It’s never over until the last ball is bowled

Your biggest crisis is always your greatest opportunity.
There are times in Life when you conclude that it’s all over, you have hit rock bottom and you have nowhere to go, no reason to live and you simply want this lifetime to end. This is a natural, normal feeling. Each of us hits this “low point” in Life at some time or the other. But before you let this feeling grow within you, before you let your desperation exaggerate, before you quit, ask yourself what does rock bottom really mean?
Does it mean end of a phase in Life? Or does it mean the end of your Life? When you examine these two perspectives, in relation to your own Life situation, you will find that every crisis that has hit you, or perhaps the one you are going through just now, is always about a phase ending. It is never about Life ending. Because Life, simply, goes on and on. There are no dead-ends in Life – not as long as you are alive. Each phase ending signals a new beginning. And each new beginning will surely end.
The fickle human mind craves for a steady, stable Life. But Life itself is a roller-coaster. Every day is filled with as many new opportunities as there are challenges. You don’t see Life that way because all your focus is on securing stability. Which really means a good, well-paying job or source of income, a comfortable home, an affectionate family and – if possible, a hobby or an art form to pursue. For most people around the world, most of the time, this is how Life is. So, you don’t see Life events as upheavals. But almost each one of us has had our fair share of surprises or rude shocks. Someone may have lost a parent very early or may have made it through a Life-threatening health ailment, another may have struggled with a job search, or yet another may have never got a relationship right. Or someone may have lost a child or may have failed miserably with academics.
Each beating heart has a story to tell – of trial, tribulation and eventual triumph. You too have had your own share. Even so, why is it that you fear hitting rock bottom? Why do you fear loss? Why do you resist failure?
The answer lies in your definition of Life. You have, thanks to your upbringing and conditioning, concluded that your Life must be in a certain way. So, anything outside of your definition is something you label as bad and, so, don’t want in your Life. Having a job and a steady source of income, irrespective of whether you like the work you do or not, is good per your conditioning. Joblessness and incomelessness means a crisis is upon you. Being married to a person, who you don’t relate to, is stability. But having an intimate relationship, outside of your marriage, with someone you completely enjoy being with, is a sin! Smoking and drinking is fun. But to be diagnosed with a terminal illness, owing to your habit, is suffering! The key to opening the door of opportunity that is always there at every dead-end is to drop all definitions. Drop your own definition of Life. Drop all societal definitions. Just look at the Life that you have, even when you have hit a dead end, and ask yourself where do you go from here. Almost immediately, you will find a new world of opportunity opening up. From nowhere a door will appear where until then only a wall existed.
There was a time, about 20 years ago, when a project I led failed. The promoter who was backing the project did not honor his financial commitments to the project – to me and my team. He simply went missing. My son was only four and my daughter was a month old. Since my taking up this assignment had, unwittingly, made headlines, its collapse too was much talked about. I saw no way out. For weeks on end, I locked myself up in my bedroom, refusing to face the world or even talk to my mother-in-law, who was at that time staying with us, helping my wife with our just born. Life was embarrassing. Life was scary. I was consumed by depressive thoughts. There was an important cricket series going on at that time in India. And although my depressive state prevented me from watching TV or following the series, I heard a snatch of commentary that came in from the neighbor’s TV, one evening, at the close of a tight contest that India won. I was standing in the balcony in my apartment and I could hear the TV blaring at my neighbor’s. The commentator was animatedly describing the spectacular, surprise win that India had managed. He said: “In cricket, it is never over until the last ball is bowled.” That comment, indicating that India had snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat, made imminent sense to me as I sat brooding. I suddenly felt energized and rejuvenated. I used that moment of awakening to claw my way back in Life.
That learning has stayed with me ever since. I have faced, and continue to face, many a crisis since that one. But giving up has never been an option for me. Because, I have realized that, the unmistakeable truth about Life is that when you are dead, you are dead. Till then there’s no end. And you must simply go on…

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“To Life!”….A Thanksgiving that never ends

If you must thank anyone, thank Life – for giving you this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn….!
As Thanksgiving weekend begins, the energies are perfect to pause, to reflect and to feel grateful for all the blessings in your Life. It’s a great season – warm and compassionate, beautiful and soulful. Yet, gratitude must not be expressed seasonally. It has to be flowing perennially – oozing from your every pore, bubbling from the fountainhead within you. The reason we don’t always feel grateful all the time is because we take much of Life for granted. We have subconsciously come to believe that we have the right to demand, to seek deservance and to expect Life to be our hand maiden – pandering to our whims and desires. But just the opposite is true. Since you – or I – did not ask to be born, since this lifetime is a gift, all that you can and must do in Life is to accept whatever comes your way – and be eternally grateful for it.
I was at a south Indian Palaghattan (a community of Brahmins having its roots in Palakkad, Kerala) wedding this morning. The wedding feast is a must for all invitees. It is an elaborate multi-course meal served on a banana leaf. Today’s menu had over 24 items on it. But something appeared to have gone wrong in the kitchen this morning. Or was it with the service crew? Either we guests had arrived for the sadya, the feast, several minutes ahead of the kitchen being ready with the whole meal, or the service crew were short-staffed. Whatever may have been the reason – the food service was haphazard and woefully slow. The rasam arrived ahead of the sambar. And the thayir-pachadi (a curd-based vegetable side dish) came after the whole meal was over! Several guests did not even receive all the 24 items that were on the menu. Even as I felt sorry for one of the hosts, who was running around rallying the kitchen crew to fall into a systematic way of serving, I could not but help recall what Epictetus (55~135 AD), a Greek thinker and philosopher, had to say about Life: “Remember that you must behave in Life as you would at a banquet. A dish is handed round and comes to you; put out your hand and take it politely. If it passes you, do not stop it. If it has not reached you, do not be impatient to get it, but wait till your turn comes.I would like to humbly suggest that when your turn does come, be gratefulfor whatever you get!
The wedding feast and Epictetus’ banquet metaphor perfectly sum up the spirit we need to nurture in Life! Not just around Thanksgiving but all the time. But in an instant-gratification, what’s-in-it-for-me world, where is the time to feel grateful for anyone or anything? Which is why we perhaps need a season to remind us of it.
One of the most inspiring examples of gratitude I have known is the way the inimitable Asha Bhosle, now 80, feels about Life. She’s had a roller-coaster 80 years! A bad marriage, being thrown out of home by her husband, struggling to get a toehold in Bollywood as a playback singer, a victim of her own sibling’s designs that prevented her from growing in her career, an eventful relationship with R.D.Burman before he suddenly died in 1994, the death of her only daughter who committed suicide recently. Such a Life, filled with pain and strife, could have numbed anyone. But not Ashaji! She was asked by Forbes Life a couple of years back what she thought of Life. She replied: “I am very grateful. If I had not married, I would not have had such wonderful children and grandchildren. If I had not married, I would not have left home. If I had not left home, I would not have started singing. If I had not met Bhosle (her estranged husband who ill-treated her), I would not have become Asha Bhosle!” What an inspiring take on Life? “If I had not met Bhosle, I would not have become Asha Bhosle.” How many of us can forgive someone who caused us immense pain and look at Life from this perspective – with absolute gratitude! Beautiful!!
Let us always remember that Life is a gift. The only way to live our lives is to celebrate Life in every moment! Every event we go through, each person we meet, is a teacher. Each experience is teaching us to live fully and happily – no matter what we have to face or endure. We are the ones who label each event as good or bad. From Life’s point of view, each event is simply a learning opportunity. It is for this continuous learning that we must be grateful – not just in this season, but all the time!

Make peace with an incomplete Life

No matter how hard you try, some part of your Life will remain unfulfilled, incomplete, sometimes, even irreparable….
This is true for each of us, for every Life.
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi: Worshipped by legions of fans
Picture: Raghu Rai Source: Internet
The latest issue of Open magazine has a poignant story of Raghavendra Bhimsen Joshi, 69, eldest son of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, the late singer-genius. Raghavendra was born through Joshi’s first wife, Sunanda. Lhendup Bhutia, who wrote the Openpiece, talks to Raghavendra about the latter’s just-released Marathi book (also translated in Kannada) titled Ganaaryache Por (Singer’s Son). In the book, and in the interview with Bhutia, Raghavendra tells, with both reverence to his father and with total honesty, the tale of how his mother, he and his siblings had to face neglect and abandonment after his father married a second time, a woman named Vatsala, and eloped with her. “When people wrote articles or books on my father and his personal Life, we would never be mentioned…It was extremely hurtful. Here was this star, a public figure growing in stature, and here we were, neglected and alone,” Raghavendra told Bhutia. Raghavendra believes that as the years went by and as the guilt of neglecting his first wife and children grew, Joshi, who already loved his drink, took to the bottle more. Raghavendra confesses that he never really mustered the courage to either ask his famous father why Sunanda and her children were neglected. And although Raghavendra wanted to be a singer himself, he could never bring himself up to ask his accomplished father to train him. Then, a few years before Bhimsen Joshi’s death, as Joshi lay in bed with a fractured leg, Raghavendra asked him: “You could so effortlessly move people to tears with your voice, how could you be so cruel to your own family?” Joshi did not reply but, recalls Raghavendra, instead cried. Even as Joshi cried some more, Raghavendra took his permission and sang him a song. Again Joshi said nothing. Raghavendra sang for Joshi, one more time, a few years later, as Joshi lay on his deathbed. At the end of the song, Joshi, too weak to speak, gestured to the lone nurse in attendance in the room, with his eyes, what a fine Raghavendra was!
Such a great singer. Someone that legions of fans adored and worshipped. A Bharat Ratna. Yet Joshi died unable to express his love and admiration, per Raghavendra’s version, for his eldest son and without being able to ever acknowledge his first wife and her children in public.
This is Bhimsen Joshi’s story. Gandhi too, per his oldest  Hariram’s point of view, failed miserably as a father – although he is revered and remembered as the Father of the Nation! But none of us is any different. Each of us do have some part of our Life remaining unfulfilled or incomplete. With someone it could be a relationship with a spouse, with someone else it could be with a child. Someone could have a huge health challenge or the loss of particular physical faculty. Another could never perhaps get his career in order. Or someone will have either no parent to look up to or may not have one that understands.
Life deals with each of us differently. Even so, a spot of sunshine is surely ordained in everyone’s lifetime. Just as a patch of pain is. Sometimes, the factor causing pain may end up being a permanent aspect of your Life! When you realize that you can’t do anything to remove that factor which is causing you pain, learn to either accept it or ignore it. Accepting or ignoring the pain will not make the pain go away. But it will surely help you deal with it better. And it may well help you not to suffer.
But the choice to accept or ignore, whatever’s causing you pain, can be made only when you understand that there are some aspects of your Life which will be unfixable. Acceptance is easier in a physical context. For instance, if you lose a limb in an accident, it is easier for you to accept this reality and not grieve over it or suffer. But if you lose a parent’s trust or understanding or don’t get her affection, you will struggle with both accepting or ignoring it.
Intelligent living, however, means to be able to see a pattern to your Life – with regard to your relationships or with regard to those aspects that don’t seem to have ever worked and to simply move on. That’s when you will be in complete peace even with an incomplete Life!

Make your doing, your being

Whatever you do, immerse yourself in it – and your will be one with it. That’s how you make doing, being!
This past Sunday, I read an article by the enfant terrible of Carnatic music, T.M.Krishna, in the Sunday Magazine of The Hindu. No, Krishna was not waxing eloquent on music. Instead he wrote, provoking thought in the bargain, about how “great sportsmen and artists share a transformational quality”. His piece, ‘Beyond the Boundary’ examined if Sachin Tendulkar’s technique is really an art form. Krishna wrote: “I have watched the phenomenal Sachin Tendulkar almost right through his career, especially in his Test innings… there have been phases in his great innings when he seemed to dissolve into cricket itself…. In this state, not just cricket or sport but Life itself seemed to be one uninterrupted flow…. The man and his bat became one; the ball was not an object that needed to be negotiated, caressed or decimated; the bowler, not an enemy; and his wicket, no point of reference…. What actually happened was that everything merged. Sachin became one with that existence and, as a beholder, I saw Life’s beauty in its most natural self, without any burden of names, identities, action or result…To me, at that instant, even the fact that it was Sachin batting was immaterial. This was an artist lost in his moment of Life, living it to its fullest.
Krishna’s keen observation and perspective there has been simply, beautifully, explained by Osho, the Master, thus: “Forget the dancer, the center of the ego. Become the dance. Dance so deeply that you completely forget that you are dancing and begin to feel that you arethe dance. Dance so totally…because the dancer-dance division can exist only when you are not total in it. The dancer must go until only the dance remains.”  
In the Sufi tradition, dervishes of the Mevlevi order, perform the ‘sama’, or dancing meditation, where they abandon their ‘nafs’or egos or personal desires, by spinning in repetitive circles, symbolic of the planets in the solar system orbiting the sun. The dancer is merely a metaphor that Osho and the Sufis use. You could be a cook, a gardener, a writer, an orator, a clerk, a traffic policeman, a painter, a singer, a truck driver or a nurse. Who you are is immaterial. How you are (being) who you are is important. Of course, choosing to do what you absolutely love doing, is critical for losing yourself – for making your doing, your being! While it may be possible to even immerse yourself while loving what you are doing, your inner joy is always several notches higher when you have chosen to do onlywhat you love!
But your Life may not always pan out that way. As it turned out to be with my father. He is an amazing Carnatic vocalist himself – having been trained for over two decades by an accomplished Guru. But way back in the ‘60s, the pressures of having to raise a family forced him to seek a career in the private sector textile industry, and later with the government. “Financial security and stability” were chosen over “what gave him joy”. I don’t understand the nuances of Carnatic music as much as I should. But over the early years of my growing up, and even now, when he is well past 75, I have found that my dad always lost himself to his singing whenever he was or is having a stressful time. In those times that I have watched him sing to himself at home, I found him immersed in the music. In fact, I believe, he always became the song. On the few occasions when he has performed concerts too, I have found the singer (in him) disappearing and only the song remaining. I cite his example here because you may not often get to make a Life – and living – out of what you love. Yet it is imminently possible that if you still do what you love, even if it is done infrequently, it can help you just be! And that just being is happiness!
As I grew older and my understanding of Life evolved, I have come to realize that when you don’t force yourself to do anything, Life flows through you. The cosmic energy then expresses itself through you. Your doing then becomes your being. That state, when you are in unison with the Universe, is what is also known as bliss! And as you can see, from the expressions of Krishna, Tendulkar, Osho and my dad, that state is imminently attainable!

Judgments and Opinions have no place in a Life that spares no one

As much as is possible, stay opinion-less and don’t judge anyone. For, anything can happen in Life to anyone – including you – at any time!  
As the Aarushi Talwar whodunit continues to flummox an entire nation, a CBI court, in perhaps a first of many sentences to follow in this case, holds the parents guilty and has awarded stringent punishment for them. This is a case where it’s common knowledge now that crucial evidence has been either lost or destroyed and where the investigators have evidently, consistently, bungled. The latest issue of Outlook magazine runs a cover story titled Everybody killed Aarushi! The story details how several gaps exist in the CBI theory, how, mysteriously, evidence has gone missing, how, curiously, the CBI court refuses to ask pertinent questions and how everyone – the media that has thrived on sensationalizing the case all the time, the inefficient UP Police and CBI teams and the public at large, who have been recklessly pronouncing judgment from day one – has contributed to the trial being driven more by popular opinion than by intelligent, evidence-based reasoning.
In the midst of all this, one can’t even imagine what the dentist couple, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, must be going through. Whether the Talwars are guilty or not should have been ideally determined through an unimpeachable investigation and an unchallengeable judicial process. From all that is available in the public domain, it just appears, at least to many, that the Talwars did not get a fair trial. Yet, I am not going to invest myself in dissecting the case more than it already has been. Instead, I invite you to consider another opportunity here. This bizarre (ongoing) episode can teach us something about the nature of Life – if we care to pause, reflect and learn from it!
If we look at ourselves, we will realize that all of us have opinions about anything and everything under the sun. Further, we like to offer these opinions, freely, with complete abandon – often when they are never really solicited. Worse, we rush to judge people and events based on hearsay or on what we imagine or, as sadly is the case these days, on what the media has to conjecture! In an urban, educated, tech-driven world, ruled by nano-second social media virality, trial by the people, by popular and ill-informed perception, is as irresponsible as it is instantaneous. Really, of what use are opinions that don’t concern us? Why comment on someone or something, without knowing the truth, just because you want to make a statement, and, more important, be seen as making one?
All of us are a product of the time that we go through. What is happening to the Talwars can happen to anyone – not so much in terms of the specific context but in terms of being put in the dock with nowhere to go to or hide! Life can be totally unfair and can sock you again and again and again – without respite – leaving you no opportunity to even find your bearings or gather yourself. You can go on beating your chest and keep crying from rooftops saying you have been dealt with unfairly. But since Life never guaranteed anything, and most certainly does not promise any fair-play, it will simply go on. Life’s events and course have no logic or explanation. For instance, you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and may be implicated in situations that you did not bargain for. Or you can invite a situation because of your actions. Either way, you have to endure what the cosmic design has ordained for you. You simply can’t escape it. People with a different perspective will refer to the cosmic design as destiny and explain it by way of Karmic theory. Without refuting such thinking just because we don’t necessarily understand it, let’s remember that Life’s just the same, inscrutable and unpredictable, for everyone – no matter what the packaging looks like with respect to each person’s lifetime and what the individual label reads.
Judgments and opinions have no place in a Life that spares no one! So, if you are the Talwars, you stand accused and, now convicted, for murdering your own daughter. Or someone can call you a cheat simply because your  business sank and you went bankrupt. Or someone can say your marriage failed because your spouse suspected you of infidelity. The stories are endless – as many as there are people on the planet. And each one will have a twist of its own, its own tale of Life’s vagaries and, often, injustice. Each and every one of us has to live the Life that’s already cast and is in store for us! Remember though that each Life event or encounter is not an accident. It is there by design – to teach us something new, while making us better, stronger and humbler.  
So, just because your Life-changing crisis hasn’t arrived yet, just because you think nothing dramatic will ever happen to you, it’s probably not a great idea to let your opinions and judgments about others run amok. A simpler, and definitely more peaceful, way to live will be to wish everyone well. Don’t judge anyone. Don’t offer an opinion for the sake of making one. Let people live their lives per their unique designs. While you live yours knowing fully well that the Master Plan has no flaws!

Draw a line, be candid…and your peace will never be violated

In every relationship draw your boundaries.
It is perfectly alright to outline what works for you and what does not. When you work towards pleasing someone in a relationship, at the cost of your own peace, you are actually suffering. And nothing ever__including a close relationship__is worth if it is born out of__or at the cost of__your suffering.
Most of us fail to draw up these contours and therefore end up in grief when there are moral, emotional or physical transgressions. Ideally, of course, if there is pure, undiluted love and sharing there is no need for such boundary-setting. The problem occurs when there is a transgression. At the first such instance, it is always advisable to place on the table candidly what works for you and what does not. When we fail to do that, we allow for a repeat of the same, irksome or unacceptable behavior. When we do that, we cross a temporary chasm of raw emotion, laced with pronounced discomfort, but enter into a perpetual state of peace and harmony. This applies in all relationships__spouses, parent-child, boss-subordinate, neighbors, siblings.
Candor’s biggest contributions to Life are invaluable: trust, peace and joy! Try it. You will find that it works__wonders!

You will never awaken unless you are felled by hubris

Beware, as you ascend in Life, in career, in society, in name and fame, of the Master Feller – Hubris!

Tarun Tejpal
Much is being written and told of former TehelkaEditor-in-Chief, Tarun Tejpal’s rise and fall this past week. Almost everyone who knows him is sure that he was struck by hubris – excessive pride and a presumption that one is infallible! Because nothing else can explain why Tejpal, now 50, and one of India’s finest thinkers, editors and writers, would want to allegedly sexually outrage his much junior colleague, who not only is his daughter’s age, but is also her best friend? As one commentator, Vijay Simha, wrote yesterday: “His argument that it was a fleeting consensual encounter suggests that he may be in a state of denial. He may be having difficulty processing the consequences of his actions.Friendly or hostile is not the point. Tejpal simply shouldn’t have been there. A legal victory, which he seems to think he will have, is a mere footnote. The only real authority a human being has is moral. All other forms of authority are fugacious. Tejpal has ceded moral authority.”

Tejpal was once my senior colleague. Indeed I am saddened by what has happened. But I am not here to preach morality in Life. I may hardly qualify to be able to do that. But let me warn you about hubris. Because I too have been felled by hubris.

There was a time when everything about my Life was just the way I had wanted it to be. I come for a middle-class background. So, as I grew up, for various reasons, I developed this urge to want to succeed beyond even the wildest imaginations of my family. I wanted name, fame and money. To be sure, I got all of that. By the time I was 35, I had it all. I had built a very successful consulting Firm, I lived in a premium neighborhood, I was famous in the industry we worked in and I had money. Then I made mistakes with the way we chose to grow our business. I was warned that this was not the way to go about growth – by my soulmate and partner, my wife. I was warned by senior advisors who we had on our Firm’s management council. I was warned by my colleagues. But hubris always strikes stealthily. You will never know that you are thinking of yourself as infallible. On the contrary, hubris will wear the mask of humility and complete down-to-earthiness. It will make you believe that you can conquer the world. It will make you think that all those who are offering you sane counsel are wimps. And just when you believe that nothing ever can go wrong with your Life, everything really will! My decisions blew up on my face. My Firm’s fortunes came crashing. And in no time we were bankrupt! All that I had painstakingly built up – from my career to my Firm to my finances – went up in smoke. Everything that I was attached to was taken away from me.

It was very, very, very difficult to accept whatever was happening to me. I resisted. I fought. I cried. I sulked. But Life only got more difficult to face. It hurt me so much that I had failed and fallen. I desperately wanted to let go of the past and I wanted to know how I could be peaceful, happy and content.

That’s when, by sheer accident, actually cosmic design, I stumbled upon my Guru, Eknath Easwaran’s (1910~1999) book Gandhi The Man. Easwaran talks about the evolution of spirituality in the ordinary mortal – who was pretty much like you and me – M.K.Gandhi, eventually making him a Mahatma. Easwaran shares a verse, and I reproduce a relevant part of it below,  from the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita that Gandhi meditated on each morning for over 50 years of his Life.

Arjuna asks Krishna: “What are the marks of the man who lives in wisdom, completely established in himself?” (Himself here means ‘his true, real, Self’). Krishna replies:

“….He lives in wisdom
Who sees himself in all and all in him,
Whose love for the Lord of Love has consumed
Every selfish desire and sense-craving
Tormenting the heart. Not agitated
By grief, nor hankering after pleasure,
He lives free from lust and fear and anger.
Fettered no more by selfish attachments,
He is not elated by good fortune
Nor depressed by bad. Such is the seer…”
I too have found great value in meditating on this verse. As I struggled to get over my fall, and my losses, Easwaran’s commentary on learnings from Gandhi’s Life and this verse helped me immensely. I soon discovered that what’s more valuable and enduring in Life are not what we acquire for ourselves in our lifetime but what we will leave behind – by way of a message, by way of creating something that will continue to be useful for generations to come, by way of leaving the world better than we found it!

To be wise, to live intelligently, is not difficult. It is a choice. All of us – you, me, everyone – will be struck by hubris at some time or the other, in our own unique ways. When you understand that Life is far more meaningful than satisfying your sensory pleasures and amassing wealth or seeking fame, you will have built the best armor around you to protect yourself from that wily predator – hubris. But the interesting irony about Life is that – in big or small measure – unless you are felled by hubris, you will never awaken!