Make your Life’s work memorable

Whatever may have been your Life’s story, however bitter the experience may have been, if, at all, you can leave behind a legacy where people can remember your work – and perhaps be inspired – your Life may have well been worth it!

           

 A new book from Harper Collins, by Akshay Manwani, “Sahir Ludhianvi – The People’s Poet”, celebrates the Life of one of India’s greatest poets and one of Bollywood’s iconic lyricists, in this context. Manwani’s book is rare because it examines the Life of both the poet and the person in Ludhianvi. Manwani believes that it is impossible to look at one while ignoring the other! Manwani reveals that Sahir’s childhood was plagued by fear and anxiety – his mother was the eleventh wife of a landlord, whose clutches she sought to free and her son from. Sahir carried these scars and memories all his Life. In his later Life, he became an alcoholic after two failed love affairs – one with the renowned writer Amrita Pritam and the other with singer-actress Sudha Malhotra. Yet his ability to express himself through his verses never faltered.

He fell back on his Life’s experiences to produce some immortal lines. My favorites remain:
“Hum Dono” (1961)
“Mein Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhatha Chala Gaya
Har Phikr Ko Dhuen Mein Udaata Chala Gaya
Barbadion Ka Shok Manana Fizul Tha
Barbadion Ka Jashn Manata Chala Gaya
Har Fikr Ko Dhuen Mein Uda…”
It means: “I played along and went with the flow of Life, I blew (smoked) away all my worries…To grieve over misfortunes are a waste, so I celebrated my misfortunes and blew (smoked) away my worries…”
“Kabhie Kabhie” (1976)
“Mein Har Ik Pal Ka Shayar Hoon,
Har Ik Pal Meri Kahaani Hai,
Har Ik Pal Meri Hasti Hai,
Har Ik Pal Meri Jawaani Hai”
It means: “I am the eternal poet, my story is eternal, I am in every moment, my youth is in every moment.”
“Pyaasa (1957)
Yeh Kuche Ye Nilam Ghar Dilkashi Ke
Yeh Lutthe Hua Caravan Zindagi Ke
Kahan Hai Yeh Muhafiz Khudi Ke
Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par, Woh Kahan Hai”

I won’t even attempt a translation. It is impossible to translate the pain and the pathos in this verse into English. The song portrays the sentiments of the main protagonist of “Pyaasa”, Guru Dutt, who, while passing through a red light area, laments at how the selflishness of man, the greed for a woman’s body, ruins so many lives…and he asks, where are those who feel proud of India, when we can’t even protect the dignity of our women? Hearing Mohd. Rafi’s rendition of this song, it is said that the then Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was moved to tears.
“Dhool Ka Phool” (1959)
“Tu Na Hindu Banega, Na Musalmaan Banega
Tu Insaan Ki Aulaad Hai, Insaan Banega”
This verse was penned by Sahir based on the post-Partition experiences that he had been through. He had briefly shifted to Lahore, after Partition (he was born Abdul Hayee in 1921 and Sahir Ludhianvi is his pen name), but he could not bear being away from his Hindu and Sikh friends. So, he returned to Bombay, via Delhi. The song means: “You will not be a Hindu, nor a Muslim, you were born human, so you will be (a) human…!”
Sahir’s poetry lives on, long after he’s gone. It’s 34 years now. But each of his songs are relevant even today. In a way, his Life and his verse, are his message. And the learning is that if we can express ourselves, in whatever way we can, our Life’s work too can be meaningful – not just when we are alive, but also be remembered even after we’re gone!  

Go with the flow of Life!

Learn to live with what is, in the now. This is Life. And the only one which you have.
           
Sometimes, we have to live through periods of time that we intensely dislike. Things could be taking forever. Business may not be happening. Or a relationship may be heading nowhere. Or a health situation will be forcing you to be confined to bed. You may want Life to move faster in such situations. But Life has a mind and pace of its own. Eckhart Tolle, the German-Canadian spiritual teacher, in his awakening book, “The Power of Now” says, “Life is now. There was never a time when your Life was not now, nor will there ever be.”

In a Zen story, a man falls into a river, with violent rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. People who were watching this accident felt the man would die. But miraculously the man came out alive and unharmed downstream, at the bottom of the falls. People rushed to him and asked him how he managed to survive. He replied: “I realized I had no choice. I adapted myself to the water and did not resist the force, the direction or the flow of the river. I plunged into the ferocious swirls, giving myself up to the river and came out gratefully whenever I was tossed up. This is how I survived.”
The river rapids accident is but a metaphor. It teaches you – and me – the need to go with the flow whenever Life changes gears, changes the scenery and changes your reality! There is no point in wishing that your Life is different from what it is. There is no point going back in time and wishing your Life could be rewound or relived. And yes there is no point hoping Life could move faster and get you out of your current situation. It is what it is. You either live now, with and in the present, or you never will!

Living without expectations guarantees inner peace

Expectations always bring agony. So, to live without expectations is a personal choice.
Someone I know wrote to me asking if it was possible to live without expectations. Interesting question that is.
That at the root of all agony is an unmet expectation is an irrefutable truth of Life. Think of any situation where you have experienced agony and you will notice that an expectation was always behind it. You do a friend a favor. The friend does not either return it or thank you. You agonize. Now, was doing your friend a favor the cause of your agony? Was the friend not returning the favor the cause of your agony? Or did your expectation that your friend return the favor cause your agony? Obviously, your expectation caused you agony – because, minus the expectation, everything between you and your friend is just fine.
So, living without expectation is simply a choice. If you choose to expect something out of everything or everyone, be sure that you will agonize each time your expectations are not met. If you choose to drop expectations, you will be happy either way – whether you get something or not. So, it is a choice. It is, in some sense, a no-brainer too!
On the surface, at a superficial level, it may appear that you cannot but have an expectation from someone you have a relationship with. For instance, it is right to expect that a mother must trust her children and provide for them. But what if the mother does not trust, does not care? What’s the point in having that expectation just because there is a mother-child relationship? Won’t the child agonize every time the mother fails to meet his or her expectation? The truth is that in any relationship, over time, sometimes, the people in it stop “relating” with each other! This is where the problem arises. Let’s take another instance. If you make coffee for your spouse every morning, you may have an expectation that on a day when you are sleeping in late or are unwell, the spouse makes you the coffee. Now, what happens when your spouse does not either make or offer to make you coffee? Will you then start to re-examine your choice of making coffee for your spouse? Possibly you well may re-examine if you only see the relationship and don’t relate to your spouse anymore. But if you still relate to your spouse, you will make the coffee whether or not your spouse makes one for you or even acknowledges the one you make. Expectations arise when the relating has stopped between people. In such situations the relationship has become a contract, an agreement. It has become conditional. You do this THEN I will do that. But when you are still relating, there are no conditions, no expectations, there’s just being, there’s just doing.
So, whether it is making coffee or doing the dishes or forgiving someone (in a relationship) for transgressions, whatever, simply pour your heart into it and do it. Or don’t do it. That is also fine. But please don’t do it – or anything – with an expectation. The problem with any expectation is that irrespective of the character or nature of the person on whom the expectation is pinned, you are the one who will suffer and agonize if that expectation goes unmet. So do you want to suffer or do you want to live free? Your choice!If you want inner peace though, make sure you choose to live without expectations!

Of freedom from insecurity

When you accept insecurity, it disappears.  
A friend called a couple of days ago. He is the head of operations for a multinational company. His company is very conservative and every single decision is controlled by the top management sitting in their global headquarters. My friend had over a decade built a reputation for himself within the company as a reliable and responsible manager. Therefore, he was allowed a higher degree of empowerment. He was, exceptionally, allowed to lead a couple of crucial processes in the India operation on his own. Which meant that he did not have to seek approvals for these processes from the top brass. But just this week, these processes too were taken over by senior managers at the corporate headquarters. My friend called me to seek my view on making sense of this development. “I am very uncomfortable that my empowerment is withdrawn. I have asked my boss why this has been done,” he told me. He was sounding very disturbed and the feeling I got was that he feared for his job. I told him: “You are feeling insecure. Which is natural. Accept your insecurity. Talk to your boss or senior manager and ask them upfront if the reason for this change has anything to do with their view of your efficiency as the process owner. If your insecurity persists, despite that conversation, go look for another job. If you get one that you like, move. If you don’t get one or don’t want to move even after getting another offer, at least you would have realized the value of  what you have on hand and you will be able to be more productive and efficient. Important, you will stop feeling insecure and disturbed.”
For various reasons, in myriad situations, each of us encounters insecurity. The best way to deal with insecurity is to accept that it is there.
Insecurity is a normal human response to situations that you can’t immediately make sense of. Metaphorically, you are groping in the dark. There is no light. Suddenly you feel lost. Lonely. You are filled with fear. What do you do? Well, you can shiver and shudder. You can cry in despair. But soon you realize that none of that can drive the darkness away. What you need is light – and you don’t have a source like a torch or a matchbox or such. So, when you understand and accept the hopelessness of the situation, when you embrace your insecurity, you will be able think with greater clarity.
When you think about Life deeply, you will recognize the truth that there is nothing called security. On the vast cosmic plane, the human being is as powerless as an ant is in front of humans. One event, and in under a moment, a Life is snuffed out. So what security are you and I seeking when we can never really escape the inevitable end, death? When you understand this quality – its impermanence – about Life, you will stop seeking security.
In the course of a lifetime, there will be a million, or more, occasions when you will feel insecure. Accept your insecurity every single time. When do that, your awareness, through your acceptance, will remind you each time that the security you crave for is a myth. Then insecurity will not hound and haunt you. You will be free from it. 

Ishq-wala Love

To love and be loved, at a soul level, is a blessing.
The forgettable 2012 movie “Student of the Year” (Karan Johar) had a simple song which went on to become quite popular – “Ishq-wala Love”. I was reading a discourse by Osho, the Master, and he explains why “Ishq-wala Love” is different from just plain Love. (I am not sure, going by the lyrics of the song from ‘Student of the Year’ if the lyricist had really heard or read Osho’s discourse!) Osho says that contemporary interpretation of love – thanks to hype-driven traditions like Valentine’s Day – implies that you like or adore someone for their mind, their intellect or their body.  He says true love transcends the mind and the body and touches the soul. And he says no English word can ever do justice to describe love that encompasses mind, body and soul – all three dimensions. So, he dips into the Persian language and pulls out the word “Ishq”. It means loving with total intensity. It is often used in a Sufi context and has a celestial, even divine, connotation. “Ishq” is when you lose yourself in love, when love possesses you, when it oozes from your every pore and makes you go mad, turn fanatic – with which the other word with Sufi origins is closely connected, “Fanaa” – which means to be annihilated in divine love! “Ishq” has a level of unbelievable passion and obsession associated with it, that goes beyond the ordinary and is often hard to describe. “Ishq” comes from the Persian root “a-sha-qa” – which really means an ivy plant that winds itself around other plants. Similarly, the “aashiq” or lover gets entwined with his beloved, in an incomprehensible, inscrutable love. When the lovers are experiencing “Ishq” – they are actually mindless – so they are unmindful of pain, of the sentiments of their families, they don’t care for what society thinks and don’t relate to their surroundings or circumstances. They simply lose themselves – “dissolve” in each other at a soul level.
The ancient story of Laila and Majnu has immortalized “Ishq”. Laila was dark-skinned and never considered good-looking. The King of the land who was known to have a harem, which no woman could escape, had rejected Laila. But Majnu loved her. He was in “Ishq” with her. He fought Laila’s rich father valiantly. He ignored the social ostracization that he was subjected to. He refused to forget Laila even after she was married off forcibly. All of this forced the King to send for Majnu. And he asked Majnu why was he so “madly in love” with Laila. Majnu simply replied that the King would “never understand”. Which was the truth. Because “Ishq” does not look at the body, it does not even look at the mind, it does not look at social standing, it is not affected by circumstances. While the King and society looked at Life through all these lenses, Majnu saw only Laila’s soul and saw himself as one with her. So, in the story, Laila dies in another land, succumbing to an illness and Majnu too dies at the same time. (To be sure, there are various versions of this story in circulation – thanks to the creative genius of many story tellers and artists who have tried to bring it alive over the years.) The word ‘Majnu’ has now come to mean someone who is “madly in Ishq”.
Valentine’s Day is a good time, as any other, to reflect on the depth of your own love for another or others. If you have been noticing a growing distance between you and someone you once fell in love with, it’s important to go beyond the flowers and the gifts, and enquire within. Maybe there never was “Ishq”. Maybe it is relevant now that you examine if there’s a role “Ishq” can play in your Life. Maybe there’s a need to break-free from a relationship, where there’s no relating anymore, and open yourself to “Ishq”? Whatever you do, or choose not to do, just know that to love this way, beyond mind and body, at a soul level, is a celebration of Life – and “Ishq-wala Love” indeed is a blessing.

Gratitude is the only way to respond to Life

You don’t see Life’s beauty and magic in everyday situations because you are not present. If you are in the now, the only way you can respond is by overflowing with gratitude for this Life and this experience!
On this morning’s walk, my wife pointed out how beautifully the sun lit up the leaves of a tree. We walk along that route almost daily. I must have seen that tree several hundred times. Even so, this morning it looked exceptionally beautiful and full of Life. Was there anything different about the tree or the sunlight this morning? Or was it that I was looking at it differently?
I have learned that gratitude arises in you and overflows when you pause to feel Life’s energy in and around you. It is this sense of gratitude that makes you realize that everything about your Life is beautiful, everything is the way it should be – irrespective of context or time. When the Life energy in you is charged with an overwhelming sense of thanksgiving,  you are filled with joy and peace.
Yet, you don’t always feel this way because you are forever rushing through Life. Even a morning walk is a chore. You push yourself through it. You are constantly thinking of all the tasks and schedules that await you later in the day. Or you are lost in worry and anxiety over problems that you don’t seem to have the solutions for. Instead of enjoying, with gratitude, whatever is, you pine for what isn’t. That’s why, pretty much like the way I had been missing that tree and its well-lit leaves, you miss Life – and living!
On the same walk this morning I noticed an old man, with bent knees making a valiant effort to walk. He carried a bottle of water in one hand and tried to make slow progress with each step that he managed to take. We walked briskly past him, finishing more than two laps around the block, while he struggled to complete even half of one. That’s when I realized how much I too tend to take Life for granted. I realized that my briskness comes from a pair for legs and knees that are still strong. It dawned on me that it may not be too long before I may struggle to walk just a few steps like my senior fellow-walker.
Because you take Life for granted, it has come to mean a set of things that you don’t have or keep aspiring or searching for. Which is why you never feel grateful for what you have! Life’s far more meaningful when you appreciate the value of what you have and stop complaining about what you don’t have.
I am reminded of Baal Shem Tov (1698~1760), the Jewish mystical Rabbi and founder of Hasidism (a spiritual branch of Judaism), who implored his followers to drop all rituals, all methods and all practices and simply trust Life. He used to say: “Trust Life, trust God, and whatsoever has been given to you, enjoy it! Enjoy it with such deep gratitude that every small thing matters and becomes holy, becomes sacred, becomes God.” If you think about Life deeply you don’t have any other way to look at Life than with gratitude. This whole Life is a gift. The experiences that you have been through and are going through are unique gifts – that teach you and awaken you – too. When you realize this you will wonder why did you ever complain about Life, why did you have to struggle and endure Life – instead of celebrating it?
Life is happening in every moment. If you are not present you will miss the most spectacular show in, and of, your “entire lifetime”! You may define some moments of your Life as good and great and several others as plain drudgery. That’s perhaps because you don’t see the blessing in each moment. If you pause to look, every leaf looks beautiful in the sunlight, every cloud has a silver lining and everything around you, in you, is a miracle! When you do awaken to Life’s magic and beauty, you will know only one way to respond – which is, with gratitude!

Happiness cannot be caused. It simply is!

When you choose not to suffer in a situation, you will be happy!
The other day, we were at a busy traffic intersection. We were waiting to cross the road. Suddenly a man, who must have been in his ‘60s, charged from behind us and leaped on to the zebra crossing. Shocked motorists forced their vehicles to screech to a halt. The man, unmindful, crossed the road – animatedly, his hands raised, taking long angry strides. All along he was screaming: “I hate him. I hate him. I hate him. I hate him…” He seemed so lost in his anger, in his suffering, that he had no idea what he was doing. All he was focused on was on expressing how much he hated someone. In some time, he was lost in the crowd, but his screams could still be heard over the din of the traffic: “I hate him. I hate him. I hate him…”
Think about it. At what point will someone’s mental equilibrium be vitiated to the extent that he behaves so mindlessly in public, endangering his own Life and causing inconvenience to so many people? This is what suffering can do to you at an extreme.
But clearly, there’s a choice each of us has – to not suffer despite the pain that has been inflicted. Now, how do you exercise that choice? Simple: by understanding that suffering is caused, while happiness has no cause. It simply is!
Suffering follows pain. When you are subjected to pain, you resist that pain. That is a normal, human reaction. When you resist pain, you suffer. So, suffering always has a cause – often linked to a pain factor outside of yourself or your true Self. But, in a way, you cause your own suffering – by wishing that the pain did not exist in the first place. Happiness is, on the other hand, who you are – it is the way of your soul, your true Self. If you choose to accept your pain, as an uncontrollable reality of your Life, there can, and will, be no suffering. And so you will be happy. The essence therefore is that someone or something can surely inflict pain on you, and they can cause you to suffer. But to be happy requires no cause. Happiness merely requires that you stay accepting of whatever comes your way in Life – even if it is intense pain.

When there’s no one to be touched!

No hurt or insult will touch you if you don’t allow it to.
Whenever you feel hurt at what someone tells you, remember it is your ego which is acting up. You question, often subconsciously, why someone has behaved in a manner that you don’t endorse. That you don’t subscribe to. Your ego tells you to fight that behavior. And then the drama begins. You tell the person something harsh. That person retaliates. Then you must say something in return. And on, and on, this game of ping-pong goes on. Or you are unable to retort and so you suffer within. You carry the injury, the wound from the hurt, all the while. Your ego keeps reminding you of how unfairly you have been treated. It sets you off on a journey of anger, self-pity and grief. And you let the wound fester there – causing you more pain, making you suffer more – and more!
But think of what can happen if you choose to ignore the insult. If you refuse to let it affect you. What if someone calls you an idiot and you just ignore that expression totally. Then there will be no hurt. And therefore no suffering. To reach this state all you need to remember that each one is entitled to their opinion. If someone expresses his or her opinion, take it on board if it is worth it. If it will cause agony – drop it. Or rather don’t even catch it. Let the comment, barb, jibe, insult – whatever, let it pass.
Periodically check out how well you are faring on this evolutionary journey. Choose a 24-hour period and promise yourself that you will not react or retort to whatever may be said about you – no matter what the context is or what the provocation is. Notice that you will feel infinitely better without taking on board all the comments – about you – that come your way. This definitely works wonders when it comes to dealing with hurts and insults. But it also is a great way to stay grounded – especially when a lot of praise is heaped on. If you let both, insult and praise, to pass, you will never be allowing your ego to be in the driver’s seat! When the ego is not driving you, you cannot be touched. Because then, as per Tao, there’s no one to be touched!

Know your true Self. Know your God. Be free!

When you know your true Self, you will know God and you will be free!
This morning’s papers run a story saying the famous music composer Ilayaraja’s son, Yuvan Shankar Raja, has embraced Islam. It would have been good had the story merely reported a happening, an event – even though, strictly, that is avoidable! But one paper goes on to speculate if Yuvan’s father had an issue with his choice. And that, I believe, was totally uncalled for. What choices people make with regard to their Life, especially in the context of their religious leanings, is, really nobody’s business!
The story, however, got me thinking on a different plane. There’s often this confusion between religion and spirituality. Most people use these words interchangeably.
Conceptually, they may well be right. But in reality and practice the two take different approaches – albeit to the same end!
Spirituality is the flowering of internal awareness. It is deeply personal, intense and liberates the seeker. You set out on the spiritual journey – seeking God, seeking answers to many existential questions, seeking to know why pain and suffering have to be endured – but you really end up finding yourself, your true Self.
Religion attempts to deliver all of this, but fails miserably. Not because religion is bad or ineffective. In fact, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism, Jainism – you name them, each of them is so beautiful. They are profound and empowering. But the champions of religion, the high priests, are devious and divisive. Promising salvation and deliverance unto an external God, they divide humanity and drive people to becoming mindlessly ritualistic. Which is why people have an issue with other peoples’ religious choices. Think about it: people don’t have an issue with what shirt you are wearing, but why do they get alarmed with the mere mention of your religious preference? All the fanaticism about finding God and trying to establish one religion as superior to another is the cause for all disharmony in the world. Religion doesn’t make your Life any better – it binds you and holds you hostage, making you “fear” God! In fact, the way it is championed and practised today, religion makes bad spaghetti out of a very good concept. The truth is, you – and I – were not born with a religious affiliation. You were born human. You have the same amount of blood – 5.5 liters, just the same as anyone else. And that blood is red in color – for everyone, irrespective of what religion they follow!
It is said that religion is for those who want to go to heaven – and spirituality is for those who have been to hell! There’s a great meaning in that seemingly light-hearted truth. Again it’s a matter of personal choice. If you want to understand Life and experience bliss, if you want freedom from suffering and you want lasting inner peace, then understand your true Self. If you want balms for your pain, if you want just a reassurance that “you will be taken care of”, if you want to “feel good” and bask in the presence of godmen and godwomen – follow the rituals that your religion’s leaders prescribe. Neither path is wrong. Neither approach is right. Ultimately, what works for you is always the best!
I simply love Swami Ramkrishna Paramahamsa’s (1836~1886) words in this context: “Even if you have faith in the 330 million Gods that you worship, and no faith in yourself, there’s no salvation for you!” This really sums it all up. Your search for meaning, be it through a pilgrimage to the world’s holiest sites, or through a simple, inward journey, will ultimately bring you to yourself! Your true Self. In knowing and understanding that Self, you encounter your God. And you will be free!

Bliss is when you lose yourself to the moment

No job or activity is dull or boring. Something becomes boring only when your attention wavers.
This is what I have learned from my guru, Eknath Easwaran (1910~1999). He has taught “Passage Meditation” as a way to reign in the mind, so that it attends to whatever you are doing and experiencing in the present moment. I have understood, from my own experience, that this is possible. The key is to immerse yourself in whatever you are involved in. It may not always be what you love doing. But if you have to do something, do it with full awareness – lose yourself in the process. When you are lost in whatever you are doing – you are living fully, you are then (in) bliss!
A very accomplished musician once accepted a King’s invitation to perform in the royal court. The King had been inviting the musician for years. But the singer was always elusive and reclusive. Finally he agreed. But he laid down a condition – nobody should nod their head or sway or even move when he sang. The King was a maverick himself. He immediately announced that if anyone violated the singer’s condition, he or she would be beheaded. The people of the land, who were eager to listen to this singer, for it was indeed a-once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity, were taken aback. Many of them felt that the condition stipulated was draconian and could not be fulfilled at all. How can you not nod or move when you hear great music? So, they backed out of attending the concert. Several people, however, still showed up on the morning of the performance. The King had stationed soldiers, who had their swords drawn, all around the royal court. The singer arrived. And he sang. It was magical – he sang with such purity, such class. Everyone in the audience froze. It was not hard to say if they remained unmoved because the singer held them in his spell or if they were that way fearing his condition and their King’s absurd order! Soon, as time went by and the concert became even more blissful, a few heads swayed, then some more and then some others even moved their hands and blew flying kisses to the singer. The soldiers made a note of every person who violated the King’s order. As soon as the concert ended, they rounded these people up separately and looked to the King for his order to behead them – then and there.
The musician however told the King to let these people go.
The King was not amused: “But these are the people who have violated your condition and my order. I don’t understand this!”
The musician replied: “They did. No doubt about that. But they did so only because they lost themselves to the music, in their inner joy! They are the true listeners. They risked their Life for their bliss. Those who did not move were always thinking about the order, fearing for their Life, and worried about the soldiers with their swords drawn. How could these people have even listened to my song, let alone enjoy it!”
The musician told the King that in future, whenever he visited, he would sing only to this select audience.
The import of this story is that when you are totally immersed in the moment, even Life becomes insignificant and inconsequential. When you are engaged this way, worry, grief, guilt, anger, fear – nothing can touch you. Because, in that moment, you are (in) bliss!