Understanding the potent power of Silence


Is silence a virtue or is it a sign of weakness? The latest target of media and public opinion for remaining silent is India’s charismatic cricket team captain, M.S.Dhoni. This morning’s papers liken him to Indian Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh (the Indian media and wags, by the way, have nicknamed PM Singh, ‘Moun’mohan – ‘mouna’ meaning ‘silent’ in Sanskrit!) and brand him a weakling who has allowed himself to be gagged by the BCCI  (Board of Control for Cricket in India) in the wake of the IPL (Indian Premier League) spot-fixing scandal.

The normal human tendency is to rush to speak, be heard, clarify, demand attention or defend – as the situation or context may warrant. So, when people choose to remain silent, either not making use of an opportunity to speak up or not responding to a provocation, the popular inference is that the person choosing silence is weak or has something to hide. Well, to be sure, it may mean neither. A perspective worth considering is, perhaps, the person has nothing to say or believes that being silent is an answer or sufficient response in itself or recognizes the futility in speaking at that point in time.

I have learned the value of remaining silent, over retorting, defending, clarifying or expressing, through experience. There was a time when I would rush to offer my point of view – either in defense or to justify – in all contexts. I used to imagine then that if something had to be said, it had better be expressed then and there, loud and clear. Over time though, I have learned to believe otherwise.

In fact, I now revere, and am inspired by my own father’s ability to choose silence as a response each time that he could have spoken. I remember, with a huge sense of shame, once, many years ago, when there was a raging issue in the family, my demanding to know from my dad whether he was spineless. My demand was uncouth, violent and unbecoming of a son. We sat in a hotel lobby (because we could not speak in private at his home) when I asked him the hugely provocative and embarrassing question: “Why are you not speaking up for what is right dad? Are you spineless?” My dad, much to my shock, and infuriating me no end, responded with a blank look on his face. He simply, yet again, said nothing, choosing to be silent. I came back from that meeting with my father disillusioned and angry. But today, perhaps wiser from learning from Life, I completely agree with my dad’s choice. I don’t think there could have been or can be a better response to situations that we are faced with as a family. And it is not just with my family or with a specific situation. In several situations in Life, remaining silent is perhaps the best response.

I am still learning this art though. And it isn’t always easy. I remember another instance where I could have remained silent but choose to express myself instead and that expression has led to a strained relationship and a continuous sense of angst among a few people connected with that episode. I wish now I had remained silent. Here’s what I have learned:

  • We may do some things. And we may not do several others.
  • Whatever be the course our lives take, based on decisions and choices we make, people will have opinions. They may cast aspersions on you. They may demand explanations. Or simply provoke you wantonly.
  • Wherever you see no value being added with your expressing yourself, and of course when you think your speaking (up) will only confound the situation, it is best to remain silent.
  • No matter what people say, remember, at the end of the day you have a job to do, a Life to live. And if you can avoid potential, wasteful conflicts by choosing to be silent, why not go about your Life and business silently? 

 

Of course, sometimes speaking up becomes a necessity, not an option. And in all such cases, a conflict normally becomes unavoidable. But such conflict is constructive and never destructive. How then do you decide when to speak up and when to be silent? A good rule of thumb is to make the choice of remaining silent not so much to avoid conflict__but so that you don’t end up creating one!

Silence is a great force. Because silence always speaks when words can’t or when words fail! Being silent is an art that is worth learning, exploring and practicing. It will ultimately lead you to a great, unimpeachable inner peace.

A moral, if you like, on Morality


There is a big public outcry in India demanding the resignation/ouster of BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) chief N.Srinivasan, following the revelations and ongoing investigations into the IPL spot-fixing scandal, in which his own son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan has been arrested. While I don’t wish to comment on the politics of the specific episode, I do wish to share some thoughts on the whole aspect of “moral” responsibility that has been thrust into focus.  

How do we decide whether we are accountable or not in cases where we make mistakes, errors in judgment or take ruinous decisions or allow the unacceptable to happen in our circles of influence? What then is the significance of “moral” responsibility in everyday Life?

The whole idea of morality is over-dramatized, often skewed and is tailored to our convenience each time. We allow our children, at least in India, to watch pirated movies or used pirated software because it is convenient, free and because ‘nobody will ever know’. In effect we are encouraging and allowing the next generation to thieve because pirated content is nothing but stolen Intellectual Property. Yet we spank our children, when as young teenagers, they do transgress and lie or cheat, out of a spirit of adventure and nothing else. The whole debate of right and wrong, good or bad, is futile. Because all these are evolving and depend on who’s doing what, at what time and where. It is unlikely that we will find an Indian who has not bribed a cop to avoid a traffic ticket or a train ticket checker to confirm a reservation out of turn. Yet each Indian will vociferously complain and champion against corruption in high places. So, morality, is different to different people, as it has come to be! A Rs.200/- (USD 4 approx) bribe is fine but a Rs.1 crore (USD 200,000 approx) one is not!

The simple way forward is not to kill ourselves with self-imposed definitions of what’s moral or amoral. Let us be continuously, totally aware. Let our awareness lead us onward. To stay aware, let us ask ourselves the following questions before we act each time:

  • Is what I am going to do useful to me?
  • Is what I am going to do useful to, and will it create value for, all other parties connected with my action?
  • Is it at the cost or expense of anyone concerned?
  • Is it in violation of a law or even the spirit of the law?

Obviously, you must answer ‘Yes’ to the first two questions and ‘No’ to the last two to proceed with your decision. Finally, of course, examine whether your action will make you feel good or feel miserable. And be guided by what will make you feel good obviously. These are not the only questions and this may not be the only way to make more aware choices in Life. There could be many different ways. But this one is among the simplest. The idea is not to vex yourself with a dilemma that cripples you each time. The idea is to be aware, be conscious, be alert to living and doing things happily. Endless debates on what’s right, what’s wrong, only lead us to more confusion, stress and take us farther away from living fully. And it’s never worth it if you can’t live feeling peaceful, wholesome, and aware, within you, in every single moment that you are alive!

Die first as who you are – so a new you can Live!


All of us aspire to transform, to improve, to get better than who we are. But we never get down to changing in reality. New Year and Birthday/Anniversary resolutions come and go. But we rarely get started. And even if we do, we don’t often keep up at it. Ever wondered why?

The reason is simple: inertia. Life as usual is comfortable. And change involves letting go of that comfort, of stepping out, becoming vulnerable. This is why we lead incomplete lives. We want a different Life but don’t want to work for it. Inertia can only be overcome by willingness. Mere wanting cannot help you. You must be willing – to be and lead the change!

American author Jim Rohn (1930~2009) said this: “You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself!” Easier said than done you may think. But there’s a way.

Consider this. We have often been told that we will all eventually die; that death is an inevitable part of the creation process. Here’s a different perspective: that it is equally important to learn and know that we must first DIE to LIVE. This is not merely a spiritual point of view, it is also a very practical suggestion. Take a minute to examine yourself. You have perhaps become so regimented in your thinking, your habits are so deep-rooted and your opinions so rigid! Maybe you hate the way your Life is but are unable to get out of the rut! But if you still hope to have new Life, recognize first that you can’t get to a new destination by choosing to stay in the same place!! We all operate from To Do lists. For you to LIVE the Life you want to live, for you to transform, you must have a Never To Do or Stop-Doing list in the first place. Simply choose to stop doing a few things. Make that choice, firmly, resolutely.

Remember: For a new YOU to emerge, who you are presently must cease to exist, must DIE. So, get down to work: die to LIVE! Die first as who you are….so a new you can LIVE!


Choose not to partner with your grief in a let-down


It is possibly true for all of us that we have all been, at sometime or the other, let down by people whom we trusted and loved deeply. It will always numbing to discover such a let-down. You will feel beaten and betrayed. The after-taste of the episode will continue to haunt you for a long, long time. At all such times, remember this: People do what they do because they think they are right in doing it that way. So, there’s no point in either talking sense to them in such a time that they are gripped by their own stupor or in grieving over their behavior. The best approach is to take the one that Jesus took on the Cross – “Forgive them O! Lord, because they know not, what they do!”

You will perhaps argue that this is easier said than done. How can anyone move on when the heart aches, when the mind is lamenting why such a thing has happened in the first place? How can anyone forgive when in grief and when still mourning the betrayal?

I have learned that it is fine to be a fool sometimes in Life. A fool is one who doesn’t know anything. He or she is not worldy-wise. So, he or she, will continue to trust despite the evidence pointing to the contrary. The fact that you stand betrayed points to your having been a fool. So, simple. Continue being a fool. If you find forgiveness difficult, just continue being trusting and vulnerable. A few more times people will continue to hurt you. But they will soon give up when they realize that you are refusing to get hurt. People love, in a sadistic sense, to see that their actions, in this case negatively, impact their target audience. When you subtly, through your, even if feigned, foolishness, deny them that pleasure, they will cease to persist with their designs.

The other case for ‘moving on’ and not ‘retaliating’ is that the world is already divided. By several zillion factors. If it is a close friend or relation, perhaps from the family, that has let you down, your sulking or wanting to avenge, is only going to divide your already fractured world further. It is only going to make the distances between you both grown wider, and often, render them unbridgeable. It takes two hands to clap. Suppose you don’t offer yours, there will be no thunder. And hence no issue. Or at least a complicated situation will not get further confounded with your participation.

Here’s an interesting story that came my way yesterday.

“In the forest there is a banana plant with its smooth wide leaves next to the thorny berry tree. The wind causes both to dance and to sway. The thorns of the berry tree rip the leaves of the banana plant. Who is to be blamed? The wind for causing them to sway?Or the banana for growing close to the berry tree?Or the berry tree for having thorns? The sage wonders and realizes that if he did not exist, these notions of who to blame would not exist. Only humans blame and begrudge and resent, because we can imagine an alternate reality. The rest of Nature go about their own business.”

So, let go. Go about your own business as if nothing’s happened. In a betrayal, as in any other situation involving pain, you suffer only because you choose to. Choose instead to be a fool and go on trusting or choose to believe as if you do not exist. Only when you partner in the act of betrayal with your grief, is there suffering. Know that there is no alternate reality. It is what it is. This the only way you can be happy, and untouched, in the wake of the pain that follows such let-downs!

Anchor within to find your God


An interesting headline in this morning’s Times of India caught my attention. It read: “More Indians have stopped believing in God – Survey”. The London-datelined story reported that the latest Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism found the number of non-believers in India increasing. As against 87 % saying they were religious in the same Survey in 2005, the percentage has fallen to 81 % in 2012. In other words, a drop of 6 % in seven years!  

This got me thinking again about this whole God debate. And I am expressing, sharing, only my personal views here with no disrespect to your views or beliefs.

Is there a God? And if so, why do so many of us, good, honest folks, have to go through tough times? Why do terrible things happen to good people? Why is there so much pain and suffering everywhere? And why do people who employ deceit always get away with it? If God is indeed the epitome of virtue, as all the world’s religions have always been saying all the time, why is God being a silent spectator to all that’s wrong with the world? I am sure you have asked these questions too. But for lack of any evidence that can lead us to the answer, we end up leaning on our conditioning, and cling on to a crutch that we have labeled ‘God’.

Obviously there’s an intelligent energy that powers the Universe. Otherwise we can’t explain creation and the existence of Life in a simple, easy-to-hold manner. But no one’s been able to conclusively prove that that energy is a person. All the world’s religions will of course have us believe only in this ‘God is a person’ theory. I have come to agree with what German philosopher Friedrich Neitzsche (1844~1900) postulated, that, perhaps, man created God (and it possibly was never the other way round!) to control large masses of mankind through religion. This perspective, when reflected upon, will explain why as a species, we are increasingly becoming more divisive and intolerant of each other.

The real question concerning God is not about believing or non-believing. It is about knowing and non-knowing! The English word ‘enthusiasm’ comes from the Greek language. In Greek, ‘en’ means ‘within’ and ‘theos’ means ‘God’. So enthusiasm really means the ability to invoke the ‘God within’. And that’s the knowing I am talking about. Since we are all powered by the same energy source that powers the Universe, it is imminently possible that the God that we so desperately seek outside of us__through religion and through a place of worship__really resides within us. The only way to ‘realize’ that God, to feel that God, to connect with that God, is to be present in the here and now. And live every moment of this gift called Life enthusiastically.

Interestingly, every scripture in the world, champions just this same perspective: that living in the moment__without clinging on to the past or worrying about the future__while being enthusiastic about the Life that you have been given, loving what is, is the only way to experience God. That’s why you see Godliness in a child or in anyone who’s immersed joyfully in her or his work. A child is present. It never lives in the past. Or worries about anything. It plays with the Life it has, engaged in the moment. So do people who lose themselves to their work. Whether it is a musician or a sportsperson or a chef or a surgeon or even a housekeeper __ when the person is immersed wholesomely in the activity, you will see Godliness in that person.

Even so, possibly God’s existence will continue to be debated forever. But no one will deny that there’s Godliness in all creation __ including in you! We don’t experience this Godliness all the time because instead of anchoring in the God within we make bad spaghetti of this beautiful, even if inscrutable, Life by preferring to be held hostage by the concept of an external God!

As Mirza Ghalib (1797~1869), the legendary Urdu poet wrote memorably: “Sharaab Peene De Masjid Mein Baith Kar…Ya Woh Jagah Bata Jahan Khuda Nahin!” It means, “Allow alcohol in a place of worship or show me a place where God isn’t present!”

Be Jolly – Don’t you get the cosmic joke?


Last night I was watching the 2006 Hindi hit film Fanaa (directed by Kunal Kohli, starring Aamir Khan and Kajol) yet another time on TV. I particularly like the character Jolly Singh, played by the late satirist-and-comedian, Jaspal Bhatti. Bhatti plays a guard at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi and has the queer name of Jolly Singh in the movie! He explains that he was perhaps named so because his grandfather had the habit of saying ‘Jolly Good’ for everything that happened! And so, confesses Jolly Singh in the movie, that’s the secret of his being cheerful all the time!

Actually, all of us have that ability to be ‘Jolly Singhs’ inbuilt in us. But that part of us is suppressed because of layers of everyday stress that keeps piling on. The worries and tensions of everyday living leave us battered and bruised. We barely manage to see off a day’s challenges and the next day arrives with its truckload of fresh issues, conflicts and problems. And so it goes. Our days and weeks and months and years are all spent in battling Life than living it freely. Somewhere along the way all of us have become adept problem-fixers, not necessarily solvers, and have conveniently forgotten the meaning of being our own selves, of being happy and jolly!

The biggest reason we are like this is because we choose to attend to our worries than our opportunities. Something’s not right. And we have rushed to worry about it, fix it. The truth is even if you get a heart attack, you can’t treat it yourself. You need a doctor to attend to you. So, instead of getting worried, can you not be jolly? Maybe a good laugh can revive you, as laughter is always good for the heart!

Let’s take inspiration from Jolly Singh! And just be jolly good about anything that happens in Life!

If you are not convinced, let’s look to Osho, the Master, for some perspective. He championed that this Life is the biggest cosmic joke! He said there are three types of laughter __ or three ways in which you can be jolly!

  • One way is when you laugh at others. That, he said, and you will agree, is being very mean. Avoidable!
  • The other way is to laugh at yourself. That is a more evolved response but still very connected with the material, worldly self! But it better than the first kind and prepares you for the third kind!
  • The third way is to laugh at Life itself. This is when you are neither laughing at others nor at yourself, but, objectively, are laughing at the situation! You are laughing at Life!

Osho said being truly jolly meant getting this cosmic joke! Just the way Jolly Singh’s grandfather, and Jolly Singh himself perhaps, got it! This lifetime is really one, big laugh. We come with nothing. And will depart with nothing. We are not even aware we will be able to retain all that we experience in this lifetime in our subconscious and reproduce it in our evolutionary journey going forward. Yet, despite having to go away without owning anything, all our strife, our daily battles, are about stuff we will not be able to take away with us. Do you realize that? Do you get the joke!

If you eventually do get the joke, laugh! And ask yourself, how wonderful would it be if we could all be ‘Jolly Good Fellows’ all the time! And be infected at least in part with Jolly Singh’s energy or Bhatti’s enthusiasm and humor or with Osho’s wisdom!!


Don’t let your worries ruin this party called Life!


There are only two ways to lead Life. One way is the way we all lead it – by worrying. The other way is to celebrate each moment. But we are all prone to the first way, the way of worry, because worrying is easy. It requires not effort. It has become a part of who we are. So it happens subconsciously, 24×7, all year round! On the other hand, celebration requires effort. It means you have to stop worrying. And that’s hard work. A lot of hard work.

This is so true of all of us. Even the people who go to Mind-Body-Soul rejuvenation Programs, or retreats, are worried. They worry how they will cope without their habits and their gadgets. They also worry about how the world will cope without them. So, worrying has become a compulsive, favorite, global pastime!

Remember, however, that when you worry, you stop living. Worrying takes you away from the present. It entraps you in the past or enslaves you with thoughts of a still-to-arrive future. When you are not here, in the now, how can you claim to be living? You are merely breathing. Living is much more than mere breathing. It is a celebration of each moment __ its magic, its mystery, its beauty!

Look at it the way Gautama, the Buddha, whose birthday it is today, saw it. Since your worries are about your problems, there can be only two ways forward. Either you can solve your problem. Or you can’t. If you can solve your problem, why worry about it? If you can’t solve your problem, and it is not within your control or means to solve it, why worry about it again?

Life is like a river. It simply keeps on flowing. It has a mind of its own. It does not worry about precipice or a fall, nor is it perturbed by the boulders on the path. A crevice is all it needs, to make progress and find its way. Let’s be inspired by Life itself. And flow with it. So, the best we can do, as people who have been created without our asking to be born, is to enjoy the scenery as Life flows. When we don’t like what we see or experience, we can rave, rant, kick our feet, bury our heads in despair, but Life will simply go on. That is the nature of Life. The only sensible option is to learn to appreciate this reality and to LIVE with it. To be alive, to live, is a great blessing, a celebration. Don’t let your worries ruin this party called Life!