A learning from the “L” tag

Each moment in Life is teaching us something. Only if we are willing, as students, to look for the learning in it.
Even a frustrating drive through traffic can be a learning experience. For instance, the alphabet ‘L’, in red, on a vehicle ahead of you, on a day when you are behind schedule and are rushing to your destination, is the last thing anyone wants to see. Instead of getting irritated and showing our angst on the vehicle or on the road or on fellow road users, we will do well to reflect on what the ‘L’ sign can mean to us. Very simply, ‘L’ on a car indicates that the driver ahead of us is still learning. Our impatience with this person is because we believe we know driving well and don’t need to be tailing a learner driver. On a spiritual plane, consider the way we journey through Life. Aren’t we still learners; still learning (read struggling) to live!? The only difference is that the learner driver has the humility__apart from having to meet a legal requirement__to acknowledge that she/he is still learning. On the other hand, we don’t ever want to acknowledge that we are learners, because we think we know it all or imagine that it would be below our dignity to wear a learner tag.

When we get down to being humble, we will discover that the learner tag is not a liability but an asset. When we accept we are still learning, and don’t know it all, people make way and time for us. We move faster – onward, higher and wiser….in Life!

Let’s learn to respond to relationship issues with maturity

Loving someone or having sex is not a sin. It is just a natural way for us, humans, to express ourselves.  
I recently read in the papers that the Indian Navy had sacked an officer of the rank of Commodore for having an affair with the wife of a fellow officer, also a Commodore. Both officers were at that time based in the Southern Naval Command in Kochi. And both had college-going kids. “Stealing the affection of his brother officer’s wife is simply unacceptable and the Navy has a clear zero tolerance policy towards the same,” a Ministry of Defence official was quoted by one of the papers I read.
Now, I have nothing to say about the Indian Navy’s protocols, rules and regulations. But conceptually I have a problem with the phrase “stealing the affection of someone”. How do anyone steal anyone’s affection? Yes, poets and lyricists have for the longest time romanticized the concept of “stealing someone’s heart”. But in reality affection and love are given – wilfully. They can never be stolen or forcibly taken away. So, if someone, as in this case, is married and is drawn to someone else outside the marriage, it really means the marriage, the relationship, did not fulfil that person’s emotional or physical needs. It means that there was no more relating in the relationship. And that this person related to another one, and not to his or her spouse. There’s nothing sinful, nothing wrong if such a situation arises. If anyone has a problem in a marriage, the best way to deal with it, after making sufficient attempts to resolve the issues, is to move on. There’s no point feeling suffocated, vegetated and listless in a relationship where there’s no more relating between the two parties.
However, the way people discover that their relationship with someone is over is through the way they start relating to someone else. Either they are drawn to someone because this new person is fulfilling an emotional need. Or maybe this person is fulfilling a physical need – which is about simply having sex. Or maybe there’s a strong bond, a special friendship that draws someone to another person. All these or more are indicative of the fact whatever one does not get in a relationship, one seeks in another. And there’s nothing wrong with this. As humans, we need affection, we need to be cared for, we need physical intimacy – and if we can’t get these with one person, we will naturally be drawn to someone who has these to offer us.
I believe that as individuals, and as a society, we must learn to respond to relationship issues with maturity. We cannot continue to dub a human need as a sin. Of course, people who seek love, affection and sex, outside of a relationship, must also be responsible about how they communicate their choices to their families. Especially when children are involved – the communication must be timed well and must be honest. There’s no point fearing social stigma or family pressure and therefore continue to keep the choice under wraps. When something natural is pursued clandestinely, it will be viewed scandalously. And that can hurt everyone involved. However, if the same choice is made openly, while it may shock and surprise initially, over time, everyone impacted by the choice will feel liberated. After all, who wants to be stuck in a relationship which had been dead for a long, long time!?

Don’t search for happiness, just choose to be happy!

You are the happiness that you seek!  
Yesterday at a grocery store in Chennai, I saw my former boss’ wife. My former boss is one of India’s wealthiest people. A takeover tycoon and deal maker par excellence. Although I knew the lady well, I did not walk up to strike a conversation with her. I had quit that job over 18 years ago and, ever since, we had never been in touch. But seeing her took me back to a time at London’s Heathrow airport in 1995. I had accompanied my boss and her to the airport from our hotel in Knightsbridge (where we were staying). We had engaged a Merc for ferrying us to the airport and back. My boss was flying out to Hong Kong and his wife was due to leave for India the next morning. There was some unfinished business that my boss and I had to review and we decided to do it on the car ride to Heathrow. Soon, my boss checked-in and bade us good bye. As we started to walk to the terminal’s exit to find the Merc, my boss’ wife asked me if we could take the Tube to Knightsbridge. I was surprised. I reminded her that we had a Merc waiting for us. But she insisted we pay off the Merc and instead take the Tube. She said, “I have all the money in the world. My husband provides for all luxuries and comforts. But I miss being a commoner. I have never been on the Tube in London. And I want to really have the experience.” I did not protest. We paid off the Merc and took the Tube. The lady elicited a promise from me that I would not tell her husband that she had taken the Tube to ride to Knightsbridge. At the end of the ride, when we reached our hotel, she told me, “I often feel like a bird in a golden cage. Today is the happiest day of my Life!”
As I recollected this incident yesterday, my thoughts went to a story I had read somewhere.
This story is about a beautiful, rich, lady who complained to her psychiatrist that she felt her whole Life was empty and worthless; it had no meaning, especially after her husband had passed away. She became all alone in her big house. All the German cars, the palatial house, expensive furniture, British cutlery, French perfume, Persian carpets, the imported piano, the Beethoven collection – they all just became useless objects to her. She said her Life was listless and meaningless. So she asked the psychiatrist how she could find happiness in Life.

The psychiatrist called out for the lady who cleaned his office daily. She came in, even as the rich lady was wondering what was going on. The psychiatrist then said to the rich lady, “I’m going to ask Mary here to tell you how she found happiness. All I want you to do, is listen to her.” So the old cleaning lady put down her broom and sat on a chair and told her story: “Well, my husband died of malaria and three months later my only son was killed in a car accident. I had nobody… I had nothing left. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I never smiled at anyone, I even thought of taking my own Life. Then one evening, a little kitten followed me home from work. Somehow I felt sorry for that kitten. It was cold outside, so I decided to let the kitten in. I got it some milk and the kitten licked the plate clean. Then it purred and rubbed against my leg and for the first time, in months, I smiled. Then I stopped to think, if helping a little kitten could make me smile, may be doing something for people could make me happier. So the next day I baked some biscuits and took them to a neighbor who was sick in bed. I felt happy to see him enjoy those biscuits. That’s how I really started to do something nice for someone every day. It made me so happy to see them happy. Today, I don’t know of anybody who sleeps and eats better than I do. I’ve found happiness, by giving it to others.”

I am not sure my ex-boss’ wife has found this simple secret to being happy. But I sure can relate to Mary’s experience and wisdom.
In fact, my learning and understanding from Life is that happiness is a state we are born with. We intrinsically are happy people with the ability to laugh at and enjoy Life. We don’t have to go seeking it. Happiness is who we are. All we must do is to remove all those factors in us, around us, that inhibit our being happy. If riding a Merc all the time is making you unhappy, sure, go take the Tube. At every step, in every moment, make that intelligent choice to be happy. Or simply, do away with all that makes you unhappy and you will be happy.

How I learnt to live with insecurity

All our insecurity is a direct outcome of our conditioning. If we drop our conditioning and accept the Life we have, we will at peace with the insecurity that abounds!
A friend called me this morning to congratulate me on my forthcoming Book – “Fall Like A Rose Petal – A father’s lessons on how to be happy and content while living without money” (Westland, August 2014). After he wished my book all success, he remarked, “AVIS, you have learnt to live without money. But don’t you ever feel insecure?”
I found my friend’s question very pertinent. Here’s what I told him.
To be sure, I too felt insecure when I first came face to face, eight years ago, with the reality that we were insolvent and our Firm was bankrupt. Of course, I was devastated by the gravity of our crisis and was very, very scared of where we would end up in Life. But resisting the insecurity, wishing that things were different, only made me suffer. And in my suffering I could not focus. I was always unhappy. When you don’t focus or are unhappy, how can you function? How can you think of even attempting to solve your problems? While I could make sense of the futility of my suffering, I didn’t know where to start or what to do. What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
That’s when I came across Osho’s, the Master’s, view of insecurity. He has said: We are all trained in the wrong way. Otherwise, security is something to be afraid of, and insecurity is something to be rejoiced. What exactly is insecurity? It means tomorrow is not going to repeat today. It means tomorrow you may not even be alive. It means that one has to live each moment as if it is the last moment. A Life of security will be simply boring. It will be like seeing the same movie again and again and again — knowing every detail of what is going to happen. Insecurity is the very fabric of Life. If you don’t understand insecurity, you can never understand Life. Everything will go on changing, nothing can be taken for granted; this is insecurity. You want everything to be certain, permanent. But have you ever thought what will be the outcome of it if everything is permanent? You eat the same food every day, you say the same things every day, you listen to the same things every day. Insecurity keeps people fresh, alive, adventurous — knowing that things can be changed. Even without their changing them, they are going to be changed. So there is great scope for change, for transformation.
Osho’s perspective indeed changed my entire outlook to Life. I decided to play the game of Life – rather than see it as a complex problem that I didn’t know how to fix. Soon, the game became an adventure. I saw that each day held something new – a legal twist here, an irate creditor who had lost patience with our situation there, bills to be paid for essential services like electricity and telephones when there was no money to even buy groceries, a health situation to be urgently addressed; yet each time we thought it was all over, help arrived from some unexpected quarter. No day, I discovered, was the same. Honestly, not all the stuff that came our way on a daily basis, however new or fresh it was, was appetizing. But however much I felt wasted at the end of each day, I woke up afresh and anew the next day. And took that day’s challenges head-on. Over time, it became clear to me that Life has all along been, and will continue to be, insecure. Now, I didn’t have that sense of security that a steady income could provide, yet when I stopped feeling insecure about it, and let go, and let Life take over, things happened on their own. I have learnt that my duty is to make my daily efforts and let the results take care of themselves. Even so, I don’t deserve, nor do I claim, any credit for the way I have learnt to live my Life. I just chose to accept the Life I got and I have. Why would anyone want a crisis, and as in my case, a state of acute cashlessness and worklessness – especially over the last 24 months?
This numbing phase of my Life has taught me to live with insecurity. There are days, several times in a month, when we really don’t know what will happen or how we will be able to provide for basics like groceries or public transport?  But we know fully well that we will be taken care of. Maybe this is what they call faith. Not in an external God. But in Life itself – that if you have been created and you are in whatever situation you are placed in, you will be cared for, provided for and looked after. This faith makes me – and my wife – last one day more, sleep well, and wake up the next day hopeful and ready to work harder at turning our situation around. This faith helps me be at peace with myself despite all that the insecurity that surrounds me.

A gentle reminder to make the world a better place

If you make an effort, you can practise simple acts of kindness, to touch a Life daily – and make a difference!
Over last weekend, I lunched with Rajan, my dear friend, who, at 70, continues to be young with his thinking and in spirit. A consummate adman, an expert in Rural Marketing, a man with a big heart and a great sense of humor, Rajan is all this and more. And that’s why he’s simply unputdownable! Post his retirement, some years ago, he took to writing seriously and has written three books already – including his autobiography. Despite a few upheavals with his health in the past few months, Rajan plows on – his energy levels undiminished,  with an insatiable zest for Life! His wife passed away about a year ago and he’s coped well. He prefers cooking most of his meals himself, although his son’s family lives in the same building, and was, in fact, asking my wife if she could share some interesting Gujarati recipes! But what excited me most was Rajan’s new mission. “I make it a point to see how I can help people with my time, ideas, resources and experience. I want to touch someone’s Life daily. It gives me great joy to serve someone, to make a difference, however small. I wish I had dedicated my whole lifetime to doing this. But I am happy that I am able to do this at least now! It is never late,” he declared. That morning, he had made it simpler for four other friends to join the lunch we were at, by driving them up and offering to drop them back.
Rajan’s missionary zeal to touch lives daily, through small, even if mundane, acts appeals to me. Most important, it helps us shift the attention and focus from ourselves to others around us. Given the quality of Life we all lead, with too much to be done in too little time, we end up thinking and working for the welfare of only our families. We don’t lack the intent to be useful or to serve, but we simply don’t have the time. Which is when a perspective such as Rajan’s is most helpful. My takeaway is that if we can, during the course of our everyday schedules, do something to help another person live their Life better, we would have made a small difference. Our acts can be random and small – helping an elderly person with getting her shopping bags to her car, making way for a lady to sit on the bus, calling a friend who’s going through a crisis or feeding someone on the street by buying him or her a hot meal. We don’t even need to make a special effort. Just look around, in our own circles of immediate influence, we will find people who need help but are not asking for it. They don’t fall into any specific income or social brackets – they are just there, fellow voyagers, like you and me, who are struggling with their own daily challenges through Life.
Mother Teresa (1910~1997) has said this so beautifully: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.” Rajan left me inspired and I am grateful to him for this, if I can call it, gentle reminder. And I am sharing this here in the hope that if any of you feels equally inspired, you too can join in the mission. When more of us come together, over time, with consistent effort, we can make our world a better place!

Life’s trying to communicate with you – all the time! Are you listening?

Life’s constantly giving us signs and messages to awaken, to stop worrying and to just be, to live.
It is up to us to notice them, understand them and heed them. When we do, we will unravel the magic and beauty even in a stressful moment. When we don’t, even a quiet, restful moment is monotonous and dreadful.
A few nights ago, as we rode home in a cab, I noticed a red indicator on the vehicle’s dashboard blinking. It indicated that our cabbie had not worn his seat belt. While the cabbie knew he must wear his seat belt (there’s also a legal requirement to wear it) and was amply reminded of it by the blinking red indicator, he chose to ignore it. He was busy, driving at 80 kmph, cutting across lanes and leaving several others exasperated, thinking ‘he’ was in control! Most of us are like that cabbie. We think we control Life. We miss the reality that controlling Life is like trying to hold water in your fist. We often know what we are doing with our lives is wrong, we see the red indicator blinking, but we pretend we don’t see it. And so we go on with our lives, until, finally running out of patience, Life gives us one of its rude shocks__a debilitating illness, the loss of a dear one, a financial loss or a professional setback!!! All these are wake-up calls! That’s when we realize that the writing had always been on the wall, that we didn’t care to take notice. Because we were buried in our myopic view of what living is all about. And that view often focuses on acquiring all that is material than enjoying and experiencing all that which matters!
Look around you__and you will find everyone leading incomplete lives – bitter, unhappy and lost. But if you make an effort to understand Life and explore living intelligently, you will discover that for all the questions and challenges that you are faced with, Life has the right answers and opportunities. Life is trying to communicate with you all the while. Take heed. Pause and reflect on everything you see and feel. Listen to the voice within you. Don’t resist anything. Just let go and flow with Life. Just be. Just Live.

Don’t sacrifice your happiness on the altar of fear

To be happy in Life, you must first tame a beast called fear.
Everyone wants to pursue what they love doing most. But they remain trapped in unhappy, monotonous work and Life situations because they fear going away from the beaten path.
Yesterday, I met a very successful journalist who complimented me on my first book which is coming out next month. He then quickly added: “I have been wanting to write a book, but somehow I am unable to get myself to take a sabbatical from my role as an editor to be able to invest time in doing what I want to do. I guess I have become a slave – of the job I keep and the salary that it pays me.”
I appreciate the candor that my journalist friend displays. At least he knows what’s keeping him away from pursuing his dream – although, in my humble opinion, he’s closer, as a journalist, to writing a book, compared to so many others who are in other vocations.
Actually, doing what you love doing and want to do, is so simple if you invest a little time understanding it. Think of the situation like this: You want to be an artist. But you are a banker, in a high-paying job. So, while being a banker, if you focused your attention on the experience of being one, your Life would be different; you would be happy. But all along your mind is rueing the fact that you don’t have time for art. So, how do you expect to find happiness while being a banker? The only choice is to change your career. But you are scared. You fear what will your family, or even society will, say. You fear failure__what if you quit your job and your efforts to become an artist come a cropper! What if you don’t earn a steady income being an artist? You fear financial insecurity__what will happen of your family, your children and their needs/priorities and such? So you sacrifice yourself on the altar of fear and choose to bury your joy, your bliss. And then comes a point when society has gone its way, others who followed their bliss have found success and happiness, and your family doesn’t need you to be provider anymore. So, fear has now made way to a bitter aftertaste of the Life you have led. You have the yearning for following your bliss, but either the opportunities are not the same or your energy levels have waned with age or both.
Often there isn’t a wrong road or a right road to doing what you love__there is only the one on which you feel joy. Often also, being on the road that gives you joy has only three destinations: Success (getting to where you wanted to go), Quitting and Delayed Success (meeting with delays, frustrations, challenges but staying the course and tenure). Success and Delayed Success lead to the same destination. And Quitting sets you off on a new journey, possibly to where you once started from but you are enriched and wiser from the experience!
So, why fear? In reality you don’t lose anything, in fact, you gain__because you are happy doing what you want to. And that’s what you want in Life, don’t you?

It’s your thinking that limits you

Limits are what we create for ourselves in our minds. In reality, there are no limits to what we can achieve.

Marc Brew: Unshackled Spirit
Picture Courtesy: Marc Brew Company/Internet

My daughter had a very interesting encounter with a rare artiste in Glasgow yesterday. She met Marc Brew, 35 – a ballet dancer who, when he was 20, was injured in a car crash and has been confined to a wheel chair ever since. But Brew never gave up on Life or his dance. He has been working, ever since, in the United Kingdom and internationally as a dancer, choreographer, teacher and speaker. He was a guest performer and collaborator for the London Hand Over ceremony for the Beijing Olympic Games. Since 2001, Marc has been dedicating time to his own choreography with the Marc Brew Company.

My daughter had the unique privilege of training under Brew and performing with him. She sent us a video of her performance. It was really moving. Marc’s spirit, though he is confined to a wheel chair, is unshackled. His movements are so free and so full of Life. I am sharing one of his videos here – a solo performance titled “Remember When” .
Another specially challenged artiste, that Marc recently worked with, Dame Evelyn Glennie, 47 had this to say about him: “He may be physically confined to a wheelchair, but he is such an independent spirit, and has such freedom, and also authority, you can’t help but be influenced and inspired by him. It’s all the power of the mind, isn’t it? I have huge admiration for him.” Born and raised in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, Glennie became profoundly deaf at the age of 12, but has gone on to become one of the world’s most successful virtuoso percussionists. She has performed at the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.
Watching my daughter’s video and doing my research on Brew, and then Glennie, I am at a loss for words. All I have are some questions – Are we living our lives fully? To our best and highest potential? What limits in our mind hold us back from doing what we are capable of doing – and really want to do? How can we unshackle from those physical limitations, break free and soar high? Where must we begin? Lots of questions there. Not all of them may immediately have clear and definitive answers. But, as Glennie says, if the mind is powerful and holds us back, its within our control to give the mind a new kind of power so that it sets us free. And the time to do that, I know, is NOW! Not tomorrow. But today. Now!
I want to leave you with a quote from one of Brew’s interviews (on European Dance Tours website) I discovered online: “After my accident, it was, I guess, logically suggested to me that I should look at new career options and go to University and do something different as I couldn’t possibly continue my career as a dancer; not after acquiring a spinal cord injury and being confined to a wheelchair. Possibly, every dancer’s worst fear is that an injury will end their career. But that’s exactly the opposite of what I did do. I still had the passion to dance and felt the dancer was still within me and just because I could no longer stand and dance as I once did, did not mean I cannot move and express myself through movement. I just had to look outside the square box of what society and the dance world considered “normal”. By challenging peoples’ perceptions of dance and disability I had to personally explore different ways to use my body in finding new movement potential working in and out of the chair as well as by partnering with non-disabled dancers. I don’t think I rediscovered dance, I just didn’t give up.”
If you are as inspired as I am, this Sunday morning, go re-examine your Life. And break free from all that you think shackles you and holds you back. Believe me, you will realize, that it was pretty simple to do that. Simply because, other than your thinking, nothing really was holding you back, and limiting you, from whatever you wanted to do and are capable of doing!

Celebrate the divinity in and around you

There’s divinity in every aspect of creation. There’s divinity in you and in me too! We don’t see it in us because of the way we have been conditioned to think of divinity.

We have been conditioned to think of divinity in the context of an external God. As someone who’s controlling and operating the Universe. As someone who cannot be seen and who’s more powerful than us. And as someone who must be feared.

Let’s try to understand divinity by re-examining our conditioning. For instance, the way we think of garbage, sewage, filth is with a sense of distaste. Yet, there’s divinity there too. When you see fresh vegetables, you see it as beautiful, sublime, pristine. The same vegetables when they turn stale or are part of wasted food and end up in a garbage dump, you find them detestable. Similarly, when you see a sewer, you hate its sight. But there’s a sewage system in your body: your intestines and kidneys are doing just the same job__precisely. The hallmark of an evolved person is the ability to see everything and everyone as equally divine.

A hunter once got lost in an African jungle. He thought he was going to die because he could not find his way out. But he was adamant that he would not pray to God. But he did something which was half-praying and half-joking. He said to himself: “God, if you exist, come and save me!” A few minutes later, an African appeared and saved the hunter. The hunter was delighted. But that night, he wrote in his diary, “I prayed to God, but a Negro came.”!!! Neither did he know nor did he believe that the Negro was perhaps the divine intervention he had half-heartedly sought. It can be argued as a coincidence too – but coincidences too have a cosmic dimension to them!

Thay, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, teaches us to appreciate divinity in all of creation. A pebble, a flower, a butterfly, a detractor, a critic, a thunderclap, a garbage heap__all are manifestations of divinity that are there to help us, to awaken us, giving us a message that there’s more to this Life and the cosmic design than what we can even fathom! When you see, recognize and celebrate the divinity within and around you, you will find the God you are so relentlessly in pursuit of!