In any crisis the greatest benefit is the lesson it teaches you

Life’s beauty lies in knowing that the tougher the situation, the stronger you will emerge from it.
I met up with a four of my close friends from college, who were visiting Chennai, at a coffee shop last weekend. The conversation soon veered around to how my wife Vaani and I were coping with this seemingly endless bankruptcy of ours. One of my friends, who lives in Jakarta, complimented me and said: “You are remarkably resilient man. I don’t think any of us here would have got through what you and Vaani are facing.” The others at the table agreed with his view wholesomely. I explained to them that resilience is a quality that all of us are endowed with. We will never know it exists until we summon it in the wake of a crisis. “All smartphones these days have Bluetooth. But unless you activate your Bluetooth option you cannot use it,” I said, adding, “Resilience is like that. When the situation demands that you have to be tough, you will be. Anyone in that situation will be.”
Of course, one good way to remind yourself that you can survive, endure and get through a crisis is to look up to someone who has done something similar. In our case, Vaani and I looked up to Amitabh Bachchan and his wife, Jaya. Their company went bankrupt too. They had loans of Rs.90 crore, 55 legal cases and several creditors at their door for months and years on end. At one time, their house, “Prateeksha”, in Juhu was attached by a bank for a loan default. But despite being the celebrities they were, they overcame the embarrassment of being without money and faced their situation stoically. It is from seeing how they did it that we believed that we too were capable of being resilient.
Each of us is resilient. To be resilient is not rocket science. You must however believe that no matter what, there will always be a door that will open. So, when everything is dark, when there is absolutely no way out, breathe easy. Because when it is dark is when light can shine! Light cannot shine when it is bright. When what you see are only walls, and no road ahead, anchor within, with your deepest intent. If you have integrity of purpose, the walls will make way for doors to open, even mountains will move, to roll out a path in front of you!
Consider this: take your own Life. Make a list of all the crises you have faced so far. And make a list of learnings you gained and personal traits you see developed in yourself through those situations. Give yourself a score on 100! I bet you, you will score a full 100! Problems and challenges are Life’s way of humbling us. Of coaching us. What is the point of all this you may wonder? Why do I want to be taught anything? I just want to be left alone, you may protest. But such is Life. You can say what you want, think what you want, but Life will still do what it wants. So, the best thing to do in a situation, where you are not in control of the game, but are merely being played on, is to sit back and count your blessings. In a crisis, the greatest, and perhaps only, benefit is the lesson it teaches you. Celebrate that learning. Each new learning makes you wiser.

In India, we have a custom, a tradition, of touching the feet of those older to us, and seeking their blessings. Many do it mechanically, mindlessly. They do it thinking it is a sign of respect. It surely is. But what you are actually doing is telling the older person, “Boy! You have a wealth of experience with living Life and I salute you!” The older person was not born any wiser than you were. But Life taught her or him. They learned. Are you willing to? 

Slow down when Life slows you down

There are times in Life when the journey may become awfully slow. That’s really the time that Life is offering us to enjoy the scenery. But we don’t have the attitude to see it that way. Instead we are obsessed with the painful pace and miss the magic and beauty in our lives.
The problem lies with the way we have led our lives so far. Running from event to event, crisis to crisis, trying to make ends meet, earning a living, busy working harder than ever before, meeting targets, paying bills, raising children and doing everything else except living__mindfully. And then as often happens with Life, the game changes. We are put in a spot where we cannot move; we are check-mated, if you like. It could be a health issue, it could be a career stalemate, it could be a bankruptcy, it could be a relationship tangle or it could be a legal quagmire. In such times, there may be a tendency to worry and to wish__pray, plead, hope__that why can’t Life fast-forward, why can’t we get back to ‘normalcy’? So, if you are bogged down in an ICU, you wish you could be back in the hustle-bustle of everyday Life. Or if you are caught in the midst of legalese, you just are hoping why don’t you win all your claims and are free to be away from all this disputing and arguing. Interestingly, Life’s not a handmaiden that will do what you please. It just may not move.
Know also that there is no fast-forward button on Life’s remote. So, when you are pushed to a corner by the cosmic design, the best thing to do is to not worry about not moving or crib about being between a rock and a hard place. Be happy you can breathe. Because being able to sense your breathing is normal. Running so hard that you don’t even have the time to notice you are breathing, is notnormal. Imagine you are climbing a steep mountain in a vehicle. As it negotiates the sharp hair-pin bends, the engine is finding the going tough. So, the vehicle is down to an agonizing crawl. Now, you can worry about that pace and concentrate on the dreary drone of the engine, or you can look out the window and see what the scenery looks like. This is what enjoying the scenery is all about.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly,” advises Thich Nhat Hanh (called ‘Thay’), a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. “Sometimes your joy can be the cause for your smile, and sometimes, your smile can be the cause for your joy,” he adds. Just being mindful of your being alive__to experiencing whatever you are going through, be it pain, be it joy__is what can make the slowdowns in Life more meaningful. Do all the things that you can joyfully in whatever state you find yourself. And don’t worry about what you can’t. If you are immobilized by a health issue enjoy the ‘grounding’ with a family member who is nursing you; pining to be able to run around will only cause agony. If you are cashless enjoy being able to live without money; hoping you had money will only aggravate your suffering. If you are caught in a relationship problem where there is much misunderstanding, enjoy practicing patience and forgiveness; craving for understanding from the other person may only accentuate your pain. Thay champions mindful living as a cure to all our ailments coming from merely existing. “Life is available only in the present moment. Even drink your tea, slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world, the earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future,” he says.
Slow down when Life slows you down. It is perhaps with ample reason that this message arrives on a Monday morning. To make a Manic Monday a Mindful Monday is your personal choice. It is only when you go with Life’s pace and flow, do you truly experience the magic in and live each moment!

Keep relating, keep celebrating

Even ‘close’ relationships need continuous celebration for them to thrive. If they are not celebrated, they wither away like plants that are devoid of water and sunlight.

Here we are not talking about acquaintances that we ‘can’t get along with’ for professional or other reasons, but are referring to people who ‘were so close once upon a time, but are no longer’! This is to explain why we grow distant from childhood friends, from spouses whom we dated, romanced and loved deeply once upon a time or from siblings that we grew up with. The distances between us and such people are not because of lack of mutual respect or admiration. These distances have come between us because we have stopped celebrating each other. Celebrating here means nurturing, providing the adequate sunshine and water, through continuous conversations, critiquing, supporting, challenging, caring and sometimes, just being available. Celebrating therefore means loving someone all the time___irrespective of time, space, behavior, responses, whatever.

In a recent issue of Mint, I was aghast to see an advisor suggest “5 tips to ensure a financial contract exists between two partners before they marry”. I come from a time when people just met each other and if they believed that they wanted to be together for the rest of their lives, they just married. That’s how Vaani and I decided to marry way back in 1988. Now, when I look back, the companionship between Vaani and me would still have remained sacred even without a marriage. I have come to understand that marriage is an unnecessary label, a worthless stamp of approval from a decadent society! The only tip to long-term companionship I can offer is – keep relating, keep celebrating!

Osho, the Master, offers a simple, do-able, immediately implementable formula for celebrating and nurturing relationships. His prescription: don’t call or label anything a relationship. Instead, he says, just keep relating. He reminds us: “LOVE IS NOT A RELATIONSHIP. Love relates, but it is not a relationship. A relationship is something finished. A relationship is a noun; the full stop has come, the honeymoon is over. Now there is no joy, no enthusiasm, now all is finished. You can carry it on, just to keep your promises. You can carry it on because it is comfortable, convenient, cozy. You can carry it on because there is nothing else to do. You can carry it on because if you disrupt it, it is going to create much trouble for you… Relationship means something complete, finished, closed. Love is never a relationship; love is relating. It is always a river, flowing, unending. Love knows no full stop; the honeymoon begins but never ends. It is not like a novel that starts at a certain point and ends at a certain point. It is an ongoing phenomenon. Lovers end, love continues– it is a continuum. It is a verb, not a noun. You are in love with a woman or a man and immediately you start thinking of getting married. Make it a legal contract. Why? How does the law come into love? The law comes into love because love is not there. It is only a fantasy, and you know the fantasy will disappear. Before it disappears, settle down; before it disappears, do something so it becomes impossible to separate.”

Instead of bringing law or definitions and labels into relationships, let’s focus on never-ending celebrations, on loving each person in our lives, and to keep on relating to the other __ lover, friend, parent, colleague, sibling, whoever __ without pausing to evaluate, analyze or justify. Try this. It works. Choose a relationship that you think has gone “cold” over the years. Ask yourself if you have grown distant because you have stopped relating to, stopped celebrating this person? Don’t focus on a ‘revival’. Don’t expect. Know that all you need to do is to continue loving without either the label or an expectation coming in the way. The other person may still be distant__physically and metaphorically. Don’t worry. Don’t stop the celebration, the loving, the relating. 

Because through the energies of your continuous celebration, the loving, the relating will happen__enriching both your souls, exponentially, infinitely. 

Zen and the art of never becoming disagreeable

It is perfectly possible and correct to differ with someone on an opinion or issue and still get along that person. This is not about being hypocritical or practicing double-standards. This is a mature way of learning to separate issues from people.
It is not easy definitely to start with. But when you view any situation closely, you will find that it is imminently possible to deal with it dispassionately, which is always the best way too! What happens though is when we have a difference of opinion with someone, we try to avoid that person. We start finding newer flaws with that person in order to magnify and justify our difference of opinion. So, for instance, say you disagree with your friend’s political views. And you get into a strong argument with that friend. Instead of shaking hands with that friend at the end of a stimulating discussion, you choose to just walk away. The next time you meet that friend, you are carrying the baggage of the last experience and you begin to wonder, for instance, why he or she is dressed the way they are. You start justifying your last opinion of this person with a fresh sentiment saying this person does not even know how to be properly groomed. And so this ruinous cycle of ‘building a case’ to isolate the person itself, not just the views, begins. It happens subconsciously. But it happens all the time in most relationships we have.
Pause for a moment now. Think of all the situations when you have disagreed with people in the last week. Just in the last 7 days. Review your sentiments, even the ones you may have not expressed but experienced in your mind, of these people. Objectively enlist the number of times you were on the ‘building a case’ mode with these people. To your surprise, in each of the instances when you disagreed on an issue, you have inadvertently, subconsciously, taken the route to justify and magnify the difference of opinion, often beyond the issue itself. You will be surprised how much you__and I__are habituated to this practice.
We must break free from this thinking though. Three simple steps may be helpful here: 1. Acknowledge that each one is entitled to their opinion 2. If you disagree remember always that the disagreement is with the issue, the behavior, the opinion, never with the person 3. Conclude each disagreement session with a smile and say clearly, passionately, that you hope to find a meeting ground sometime soon on this issue! Apply this to every relationship you have and to every episode where you have felt or expressed disagreement. Start with your list of last week and work back, ensuring also, that going forward you will not let any new disagreements assume demonic, irrevocable proportions.

Popular American radio host, Bernard Meltzer’s (1916~1998 show ‘What’s Your Problem?’ helped listeners calling in crack some of Life’s myriad puzzles. He once said, “If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable then you have discovered the secret of getting along — whether it be in business, family relations, or in Life itself.” When you learn the art of never becoming disagreeable, you too would have learnt to live intelligently!

The God you seek is in you, in me, among us …

Let’s stop seeking God, searching for God, hoping, in vain, to find God, outside of us. Know that we won’t find God there. Because the God we are looking for is within us__in you and in me.
There’s this parable of God calling his or her council of advisors, after creating humankind, and conferring with them on where God should be based, so that human beings may reach out in times of distress and need. There was a pre-condition that God stipulated though. That God must be within immediate reach and yet not so overtly visible. The first wise advisor said, “God, you must be behind the farthest star. There humankind will not find you.” “Not so,” said the second wise advisor, “One day human beings will learn to fly and then they will find you God. Hide yourself God, I say, on the floor of the sea and they will never find you.” “Not so,” said the third wise advisor, “One day the people will learn to swim and they will swim to the bottom of the ocean and then they will find you God. Rather, hide yourself God in the everyday lives of the people. No one will immediately know you are there. And yet, when they do need you, they can always find you within them, among them.” And so, God did precisely this. God hid among the people.
This is not so much a parable as it is a truth. But we don’t and won’t believe in this too easily. Because we have been fed an overdose of evidence of God being an external source of energy and creation, of God being an “outside presence” in our lives. We have been brought up to believe that God must be feared. And so we fear an external retribution rather than feel conscientiously the energy of all creation within us. God must not be feared. God must be understood as being you, as your true Self. It was the famous Polish-French physicist-chemist known for her pioneering work on radioactivity, Marie Curie (1867 ~ 1934) who said, “Nothing in Life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” So it is true too about God. To know God, fear less and understand more.

Kamal Haasan, renowned Indian actor and a genius in thought and expression, captured his philosophy of the God in us, in his beautiful 2003 movie ‘Anbe Sivam’ (meaning ‘Love is God’). In the movie, Kamal Haasan, tells co-actor Madhavan, that the seed of compassion that intrinsically remains embedded in each of us, gets activated when we feel compassionate towards any form of creation. That sense of compassion, boundless love, which flows unhindered, even if it is for a brief while, makes each of us godly! Say, when you feel for a hungry child on the street, or when you say a silent prayer when an ambulance passes you by, or when you read of a natural disaster or accident that has claimed several lives in another part of the world and you feel the urge to reach out and help, these are the times, when you experience your own godliness. If you pay attention to it, if you give that feeling of compassion for another human being more energy, it will stay with you longer. Which is, if you let go of desires pertaining to yourself, and let your entire being relate to serving another form of creation__even if it is immediately unconnected to you__you will know, feel and find the God in you!

Living intelligently means to be able to live spiritually

To be spiritual does not mean you must not live well. Spirituality in fact makes no demands on you. There is no need to abstain from anything, no need to propitiate any Gods, no need to observe any rituals and no need to give up anything compulsorily.
Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. An awakening that teaches you how to live in this world and yet be above it. This awakening helps youmake choices that work for you. You are the decision maker. You are in charge. And so, you can earn money, indulge in comforts, even have a few indulgences in moderation, and yet choose to serve __ touching lives, making a difference. A teacher who taught the world this simple way to live was Guru Nanak, the Sikh saint, who lived and taught between 1469 and 1539. A beautiful story highlights Nanak’s prescription for living intelligently.
Nanak once visited Lahore in present-day Pakistan. A very rich man, Dhuni Chand, invited Nanak to his house. It was a huge bungalow and had seven flags fluttering in the wind outside it. The saint asked Dhuni Chand why he had seven, and only seven, flags outside his house.
Dhuni Chand replied, “They show how much wealth I have. Each flag denotes ten million rupees that I have. So, in all, I have seventy million rupees.”
The Guru observed, “Then you are a very rich man. You must be very happy and contended with yourself?”
Dhuni Chand replied, “Holy Sir, I cannot lie to you. There are some people who are much richer than I am. This makes me sad and I desire to have more wealth. I would like to be the richest man in the city. I cannot feel completely happy and satisfied until my desire is fulfilled.”
The Guru said, “But aren’t the people who are richer than you also trying to become even more richer? It seems that there is a race between you and them to become the richest in this city. Perhaps, you may not be able to beat them in this race for the most wealth. In that case you may never be happy. Have you ever thought of that?”
Dhuni Chand said, “Holy Sir, I have no time to think such thoughts. I just work day and night to gather more and more wealth”
Guru Nanak smiled and said, “Will you have time to do a small thing for me?”
Dhuni Chand replied, “Most gladly, Holy Sir. What can I do for you?”
The Guru took out a needle, and said, “Please keep this safely with you. Give it to me, when I ask for it, in the next world.”
Dhuni Chand took the needle from the Guru. Later, he took this needle to his wife. He gave it to her and said, “The Holy man wants us to keep the needle for him. He will take it back from us in the next world.”
The wife was astonished. She said, “Are you mad? How can a needle go to the next world? How can we carry it with us to there? Go back, and return it to the Holy man.”
Dhuni Chand went back to the Guru and said, “Holy Sir, please take back your needle. We cannot take this to the next world. We cannot carry it there. That is not possible”
The Guru smiled and said, “Dhuni Chand, this needle is small and light. You say that it cannot go with you to the next world. How can the seventy million rupees go there with you? What good will this wealth do to you there?”
Dhuni Chand realized his vanity and fell at the Guru’s feet and said, “Please Guruji, tell me how my wealth may go with me to the next world.”
The Guru said, “Give it to the poor. Feed the hungry. Clothe the poor. Help the needy. When you spend your honestly earned wealth on righteous things, then it will go with you to the next world. Otherwise, it will be plundered here by others.”
Dhuni Chand was awakened in that moment. And he soon became one of biggest champions of giving and serving, setting up various institutions in and around Lahore for the welfare of the common folk.

To be sure, there is a Dhuni Chand in each of us – who is amassing, toiling hard without doubt, subconsciously perhaps, beyond our needs, to satiate our wants; who is clinging on to material wealth out of fear and anxiety of losing it. Every once in a while a teacher like Nanak will appear, in the form of a friend, an event, a casual conversation, or a book or story, that will enlighten us. So that the Buddha within us is aroused. So that we may be reminded that while making money is important, putting it to use beyond ourselves is what is more meaningful. This is what, living in this world, and yet being above it truly means. This is the way to live intelligently.