Stop postponing living

Time is relentlessly pursuing us. We are all, as a matter of fact, racing towards our deaths, albeit at different speeds! With this inevitable end in mind, and in sight, we must exercise our intelligence to LIVE this lifetime meaningfully, purposefully. 

Understand and appreciate the impermanence of money and material things. They are as transient as Life itself. Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs, even as he battled with cancer, memorably said,“Remembering that I would be dead soon is the most important tool I have encountered to help me make the right choices in Life.” 

So, stop postponing living. Do what you have always wanted to, NOW. Be it writing a book, starting a new career, launching a business, acting in a movie or just saying that you love someone___whatever will give you joy, needs to be done NOW. In the end, what will count is not how many corporations you were on the boards of, not how much money you have in your bank, not how many hours you slogged each week, but how many lives you touched.

To be compassionate is being human

If there’s something you want to learn in Life, learn to be compassionate.Compassion is the purest form of love. When you have something to offer, something to give – out of a deep understanding of the other’s predicament or need, out of purely being human, without really worrying about what’s in it for you! When you pity someone, you don’t really understand that person’s situation. You merely feel an emotion that makes you feel superior than the one that you are pitying – which is, in a way, you feel subconsciously good within you that you are mercifully not in that person’s shoes. Compassion, on the other hand, helps you relate to the other person and gets you to see the world from that person’s situation and act from that reference point!
Devi, Sharma, Khan, Azmi – Being Human!
Pic Courtesy: The Indian Express
This morning’s papers in India have led with the story of two women who offered their kidneys to each other’s husbands in order to save their lives. These women are as disparate as you can find any two – age-wise, social-strata wise, education-wise, income-group-wise and religion-wise. Yet they reached out to each other and in the name of humanity offered to help each other. Fitraus Azmi, in her 20s, from Aurangabad, gave her kidney to save the Life of Uma Devi’s (in her 40s) husband, Devaki Nandan Sharma (52), who hails from Patna. And Devi, in turn, gave her kidney to Azmi’s husband, Mohammed Akhtar Khan, 29. The entire operation, in fact four of them, has been successful and has given the two men another lifeline from the acute renal failure situation that both were faced with. In a world where religion divides people, here compassion has brought them together. And how!
I am reminded of what Osho, the Master, has once said: “In compassion, you simply give. In love, you are thankful because the other has given something to you. In compassion, you are thankful because the other has taken something from you. You are thankful because the other has not rejected you. You had come with energy to give, you had come with many flowers to share, and the other allowed you, the other was receptive.”
Giving compassionately, contrary to popular sentiment, is not at all difficult. Though many will submit that getting rid of the what’s-in-it-for-me question is well impossible. To get over that limiting thought, to scale that hurdle, remember these (relevant) words from the Gita Saram (Essence of The Bhagavad Gita):
“…What did you bring with you, for you to lose it?

What did you create, for it to be wasted or destroyed?

Whatever you took, it was taken from here.

Whatever you gave, it was given from here.
Whatever is yours today, will belong to someone else tomorrow.
On another day, it will belong to yet another.
This change is the Law of the Universe.”

To be liberated, therefore, be compassionate, be human – give freely!

Don’t try to make sense of Life. You can’t!

The moment you think you have understood Life, that you have a handle on how it works, you are finished. You have then written your own warrant to live the rest of your Life – imprisoned by your suffering and depression.
There’s an old Hindi song, sung by the immortal Kishore Kumar, that goes: “Zindagi ka Safar….Hai yeh kaisa Safar….Koi samjha nahin, Koi jaana nahin…” (Safar – Journey; 1970, Kalyanji Anandji) It means that Life is a journey that is inscrutable – no one knows it, no one understands it! This syncs with what a Siddha Yogi, who I met some years back, told me: “Only a fool will try to understand Life! The intelligent will simply live it for whatever it is!” Two stories I read yesterday only reinforced this learning in me.
Vincent Van Gogh: Tragically not valued in his lifetime
The first one is of the celebrated painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853~1890). He lived and painted in abject poverty. He was so poor that he could eat only 3 days a week. Nobody understood him. Or his paintings. And so none of his paintings were sold in his lifetime. His brother would give him a weekly allowance to subsist. Because Van Gogh was passionate about his art, he would use some of this allowance to buy his canvases, brushes and paints. Which meant he could only eat three times a week. He looked haggard always and people around him thought he was mad. One day, his brother, unable to bear Van Gogh’s plight, set up a friend to go purchase a painting from him so that Van Gogh would find the motivation to bounce back in Life! The friend had no idea of art. And merely saw himself as a person sent to handover the money under the pretext of buying a painting. So, even as Van Gogh excitedly explained each of his works, the ‘buyer’ seemed disinterested and impatient. He merely wanted ANY painting. Van Gogh smelt a rat. He realized that his brother had set this man up. So he asked the man to leave with his money. He was so heart-broken that he committed suicide that day. It was a sad, premature end to a great talent that the world would later worship! Van Gogh, in his short Life is believed to have made over a 1000 paintings. Over 800 of them were lost because no one bothered about them. The remaining 200 are the precious possessions of museums and art collectors – with each of them worth over a few million dollars! Now, how do you explain this? One of the world’s greatest artists dies a pauper, and frustrated, because no one values his work? And the same work today is treated as priceless?
The second story I read was the cover story in India Today on Bollywood’s new super star, Ranbir Kapoor. He, when asked what he believes is the secret of his success, tells the magazine’s Kunal Pradhan: “I have realized that an actor needs to be constantly unsure about what he’s doing, and what’s going on around him. The moment you think you have nailed it, you’re dead.”
That’s so true about Life as well. And about each of us. In a way, we too are mere actors on this world stage. Here now. Gone tomorrow. During our lifetimes, we will have to play different roles. The script will keep changing. And the best way to stay grounded, stay anchored, stay peaceful is to enjoy the uncertainty. Don’t try to make sense of Life. You can’t. If you try, you will end up where Van Gogh did – depressed, frustrated. If you simply let Life happen to you, you will love the Life given to you and will forever be at peace – with Life, with the world, with yourself!

Just move on….

An intelligent response to Life is to move on, no matter what happens to you. It is when you cling on to what’s been taken away from you that you grieve and suffer.
Ajit Singh: “Diplomats must just move on!”
Pic: Hindu Business  Line
Last evening, we were at a dinner to bid farewell to the Consul General of Singapore Ajit Singh and his wonderful wife Balveer. Singh is moving to Mumbai after a 7-year stint in Chennai. As the evening progressed, a farewell toast was raised to the couple and Singh was invited to share his sentiments on his experience in Chennai and on this move. He spoke simply, from the heart, thanking all his friends, well-wishers, acquaintances, and the people of Chennai for having been so warm and caring to him and his wife. And then he said something very profound: “I am moving on to another city but carrying Chennai in my heart as I do. A diplomat must simply move on.”
Of course, Singh’s point was made from a professional point of view – diplomats like him, working with the foreign service of any country, are quite used to, and are always prepared, to move at a moment’s notice. Ask them, and they will say, that’s how their lives work.
But look at it differently. From a spiritual point of view. Isn’t that how (anyone’s) Life works? Diplomats find it easier to move on because they know it’s a part of their job, their career. We suffer dealing with change because we don’t have the attitude to move on. We don’t believe that moving on is an integral part of living itself! We are clinging on, often with our feet nailed to the ground, asking questions of Life when things that we don’t want and we didn’t expect happen to us:
1.     Why me?
2.     Why do I have to adjust, change, adapt, accommodate?
3.     Is there no way to restore status quo?
4.     Why are people doing this to me?
5.     Why is Life so unfair?

These and more questions may well be logical. And you may perhaps be justified in asking them. But you will soon discover that it is pointless to ask them. For, there are no answers in Life – there are only experiences. Whatever happens, you can only experience something. If it’s good, you say, “Wow! Aha!” and if it’s not what you want, you say, “Damn! Aiyyo!” Either way, soak in what’s happening to you, carry some of it in your heart as Ajit advises, and simply move on….If there’s something like Life’s simplest learning ever that you want to pick up – this is it!

Your circumstances don’t matter

Your circumstances don’t define you. They don’t matter to you really. What you are being called by others, or what you are experiencing right now, is not who you are. If you understand this, if you are able to look inward, and find your inner light, you will find tremendous beauty and a great peace within you!
King Janaka was once holding a contest to decide who’s the most intelligent of all the scholars in his kingdom. A prize of a thousand cows, with their horns studded with gold and diamonds, was announced for the winner. Five years in a row, a famous philosopher in the kingdom, Yagnavalkya had been winning the contest. As soon as he arrived, Yagnavalkya asked for the prize to be taken away to his home, because he was sure he would win. The contest had not even begun. But no one dared stop him. Because he had a track record. Not even Janaka had the slightest doubt that Yagnavalkya would win this year too. As the contest went on, an unknown scholar was seated there too. His wife sent her son Ashtavakra to fetch him back because she felt her husband was wasting his time at a contest which he was certain not to win. As Ashtavakra entered the court of Janaka, everyone was shocked. Here was a man, totally deformed, ugly to look at – one limb longer than the other, the face looking weird, the eyes popping out and the whole body was crooked. That’s why he was named so – Ashtavakra. The whole court started laughing at Ashtavakra. They were laughing at his appearance, at the sight of his deformed body. So, Ashtavakra too joined in. He too laughed. And he laughed loudly, above everyone’s laughter. So much so, that his laughter silenced everyone else’s. Janaka was surprised at what he was seeing.
He said: “I can understand why these people started laughing. They were seeing you this way, crooked and weird looking. And so they laughed. But why did you laugh? And how did they stop laughing when you laughed?”
Ashtavakra replied: “I thought this contest is for scholars. I did not realize it was for shoemakers. They are all laughing at my body, at my skin. They are obsessed with the outer. And they don’t see the inner.”
Janaka dissolved the contest. He ordered for the prize cows to be brought back. And started to inquire from Ashtavakra why he was able to say something so profound despite his despicable state.
Ashtavakra replied: “When people used to laugh at me for the way I look, I would enquire within me. And I would observe this body. That’s how I came to the realization that if I can observe this body, then I am not the body. So I developed the attitude to not let my looks or my situation define me.”
The deeper you look inward, the deeper your awareness grows. And the greater your ability is to stay detached from your circumstance or others’ opinion of you. So, don’t allow your situations to define you. Think of Ashtavakra every time people laugh at you or label you. You are as special and extraordinary a creation as there has ever been. Stay only with that awareness. And you will be forever in bliss.  

Remain unmoved to stay unscathed

Just as it is important not to get bogged down by failure, it is equally, perhaps more, critical not to get carried away by success.
M S Dhoni: Unmoved
At the presentation ceremony of the ICC Champions Trophy at Edgbaston, Birmingham, two nights ago, former England captain and Star Cricket’s anchor Nasser Hussain asked India captain M.S.Dhoni: “The T20 World Cup, the ICC World Cup and now the Champions Trophy….you have seen and got them all. What would you want next?”
Embarrassed and smiling, Dhoni, in his characteristic down-to-earth, grounded, style, replied: “I am not here to prove to anyone how good I am. My focus is on the game. We are off to the West Indies from here and we will be keen to put in our best there and work as a team.”
Many observers and commentators have been amazed with Dhoni’s unflappable leadership and his ability to remain calm in a crisis. I feel the biggest reason why he continues to be successful is the because he doesn’t get all that he’s achieved go to his head. He doesn’t let defeat affect him either. And that’s a remarkable quality. An ability. Something each of us can consider, reflect upon and try internalizing.
Think about it. In this lifetime, which has been given to us without our asking for it, there are many things that will happen to us. There are many experiences that we will go through. Some of them will work to a plan. And we will start imagining we caused or created them. Some will happen to us without any effort from us. And sometimes things will simply happen – causing us pain, joy, grief, suffering and often leaving us numbed, shocked, defeated, delighted or humbled. Osho, the Master, invites us to consider the example of the wheel. He says a wheel moves. While its center remains unmoved. So, if your Life were a wheel, with its own fair share of ups and downs, you, the real you, your center, your soul, must remain unmoved. Only this state of staying unmoved, despite whatever is happening to you, can keep you perpetually blissful! The best way to respond to Life is to remain unmoved – by joy or by sorrow, by victory or by defeat. Then, and only then, can you hope to get through this lifetime, unscathed!

Love what you get

Sometime long ago, I learnt these two definitions.
# Success is getting what you want.
# Happiness is wanting what you get.
Over the years, from experiencing the inscrutable nature of Life, I have come to understand that Life just happens. It has no agenda or desire to cause us any suffering. Yet we suffer all the time because we have this expectation that our Life must be different from what it is. Our suffering pushes us into the dark recesses of unhappiness and we languish there hoping someday that we will be happy when things get better. And when things get better, as they always do, you soon find that you don’t have much time. And that makes you unhappy for a different reason, all over again – you wish that you have not postponed happiness. You wish you had lived a more complete and fulfilling Life!
Here’s an old Zen story that illustrates this point beautifully:
Traveler: “What kind of weather are we going to have today?”
Shepherd: “The kind of weather I like.”
Traveler: “How do you know it will be the kind of weather you like?”
Shepherd: “Having found out, sir, that I cannot always get what I like, I have learned to always like what I
get. So I am quite sure we will have the kind of weather I like.”
So journey through Life wanting what you get. Because if you postpone happiness while waiting too long to get what you want, you may well end up not having enough time to enjoy what you finally, eventually, get!

To be free of guilt, be free of yourself

To be free of guilt, be free of yourself. Your guilt is not going to make things any better. Cognitive action will. We all feel guilty of our actions at times. We feel remorseful. And we seek forgiveness. When we are not forgiven, we feel even more guilty. Guilt is a debilitating force. It can make you feel depressed, pity for yourself and wasted. Guilt thrives in you because of your ego.
There’s no use allowing your conscience to be ridden by guilt. The awakening that you have made a mistake is the first step to offload your guilt. When you are awake to your misdemeanor or impropriety, you will want to seek forgiveness. That’s the right step forward. However, when you are not forgiven by the other party, don’t let your guilt and self-pity consume you. Feel good that YOU recognize your mistake. Heal yourself by loving yourself. Use that love as energy to propel you to affirmative action. Unless you act on your resolve not to repeat the mistake or make good a situation, you will not transform. The process of transformation requires you to not only focus on what you WILL do but also on what you WILL NEVER do. Remember, you can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do. You HAVE to do it. And you can’t do it if you continue to feel guilty of your past actions. So, be free, awake, arise and act!

Because the truth involves you

About 25 years ago, when I used to work for The Indian Express, the newspaper had a tagline – ‘Because the truth involves us all’. Those were the days when Arun Shourie, the paper’s firebrand editor and his boss, the irrepressible Ramnath Goenka, were taking on the then Government  on the Bofors scandal exposing the corruption and rot within. That positioning statement then meant to me, as a young, impressionable journalist, that one had to take on the establishment and bring the truth, with honest reportage, no matter what.
Over the years, I have carried this spirit in me, though I have mellowed down, or matured perhaps, to understand and appreciate that while the truth does not need to be advertised, it surely needs to be always, and surely, spoken at the right time, with the right person, at the right place!
As long as you know it is the truth, always speak it. Because the truth can and must never be hidden. And because the truth involves you! But the most baffling thing about humankind is that we find it very easy to lie, to cover up, to say what immediately comforts us and the listener, than to speak the truth. Having spoken what’s easy, what came easy, the ideal situation must be to not suffer any more. Yet, most of the time, the person who has chosen NOT to speak the truth, grieves and suffers. This is what is most tragic.
Let’s say you have a tyrant for a boss. And you wish you could tell him what he was doing was wrong. Instead you keep praising him or approving of all his nonsensical behavior because you feel it is easier to pamper him than provide him with constructive feedback. Now, as long as you are living peacefully having deceived yourself and falsely pumped up the boss’ ego, there will really be no problem. But if you continue to feel miserable because you have been saying what you don’t believe in, then you have a problem. And the only solution then is to speak the truth about your boss, to him!
Contrary to most opinions, the truth is always respected. Both by the one saying it and by the one listening to it. But always say it to the one who is directly concerned with the truth. If you don’t, and choose to speak to a third party, you are actually promoting gossip. That’s when you are vitiating the atmosphere. For you, and for the person to whom you intend to speak the truth. Truth does not require any crutches. It can stand on its own. And you too can say it without any fear. But you believe just the opposite is true, in any relationship, because YOU don’t want to be the person saying it. You prefer that someone else bell the cat. Or that a kid, than you, tell that the emperor is wearing no clothes! That’s fantastic. If you are comfortable being someone who continues to thrive while pleasing everyone around, that’s just fine. Then, why are you grieving? Please don’t. If you are grieving over the state of any of your affairs, and if the people connected with your Life, need to be shaken awake, then throw the truth at them. Let them deal with it than you suffer with it! That’s the way to intelligent living. That’s the way to inner peace.

A part of your Life’s gone with the moment

No matter what, the moment that you miss will never come back. In all your years here on this planet, if you can recall only a few moments of your Life as memorable, then the truth is that you probably lived ONLY in those moments. All the other time, you may have merely been existing.
The reason why most days of our lives are not memorable is because we are caught up with our worries, fears, insecurities and anxieties. We fail to see the mystical beauty of Life in our weary, dreary, troubled moments. We have somehow got conditioned to this thinking, and therefore have an expectation, that Life must go the way we have planned for it.. Despite ample evidence and our own individual experiences pointing to the opposite, we still secretly hope and fervently believe that our lives will ride smoothly. And then, when it doesn’t happen that way, we brood and agonize over the way our Life is. Or we become zombies – mechanically running from home to work, and from work to home, without pausing to even think why we are doing what we are doing!
I recall a simple Zen story. A minister asked Takuan, a Zen teacher, to suggest how he might pass the time. He felt his days very long attending his office and sitting stiffly to receive the homage of others.
Takuan wrote eight Chinese characters and gave them to the man:
Not twice this day

Inch time foot gem.

This day will not come again.
Each minute is worth a priceless gem.

No moment will come back again. Irrespective of what’s happening. Sometimes, when you observe your grief (based on what people, events, circumstances have done to you) closely, intensely, you will discover a rare beauty in it. And that beauty is there because your grief is real. It is a pointer to how alive you are. Happiness, beauty and living in the moment are not concepts that follow your evolution and growth as a person. You grow and evolve only because you embrace these concepts, imbibe their lessons and live your Life based on them.
The nature of Life is to be ever-straddling the two worlds of joy and sorrow. And you can do that, finding joy even in your sorrow, if you learn to cherish each moment __and live it, love it intimately, because no moment is ever going to come back.