Ridding yourself of comparisons and envy

Comparing yourself with others is what ruins your inner peace. Drop all comparisons. You are unique. Just as everyone else is.  
A participant at one of my workshops recently asked me, “How do you not envy someone who has everything that you don’t?”
His question was as profound as it was candid. To compare, and often times, even subconsciously, feel jealous of someone is a normal human quality. But if you are aware, you will find that jealousy does not help in any manner. In fact, it ruins your inner peace. It is only through your awareness that you can drop comparisons and stop feeling jealous of someone!
I remember reading a story. A man was sitting peacefully on a mountain top. He was taking in the scenery. It was a beautiful morning. He had had a very rough time in the past few weeks. So, he had decided to trek up the mountain just to get some quiet time to himself. His girlfriend had deserted him. And he had been heart-broken over that incident. But coming here, up the mountain, had helped him greatly. He must have been sitting there for over four hours. And he did not once think about his ex-girlfriend. He did not feel anger or grief. He was able to see how beautiful Life was – just as it was, despite whatever he was going through. Around noon, a young couple arrived at the mountain top. They were happy to be with each other. The man saw this couple and his thoughts went back to his girlfriend and he started pining for her first. Then he was soon angry with her. And in some time, he was jealous of this other man for being able to have a girlfriend when he did not have one himself! The scenery and nature’s pristine beauty did not matter to him anymore. He was angry with Life. He left the place in a huff.
This story is very relevant. For it helps us understand the sequence of events that lead us to feeling miserable about any situation in Life. When the man was “present” in the moment, when he was taking in the scenery, he had no problems. For several hours he had no problems, no thoughts about his past. But the moment he allowed thoughts of his past, of his ex-girlfriend to creep in, he first started feeling uncomfortable, then angry and finally, miserable. This is the way the mind leads you to misery. When you are in the Now, when you are present in the moment, it is actually the state of no-mind. This is when all you are doing is that you are engaged in whatever is happening. If you are watching a movie, you are “in” it. If you are singing, you “are” the song. If you are reading a book, you “are” the book. There’s no past. There’s no future. There’s just you – in the Now!
The mind comes into play only when your attention wavers. Now awareness cannot stop your attention from wavering. But awareness can help you rein in your mind and bring your focus into the present moment. How do you build a higher level of awareness in you? Simple – by constantly training the mind to not interfere with the present. The mind thrives in debilitating emotions like guilt, grief, anger and worry – in the past or in the future. It is powerless in the present. To be sure, you too can train your mind through daily practices like meditation or mouna (observing silence periods).
So, don’t worry about your tendency to compare yourself with others or feel jealous of them. Those are the effects. Go to what’s causing the effect. Which is the mind. Work on training your mind. The more you train to not let your attention to waver, the more you will be present in the moment. And as long as you are present, no painful past or anxious future, can ever touch you. When you reach this state, through repeated practice, your Life will be blissful. Untouched by the scourge of comparison and envy!

Gaining from Loss – the bitter-sweet irony of Life

Know that when you lose something, you gain something too. And, often times, what you gain is not material – yet, it is priceless.
The other day I had a rare, interesting, conversation with my parents. For various reasons, we have been, and continue to be, distant. In the last few months, however, we have come to have conversations among us. That, I would believe, is significant progress.
We sat at a coffee shop as we chatted. My mother was aghast that my wife and I were still in a hopeless, bankrupt situation. Out of concern for me and my family, and out of disbelief, she said that what was happening to us was “unfair”.
I told her that there was never a question of fair-play in Life. Because Life promises nothing. “Life doesn’t guarantee that you will not be challenged, that you will not lose anything or that your lifetime will be easy. So, let’s not grieve over Life’s perceived unfairness,” I said.
My mother replied: “Look around you. Everyone is well-settled. Everyone’s Life is stable – they have a steady income stream, they have savings, they have assets, some have even planned their retirement well. Why is it that your Life is so bizarre? In your late forties, you have lost everything. I am not even sure you can rebuild everything and reclaim whatever you have lost.”
I understood where she was coming from. I realized that she found the absence of an immediate solution to my situation baffling. I said: “What I have lost is material, ‘amma’. Everything material is gone. But look at what I have gained. I have learnt the value of faith and patience. I have understood the futility of anger. I have gained inner peace.”
My father, who had not spoken until then during the hour-long conversation, piped in: “And son, those are all qualities that could not be associated with you just 10 years ago – faith, patience, inner peace and your ability to conquer anger every time that you are provoked by someone or some situation. What you have gained, far outweighs whatever you have lost.”
I felt humbled with my dad’s assessment and his wisdom. To be sure, I too was gripped with fear and insecurity some years ago. I was angry with myself and my situation then. I was held hostage by my guilt and was filled with grief. But none of what I felt made my situation any better. When I examined my feelings closely, I realized that they were all about my material losses – they centered around what I did not have, money and things! Over time, I understood that feeling deprived or clueless or sorrowful was not helping me. I simply let go of the way I felt. Not that I am or can be ecstatic about being cashless. But at least I stopped grieving and being angry. I decided to wait, however long it takes, while resolving to work harder and try even harder, every single day, to make things better.
I remember reading somewhere that whatever material losses we suffer, including the loss of people we love, always eventually leads to our souls gaining inner peace. From my experience, I now know this bitter-sweet irony of Life to be true.

Time, Destiny, Karma, Life … whatever, just accept what is!

We are all a product of the time that we go through. Time plays the biggest role in shaping the way things pan out for each of us during our lifetime.
This is an unalterable truth about Life. But the way we are conditioned to think about time, thanks to the way we are raised, we are either totally driven by a belief that everything about our lives is pre-ordained and pre-set in, and by, time or that nothing is. A more aware approach to Life, however, can be helpful.
Although there may be several arguments or methods that claim to understand how time works during one’s lifetime, the reality remains that there will be some times in Life, certain phases, when nothing may work for you, the way you plan for it or want it to work, despite your best efforts. This reality may express itself differently in the context of each one’s Life. But this reality will be un-missable, unmistakable. Now, those who use methods, like the science of astrology for instance, to make sense of the “play of time”, may find some way to rationalize what’s happening to them. Those who either have no access to or interest in such methods may simply see a pattern, “of results not coming as expected despite their best efforts”, to their lives. They may either choose to go with the flow of such a pattern, which is go with the flow of their lives, or feel defeated and depressed.
I have learnt that the simplest, and the most peaceful, way to live Life is to have faith in Life’s plan for you. I have come to understand it as The Master Plan. And I have come to realize, over the eventful years of my Life’s roller-coaster experience, that The Master Plan has no flaws. So, even if something evidently is not going per a plan that you have, and so you conclude that things are going “out of control”, everything is still happening just the way it should, for you to live the Life that has been designed for you. This perspective has been immortalized by Steve Jobs (1955~2011) when he said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that somehow the dots will connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, Karma, Life, whatever. This approach has never let me down and it has made all the difference in my Life.”
I don’t need to substantiate this point with a story from my Life or recall Jobs’ famous Stanford commencement speech of 2005. I invite you to review your own Life. And you will see the pattern, your personal journey line, as evidence of this point. Wherever you are today has undoubtedly been a result of all your efforts and intentions. Even so, you will notice that at the most crucial junctures, mystically, an unexpected twist or turn has either helped you move forward or has led to an unplanned, unscheduled change in direction. Without this providential play of time, or Life, you wouldn’t be where you are today. This perspective is as good even when you don’t like being where you are today. Perhaps, Life has laid hurdles in your path – a curious turn of events has delayed or stunted your progress. Whatever it is that you may be faced with or are going through, know that there’s a larger design that’s not evident to you just now. Someday, in the future, you too, like Jobs’ will connect the dots backward and marvel at how beautiful your Life’s design always was!
You can appreciate this perspective or debunk it. You can be wedded to the “Life-is-pre-ordained” or “it’s-all-play-of-time” theories or you can believe that you control everything. Whatever way you choose, you can’t escape the reality that Life pans out for you, as it does for me, only in its own unique way. And the only way to live such an inscrutable Life, happily, peacefully, is to simply accept what is.

Life goes on … you too move on with it

In each moment, Life is new, fresh. As long as you don’t cling on to the past, and instead move on, you too can enjoy and enjoin in this freshness!
A friend was chatting with me some time back. She shared what she called a predicament with me. Her husband had died some years back. She married again. But she was not happy in that marriage. She said she liked her partner as a person but she could not imagine a Life with him. So, she separated from him. She has two children, from her first marriage, who are young, independent adults. Now, she told me, two men were actively interested in her. She wanted to know what to do and if there was anything wrong, at her age (she’s over 45), for her to seek companionship.
I asked her to explain why she thought anything would be wrong in the first place. “I loved my first husband dearly. Somehow I feel it’s wrong for me to move on. I feel I will be betraying that relationship. Besides, when I tried with my second marriage, I failed miserably. So, I am not sure if anything will work out for me if I try again,” she replied.
I told her: “Do whatever makes you happy. If someone’s presence in your Life makes you happy, be happy. Don’t hold yourself back. Your late husband and your marriage with him – both are not there anymore. Don’t cling on to that. Just because your second marriage did not work out, it doesn’t mean you will not be happy in a new relationship. Don’t look to validate everything. Let your inner joy alone be your reference point. You have a lot of Life still ahead of you. Just do whatever makes you happy.”
I haven’t heard from her since. I hope she chose her happiness over everything else.
But her story, while unique in its own way, reminds us of a classic conundrum that all of us face – which is, how do we move on in Life? Let me tell you from my own experience – and from what I have learned from Life – that there’s only one way to move on. And that way is to let go of the past.
Life is reborn, afresh and new, in each new moment. But you are stuck in the past, so you are not seeing this freshness, this newness, even if you are seeking it. Think of a situation where an infant is playing with your cell-phone and you want it back because you fear the phone will be dropped. So, you offer the child a bright-colored rattle and the child quickly parts with the phone and accepts the rattle. There’s great wisdom in the child’s action. The child intuitively knows that unless she lets go of what she has she cannot get the new toy. As adults, we must revive this child-like quality in us. Only then can we see the magic and beauty of the Life that we have.
No matter how much you cling on to the past, no matter how much you postpone or avoid living the Life that you have, Life keeps going on. Someone you love dies, Life does not stop for you. It goes on. You lose your job. Life goes on. An earthquake happens. You lose everything. Yet Life goes on. Now, you can either move on with Life. Or you can keep wishing that things are different. The truth is that all your wishing will always be in vain. Only your moving on can make you happy.

On witnessing the miracle of your Life

Stop, pause, breathe and witness the miracle of your Life!   
In everyday living, the business of earn-a-living, keeps us so much on the edge that, sometimes, we don’t even know whether we are coming or going. There’s always so much to do. And so little time. Technology should have made Life easier – to be sure, it has – but we have complicated it by being addicted to it. Some people have got so addicted to facebook and Twitter that they are always feverishly typing away statuses and comments from their phones. Think about it. The first thing most of us do when we wake up is to reach for our cell-phones.
A quick look at your emails, facebook and Twitter notifications, WhatsApp messages and SMSes is now a subconscious first action. Even before you have brushed and freshened up, this is what you do. And the mind starts pounding away responses to what you have seen and read. By the time you are at work, you are so pumped up that, you carry that “rushed” frame of mind all through the day. Even when you are back home for dinner, you are still looking at your phone even as you eat. The same charade repeats itself day after day, even on weekends, and often on vacations too.
There may be nothing apparently wrong with this lifestyle. Except that you are probably missing the miracle in everyday living. Over time, as age catches up, you realize that you haven’t really lived the Life that you wanted. You have merely existed, gotten by, by surviving! This is why perhaps the venerable Russian dramatist Anton Chekov (1860~1904) famously said: “Any idiot can face a crisis. It’s day-to-day living that wears you out.”
A Zen story comes to mind. When Bankei Yotaku (1622~1693), the Japanese Zen Master, was teaching at the Ryomon Temple, a priest, who was jealous of Bankei’s large following, decided to debate with him to put him down. So, one day, when Bankei was in the middle of his Talk, the priest arrived and created a commotion. Bankei stopped his lecture and asked the preist what he wanted. “The founder of our sect,” boasted the priest, “had such miraculous powers that he held his brush in his hand on one bank of the river, while his disciple held a paper on the other bank, and yet he would be able to write the name of God on the paper – through air. Can you do such a thing?”
Bankei smiled. He replied: “Perhaps your founder, who is a genius it appears, can perform such a trick. But this is not how Zen works. My miracle is that when I feel hungry, I eat and when I feel thirsty, I drink.”
To be alive, to experience this Life that you and I have been given, is the biggest miracle of them all. It is also the greatest wealth we can ever have. The truth is that we have it and the tragedy is that we don’t realize we have it. So, we keep searching for it and in the process squander it. Remember: your Life is not going to change, unless you change the way you live!

Drink Life, “Bottoms Up”!!!

There’s no point being half-hearted about Life. You can’t afford to be tentative. Because Life’s passing you by – every moment. You miss it and it is gone! So, take the plunge, live Life fully, intensely, totally! 
There’s an ancient Zen story. It must be true. For Lao Tzu (601~531 BC), Buddha (563~483 BC) and Confucius (551~479 BC) lived around the same time. It is said that the three of them met in paradise, in a café. The waiter came by with three glasses of a drink called “Life”.
Buddha refuses the drink saying: “Life is misery!”
Confucius has a more moderate view to Life. He insists that he cannot decide how “Life” is until he takes a sip of it. Confucius had a scientific bent of mind, he theorized logically. His point was that you must experience everything and then decide for yourself. So, he takes a sip of the drink from the glass and concludes: “Buddha is right. Life is misery!”
It is Lao Tzu’s turn now. He looks at all three glasses. He takes each of them, one after the other, empties all the three glasses and starts dancing.
Buddha and Confucius look at Lao Tzu. “Are you not going to say anything about Life?”, they ask him.
Lao Tzu replies: “What is there to say? My dancing is enough to tell you what Life is all about. And even if there is anything to say about Life, words may not be adequate to describe it. Which is why I am dancing!”
The message of the story is unputdownable. Lao Tzu drank from all three glasses. And started dancing ecstatically. His point was: “Unless you drink totally, you can’t say. And even if you drink totally and can say, words cannot express what Life is all about!”
If you can internalize that message, Life is so simple. Life is just a wondrous series of experiences. One after the other. All we have to do is go through each of them in total acceptance. Because we don’t have a choice. Really! There’s no way you or I can alter what Life has planned for us. So, if Life’s really that simple, what’s holding us back? Why are we not, like Lao Tzu, able to drink “Life” totally? Why are we tentative? One evident reason can be that we are conditioned to think of Life as complex. We confuse Life’s inscrutability with complexity. We imagine that because we don’t know what will happen next, the next event could be something awful, painful, sorrowful. The other reason could be that we don’t want pain. Naturally, if pain can be avoided, who will want it? But pain cannot be avoided. If it comes, and it will, so be it. When sadness follows pain, know that happiness will follow sadness. That’s the way of Life! So, whatever happens, whatever comes, accept it, take it in your stride and keep drinking from the cup of Life!
Drink Life, bottom’s up! Live each moment fully – because this is the only Life you have!! As someone wise has said: “Every man dies. But not every man really lives!”

If you are “awake”, everything, absolutely everything, is a celebration


[This Post is available as an Audio Recording too. To listen to it, please follow the Link: If you are “awake”, everything, absolutely everything, is a celebration]
                                                                                             
Life is an ongoing, endless celebration. We, however, miss this celebration because, almost all the time, we are grieving over the past or we are worrying about the future. At times, given the cruel ironies of Life that we have to deal with, we even wonder if there’s anything worth “celebrating” about our Life.
Summer Fireworks at Navy Pier, Chicago
A few years ago, I was staying at a hotel overlooking Lake Michigan and the Navy Pier in Chicago. My room had a fantastic view. It was a full moon night in June and it was summer. I looked out the window but I did not feel like taking in the lake. My thoughts were elsewhere in India. A crisis we were dealing with had blown out of proportion. And in my air-conditioned hotel room, I was breaking into a sweat. I was texting and emailing my office back in Chennai and the updates I was getting were hardly encouraging. Things were going from bad to worse as the hour passed. I must have spent at least 90 minutes at the window – but noticed nothing. My mind was filled with anger over what had happened and with worry over what may follow. Then, suddenly, past 10 pm, fireworks lit up the sky – just above the Navy Pier. I had least been expecting it. To me, until the first firework burst in front of me, the lake was a dark expanse, as dark as my mood. The full moon was causing shiny ripples on the lake but I never appreciated them. Suddenly, something as spectacular as a 30-minute fireworks display happens, unannounced (at least to me – though I am told that all through summer there is a bi-weekly fireworks display at the Navy Pier) and I lost myself in it completely. For the entire duration of that display, I did not respond to my cell-phone which was beeping text message after message. Nor did not care to look at the email updates that were coming in. I did not brood. I was not angry. And my worries did not trouble me. There was a celebration happening in front of me, almost like a cosmic spectacle, and I was lost in it. When the fireworks display got over, I noticed that Lake Michigan was not just a dark, endless expanse in front of me. It was a beautiful, shimmering, wavy carpet of water, lit up by the warm glow of a full moon. It was, I discovered, another spectacle, another celebration, which was always there – even during those 90 minutes that I had spent agonizing and worrying at the window. I felt stupid – there was always a celebration around me, in front of me, and I had missed it completely?
That night I recalled what I had read somewhere. Osho, the Master, asked his followers once: “What isn’t there to celebrate about Life? The rainbow is there, the sunset is there, the ocean is there, the clouds are there – but you are asleep. Life passes by and you are not participating. You see a rose flower – but even though you have eyes, you see it and yet you don’t look at it. You have eyes, yet you don’t look, you have ears, yet you don’t listen, you have a heart, yet you don’t love. If you are asleep, there’s nothing to celebrate. But if you are awake, everything, absolutely everything is a celebration!”
Beautiful isn’t it? Osho’s wake-up call made a lot of sense to me that night. More than ever before. I realized that my urge to solve my problems and get rid of my worries was forcing me to miss the celebration of Life – which was happening right in front of me. I discovered that the only way to be part of this on-going celebration is to stop pining for the Life that I wanted and instead enjoy the one I had. Ever since, when a wave of guilt or grief, or worry or anxiety, rises in me, I let my awareness of the moment that I am in, drown that wave. You can never not have thoughts. And if you have thoughts, you will tend to brood or worry. But if you are aware, that Life’s celebration is on just now, for you, you will let go of those thoughts that worry you and instead choose to party!