On making this ‘absurd’ Life worthwhile!

Despite the absolute meaninglessness of Life itself, its absurdity, you have to make it worth living.  
Abbott cradles Hughes after the bouncer felled him
Picture Courtesy: Agencies/Internet
In today’s Hindu, noted sports writer and columnist, Nirmal Shekar, writes an open letter to New South Wales’ fast-medium bowler Sean Abbott, whose freak bouncer critically injured Phil Hughes last Tuesday  – an accident that claimed Hughes’ Life a few days later. Shekar’s letter is poignant and is an essay on Life itself. Urging Abbott to treat the incident only as an accident, Shekar talks about the absurd nature of Life. He writes: “…If the ball had climbed an inch higher or moved a shade wider, the world would be a different place for you (Abbott) today — as it would be for all of us, as cricket lovers. It was the rarest of rare accidents that cost Hughes his Life and you just happened to be at the wrong end of one of Life’s devilish deals…How can a person make sense of something that lies beyond all conventional powers of explanation, you might ask. After all, you chose to play a sport — and one of the most culturally sophisticated ones at that. And you might not have killed a fly in your Life…Why me, you might ask…But that’s Life Sean. There are no answers for certain questions, except that much of Life is down to sheer chance. And viewed from this standpoint, Life does indeed seem absurd…”
Shekar’s writing is simple and the wisdom he offers Abbott is profound. There is indeed no point in asking ‘Why me?’ in Life. People, events, situations, moods, attitudes, opportunities and challenges – most of them beyond your comprehension or control when they happen – conspire to take your Life forward. Your Life’s path is never your own doing alone. Some believe it is preordained. Others try to disagree, intellectualizing their argument with rational thinking and evidence. But whatever happens in Life, simply happens. Abbott’s and Hughes’ case is just another one in point. Two young cricketers, both of them in their prime, readying to play a big role for their national team in the upcoming World Cup – and suddenly one of them dies and the other is buried in grief and guilt; all this while playing a game that was their raison d’etre!. What did they do wrong? Nothing! They were simply playing a game! Therein lies the answer to the various contexts and situations, where we find ourselves entangled, in Life. We must recognize that we are just playing this game called Life. The only right we have is to keep playing this game well, being true to ourselves and the spirit of the game, no matter what happens to us.
And everything that happens to us will be – and is – meaningless. We came with nothing. And we will go with nothing. So, why then go through the travails of an academic education, why earn, why raise families, why create assets and why work? If none of what we acquire – degrees, wealth, name, fame and experience – is ever going to matter, why go through the grind of ‘earning-a-living’? So, evidently, everything’s meaningless.
But the purpose of Life is not to make meaning out it. It is never about you alone. And which is why you must often pause to reflect on what you are doing. Your upbringing teaches you that you must be self-obsessed with your grades, your money, your family and your career. But Life’s beauty lies in going through the unknown – called this lifetime – while being useful to others, to humanity. Life’s essence lies in being able to serve before you say you deserve! Only this attitude can make Life meaningful for you. Without this understanding, you will remain self-centered forever. And the more self-centered you are, the more you will resist the Life that is happening – and will happen – to you. That how you end up suffering and agonizing so much.
Life is just a series of events and experiences. The only way to live it well is to go through each of them with a child-like innocence and a student-like curiosity, serving humanity selflessly at every opportunity. Along the way you will learn to live your Life better and better. Every bouncer from Life will then not torment you and every fall will then not finish you. Because you will have learnt to get up, dust yourself and move on … playing on, and making a difference, until the last ball is bowled!

Learn to accept and celebrate the non-negotiable, inevitable, part of Life – Death!

Accepting and celebrating death is an important aspect of learning to live intelligently.  
Picture Courtesy: Internet
Cricketer Phil Hughes’ tragic accident on the field, and his passing away so suddenly, has shocked the entire world. Cricket Australia (CA) has confirmed that the first Commonwealth Bank Test Match between Australia and India, scheduled to begin on Thursday, December 4, 2014, will now be rescheduled. CA says three of its senior players, Shane Watson, David Warner and Brad Haddin, are among those who have said that they are not in the perfect state of mind to return to competitive cricket. Now, contrast this view with those expressed by two former Australian captains, Ian Chappell and Mark Taylor. They feel next week’s first Test in Brisbane should go ahead as it would help the cricketers and the fans to come out and share the loss of Phillip Hughes. Taylor feels it will be difficult for the players to deal with the massive loss but “cricket is probably the best medicine to heal the pain”. Chappell, too, echoed Taylor’s views, saying going back to the game is the best way to deal with the loss. “In a strange way I think it’ll be best for the players if they play the first Test,” Chappell was quoted in an agency report. I tend to agree with Taylor and Chappell. When someone dies, the best way is to celebrate the person’s Life – and what she or he stood for. To Hughes, cricket was his Life. And what better way to celebrate his Life than play a fascinating game of cricket?
I remember how Carnatic musician Nithyashree Mahadevan returned to singing within a couple of months after her husband committed suicide in 2012. The famous Chennai music season was on then and Nithyashree was booked to sing various concerts through most of December 2012.This sudden development shocked everyone and most definitely Nithyashree. The pictures that appeared in the media made everyone’s heart go out to her. They showed a forlorn, distraught Nithyashree and most people, while sympathizing with her, wondered how she would cope. But just two months after her tragedy, Nithyashree was back on the concert circuit. She was singing better than she had ever been. And, most importantly, she was not in grief. She presented a picture of complete acceptance and inner peace. I remember The Times of India carried a picture of her singing at that concert. The picture was captioned ‘Like A Song’. Indeed Life’s like a song. It has to be sung, and sung well, no matter what’s going on! What Nithyashree has done is truly inspiring. She has shown all of us the way that we must continue to live our lives, doing what we love doing, irrespective of what happens to us.
I believe that the human ability to cope with death is hugely crippled by the way society treats death. Death is not some gory end that society makes it out to be. It is the only thing that you can be certain of in Life. If you are born, and are alive, as you are, you will die. Period. So, you must learn to accept and appreciate death. Every one of us will die. In fact, we are all speeding towards our death, albeit at different speeds. So, death must be accepted as a logical end, and, as some would believe, as a new beginning, of yet another journey through another unknown. But let’s not lose our focus in over-intellectualizing death either. Simply accept death as a reality. And do everything that you can to celebrate the Life of the person who has died in your midst. Do not grieve. Do not mourn beyond a point. Recognize that death is inevitable. Take inspiration from those who live in the slums of Chennai.These people get drunk and dance as they go to cremate their dead. Reason, as one rickshaw-puller once told me, “The dead have been liberated from living on this planet! And that calls for a celebration!”

Wise words those are. And we will do well to learn from them. For, only when we accept that death is a constant, an unavoidable, non-negotiable part of our Life, that we will actually begin to live fully! And only then will we learn to celebrate the lives of those who are no longer with us! 

A Life lesson from the humble bitter gourd

If you want to change anything about your Life, change yourself first – from within!
Here’s a fable to illustrate this point.  A bunch of disciples invited their Guru to join them on a pilgrimage to take a holy dip in the Ganges at Haridwar. The Guru politely declines. But the disciples insist saying they have gleaned from the scriptures that such a dip in the holy river will cleanse and transform each of them. They believe that if their Guru would bless them and be by their side during this transformational ritual they would be doubly blessed. The Guru counsels them but to no avail. Finally, he advises them to take a bitter gourd as his mascot with them. He advises them to also dip the bitter gourd in the holy river when they bathe. The disciples grudgingly agree and set off on their pilgrimage. A few weeks later they come back and report to their Guru saying how good their journey and experience was. The Guru calls for the bitter gourd. One of the disciples promptly pulls it out and presents it respectfully. The Guru demands that the vegetable be sliced and each disciple taste it. With much difficulty the disciples taste the bitter vegetable, their contorted faces exclaiming with anguish as the vegetable’s juices enter their system. “Did you not dip the vegetable in the Ganges, the Holy River,” asks the Guru, demanding “Why then is it so bitter?” “We did Guruji. But how can bitter gourd stop being bitter because it was dipped in a river, however holy it may be,” reasons a disciple. No sooner had the disciple finished saying the, the moral of the guru’s abstinence from the “pilgrimage” dawns on all his disciplines.

Transformation in you cannot happen by changing the environment or by being ritualistic. Transformation has to happen from within. A holy gip or ‘Ganga Snan’cannot change who you are unless you choose to change yourself. Only when you change from within will your Life change!

Anger drains the spiritual energy in you

Have you ever wondered what makes you angry? Is it the object or circumstance or outcome you desire that makes you fret, fume and lose control over yourself or is it your desire itself?
All the time, you will discover when you think through this, it is your desire that gets you all keyed up. Consider these situations: 1. You order a coffee and it arrives lukewarm. You get angry. Is the coffee to be blamed for your anger? Or is the waiter responsible for it? Or is your desire that the coffee be warm fuelling your anger? 2. You see a passenger cutting across an airline check-in queue. Who is responsible for your anger: your desire for decorum among public or the insensitive passenger? 3. Your boss doesn’t give you an opportunity you truly deserve. Is your irrational boss to be blamed for your anger or is your perfectly rational expectation making you angry? Remember that the discussion here is on what makes you angry and not whether the circumstance or person in question is right or wrong.
The onlyway to deal with anger is to understand that it is your unfulfilled desire/expectation that causes you to get angry over any situation. And so start with yourself first on this journey to know how to manage your anger. All your efforts to change the environment and people around you will produce zero results. However, you can cover major ground when you seek within. When you go within, tempering your expectations, you end up learning to control your emotional outbursts, conserving oodles of energy, and, invariably, you will find more peaceful, purposeful, productive methods to change the environment, people and circumstances that angered you in the first place. Change every ‘Damn!’ or ‘How dare you?’ that arises in your mind, with, ‘Interesting!’ or ‘How can I stay calm and help myself?’ statements.
This is not as difficult as it seems. Most of the time we miss the opportunity to be calm in a challenging situation because we take a person or an event very seriously. Instead take everyone and everything lightly. If something happens the way you wanted it, great! If it falls short of your expectations – try to get it to your standards. If you can’t still get it to be the way you want it, shrug your shoulders and move on. Getting angry is only going to make you feel more miserable. Your anger may be directed at someone or something else. But remember it arises from within you. It has to first harm you, vanquish you, before it even strikes the other person or thing at whom it is directed.
I have read Osho, the Master, tell the story of a great Sufi mystic, Junnaid. Every evening, in his prayers, Junnaid  used to thank creation for its compassion, for its love, for its care.
Once it happened that for three days Junnaid and his disciples were traveling and they came across villages where people were very anti-Junnaid, because they thought his teachings were not exactly the teachings of Mohammed. His teachings seemed to be his own and people thought that he was corrupting them.
So from the three villages they had not got any food, not even water. On the third day they were really in a bad shape. His disciples were thinking, “Now let us see what happens in the prayer. How can he now say to creation:‘You are compassionate to us; your love is there. You care about us, and we are grateful to you.’?”
But when the time to pray came, Junnaid prayed the same way. After the prayer one of his followers said, “This is too much. For three days we have suffered hunger and thirst. We are tired, we have not slept, and still you are saying to creation:‘You are compassionate, your love towards us is great, and you take so much care that we are grateful to you.’”
Junnaid replied: “My prayer does not depend on any condition; those things are ordinary. Whether I get food or not I don’t want to bother creation about it — such a small thing in such a big Universe. If I don’t get water…even if I die, it does not matter, my prayer will remain the same. Because in this vast Universe…it makes no difference whether Junnaid is alive or dead.”

That is a big learning for us. Don’t take yourself or anyone else or anything seriously. Be easy. Take it easy. Anger is one of the biggest source of draining the cosmic, spiritual, energy in you. If you can learn to productively channelize all the energy that you expend when you are angry, you will have scaled one of the highest peaks of self-realization.

Let your sadness make way for joy!

Don’t approach anything that happens in your Life from sadness.
A loss. Pain. A heart-break. An insult. All of them are not what we expect. And so we respond with shock, anger and sorrow. But after we get over the initial response, we must develop the attitude to shift the attention to joy. Exult in the opportunity that each of those surprising, often times even shocking, events has thrown up. A loss always points to a gain in the future. A loss also teaches you, through your grief, what is more valuable to you in your Life. You grieve a loss because you attach a value to it. This awakening to the realization of what’s important to you must call for celebration. And joy, not grief and sorrow!
If someone insults you, you must celebrate because you have now the opportunity to learn to live with an insult. A capability that you never thought existed in you. Your spouse tells you that she or he can’t carry on in the relationship with you anymore. Beneath the obvious layer of shock and tears, it actually opens so many more opportunities to start afresh in Life. To explore newer horizons rather than be stuck in a bad relationship in grief, in sorrow, in pain. Joy here means the suffering for both of you has come to an end. Yes the pain of going through the process of separation will have to be dealt with. But eventually it too will lead to joy!

So, in effect, there are no sad endings in Life. Why then be sad about the interludes over which we have no control? A beautiful song from the John Abraham movie ‘Jhoota Hi Sahi’ (2010, Abbas Tyrewala, A R Rahman, Javed Ali, Chinmayi) comes to mind. It is among the most spiritual songs to emerge from Bollywood recently. The message is simple: Why Cry! Life’s too short to be spent in sadness and worrying! 

Be alive in each moment by being present in it

Every once in a while step aside from your Life and observe yourself. As a third party. You will then discover how much you have to change for your Life to change!
We met a young lady recently who is obese, has hypertension and complained of her inability to stay focused. She said she is simply not able to prioritize and manage her time and tasks effectively. Many people are in this young lady’s situation – grappling with their home and work schedules, unable to find time for themselves, coping with lifestyle-related challenges like diabetes and hypertension and, overall, just going through the paces of Life, never really being able to live it fully! There’s only one way such people can “re-engineer” and “reinvent” themselves. They have to learn to be mindful. It’s an art – and it can be mastered with understanding and practice.
Mindfulness is the ability to be, to stay in the present moment. Many a time, we keep doing stuff – cooking, cleaning, driving, smoking or eating. We don’t concentrate on what we are doing. Our mind is elsewhere. Our activities then are just chores. Which is why we are unable to “see” that what we could be doing is “ruinous”. We know, for instance, that smoking is ruinous, over-eating is ruinous, not exercising is ruinous. But we go on doing these things. Mindlessly. Which is why observing your own Life, and viewing it dispassionately as a third party, helps. When you observe yourself you will realize how mindlessly you go through your days. You simply are going through hurried motions. You are not present in any of your actions. You are merely activity-driven. You are never in the moment. For instance, you are working overtime to send your kids to school – but never pausing to celebrate and enjoy their innocence. You are rushing to finish your bath – but are never enjoying your body. You are eating in a rush – but are not tasting and relishing your food. You are texting away madly – but are never celebrating how much smaller the world has become thanks to facebook and WhatsApp. It is only by being mindful in each moment that you can really understand what about you needs to change.
Try a simple exercise in mindfulness. Make yourself a cup of green tea. And drink it patiently enjoying every sip. Feel the tea energize you as it enters your body. Don’t let your thoughts wander. Be focused on the experience of drinking that tea. Examine how you felt while drinking it. This experience of being one with the tea, this feeling, is what mindfulness is all about. Follow this method in everything that you do. When cooking, focus on the recipe and its preparation. When driving focus on the road and the joy of navigation. When on facebook, celebrate the opportunity to connect with the world, your world. Every time your mind wanders, to a past event and makes you feel guilty or to a future event and makes you anxious, bring it back to attend on whatever you are doing now. Remember the human mind is like the human body. It will resist any change first. But repeatedly bringing the mind back to focus on the present, you can train it to let go of the past and to not indulge in the future.
When you are fully present in each moment, you are alive in it. It is only then that you are living the moment fully. When you live each moment fully, you will realize its value. And through this realization, you will be able to transform yourself – your work, your schedules, your health and your Life!

Understanding the meaning and power of ‘surrendering to Life’

Surrendering to Life does not mean inaction. It means acting duly but without any attachment to the outcome.
Someone who read my blogpost of yesterday pinged me wanting to know if ‘surrendering to Life’ was ‘accepting defeat’ or ‘giving up’. He said, “All our early Life, through being raised at home, through teachers and peers at school and college, through seeing the way the world behaves, we have been taught the theory of ‘survival of the fittest’. We have been encouraged never ever to give up and keep competing. Isn’t then the concept of ‘surrendering to Life’ a sign of weakness, a sign of ‘accepting that Life has defeated you’?” This reader’s perspective merits a discussion.
First, let’s understand that Life is not a competition. It is not a race either. And nor can you compete with Life. It is perfectly fine for you to have goals, ambitions and aspirations. It is absolutely fine for you to go after them with passion and focus. But, as you may have well realized through your own experiences, you may not always get what you want in Life – despite your best efforts. Or sometimes Life may act in such a way that, without any immediately evident cause or reason, your Life will change. And because your Life has changed, your aspirations will have to change. You will have to accept and live with your new reality – knowing and understanding that some things you planned may never be possible any more.
Let me give you an example. I know of a young lady called Preethi Srinivasan. Had Life not literally felled her in 1998, and left her a quadriplegic, Preethi would have played for the Indian Women’s Cricket team. She overcame shock, grief and agony, accepted her new reality and is now a motivational speaker who also runs this wonderful organization called SoulFree (http://www.soulfree.org/who-is-soulfree/) which she set up in 2013 to help people like her who are dealing with spinal cord injuries. Now, can someone like Preethi, just wallow in self-pity and will such wallowing restore her physical condition? What she can do is to live each day fully – celebrating the Life she has. And she’s doing this remarkably well. In fact, her Life is an inspiration to so many people – including me.
Now, if someone feels that Preethi has been defeated by Life, they are sadly mistaken! And if someone feels that she should be competing ‘better’ with Life, they must go live her Life before making that comment! To me Preethi has embraced the Life she has with total acceptance and this is the reason why she is a personification of the indefatigable human spirit.
Labels like ‘defeat’, ‘failure’, ‘loss’, ‘success’, ‘victory’ – all these are irrelevant in the context of Life. People who are labeling themselves or others are “armchair theorists” – they keep rocking away with their opinions but never really get going in Life!
There’s only one way you can respond to Life. Which is to accept whatever comes your way, whatever happens to you, and live your Life one day at a time. The action I talk about is doing whatever you can do each day, doing it well, and leaving the outcome to Life. You just be sincere with your living – and your doing. Leave what you are given at the end of each day up to Life. Not doing what you can do in any context – well, that’s inaction. Therefore, ‘surrendering to Life’ is not inaction. In fact, if you truly understand the power of ‘surrendering to Life’, you will value a ‘good night’s sleep’ as your biggest blessing, your greatest wealth at the end of each day – and never the money you have made or the money that you are pining for!
The best principle, as I told my reader friend, is to not think too much about Life. Just do your best daily – and live with what you have been given, fully!

Drop your grief, let go and surrender to Life

Intelligent living is all about letting go and living in complete surrender to Life!
Know that we are all custodians of this opportunity and energy called Life. We didn’t ask to be born. This Life is a gift we got. So, if we were given the gift of Life without our asking for it, please understand that we will also get all that we need to live it fully.
This is the truth, the reality of Life. When we seek material things__money, power, position, fame__we are looking a gift horse in the mouth. We have been given a Merc but we are asking why is the upholstery not of a pastel shade, why is there no bar inside, why is a DVD player not fixed in the rear side of the car? By wanting, we are being ungrateful beneficiaries. Instead, surrender to Life. Be the way you were before you were born. You__and I__may not remember it, but we were totally at the mercy of Life before and when we were born. For the first few years of our Life, we stayed that way. But as we started getting educated, we started wanting. When each want was initially fulfilled by our parents, we started wanting more. There, the miracles stopped. And our challenges began. So, to attract miracles into your Life, just surrender. Just tell Life that you are in command and I am a humble follower. That I will accept and enjoy anything that you will give me.

Those of us who have surrendered and seen the miracles in our lives will appreciate this perspective from experience. Those who find this logic difficult to understand, need to just observe Life around them closely and they will see that everything__everything__in this Universe is created only on this principle. When we lose something and we grieve its loss, it’s because of this wanting in us. In fact, grief itself is a sign that we are out of the surrender mode and are in the want mode. Jalaluddin Rumi, the Persian mystic says,”Don’t grieve over anything that you have lost. It will come back in another form.” That coming back, the miracle, can be created by you, when you drop your grief and surrender to Life!