Is it really possible to be happy despiteyour circumstances?
Some years back, a factory hand in Pune, who was attending a workshop on “Taking the elevator to Happiness” that I was leading, made a profound remark. He said: “Bhaashan se Raashan nahin bharta, Sahib!” (Sir, ‘philosophical’ speeches can’t help us buy groceries/rations to run the household.” Indeed, he is right. Understanding Life better cannot solve your problems. You still have to work hard, and consistently, on them. But what a better understanding can do is help you deal with Life’s vagaries better. More important, help you deal with them peacefully, happily!
Surely, there is no set way to live Life – so no way can be called right or wrong. Living Life completely – facing, accepting and dealing with what you are given – is the way! This is what I have learned from Zen teachings. Zen is not a philosophy. Because philosophy still operates at a mind level. And Zen goes beyond the mind. Zen draws you out of the mind, further, higher. So, when confronted with Life’s inscrutable challenges, you are invited to experience them fully, while learning to transcend them over a period of time – by training the mind – to be able to reach a ‘witness’ stage, to be merely an observer of your own Life. This does not mean inaction. This is a lot of action, a lot of hard work. Obviously, when you try to address a challenge you are facing, you work on finding a solution. If the solution works, great. When the solution doesn’t work, what do you do? You get angry, frustrated, sad, fearful – Zen teaches you to get past these debilitating emotions, understand that these, like Life itself, are transient, and experience the true nature of your creation.
Zen is awareness. Of just the present moment. Being aware does not mean a past hurt, guilt or memory will not rise in the mind. It does not also mean that a worry, of something that is likely to happen in the future, will not arise in the mind. The nature of the mind is that it can only live in the past or the future. The mind knows no present. And Zen teaches you to transcend the mind, go past its treacherous ways, and anchor yourself in the present. In the now.
This is what happens to us when we are in nature’s lap. Each of us must have experienced that rare moment of completely losing ourselves to an ocean’s vastness or a mountains majestic beauty. Or sometimes losing ourselves to an art form that we cherish – like painting, cooking, music or writing. In those rare moments, you have lost your identity as so-and-so, with such-and-such problems, and have united with the Universal energy. Zen teaches you that this is possible in everyday Life too! Which is why, when a Zen Master was asked, “What is Zen?”, he replied: “Chopping Wood, Carrying Water”. These were everyday chores, even for a Master, in those days. And the import is that you have to be “immersed” in whatever you are doing in that moment without letting your mind wander into the past or the future. So, irrespective of what you are doing – or going through – be in it fully.
My experience is that you can be in the throes of a challenge and still be happy if you choose to be. Owing to our bankruptcy, and an inexplicable set of professional challenges, we have a lot of debt on us as a family, and absolute cashless-ness at most times. It is not that I don’t feel responsible or that I don’t recognize the enormity of the task ahead – of rebuilding our business and repaying our creditors – of us. It is not that fear and insecurity – or even the guilt of having caused this financial mess – do not arise in my mind. But my awareness helps me gets past those thoughts, and helps me take actions that I must take every single moment, each day. When my actions don’t bear fruit – as they haven’t over several months – my awareness again helps me stay anchored and get past the grief that failure often brings with it. I sleep well each night and wake up the next day to do another round of ‘chopping wood and carrying water’.
I am not sure I am “successful” with Life, but surely, I am peaceful living it! This may not be the only way to live. This may not even be the best way – may well be contestable, arguable and even admonishable. But it has helped me__and my wife__stay anchored and peaceful through tumultuous times and has taught us to be happy despiteour circumstances.