Why fear a God than love one?

Don’t let anyone feed your insecurities and fuel your fears. Because that’s what society wants: to keep you enslaved to your worries and anxieties.
One of the first things we are taught as children is to be God-fearing. My grandma used to encourage me to eat my food or avoid telling lies by saying, “Swami vanthu kanna kuththum”. Meaning, God will come and gorge out your eyes if you don’t finish your meal or if you say lies. How gory can that be? Hardly Godly! Resultantly, most of us are brought up fearing an external God who will punish us for any transgressions.
But how can God be both merciful and fearful at the same time? Have you ever wondered why you have not been encouraged to be God-loving? As you grow up, enter adulthood, the whole spectre of SIN looms large over you. If you drink it is a sin. If you have sex it is a sin. If you as much as not pray it is a sin. Then Life becomes, in due course, a challenge for most of us. What all this God-fearfulness does is it makes us insecure to the point that we lean on the crutches of religion, abstinence (weekly fasting to propitiate the divine!) and God-men/God-women! This is bizarre.

You – and I – were not born basis a religion. You were not brought up because you chose a society, a standard of living or a way of Life. Then why become victims and slaves of what society wants you to do? Deal with Life, its beauty, its challenges, its pain, its joys, its insecurities and its abundance in your own way. Be free. Because it is your Life. When you experience Life for what it is than what others make you believe it is, you will see a God, your God, within you! Then you will appreciate the value of being God-loving!                                                              

Face your fears to be courageous

Courage is not something you acquire. It is something that surfaces from within you when you face up to fear in any situation.
In order to understand courage you must understand yourself first. If you believe you are a victim of the circumstances you are faced with, then you will live in fear, self-doubt and misery. Instead know that you are the Master and your circumstances are just that. They are circumstances and are therefore impermanent. Know that the energy within you is capable of overcoming any situation. Provided you turn around and face it. The Vietnamese dissident poet, Nguyen Chi Thien (1939~2012), was a classic example of someone who made the best out of any situation. To be sure, Thein had spent a total 27 years in prison resisting oppressive regimes and captors. Of this time, eight years were spent in solitude, in shackles, in the dark. He committed his poems to memory so that the authorities could never discover them! In one he wrote, of the regime and how he fought them:
“They exiled me to the heart of the jungle

Wishing to fertilize the manioc (cassava, a staple food) with my remains.

I turned into an expert hunter
And came out full of snake wisdom and rhino fierceness.
They sank me into the ocean
Wishing me to remain in the depths.
I became a deep sea diver
And came up covered with scintillating pearls.”

This is how you become courageous. When Life puts you in the dock, you face it with equanimity. You remind yourself that every dawn will take the night’s darkness away. When you look fear in the face, and do what you think you cannot, the circumstance, while remaining the same, will be less terrifying and your ability to deal with it will substantially improve!

Nothing in Life is worth agonizing over

Everything that you once did is laughable today. And what you do today will soon be laughable.

For instance, when you look back at your student years, all the pre-exam stress is so irrelevant. So much so, that when you see your child agonizing over revisions on the eve of exams, you laugh and say, “Take it easy.” Or when you reflect on how keyed up you were before your first date or your first job interview, you laugh and say, “Man, I was so inexperienced then.” Even when you have lost a dear one, and have been in pain and trauma for years, when you finally attain that position of spiritual equilibrium and equanimity, you would come to terms with the reality__that the person is no more__and laugh to yourself saying, “Such is Life!”

It is a truism of Life that every experience we undergo is to teach us a new lesson. And when we do learn from it, we understand how simple Life actually is. Once this simplicity becomes evident, everything__believe me__everything, is laughable. Imagine if you were asked to recite two tables up to twelve, wouldn’t you laugh at how simple the ‘challenge’ is? And yet, as a seven-year-old, you struggled a lot with this ‘simple’ stuff? This realization is what makes life fun and laughable. Nothing, repeat N-O-T-H-I-N-G, in Life is worth agonizing over. Everything about your Life__and mine__is laughable.

Never miss the opportunity or the ability to laugh at yourself. Just keep laughing….

Take a break – nurture your body!

Every once in a while we must listen to our body. It often gives us several warning signs and tells us all that we need to know about ourselves. Ironically, doesn’t our air-conditioner, mobile phone, laptop and our car receive more attention and care than our body? Isn’t that a very unintelligent choice we make?
A key reason why we postpone personal health and fitness issues is that we think we have a lot of time to deal with them. The truth is, we don’t! With every passing second, our lives are getting shorter. Surely, nobody wants to spend time in hospitals and among doctors in the evening of their lives. And if we spent a little time to reflect on the generation that is ahead of us – and see what their lives are like, we will take our own lives seriously. Pretty soon we will be where that generation already is – reporting mobility issues, dealing with lifestyle-led complications like diabetes, hypertension and heart ailments or simply facing age-related consequences. Around that time, our children will be getting ready to build their careers and families. The last thing we would want is to burden them with helping us deal with our health challenges. Besides, the simple truth is that the more fit you are, the more productive (with your line of work), more peaceful and happier you will be. By fit, I don’t mean having a six-pack-ab body. I simply mean being fit enough not to have serious consequences arising from poor and irresponsible lifestyle choices!  

Take a break. Nurture your body! I recall Quality guru Philip B Crosby’s (1926~2001) immortal line, Health is Wealth. And it is totally Tax Free! Need we say any more?

Beyond being a Valentine for a day – the “ashiq”, the “mashouka” and “ishq”!

The true meaning of “I love you” is “I will be there for you – no matter what happens”!
Another Valentine’s Day is here. From FM stations to facebook posts to diner offers, the cliché ‘Love’s in the Air’ is going to rule the world today. But do we even understand what loving someone really means? This question has become both necessary and relevant because everything around us – most of all, relationships – has come to be conditional and is evaluated in material terms. I recently heard the story of my son’s classmate whose mother forced her to break-up with her boyfriend because the family was keen that the young lady marry someone who has the same “social status and business background” as them. In another instance, a lady confessed to me that she had to arrange for 100 sovereigns of gold to marry the man she “loved” because his family imposed that steep pre-condition to approve their match. Another friend walked out on her husband, who, according to her, is a “great human being” but is “incapable of bringing home an income”; she confessed to me that “financial security” mattered a lot more to her than companionship. Someone I know says he doesn’t trust his wife but has decided not to “rake up the issue” because she earns a good salary – I know the family and believe that this gentleman’s perception of mistrust arises from the fact that she earns more than him! Unfortunately, our society is not helping make relationships any better – there’s so much pressure on earning a living, on providing, on buying, hoarding, showing off and owning, that loving has become less relevant and least important. Clearly, demonstrating – often time, proving – in material terms that you love someone has overtaken genuinely, simply, loving that someone!
Loving someone really is about being there unconditionally for that person. There is no way I can explain what loving means in English. But, as I have come to learn, understanding the Persian word “ishq” is one way to know what being loving or loving someone means. “Ishq” means loving someone intensely, when you lose yourself in that feeling, when nothing matters, when a certain madness takes over your whole being. This includes the love that one has for all of humanity – the way Mother Teresa had it or the love that one has for divinity – the way Meera had it for Krishna. “Ishq” makes people soul-mates; it goes beyond mind and body and unites both people at a soul level. With “ishq”, there is no lust, just pure, unadulterated, unconditional love.
The word “ishq” comes from the Persian root “a-shiq-a” which is actually the name of an ivy plant. The import is that, just as the ivy, a  climber entwines itself around other plants, the “ashiq” or lover entwines himself intensely around his “mashouka” or beloved, refusing to look at her shortcomings. The same logic applies vice versa too.  When you are loving, when you experience “ishq”, there are no demands, there are no constraints, and most important, there is no concept of time, space or of physical presence. And the simplest way to experience “ishq” is to go beyond the material trappings of any relationship. So, don’t just be content being a Valentine for a day; go on, find your “ashiq”, or “mashouka”, and be in “ishq”, forever! 

Focus on your efforts and leave the outcomes to Life

Asking why something is happening to you is of no use. The best way to deal with a situation that you dislike is to face it and deal with it.
Life has a mind of its own. It delivers situations to you whether you like it or not. Your preferences are not what Life seeks to know before something happens to you. Who wants a cancer? Or who wants to be out of job? Or who would want a break-up – especially years after a heady romance and an equally memorable marriage? Who would want to lose a parent, child, spouse or sibling? Yet, whether you like it or not, several of these contexts, and more, have applied to you the past or currently apply to you or may apply in the future. Such is Life. Asking why must you be in the situation you are in is futile. Life doesn’t answer anyone’s questions – definitely not in a linear fashion. You can, at best, make sense of your Life by looking back, and reflecting on why some events happened in the way they did. As Steve Jobs has famously said: “You can only connect the dots backwards”. And when you do connect them, you will realize that everything happens for a reason, and all change always is for yourgood!
I read the story of Achal Bakeri and his highly-successful Symphony brand of air-coolers in a recent issue of The Economist.  Bakeri returned to India in 1988, after acquiring an MBA from the US and encouraged his Sanand (Gujarat)-based family business to look beyond real estate. He launched elegant-looking, efficient, air-coolers for domestic and commercial use. Soon Symphony was the market leader in its space and a public listing followed in 1994. But Bakeri made a mistake – he capitulated under pressure from investors to make washing machines and water heaters under the Symphony brand name. The move, though logical on paper and in theory, backfired. Symphony’s new products failed badly in the market and pushed the company to the brink of bankruptcy. After several years of struggle, Bakeri decided to focus on doing only what he – and his company – knew best. Which was to make only air-coolers. But he backed up that decision with a significant change in strategy – he took the Symphony brand global. In 2011, he bought a Mexico-based firm which gave Symphony additional leverage in manufacturing, technology and distribution. That move – and Bakeri’s resolve to focus on his core – paid off. Today Symphony’s stock is rated as among the best performing stocks in India in the past decade. The Economist story concludes with this perspective: “Had Symphony not had such a close brush with failure, it would have stuck to the Indian market and never explored the global potential for air-coolers. “It was the best thing that happened to us,” Bakeri says.”

I am sure Bakeri had his own ‘why-me’ moments of self-doubt, self-pity and anger as he revisited his decisions. I am sure he wondered at some time whether he would be able to haul his company – and his career as an entrepreneur – out of the mess it was in. I am sure he too did not get sleep on many nights thinking of how dark and fearful the future looked. And, yet, I am sure, along the way, one thing led to another and things did work out fine for Symphony and for Bakeri. This is how Life will work for each of us too. None of our stories is going to have a sad ending. Even if you were to die today, leaving unfinished business and incomplete dreams, someone will pick up from where you left off and give your story the end it truly deserves. So, stop questioning the Life that is happening to you. If you love what’s happening to you, enjoy every moment. If you dislike what’s happening to you, learn to endure it. Don’t resist Life – that’s when you suffer. Don’t ask why and don’t ask why me? Learn to face Life and deal with it doing whatever you can daily, in the best way you can! Just focus on your efforts. And leave the results and outcomes to Life. Remember: in the end, no matter what you are going through now, it will all work out fine! 

Drop the guilt and simply be

Guilt prevents you from being your true self – and from simply being.
Every once in a while, you will commit mistakes. Some of them may be simple and you can redeem yourself. But in some cases you cannot go back and undo what you did. In either case, the feeling of guilt lingers on – and in the cases where the damage owing to your actions is irreparable, the guilt refuses to go away. First, know that feeling this way, is something normal. But if you understand what guilt is, you will be able to deal with it better.
Guilt is an emotion always associated with the past. Therefore, in every sense, it is debilitating. Because, no matter what you do, you can’t change the past. But because, when feeling guilt, you tend to live only the past, you are held hostage by your guilt and miss out on the beautiful present, on living in the moment. Dropping the guilt does not mean you should not recognize your mistake or learn from your actions. I am not making a case for non-accountability. Indeed every mistake you make is an opportunity to learn and/or unlearn something. So, please reflect on what has happened. Just don’t keep clinging on to it ruefully, steeped in guilt and feeling perpetually depressed for your actions.
You must realize that there’s no one who is perfect. Each of us learns through stumbling, falling, getting up and moving on in Life. Each experience is a teacher. Each failure – and each success – is a lesson. We can only learn when we realize the consequences of our actions. The problem with guilt is that it arises along with your inner realization or awakening. And because the human mind thrives in the past, it projects your guilt forcefully and your guilt overpowers the inner awakening and wrests control. So, instead of saying what can I learn from my actions or what I must resolve not to do going forward, your mind insists that you keep hating yourself for doing what you did. That feeling of self-hate is guilt. It is totally useless and entirely crippling. The more time you spend hating yourself for what you did, the more depressed you will be. The more depressed you are, the less you will enjoy the Life that is happening to you. Interestingly, no other aspect of creation has the ability to feel guilty. An animal doesn’t feel guilt. It simply is. It will eat when it wants, it will mate when it wants, it will do whatever it wants, whenever it wants to do it! Period. But we humans will analyze each action and allow ourselves to mourn and brood over our actions.

As they say, sometimes, “Shit Happens”! And it is entirely possible that you caused it to happen. Instead of holding yourself guilty forever, accept the mistake, internalize the lesson it has to offer, resolve to act differently going forward and just move on. Clinging on to your guilt is not intelligent living – because it destroys the ability to live in the now.  

Eat well! Eat happily! Eat gratefully!

Every time you eat a meal, eat it heartily and happily, and please do remember to thank the Universe for it!
Last night we dined at Rajdhani – a Rajasthani thali restaurant. At the end of the meal, when the check arrived, I was amazed to see what they call their thali. They call it the Happiness Thali! It made me think. Isn’t every meal an opportunity to be happy and grateful to the Universe and its wonderful creations? Haven’t so many people toiled to make the meal possible for you? Isn’t the ability to have a meal, and digest it, a miracle – for, aren’t there so many people who are sleeping hungry or are having digestive disorders or are, sadly, dying of starvation?
The problem with most of humanity that is able to have a meal whenever they want – which includes you and me – is that they take the meal for granted. These days, even at meal-time, we don’t spare our mobile phones. Our meals are had with no or inadequate attention to the food. It is almost as if eating is a chore. Which is why there are so many lifestyle-led health complications that people face.
The right way to eat is to be mindful of each morsel, to enjoy the flavor and taste of what you are imbibing, to chew each mouthful and take it in slowly. As you do this, remain completely grateful for what you have. Even if you can’t count your blessings for all that you have in the other departments of your Life, feel humbled and grateful that you have this meal in front of you now. Know that unless an entire army of people – from the farmers who grew the crop to the workers who processed it in factories to the traders who sold it to you to your employer who pays you wages to be able to buy your groceries monthly to your family which gives you reason to have beautiful mealtimes to the person that cooked your meal to your parents who brought you into this world – had worked for you, you won’t be having food on your table.

Having food to eat is a miracle. Every time you witness it, be aware, and celebrate it. Eat well. Eat happily. Eat gratefully! 

If it has gone, simply, let it go!

When something or someone goes out of your Life, simply let ‘em go! Understand that loss is an integral part of living!
Last evening, my phone fell down on the street, hit a kerbside stone, and the display screen cracked irreparably. I was shocked for a nano-second. Then I picked up the instrument to check if it was working.  It was. I dusted it and moved on – after double-checking all its functions. I smiled to myself. Some years ago, I would never have been this way. I would have grieved and sulked. Especially, in a situation when replacing the phone instantly is not an option – I don’t have the means to buy a new phone! In fact, even this one was gifted to me by a friend some months ago. As I looked at my battered phone later in the evening, I remembered an incident that happened eight years ago. I am a collector of LAMY pens. And at that time, I was using one daily. I simply loved the look and feel of these pens. I was naturally very possessive about my LAMY collection. On a flight from Chennai to Mumbai, I lost my blue LAMY. I remember how I grieved through all my meetings that day in Mumbai and how I needed more than a few drinks that evening to get the blue LAMY out of my mind. In contrast, I felt good with myself surveying my phone last evening – with my ability to have let go of what had already gone (broke)!
There’s a beautiful song from the 1961 Tamil classic Paalum Pazhamum(A.Bhimsingh, Sivaji Ganesan, Saroja Devi) which goes “Ponaal Pogattum Poda…” (Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy, Kannadasan, T.M. Soundarajan). The lyrics basically mean, “If it has gone, let it go…everything/everyone is impermanent…)! That song, to me, sums up what Life is all about! 

Indeed. Everything and everyone around us has to go one day. The very nature of Life is impermanent. If you pause for a moment to reflect, you will realize that you came with nothing and you will go with nothing. Your name, your wealth, your qualifications, your experiences, your memories, your relationships – nothing will make it with you. When it is your time, you will have to go. Period. This is one non-negotiable quality about Life. Then, if you care to reflect more, why do we cling on to almost everyone and everything? It is because we cling on, because we don’t let go, that we suffer. What happens to us is not in our control – whether it is a broken mobile phone or a broken relationship or the death of someone we love. But how we let things and people go, when it is time for them to go, out of our lives, can truly impact how we feel about and experience Life. If you resist what’s going or gone, you will find Life to be an endless struggle. But if you let go gracefully, you will be drenched in inner peace and happiness – no matter what the circumstances are! 

Be your child’s best friend and partner-in-progress

When parents are over-anxious about their children, often it is not the children who need advice, it is the parents who need counseling!
A couple recently approached me to say that their child, a 17-year-old boy, was being drawn to all forms of “negativity” and that they had tried “treating” him without much “success”. The boy apparently had stopped faring well in academics, was drawn to a career as a script-writer for films, had tried smoking weed and had liked it, had stopped believing in God and was questioning the role of religion in Life. It was clear to me that both parents were anxious in their own way – the mother was vocal about it and the father admitted that he was often “hyper” with his son over his changed behavior. While clarifying to them that their child was not a problem and that he did he not require any treatment, I advised the couple to simply “chill”. The good news, I told them, is that their son was being honest in declaring – and sharing – his choices, opinions and preferences with them. And the better news also was that their child was simply being normal. I am not sure the parents agreed with me entirely though!
Here’s what we need to understand about parenting teenagers and young adults  – we must simply learn to let go! When children are in their adolescent years and are emerging into young adulthood, they are keen adventurers and explorers. They want to touch, feel and experience Life. They don’t want to live with our rationalizations and hypotheses. They even don’t want to learn from our experiences – they want to experiment and learn everything first hand. From handling money to making career choices to having sex to tasting alcohol to smoking tobacco to trying dope – they want to do it their way. Now, obviously, when a child you cradled in your arms, is beginning to want to live “free” you wonder if she or he can manage in this mad, chaotic, big world. You agonize over whether she or he is drinking too much; you fear whether the casual smoke will become a ruinous habit and you wonder if having sex too soon will lead to physical and social challenges. None of your concerns is baseless. But resisting your child’s adolescent curiosity is never productive. Instead, choose a mature, transparent approach. Talk to the child. Have conversations on all subjects. Nothing is taboo between a parent and a child. Tell the child what you feel about various her or his preferences or choices. Share what your experiences have been. Tell your child that you trust her or him and that you expect mature, intelligent behavior from her or him. Inform your child on what the law says about many of these matters – on say, drinking and driving, on pirated movies, on the difference between consensual sex and rape, on the use of contraband and narcotics. Let your perspective not be a command or a directive. Let it be an informed appeal. Invite the child to experience everything that’s permissible by the law of the land – but advice against getting carried away! And then let go! More often than not, when you genuinely repose faith and confidence, children usually behave very responsibly. Freedom is a great responsibility. And no one knows this better than children who are in their late teens – and who are trusted by their parents. This has been my personal experience as a parent too!
I am not championing abdication when I say let go! Of course, if your child continues to show deviant behavior, you have to consistently communicate and inspire the child to change. For instance, if your child is smoking tobacco or weed, more empowering conversations must be had to wean the child away. By let go, I really mean that you must stop looking at your child as a problem kid or that your child has a “disease”. To want to explore Life on your own terms is a sign of creativity and leadership. Celebrate it. Don’t kill your child’s urge to live fully with your anxieties. If you do that you will have irreparably broken a lifelong bond that might have been possible between you and your child.

Parental anxiety is a natural response to teenage enthusiasm and irreverence. But rise above your anxieties, have empowering conversations with your child and see how beautifully your child responds. You child’s adolescent years need not be as stressful for both of you if can understand your child’s mind and thinking better. Wanting your child to be “just like you” is futile – because every child has a right to be independent and individual. And whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, your child will exercise that right! So, since it is an eventuality that you cannot avoid, you might as well be your child’s best friend and partner-in-progress! Children make for great citizens and even greater human beings – provided you can be a compassionate friend and an empowering parent!