When s#$t happens, forgive yourself, and move on…

Don’t be too harsh on yourself. It completely ruins your inner peace. If something goes wrong, get up, dust yourself, and move on!
The other day, I left the keys to my home in an auto-rickshaw. I was holding the keys in my hand as we were nearing my home when, I reckon, it must have fallen off unknown to me. It was only when I reached the door of my apartment that I realized I had lost the keys. Luckily, the driver is known to us, so I could summon him back to hand over the keys to me. But a wave of anger and guilt rose within me. I was angry with myself. I consider myself to be very organized and responsible. Already in so many areas of my Life, things are totally, bizarrely, insanely out of control. Each day is a tightrope walk. And now, in these challenging and difficult times, I have become disorganized and irresponsible? Just this thought made me very, very, very angry with myself. For several hours after the incident I remained disturbed. I had got my keys back, but I could not accept that “I” had “become” so careless.
Then, during my mouna (when I remain silent for some time each day) session, I thought through the whole event and experience. My response of anger and guilt was but natural. I could not have and I need be suppressing that natural reaction. But to continue to dwell on that sense of rage and grief, I realized, was futile. I reasoned that no one is or can ever be perfect. The act of missing the keys was but a metaphor. It reminded me that you do drop a few catches in the game of Life. This doesn’t mean that you don’t know how to play the game. It’s just that, momentarily, your concentration may have wavered or maybe the situation you are placed in got the better of you. I decided to forgive myself. And, instantaneously, I felt my inner peace was restored.
When we cause things to go wrong, or when things don’t go our way, in either case, let’s remember that the initial wave of anger and depression that sets in is normal. Don’t fight it, don’t resist it. Depression is like any other emotion. It will rise and subside on its own. In such times, as I did over my keys episode, and as I do often, quiet reflection helps. This period of solitude is important because, otherwise, the human mind will drag you into reasoning that everything is wrong with your Life. It will quickly connect several dots backward and justify to you that you are increasingly becoming inefficient and worthless. This is when the second wave of depression will drown you – in self-pity and remorse. This is what you must be very wary of. If unchecked, this wave can push you into a long depressive spiral, recovering from which can take a long, long time.
Remember: being human you will make a few mistakes. Treat each episode in isolation. When s#$t happens, forgive yourself and move on. Don’t see patterns where none exist. Watch your anger, with yourself or with the situation or with the one who caused it, melt away with reflection. It is only through these reflections that you realize the value of the inner peace that you have and are capable of having.  

“Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we’re opened, we’re red.”

The more we respect each other as human beings the more peaceful our inner and outer worlds will be.
Yesterday, I was sitting with a couple from Hyderabad. The husband, a close friend, who has been living in Hyderabad for decades now was telling me that he was considering moving out to another state. When I asked him why, he replied that post the formation of Telangana as a separate state (it comes into effect on June 2nd, Monday), anti-Andhra and anti-Seema sentiments are running very high. Since he hails from Andhra, he preferred to move to a more “accommodating, neutral” city. Honestly, while he was dead serious about his impending decision, I did not think much of it. But this morning’s Hindu’sPage 1 headline shocked me. It read: “‘Andhra-domicile’ staff can’t work in Telangana: KCR”. Obviously the reference is to Telangana Rashtra Samithi chief K.Chandrashekar Rao’s (KCR) threat to people in government jobs. But I am sure, as my friend and his wife fear, these divisive sentiments can impact general public too. In fact, according to them, they can already feel the hate and the heat. 
Just the other day, a friend’s facebook status, in the wake of the NaMo wave, read: “I feel ashamed and insecure of being an Indian Muslim today.”
In an increasingly connected world, thanks to technology and social media, I wonder why are we are allowing people to play up divisive politics? At the very basic level, can’t we not insist that everyone respects each other as humans? Now, if this is how people are going to feel about being who they are, obviously there is an urgent need to reach out be inclusive as nation. And that job, really, is not to be left to the politicians or to the government. We, the people, have to make an effort in our daily interactions and start a movement that thrives on, above all, being human first.
In today’s Hindu itself, interestingly, I found an inspiration from a source where one would least expect an attitudinal change coming from. The Vithal Rukmini Temple Trust, in Pandharpur, which functions under the Maharashtra government, has decided to allow, for the first time, women, and men from all castes, to be priests at the famous 900-year-old temple. The Trust’s Chairman, Anna Dange, told The Hindu: “For the first time, a temple is throwing open its doors to everyone. We thought it was time now for us to set an example. No group should claim monopoly for serving as priests in the temple.”
I believe there must be more efforts like Dange’s and his Trust’s. Each of us has to champion the message of equality and freedom for all to everyone in our circles of influence. For my part, I would like to leave you with this quote from Clive Barker, the famous American author and filmmaker: “Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we’re opened, we’re red.” Think about it. Irrespective of what we wear, what we do, how much we earn, where we live, who we pray to or what we are about, we are the same within – powered by a red blood and the same source of Life! Do we need any further evidence of our equal nature?

Never operate from fear – simply do whatever gives you joy!

Don’t be God-fearing. Be God-loving. That too, love the God, within you. Heed your inner voice. And do only what gives you joy.
My friend bought me a drink the other day. In fact, he bought me a few! But he did not drink. I knew he had had a problem with alcohol some years back. He had struggled to quit it for several years. In vain. Until, as he told me, “Sai Baba appeared in my dream and ordered me to quit.” So, he has been off alcohol all these years. I asked him if he was enjoying abstinence. He confessed that he hated it. But he said he was “scared of Baba’s wrath” if he violated the “order” and so he motivated himself each time to stay away. Which is why, he claimed, he often entertained friends so that he could have the “joy of being in a bar”. I told him, at the cost of sounding rude, that he may have got off alcohol, but he was still “alcoholic in attitude”. I said, “Don’t do anything out of fear. Baba may have given you the right direction – because you indeed had a drinking problem. But there’s no point fearing him. By doing that, you are only suppressing your desire out of fear that you will be otherwise reprimanded. Act freely. Drink responsibly, drink with awareness, and you will never overdrink. By abstaining, and craving, you are only creating a context for you to slip back, one day, when your resolve will break, let’s say when you are angry with yourself or the world or even with Baba, your suppressed desire will explode and you will hit the bottle again!”
My friend politely refused to take my advice. And I appreciate it. To each one their own.
I strongly believe that the human mind tries to trick itself by bringing the fear factor into play in most situations where individual actions require justification in a social context. The mind revels being gripped by fear – of someone or something. Fear of God, especially, is a convenient way to justify decisions relating to personal choice. In fact the whole issue of morality is debatable and is governed by this kind of fear. For instance, many believe that to have an extra-marital affair is a “sin” that “God will never forgive”. Some see eating non-vegetarian as sinful. Others think that drinking alcohol will tantamount to being disrespectful to their religion. And some think of women in their menstrual cycle going into the kitchen or prayer room as sacrilegious. My humble view is that morality is like body odor. It’s intensely personal. And if it is not dealt with properly, honestly, by the individual concerned, it stinks. Period. I don’t see any role for (an external) God to play in any of our human choices – especially those that are driven by our very human, sensory cravings! Therefore, if we drop this fear of an external God that’s in us, we will be free.
The only person you are answerable to is the one you see in the mirror. The only voice you must heed is the one you hear from within. When you operate from the core of loving whatever you do – be it drinking, be it eating meat, be it having an active sex Life with multiple partners, be it choosing to pray to a Higher Energy the way you want to and when you want to – you will experience a great inner peace. Because in doing all of that, and more, you are going with the flow of energy from within you, from your individual Godhead. It is only when you run scared that you run confused. Where there’s confusion, how can peace prevail?

A lesson in empathy from a national tragedy

Empathize, above all, with everyone. Even if you can’t help them in any other way, simply empathize.
This day, 23 years ago, Rajiv Gandhi, India’s former Prime Minister was assassinated in Sri Perumbudur, near Chennai. I was working as India Today’s state correspondent then.
A set of quirky circumstances that evening kept me away from proceeding to Sri Perumbudur, where then Tamil Nadu Congress heavyweight Vazhapadi Ramamurthi had agreed to let me meet Rajiv personally for a quick interview on the party’s poll prospects in the state (India was readying for elections to the Lok Sabha at that time). I heard of the assassination at 10.40 PM through a friend in The Indian Express, who called my landline at home. I called my editor Aroon Purie soon after and he did not make any bones about the fact that I had “blown a perfect first person account” of such a “huge story”. Journalists and media people are pretty much that way – news and story are above all else. Aroon and Rajiv were classmates from The Doon School, Dehradun – and they were also very close friends. But, despite his personal loss, Aroon focused on getting the best coverage of the assassination for India Today.
“I want you to salvage the story now. Get me every detail. Why and how did the security lapse happen? Who is responsible for this? What does the local state administration have to say? Get to the bottom of the plot – we must have the most exclusive coverage,” thundered Aroon over the phone, as I took down notes at an STD phone booth on Sardar Patel Road, near IIT, Chennai. (Please note: there were no mobile phones at that time and the landline at my residence did not have direct national dialling facility!). Rioting (by miscreants, in the garb of protesting against the assassination) had begun in the city as I navigated through much of it on my dilapidated Vijay Super scooter gathering information through the night.
The Rajiv Assassination Cover
I had promised to call Aroon every other hour. And I did. On the call, around 3 AM, he told me that he had withdrawn the magazine’s edition (India Today was a fortnightly then) which had gone to print and said the assassination story will now run on the cover. He told me that he had information that Sonia Gandhi was coming to Chennai in a special Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft with Priyanka to claim Rajiv’s body. “I want you on that plane come what may. Take pictures. I need the most exclusive coverage of this national tragedy in our mazagine,” he instructed me.
I didn’t then know where to begin. Get on a plane? Carrying Rajiv Gandhi’s body? With Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi? That too, an IAF plane? I was in my night clothes – pyjamasand kurta – I had no money on me other than a couple of hundred rupees.
I headed straight to the Raj Bhavan and met the then Governor, Bhishma Narain Singh. Journalists have both the instincts and the privileges to gate crash anywhere, anytime. I convinced him that he must help me get on that plane. I also got details of all the intelligence reports he had of the assassination. Governor Singh did not promise anything but asked me to show up at the airport at 5 AM. I managed to connect with our staff photographer, Shyam Tekwani, and we both reached the airport and talked our way through the heavy security cordon. Governor Singh, seeing us, talked to a senior IAF official. And much to the surprise – and angst – of other journalists gathered there, on the tarmac at the old Meenambakkam airport, the IAF officer waved to me and Shyam to go onboard.
We boarded the plane soon after Sonia and Priyanka did. As I entered the cabin, I noticed Sonia fasten her seat belt. She looked up at me, through the dark glasses she was wearing. I am sure she must have been surprised to see someone in night clothes! But she looked away, lost in her grief. Mid-way through the flight, Shyam peeped through the curtains that separated the area where Sonia and Priyanka were seated, and where Rajiv’s coffin was fastened to the floor of the plane, from our side of the aircraft. There were only three more passengers with us – then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Janardhan Reddy, the Gandhi family confidante R.K.Dhawan and an IAF doctor. I peeped over Shyam’s shoulder as he took pictures. Sonia had been sedated (the IAF doctor told me this) but Priyanka was sprawled on Rajiv’s coffin, which was draped in the national flag, and was crying inconsolably. Shyam took many, many pictures. No one stopped him. The tragedy was too big to think of anything else, I guess.
When we met in Aroon Purie’s office in Connaught Place, New Delhi, for an edit meeting later that afternoon (May 22nd), we gathered that Sonia had got wind of us being on that plane. She had also been told about Shyam taking all those pictures by R.K.Dhawan. It appeared that she had called Aroon personally and asked him not to publish those pictures or write details of that plane journey. I surmised that those pictures would now not be carried in the magazine.
I must admit I was upset. I was hardly 23 then. This was the BIG STORY of my Life. Being on a plane, carrying a former Prime Minister’s assassinated body, where no other journalist in India could even think of being was indeed big. And it now appeared that we were not going to run that story on the Gandhis’ moment of personal grief or carry those exclusive pictures?
Aroon read my mind perhaps. He simply said, “Above all else, let’s empathize with a wife who has lost her best friend and husband, and with the two children who have lost a father.”
I cannot claim I truly understood the value of being empathetic immediately, at that moment. But over the years, that perspective shared by Aroon, has helped me empathize better with people in difficult situations. All of us are so caught up with our work, and our worlds, we have no time to pause and think of how others are feeling. About what we are doing to them or about what they are going through. Someone’s gain is always someone’s loss. In some form or the other. And sometimes, it’s difficult to even imagine the grief of someone who has lost something valuable, unless you have been through a similar situation yourself. Learning to empathize with others is however something that can be developed over time and with experience.
Words cannot ever express empathy. But actions – a hug, a simple holding of hands, a moment taken to pause and be with that person – can. To be sure, being loving and compassionate takes a lot of doing. But being empathetic just requires being there and making an effort to understand someone’s pain and suffering. Maybe, someone needs your empathy just now?

Meant to be or not meant to be – accept both!

What is not meant to be, is not meant to be. Period. Such is Life!
Tejpal arrived late at his mother’s funeral
Picture Courtesy: Indian Express/Internet
Tarun Tejpal’s mother passed away in Goa on Sunday, May 18. Tejpal, who is in a Goa jail facing charges of allegedly raping his junior colleague, moved the Supreme Court on Monday, May 19, seeking interim bail for three weeks. The bail was granted late afternoon yesterday but the paperwork governing his release from jail took an awful amount of time. Resultantly Tejpal could reach the crematorium in Goa only an hour or so after his mother’s funeral pyre was lit by his younger brother Minty. When I read this story in the papers this morning, I just thought of the Family Tejpal. What would have been going on in Tejpal’s mother Shakuntala’s mind when she arrived in Goa to see her son, in jail, although her own health was so fragile – at 87, she was suffering from a brain tumor? What would have been Tejpal’s feelings over being unable to attend his mother’s last rites, despite the best lawyers in the country securing an order from the highest court of the land? The most ideal situation would have been that Tejpal did not do what he allegedly did in an elevator at the Hyatt, Goa, in November last year. Ideally too, it would have been best if he had been available to attend to his ailing mother. And ideally again, if none of that was possible, at least he could have made it on time for her last rites. But that was not to be. And that’s Life! Some things, however hard you may try, may simply not work the way you want them to.
It is important and relevant to know that we can’t always have everything in Life. Some things will remain elusive, incomplete or unfixed – forever. Our grief comes when we don’t accept this reality about Life. We think we must solve every problem, mend every relationship and fix every broken part of our lives. But that’s not the way Life works. There are many aspects of our lives where we cannot get answers to all our whys and why-me questions. Life does not offer any justifications or explanations ever. If we seek any, it will only cause our suffering. To be free of such suffering, the best way to respond to Life is take it as it comes. Whatever comes your way, embrace it. Don’t fight. Don’t resist. Just simply accept your Life, the way it is.
Intelligent living, simply, is about knowing what is meant to be, knowing what is not meant to be, and in accepting both!

Travel light – travel far and in comfort

The concept of good health immediately points to our physical condition. But many of us are carrying too much weight in our minds – excess emotional baggage, born out of past experiences and anxieties about the unborn future. Unless we offload them, we can’t make much progress in Life!
The human mind is always engaged in thoughts. It’s like a freeway. Thousands of thoughts keep coming on that freeway. And most of these thoughts pertain to anger, hatred, fear, insecurity, jealousy, grief, guilt, sorrow and very few deal with inner peace and joy. Resultantly, each day, we are carrying the excess emotional baggage of several debilitating negative thoughts. Just like a flight agent will charge you for excess baggage, you have to pay a price for your emotional baggage too in Life. And that price is through a challenged physical and/or mental condition – diabetes, hypertension, stress, depression, insomnia and what not!
The way to offload your excess baggage is to do two things: 1. When you wake up every morning focus your attention on the day ahead for a few minutes and remind yourself that you will not bring any of the past or the future into your day. 2. Before you go to bed focus your attention on a peaceful night’s sleep and remind yourself that you will not bring any of your past or the future into your night. This could include reminding yourself about anything that’s going on in your Life – from a relationship issue to a fear of someone or something that’s gnawing at you to anger over a business deal or an insult someone has heaped on you to anxiety over losing a job…whatever. Whether you pray daily or not (depending on your religious preferences), do this twice daily, religiously. Watch yourself slowly, over just a few days, anchoring in inner peace.
This practice is adapted from an ancient Zen story.
Two monks, one of them in his 60s and the other in his 20s, were once travelling together along a mountain road. A heavy rain was falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross a small stream that was overflowing. The current was ferocious. And obviously the pretty young thing was scared she would be washed away should she step into the water.  

“Come on, girl,” said the younger monk. Lifting her on his back, he carried her across the stream and set her down on the other bank.

 

The older monk was aghast at what had happened. Monks were not to touch women under any circumstances. He angrily crossed the stream and grunted several times to see if the younger chap would notice his discomfort. He did not speak again until late that night when they reached the monastery. He no longer could control himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he said. “It is forbidden by our monastery’s law. Why did you do that?”


“Sir,” said the young monk, “I left the girl there, by the riverside. Are you still carrying her in you?”

This lifetime is too short to be weighed down by emotional baggage. So, as much as you would focus on your physical health, focus also on losing, or offloading, the weight you carry around in your mind. When you travel light, you travel far, and travel comfortably!

Awaken the saint within with gratitude

Gratitude is magical. But only when we look back and see how far we have come in Life. Only when we look at our NOW and see what we have despite whatever we don’t have. And only when we look at tomorrow with a sense of hope.
Remember that even the ability to hope is not stemming from our own abilities. It is coming because we are blessed with that sense of hope by creation. I remember this definition of blessing somewhere. It goes somewhat like this: “If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than a million who will not survive the week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of five million people around the world. If you are able to walk around in your country without fear of harassment, arrest or torture of death, you are more blessed than several hundred million people in the world. If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the people in this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy. If your parents are still married and alive, you are very rare.” How true. It is this spirit that gratitude, or thanksgiving, celebrates.
Thanksgiving does not mean waiting for the last weekend of November each year to say your thanks for all that you are blessed with. Thanksgiving must be a daily celebration. Much as we postpone happiness, we postpone gratitude as well. We have in fact made gratitude conditional to our wants being met. I can be grateful if I get what I want, has become the excuse we subconsciously keep giving ourselves.
Remember that Life acts in ways beyond our comprehension. Yet every now and then you will find people who are grateful to Life for the opportunity they have to serve humanity. These are folks who rise above their current realities and problems and look at themselves as solution providers, enablers, who serve because another’s need is more than their own. If Mother Teresa is an ultimate example of selflessness, let us also know that there is a serving saint dormant in each of us. That saint within us will become awakened only when we practice gratitude. In the Bible, the disciple Paul instructs, “In everything we give thanks.” What he means is that it is impossible to know the outcome of each event in our Life. But if we remain grateful for each moment, each experience that we live through, we will find ourselves being happy and peaceful with whatever is.