Every beating heart has a story to tell

Know someone’s story before you comment on them. Better still, look at yourself in the mirror, and appraise yourself, before you pass judgment.
The gravest mistake that we make as human beings is to comment on other people’s lives without knowing their stories. Yet we do it so often. Because it is a free world. Free for interpretation. Free to comment. Free to opinionate. Free to pass judgment. So we all exercise that freedom with complete, often reckless, abandon. And with impunity.
Therefore, a person who has never paid taxes or voted or managed a team or led an organization, will gleefully opinionate on how the country’s Prime Minister must lead and govern. A wife beating husband will talk about morality and women’s rights. Someone who downloads and watches pirated movies online will support a questionable movement against corruption and champion honesty in public. A woman who has been through a divorce and living single will be seen as ‘available’. And someone following his bliss, and therefore standing his ground by not running the corporate rat race, will be seen as ‘wasting his youth and messing up his career’. Each of us is guilty of this crime. I too have committed it in the past. We see someone drive up in a big car, we say, “Filthy rich fella…” We see a man in rags on the street, we conclude, “Beggar.” We don’t pause to think. We don’t care__or even__want to know these people. We only want to presume and opine. And what about the people we know? We don’t want to trust them. So, if someone is saying or doing something we don’t like, we don’t want to know them better or understand them. We just want to opine again. Randomly.
Some years ago, owing to all the frequent travel that I has to undertake, I found myself being upgraded to business class, at the boarding gate, on a domestic flight by the airline’s loyalty program. It so happened that a friend that I had borrowed money from__those were the years early on in the bankruptcy of my Firm__also was on the same flight. And he was in economy class. My friend who was chatting me up prior to boarding refused to see eye to eye with me once we boarded. Upon arrival at our destination, he walked away pretending he didn’t see me. I sent him a text saying it was good seeing him. He didn’t reply. A few weeks later I received a lawyer’s notice saying my friend demanded that I pay back his money. The crux of the argument was that ‘if I had the money to spend on a business class ticket, I surely had the money to repay him’. I did not even engage a lawyer__I could not afford one__but replied to the notice saying a client had paid for my economy ticket and the upgrade had happened as a matter of rote and circumstance and not by my engineering or special design! My friend proceeded to sue me in a court. And I said the same thing in court as well, breaking down as I said it. The judge implored us both to settle the matter out of court. My friend was appalled. He met me outside and I pleaded for his understanding. I showed him documents that demonstrated how bad the business had gotten. And how we were even struggling for our living expenses. He listened to me patiently. He apologized for his conduct and walked away. Now, had he cared to understand me even when we were boarding the flight together, we wouldn’t have needed to be in a courtroom.

That episode has led me to transform and to resolve never to judge or comment on anybody. The learning is two-fold for all of us: 1. We all behave like my friend some time or the other. 2. We all must realize that we behave so because we don’t trust people around us. The only way we can and must live our lives is by never passing judgment or opinionating on someone or something unless we have to and only if we know the full story. We must learn to understand and appreciate people’s stories and predicaments first. Accept that people, despite what we see as apparent, can be going through a difficult or challenging phase in their lives. Love people for who they are rather than for what they should be or will be or were. Remember: every beating heart has a story to tell. Know that story before you shoot off your mouth! 

Choose forgiveness to be free

Forgiveness is the best form of offence. It frees you from suffering__caused by the pain inflicted by someone__and helps that someone reflect and repair from whatever they have done unto you. It’s a win-win.

Think deeply and you will agree with my perspective. Often times people hurt us with their actions, thoughts and utterances. They lie on us, they betray our trust in them, they speak ill behind our back, they take away what is rightfully ours and they leave us numbed. None of this feels good. The first, obvious, logical response, in all such situations, is to freak out, scream, kick, demand why, seek to know why were you betrayed…..and eventually, over a period of weeks, the angst morphs into a ‘certain coldness’ and eventually, you stop trusting people. While this may seem a normal and appropriate response in “self-defense” (so that you are not betrayed one more time), the flip side is it will leave you perpetually grieving. And how can you live fully, peacefully, if you are forever in a state of suffering?

Here’s a Zen story that will sensitize you to the perils of carrying the baggage of being ‘unforgiving’! Once there was a monk who asked his disciples to carve out names of the people they cannot forgive on potatoes, one potato for each name. Then the disciples were asked to put all their potatoes in a sack and carry it with them at all times for one week. The longer the time went by, the heavier the potatoes seemed to have become. To make the matter worse, those carved potatoes also started to rot and smell bad. It was such an unpleasant experience for the disciples. At the end of the week, the Master asked, “So, what did you learn?” At once the disciples told the Master that they now realized that holding on to grudges only brought negativity to them. Asked how they should go about correcting it, the youngsters said they should strive their best to forgive everyone that used to cross them and made them angry. The Master then asked, “What if someone crosses you again after you unload this present load of potatoes?” The disciples suddenly felt terrified at the thought of having to start all over again with new potatoes, week after week. “What can we do if there are still other people crossing us? We cannot control what other people do to us!” they confessed. At which point the Master replied, “So far we only discussed the conventional way to approach forgiveness, that is, to strive to forgive. Striving is difficult. In Zen, there is no striving.” Seeing the disciples completely at a loss then, the Master further suggested, “If the negative feelings are the potatoes, what is the sack?” The disciples finally grasped it. “Ah, the sack is something that allows me to hold on to the negativity. It is my inflated sense of self-importance!” replied one of them. And that was the lesson of this story. Once we learn how to let go of the sack, whatever people say or do against us would no longer matter.

In Zen, forgiveness is the conscious decision to get rid of the sack/sense of self-importance altogether, not just the potatoes/negative feelings. With the understanding of Zen, Life suddenly becomes effortless, elegant, and natural. Get rid of the sack, and there will be no more rotten potatoes. Even if we, lesser mortals, as we may erroneously imagine, stop carving potatoes, it is a small, humble beginning. But those of us who believe in a strategic, planned, precise approach to Life, may want to consider forgiveness as a tool and not just a spiritual concept. Former American President Bill Clinton once shared what he learned from Nelson Mandela on forgiveness. In one meeting of the two men, Clinton asked, “I wonder what you must have felt towards your jailers when you were walking out of that prison after those 27 years. Weren’t you angry at them?” “Yes, I was angry. And I was a little afraid,” answered Mandela. “After all, I’ve not been free in so long.” “But,” he added, “when I felt that anger welling up inside me, I realized that if I continue to hate them after I got outside that gate, then they would still have me.” With a smile, Mandela concluded, “I wanted to be free, so I let it go.”

So, for the thinking, strategizing, master-craftsmen and wonderful upwardly-mobile wise women of the modern world, I would say, choose forgiveness to be liberated, to be free. Also consider forgiveness as a form of offence in today’s world. A peaceful resistance to the crude, unethical practices that attempt to derail you, your career and your Life. None of this is my original hypothesis, let me hasten to clarify. Here are the words of Christ found in his teaching in Matthew 5-38-48: “But I say to you , love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use and persecute you.” Loving someone who loves you is easy. Loving someone who hates you is difficult. So, whether it is a challenge like an exciting new electronic game (like Angry Birds!) or a form of offence or a tool to freedom, forgiveness makes imminent sense. Only, of course, if you want it to!

What a Sunday really means and is meant for

Pause. Reflect. Repair. Restart.
This is what a Sunday is supposed to be used for. This is the real meaning of Sunday. For most Christians, Sunday is observed as a day for worship of God and rest, due to the belief that it is Lord’s Day, the day of Christ’s resurrection. It perhaps derives from the Hebrew Sabbath or a Sabbath, which is again generally a weekly day of rest or time of worship. While Sunday is considered a day of rest in most Western and Eastern countries, in most Muslim countries and in Israel, Sunday is a working day. They take their Sabbath on Fridays. The important thing is not what day of the week, per the English weekly calendar, a Sabbath is taken. What is important is it is taken.
Do we take a Sabbath? Do we pause, reflect, repair and restart with fresh vigor? Or do we laze, drowse, feast and snooze on Sundays? Nothing wrong with the lazing and snoozing, except, when done mindfully, even that is a process of rejuvenation. But we are hardly mindful. True divinity, real repair of the soul, is experienced through mindfulness.
Here’s a story to illustrate this point. A priest went to Japan to study in a Zen monastery. He said that after sitting in meditation for long hours his legs would often begin to ache terribly. The Master advised him on the proper procedure and then asked what practice he was following in meditation. The priest explained that he was sitting silently in the presence of “God” without words or thoughts or images or ideas. The Master then asked if his God was everywhere. The priest nodded his head, “yes.” He asked if he was wrapped around in God, and the answer again was yes. “Very good, very good,” said the Master. “Continue this way. Just keep on. And eventually you will find that “God” will disappear and only you will remain.” The priest was offended by this logic, for it sounded like a denial of his sacred beliefs. He contradicted the Master and said, “God will not disappear. But I might disappear and only God will be left.” “Yes, yes,” the Master agreed, smiling. “It’s the same thing. That is what I mean.”
Indeed. That’s what a true Sabbath really means. That’s what a Sunday is for. For you to discover the God in you. For you to pause, reflect, repair and restart. And not for you to bury yourself, wearily, warily and slothfully. It is a time and opportunity for intense mindfulness, for filling our souls with bliss, for recharging our batteries. When we do this, we will find the God within. As Kabir, the 15th Century weaver-poet, has so beautifully said. “Jaise Til Mein Tel Hai, Jyon Chakmak Mein Aag, Tera Sayeen Tujh Mein Hai, Tu Jaag Sake To Jaag”. [Just as seed contains the oil, fire’s in flint stone. Your temple seats the Divine, realize if you can]”
So, use this Sunday intelligently for your Sabbath. Your temple seats the Divine. Invest this Sunday to realize your true Self__the Divine!

Accept your brutal reality – only then can you hope to change it.

However unpalatable the truth may be, once you accept it, you can work on changing it. This applies in all contexts to all of us.
Image Courtesy: Outlook Magazine Website

In a recent issue of Outlook, Tarun Tejpal, founder-editor of Tehelka and a former Managing Editor of Outlook, pays a beautiful tribute to his former boss Vinod Mehta who passed away earlier this month. Tejpal is facing charges of rape in a Goa court filed by a former colleague, a young lady who was also his daughter’s best friend. I have always been a great admirer of Tejpal the writer and the journalist. He was a senior colleague of mine when I was in India Today between 1990 and 1992. So, naturally, I was keen to read what he had to say about another man I greatly admired – who doesn’t? – Vinod Mehta. The tribute was vintage Tejpal – carefully chosen words to describe a man that few people can claim they knew personally and closely; each sentence painting a mental picture of the ‘last great editor’ in the reader’s mind. But what I liked most was Tejpal, with brutal honesty, referring to the six months he spent in prison (in Goa, on account of the rape charges levelled against him). He referred to his incarceration as he would refer to any other aspect of his Life – very matter of fact, ‘you-know-what…it-happened’ type. Now, given the salacious overtone that a rape charge invokes, it is possible that people may rush to conclude that Tejpal is brazen, that he is pig-headed and that he is being cold-blooded in his approach to his Life and the charges he faces. But I see in Tejpal the rare ability to confront and accept a brutal reality – that he is accused of rape; that he has to prove his innocence and until then public and popular sentiment will hold against him; yet his other Life – as a writer, a journalist, a family man, a father, son, husband and brother – must go on. What’s remarkable is that Tejpal, it appears to me, is both ready and willing to face Life squarely and deal with each aspect of it on the merit of the reality that lies in front of him!

To be sure, not many can do that. Most of us, when under pressure in Life, prefer to hide behind the shadows. We are either refusing to accept our realities or even if we accept them, we are unwilling to face people – and Life. When you don’t accept what is, and either keep justifying why things have happened the way they have or keep running away from facing the reality, you suffer. Tejpal teaches us that no matter what, Life has to be faced. In a way, your past actions do cause your realities. Or circumstances, events and people conspire to create them. But no matter how or why things happen to you, unless you accept what has happened as your current, final, non-negotiable, reality, you cannot hope to change it. What comes between you and acceptance is an imagined fear of social judgment, reprisal and ostracism. What- will-people-say almost always clouds the what-can-and-must-I-do-now thinking! The only way to deal with such fears and feelings is to know that no matter who created the mess, the one on whom the mess has arrived alone has to clear it up! And, without doubt, all change, all clearing up, begins with first accepting the mess for what it is.  

Don’t fall for the bait and get attached to outcomes – stay detached!

Stay detached from the outcome of your efforts and you will be at peace. Detachment really means to be unmoved in any situation – success or failure, victory or defeat.

Picture Courtesy: The New Indian Express/Internet
Team India’s Captain Cool, M.S.Dhoni, reminded us yesterday, yet again, why he is such a rare human being, player and leader. After India’s comprehensive defeat at the hands of the Aussies in Sydney in the 2015 ICC World Cup semi-final on Thursday night, Dhoni said: “Of course we are disappointed not to be in the final, but then only one team can win. Australia played better cricket today (Thursday). The Cup did not belong to us. We took it from someone and someone else will take it from us. If we had played better cricket on this particular day, we would have won.” This is the simplest, most logical explanation anyone can give in any situation like the one India finds itself in – they played a great World Cup campaign, winning seven out of seven games until losing in the semi-final. Also, when you do badly and lose a game, there are only learnings, never justifications. And finally, staying detached – as Dhoni is and has always been – from the outcome is the best way to preserve and nurture your inner peace.
Indeed, like sports, Life too is competitive. But no matter how hard you work, and how ethical you are, there will be times when you will not get what you want or perhaps even deserve. And there will be other times when you will be successful. In either situation, stay detached. Remember this: Life happens through us, never because of us. So, when we succeed at what we are trying to achieve, stay unaffected by the accolades. And when you fail at something, or rather when someone else succeeds in your place, choose again to remain unruffled. In the game of Life, someone will necessarily have to win. And it need not always have to be you!
To be sure, however, on the spiritual plane, success and failure, victory and defeat, mean nothing. Everything is transient, everything is a mere experience, and if you pause to reflect deeply, everything is an impermanent illusionary experience! So, don’t fall for the bait and get attached to outcomes – stay detached. In any situation, you have only your efforts to focus on and count on. Here’s how you deal with your efforts:
       Good efforts and you succeed at the task – take it easy
       Poor efforts and you succeed at the task – take it easy
       Good efforts and you fail at the task – take it easy
       Poor efforts and you fail at the task – take it easy
Take it easy every which way. Learn every single time. Remember this too: as Dhoni recounted and the Bhagavad Gita says, “Nothing belongs to you. And nothing will be with you forever. What is yours belonged to someone else yesterday and will belong to yet another tomorrow!” So, stay detached. Stay in peace.

Focus on the issue, never on the person

Focus on the issue on hand. Never on the people connected with it or on the sentiments that they express.

Life’s full of challenges. Some of them involve the interactions we have with people. There are some whom we can never escape immediately. Like a short-tempered boss. Or a temperamental adolescent. Or a depressive spouse. Or an irritating neighbor. When we start wondering why is someone behaving in such a manner, we lose the plot__and therefore the opportunity to seek a resolution or find a win-win platform for both parties. Know that people are different. And it is in people’s nature to be the way they are. Each of us is created differently. And so is the person you are having a challenge interacting with. So, if you look at the person and grieve saying she or he does not meet your expectation, it is an exercise in futility. For example, if you expect your boss to be polite and dignified with you__when he is incapable of such niceties__you will suffer. Instead understand that the issue you have is with the way you are being treated. And if you don’t like it, you must find yourself a new boss! Meaning, a new job. Simple! Don’t grieve over the current one. Similarly, a teenager behaving irresponsibly at home is reflective of her adolescence and not a sign of any disrespect to you nor is this pointing to your failing in your duty to bring her up well.

There’s a saying in cricket: “Play the ball, not the bowler.” And we will all do well to remember this in all situations in Life. When we respect the issue, the situation, and give it all the attention it deserves, irrespective of who is causing it, we will always find solutions __ and peace!

Grief comes from postponing to deal with an uncomfortable situation

Turn around and face the reality. Life is like darkness. The more you run away from it, the more it will haunt you. But you face it, and it will be bliss.
As kids we were all afraid of dark rooms. Or of stray dogs on the street (especially in India). As long as we feared the dark rooms, we were haunted by their mere thought. And as for the dogs, the moment we run from them, they start following us. Tormenting us. And if we were to just turn around, freeze and stare at them, they would whine and slink away. So, it is with Life’s realities. Often uncomfortable, disgusting and yet, hopelessly, real situations. Don’t hide from them. Face them. When you face up to a situation, it will stop haunting you. It will not change. But the fear will evaporate. And you will just be left with the reality.
Let’s say, you are extremely uncomfortable with the way someone is behaving with you. And for dignity’s sake, for retaining cordiality, you are not saying what you feel about this person to him or her. And prefer to grin and bear. Yet this is making you very sick of the person and of the situation. Over a period of time, discomfort has morphed into dread. This is when you must turn around and face things – and the person. Prefer always to be direct and therefore be understood than be dignified and be interpreted. It is like the age old saying: “I give credit, I go mad. I give no credit, you go mad. Better you go mad.” Similarly, your postponing dealing with an uncomfortable situation will make you grieve. But when you get it off your chest, when you say what you are feeling, you may cause the situation discomfort and may even cause the person who created the situation some discomfort, you will always lead everyone concerned to an eventual pedestal of peace and understanding. That’s where you__and your world__eventually need to arrive. In the end, what matters is peace. Just peace. 

Shake off the sheep’s cloak, go on…be a lion!

Understand yourself. That’s more important than having others understand you. Believe in yourself. That’s more productive than insisting that others believe you.
But as humans we do just the opposite. We crave for being understood by others and lament the lack of faith others have in us. What use is anyone else’s understanding if you don’t know, don’t realize, don’t accept that you are special. That you are capable. That you have been created to enjoy this lifetime and not suffer it? It is from awareness of your true Self that you will be introduced to the God within. Most of us just refuse to consider the argument that the energy that powers us, that keeps us alive, is the God we so desperately seek. Hence the lack of self-belief. Swami Vivekananda, the 19thCentury Indian thinker says, ““He is an atheist who does not believe in himself.” This really is the most profound, yet simplest, definition of who we are. And if we understand this reality, we will be able to truly leverage the opportunity in front of us__which is on offer in the form of this lifetime, each day, each hour, and in each moment!
Our perception of ourselves, reveals our lack of understanding of our true Self. If we think we are inadequate, we behave steeped in scarcity thinking. If we think we are fully endowed we behave confidently like kings, like lions. To be sure, each of us is created equal and is soaked in abundance. Osho, the Master, says in his book, ‘One Seed Makes The Whole Earth Green’, “And every one of you is born a lion, but society goes on conditioning you, programming your mind as a sheep. It gives you a personality, a cozy personality, nice, very convenient, very obedient. Society wants slaves, not people who are absolutely dedicated to freedom. Society wants slaves because all the vested interests want obedience. Society cannot tolerate individuality, because individuality will not follow like a sheep. Individuality has the quality of the lion; the lion moves alone. The sheep are always in the crowd, hoping that being in the crowd will feel cozy. Being in the crowd one feels more protected, secure. If somebody attacks, there is every possibility in a crowd to save yourself. But alone? – only the lions move alone.”

So, that’s what you are – a lion, but because you are cloaked in sheep’s clothing, we have started imagining that we are incapable of being successful, being happy, being free, being bliss! To discover your true Self, shake that cloak off. Realize yourself. Arise…Awake…Go on, be a lion….!   

You cannot rewind Life

If you want to understand the value of Life, spend an hour outside the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a hospital. You will get it!
My father-in-law went into ICU a couple of days ago. Standing outside the ICU, waiting for our turn to visit him, my thoughts went to the other families who, like us, had gathered there to visit their dear ones. Everyone was prayerful, hopeful, worried and anxious – all at the same time. Once inside, when I saw my father-in-law, I once again realized how Life, over time, changes everything – and everyone. My father-in-law is the simplest soul you will find on the planet. A scholar, a teacher, an embodiment of ethics and discipline, a nature lover and a rock climber in his younger days. He had been “fit as a fiddle” (as he would often joke) until just a few years back. But yesterday, he was looking so frail and completely at the mercy of Life – he had suffered a mild stroke that has impaired his speech totally; so he was struggling to even communicate with us. When I came out of the ICU, I couldn’t miss the significance of my realization: “The human body cannot go on forever. Whoever you are, you will be physically felled one day. So, the best way to live is to live each day fully and humbly, doing what you believe in and while being compassionate to everyone around you.” My father-in-law has lived Life this way for all of his 84 years.
Most of us, unfortunately, miss this learning and so, fail to awaken to this realization. We go on wanting to control our lives and those of others around us. We are so full of ourselves – our opinions, our successes and our wants. Earlier this past week, I had a participant at a change-management workshop I was leading who was constantly disrupting the proceedings trying to flaunt her opinions and knowledge. She was continuously choosing to differ with my choice of words or with the examples I was using to explain concepts and ideas. For instance, when I was explaining Purpose (of creation) in the context of people and organizations, she kept arguing that the word ‘calling’ was better suited for individuals. “People have a calling, organizations have a Purpose,” she insisted. I told her that she had a point but since Purpose was universally accepted and chosen as a more powerful and “deeper” word to explain “reason for creation/existence – raison d’etre), we will stay with it. But the lady kept on harping on her point. Finally, in an attempt to invite the lady to have an “open” mind, I had to demonstrate the famous “tea cup” story from Zen Buddhism. Nan-in, a Japanese Master during the Meiji era (1868 ~ 1912), received a university professor who came to “learn” more about Zen – “I want to educate myself. I want to know more about this philosophy. Teach me what it is all about as quickly as you can, so that I can go back and demonstrate my new-found knowledge to all those who look up to me.” Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept on pouring the tea. The professor watched the cup overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “The cup, dear Master, is overfull. No more tea will go in!” Nan-in smiled. “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions. How can I teach you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Most of us are like the lady at my workshop and the professor in Nan-in’s story. The lady and the professor represent how full we can sometimes be; how our view of our inflated self-worth blinds us and how we fail to understand that be pompous about anything – wealth, health, knowledge, relationships, the body – is so much in vain. Ultimately, this most powerful vehicle that makes our human existence experience a lifetime – the body – will be felled with wear and tear. And without the vehicle being able, our journey here, on the planet, begins to sputter.
Some day soon, each of us will have to realize that Life is a limited period offer. That you cannot undo what you have done. You cannot go back to relive your Life. That you cannot rewind Life. So, if you really can’t control the withering away of your body, if you cannot control the progress of Life from birth to death, why are you imagining that you are in control? Why kid yourself that you call the shots in your Life? Why this ego, why this vanity, why this high-drama that you are superior to the others around you?

I walked back home from the hospital last evening deep in thought. I realized, yet again, that we did not ever control anything, we control nothing and can never hope to control anything in the future either. Everything that is, everything that we vainly believe is ours, will soon be felled, will wither away and will end – including this body and this lifetime. The only time you and I have to live is now. Live each moment, therefore, fully and happily. For the Life and the moment that has once been lived can never be rewound!