always leads to instant happiness! Call it nano-second nirvana if you like!

Wear your Life on your sleeve

Don’t fear being vulnerable. Be true. When you are true, primarily to yourself and then to whatever you believe in, then you need no defense. And nothing, no one, can touch you!

Often times in Life, we fear that people will exploit us. That they will want to “use” our vulnerability to their advantage. While conceptually, in a world where everyone is fighting to win at the cost of someone else, this may appear to be true, in reality this is hardly so. The world is not infested with blood and flesh thirsty sharks and vultures as we imagine. But is inhabited by perfectly normal, compassionate, beautiful, loving people__just like you and me. So, when you wear your Life on your sleeve, when you expose your stark vulnerability, you will discover how kind people really are.

I have often found that saying things as they are, the truth, always helps. It may lead to people drawing different meanings from what you say. But Life is not about inferences and interpretations. Because when you bring in either inference or interpretation, then you are bringing in logic. And there’s no logic to and in Life. Life is about experiences. And people are going through experiences similar to yours, or they have already been there, all the time.

When you are vulnerable, you are willing to face Life. And face the consequences. Even death perhaps. When you are in that state, you are never insecure. Insecurity comes when you fear that you will lose something __ your position, your status, your title, your wealth, your reputation or your Life. At times, you may fear losing someone. But if you are past that fear, then your vulnerability is an asset, never a liability. Of course, chances are that there may be a few exploiters who will step into the ring. But face them. When you look them in the eye, they will step back. Exploitation cannot stand the brilliant gaze of truth. Exploiters can never face the courageous. When someone whose weapon is fear, recognizes you are fearless, then he or she becomes fearful. This is how Life works!

Try this in any situation you are faced with currently. Whatever you have wanted to say or do, if you have held it back because you thought of yourself as becoming vulnerable, go do exactly that now. Watch what happens. How much ever you may think it to be potentially disadvantageous, you will always find that your being true leads the world around you to be true as well. Remember this: you cannot live in fear, you can merely exist. To live fully, you have to wear your Life on your sleeve.

Be alive – Stop being a Resume!

Stop being a resume. Be a person. Be alive. Live!

I met a friend who was between jobs. He asked me to take a look at his resume. And wanted to know how much I would offer someone like him__with his qualifications, his achievements, his profile__as an annual remuneration package, if I was a decision-making recruiter in his industry. I dodged his question citing lack of competence and knowledge. His keenness to check out his worth amused me though.

Why are we so obsessed with our price tag in the job market? Isn’t is high time we understood that features, benefits, value-for-money pitches are for things. People cannot be evaluated the way things are. A doctor is worth as much as the lives he saves and not by the money he makes. A singer is valuable because she makes her listeners’ hearts sing and not because she is “always in the news” __ Shamshad Begum who passed away earlier this week is a case in point. A car mechanic is brilliant when he can fix your car’s engine efficiently and not because he works for a big, multinational automobile brand.

In a way, we have all become victims of a society that values our utility more than our real selves! A carpenter, an electrician, a doctor, a lawyer, a writer, an actor __ all these are professionals offering a service, a certain utility. But is this who the person is? Is the person who does carpentry only a carpenter? Isn’t there more to a doctor’s persona? Somewhere, in trying to become successful professionals, all of us have got wedded to our utility value, our usefulness to and in society, and so have started identifying ourselves with our resumes. We have stopped looking at our self worth! The identification with the material side of our lives has become so strong, so rigid that we are only driven by our desire to command higher price tags in the job markets. Earning a living has become an obsession. Living has become an after-thought, a virtual impossibility in this title-obsessed, perk-obsessed, bank balance obsessed world!

If you ask yourself who you really are and what you really love doing, you will start living! Living for yourself doesn’t mean at all that you must be selfless and insensitive. This only means you learn to do what makes YOU happy. This means don’t sacrifice your inner joy for the sake of labels, expectations, opinions and conditions that people around you impose upon you. Nothing wrong with it if what you are doing gives you joy and serves society as well. But many a time, people are caught in the web of earning more at the cost of their own joy! This is the cause of all their grief and suffering.

Look for inspiration from nature. A flower flowers. Birds chirp. Rain falls. Rainbows appear. All these and more are happening not because they are being judged or demanded or paid for to do so. They just do it for their own joy! In the process they bring us, observers, alive. They enthuse and energize us. But they don’t let our opinions, judgments or valuations pin them down. They keep on flowering, chirping, falling and appearing.

Things are for using. People are for simply being. Things have a price. People are priceless. Don’t bother about what value you have in the job market! Simply do what gives you joy. Bliss and earnings will follow __ in that order!

Switch On! Switch Off! Stay Tuned!!

Not worrying does not mean not acting on what worries you. It means acting with focus but without worry.

Worry doesn’t solve anything. Least of all your problems. Solutions to your problems can only be got when you attempt them. Many a time though, you are caught up with your problems so much that you don’t see solutions. You only keep worrying about being unable to solve them. And some problems are so complex, so protracted in nature that you can’t solve them immediately in any case. And definitely never by worrying! So, in such situations, caught in the maze of your problems, your worry turns into a deep, dark brooding and your Life is plunged into grief. It is not at all funny. Half of humanity lives like that __ merely existing, often drowning in their sorrow and suffering!

At such times, switching off from worrying can help. It turns your attention to living __ from merely existing.

Yesterday, at the IPL cricket match in Chennai, Ian Bishop, the expert commentator from Sony Max asked India and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) Captain, M.S.Dhoni, how he handles the pressure of his job. Of leading his country and his IPL team to success every single time. Dhoni replied in his characteristic manner: ‘Well, it’s a high pressure job. Many people say they try it. But I can claim that I have been successful at it. Which is, I have developed this ability to switch on and switch off. When I finish a game, I switch off from cricket. I then switch on when I come back to something connected with cricket, a meeting, or a practice session or a game itself.” This appears to be a good practice and one which seems to be working for Dhoni. For he is truly both Captain Marvel and Captain Cool for Team India and Team CSK just now!

I have learned this art too and over time have been successful with it. I have designated periods of time daily that I invest in addressing the worrisome, irksome, not-easy-to-solve issues of my Life. I switch on when I need to focus on them. And I switch off from them when I have tried my bit for the day and immediately switch the focus on another department of my Life that requires my attention. This method, I realize, has helped me live in each moment __ accepting it and enjoying it for what it is. This ensures that I don’t worry or brood. Either I solve what’s staring me in the face or I turn my attention to another aspect of my Life where I can be more productive. Switching off and switching on at will, I live mindfully, at peace and in bliss! This is the way I stay tuned to Life!

Creation will take care of you

A fundamental belief that comes in the way of our living fully, totally, is the view that we have to take care of ourselves and of others ‘dependent’ on us. There’s this huge protector-provider role that we all have self-imposed upon ourselves. Or a better way to say it is that we have self-assumed this. And so we go about our lives obsessed with an avoidable sense of self-importance. We believe every problem around us needs our immediate, urgent attention__and resolution. That everything from money to succor, in our immediate circle of influence, must be provided for by us. And when it doesn’t happen that way, as it often may not, we feel something’s wrong with us, or with creation, or both and so we grieve, agonize and suffer!

Through our suffering we miss the celebration called Life. All around us there’s celebration. A sun rise is a celebration. A moon rise is a celebration too. It is through the darkness that you can see the celebration of the stars. A gaggle of birds chirping is actually a symphony. A bleating lamb is an expression of Universal love. A flower waiting to bloom, in a bud stage, is a celebration of how pregnant Life is, creation is __ with hope, with ecstasy, with color. A raindrop signifies the arrival of a cosmic blessing, to drench you in abundance. But we are so complete in our suffering that we are perhaps witnessing this grand cosmic festival, but we are not seeing the beauty in it! Our inner ugliness__acquired from that skewed sense of self-assumed, self-importance__blinds us from seeing the magic and beauty of Life.

Osho, the Master, says, and only he could have said it so well: “If the whole existence is one, and if existence goes on taking care of trees, of animals, of mountains, of oceans__from the smallest blade of grass to the biggest star__then it will take care of you too. Once you have started seeing the beauty of Life, ugliness starts disappearing. If you start looking at Life with joy, sadness starts disappearing. You cannot have heaven and hell together, you can have only one. It is your choice.”

So observe what’s causing you grief just now. And let it go. Let go of your self-assumed need to be problem-solver, protector, provider. Instead just be. And then through your being, you will witness the celebration of Life. Happening in your world, all around you. Simply for you. You will discover that creation will take care of you, and all that you call your own. That moment of discovery is your bliss! And once you taste it, you will want nothing more. You will simply want to just be!

Being Useful: The meaning of Life

To live a Life of meaning, we first have to understand the meaning of Life!

Life’s meaning cannot be understood when we are nailed down by negative, debilitating emotions like doubt, anger, jealousy, sorrow and fear. It cannot be understood too when we are held hostage by our ego. It can only be understood when we let go of what cripples us, what worries us and what scares us. Only when we practice detachment__from what holds us and what we hold on to__can we find meaning in Life.

Thanks to our conditioning and to our upbringing __ where we are encouraged to start running a race, as soon as we begin to make sense of our world, and are taught that Life’s meaning is to come first, to win, to acquire, to accumulate, to conquer. In this context, by always wanting to win, we don’t realize we have to willy-nilly ‘vanquish’ or ‘deny’ others the opportunity to win. Or when we try but when we don’t win, we end up feeling depressed and despondent. This is when we start searching for meaning in Life. We sometimes seek meaning also when we discover that despite all the winning, all the conquest, all the accumulation, we are still missing something __ the essence of Life, of simply being happy.

In Viktor Frankl’s 1946 epic book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ __ chronicling his experiences as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during World War II __ he concludes that, as time passed and as he looked back at all that he had been through, the gut-wrenching experience he had in the camp was nothing but a “remembered nightmare”. Even his desire to kill his tormentor was now gone. He awakens to his Life’s meaning which is “to help others find theirs”.

In summary, the meaning of Life, as I have discovered it__and I am still learning__is to be useful than merely wanting to be successful. It is not that wanting to be or being successful is wrong. But the pursuit of success often blinds us and takes us in the direction of being successful at the cost of others. Whereas, being useful, is what true success is all about. Being useful is the meaning of Life.

What time’s your appointment with Life?

The unforgettable ‘appointment with death’ scene from Agneepath

In the iconic, original, Hindi movie ‘Agneepath’ (Path of Fire, 1990, Mukul Anand), Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, played admirably, memorably by Amitabh Bachchan, tells the Police Commissioner, M.S.Gaitonde (Vikram Gokhale) that he (Vijay) has ‘an appointment with death’ at 6.30 PM that evening. The unforgettable dialogue is, ‘Apun ka maut ke saath appentment hai, kya?’.

I was reminded of that movie and that dialogue when I came across the concept of our appointment with Life. With some time to kill, I ended up browsing through the famous Nalanda bookstore at the Taj Mahal Hotel, by the Gateway of India, yesterday. There, Vitenamese Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn’s (Thay) book “Our Appointment With Life” stared back at me.

It is such a simple and beautiful concept. In our everyday Life, all through each week, our calendars are full of appointments. Technology has made the calendar universally compatible across multiple platforms – MS Outlook, Apple, Google, smart phones and so on. Reminders and alerts are possible too. Overlapping events are pointed out. And at a glance a whole month or quarter or year can be looked up. Many people I know have often displayed enormous pride in declaring that their calendars are full for many, many weeks and months.

But what about our appointment with Life?

Thay writes in his usual, inimitable, simple, soul invoking style: “Our appointment with Life is in the present moment. The place of our appointment is right here, in this place.” So beautiful.

Thay quotes The Buddha from the Dhammapada as saying, “Let go of what is the past. Let go of what is not yet. Observe deeply what is happening in the present moment, but do not be attached to it.” This, says Thay, is the way to keep our appointment with Life! To live perpetually in the present moment.

 Agneepath’s’ Vijay Dinanath Chauhan famously demonstrated fearlessness by agreeing to keep his appointment with death, by venturing out to meet his detractors who were waiting to assassinate him. What about you and me? Of course, we all have an appointment with death – except we don’t know when it actually is! But we can choose to keep our appointment with Life by learning to live, with detachment, in the present moment – unburdened by the past and unmindful of the future. Simply, by being – engaged with present!

Count till you are done!

Try this simple exercise this Monday morning on your commute to work!

Count the number of people you wish to thank for bringing you (up) this far in Life, up to this moment of reading this Post. When you are done, please share that number as a comment to this Post or simply jot it down somewhere. (PS: recounting and revision is allowed!) This exercise provides an opportunity to break free from the ‘I, me, mine’ trap and is a lesson in gratitude. Saying “Thank You!” is the best prayer….

On your drive back home, this evening, reflect on the exercise and on what those people you thanked have done for you…….

As you fall off to sleep later tonight, examine how you feel. Feeling overwhelmed, humbled, grateful and stress-free are both assured and intended outcomes of each part of this exercise!

Have a wonderful, grateful week ahead!

YOU, only YOU, have to make time for LIVING your Life!

Everything that money can’t buy is, logically, FREE! These are theimportant, indispensible, irreplaceable, unputdownable elements of our lives! Yet we do precious little to nurture, develop, grow and protect all those things that come free in Life and work 60+-hour weeks ‘earning a living’ and trying to cling on to, protect stuff, that in the end are impermanent, dispensible, unimportant, forgettable and replaceable!

Isn’t that kind of weird?

Some years back Mastercard ran an advertisement campaign that went “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Mastercard!” The campaign’s tagline was “Priceless”. It is an intelligent campaign. And a gentle reminder that while we are busy ‘earning a living’ Life is ticking away. While all things money can buy can still be bought, Life can’t really be wound back. And that’s why it is so priceless. Yet we don’t quite understand the value of what’s invaluable __ living totally!

I was recently working with a bunch of managers who wanted to “understand Life in order to gain a “work-Life” balance”. The CFO had not slept for more than 3 hours nightly in three weeks. The HR Head had been too busy to even rush his wife, who was having premature labor pains, to the hospital and laments that despite that incident he is unable to “create” more than a few hours at home even on weekends. The Maintenance Head is having a complicated lung situation but is unable to quit his smoking. And the CEO is trying to commute between three plants in different states trying to ensure targets are met and that people are “on the ball”. His crib: Because his people don’t “show accountability”, he has not been able to take a break in over six months – not even a weekend off!

I was reminded of what I had learned from Richard Carlson (Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff): “Your Inbox is never going to be empty!”

I strongly believe that:

  1. If you are, as a manager, working more than 8 hours daily (that includes checking mail and responding to them or taking conference calls from other time zones) then one or several of these conditions are true:
  • a.     You are a poor decision-maker
  • b.    You are just horribly organized
  • c.     Your boss is inefficient
  • d.    Your subordinates are inefficient
  • e.     All of the above! 

      2.  Don’t take your Blackberry to the dining table and don’t wake up looking at it. Put it off     
           or on silent mode and leave it away from you while at home. Designate times while at   
           home when you will check your phone for calls and mails. 
      3.  When with the family, BE with the family 
      4.  When AT work, WORK – without distraction, without frittering away your time in     
      5.  Have the courage to say NO to unproductive meetings or attending meetings whose 
           agenda can be completed over mail or at least your contribution/input can be shared 
           over mail!

Remember this: Life is not going to make time for you. YOU, only YOU, have to make time for living your Life. Nobody can make it for you! Recognize that Life is ticking away. To be sure, you will die sooner or later. If you don’t LIVE now you probably will die wondering what all those meaningless hours spent at work__“being frightfully busy, with no time for anyone, even for yourself, yet having achieved nothing great”__were really all about?