Witness – Doer = Bliss

To understand and deal better with your ego, just be a witness. Not the doer. The ego is all about doing. Being the witness is about non-doing, simply seeing.
In fact, as I have seen it happen in my Life, all of Life’s experiences are to humble you, to teach you to be a good witness. To realize that in any case you are not causing anything – neither success, nor failure. And with each new experience, your ego gets peeled away. And you start relating to your inner core, your soul, more and more. Imagine your lifetime to be like a pencil. As you sharpen the pencil, its shavings fall to the ground and expose the lead within. With your lifetime too, the same thing is happening. With each experience, a part of your ego has been shaved off and you are closer to your real Self. Over time, there’s only a non-doing, no ego Self of you that is left. And that’s the point when you truly realize what a great teacher Life is!
So, don’t fuss or obsess over your ego. Don’t be stumped by it. Don’t be controlled by it. Don’t attempt to drop it either. Just sit back and watch Life happen to you. As if you are a third party, a mere witness. When you are in this state, you can see through this whole game called Life. You will realize that you were never in control, you are not in control, that you cannot control anything in your Life! You will then enjoy yourself merely being a witness, without engaging with your doing self – your ego! You will then be bliss!

When doubt ceases to exist, trust flowers

Among the few things that will definitely kill you before you die is doubt. The moment doubt arises in the mind living becomes miserable. A kind of hell right here! To get rid of doubt, you need to practice detachment. And the simplest way to stay detached is to be aware, to remember that, anything that’s bound to be eventually taken away from you is not worth holding on to. When there’s detachment, doubt ceases to exist. And trust flowers leading you to inner peace.
Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with someone who has been making Life very difficult for me in recent months. He has made the situation worse by tying all of us up in knots so badly that nobody knows how to un-entangle the mess. At the end of another long call, he asked me to accept a fresh set of conditions. Basically this meant that he was reneging on an in-principle understanding we had and was bringing up new terms as deal points. I heard him out calmly and told him that I was willing to sign on the dotted line – no questions asked. This meant that he could, if he so wished, cause me more harm in the future. He asked me if I wanted to discuss the matter with my lawyer. I told him I didn’t see any point in doing that and instead agreed to his terms unconditionally. So, he asked me, ostensibly out of academic interest, why I was accepting his fresh terms without resistance. “Because I trust you,” I replied. Our call ended with him feeling contented that his expectations were exceeded and hopefully, unless he brings another twist to the tale, we would be making progress soon.
While logically I should not be trusting him, because he has not shown any intention to honor previous understandings between us, I decided to rise above doubt because I saw no point in doubting him anymore. I have lived with doubt in the past and have found it to be a very depressing emotion. It makes you anxious, wary, fearful and causes untold agony. I agree that trust can be a risky proposition when it comes to worldly matters, but since you make that choice consciously, you have considered its practical pitfalls. This is where detachment from outcome helps immensely. And despite your trust, despite your being prepared for the worst, should you be let down and you have to face a consequence that you were better off avoiding, I would still say it is a lot better to trust than not to! Simply because trust always delivers inner peace – often instantaneously. Surely also because we have to find newer and better ways to stay anchored in peace in this short lifespan that is available to us!
When you trust someone or something it means you have understood doubt – you have let go of that fake sense of security that doubt creates and are aware that, eventually, doubt cripples, drains and vitiates an existing situation. Dropping doubt means you have dropped what would have otherwise chewed you up from within. When doubt disappears, trust prevails. Trust is not a decision – it is an outcome that is the result of doubtlessness. And it is only through trust that you learn to live fully, to love and to experience inner peace.

When you are fearless, you are free!

Life’s arduous situations can break you physically, can make you immobile, can cripple you – but they cannot break your spirit, they cannot puncture your conviction, if you simply choose to remain strong from within! But how do you remain strong from within when there’s absolutely no respite from the outside? Say, when your Life is hanging by a thin thread owing to a terminal health condition, or when you are caught in a legal maze and there’s no way out, or when your business has gone bust and you simply don’t have any money to even meet your daily needs, or when your separation from your spouse has drained you emotionally, financially, physically and you have lost your will to live? Where do you draw strength from in such, and other debilitating, circumstances, where you are consumed by fear, self-doubt and hopelessness?
Interestingly, you must leverage your fear to gain courage. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is what you get by looking your fear in the eye, by accepting it, and deciding to face it. In reality, a courageous person is also fearful of consequences that logically appear to be on the horizon. But while she or he is fearful from within, she or he is able to pull herself or himself together on the outside. A coward, on the other hand, is both fearful from within and on the outside. But if you can leverage your courage, while becoming more aware, you can attain fearlessness. And fearlessness is not an outward emotion. It is the complete attainment of freedom from fear – within! That will happen, that can happen, only when you realize the true nature of your inner being. When you know that your soul is untouchable, unbreakable and immortal.
Let’s understand this better. All the world’s scriptures talk of this truth. Yet why do you still fear things, people, events in your Life, despite perhaps, knowing and believing this doctrine to be true? Because you haven’t allowed your inner being, your soul, to experience this truth. Examine all your fears. They are always about losing all that you already know as impermanent – your job, your money, your health, your relationships! What kind of intelligence are you, the much educated you, displaying when you are fearful of threats to any of these impermanent aspects of your Life? Someone says you will die because of your health condition – and you are afraid of death? Someone says she will leave you for whatever reason – and you are afraid of losing her? Someone says you will be sacked for non-performance – and you are scared of unemployment? Someone says you will be convicted and sentenced – and you are afraid of imprisonment? But aren’t you already imprisoned, held hostage, by your fear(s)? Think deeply about this. Everything about your Life so far and the rest of your Life will be taken away from you sooner or later. If it is the fear of losing all that you hold on to that’s keeping you anxious, agonized and fearful, then know that your fears are fully justified. What you fear most will surely happen to you. Sooner or later. Including your death! It is only when you experience this realization, this awakening, at the core of your inner being, in your soul, will you be free from fear. Will you be fearless from within. Will you be free.
Review whatever’s making you insecure. Focus on what you fear. And peel away each fear by asking yourself, ‘So what if this (that which you fear most) happens?’ When you get an answer to this question, ask yourself this question again, in the context of your answer, and so on. Keep going until you have no more answers. For instance, ‘What will happen after I die?’ does not have an immediate known answer. Yes, conjecturally, from what the scriptures tell us, the answer could be that ‘your soul is set free’. And so what if the soul is set free? Or if it is trapped somewhere, someplace? Will it matter to the person that you are currently? Since it won’t, why labor over your fears? So, whatever be the situation confronting you just now, don’t resist it, simply accept it for what it is. And know that since your spirit can never be broken or taken away from you, anything that’s happening to you, therefore, is not at all relevant! So be fearless. Be free!

If you carry your guilt for too long, you are as good as dead

You cannot enjoy Life when you are continuously feeling guilty. Almost all the time, we are making decisions in Life. Some of them work well. Several blow up in our faces. If we start feeling guilty for those decisions that misfired, we will be stuck in the past. When you are not present in the now, in the moment, how can you enjoy it?
Of course, guilt cannot be avoided totally. It has to only be faced, and overcome, with awareness. Every time something does not go per your design, or expectation, you are bound to feel responsible, and accountable, for the outcome. So, you cannot but feel guilty. But if you are aware that guilt is debilitating, that it is a wasted emotion, that traps you in the past, you will successfully overcome it!
First, however, try and understand why you feel guilty. We human beings have this notion, both through our education and upbringing, that we are in control of our lives. So, when things don’t go according to what you envisioned them to be, you hold yourself responsible. In a very subconscious, yet sure, way, your guilt is always a manifestation of your ego! “Ishould have been better prepared”, “I should have thought through this better”, “Ishould have planned for a worst case scenario”, “I should have not taken this decision or made this move”…these and more emotions are bound to gnaw at you from within. But do you recognize the existence of the big “I” in each of them? That’s your ego screaming out aloud! Your guilt is the shadow of your ego – it goes on vainly reminding you that you are all powerful and now that your power did not work in the current context, you have failed yourself, you should now brood over your action! You should, therefore, wallow in self-pity and guilt!  
But remember your awareness is far more powerful. When you attain a state of self-realization, where you understand that nothing is being done in Life, in the Universe, by anyone, that Life is happening on its own, your guilt disappears. This is not escapist thinking. This is the truth. Whatever has happened, was bound to happen, even if you were to murder someone! If it could have been avoided, it would have not have happened. Being trapped in your guilt and by brooding, nothing is going to be achieved. If anything, you will be dead, because you are not living in the present anymore, even if you are biologically alive! In the Hindi movie Raanjhaana (2013, Aanand L Rai), Kundan, played masterfully by Dhanush, sits on the banks of the Ganges brooding over the death of Jasmeet (Abhay Deol in a cameo), which had been caused by circumstances triggered by Kundan. An anonymous man with a camera confronts Kundan and says: “You look like you have murdered someone. Your face says it all. No religion can grant you forgiveness for taking the Life of another human being. So, no point in feeling guilty over what you did and what has happened. You are not going to attain salvation sitting like this by the Ganges. So, get up, go, go do something about your Life and make things better by living your Life fully, meaningfully!” Kundan gets the message and takes charge of his Life the best way he can! What the film’s nameless character told Kundan applies to you and me too. There’s no point drowning yourself in guilt over anything – the best you can do is to try not to repeat the same action, pattern, decision, whatever that misfired, again. That’s all!
The moment you let your guilt get the better of you, you are as good as dead. You, me, we all, are but small cogs in the big wheel of an inscrutable cosmic design called Life. And Life happens, not because of you or me, but inspite of us. When this awareness dawns and remains in you, you will see each guilt-forming moment as an opportunity to learn, and unlearn, and keep moving on.

Live fully! For, in the end, you are on your own…!

Life does not conform to a blueprint you may create or a strategy you may conceive. Life simply happens to you. And the best you can do is go with the flow – following your heart, learning and unlearning from each experience, never grieving but, at the same time, never ever repeating something that appears to be a mistake to you! In the end, there are no right or wrong ways to live, you simply live! Period.
Chances are you may not have heard of Psyche Abraham, renowned cartoonist Abu Abraham’s (1924~2002) wife, who passed away in Goa on Monday, July 15th. I too had not heard of her until I came across her unputdownable book ‘From Kippers to Karimeen: A Life’ (Roli Books, 2008). In a fascinating account of an eventful Life, where she bares her soul sharing details of her love Life__with three husbands and several lovers__and her six children, all of whom she always ‘abandoned’ and whom she eventually reconnected with in the latter part of her Life, Psyche epitomizes the “Life happens to you. Just go with the flow!” philosophy.
British-born Valerie Anne, later nicknamed Psyche, came to India in 1956 after marrying an Indian student Jhupu Adhikari (“a handsome Bengali”) who was then studying in England. They lived in Calcutta. They soon moved to Bombay where Jhupu took up a job in an ad agency. While Jhupu’s career took wing, Psyche began to feel that he was not interested in her anymore. They drifted apart and Psyche fell in love with Jhupu’s boss, Jog (“a very attractive man with a great deal of charm”). Psyche left her son Miti and daughter Sara with Jhupu and returned to England in preparation to marry Jog who was to divorce his American wife and join Psyche there. In the meantime that Jog came to England, Psyche had ended up have two more relationships. One of them led to her pregnancy, which, when she discovered she could not abort, led to the birth of her daughter Priya. Psyche gave Priya up for adoption and married Jog when he arrived in England. The couple moved back to India and Psyche had three children with him – Ini, Joya and Abhi. Soon, this marriage too was over, as Jog kept moving from one affair to another. And Psyche got involved with Abu Abraham, married him and they moved to Trivandrum to live in Abu’s Laurie Baker-designed home ‘Saranam’. She lived there till Abu passed away in 2002, and in subsequent years moved to Goa, where her son Ini was designing a Japanese style house made of coconut wood for her. Unfortunately, she died just ahead of that house being completed.
While her Life certainly is most intriguing, what’s remarkable is her candor and what she admits to having learned living her Life! For instance, when she moved in with Abu, she wrote letters to her children with Jog to explain her decision. She says her children had mixed feelings about being ‘abandoned’. Abhi, as she says in her book, said it was “the saddest day of his Life”. But Psyche reflects: “I felt like a heel, but in the end, as I think they now understand, Life for most of us weaker mortals, if one is honest, is all about oneself and one’s own salvation. In the end, you are on your own too.” Reflecting on being pregnant with Priya and wanting to abort the baby, Psyche says: “What a mess I had managed to make of my Life in the space of a few months. A husband betrayed, children abandoned. A stepfather who hated the sight of me, an indifferent father, a worried-sick mother and grandmother, a lover to whom I had been unfaithful before he had actually become my lover, yet he had given up all he had for me – his job, his wife, his home. And now a baby that I was to destroy!”
You don’t have to agree with the Life she chose but you can’t but admire her courage to share it openly, humbly, objectively – without guilt, without grief. That’s my learning for the day! To fully live the Life you are given and that is happening to you, because, in the end, as Psyche reflects, you are on your own!

Go bell your Ritual Cat

A mind that is free and anchored in peace requires no conditions to be fulfilled to stay that way. It is only in the absence of inner peace that we insist on following rituals and being superstitious.
Some years ago, I was wedded to numerology. I needed numbers to add up in names before we named a product or service offering in our Firm. If I did not get along well with some of my colleagues, I would add up the numerological value of the alphabets that constituted their names, and often conclude that we were numerologically incompatible. I would not stay in hotel rooms whose numbers added up to 4 or 8! I don’t remember how I got hooked on to this practice. But I followed it religiously for over a decade. The times that I ended up getting only rooms whose numbers added up to 4 or 8, especially while traveling in the US where front office agents at hotels were least interested in meeting my room number preference, I found my stays always going wrong! I would be anxious the moment I entered a room with an incompatible number total and would stay frayed at the edges up until when I eventually checked out.
Then, in 2004, when on a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Sabarimalai, in Kerala, I was forced to stay there overnight because of inclement weather. While Sabarimalai is sacred and the temple itself is beautiful, the way pilgrims, and the temple’s callous administrators, manage the mountain paths leading to the temple, and its surroundings is pathetic. The hygiene quality is abysmal. Since I had to stay overnight, I got myself a room which turned out to be adding to a total of 8. It was the dirtiest room you will ever find on the planet – unkempt with a stained, stinky toilet (Indian squatting type) attached. Although I was exhausted after the 4 hour road trip to the foothills at Pamba, and further after the gruelling 4 hour climb to the hilltop, I just could not get sleep. My body ached and craved for sleep. But my mind was restless and resented being in a number 8 room – dirty and stinking to boot!
I sent my wife a text message wondering why was I being ‘punished’ despite all my piety!
Pat came her reply: “You are punishing yourself! Think of the number ‘8’ as the sign of infinity, of the Lord himself….you will get sleep instantaneously!”
Her message struck me like a bolt of lightning. I suddenly awakened to the futility of my beliefs. The number 8 was not causing me any agony. My belief that it was unlucky was bringing me grief. I realized that my decade-plus-old practice was coming in between me and an opportunity to be free. I let go! I resolved, in a nano-second, to free myself from the shackles of my belief in my unfounded number 4 and number 8 theory, put my head down, and slept peacefully for 8 (!) hours at a stretch!
That day I feel a part of me awakened forever! Not that I disrespect the science of numerology or intend to impune its practitioners. I have simply realized that I didn’t need it in my Life anymore!

Years later, I read this Zen story of the ‘Ritual Cat’. When a spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.

This is how, I would imagine, almost all rituals and superstitions have come up! In the garb of tradition they hold us hostage. For the one who truly strives for inner peace, nothing can be a source of distraction. And for the distracted, there can be no inner peace!

Think about this. Which is the ritual cat that’s holding you hostage? Go bell that cat and be free….forever….

To be happy simply be

Just being is happiness.In fact, all of creation is happy, except man. Only we humans have this uncanny ability to be unhappy. And that’s because we bring our egos and our desires into the picture and complicate our lives.
This is best explained with an anecdote. A man went to the venerable Buddha and asked to be taught a method, a practice, a ritual, a prayer that could lead him to happiness. The Buddha asked him why he wanted such a method.
“I want happiness,” replied the man.
“First drop the ‘I’. Then drop the ‘want’. What you will be left with is happiness,” said the Buddha.
It indeed is so simple. None of your situations can affect your happiness unless you choose to be unhappy!
Let’s say you are in a great mood and are walking down the street, whistling to yourself. Surely you are happy! Suddenly a car speeds past you and splashes dirty rain water from a puddle on to you! You immediately get angry. And worry that “your” clothes are soiled and complain that “you” now have to go back home to change. You “want” to be able to get to a cinema in some time but now you will be late! You are overcome with anxiety and are filled with rage at “your” state of affairs. Examine closely to know who caused your unhappiness. Is it the driver of that speeding car, is it the car itself, is it the overnight rain or is it the dirty water puddle on the street? While all of these may have been co-conspirators in your story, the sole person responsible for you switching from happiness to unhappiness is “you” and the key contributor to this changed state of mind is your desire – your wish, your want, that this episode had not happened at all.

The Buddha anecdote and this example may seem too simple when you consider more complex Life scenarios. But whoever said that happiness is rocket science? In any situation in Life, it is your ego and your desire__that things be different than what they are__that make you unhappy. Remember: you are happy as long as you don’t impose conditions on whatever’s happening in your Life. Which is why just being__in acceptance of what is__is the way to happiness. 

Stop Complaining. Start Living!

Be eternally grateful for this Life and this experience! Life is a mixed bag. You often will get what you don’t want. And you will also often get what you didn’t expect. Every which way though the best you can do to be anchored in peace is to be grateful for whatever happens to you, for whatever you get!
Zen practitioners advise using this mantra in all contexts: “Thank you for everything. I have no complaints whatsoever!” This may not appeal to most people instantaneously because when you are caught in the throes of your everyday challenges, the last thing on your mind is gratitude. And this Zen practice seems almost escapist – as if you are choosing to deny what is, to deny reality! But if you examine Life closely, you will appreciate that there is no other way to respond to Life than with gratitude. Being thankful is the only way to live peacefully. And if you live without being grateful, for everything that’s given to you in each moment, you will never be in peace.
The human mind always craves for what is not there. And rarely appreciates what is there. Look at you: don’t you bemoan scarcity all the time, rarely celebrating the abundance in your Life? Years of living like this have conditioned you to miss the opportunity in gratitude. To break free from this self-defeating attitude, do a simple exercise. Make a list of all, absolutely ALL, the things that you are grateful for in Life. And make another list of what’s not there, what you miss, in your Life. Now, do a dispassionate assessment asking yourself: Do you really think what you miss outweighs what you have?  What you will discover through this exercise is the power in the Zen mantra we discussed above.
You will then conclude that the best way to live is to simple be thankful for everything that Life’s given you. And you too will stop complaining and start living!  

When Life slows down, enjoy it in slow motion!

There will be times in Life when you have to simply hang in there. Nothing you do will work for you. And each day will be slow, dreary and hard to live through. All you can do in such a time is to believe that Life is teaching you to keep the Faith and develop Patience.
Nobody loves a problem situation. So, really, no one wants a challenging phase in Life to prolong – joblessness, a business slowdown, a critical health condition or a messy relationship drama. But what can you do in the face of Life’s onslaught? As they say in cricket, when the bowling is intense and difficult to play, simply let the ball go past you. Don’t stick your bat out, don’t play a rash shot in desperation or you will lose your wicket! In fact, India Captain, M.S.Dhoni, told the media, after his team’s Tri-Nation Trophy triumph at Port of Spain (West Indies) yesterday: “Sometimes you have to play boring cricket.” He was referring to the difficult-to-negotiate overs in between when the Indian run rate slowed down and the team lost wickets in quick succession.
So it is with Life too – when it becomes boring and painful, you can avoid the suffering by simply accepting that your Life, for now, is playing out in slow motion. Actually, why must Life always be fast paced? Why do we need to be running from meeting to meeting, chore to chore, commute to commute all the time? Why must everything be an agenda item or on a To Do List?
A good metaphor to hold is that of a clock that’s ticking away even in a thunderstorm. Un-fluttered. Unmoved. A strong mind is like the clock. It remains untouched by the vagaries of Life. Neither exulting vainly in success nor tormented in failure. To be sure, Life is not only about winning and losing. It is, in fact, all about living. And living does not need a pre-qualification. Living simply means being present in the moment, no matter where you find yourself. Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century Persian mystic and poet, has said it so beautifully: “Take sips of this pure wine being poured. Don’t mind that you have been handed a dirty cup!”
I have learned that Faith is not about a God or religion. Faith is knowing that everything happens for a reason. And since the reason will not always be immediately evident, you must have Patience to last a trying phase, till the reason shows up! Life is not a 100-meter race. If you rush through it too fast or keep brooding its slow pace you will surely miss the scenery! And since you can’t ever go back in time or Life, the most intelligent thing you can do is to live fully every moment of the Life that’s playing out for you, enjoying its magic and beauty!  

In the end, not even an entire lifetime will matter to you!

Sometimes, reflecting on Life’s true nature, from inspirations around us, can help. Yesterday I was grappling with an imponderable. I was totally clueless on how I was going to be able to handle the situation on hand. And so, as I often do, I decided to go on a long walk.
I had to drive a short distance to beat the maddening crowds and traffic, before I could get down from the car and walk. A famous song playing on a FM station caught my attention and got me thinking during my drive….It was from the Tamizh movie ‘Paada Kaanikkai’ (1962, K.Shankar, starring Gemini Ganesan, Savithri and Asokan). The song was the unforgettable and haunting number….‘Veedu Varai Uravu, Veedhi Varai Manaivi, Kaadu Varai Pillai, Kadaisi Varai Yaaro…Kadaisi Varai Yaaro….?’ Written by the legendary poet Kannadasan, and sung by the venerable T.M.Soundarajan, with music composed by the genius duo of Viswanathan-Ramamurthy, the lyrics mean: “(When you die)…all relationships end at home…the wife (or husband) accompanies the body to the street (according to most Hindu customs, women must not accompany the dead to the cremation or burial grounds)…the son accompanies the body (until he sets it afire or buries it – again per most Hindu customs the oldest son of the bereaved only can perform the last rites) to the cremation or burial ground…but not beyond…so, wonder, who is with you, the dead one, on your journey onward and till the end (that no one has seen)….” The song is a stark reminder of the impermanence of Life. It tells you coldly that you too will perish. That you will be dust soon. That all relationships, including that with your spouse or offspring end, at best, at the graveyard, and you have to journey along…depart alone…just the way you arrived here on this planet!
When you put your Life in the context of such irrefutable truth, the reality awakens you. It makes you step aside from any situation and analyze, with complete objectivity, the frivolity of all your worrying. Because, as the song points out, in the end, you are to go away with nothing – none of what you conquered goes with you, none of what you lost matters and none of what you aspired for is relevant anymore! So, why agonize? Why grieve? Why suffer?
As I walked for over an hour, the song’s essence and my reflections, healed me. I was still clueless about dealing with what I was faced with. But even the wee bit of anxiety that had surfaced, before the walk, had evaporated now. Thanks to Kannadasan’s wisdom seeping in, it was replaced by a benign calm. There was an unconditional acceptance by me that, in the end, nothing, not even an entire lifetime, will matter to you!