Life is a blind date – Take it as it comes

Life is a journey into the unknown in every moment. If you seek predictability, you will suffer. If you embrace the unpredictability, and go with the flow, you will find the way to be happy despite your circumstances.  
We are all creatures of routine. And Life is never routine. It is full of adventure. So when it disrupts, you don’t like the change. So you ask, Why? Then, Why Me? Then, Why Now? With each of these questions, for which you are unlikely to get answers, you are losing time, are feeling miserable and are suffering. Think of your routine. You like to wake up, go to work, have a drink in the evening, lounge in front of the TV, read a book, sleep. Then, wake up, do the same stuff again. And you believe you have a happy Life – a good spouse, wonderful children. That’s a nice routine. That’s when Life stirs your pot a bit. A heart attack. A job loss. Or a loss in business. A child having a troubled teenage. Death of a child. Or a parent. Or a sibling. Any of these happenings can plunge you into grief. You argue that you have been good, ethical, faithful. Then why do horrible things have to happen to you? While all your grief is understandable, no one can stop things from happening to you. The truth is that things simply have to happen. And because it’s your turn now, they are happening to you. Plain and simple. Don’t imagine Life to be wicked, sinister and scheming. Whatever happens in Life, just happens. There’s no conspiracy. Just an inscrutable cosmic design. It is the same Life that gave you your most memorable moments. Your first school successes, your first romance, your first international trip, your first raise, your first profits, your first child. And then, as in most cases, everything happened a second time too. So, the Life that makes you smile, gush with joy, also stirs things up a bit, mischievously. The way to deal with such an unpredictable Life is to retain your spirit of joy and fullness – always, no matter what comes your way.
                            
Life is this continuous journey into the unknown. If you want predictability, you can never be happy. Because when everything is predictable, like in a routine, you don’t live. You simply exist. You are alive. But you are as good as dead. Someone asked Mark Twain (1835~1910), the American author and humourist, once, “What do you think are the three best things in Life?” In jest, but also with deep sarcasm, Twain replied: “The first best thing is never to be born. The second best thing is to die immediately after birth. And the third best thing is to die as soon as possible.” This may sound like Twain’s trademark humor. But there’s a great truth in his humor. If you want to live, and live happily, you have to be prepared to face the unknown, you have to approach Life with the spirit of adventure. If you are scared of the unknown and seek predictability and security, you are better off dead!
In Chennai, we have a cinema multiplex called Sathyam. Every Thursday evening they have a screening called “Blind Date”. The concept is that you get to watch any of the movies releasing the next day, Friday, that Sathyam chooses to screen. True to the show’s name, you don’t get to know which film is being screened until the movie begins. If you choose to go for the “Blind Date” show, you wait with everyone else in the audience, with expectation and apprehension, not knowing which movie is going to play. Chances are it may be a movie that you like or it may be something that you dislike. But whatever it is, you take it as it comes.
The best way to live Life is to treat it as a blind date. Just take it as it comes!

Being best friends with your young adult children

The relationship between parents and children, especially with teenaged and young adult children, must be like that between good friends. There must always be honest conversations, mutual respect and the freedom for both parents and children to make informed choices.
A young friend who is in a relationship is pregnant. She has been carrying on with her boyfriend without her parents’ knowledge because she is certain of her father’s disapproval. Now, with the pregnancy coming up, she’s at a loss on how to handle the situation. She’s all confused and depressed. She’s not sure she wants to marry her boyfriend. “At least, I am not ready for marriage just now,” she says. And she’s fearful of her father’s reaction should he come to know of her pregnancy. She’s thinking of aborting the pregnancy but is apprehensive of both the process and her ability to deal with it. She’s the only child of her parents and feels guilty that she has perhaps let them down.
My wife and I advised her to take one step at a time. Since she’s clear she doesn’t want to get married immediately, she has to think only about having the baby or aborting the pregnancy. If she chooses to have the baby, she will have to keep her parents informed. And if she wishes to terminate her pregnancy, she can choose to be transparent with her parents and seek their support or she can go through the procedure with her boyfriend by her side. Whatever she chooses to do, our young friend has to own the outcome of her choices. She can’t escape it. That’s what we told her. We also helped her understand that there was nothing immoral about being in a relationship or having premarital sex or even getting pregnant. All these experiences are part of growing up in Life! What is important is that she treats everything she’s going through as a learning experience and simply moves on, without imagining social stigma and being ridden with guilt over letting her parents down. In fact, we advised her to have a heart-to-heart chat with her parents. She’s old enough (she’s 26) to be able to tell them what she wants to do with her Life. Even if she chooses to continue be in a relationship, without a commitment to marrying her boyfriend, we felt, she must keep her parents informed. The key is to be able to convince her parents of her ability to live with consequences of the choices she makes – whatever they may be. Well, if her parents remain unsupportive and unconvinced, she can still go live her Life the way she wants.
I think all of us parents who have young adult children have to understand that we cannot expect our children to necessarily toe our line. Not anymore. They are independent people in their own right, and they must be allowed to evolve into confident folks who lead their lives on their own terms. And all young adults who are beginning to explore Life through relationships have to realize that it is perfectly alright if they choose not to take their parents’ advice on any subject – be it relationships, marriage, career or investments or anything. However, they must have the courage to stand and live by those choices. And if their decisions backfire, if they fail at something they try to do or if they get into an emotionally messy situation, they must have the option to share their experiences with their parents. This is not so much to do a post-mortem but to help distil and imbibe the learnings better. This calls for an open, nurturing environment, a great friendship and mutual respect – not fear and reticence – in the relationship between parents and their young adult children.
Life is a continuous learning experience. Every choice you make leads you to an outcome. Both the experience and the result teach you something. It is through these learnings, often coming from failing and falling down, just as they do from succeeding and flying high, that you grow and evolve in Life. I don’t think any parent, however caring and experienced, can ever simulate a learning for a young adult child by substituting a Life experience with (sound) advice. Further, what happened to you – a relationship break-up or divorce or a business failure – need not necessarily happen to your young adult children. Each person has a Life path that is unique. So, don’t try to come in the way of your young adult children. Teach them however to be strong and to face their realities and own their outcomes. And tell them they are welcome home even if they should come back battle-weary, bruised and battered. Never tell them “I told you so” when they fail at something, instead tell them to get up, dust themselves, take it easy and move on. Being your young adult child’s best friend is a privilege. Don’t lose it by trying to be an over-protective, over-zealous parent!

To keep humanity alive, we have a role to play

Each of us has a role to play in rebuilding our world and reuniting humanity.
A relative who lives in Madurai was coming home this week. Since he was visiting us after several years, my wife suggested that he join us for a meal. He accepted the invitation but made a specific request that his meal be cooked by my wife and even the vegetables used for the various preparations be chopped by her. He said he did not like a “non-Brahmin” maid or helper to be involved in the preparation of the meal that he would have. We were appalled at this regressive request. We politely requested him to not eat at our place. Some years back, while performing a pooja for my father-in-law’s 80th birthday, the priest objected to the presence of a north-Indian cook from Bihar in the room where the ceremony was taking place. I called the priest aside and told him politely that he was free to stop the proceedings half-way if he found it difficult to accept a human being as one. I pointed out to the learned priest that my father-in-law who had just come out of hospital then, was looked after for weeks and months while there by a nurse named Abdul and was currently under the care of another one called Mary. But the priest was unwilling to consider any of my secular appeals. Though the ceremony was happening at my residence, as my father-in-law lives with us, I had to “back off”  respecting my brother-in-law’s wishes, who was leading the birthday celebrations for his father.
Such repulsive casteist prejudices and behaviors leave me numb. I somehow don’t get it. How long more is it going to take until we have a world where we respect all human beings as equal? When are we going to stop allowing ourselves to be divided by caste, creed and religion? Nature has not created this planet with boundaries. Bad enough we have nations. Worse that we have states. Sad that we, in India particularly, were victims of caste and religious divisions. But wasn’t that all a vestige of an underdeveloped nation? It is shocking that such thinking is still prevalent in urban society today.
I would like to share a story I read recently. Despite his often-controversial public image, Bollywood super star Salman Khan is a do-gooder. His “Being Human” Foundation supports a lot of people in need. When Salam as shooting for his super-hit film Dabangg on location for several weeks, near Panchgani in Maharastra, sometime in 2009, his car had to cross throngs of school kids every morning. He made a few enquiries and discovered that the kids lived in a settlement about 5 km from their school. In the absence of any public transport, these 200 kids trudged up and down every day. Salman immediately asked his Foundation to donate each of these 200 kids a bicycle so they could ride them to school instead of having to walk. In a few days, all the kids received their bicycles. The day after the bicycles were distributed, one of the kids flagged down Salman’s car as he was proceeding to his shoot. The kid requested Salman to take back his bicycle and instead help his best friend who couldn’t come to school anymore because he had a hole in his heart! Salman was moved by the child’s compassion and asked his Foundation to provide the other child the best medical care. While I do laud Salman and his “Being Human” Foundation, I am moved by and salute the young child’s spirit of sacrifice and brotherhood that helped him look beyond himself and seek support for his ailing classmate.
Here’s another story, from Mother Teresa, the Apostle of Love and Service. She once told a gathering that she was addressing: “One night a man came to our house and told me, “There is a family with eight children. They have not eaten for days,” I took some food and I went. When I finally reached the house where the family lived, I saw the faces of those little children, they were struck by acute hunger. There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger. I gave some rice to the mother. She divided the portion into two and went out, carrying half the rice with her. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go?” She gave me this simple answer, “To my neighbor’s – they are also hungry.” I was not surprised that she gave – because people who have nothing are generous. But I was surprised that she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves we have no time for others.”
I believe anyone who does not see another as a human being needs to be sent for some very urgent counselling. It is not as if divisive tendencies are prevalent only in politics or in religion or in the remote parts of our country and among the uneducated, illiterate masses. The fact that they are striking closer home, in our own families, as is evident from the experiences I have shared here, is very disturbing. The two stories, from the kid in Panchgani and from the hungry woman that Mother Teresa talks about, remind us that humanity is still alive. To continue to keep it alive each of us has a responsibility. Which is to say no to anything and anyone that divides us on national, geographical, racial, religious or caste basis. Only then can we hope to make our divided and decaying world any better.  

How to be untouched by the “D” Word

Life is a mind game. How you play it depends on what you are thinking and how you are feeling!
Jayaditya Gupta, the executive editor of ESPNcricinfo, recently wrote a piece for mint, the business paper from the Hindustan Times Group, titled “Losing the Mental Game”, which explored the causes of depression and its aftermath among famous and successful sportspeople. Gupta spoke to former New Zealand cricketer Martin Crowe, among the best players of his time, who has been battling cancer since his retirement from the sport in 1996. Crowe, 51, told Gupta that his cancer, which struck him twice, was directly linked both times to extremely negative emotions. Gupta’s research on Crowe’s health revealed that: “… his (Crowe’s) first battle with lymphatic cancer was due to the “toxic suppression of negative events” throughout his Life. That battle, Crowe wrote in a recent article, had been successfully fought without chemotherapy. But then a controversy in New Zealand cricket—the demotion of captain Ross Taylor—affected him so deeply, he said, that the cancer reappeared. “Within three weeks they found a 6-inch tumour in a completely new place to the original cancer, for which I (Crowe) had to have chemo. It came out of nowhere because of the anger.”” Gupta’s reasons in his piece that the loss of stardom, post retirement, and their inability to cope with the vicissitudes of Life, often drives sportspeople to despair, depression and suicides. He analyses the stories of other cricketers Jonathan Trott, Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Flintoff and Richard Hadlee who have faced depression, and of German footballer and goalkeeper Robert Enke who committed suicide, and of Bobby Charlton, the Manchester United player, who survived the “Munich” disaster (a plane crash that killed 8 Manchester United teammates and caused severe physical and mental injuries to others on the team) and a depressive phase afterward. Gupta concludes that clarity of thought and brutal self-honesty are critical to overcome depression and avoid suicidal tendencies.
While celebrities find it harder to deal with the “D” word, the truth is that even you_and I_are, and in fact anyone is, prone to depression. We may not have been under the arclights, and so we may not crave for them, but what we always seek is that Life be fair, kind and compassionate towards us. Life offers no such guarantees though. It has made us no promise to be this way or that. So, death will come calling in your family, relationships will turn sour, you will out of job and out of favor, you will be struck by a health problem – anything can happen to you. Each time something that you don’t want happens, you will be drawn into a depressive spiral. When you are in grief, depression is a “comfortable” state. People around you will pamper you, will do things for you and will continuously be at your beck and call. A sense of importance surrounds you. Over time, the people go away – because they have their lives to lead, you see. But you stay in that depressive state – wallowing in self-pity. I am sure there are several other conditions for depression to set in and take control of your Life – doctors and professionals involved in its study and management will be better qualified to talk about this state than me. But, to put it simply, you get depressed when you don’t get what you expect or when what you don’t want comes to you.

The only way to deal with depression is to accept your reality – whatever it is. When you accept Life for what it is, you see it more clearly. That way, there’s no confusion. When you don’t accept reality, you are in a state of continuous conflict within you – why is this happening to me, why now, what if I lose everything I have gained, what if I die, what’s the point in living this Life that I don’t want…these and a zillion others thoughts will arise in you. The mind will go on reminding you to grieve, to pine and to hate what it is. But the moment you accept that this is it – it is what it is – none of those questions or feelings is relevant anymore. Accepting what is, really means being present in the now and knowing that you have everything that you need and deserve. There’s nothing missing or amiss. Everything – be it loss, failure, death, disease, pain, whatever – is just the way it should be. In this state of acceptance, in the now, in the present, the mind is powerless. It cannot take you into the future with worry nor can it hold you hostage in the past with guilt and grief. Which is why Life is really a mind game. If you can get your mind to be powerless, and learn to live with what is, then no loss, no failure, no depression can ever touch you. To be sure, they will all happen in your Life, depending on the events that occur through your lifetime. But you will be untouched!

Drop all comparisons to stop feeling jealous

While it is perfectly normal, thanks to the way we are raised, to be jealous of someone, carrying envy for a long period in you can be ruinous. Take heart though, there’s a way to work around jealousy!
Jealousy does not always express itself as a rabid, avaricious sentiment. Sometimes, it manifests as a subconscious, depressive pining for something you desire but don’t have and someone else has! At the root of all jealousy is the way we have been conditioned to think – which is to compare ourselves with others. Jealousy comes from comparison.. Somebody has better grades than you, someone’s got a better house or a better car or a more beautiful body or more money than you! Understand and recognize that each of us is unique. If someone’s got something that you don’t have, chances are that you have something that the other person doesn’t have. To keep comparing and keep prolonging this self-inflicted agony is meaningless. As long you keep on comparing yourself with others, you will feel jealous of them. Drop all comparisons and you will stop feeling jealous.
Instead of feeling guilty or agitated when jealousy wells up from within, we must learn to deal with it. Here’s how: Give the person who has what you desire all your love. Pray for the person’s continued success and joy. Say, someone has a better car than you, instead of longing for a similar car, wish that person safe drives and joyful rides …with the family! If you see someone happier than you are in a relationship, wish that person more peace, more happiness. If you find someone who is fitter or more good-looking than you are, fervently pray that the person stays the same way all their Life. Drive away the urge to pine and lust for what that person has – every single time that the urge arises in you!  Avoid the tendency to despise that person because you don’t have what she or he has – send the person some positive energy and your best wishes! Keep at this practice for three weeks and you will soon find your entire being in peace. When you are at peace with yourself, you are radiant and full of positive energy. Then others don’t matter to you. Only you – and how you feel – do!
So, don’t squirm when you feel jealous of someone the next time, just love whoever you are jealous of.

A Gift and a Blessing

Life is an eternal blessing, an endless course of abundance. We are not seeing this always because we are steeped in scarcity thinking!
Focusing on what we don’t have comes naturally to all of us. But for each thing that we don’t have or for each dimension of our Life where there’s something scarce, there’s a blessing, another aspect that’s soaked in abundance. For every dark cloud that hangs over us, there is the proverbial silver lining. To find it, we must just let go of our grief over what has happened and of what we don’t have, and simply survey what we have left with us. When we let go and learn to live with what we have we will immediately experience inner peace.
Some months ago, I had to sell my car. It was old and was breaking down far too frequently. There wasn’t money to either fix it or replace it with another car. We simply had to let it go. It was a difficult decision, having had a car for over 25 years, for as long as I have been independent and married. The question that confronted me – and my wife – was how would our daughter manage. She had never used public transport before. Not that she was spoilt by luxury. Hardly. But there had miraculously never been a need for her to take a bus or auto-rickshaw ever – to school or to her social outings or to college. We called her and updated her of our hard decision and predicament. We advised her to use autos for transport. To our surprise, she declined. She said she understood the situation we are in and so wanted to use train and bus for her commute. We tried explaining to her that since we was not used to either mode, she may find it difficult to cope with the crowds at rush hour. But she insisted that she wanted to give it a shot. We agreed that she would try for two weeks at which point we would review. In exactly a fortnight our daughter came back to declare that she was “comfortable and was settling in” with her new reality. She said it so simply, so responsibly and so convincingly that we did not feel like countering her with our parental anxiety and reasoning.

It was a beautiful moment of awakening and discovery for me personally. Here I was grappling with what I didn’t have – a car, and so was steeped in scarcity thinking, wondering how a child who had never ever used public transport would cope. And here was Life that had blessed me and my wife with such a wonderful daughter who not only had the maturity to accept our current reality – in which anything material, even a basic taken-for-granted gadget, device, instrument, machine or asset, is a luxury – but also had the sense of adventure to plunge head-on into an environment she was not familiar with. I don’t share this by way of self-congratulation or to praise my child, but I share to tell you how beautiful Life’s ways are. Our daughter (and son) fills our Life with abundance – this blessing far outweighs what we don’t have and what, perhaps, no longer matters!

Indeed. There’s so much abundance in us and around us. And not all of it is material or linked to money or to what money can buy. Most of it, in fact, can make us happier even if we didn’t have money or things with us. Someone I know, Madhuri Velegar, who used to write for Femina magazine from Bangalore, died of cancer a couple of days ago. A friend pulled out what she had written sometime back (on how she felt in her last days) and posted it on facebook: “…I got drawn into meditation. Almost daily I stared long at the Gulmohar tree and its flowers outside my house. I waited for sunsets, I sat under the morning sun, I worshipped the rain…” That’s the abundance that I am talking of.
Our lives are abundant too. Our sunrises and sunsets, the rains, the flowers, the birds, the love and warmth of our children and the companionship of our soul-mates, all these are available to us and are waiting to soak us in abundance. Provided, of course, we stop complaining about what we don’t have and instead celebrate what we have! When we do that we too will realize what a wonderful gift Life is and what a blessing it is to be alive!

Don’t leave home without a Hug and a Goodbye!

Every time you leave someone who matters to you, at home or at work, take an extra minute to say good bye, to hug even if you don’t always do. This minute costs nothing but can mean everything.
As the families of the 239 people who were on board MH 370 come to terms with their new reality, pronounced in an understandably painful, yet inevitable, way by the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday, we can’t but pause and reflect on how we want to live – and love – in the time that we have left on the planet. Death is a certainty – unavoidable and inescapable. In fact, it is the only certainty in Life. All of us know this. But we often still struggle to come to terms with it. And one of the reasons we struggle is because we, subconsciously, take it for granted that death won’t come calling on us or will not touch our lives anytime soon. It’s wishful thinking. It is steeped in the fallacy of imagining that we have all the time in the world. The reality is, we don’t. Now is the only time we have.
A cousin was dying of cancer. He struggled for many, many years. His wife was tending to him dutifully and compassionately, lovingly, all those years. Yet when he passed away, she said, her only regret was that she could not bid him a final goodbye. She was so caught up in rushing him to hospital as his vital parameters sank that when the end came, she was just dumbfounded. She perhaps still carries that regret. Think about it. If there’s so much regret when death and separation come announced and forewarned, then what happens when it’s sudden?
No, I don’t want you to think of death and separation each time you part with someone who matters to you or who you love. That’s morbid. Let’s think positive. Think lovingly. Learn to part carrying their warmth in you. And leaving some of yours with them.
And if there is a possibility of reconciling with someone you have had an issue with, reach out if you can, and if you believe your initiative will be accepted. And if a reconciliation is not possible, spend a minute praying and sending positive energy to that person daily. This is a simple, healing act. It will dissolve, over time, all acrimony in you.
Since 1975, American Express has run a very successful ad campaign, which is rated as among the world’s top campaigns of all time, that says: “American Express – Don’t leave home without them!”, first promoting their Traveler’s Cheques and then their Credit Cards. I believe it’s time now, in today’s rat race-ridden world, to run a global heat-warming campaign saying “Don’t leave home without a hug and a goodbye”! Life is too short to be spent ruing over something that you could have done but never did. Especially if it is something so simple, doable and meaningful like saying a goodbye and giving a hug!