The power of, and in, acceptance

When you accept things and people for what they are, it does not necessarily mean you approve of them that way. Acceptance leads you to inner peace – and that, if you really want to, helps you to work on changing the way people and things are.
Let’s say you have been trying to deal with someone who has a drinking problem – a parent or partner or sibling or colleague or friend. You have tried to counsel, inspire, dictate and plead with that person to give up drinking. But all that has been in vain. Now, accepting that person for who he or she is, the way he or she is, will definitely help you be peaceful with yourself and your current reality in matters concerning this person. But will your evolved, “accepting” nature, seem like a sign of approval and invite more of such “unreasonable” behavior by the person concerned? Well, it really will not if you ensure that your acceptance of the situation – of having to deal with an alcoholic in your Life – is not seen as sign of your approval of alcoholism as an act. Your acceptance is for you to see things, and people, the way they are. When you are fighting a situation, you are hoping things will change dramatically by your mere resistance. But some situations – like reforming an alcoholic, fixing a broken relationship, turning around a failed business – take a lot of time. No situation or reality can be turned around by resisting it. It is only through accepting a situation, that you can understand its contours with total clarity. It is only by seeing a situation clearly that you can work on solving it.
Of course, sometimes acceptance can lead you to total detachment too. We had a friend who, over time, became an alcoholic and wasted himself completely. His wife loved him dearly and tried her best to wean him off the bottle. But he was unable to give up drinking. Initially, his wife grieved a lot. But then she learned to accept her reality, learned to accept her companion for the way he was, and, in fact, cared for him compassionately, as he was struck by cirrhosis of the liver and had to spend months in hospital. He eventually died, felled by his ruinous habit! When we visited her, she had this to say: “I had tried everything that I humanly could. When I realized that I could not change him anymore, I simply became accepting of him the way he was. I saw him die. But while he was in hospital, I did everything I again could to care for him. My acceptance of the situation gave me tremendous inner peace. There was no grief anymore. Just peace.”
Acceptance works in all situations and with all kinds of people. You can use acceptance to work on finding a solution to whatever you are faced with or practise detachment if a solution evades you. Importantly, acceptance is what makes you peaceful. When you are at peace with yourself and your world you can make more informed, intelligent choices. It is through such choices that you can live the Life that you truly want. When you live a Life that you love, you cannot but be happy – despite the circumstances that you find yourself in!

To meditate is to immerse yourself in whatever you do

The true meaning of meditation is to immerse yourself totally in whatever you are doing. To just be.
Meditation therefore is immersion. Contrary to popular notion, to meditate you don’t need a room, a pre-arranged environment or music or solitude or even quiet. You can immerse yourself in whatever you are doing __ cooking, reading, singing, cleaning, playing golf, gardening, carving fruit, walking….whatever, and you will find yourself meditating. As the Buddha discovered and taught, meditation is not an activity in itself but it is concerned with our alertness while doing any action. Meditation means to add awareness and alertness in our actions. Which is why immersion is a better word to describe the meditative state. For instance, when you are immersed in reading an unputdownable book, you may miss hearing the telephone ring or someone at the door. Surely, this has happened to you more than once in your Life. It would be fair to conclude that at such times you are meditating on or are immersed in something. Now, therefore, a pre-condition for immersion is always joy.
Only when you enjoy something, do you immerse yourself in it. For instance, if you ask a teenager to clean up her room or do the dishes, she’s going to be grumpy. But let her read her favorite piece of fiction or listen to her favorite music or allow her uninterrupted access to facebook and you are unlikely to find her unhappy even momentarily. What gives you joy could be anything __ a poem, a dance, music or a painting. It could even be just watching the traffic crawl from your window or feeling the waves crash into you on the beach. Wherever there is joy, chances are you will feel timelessness, a certain oneness with whatever you are experiencing. That oneness state is meditation.
Joseph Campbell (1904~1987), American author and mythologist, famous for his ‘Follow Your Bliss’ philosophy, says he was inspired greatly by the Hindu Upanishads. His rationale is powerful in the context of our learning today. He declared: “Now, I came to this idea of bliss, because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.”
So, immerse yourself in what you love, be in a rapturous state always, just being; your eternal meditative threshold will be eventually attained!

Don’t interfere with Life

Ending your Life is not a solution to the problems you face! Suicide is a very selfish act – while it may end your physical tribulations, it may just begin a whole new set for those people who love you, depend on you and believe in you!
This morning’s papers had a shocker. Murli Mohan, 54, whom the entire film, TV and advertising industry in Chennai knows as “Horlicks Uncle”, had committed suicide yesterday. He had become famous after he did a few television commercials, directed by ace filmmaker Rajiv Menon, for Horlicks several years ago. Mohan was known to us – our son had acted with him in television commercials for Milka Wondercake and TVS Motors, over 15 years ago. We remember Mohan as a cheerful person and as a thoroughbred professional. Today’s papers said he had been depressed because he had been out of work for over six months now. I was deeply saddened by the news, more so, for the reasons that were being attributed to Mohan taking that drastic step of ending his Life.
This Life we have is a gift. None of us have asked to be born. Yet we have been born. And that is the gift, this lifetime, that we must learn to cherish and celebrate. None of us has the right to take away what is not ours. And this Life is not our creation – it is just a gift. So, let Life take you wherever it takes you. You simply flow with it. And let it end, when it must, and when it will, and you see the end – if it can be called one, that is – whenever it comes.
Interestingly, had he lived, today would have been R.D.Burman’s (RD, Pancham) 75th birthday. He was a genius. Someone who ruled the roost in Bollywood for 20+ years. Yet in the last decade of his work, he found work difficult to come by. Studios and producers – the same people who had waited in queues to sign him up earlier in his career – shut their doors on him. RD became depressed. And died, of a heart attack, beaten and side-lined. Yet, despite his depression, despite the rejection and humiliation, he did not give up. Every day, he made a fresh attempt to resurrect his career. It was one such effort that led to his meeting Vidhu Vinod Chopra and the making of 1942 – A Love Story, a film that won him a Filmfare award for Best Music Director, posthumously. Today, the same world, which once rejected him, holds RD’s memory on a divine pedestal and worships the man, his genius and his music!
Such is Life. Just a series of ups and downs, highs and lows. You – and I – have to face each of them stoically and with equanimity.
A friend famously remarked once, in the context of my bankruptcy and my inability to pay back my loans, “Someone who cannot keep up his commitments, especially with regard to money borrowed from people, has no business to live.” Indeed, one’s self-esteem gets punctured in such grave contexts like joblessness or cashlessness or any other. You may tend to conclude that it is futile to live. Yet, I firmly believe that low self-esteem does not give us the right to resort to a selfish act – suicide. Suicide may end your Life, but will make that of everyone around you miserable. Is that what you really want – for others to suffer at your expense? Motivation is an inside job. No one can help motivate you but yourself. In my case, I am blessed that my wife is by my side – walking with me, every step of the way, however treacherous the path may be. So, every day, we both wake up with a resolution to work harder to put our Life and business back on track. Every night we retire with the hope that the next day will be better and will bring with it a new beginning and a new opportunity. This is how we sustain our inner peace, our focus and our commitment to Life, to our family and to our creditors – one day at a time!
An unputdownable lesson that Life has taught me is this: Don’t interfere with Life with your whys, why mes, why nows? Just live with what you have, do what you can in the given situation to the best of your ability and savor each experience. Life will sort itself – and you – on its own, over a period of time!

No Rights, No Wrongs, Only Learnings!

Don’t struggle with making Life decisions – career or relationship choices and such. Go with what you want to do the most and what you can do the best! You will either pull it off. Or you will not. Either way, you will learn!
A young friend is a brilliant musician. But his parents wanted him to pursue an academic degree. So, he parked his music career aside and completed a Master’s Program. Now, he’s employed and is looking to re-start his music career but his folks – and extended family – want him to apply for a better-paying job in the US and migrate as soon as possible. The young chap is vexed. He believes next they will insist that he gets married. “And that will be the end of my music career,” he bemoans.
I asked him why he didn’t think it was possible that he could just do what he wanted to do. “I am not sure I will be successful with music initially. There won’t be money in it as I begin. And my folks warn me that if I realize later that I cannot be a successful – and well-earning – musician, my professional career too, which is starting-up smoothly now, may stand derailed,” he confessed.
I asked him if he enjoyed his “professional job”. And he replied that he didn’t quite: “It is dull and monotonous. I know I will never be happy working at it.” And what about his music, did he enjoy playing and making music? “Oh! Totally! I don’t even know it when I am playing. I just lose myself. I am happiest when I playing or composing music,” he exulted.
I did not force my opinion on my young friend. I simply suggested that he must pursue what gives him joy, what he’s deeply passionate about – which is music. And that he must focus on becoming a world-class player. Money, I said, will come on its own when his music touches lives and creates waves!
Undoubtedly, there are many in my young friend’s shoes. Maybe not all of them are faced with a career dilemma. Some are dithering on relationship decisions as well. All I have to tell anyone who’s torn between “what’s right and what’s wrong” – as a decision – is to do whatever they feel is the best for them. Which again is defined as what gives them happiness. Nothing is wrong. Nothing is right. What we call as a great decision that resulted in us getting or doing something valuable, is really an amazing confluence of place, time and opportunity. So, when a decision works for you, you learn what to do! And what we call a mistake is the same__a combination of place, time and opportunity__this time to learn about what not to do.
When we let go of our fear and insecurity that our decisions may be wrong, and let go of our need to be right every time, we will find inner peace, happiness and success – in that order!

Life’s Masterplan for you has no flaws!

If you are still alive means you will survive to tell the tale.
Many times in a Lifetime, you encounter situations when you say you cannot go on. That you would much rather die than undergo this ordeal called Life. That you want to give up. When every door seems shut on you, when darkness engulfs you, when you see no way out and you are in the throes of despair and fear, check your pulse. Listen to your heart beat. Hear yourself breathing. If you are alive, it means it is not over yet. Stop looking for external signals for hope and revival. Look within. You will find the light of your soul as blinding in its radiance as it is comforting. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” said Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th Century German philosopher and poet. Know that this is true. This is what Life is all about.
Marco on the left, in white, and Tash at the extreme right
Picture Courtesy: MasterChef  Australia Season 6 website
I am not a serious MasterChef Australia watcher on TV. But I am glad I watched a recent episode of Season 6 of the show. Celebrity British chef, Marco Pierre White, 52, was the guest judge that week. The Guardian has called Marco kitchen’s enfant terrible and one part Hannibal Lecter (a fictional character who is a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer in a series of suspense novels by Thomas Harris) and one part Yoda (a fictional character, a powerful Jedi Master, in George Lucas’ Star Wars universe). Marco has been dubbed the godfather of modern cooking, having been the youngest chef to have ever been awarded three Michelin stars. With Marco prowling around the MasterChef kitchen the three contestants that evening were obviously nervous beyond description. One of them, who did not make the grade, would be eliminated from the contest that night! They were to make one of Marco’s own signature dishes, a roast pigeon ravioli, based on his own recipe and serve it back him and the other three judges! They had to do this in an incredible 60 minutes. As the 60 minutes ticked away, Tash Shan, 27, a social media manager from the Australian Capital Territory that includes Canberra, was aghast that she had not finished the dish per Marco’s recipe. So, there she was, at 60 minutes, with a dish which, in her opinion, was “incomplete”.
When she presented her “incomplete” dish to the judges, Marco asked her how she was feeling. “I feel I have lost this contest and that I will be sent home,” replied Tash.
Marco asked, his eyes piercing Tash like a dagger: “Do you really want to go home or do you want to stay in the contest?”
Tash replied: “I want to stay in the contest so badly. There’s so much to learn. I can’t afford to go away now.”
Marco, with a shake of his head, said (what I recall to be this): “Whenever you reach a dead-end in Life, when you think you can go no more, you must not give up. You must never call it quits. You must get up, dust yourself and move one. This is as true about cooking as it is about Life. Every experience teaches you something. Focus on the experience, focus on the learning from it, and don’t really bother too much about the result!”
Tash survived that episode. But more importantly she learnt a big, big Life lesson from a Master. Marco’s message is applicable to all of us too. This Life isn’t about winning or losing. It isn’t about acquiring and owning, gaining and securing, material assets. If at the end of the day, you have had a million experiences in a lifetime and have learnt from each of them, you are the biggest millionaire around! It is through the experiences that we are put through that Life will mold us and make us into a flawless piece of work to fulfill a larger cosmic design, a Masterplan.  And remember, Life’s Masterplan for each of us has NO FLAWS!

Genuine teachers are fellow voyagers – they teach you how to face Life!

When you don’t know what to do, when you feel the most vulnerable, do what gives you inner peace – as long as it won’t hold you hostage in the long run.  
When you go through crisis in Life, or when you start searching for meaning in Life, often times people or practices or movements or communities will come your way. They may have always been there – but it is only through being in a crisis that you may notice them! Just being with such people will give you immense inner peace in the face of all the chaos and turmoil around you. In fact all the anxiety and suffering within you will subside in their presence. And you will want to explore that path, the one that’s helping you anchor within, more. But people around you will warn you that such influences are ‘evil’; they will say that you have lost it or that you will be cheated or that you are headed in the wrong direction. Employ a simple rule of thumb: if you are finding greater inner peace in doing what you are doing, simply do it! I am not championing escapism – through drinking alcohol or doing drugs. I am suggesting exercising a mature, aware choice that helps you gain inner peace.
It is normally through a crisis, or from a sense of listlessness, that the search for the meaning of, and for meaning in, Life begins. This search may lead you to places of worship, to the scriptures, to spiritual Gurus, to a deep study of religion, to practices such as transcendental meditation or yoga, to communities like ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) or to self-help groups that use the scriptures or psychology-based methods and practices for healing and anchoring within. Normally, you end up trying several of these and then choose the one that works for you. And it is not necessary that your choice, your path, may the one chosen for someone else in your same situation. For instance, I know some who became a Buddhist when she wanted to get over her mid-Life career crisis and then decided she needed “no religion” to live her Life. Someone else, a Hindu, in the same situation, found great value in the teachings of Jesus Christ and embraced Christianity. Another person we know, who has a special child, is a devout follower of Swami Sathya Sai Baba. While someone else follows the teachings of Jaggi Vasudev. Each of us has a unique way of making sense of Life. And each person encounters and chooses as catalyst that someone or religion or practice that supports his or her journey the best. Yes the world is full of people who take people for a ride and try to capitalize on their vulnerability. But not all Gurus are crooks and no religion is flawed – just the way religion is practised today is questionable!
But I believe I am blessed. Because I have met only the most wonderful people in Life. Their experiences and their wisdom have contributed to my evolution in no small measure. I have understood that all the scriptures, all the religions, all the teachers and all the Gurus champion the same lesson – Live in the moment and live Life to the fullest! They may speak different languages, they may show different approaches, but the message is the same. So, there really is no problem if you use religion or if you follow a Guru to arrive at that awakening, to learn to live Life without worry and simply be!
The problem arises when you expect others to solve your problems! This is where you get waylaid. This is where the charlatans thrive and operate. This is how your vulnerability is leveraged. No one can solve another’s problems. Every problem, every crisis, every grief, every event of pain and loss has to be faced and gone through in Life. Genuine teachers are fellow voyagers – just like you and me. They have no magical powers. They will not tell you that they can solve your problems. They will only teach you how to deal with a problem. They will help you evolve and mature into a stronger person. In their company, from their teachings, through their grace, you will learn the value of letting go, the power of acceptance and the meaning of just being.
Whoever you choose to guide you, lead you, follow them or embrace such a practice only if it helps you anchor within, with inner peace. Because only when you are peaceful within that you can deal with the chaos and crisis outside!

People are – and will be – different from you!

Don’t expect everyone to be like you and to agree to everything you say or do. Simply accept the diversity in people around you! 
Last evening I watched Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (Ayan Mukerji, 2013, Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone) one more time. In one scene in the movie, Padukone, while examining her relationship with Kapoor, tells him: “Tum galat nahin ho; bas mujhse alag ho!” It means: “You are not wrong, you are just different from me!” I thought that’s a wonderful way to relate to people that we have relationships with.
Much of your strife in relationships comes from wanting people to understand you, from wanting them to see your point of view and from wanting them to agree with you on everything. Now, this isn’t really ever going to happen. So we go on piling this impractical, unreasonable expectation on people around us and, therefore, we continue to wallow in grief and suffering when our relationships fail.
I have learnt this lesson the hard way. Initially, I used to have a huge problem in an all important relationship with my own mother. This caused me enormous grief and inner strife. But when I learned this lesson, I found my whole attitude change to one of acceptance – of our diametrically opposite ways of looking at and dealing with Life and of our different outlooks to how it must be lived. The day I stopped wanting to be right and stopped demanding that only my view be respected, I became peaceful. When I made my peace – over the way things were – I discovered how simple Life really is. I realized that we complicate it by expecting people around us to be a certain way.
Every relationship, in fact any relationship, is stressed when we try to apply labels of right and wrong or impose dos and don’ts to whatever’s happening in it. The best way to avoid that stress is to accept that people are, and will be, different. That there’s no right or wrong – there’s just a different point of view. And through such a simple, relatable framework, you build and sustain beautiful, ever-evolving relationships.

The futility of being in a road battle

Be wary of what battles you choose to fight and where. Sometimes, the pettiness of things – and people – may just drain you completely.
This morning we were caught in a traffic hold-up. Apparently, a car, some distance ahead of us, had jammed the brakes to negotiate a speed-breaker. The car right behind it, naturally could not stop in time, and so it ended up ramming the first car in the rear. The impact left an ugly dent on the bumper of the first car and a broken headlight in the car that rammed into it. Both drivers were out on the street, holding up the traffic, and pointing their middle fingers at each other. It was, as you can imagine, quite a sight.
I believe, if you consider the situation on our roads both practically, and based on facts, having a “dentless” vehicle is impossible in an Indian context. The newer the vehicle, the more the chances of it “acquiring” a dent. I remember, the first time I owned a sedan, the good ol’ Maruti 1000, I had taken it for a poojaat a Ganesha temple in our neighborhood. No sooner was the arathi over, a scooterist rammed into it because his brakes didn’t work properly when he was trying to park beside my brand new beauty! I was aghast. And agitated for weeks after the incident. The second sedan I acquired, was also a Maruti, an Esteem. And I dented it while parking at a restaurant on the first day after I took delivery of the car from the dealer – I had decided to take the family out for a spin to “celebrate” the arrival of our new car! The second time I did not grieve as much. The third time I bought a new car I don’t even remember how the car got dented – but I do know it had quite a few all over!
I have learnt that road rage is the biggest contributor to disturbing our peace on a daily basis. Someone cutting the lane, someone speeding past on the wrong side, someone breaking a traffic light and forcing you to slam your brakes, someone driving into you on a one-way, pedestrians darting across in your path suddenly or someone just mindlessly ramming into your vehicle – all these and more tend to make your blood boil. But expecting civility, politeness, concern for the other and respect for traffic rules, in the current Indian context, is the first and the primary reason for all our misery on the road. Just drop all expectations. If your vehicle is damaged, and the damage is not too serious, simply drive on. Or if you must, follow the process and make an insurance claim. If your vehicle is damaged badly, make that insurance claim. Period. There’s no point wagging your middle finger and arguing with, often times, an intemperate fellow citizen! The debate, as to who was at fault, will be endless.
The simple truth is there are far too many vehicles on Indian roads than what our roads are built to carry. The situation doesn’t seem to get any better. Blowing your fuse every time you use the road is only going to keep you on the edge. And each time you use the road you can be assured of either being party or witness to at least one episode of road-stupidity or an accident. So, unless you learn to keep your calm and move on, you will be hopping mad.  Your hopping mad can fix no dent. Nor can it cure irreverent and insensitive fellow road users. To protect your own inner peace, you must choose your (road) battles wisely. In fact, choose none. Just take a deep breath and keep driving, or walking!

Life lesson from a mismanaged bar counter

As long as you accept what comes your way, you will be always at peace with and in Life!
Last evening, we were at a pre-wedding reception of a good friend. It was a well-choreographed evening of music and dance. And, of course, drinks and some exquisite gourmet food. As the evening progressed and the Manganiyars from Rajasthan took the audience on a spiritual high with some soul-stirring Sufi music, the bar ran out of wine. What had been on offer was red wine from Australia and California, white wine from Italy, and domestic beer. It appeared that the people managing the bar had wrongly estimated the inventory required for the evening. For some time, there was chaos at the bar counter. But the guests, obviously, given the occasion, did not make this inadvertent aberration a big issue. Soon, the bar started serving some cheap red and white wine and everyone seemed to either be content with the new order or switched to beer. The evening went on and climaxed with some spirited dancing by the guests and a high-octane rendition of “Dama-dam Mast Kalandhar…” and “Nimbooda…Nimbooda…”(Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, 1999, Sanjay Leela Bhansali) by the Manganiyars.
I was reminded of a quote of Epictetus (55 AD ~ 135 AD), the Greek sage and Stoic philosopher: “Remember that in Life you must behave as at a banquet. Is anything brought round to you? Put out your hand, and take a moderate share. Does it pass you? Do not stop it. Is it not come yet? Do not yearn in desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you.”  
If you observe Life closely, all the suffering around you, or even in you, comes from your wants. In expecting people, situations and things to be different from the way they are, you invite misery to yourself. Obviously the managers at the hotel, where last evening’s reception, was held had goofed up. Or perhaps there was a miscommunication, or a mis-estimation, of the required inventory between the hosts and the hotel’s staff. Now what can be done about it? I am sure some of the people from among the hosts will do a post-mortem and maybe the hotel’s management will review it as well. But what control does a guest, like me, have on the way the bar was managed? I just shrugged my shoulders, picked up some domestic beer, and was lost in the music.
This is precisely the way to deal with everything and everyone in Life. You – and I – have no control on what happens to us. There is no point in complicating your Life by demanding that people and events be in a certain way. The fact is that everything is the way it is. What is, is your reality. Your wishing it to be different cannot change the reality, cannot change what is. So, every time your mind agitates, every time you pine for something to be different, remember Epictetus. Just accept what comes and let things, people, events and situations, simply be! Happiness and inner peace are intended and assured outcomes!