Hiss when you must…!

Sometimes, you may have to be firm and tell some people off. In doing so, you are not being unkind or rude. You are simply responding to a situation that has been created by someone and which you intensely dislike.
This happens to all of us. Especially in close relationships. That people start taking you for granted. They intrude on your privacy. They want to have an opinion about everything you do. And they, if you are not wary, end up treating you like a doormat. You suffer them because you don’t want to be either petty – like them – or it’s not in your “intrinsic nature” to be “unkind” to people. Now, let’s get this right. There’s nothing “unkind” in asserting yourself so as to protect your inner peace and dignity. Whoever it may be – parent, sibling, child, neighbour, colleague or friend – no one, no one has the right to treat you in a manner in which you don’t like or don’t want to be treated. Period.
There’s an ancient story of the Buddha and a snake. A snake wanted to play with the children of the village. But every time he went near them, the children would pelt him with stones and hit him with sticks. They were scared he may bite them. The snake reached out to the Buddha when he was visiting the village: “O Merciful! Can you draw out my poison so that even accidentally I won’t harm the children. That way, over time, they will understand me and include me in their games.” The Buddha obliged. But the children, still in fear of the snake, continued to abuse and attack him. On the Buddha’s next visit to the village, the snake once again prostrated in front of him and asked him what to do. “Look at my body; I have so many bruises and it is very painful.” The Buddha replied, while patting the snake on his back: “My dear, I removed your poison so that you don’t, even accidentally, bite those children. But I never advised you not to hiss!”
So, hiss when you must. Just to put people in their place and to protect your inner peace.
Some of the situations Life places you in will also require you to fight for justice. Often with people who are supposedly close to you. Don’t get clouded by sentiments about close blood relations in such cases. I am not encouraging you to fight because it is the right thing to do. But what do you do when the situation created by people around you demands a firm – sometimes even legal – response? Don’t let your ego – in the garb of compassionate sentiments – come in between you and what you must do. Just do whatever you believe must be done in the interest of all parties concerned, without hatred, without anger, without any rancour.  
A friend of mine called to say how his older brother, with whom he shares the ownership of the family business, was making it almost impossible for both of them to co-exist and survive. “Neither is he accepting a separation of the business and the assets, nor is he allowing me to lead it and run it well, nor is he running it efficiently. We are bleeding losses month-on-month. He’s challenging me to fight him. If I fight him I can at least save half the family’s fortunes – for my immediate family and for my mother and sister. But how can I fight my own brother? I am not interested in any fight,” lamented my friend. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna: “Don’t escape from the war… because I can see this escape is just an ego trip. The way you are talking simply shows that you are calculating, you are thinking that by escaping from the war you will become a great saint. Rather than surrendering to the whole, you are taking yourself too seriously– as if there will be no war if you are not there.” Krishna says to Arjuna, “Just be in a state of let-go. Say to existence, ‘Use me in whatever way you want to use me. I am available, unconditionally available.’ Then whatsoever happens through you will have a great authenticity about it. It will have intensity, it will have depth. It will have the impact of the eternal on it.”
Such is Life. When you have to do something to ensure that your inner peace is not disturbed, you have to do it. And only you can do it. Do it also knowing, as Krishna says, that you are a mere instrument, a conduit for something that Life wants done through you! So, don’t fall short, don’t fight shy. If you don’t do what you must do in such situations, you will come in Life’s way and you will cause your own suffering. When you allow Life to flow through you, and you choose not to suffer, is when you are happy and in bliss.

Celebrate all the people who touch your Life

Every single person comes into your Life with a reason.
Some come to help you, some come to hurt you. Some love you and some hate you. Some lift you up and some let you down. Some stay with you and some leave. But never doubt that all of them are messengers, carrying Life’s lessons with them, for you to learn, evolve, grow and thrive!
We don’t see all of our lifetime’s encounters with people in this perspective because we constantly worry about those that don’t understand us or love us. We crave for their attention. Instead we must learn to look at the many, many more who actually do believe in us and are there for us. The best principle in Life is to stop expecting people to understand you or love you. On the other hand, know them and understand that they are messengers, who are teaching you how to live and experience Life, and love them for who they are.
At the age of 27, I was the Executive Assistant to one of India’s biggest takeover tycoons. I was based in Singapore. We used to work out of the famed Ritz Carlton Millennia hotel – I also had a room for myself there. One of the people that came visiting my boss was a lady called Hema. She was about 60 then. She decided to stay in Singapore for about a month. We had put her up at a hotel nearby. But she preferred hanging around at the Ritz Carlton. I particularly despised her. She was talkative and nosy. She tried to figure out what I was doing on an hourly basis and gave me, much to my dislike, unsolicited advice on how I must be working. Around the same time, my relationship with my boss had soured. He was always a difficult man to work with. He was very abusive and harassed me no end – making me work 22-hour days without a break for weeks on end. I was simply not enjoying my job. And over time, I had morphed from being an Executive Assistant to becoming a personal assistant. I once told my wife, over phone, from Singapore, “I just hate this job. Except buying him a condom, I am his Jeeves, for every other practical purpose.” But I ploughed on. I had two young children and a wife to support back in India.
Then, one day, perhaps because of the sheer volume of work I was handling, I lost my boss’ passport in a taxi (the passport was retrieved the next day as the Lost & Found service works efficiently in Singapore) as I reached Changi airport to check him in for a flight to Zurich he was due to take. He was to reach Changi in 30 minutes after finishing a meeting. When he came and realized what had happened, he bawled at me in front of all the passengers in the First Class check-in lane of Singapore Airlines. I felt humiliated. Later that evening when I got back to my room at the Ritz Carlton, Hema was sitting in the ante-chamber, which doubled up as our office. “Gosh,” I thought, “the last person I wanted to see!!” But when she enquired why I looked so beaten, I told her what had happened. She sat me down and made me some hot coffee. She said, “You are just my son’s age. So, please don’t mind me saying this. I think you are wasting your time here. You have the ability to lead people. And you are being treated like a doormat? I have been watching you over the past few weeks. You are sincere and hard-working. Perhaps, you should think about moving on. You should be close to your family, especially in the years that your children are growing up.”
What she said, made me think. Over the next couple of days, I quit my job. It’s been almost 20 years now. And in this time, I have rarely been unhappy with whatever I have done – no matter how difficult or daunting my job, at several times, has been. Interestingly, I have never met Hema after that time. I have tried to trace her – but despite facebook, I have not been lucky. I can only think of her as playing a crucial role in my Life – as someone who stepped in to deliver a message to me at a time when I needed it the most. She did that and she stepped back!
Remember that Life does not always link you to people that you want to be connected with. But it connects you, with the compassion of a Mother and the guile of a Master, with people that are part of a larger cosmic design! Your design, your Life’s road-map. People come into your Life and leave you to take you from point to point, on this road-map. On this journey, celebrate all the people who touch your Life, no matter who they are and irrespective of how they impact you, and remain eternally grateful for every encounter, every connection, every experience, every teaching and every lesson.

Face Life unconditionally and you can endure anything

Whatever happens just don’t give up on Life!
There will be times when Life will be very, very challenging. You will feel defeated and deflated. But don’t ever give up. Because the entire essence of Life is to face whatever comes your way. It is your conditioning that makes you want only what you want. You want comfort, care, compassion, love, good health, money and, perhaps, an easy Life. But there are no guarantees that Life’s going to grant all that you want. So, often times, you will have to encounter huge discomfort in your surroundings, neglect, hatred, misunderstanding, cashlessness, disease and a very, very tough Life. You will believe that it’s impossible to live such a Life. You would want a way to end all your suffering. And the way to do that is not to give up on Life, but to accept the way your Life is, face it and live in the moment.
Maya Angelou (1928~2014)
Maya Angelou (1928~2014), American author and poet, who passed way yesterday, said it the best: “‘You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.’ In fact, the encountering may be the very experience which creates the vitality and the power to endure.” Her Life itself is a testimonial to human endurance – she having been raped at the age of seven and having had to face rejection and untold hardships to survive for many, many, many years.
I have always found great solace whenever I reflect on this quote of Maya’s. It says everything about Life. So simply.  
I am reminded of a lesson that my guruswami (the one who leads a group of pilgrims) shared with me on my first pilgrimage to Sabarimalai (the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa in Kerala) years ago. He said that the climb was going to be very tough – it’s a distance of 5 kms up very steep (at one point up an almost 75-degree incline) hills, to be covered by foot. We would all suffer, he said, if we kept thinking of when the climb would end. “Instead keep your thoughts on the destination, with wanting to see the Lord. Feel the air in your lungs. Enjoy the scenery. Don’t think about the climb and you will be able to make it with great ease,” he advised. All your suffering comes when you think of what you are enduring and wish that you didn’t have to go through what you are going through. Instead feel the experience. Feel the pain, the sorrow, the uncertainty, the fear, the anxiety – feel everything without wishing it away. Through this continuous feeling, your ability to withstand anything, and endure, will be greatly enhanced. Your problems may not go away. But you will be able to deal with them better.
Life, I have understood, is just a string of experiences, from birth to death. As long as you do not impose conditions on what you are experiencing, at any given moment, no matter what, you can face it.

Slow down when Life slows you down

When you are pushed to a corner in Life by the cosmic design, the best thing to do is to not worry about it. Don’t even complain about being between a rock and a hard place. Just be happy you can breathe.
There are times in Life when the journey may become awfully slow. That’s really the time that Life is offering us to enjoy the scenery. But we don’t have the attitude to see it that way. Instead we are obsessed with the painful pace and miss the magic and beauty in our lives. The problem lies with the way we have led our lives so far. Running from event to event, crisis to crisis, trying to make ends meet, earning a living, busy working harder than ever before, meeting targets, paying bills, raising children and doing everything else except living__mindfully.

And then as often happens with Life, the game changes. We are put in a spot where we cannot move, check-mated, if you like. Could be a health issue, could be a career stalemate, could be a relationship tangle or could be a legal quagmire. In such times, there may be a tendency to worry and to wish__pray, plead, hope__that why can’t Life fast-forward, why can’t we get back to ‘normalcy’? So, if you are bogged down in an ICU, you wish you could be back in the hustle-bustle of everyday Life. Or if you are caught in the midst of legalese, you just are hoping, why don’t you win all your claims and are free to be away from all this disputing and arguing? Interestingly, Life’s not a handmaiden that will do what you please. It just may not move and you can do nothing about it. There is no fast-forward button in Life. In such a time, be happy you can breathe. Because being able to sense your breathing is normal. Running so hard that you don’t even have the time to notice you are breathing, is NOT normal. Imagine you are climbing a steep mountain in a vehicle. As it negotiates the sharp hair-pin bends, the engine is finding the going tough. So, the vehicle is down to an agonizing crawl. Now, you can worry about that pace and concentrate on the dreary drone of the engine, or you can look out the window and see what the scenery looks like. This is what enjoying the scenery is all about. “Smile, breathe and go slowly,”advises Thich Nhat Hanh (also called ‘Thay’), a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. “Sometimes your joy can be the cause for your smile, and sometimes, your smile can be the cause for your joy,”he adds. Just being mindful of your being alive__to experiencing whatever you are going through, be it pain, be it joy__is what can make the slowdowns in Life more meaningful. Do all the things that you can joyfully in whatever state you find yourself. And don’t worry about what you can’t. If you are immobilized by a health issue enjoy the ‘grounding’ with a family member who is nursing you; pining to be able to run around will only cause agony. If you are cashless enjoy being able to live without money; hoping you had money will only aggravate your suffering. If you are caught in a relationship problem where there is much misunderstanding, enjoy practicing patience and forgiveness; craving for understanding from the other person may only accentuate your pain. Thay champions mindful living as a cure to all our ailments coming from merely existing. “Life is available only in the present moment. Even drink your tea, slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world, the earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future,”he says.

Slow down when Life slows you down. It is only when you go with Life’s pace and flow, that you truly experience the magic in, and live, each moment!

Be unruffled, be who you are

Don’t bother about what others have to say about you. Let them say what they want to. You simply be yourself.   
Dr. Manmohan Singh and Ms.Gursharan Kaur
at NaMo’s swearing-in ceremony
Picture Coutesy: Internet
Yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi and his team was indeed a great moment in Indian history. Such a grand, peaceful transfer of power in the largest democracy in the world – it made me feel very proud as an Indian. I was particularly inspired by the outgoing Prime Minister (PM) Dr.Manmohan Singh’s demeanor. He was cool, calm and cheerful. The whole nation had ridiculed him and continued to do so, even as the live TV telecast of yesterday’s ceremony was on. For instance, Suhel Seth, socialite and strategic brand advisory Counselage’s founder, thundered on NDTV, “For God’s sake, for 10 years, we had a PM who did nothing!”. Such exaggerations have been a consistent feature of all political commentaries during Dr.Singh’s tenure as PM. Yet, barring a couple of times, Dr.Singh has never deemed it necessary to clarify. I am not here to moderate a debate on whether Dr.Singh was an effective PM or not, or appraise whether he fell abysmally short on communicating with the people of India, or even comment on whether his leadership of the various crises his government and the country faced was good enough. All I am seeing as a learning here is that he remains unruffled by others’ opinion of him. To the extent that he graciously participated in the handover of his office – without even letting a glimpse be evident of the gloom that has enveloped his party and erstwhile council of ministers, thanks to the mauling they received in the just-concluded elections.
Now to be able to stay true to yourself – no matter what others say – well, that’s a phenomenal quality.
Contrast this with how sometimes you – and I – get bogged down by others’ opinion. In fact, if you observe yourself closely, you are most of the time working hard to conform to  other people’s opinions of you. What you wear, where you live, what you drive, where you dine – everything is dictated by a societal norm and you, just as everyone else, fears any deviation.
Some years back I met a Sanskrit scholar and yogi, attached to one of the five seats of vedic learning in India. He knew I had worked at one time with India Today. He wanted to know if I could help him get into the “famed” ‘India Today Power List” that the magazine brings out annually. Now, here was a man, whom ministers feared. Actors and industrialists revered him. Yet, he was craving to be in listed in a social pecking order? I asked him why. He replied, “Saar, it doesn’t matter who I am. What matters is who I am compared with.” This is what’s happening to everyone. The Times of India this morning carries a story titled: “Who sat where; the ‘other’ pecking order” – in reference to where celebrities sat among the 5000-member audience at Modi’s swearing in. Apart from personal comfort – of either viewing or traveling – it does not matter where you sit in an event or an auditorium or on a plane. To me, most of the 5000 people in attendance at the Forecourt of the Rashtrapathi Bhavan yesterday were uncomfortable – sheerly because of their choice of clothing. In the 38-degree-plus heat of a summer evening in Delhi, people were wearing suits and bandhgalas and silks sarees and full-sleeved designer clothes. These people would have been better of thinking about how they were feeling than worry about where they were seated!
Indian society, in particular New Delhi’s power class, holds you hostage to pride and prejudice. You become the dumping ground for people’s opinions of you. You then try to be many things to many people. And, in the process, sadly, lose your own identity. People praise you, praise you dress sense, applaud you for where you live – and immediately you have become a victim. You are now a hostage to their opinion. You cannot live any other way. Then, as will always happen in Life, your business fails or you lose something – power or position – and people don’t want to have anything with you. And you start grieving that loss of social acceptance more than what you have lost in real terms. You are driven by what other people think of you than who you really are. This way you have become society’s slave, imprisoned by your own insecurities and craving for social acceptance!
But the one who does not think much of others’ opinions is free. Such a person is fearless of societal branding – aware that just as when society can pin a label, an opinion – let us say enormous praise over something genuinely well done – it can also take off the label when there’s a drop in performance. Pretty much, perhaps, like in Dr.Singh’s case. Neither success nor defeat affects such a person. Nor does praise or criticism. Such a person always responds to all that is said – good, bad, ugly – of him or her with a, “Thank You! It does not matter. I am who I am.” This equanimity is what leads to inner peace!

Stop wanting to have, simply be!

There is no method to living intelligently. The key is to live, fully, simply “being”.   
There are two ways you can live. Either you can live “possessing” or you can live “being”. Most of us are the “possessing” kind – we are constantly in search of having this or having that. All our having is about having worldly things. It’s focused on material wealth – money, house, car and such. But when you have all the things, chances are you could still be seeking “something” and feeling “empty”. Your Life is full of things, yet you feel an emptiness, a void. But the one who lives “being” – loving what is, being content with what he or she has, that person, feels inner peace and joy. That person understands himself or herself, the true Self, and is possessed by nothing.
A statue of Diogenes and Alexander
in modern-day Corinth, Greece
There’s a story of a meeting between Diogenes (404 BCE ~ 323 BCE), the Greek philosopher, and Alexander the Great (356 BCE ~ 323 BCE). It is said that Diogenes, in his quest for inner peace, had renounced everything. He was like a “fakir” – possessing nothing, except a bowl for drinking water. Then one day he saw a dog drinking water from the river and threw away even his bowl, saying he didn’t even need it from then on!
Alexander came to meet him one day, when Diogenes was bathing in the sunshine by the riverside, and asked him if he, as an Emperor, could do anything for him.
Diogenes said, “Yes! Please step out of the way of the sunshine that is bathing me. Thank You!”
Alexander asked Diogenes what was the point behind doing whatever he was doing.
Diogenes asked him the same question: “Why are you doing what you are doing – conquering the world?”
Alexander replied: “So that, when I become the world’s ruler, when I have the world at my feet, I can rest by a riverside just like you – in peace”.
Diogenes laughed. He said, “That you can do right away. You don’t need to conquer the world for you to do that. Look, this riverbank is wide enough. You can share it with me. And be peaceful. I find your idea stupid that you want to conquer the world and then rest in peace. Look at me, I have conquered no world and I am at peace. So can you!”
In that nanosecond, Alexander, being the intelligent person that he was, grasped the essence of intelligent living. He said, “I agree. But I have come this far in Life. Now, I can’t go back without conquering the rest of the world.”
At least Alexander had the humility to accept the futility behind all his conquests. And before he died, his “awakening” – thanks to his encounter with Diogenes – led him to tell his ministers that his hands should be kept out of his coffin so that people could see that “Alexander the Great came empty-handed and went empty-handed”.
By interpretation, Diogenes is telling you – and me – too that to be clinging on to possessions, to be possessed by what you have – whether it is knowledge or ego or humility or wealth – is futile. You can be absolutely free when you simply be. You may have nothing worldly, but you will have an aura that can touch and energize everyone around you. That kind of energy comes from within. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “The Kingdom of God is within you”. The power of such a person does not come from things. Those who are driven by things and accumulating – power, position, property, titles – are, logically, powerless without them. But, as Diogenes’s story teaches us, the one who has nothing, commands great respect and has a great power, to even transform the Greatest Emperor!
You and I don’t have to renounce what we have. We don’t have to be another Diogenes. Let us be ourselves. But let us also stop wanting to have more and more. Instead, let us learn to simply be – happy and content with what is. That’s when we too will be soaked in inner peace!

Surrender to the Cosmic Design

It is important to let Life’s design take care of you instead of you trying to control that design.
This does not mean inaction. This means insightful action. This means acting with a deep awareness of the nature of Life. That everything is transient. That you must live flowing with Life. This is what living intelligently really means. It means to be live spiritually. To be spiritual does not mean you must not live well. Spirituality, in fact, makes no demands on you. There is no need to abstain from anything, no need to propitiate any Gods, no need to observe any rituals and no need to give up anything compulsorily. Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. An awakening that teaches you how to live in this world and yet be above it.
When we are merely acting on Life, we are actually reacting. When we are acting with insight, we are actually meaningfully, purposefully responding to Life’s every move, every hue. That’s the only way to live in this world, face all its challenges, and still be above the world, and unmoved by those very same challenges. Only if you can prevent death, can you control Life, can you attempt to change its design for you. Without the ability to control death, controlling Life is like trying to grab and hold water in your fist__it is, well, improbable, impractical and impossible! The truth also is that, when you look back at your Life so far, you can’t but agree with the way your design has evolved. Every success, every tragedy, every opportunity, every loss, while it didn’t make sense as it unfolded or happened, appears to have so perfectly fallen in place, so sweetly timed.
So, surrender yourself to the cosmic design and flow with Life! Only then can you wear the Life it weaves for you on your sleeve!