Living prayerfully

Make your Life your prayer. And you will be soaked in peace.
The popular notion that we have, thanks to our upbringing and conditioning, is that prayer is an action that requires a time, a place and certain necessary and sufficient conditions. Each religion preaches worship through prayer differently. Therefore, while all of us have become adept at prayer, and praying, we have become completely incapable of living our lives meaningfully! Even when in prayer, the mind is distracted, often anxious, fearful and disturbed! How can merely, mechanically, by rote, chanting a mantra or reciting a hymn, compensate for intelligent living?
This is my humble, personal view. Over the years, I have learned that your entire Life, the way you live, think and work, can be prayer if you understand that this lifetime is a gift and that you must forever be grateful to Life for this experience! Choosing forgiveness over angst, love over hatred, postponing worrying than postponing happiness, serving others over seeking deservance for yourself, practising gratitude over harboring expectations and making each moment count are all ways in which you can live your Life prayerfully. When you do this, repeatedly, over days and months and years, you become the peace that you seek. This doesn’t mean that Life will not serve you any more problems. Problems – perhaps even complex ones – will always be there. But you will be able to deal with each of them effectively and efficiently, because you are now anchored in peace.

It is only because you relegate peace and prayer to a specific time, and do it with a ritualistic obsession and not with soulful fervor, that you are unable to escape fear, worry, anxiety, guilt, grief and suffering. But if you make your Life your prayer, always being grateful for all that you have, you will always be at peace – with yourself and your world! 

Don’t shed a tear for those who insist on misunderstanding you!

Sometimes in Life people may choose to consistently, continuously, systematically misunderstand, misinterpret and not relate to you. When these relationships are with people that you are close to or with immediate family, the situation gets confounded and it becomes very difficult to accept the reality.
Our biggest grief is not that we are being misunderstood but that close people, whom we imagined as our own, are the ones misunderstanding us. Relax. You are not alone. It happens to all of us at some time or the other in our lives. It has happened and continues to happen to me too! I can relate to your sense of anguish if you have been in a similar situation. You then try to redeem your image not with an external audience, which still is a social or professional requirement and so is understandable if it takes time or some machinations to be successful with, but within your closed circle, where ideally you must be accepted for who you are and not for what you are perceived as!
Don’t despair. Hear this story that a spiritual thinker once told us.
There once was a blind man. And he lived in difficult circumstances. His family did not quite appreciate his blindness. They felt he was a blot on the family’s otherwise ‘happy and beautiful’ existence. One day, the God of Luck, arrived in front of the blind man. And said to him, that he could ask any number of wishes that he wanted – and they would be immediately granted. The blind man said he was humbled that the God of Luck had visited him. He expressed his gratitude and said he had no wishes of his own. The God of Luck insisted though that he ask something. The blind man said, that while he didn’t want anything for himself, he did want the God of Luck to grant whatever each of his family members wanted! The God of Luck was perplexed. And wanted to know why this man did not want to avail of his lottery. The man replied, “Sir, look at me. I have no wants. All my needs are met. I have made peace with my blindness long, long ago. I am happy despite being blind. It is my family members who grieve over my blindness. My sister often says she is embarrassed that she has a blind brother. My mother thinks that I am useless because I am blind. And so, each of them has a different grief. And all of them grieve over my blindness. So, I ask that you too teach them to be happy despite their circumstances. I have no image to protect or to redeem. And I love the world I live in and can’t see. I am not sure I want to see the world I live in and then discover that I don’t love it at all!”

Big lesson there for all of us who are grieving, wishing, pining that people close to us understand us than misunderstand us. Our grief drives us to trying several methods, often with no avail, for rebuilding our credibility among those that have chosen to doubt our integrity and suspect our intentions. The truth is they are not true to us. And not the other way round. Because true friends, true family, will believe despite evidence to the contrary. It is the flippant lot that will insist on misunderstanding no matter what evidence you place, in your favor, before them! There’s no point shedding a tear for such people!

Idiot or Buddha?

We fuss so much about growing old. Instead can we think about growing up?
If there’s one thing that humankind uniformly obsesses over, it is age. Everyone wants to look younger. But few people want to be wiser. Growing old is mandatory though. If we lay in bed for a whole year, we would be older by a year more. But since growing up is optional, many people gloss over that choice! Hear what Osho, the Master, has to say about this. It is brilliant! “Our whole education is absolutely unaware of the fact that growing up is a different process than growing old. Even idiots grow old; only Buddhas grow up.” Growing up is not about knowledge and qualifications. It is about going within, connecting with your source, your core, your Self. When you delve deeper you will find value in the silence that will greet you there. And the peace that you discover inside you, in that silence, that peace makes you a Buddha.
So, idiot or Buddha? Make your choice today!

To meditate is to learn to live meaningfully all the time

Learning to live in the moment is when you can bring your mind to attend to that moment and not to your worries or your fears.
Whenever I share this perspective with people they immediately equate it to their experiences with meditation which they must have tried at some point or the other. And they quickly conclude that because they do not do meditation anymore, they continue to struggle with their lives. Or there are others who say they struggle despite meditating for an hour daily! 
Conceptually, there is a problem here. You don’t schedule a mediation. It is not a session. You just meditate. Meditation is just mindfulness. Awareness. Alertness. Just being. When you have reached the point of staying in the now, doing whatever you are doing, consciously, then you have begun meditation. It is the ability to be present. Because the present moment is all that you have. Meditation need not be done at a particular time of the day or at a particular venue. It is the continuous, conscious feeling of being in the present. If you are peeling onions, do it with full awareness. Then you are meditating. If you are drawing up an excel sheet and crunching numbers for tomorrow’s meeting, you are meditating. Now, that’s the quality you have to bring into every living moment – which is, immersing yourself in whatever activity you are doing without letting your mind wander. This also applies to tasks you have to do, even though you don’t like doing them much. For example, I don’t like book-keeping and accounts. But I have to do it. There’s no one I have who can help me with that. I postpone it all month. Then, one day, I just do it. Fully. Without hating it. I love it the day I do it. And then I feel liberated. That’s the power of living in meditation.
I learnt this technique through the practice of ‘mouna’ or silence periods. I began by first practicing it at a particular time each day. But over years of practice, now I can slip into ‘mouna’, anywhere, anytime __ even at a busy traffic intersection or in a crowded airport or in a boring meeting. I trigger my awareness by slipping into my ‘mouna’ spells. I choose to be silent at these times and it floods me with a sublime energy instantaneously that helps me see each situation or circumstance in which I am placed with amazing clarity. Often when my mind works up to worrying, my auto-pilot, the ‘mouna’ switch embedded in my mind, gets self-activated and awareness steps in to remind me to let go of my ruinous emotions and focus on the miracle of the moment. To meditate is to learn to live meaningfully all the time.
Here’s a Zen story illustrating the same point. A Japanese warrior was captured by his enemies and thrown into prison. That night he was unable to sleep because he feared that the next day he would be interrogated, tortured, and executed. Then the words of his Zen Master came to him, “Tomorrow is not real. It is an illusion. The only reality is now.” Heeding these words, the warrior became peaceful and fell asleep. Now, many of us will have a problem with this story and its lesson. Some will say, that it is defeatist. Others will say that it is impractical. How can you sleep soundly with an impending catastrophe tomorrow? That really is the problem. When you think of a past that is over, and of a future that is yet to arrive, then, you are really not present in the moment. All your Life’s challenges, fears and insecurities come to torment you only because you are absent from the now. Just learn to do one thing at a time. As an old Japanese saying goes, if you try to catch two rabbits at the same time, you will get none. If you want to worry, worry incessantly. Then don’t aspire for peace. If you want to fear the future, then fear totally. Don’t hope for that fear not to come true. But if you want to be happy, drop the worry, stop fearing and just be. That really is what meditation is all about.

We are all hostages of our own perceived limitations

We are all ordained with greater strength than we are conditioned to believe we have.
Yesterday I watched a beautiful Malayalam film called “How Old Are You” (2014, Rosshan Andrrews). The main protagonist in the film, Nirupama Rajeev (played brilliantly by Manju Warrier), a clerk in the government, discovers her true potential when her college-mate reminds her of what a firebrand student campaigner she (Nirupama) once was. Until then Nirupama is at the mercy of her male chauvinist husband’s whims, and the target of petty politics at her workplace. But once she’s finds her lost verve, Nirupama sheds all her inhibitions and goes on to be a change agent not just in her neighborhood, but in the entire state of Kerala. The movie is not just inspiring, it is awakening.
Nirupama’s story is not her’s alone. It could be the story of any of us. All of us, at various times in Life, under pressure from our challenges and situations, stop believing in ourselves. We feel lost. Our self-esteem hits rock-bottom. And we think we can never be who we want to be again. But that’s not true. We are all capable. Our circumstances can constrain us physically but nothing – except our attitude to Life – can cripple our spirit. Think about a  wild adult elephant. This elephant can easily uproot trees that have been standing for years and that weigh tons. That’s how much strength an elephant is ordained with. Yet a temple elephant, through its conditioning from the time it is a calf, thinks it is incapable of breaking free from the iron shackles that a mahout has imposed on it. So it is with us humans. We are all hostages of our own perceived limitations. We are who we think we are. If we think our circumstances are so challenging that they are insurmountable, we will forever suffer from them. But if we decide to face our challenges and rise above them, whatever be the context, a way will emerge. A solution will be born.
The way to rise above what challenges you is to go within and anchor yourself. All change starts with you. And all change begins within. It is by going within, and realizing your true Self, that you can find the way to forever change your current reality and overcome whatever you are faced with!

The first step on your journey of personal change is crucial

To get started on any new journey in Life, you have to simply take the first step. Wishing and dreaming of something alone cannot get you started. Only calm, decisive action can get your initiative off the ground.
I met with a friend from college recently. He’s every bit a corporate citizen – he’s the CFO of a large MNC and is based in Hong Kong. Over coffee, we got chatting about our lives. And in the course of the conversation he declared that his biggest wish and his biggest problem were the same. “I want to get back home from work by 6 pm every day. I have been trying to achieve this for a few years now, but I am simply not able to! I badly want this happening and I am sore that I have been unsuccessful despite my best efforts,” he confessed.  
I have been in my friend’s shoes. Just 12 years ago, I was pretty much running the rat race. I was working 100-hour weeks and even on Sundays I used to be slouched over my laptop all day – responding to emails from clients and colleagues. Meal times with family were often interrupted by client calls and I always prioritized business over family. I had a tobacco addiction and I drank almost every day. Then one fine day, I decided to change the way I lived and worked. I began by giving up my tobacco habit instantaneously. That was my first step. And then every week I added a new change to my routine and my lifestyle. This included a diet and fitness regimen on the one side, and packing in quality – and productive – working hours on the other side. Within a couple of months, I was working fewer hours and yet I was able to pack in more in that time. My improved levels of efficiency made me feel better. And the way I felt made me work better. This is how I transformed the way I lived and worked. I maintain that changed discipline in my Life even now.
All personal change begins with the first – crucial – step. Unless you take that step, the journey never begins. And while wishing demonstrates intent, please remember that mere intent, with no action, will take you nowhere. Which is why my friend’s intention to get back home from work by 6 pm daily remains a non-starter.
Even as some of you, who are struggling with the same 6-pm-home-aspiration, read this and wonder how can this even be practical in your work or company context, let me tell you this – anything’s possible! All you need is to be resolute about what you want to achieve. If you must get back home by 6 pm daily and want to keep your weekends free for family, you must have conversations with your boss and your team members alike. If your boss is a workaholic, who is both unplanned and aggressive, you must hold up a mirror. Having a heart-to-heart chat to discuss matters relating to your work and productivity is not insubordination. And if your boss thinks so – then, my friend, you perhaps need a new boss! Which is, in real terms, you must start looking for a new job!!! There are no two ways about this: no change can happen in your Life unless you work on yourself and the circumstances in which you are placed. And please don’t expect results overnight. Most of us are so steeped in certain Life and work patterns, it will require a lot of effort and will power from within us, and consistency, to ensure that we stay on the path of change.
One sure way to stay on the path, that you have started on, is to remember that with each passing day your Life is getting shorter. And that you are not going to get any younger. And if you have children, know that they are growing up faster than you imagine they are. If you don’t invest time in yourself and your family now, no matter what stage of your Life you are in at the moment, you will have lost some more of the precious time you are left with. Even so, don’t start with making sweeping, radical changes. Start with one crucial, and what you think is doable, step. And then take another. And then yet another. Over time, with increased self-confidence coming from seeing results, your personal journey of change will gather momentum.

Your pain is your teacher, your God

Pain is an important, necessary and sufficient pre-condition for your personal evolution. Don’t, therefore, hate any pain that you are put through.

Sometimes people around you put you through pain. A normal reaction would be to hate them. You may want to get even with them. Don’t. Oftentimes Life too will inflict pain on you. Don’t hate Life either! Because your hating Life is only going to make you miserable. What is the point? Who loses when you hate a teacher? Does the teacher lose anything? Or do you? Ultimately, if you don’t learn the lessons that the teacher is teaching you, you lose. Similarly, each painful event, caused by a fellow human being or by Life, is teaching you something. Don’t hate the teacher. Instead, learn the lesson and be grateful for the experience that taught you the lesson.
When you hate someone or hate Life, you are entrapping yourself in a quagmire of negative, debilitating emotions: anger, fear, bitterness, cynicism, self-pity. No event in your Life is going to make a difference to you as your Life comes to an end. Your awards, medals, successes, wealth, the career you built, all this and more will mean nothing. Your lost fortunes, the number of times you have been betrayed or let down, your lost health, your lost image – none of these will matter in the end either. When this lifetime is over, only your soul will prevail. And the soul thrives only when you are at peace. The more pain you undergo, in an accepting, non-resisting way, the more peaceful you will be. Peace is the grace that arrives when pain strikes you and you accept the pain. Most often, however, when pain strikes you, you recede into a shell, plunged in grief, letting the pain numb you. As long as you remain in the stranglehold of pain, you will feel debilitated. The moment you understand, accept and appreciate that pain is a great teacher, you will learn and you will grow. You will realize that you can live through pain, without suffering from it. You will find the world to be a beautiful place where you can be happy despiteyour circumstances.
You may sometimes wonder where is God when you are in pain? The truth is your pain is your God. Because the pain is in your Life to teach you the value of Life, the value of grace and the opportunity for your soul to grow into peace. What more do you want from your God anyway?

Why do you insist on making your Life miserable?

If you are feeling miserable about something or someone, you are causing that misery in yourself.  
Whenever you feel miserable it is natural to blame the circumstances or the people that are causing you grief for all your misery. This only accentuates your suffering. Instead if you examine your feeling of misery closely, you will realize that whatever is upsetting you, whatever is making you sad and depressed, is just there. It is either an event or a person – and how and why they are there in your Life is beyond your control. The truth is they are there. And the other irrefutable truth is that they are causing you pain. You invite misery by wishing that they are not there in the first place. Now how can that be possible? Because they are already there. They have already arrived. Your wishing is not going to alter the reality of their presence!
This perspective is applicable in all situations. You have lost your job and you are trying hard but you are not getting another one. The job loss event has happened and the job search is presently futile – these are two events, two realities, that are causing you pain. Neither reality was or is in your control. But if you keep wishing why you lost your job, or why you can’t find another one, you will be miserable. It’s like asking why someone is dead, why someone is no more. What’s the point? Death happens. If there is birth, death will follow. So it is with all situations. Things just happen – and some of them end up bringing you pain. Or people around you behave insensitively causing you pain. Why things happen the way they do or why people behave the way they do – both are not in your control. Drop all expectations that your Life must conform to your wishes. Then there will just be pain, and you will not feel miserable.
Pain, in fact, is beautiful. It is always warning you that there’s something wrong with your Life. Now, when you hate the presence of pain, you feel miserable. In misery, you cannot think clearly because you are always wishing that your Life is different from what it is. Instead, if you drop all expectations and decide to simply deal with the pain, and whatever is causing you pain, you will not suffer. Make your efforts to eradicate the source of pain. But again without expectations that the pain will cease just because you have worked on it. Chances are it may cease. And chances are it may linger on. So, just make the effort and leave the result to Life. This is the principal message of the Bhagavad Gita too – do not worry about outcomes, just focus on the effort!
Remember this: whatever happens in Life, you cannot change any reality by merely wishing it away. Either you have to work on changing things and hopefully you will succeed. Or you are going to have to accept your Life for what it is. In either situation, misery and suffering are not what Life delivers to you. These are what you invite into your Life when you resist whatever you are faced with. Surely, feeling miserable is not something anyone can enjoy or live with. So, why do you insist on making your Life miserable in the first place?

The three ‘R’s of Intelligent Living

Intelligent living has to be learnt – just the way you learn to speak a new language, with consistent practice.

Many people ask me if there are methods to live intelligently. They want to know if there are models they can study and learn to live their lives better. And my response to them is that living means to simply, totally, live – with whatever you have, with things, people and events, just the way they are! But oftentimes people are not convinced. They prefer complex treatises to simple approaches to live. They don’t get it when they are told that Life – and living – are not at all complicated.
Even so, here are some simple, universally appealing tenets, the three ‘R’s, that anyone, including those who look for methods and models, can embrace in order to practice intelligent living.
Reflection: This is a very important quality we must all develop. As we grow through Life, our responsibilities and challenges only increase. Most of the time we are leading hectic lives in the material realm. We are all the time in the earning-a-living mode. Every once in a while, we must pause and ask ourselves if we are earning-a-living or are we living – the Life we want to live? This is what reflection can help you achieve. Reflection happens when you pause running the rat race. Any practice of meditation can help you with reflection. But a quick disclaimer is important here – reflection is a deeply personal and intense exercise. You cannot borrow a practice from someone else. You have to try many and choose what works for you.
Resilience: Most of us are afraid of what awaits us – the unknown – when we are faced with Life’s challenges. A quality we all are capable of summoning is our inner strength, our resilience. And this quality will come to the fore only through reflection. Being resilient means to know that no matter what the circumstances are, you must face Life. It means that you don’t have the choice to cop out or run away from a challenging situation. It is our lack of awareness that makes us imagine that we are not resilient. All of us are equally strong – that’s the way we are created and engineered. To let your resilience – your inner strength – surface, you need to be more aware of your true Self and that can come only through reflection.
Resourcefulness: We are so steeped in our wants that we are hardly aware of what we have. Through perpetually wanting things or people or events to be different from what they are, we are missing out on what is. When you are deeply reflective, when you are totally aware of your true Self, your inner strength will let you see every situation you are in clearly. Through this clarity, you will learn to accept what is and learn to live and work with what you have. Resourcefulness is the ability to know what you have and to be content with it, while never giving up your efforts to overcome the odds, overachieve and win!
These three ‘R’s are the baby steps to learning to live intelligently. You can adapt these three perspectives to suit your lifestyle and preferences. When you begin with reflection, you will feel different. And that feeling will egg you onward, on the spiritual path, one day at a time. Intelligent living is a necessity more than a practice. But it is an art too – that can be learnt and mastered. When you live intelligently, you learn to live in this world – with its manic demands, pressures, pulls and pace – and yet be above it!