Trust the hand that gives

Life is more meaningful when we humbly accept whatever comes our way, while implicitly trusting the hand that has given us this beautiful experience.

As 2015 gathers momentum and we settle down to our routines, the celebrations and hangovers of festivity make way for another year of opportunity, challenge, apprehension and faith. It is just the right time for us to think and reflect on something that will set the tone for the rest of the year to follow. This one is a story from Osho, the Master, that reminds us that when we accept what comes our way, there is joy and fulfillment. Here’s hoping you find it relevant to all that you have experienced or will encounter as you cruise along through the year.

A slave had served his Master faithfully for years. So diligent was he that the Master rewarded him by taking him along on a tour of the Amazon jungles. They camped at night and walked, exploring nature’s pristine beauty, during the day. The loyal slave never failed in his duty to his Master even though the trip was his reward. He would feed his Master, make his bed and keep him warm at nights by stoking the bonfire. Impressed further by his service, one day at lunch time, when they both spotted a big, exquisite, colorful fruit, the Master insisted that the slave have the fruit first. When the slave was shy to take up his offer, the Master said, “My dear son, you have served me well. Go on, eat this rare fruit first, and give me a small portion at the end.” The slave reluctantly agreed. And had a go at the juicy fruit. As he devoured the first few slices, the Master asked him how it was. And the slave replied: “Extra-delicious”. A few more slices later, the Master again asked him how it was and the slave gave the same reply. Big fruit that it was, larger than a pumpkin, the Master got the same reply time after time. Soon, more than three-fourths of the fruit had been eaten by the slave and the Master began to worry that he would not get to taste it. “Slaves will be slaves,” he thought, “Selfish and greedy.” Losing his patience finally, the Master snatched the last slice from the slave and bit into it. He shrieked in horror throwing the slice away. It was the bitterest fruit he had ever tasted in all his life. He looked at his slave in dismay and asked him: “But didn’t you say it was extra-delicious? Didn’t you seem to be enjoying it? How and why, my son? Explain.” “Master,” replied the slave, “All my Life you have looked after me. Whatever you have given me has only enriched my life. So, when you gave me this fruit to eat, its bitter taste did not matter to me at all. I just blindly trusted the handthat gave me the fruit.”

Huge learning there from the slave’s attitude to Life and his Master. There’s great joy in accepting. Let’s stop resisting Life’s vicissitudes and simply accept whatever comes our way! With prayers for a happy, peaceful and healthy rest-of-the-year for you and your precious family….

The higher you go, the more grounded you must be PS: Also, please hold your own umbrella!

Irrespective of who you are or become, if you can stay humble and grounded, you can claim to have lived your Life most meaningfully and intelligently.

Obama with Vice-President Ansari
Picture Courtesy: Internet
US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle were our special guests at this year’s R-Day Parade earlier this week. An unseasonal steady drizzle required that everyone had to deploy umbrellas. While most Indian dignitaries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had people holding up their umbrellas, both Obama and Michelle held up their umbrellas themselves. People across the sub-continent did not miss this subtle cultural trait that differentiates perhaps much of the Western, particularly US, world from us. We are still steeped in wasteful colonial practices, in the name of “tradition” and “protocol”, while folks from the US are – as they are in several other countries – far more humble and down-to-earth. This is an important lesson to be learnt by us in a country where, at the drop of a hat, people switch to a do-you-know-who-I-am mode and drop names to declare their clout and powerful reach.

Obama holding up his own umbrella, to me, is also an un-ignorable spiritual metaphor. The learning is that the higher you ascend, the more powerful and popular you become, the more grounded and humble you must be.  At the end of the day, we must all realize, that we are merely messengers. The art we claim to be masters of, the work that we do, the success we achieve, and the wealth we believe we create, are all manifestations of the energy that flows through us. Simply, Life is expressing itself through us. We are what we are not because of us but in spite of us! This is the truth. So, if you were a musician and music is flowing through you, how can you take credit for the music? How can the microphone – which is what you really are – take any credit for creating the music? The microphone must simply be happy at having been an instrument that helped broadcast the music. Staying humble, therefore, means to know that you cause nothing – neither your successes, nor your failures.

Does a PM need an umbrella “holder”?
Picture Courtesy: Internet
Of course, the world around us is unevenly skewed in favor of those who declare their might and success with pomp and a misplaced sense of self-worth. To them, they are unfortunately the majority, their hard work has led to their success and so they insist they have the right to flaunt it. Which is why a Mukesh Ambani chooses to build and live in an Antilla and Narendra Modi, apart from not wanting to hold his own umbrella, loved being in pin-stripes that had his name embroidered in place of the stripes! Contrast that with Amitabh Bachchan who, last week, was asked by NDTV’s Barkha Dutt to describe himself in a line. He replied, with his legendary, trademark, humility: “Just another name!”

I guess people know who they love more. The kind that flaunt or those that are self-effacing. But, on a personal note, I can tell you that the best state to be in is to believe that everything happens through you, in spite of you, and never because of you! This is the secret and key to inner peace and happiness! 

The OM Game is fun – only Allies, no Conspirators….!

On the spiritual path the very fact that you are aware and are paying attention to your feelings and thoughts is evidence of progress.

A key tenet of spirituality is patience. So, progress is slow but sure. Look for the signs when you are on the path. Aren’t you now aware that you are angry when you lose it with someone? Aren’t you now conscious when you worry that you must fall back on faith? Aren’t you seeing every misunderstanding as an opportunity to forgive? On this path, Life will test you. If you resolve to conquer your anger, you will find more situations that make you angry come your way. If you are willing to anchor in faith, each moment, each event will question that choice. Instead of giving up, instead of feeling frustrated, take Life head-on. Life loves those who dare it. Instead of reacting with ‘Oh! No! or OMG! or DAMN!’ say, ‘Well, that’s interesting’ or ‘Stay alert, this is a ploy by Life’ or just ‘Aha!’ every time you are challenged. When you refuse to get cowed down by it, Life will celebrate you.

Remember this is a mind game. And you can call it OM – Only Mind! The more you play it, the better you will be at it. At first, it will appear that the mind possesses you. No doubt. But soon you will reclaim it and own it. The OM game will now mean (your) Own Mind!! In this game, you are the Star. And everyone around you is either a Conspirator or an Ally. Your goal is to make them all – the Conspirators – Allies. And you do that by being loving, caring, forgiving and trusting. So, when someone continues to treat you badly, like a door mat, don’t be your typical self and say, ‘How dare you?’ Say to yourself, ‘Well thank you. You are now an Ally who’s going to get me to increase my OM score, my Ally count!’. When you start playing OM, you may have few Allies: maybe just your immediate family. With each passing day, you will rejoice and revel in seeing that Ally count move up. The guy who brushed past you brusquely you in the check-in queue at the airport is an Ally. The boss who denied your vacation request is another Ally. The irate cop on the street who abused you is an Ally too. And so, you go on, making more Allies. Within 21 days of playing OM, you will find your mind now seeing everyone as an Ally. Nobody is a detractor or Conspirator. In fact, your network of Allies will be growing faster than facebook’s user base! It’s fun. Play OM! Make Allies. Keep a log of your increasing Ally score. Watch Life celebrate you!

(PS – An important clarification and disclaimer: The OM Game is just a practical methodology to train the mind in loving, caring, forgiving and trusting; it does not refer to or reflect on or take away from the actual significance of the Sanskrit word ‘om’, pronounced as ‘aum’, which is integral to all spiritual quest.)

An unputdownable lesson on happiness from a slain soldier’s wife

Sometimes Life may just disturb a perfect, picture-postcard family. There are no sure ways to deal with such a situation – you just learn to cope and live.
At R-Day 2015: Indhu set to receive the Ashok Chakra
from the President awarded to Mukund posthumously
Picture Courtesy: Internet
Yesterday, I learnt this lesson, one more time, from Indhu Mukund. On Republic Day yesterday, as the entire nation watched, along with our special guests, US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, Indhu, 31, wife of slain Army officer Major Mukund Varadarajan (who died in action in Shopian in Jammu and Kashmir on April 25,  2014), received the Ashok Chakra – India’s highest peacetime gallantry award, from President Pranab Mukherjee, that was awarded to her husband posthumously. Indhu later told NDTV’s Barkha Dutt (see the full interview here): “India should see the man Mukund was, not my sorrow.” Indhu added that it was “Mukund’s day, his moment” yesterday and she did not want any trace of her own emotion to “interfere” with it. Such stoicism is a rare blessing. All I can do is to salute her and send her my prayers and positive energy.
The picture-postcard family: Indhu, Arshea, Mukund
Photo Courtesy: Internet
Until a year ago, the Mukunds were the perfect family. Their daughter Arshea was barely 3 years old and everything seemed so good to be true. And then Mukund had to go. There was national attention on Indhu, Arshea and on Mukund’s parents. But then like most stories, this one too, despite its emotional, human interest appeal, died down. The Ashok Chakra announcement put the spotlight back on Indhu and the family again. This morning’s papers too are full of pictures of her receiving the award. And then again, soon, everyone will go on with their lives. Mukund’s sacrifice will just remain a memory for some, and for most, a general knowledge data point. Dutt asked Indhu on her show last night if she would ever be bitter with this possibility. Indhu responded with amazing maturity that she would not. “I don’t expect anyone to remember Mukund the way the family will. If the nation remembers him as a patriot that’s good. The emotions are for me, for us as a family.” And finally, Dutt asked Indhu how she coped, how she has been able to stay strong: “Is it because of the love you had for Mukund?” And Indhu replied, again with disarming equanimity, “It is because of the love I havefor him. And the regard I have for him. He would have loved me to be happy. And my strength to live happily and give Arshea a happy Life comes from that.”
Almost everyone struggles with death. And there is no one who has not experienced a personal loss, through the death of someone close. Despite the fact that it is the only thing you can be sure of in Life – that everyone among us will die someday, death, when it arrives, stuns you. It numbs you. It is particularly devastating when it is sudden and snuffs away someone that is so full of Life – like Mukund – and renders incomplete a beautiful family such as his. There are no ways to prepare for such a situation. There are no methods to deal with this inscrutable Life. The only lesson we can learn, every time we hear a story such as the Mukunds, is to promise to live our lives – fully and make each day count; to never postpone happiness and, in a very practical, selfish sense, never postpone family time. And should the picture-postcard be disturbed – and it will be some day – learn from Indhu to be happy despite the circumstances. There is no other way to live, no other way to cope and certainly no other way to be happy!
(PS: Let us take a minute to humbly acknowledge the sacrifice of all the soldiers who have laid down their lives for our nation. And let us pray for the well-being of their precious families.)

Mind to no-mind: the art of taming your drunken monkeys

To enjoy Life and to live each moment fully move from mind to no-mind.  
We have all been conditioned to believe that the human faculty to think is what differentiates us from other forms of creation. Undoubtedly it does. But the human mind is also responsible for causing all our suffering. The nature of the mind is that it keeps generating thoughts. And the other fact is that the mind thrives only in the past or in the future. But either position is irrelevant in the present moment. Which is why it serves no purpose for the mind to be in the past – which is dead, which is over – or to imagine a future – that is still unborn, yet to arrive. Life is always happening in the present moment, in the now. So, when we listen to the mind, we are missing living in the moment. We are missing the beauty and magic of Life.
In Buddhism, the mind is referred to as the Monkey Mind. This is to emphasize the point that there is a constant churn of thoughts, most of them unsettling in nature, that is happening in the undisciplined mind. With a mind that is steeped in anger, grief, guilt, fear, anxiety, worry and such wasteful, debilitating thoughts, where is the opportunity to live in the moment? One Buddhist scripture quotes the Buddha even describing the mind thus: “The human mind is like a drunken monkey that has been stung by a bee.” This is so apt. So powerful a metaphor that I can totally relate to.
The mind is powerless in the present. So, when you are trying to relax, for instance, watching TV or a sunset, the mind will remind you of a sunset that you watched with your girlfriend. And your thoughts will go to a time in the past that is so painful because your girlfriend and you had a messy break-up. Or it will drag you into the future, to a worry about some unpaid bills and the lack of cash to meet them – which includes not being able to pay for your DTH TV connection coming due next week! When your mind wanders, it will stop being in the present. So will you. Which is why all of us are leading incomplete lives – lost in mourning about the past or worrying incessantly about the future. This is why we suffer. Since we cannot undo what has happened nor can we tell what will happen, we are either pining for something is not there or we are fearing something which we believe will happen to us. Both these thoughts cause our agony and suffering.
I have, over time and consistent practice, learnt to tame the drunken monkeys in my mind. I do this by having conversations with the monkeys. Every time a monkey starts jumping around in my mind, I talk to the monkey. For instance, whenever I think of someone who has betrayed me or has been unkind to me, Anger Monkey starts jumping up and down. I ask Anger Monkey, “What’s the point in your getting excited. It’s all over.” The Anger Monkey replies, “But you were cheated, you were pissed on and passed over. You must avenge.” I would say, “I am not interested. Why do you insist?” Anger Monkey would reply: ‘So that they (my detractors) don’t get the feeling that they got away with doing what they did to you.” I would conclude, “Let them. I am happy not wanting to prove anything to anyone or teach anyone a lesson.” That would be it. And I would go back to living my Life without the least trace of anger or vengeance in me. But, as I said, this attitude is something you cultivate with practice. This is true for every monkey in your mind – from Fear Monkey to Guilt Monkey to Worry Monkey.

To expect thoughts – the drunken monkeys – not to arise in your mind is futile. As long as you are alive your mind will be churning out thoughts. Intelligent living is the ability to tame the drunken monkeys and make them powerless by staying in the present. This then is the state of no-mind. Try to be in this state for as long as possible each day. That’s the only way to not be held hostage by the past or be fearful of the future. That is the only way to live in the now!

Comparisons ruin your inner peace

If you want to be at peace with yourself and the world around you, then stop comparing yourself with others.
Comparison is a lousy mind game. It works big time especially when someone else has got what you don’t have. When someone has a better job or car or spouse or whatever that you don’t have, your mind will keep prompting you to look at that person a bit differently. You will start imagining that this person perhaps does not deserve what she or he has and that you deserve it more. But your imagination, your wishing something alone, cannot make it a reality. As in, for instance, your imagination alone cannot get you that better job or car or whatever. So, when you don’t get what you want and instead when you keep pining for it, you suffer. Your expectations in this context are futile and are what are causing you agony. The only way then to end your self-inflicted suffering is to simply stop comparing yourself with others.
You must remember that each person’s Life is engineered differently. It is not necessary that everyone has everything at all times. And when you don’t have something, just live with that reality. Don’t pine for it, citing another person as having what you want, and believe that you are justifying your case better. Indeed, to whom are you justifying and how can any justification work with Life? For instance, a friend lamented yesterday that while he is out of job and is facing rejection from every quarter, someone who is less-skilled and less-experienced than him has bagged the CEO’s job in a company where he once worked. My friend feels ethics and meritocracy have taken a backseat in today’s corporate world. Possibly. But my friend must realize that his grief is compounded by the fact that someone else has a job while he does not. And this is exactly the point that I am trying to make. When you don’t have a job, focus simply on trying to get one. Don’t focus on analyzing why others have a job while you don’t. This analysis is worth it, if it is constructive and if it can help you prepare and present your candidature better. But it can be very debilitating and destructive if you merely choose to compare yourself with others and wallow in self-pity.

Simply, in any situation, don’t compare yourself with others. Not when you have what others don’t. And never when you don’t have what others do. Comparisons ruin your inner peace. Protect it by looking within and expunging any comparison whatsoever.

Awareness can help you beat frustration

Frustration fulfills a need to express what you feel momentarily. But prolonged frustration makes you angry and depressive.
The only way to beat frustration is to be aware of it when you feel so. Each of us is entitled to a bad hair day, a lousy mood and explosive expressions. Nothing wrong with it. It is part of living, growing up, learning and evolving. In an instant gratification environment, a piece of technology that plays truant can cause frustration. An inconsiderate fellow-passenger can land you in a bad mood. A spouse or child can lead you on to a depressive spiral. And you may choose to express your frustration: gritting your teeth, thumping the desk, yelling, kicking a piece of furniture or breaking something. Up to this stage it is fine, but when you reflect back, you will often find that your frustration does not linger on because of what caused your explosive behavior but because you chose to express yourself in such dramatic ways. And for several hours, maybe even days, weeks and months, after that bout of frustration, you continue to sulk, grieve and brood over your ‘plight’. In this time the cause of your frustration may no longer exist or may have chosen to move on! But you are still languishing in the abyss of your negative mood or the anger that followed it.
For just a momentary indiscretion, do you want to embrace prolonged agony? Think. How long would you hold on to a matchstick after you strike/light it? If you hold on too long, you risk burning yourself. So it is with frustrations. Be aware. The moment you feel frustration building within you, shift your attention. You see yourself in a long-winding queue, look for the most beautiful sight (may be even a person!) in your vicinity. You receive a disturbing e-mail, get on to facebook for a moment and see what’s going on! You and your spouse have had a lousy argument, go out, stand in the open and look up at the sky! Beat the first frustrating thought that arises within, by shifting focus. If you can play a game on your phone or computer, where you have to shoot to win, you can and will win this frustration-beating game!

Frustration almost always breeds anger – which is a killer! So, be aware and beware! The Buddha says this so beautifully, “You will never be punished for your anger; you will always be punished by your anger”!

Let go and discover the divinity in you!

There’s divinity in every aspect of creation – including in you. You don’t see it because of the way in which you have been conditioned to think of divinity.

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 the sight. But there’s a sewage system in your body: your intestines and kidneys are doing just the same job__precisely. A 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 indeed his God. 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!”

Each moment in your Life has been waiting for you since you were born. The trajectory of your Life has been pre-cast and the problems you encounter too are the hurdles that are set up there to make you aware of your true power. To discover that power, your divinity within you, you must just let go. When you let go, you actually invite boundless grace into your Life. It may bring pain, the thought and the act of letting go, but eventually, it leads you to your divinity, to freedom, joy and bliss!

Romance Life to see how loving you really are!

Just as you can learn swimming, cycling, writing, you can learn loving too.
Overcoming small irritations and injustices by giving the situation and the perpetrator love, instead of anger, is how you practice loving. A motorist tries to cut past you and creates a small traffic jam but ends up blaming you. Don’t respond with a how-dare-you look. Smile and say it was just an ‘oops!’ situation. At a busy check-out line at a store, someone edges past you and the cashier does not insist that you must be allowed to bill first. Don’t agitate. Smile and say these things happen! Your boss holds you singularly responsible for the team’s poor show though you have put in several extra miles. Don’t grieve. Pray for your team and your boss.
Our daily Life is peppered with several hundreds of opportunities__or call them nanosecond tests__to practice loving. In that nanosecond you have to make a choice. Do you want to respond with anger or practice loving instead? When you practice loving, you learn forgiving__or, as Richard Carlson would say, you learn how not to sweat the small stuff. How you deal with the small things in Life is what determines how you deal with the big things. The interesting aspect of practicing loving is you don’t have to become loving. You are love and you are capable of loving. The only thing that comes with practice is that you become more aware of this capability.
Just like Mother Teresa and Gandhi and now, Narayanan Krishnan, personify love, so can you. Because you are that already. Just that you don’t know it. The love in you doesn’t just need some lemon and honey, it needs practicing. Romance the travails of everyday Life, and see how loving you really are!