Let go and simply walk away when you must

When you can’t create value anymore or when you are not enjoying what you are doing anymore, simply walk away!
Graphic Courtesy: PTI/Internet
M.S.Dhoni surprised the cricketing world yesterday by retiring from Test Cricket. As India’s most successful Test Captain ever, everyone believes Dhoni has a lot of cricket still left in him. But the man himself thinks that he’s played enough of that format, having won 27 Tests for India and having led his team to be the # 1 Test side in the world, a slot the team retained for 21 months. Dhoni has always been remarkable – for being able to deal with victory and defeat with equanimity. His ability to stay unmoved in the middle, amidst all the action and chaos, has earned him the title of “Captain Cool”. But with his decision to retire from the oldest form of the game, Dhoni teaches us something far more valuable – he’s telling us that we must learn to let go and simply walk away when we must.
If you examine your Life closely, you will discover that much of your grief comes from clinging on to stuff – people, opinions, positions, things, money and such. The more you hold on to something, the more you will suffer. Such is the nature of Life. Life is in a perpetual, never-ending flow. To imagine that your Life should or will remain unchanged is downright foolishness. Trying to control Life is like holding on to water in your palm – it will simply flow away!
Each of us has a season in the sun just as we have our dark spells in Life. In our chosen vocation or in a field of interest, or in Life in general, we will have our own triumphs and travails. Yet we must never see any of this as permanent. We must learn to move on with time. We must also be willing to accept and appreciate that the generations that follow us will be smarter at doing whatever we believe we are currently best at. So, the intelligent way to live is to make way for others and for Life itself. Coming in the way of Life, by holding on to anything that you imagine is your own, is sure to cause inner strife and suffering. A simple rule of thumb can help here. In any situation, in any context, ask yourself if you are able to make a difference and create value? If the answer is no, walk away. Ask yourself if you are enjoying what you are doing or saying or whether you are enjoying being with someone? If the answer is no, walk away. It is that simple. Really!

Life often opens newer avenues when you let go of something or someone or some situation. Even if it immediately doesn’t, the very act of letting go is liberating. Clinging on is always about being under pressure, about wanting to prove a point – sometimes even to yourself.  But when you let go, there is no proving anything to anyone. When you let go, when you walk away, you are actually telling Life that you are open for new possibilities and opportunities. You are setting yourself free. And only when you are totally free can you be in bliss! 
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You are a freak if you think you control Life

When your Life’s design begins to go against what you have planned, recognize that it is yet another affirmation that you are not in control.
Someone wrote to me a while ago saying his failing business was causing him much grief. He said he was consumed by worry and fear. He wondered if his business would ever be back in his control? I am not sure I can say how things may work out for my friend. But a simpler way to deal with Life will be to stop believing or imagining that you are, or were, ever in control of anything!!
We humans make a virtue of our ill-founded belief that we are in control. You want your mind, your body, your spouse, your children, your employees, your neighbors and your government to work according to your whims and aspirations. Nothing wrong with the want per se. Except that it will not be fulfilled! Your mind cannot be in your control unless you anchor in silence (the practice of ‘mouna’) for at least an hour daily. Your body cannot be in your control unless you have your mind trained to being still. People, and governments, will continue to do what they want despite what you think or expect of them. Still we kid ourselves into believing that we are in control? Someone does something rude, nasty, harsh to you, like a colleague quits in a huff leaving you and your project stranded, you begin to wonder how-dare-he? This thinking spurs another thought that you must avenge this act. That leads to yet another thought that makes you plot and want to wish the worst for your detractor. So much negativity. So much grief. Step back and ask yourself, is this all worth it?
What do you, or I, control? You can’t even control your heart beat. It beats so you are alive. Can you control its stopping to beat? And what if it chooses to? Can you do anything about it? Fundamentally, you are a freak if you think you control Life. This doesn’t mean you and I should feel diffident about Life and resign ourselves to a master controller’s actions. Instead learn to act in the given moment with the circumstances that have been delivered unto you. Accept what is, do what you think you can best do in the situation with peace and joy, and just do it. Then deal with the next moment similarly. And so on. If each time, the thread is pulled away from your hand and cast on the floor, pick it up again and wind it up, slowly, peacefully. Be patient. Be accepting. Believe. Be. When you live Life this way, Life may not exactly be what you may want it to be, but your ability to be in bliss will be sufficiently enhanced and enabled!

What others think of you does not really make your Life tick!

Learn to accept that people have a right to their opinions. Don’t resist either the people around you or their opinions. Simply move on.                                                                                                     
A lot of our quality time is lost in giving credence to other people’s opinions. From experience I can tell you that this is an absolute waste of time. What others think of you does not really make your Life tick. Period. Only when you give an opinion attention does it grow to be a problem – as in something that you have to deal with. If you just view an opinion as a mere statement, a string of words, and choose only what you want to internalize and discard the rest, there will be no problem.
Consider this example. I give you a pen as a gift. If you accept it, who does the pen belong to? It belongs to you. If you choose not to accept it and say that you don’t take gifts as a matter of principle, who does the pen now belong to? It belongs to the giver, me. Now instead of a pen, if it was an insult or an opinion, you have the same option. You can leave it, the “gift”, with the giver and not take it. You grieve only when you accept the opinion or insult and agonize over it in your mind – she said that, but why?; how dare he do that to me?; I need to teach them a lesson; I need to show them who I really am and such. The more you grieve the more you suffer. And that’s why most relationships end up withering away – simply because you don’t have the ability to let people have their opinions!
Opinions are of two kinds – serious, honest feedback and frivolous, even destructive, criticism. You have a choice to internalize and learn from the first kind. If you do, don’t let your mind complain about it by chewing on it endlessly. Someone said something you can learn from. Learn and move on. The second kind of opinion, the destructive criticism, just ignore and move on. Now, moving on is not always easy. The legendary Bollywood film-maker Yash Chopra would take weeks to recover whenever his films flopped. Obviously the reason why a film flops is because of audience opinion. Chopra would lock himself up in his room and step out only at meal times. For weeks he would do this until he “healed” from the criticism and until he “learned” from the feedback. So, like Chopra, choose your own method for dealing with opinions. But whatever it is, don’t grieve and agonize, and resultantly suffer, over what others have to say.
We create our own problems by wanting people to be different from who they really are. It is because they are a particular way that they have opinions such as the ones they make. Accept people for who they and know that they are entitled to their opinion, just as you are entitled to yours. When you remind yourself of this empowering perspective, every time you hear an opinion contrary to your own, you will find the energy and the ability to drop the opinion, to not judge the person who delivered it and to move on!

Learn to live unsoiled by the world

Don’t be distracted by what’s around you. Look within and discover the way to live unsoiled!           
There are enough and more temptations and distractions out there. And we are not talking about materialistic objects of desire alone. Or of ruinous addictions like alcohol, tobacco or drugs either. While these are deterrents to intelligent living, most certainly, what we need to be wary off are the myriad ways in which we get dragged into banal situations on a daily basis. Think deeply about this. How often in a day do you worry about a future event __ someone’s terminal illness and impending passing, a child’s graduation, someone’s wedding or loans to be repaid? How often in a day do you grieve over the past __ having experienced someone wrongly, an irreconcilable loss, a mistake you made or a hurt you caused someone? How often do you lose your patience or temper or both daily __ on a child or spouse or subordinate or with just someone on the street? Each of these episodes takes us away from living. Every time we worry about the future or fret over the past or get dragged into anger spells, every single time, we die a death.
The ultimate goal and measure of success of intelligent living is notto change your external environment and make it incapable of causing you worry or making you feel guilty or angry. It is about engineering your inner space and insulating yourself from the vagaries of the world. This is what the Bible says ‘living in the world but not of it’ and what the Bhagavad Gita advises – ‘of living in this world but being above it’. The Buddha enlightens us, making this perspective simpler and easier to hold, using the metaphor of the lotus, “As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world, having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world.”

Strive to be like the lotus. The lotus grows often in a dirty pond but rises above it and lives spreading its beauty by keeping itself ‘above the muck’, remaining unsoiled. You too must avoid letting yourself be dragged into the petty squabbles and muck of everyday Life. And live, unsoiled, in bliss! 

Understand. Don’t interpret.

Let’s understand first and not rush to interpret each other. Most situations turn messy and most relationships get knotted up because people don’t want to understand. And instead they have interpreted others.
Osho, the Master, shares this story of his favorite character, Mullah Nasruddin. Mullah was coming back, totally drunk, in the wee hours of a morning. As he passed by a cemetery, he saw a signboard above a bell, which read, in big letters: “Ring for the Caretaker”. So, Mullah did just that. He rang the bell. Of course, the caretaker woke up with a start! He rushed to the main gate, sleepy and in a state of shock at having been woken up rudely. When he saw a drunk Mullah Nasruddin there he became even more angry. He asked: ‘Why? Why did you ring? Why did you call for me? What is the matter?” Mullah looked at the caretaker in disbelief, then looked at the signboard and then looking at the caretaker again, blabbered loudly, “Now, I don’t get this. Why can’t you ring that goddamn bell yourself?” The caretaker looked at the signboard again. It was written: “Ring for the Caretaker”. And so, now, the caretaker knew, why Mullah had rung the bell! This is the issue we are all confronted with. We interpret instead of understanding each other. Did Mullah understand what was written there or did he interpret it? For if he had understood it, he would have rung only if he wanted the caretaker to come and assist him with something. But because he interpreted the message on the signboard, he rang the bell for the caretaker!!
How often are we guilty of behaving with people and situations like the way Mullah did in that story? We don’t even listen most of time. We rush to conclusions even as someone is saying something. Even before someone has finished speaking our minds have formulated a ‘fitting’ reply. If we will listen, we will understand. But if we don’t listen, if we don’t pause to think after reading something, we will interpret. And most often our interpretation is completely wrong. Because everything in an interpretation is an analysis of what that something should be, could be or will be. It is never an acceptance of what is or never about just being!
Take any of your Life situations __  a vexing relationship issue, for example. Ask yourself if you have tried to understand that person or have you interpreted her or his actions, words and thoughts? If you had understood, as you will discover, there would not be an issue or misunderstanding! So, now, you know what to do! Don’t you? Stop interpreting. Understand. And peace will follow!

I drink alcohol…and I am spiritual

Just because you don’t like the message, don’t shoot the messenger!  
A couple of days ago I received an email forward of a media release purported to have been issued on behalf of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living organization. I don’t know if the release was indeed issued on Sri Sri’s behalf. I hope not. The release attacks, albeit in a veiled manner without naming them, director Rajkumar Hirani, actor Aamir Khan and their movie PK, for “projecting sadhus (Hindu saints) in bad light”, for “promoting dargahs (Muslim shrines) and putting down ashrams(Hindu monasteries)” and for “influencing young minds”. The release also says that the makers of PK have been funded by a terrorist to put down spirituality.
I find the content of the media release preposterous. And the charges against Khan, Hirani and PK baseless. Whoever authored that release and whoever authorized its circulation neither understands spirituality not do they understand PK’s message.
Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. It is the realization that comes from within that you are the divinity that you seek. Spirituality is deeply personal, it is intense and it is liberating. It sets you free. Religion, on the other hand, tries to achieve the same result but ends up making bad spaghetti out of a good recipe. Not because there’s anything wrong with the recipe. But because the cooks, the high priests of the various religions (as the PK character says in PK, “the managers of the various companies”), have hidden and divisive agendas; they promote ritualism and hold gullible people – like you and me – hostage! In the movie, in one brilliant scene, PK picks up a new born baby to inspect if the baby is born with a “stamp”, a means of identification, that he or she was actually created (“sent down”) to be a Hindu or a Christian or a Muslim. The message is stark and uncomfortable: that our religion has been thrust upon us. We are born free to simply be human. But the label of Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jew and such is stuck on us as an afterthought. Our family and society force us to follow the religion that they have chosen for us. To add to the confusion, people who are self-proclaimed leaders of the various religions, induce fear among their followers saying that if you question what is being told and practiced, you will be punished by your God! PK makes another important, uncontestable point – the God, he says, that created you and me, is different from the God that we humans have created to suit our convenience. God, the creator, is compassionate, loving and is ever present – within us. The God we have created, he says, is forever elusive, being “managed and protected by agents and managers” and making people fearful. The truth is where there is fear, there is no faith. And when there is faith, there can be no fear. Faith is like light and fear is like darkness. You can bring light to drive away darkness. But you cannot bring darkness into a room which is well lit. You cannot, therefore, claim you have faith in a God, your God, and yet be fearful of either God or Life or both!!
The media release makes one other ridiculous, erroneous point. It states that people who consume alcohol are not spiritual! Spirituality is totally unconditional. Being spiritual means just being. You can be whoever you are. You don’t have to abstain from anything, you don’t have to fear anyone, you don’t have to fast, you don’t have to pray and you don’t have to follow any rituals. You just have to be who you are and enjoy being who you are. Spiritually empowered people employ this freedom, this fearlessness, this faith – that they will be taken care of and provided for by the Universe – to live in bliss. To them nothing is a sin. And nothing is forced. They live simply – seeing the divinity in themselves and in everyone and everything around them.

I seriously hope Sri Sri’s ashram did not issue that release and that the mail I received was just one of those hoax forwards. If it was indeed a genuine communication, I pity those who put it out – for they are missing PK’s central message and shooting the messenger, Aamir, just because he’s seen, per worldly definition, as a Muslim.  PK is not about Hindus and Muslims. It is not about Hindu Gods and a Muslim God or a Christian God. It is about you and me and how we are allowing ourselves to be trapped in the vicious cycle of religion, rituals, godmen and fear. Watch PK if you can and care. And even if you don’t want to watch it, raise a toast when you drink tonight!! To Christmas, good health and happiness. My toast, however, is to the authors of that redoubtable release: “Hey, I drink alcohol…and I am spiritual”!