Believing, while living in the dark

People often report that they find it difficult to stay positive in the face of intense negativity. And though they are not wrong in facing a struggle,  it is possible that they may not be approaching the negative in their lives the right way.
Let’s understand first that negativity__in people, in situations, in events__cannot be ignored. It is real. To look, as some would suggest, only at the brighter side of Life when things are on fire on another side, is to look away, to ignore the reality. No one who has ignored what is has ever been able to deal with it, forget overcoming it. Leadership is the ability to see reality and mobilize the appropriate response, taught management thinker, Noel Tichy. And I agree with him. So, when things are out of control, when everything’s broken, staying positive does not mean ignoring that reality. You can stay positive though while accepting the reality. It is when you want to wish away the negative that it insists on showing up, again and again, and terrorizing you. Instead if you accept it, and choose to stay positive despite your circumstances, you would have learnt the art of intelligent living.
The positivity in us cannot and must not be pretentious. Nothing succeeds against Life. You cannot be in the throes of a crisis and imagine it does not exist. And simply say it will all be fine soon. What happens when, after a period of time, the ‘soon’, does not happen – say after a month, a year, a decade?! Such flaky positivity, such vain optimism will evaporate at some point, leaving you devastated. Instead, first accept your situation. Understand it. Be conscious of it. Stay aware. And then look for the blessings, the abundance, the silver lining and live each day believing things will change. Until they change, recognize and appreciate, that you will have to live with the reality, whatever it is, without wishing it weren’t so. The crucial difference is that your acceptance and awareness will ensure that you stay anchored in faith. That faith will give you the patience. To be sure, your problems or your situation will not change overnight, or dramatically, but your ability to face them stands phenomenally enhanced.  
Understand that it takes the dark nights along with the bright days to make up Life. Without darkness, we will never appreciate the value of light. Staying positive does not mean wishing the darkness away or hoping it doesn’t exist. It means accepting the darkness for being what it is – intense, gripping, fearful – and believing that if it is night now, a dawn will surely follow.

A red LAMY and THE Truth

In the end, you will have nothing.  You will depart alone, empty-handed. This is the truth of Life. As long as you don’t recognize this truth and understand it, you will continue fighting with Life. You will continue to desire and want. And you will continue to lament and grieve over anything that you lose. Or over everything that you don’t get!
I love LAMY (German-crafted) pens. I simply love the way they are designed and the way they write. Over years, I have collected most variants of a particular model in several colors. And I carry a Lamy most of the time while on business. One day, on a domestic flight, I lost my favorite red LAMY. When I discovered this loss, I was well out of the airport, driving towards downtown. I simply did not see a point in going back in search of my pen! But I could not get over the loss. For days on end I searched for the pen in every major Indian city. Those were times when LAMY products were not available in India and online shopping had not been invented! Whatever I did to get over the loss, my mind went back to grieving over the red LAMY. Several years after this incident, one day, I sat at a coffee shop with my wife to take stock of our lives. We had lost everything material in Life. And were hanging on to a thin ray of hope. We did not know what to do. Or whom to turn to for work, for help, for a solution, or for advice. We decided to make a list of options so that we could select from among them. I volunteered to take notes of our choices/options. I pulled out my pen – it turned out to be a red LAMY, which I had subsequently purchased from Kuala Lumpur International Airport while on a trip, subsequent to losing the one I originally had.
I saw that red LAMY in my hand and burst out laughing! Here I was, having lost everything material, and was contemplating calmly how to reinvent ourselves, how to keep our focus and how to find a solution to the unimaginable crisis that we found ourselves in. There was no grief. No sorrow. Just an indescribable resoluteness to deal with the challenge. Over and above that, I was laughing at the irony in my learning! I wondered what had changed in me between my losing a pen to losing everything material in Life. I am not sure I know even now what has changed in me – but I sure know how that change has come about. Over time, Life has taught me lessons through my experience of losing everything that I once dearly held on to – money, assets, the Firm we built, our unique business model and our reputation. I have learned through all this loss that everything is transient. That nothing is permanent. That we will all go the same way as we came – with nothing! Perhaps, this awareness has led to a great acceptance of Life as it is. And to an incomparable, matchless, inner peace.
Your story may be different. But you too may have lost in Life. Or are struggling with a loss just now. Whether you have lost something, or someone, reflect on this, the ONLY, truth. That is the only way not to lose your peace of mind and to remain anchored and blissful.

Be adamant about your faith, not about worrying!

The human mind feeds on worries. It simply has no other work to do than throw up newer worries when either old ones get resolved or become irrelevant. And because we have not learned to train and tame the mind, we have become obsessed with worrying. In a weird way, worrying is comforting. Because it keeps the mind engaged. But such engagement is ruinous because it takes us away from living fully, because it is not focused on the now. All worries pertain to guilt and baggage from the past or to anxiety about the future. So, while you may be anywhere physically, you are simply not present.
A man had problems in every aspect of his Life. From his finances to his health to his relationships, every part of his Life was in disarray. He was a great believer though and said his prayers without fail twice daily. Yet he worried a lot. All day he would walk around like a zombie – beaten, broken, bruised, hassled, harried and worried. One day God appeared in front of him. And this is how their conversation went.
The man: God, I am blessed you have appeared before me. I knew my faith in you will pay off one day. Now, please solve all the problems I am faced with.
God: I am afraid I can’t do that immediately.
The man: But why? I am your faithful devotee and pray to you daily.
God: But you also worry a lot. To me your worries seem more sincere than your prayers. So, I am confused.
The man: I don’t understand. How do I not worry when it is my problem?
God: When you have come to me, hasn’t it ceased to be your problem? If you knew you could solve it, would you have come to me? So, since you are in front of me and claim you have faith in me, then why do you worry? I would much rather solve the problems of those who are adamant with their faith and dither with their worries instead of helping those who are adamant about worrying and dither with their faith.
Think about it. This story applies to each one of us in our own unique ways. I am not sure if there is a God somewhere that runs the affairs of the Universe. Possibly there is. Maybe there isn’t. But one thing is for sure that worrying isn’t going to get any of us anywhere in Life. Look around. The same energy that powers and cares for all Life in the Universe, of which we are just a mere speck, possesses both the intelligence and capability to take care of us and our problems too. If we believe we have faith in that energy, the one that created us, then must we not be adamant, fanatic about that faith? We cannot claim we have faith and continue to worry. They simply can’t coexist. It is because we continue to worry that we miss the magical moments in our daily lives.
Each moment, irrespective of what you are faced with or are going through, is a miracle. To witness that miracle you need to be present in that moment. Worrying takes you away from living! Each moment that you worry is a moment that you have not lived!

Everything’s as it should be and all is well

Everything happens at the right time. In Life, there’s really no concept of a good time or a bad one. Good or bad are labels that we human beings place. Life’s happening at its own pace, of its own accord and in the way it must happen.
We agonize over things, events and people because we seek instant gratification. In an SMS generation, this is even more starkly evident. Everyone wants everything now and fast.
Practicing mindfulness, enjoying every breath we take, every morsel we eat, every sight we behold, is the best way to live. This doesn’t mean you must not be ambitious or aggressive. This means don’t rush through Life as if it were a 100-meter race. It is not. Learn to be patient. Everything happens to a plan, and just because we are not aware of that plan it doesn’t mean there isn’t one! What we may like to accept and keep in mind always is that, this Master Plan has no flaws.
Kabir, the 15th Century weaver-poet, has said this so beautifully:
Dheere Dheere Re Mana, Dheere Sub Kuch Hoye
Maali Seenche Sau Ghara, Ritu Aye Phal Hoye
It means:
Slowly, slowly O! Mind….everything happens at its own pace…
The gardener may water with a hundred buckets, but the fruit arrives only in its season….

So as you rush through another Monday, breathe easy, slow down, be mindful. Don’t let the traffic affect your mood. Don’t let your meaningless meetings drain you. Don’t let any no disappoint you. Know that everything is fine. And as that memorable line in the classic Hindi movie ‘3 Idiots’, which I was watching on TV last night, goes, ‘All EEZ WELL’. In fact, everything is as it should be and all is well!

Allow yourself to be shaped by Life….!

Some years back, my good friend Rajmohan Pillai, seeing me in the throes of my Firm’s collapse and insolvency, gave me a profound piece of advice. He said: “Life will be full of problems. Don’t try to solve all your problems at the same time. Take each day as it comes and attempt solutions to the best of your ability. For the rest, just go with the flow.” When I first heard this advice, I was stumped by its simplicity. Is it that simple to deal with Life, I wondered. But, over these years, I have learned from experience that Rajmohan was on the ball. There indeed is no other way to live Life and to deal with the myriad situations that present themselves on a daily basis.
No one loves a problem. We all want to be problem-free. But that’s not how Life works. Life’s nature is to present you with a problem and get you to attempt solutions. In a way, Life’s playing with you and with each of us! As you progressively solve problems, newer ones will appear. And you will notice that the level of difficulty increases with each new problem __ pretty similar to the way our academic examinations are designed with an ascending level of difficulty through school and college. Now, there are some problems that you can solve. And there are those you can’t.. These ones, they sort themselves out over time. What’s interesting about the School of Life is that whether or not you solve problems, you will always learn. In a way, therefore, with each learning, you will continue to grow and evolve!
There’s a Taoist Zen story I remember reading: An old man accidentally fell into a river that had raging rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his Life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream – at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. “I adjusted myself to the water and did not expect the water to accommodate and molly-cuddle me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived!”
Don’t always expect what you want to happen in Life. Know also that your Life will never be free of problems. But you can be free from them if you allow yourself to be shaped by Life. Be prepared to and learn to adjust to what’s happening to you. This is the only way to a lifetime of peace, learning and bliss!

Approach Life with open arms, in all humility…

Awaken each day with total humility, stretch your arms wide open and be sure that Life will provide you all that you need. Our grief comes from our wants. Wants always have an element of ego, a demand, in them. But when you approach Life with humility, saying, fill my Life with what you believe I need, not only will everything be taken care of__as has always been__but you will never ever be in grief.  
This morning I read a beautiful interview that Times of India has done with A R Rahman. He tells Priya Gupta: Every time I sit for a song, I feel I am finished. It’s like a beggar sitting waiting for God to fill your bowl with the right thought. In every song, I ask help from Him. Everybody around is so good, so to create music that will connect with so many people is not humanly possible without inspiration.
This is the humility I am referring to. Caught in the trap of the mindless rat race we run, our wants have increased manifold. And so have our insecurities and anxieties. When things don’t go as per our wishes, when what we want doesn’t happen, we agonize and blame an external God for our misfortunes. We have ended up becoming so full of ourselves__our grief, our problems, our wants. This is the only reason why our lives are not complete and yet we feel spent! This is why we are unable to create value in whatever we do daily. To feel enriched and live fully, we must empty ourselves daily. When we approach Life with a sense of nothingness, nobody-ness, in total surrender, we will be able to see and experience the Life that is ordained for us. Most important, we will feel peaceful and blissful within!
Our wanting anything is of no consequence really. There’s an old Arabic proverb that goes like this: “What is destined will reach you even if it be beneath two mountains. What is not destined will not reach you even if it be between your two lips.” Let’s remember that this Life has been given to each one of us. We didn’t ask for it. So, logically, if something has come free, without your asking for it, you don’t impose your wants on it. You accept what’s being given and use it intelligently, fully! That fullness can only come from respecting Life and being responsible for your own lifetime. When you impose your wants on Life you are being both ungrateful and irresponsible. Your wants must cease for the God within you to find expression.
This is why people like Rahman, or any successful or creative person, is able to live in this same, cold, dog-eat-dog, world that we live in and are able to produce a matchless, beautiful, work of art each day. I am not talking of celebrity achievements here. You and I too can achieve those levels of creative expression, leading to phenomenal success, if we learn to empty ourselves and let Life take care of us. That then would be a true celebration of our lives and making them meaningful – leading us to bliss and peace.

A crisis is your golden moment: Seize it!

When in a crisis situation, after all the initial fear and anxiety has left you crippled, when you are with yourself, and are grudgingly begin to accept your reality, take stock, dispassionately, calmly of whatever’s going on. Ask yourself what can you do about the situation you are faced with? There are only two ways to deal with any challenging situation: either you can do something to solve it or simply accept it. Most often we are able to see that, in some situations, we can’t do much to solve it. Even so, we simply refuse to accept the crisis, the situation, the reality. We wish things were not the way they are. This is what leads to suffering. Acceptance, on the other hand, ensures freedom from suffering, even if the source of pain, the crisis, doesn’t go away. When you are free from suffering, your inner peace will guide you to learn from the crisis and help you avoid feeling burdened by it.  
Every crisis we are faced with, without fail, is a precursor to a blessing, an opportunity. Extra-ordinary pain is not some cosmic ordinance for all the sins you have committed in this lifetime, or another one (as most religions will have you believe and, perhaps, fear), but is always a prelude to extra-ordinary grace that is due to drench you in its brilliance! In the Chinese language (although academic purists and linguistic experts do argue otherwise) the word for “crisis” is made up of the amalgamation of the Chinese words for “danger” and “opportunity”. Even if the purists’ view is considered, they concur that ‘weiji’, the Chinese word for crisis, does mean ‘dangerous or precarious or critical or crucial point’. And that’s what a crisis really is – it is a critical inflection point of your Life, from one orbit to another!
It is the duration of the inflection that kills any of us, and never the crisis itself. And this is where acceptance has a big role to play. To fight Life is being foolish. To accept it is intelligence. Whatever be your crisis, whatever it is that defines your circumstance right now, accept it. Some situations may bring you to the brink, may threaten to annihilate you, but your acceptance can miraculously give you the inner strength to cope with them. Life loves those that are prepared to go with it, all the way, down to the wire. So, it is that you will observe, that those who have been through excruciatingly painful times, have always emerged humbler, stronger, peaceful and more brilliant than they ever were. You will see such people in your family or among your friends itself. Be sure to be inspired by them than simply opinionate on them!
A crisis is a golden moment. It teaches you acceptance. If you learn that lesson, it means you have got yourself the most profound qualification (higher than any other degree that the world’s most scholarly university can award you) in Life – to lead a Life of true meaning, love, peace and joy!

Dear Parent, Trust, Lead, Inspire…

The primary role of parents is to instil good values in their children and give them the freedom to choose a Life they want to live. And then let them just be. More often than not, children will, with their sense of adventure, make mistakes with their choices, stumble and fall, then they will wake up and smell the coffee, find their way in Life and learn their lessons, even while licking their wounds. After all, isn’t this how we have all grown up? Even so, irrespective of what your child ends up doing with her or his Life, at whatever age, it is your duty as a parent to reiterate to your child that you still trust her or him and that she or he is always welcome to come back home!
Mother and Sreesanth: That hug matters a lot
In the latest Bollywood hit, Yeh Jawaani Hai Dewaani, the relationship between the main protagonist Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) and his dad (Farooq Sheikh) is under some stress owing to the father’s second marriage. But when Bunny is leaving home for studying in Chicago, his dad tells him, while giving him a tight hug: “No matter what happens, I will trust you. And this will always be your home.” This is not filmi alone. This morning’s papers in India carry pictures of cricketer Sreesanth’s mother hugging and kissing him when he got back home to Kochi after 27 days in jail. Sreesanth’s fall from grace has been in the headlines the last few weeks. No one would touch him professionally (or personally too) with a barge pole. But to his parents’, despite the seriousness of his alleged offences, he is still their child who has come back home after a tumultuous season in Life.
No matter how old you are, to your parents, you will still be a child. And what one needs, especially in the face of a crisis, whether self-inflicted or per Life’s plan, or in a way both, is a warm hug that says ‘Everything’s gonna be okay. We love you and trust you.’ People make mistakes. To err is human. Who hasn’t made a mistake? Sometimes, the mistake may affect only the person who has committed it. Or her or his immediate family. At other times, a whole lot of people may be affected. Making mistakes is a part of Life, integral to growing up. Analyzing, dissecting, learning from a mistake is the key. But far more significant is the role of parents who must continue to reassure their child, even if that child now is grown up and has children, and should not have done what she or he did, that whatever’s happening all part of Life’s ways to test you and teach you.
To be sure, there are no guarantees that children who have been taught the right values by their parents will live by them all their lives. Normally they do. And logically they must. But people do go astray. They are adventurous. Or they are simply seduced and blinded by the circumstances that Life places them in. There’s an old saying in Hindi: “jab subah ka bhula hua sham ko ghar laut aata hai, usse bhula nahin kehte”. It means: When the one who went astray comes back home pining, embrace him. Don’t ostracize him.
Good parenting is perhaps a responsibility that never ends. Obviously, what appears to children to be a generation gap, is actually years of experience of having lived and faced Life, stumbled, fallen, gathered and stood up to walk again, coming into play to counsel, to suggest, to guide, to lead. Of course, an integral part of that responsibility, is to teach children who have ended up creating or getting into serious situations, to face the consequences of their actions. Or if they haven’t done wrong, but have been victims of circumstance, to teach them to fight to clear their name. A parent is any child’s first hero (or heroine). And no matter what happens, a reassuring parent stands a better chance of counselling and guiding a person in distress. I write this from experience. In the face of inscrutable circumstances, with no way out in sight, when it seemed like all was over, and the whole world (including my immediate family) had written me and my wife off, my dad, held my shoulders, and told me and my wife: “You both will come out of this. Keep the faith. You are winners!” Those were compassionate words. But more than that they were trusting. And that trust mattered, when in every material sense, we were losers!
Hopefully, your children will not lead you to situations like the one Sreesanth led his parents to, or I led my parents to, but if they do, remember, you have a bigger role to play than just grieve over your children’s fate. And that role is to be a true parent – a hero, an inspiration, a friend who continues to trust despite the evidence, the circumstances and the odds, and the one sage counsel who guides the person in the dock to do, from hereon, what’s right than what appears to be right!

Get out of your own way!

There are times in Life when nothing will go your way. There will be so much unsaid, so much unresolved. And it may just seem like everything is wrong about your Life. Every effort you make, each step you take, you will be stonewalled, tripped or pushed to a corner. The mind will invite you to despair. Decline that invitation artfully and let Life lead you. You get out of your own way!
Relax. Get yourself a cup of tea or grab a drink if you can. The mind is like a tennis-ball practice machine. It keeps spewing out worries and fears endlessly. These debilitating thoughts will tell you that you can and must solve the problems that face you just now. But what if you have already tried all that you can think up of. And failed. And the problems persist. The very thought that there’s no way forward may force you to allow your fears to take hold of you. Please don’t let them. Your fearing something is not going to take that something away. Life is to be faced. Not feared. So, let Life happen as it has been and as it is happening. These are times when accepting that there’s no choice is an intelligent choice in itself.  Exercise it.
I recently met the CEO of one of India’s leading retail brands. He shared with me how, about 15 years ago, a vindictive police officer, illegitimately and extra-constitutionally shut down all his stores and threw him in jail, where he had to spend 89 days. “There seemed no way out. This man had cases foisted against me under every provision of the law. It was a legal maze. And with our business shut down, cash was just not available. My family tried to mobilize something, both financially and legally, but it took three months. I was very clear that he could take away everything from me. But he couldn’t take away my spirit. I refused to give up because my conscience was clean. We had not done anything wrong and were simply a victim of circumstance and time,” he said. After a protracted legal battle that took a few years, this CEO was acquitted with a clean chit, has since rebuilt his business and his brand is one of India’s most admired. He told me, as I took leave of him, “Some nights are long and dark. But if it is night, know for sure that a dawn will follow!”

When we try to solve some of our problems and don’t meet with much success, intelligence lies in letting go, letting Life take over, and getting out of our own way. The truth is that Life has always been flowing on its own. You and I have done precious little to make our lives happen. Getting out of your own way is not inaction. In fact, it is a more sensible action than to be perpetually frustrated and fearful! When you get out of your own way, you can see the way that Life has laid out for you clearly! And that way, always, takes you to where you must eventually arrive!

Don’t fight your desires. Understand them!

Every scripture in the world will tell you that desire is at the root of all our unhappiness. But it is also intrinsic to human nature that we desire. The way to deal with desire then is to not resist it but to understand it, appreciate it and make an intelligent choice. Desire cannot be dropped. Because desire is an energy. And energy cannot be destroyed. When the energy, the desire arises, go it its root and understand it. Do you need what you desire or do you want it? If you need it, go for it. If you want it, you can still go for it, but absolve yourself of all guilt. Make a free choice by remaining alert, being awake and by practicing awareness.
The latest issue of India Today runs a cover story on ‘The Untold Story’ of Mahatma Gandhi’s experiments with practicing celibacy based on now available excerpts from the personal diaries of Manuben, who was his personal attendant for many years and was with him at the time that he was assassinated. It is common knowledge that Gandhi’s experiments with celibacy involved sleeping naked with female companions. People then, and now, see it as an eccentric side of a Mahatma, Great Soul. Others find it condemnable and questionable. We will never know why Gandhi used this method to deal with, in an attempt to perhaps conquer, his sexual desires. It is believed that Gandhi looked to conquer this enormous energy within, which would have only helped satiate his selfish and intensely personal desire, his lust, and direct that energy in the pursuit and practice of ahimsa, to help his country and its citizens. It was Gandhi’s personal choice and something he had the honesty, as Manuben’s diary jottings reveal amply now, to make no bones about what he did as part of this practice.
While the India Today story will be lapped up by its readers for the sheer expose it offers into the private Life of one of the most revered Indians, it helps us, on another plane, to reflect deeply about our own ability to deal with desire. I lean to Osho, the Master, for a better understanding of the anatomy of desire. Osho says the energy behind desire and the energy behind creation, existence, are one and the same. He quotes from the Eastern scriptures where legend has it that God had a great desire. To expand beyond himself. And so, in order to grow from one to many, he let his desire create us__humans. So, fundamentally, all desire is about expanding oneself because we are all an offshoot of the same creative energy. Fighting desire, therefore, means fighting with ourselves. No desire is bad unless you succumb to it and it starts to enslave you. And nothing must be succumbed to. We must not capitulate but we must choose freely. When a desire, let us say to smoke, to drink, to eat an additional gulab jamun, to have sex, to get angry, to feel frustrated, to be jealous, whatever, arises, look at the desire not as if you are desiring it but as a third person. As an observer. Understand the desire with your awareness. Where there is awareness, there will be prudence. It is only when we are blinded that we succumb mindlessly to our desires. When we stay alert, we will always be able to deal with the desire intelligently, effortlessly __ perhaps, overcome it by letting go of it, perhaps, choosing it consciously.