From what you learn from your Life experiences, you can only get better at the art of living

There is no success or failure in Life. There are just experiences and there are the lessons you learn from those experiences.
Yesterday, at a workshop I was leading, a manager asked me: “How do you retain your hunger for success while not getting too desperate with whether you succeed or not?”
That’s a very interesting question.
Success and failure, victory and defeat, win and loss – all these are social labels. In reality, all of us have only choices, to act in a given situation or not to act. When we act and the outcomes match our expectations, we call it success. When the outcomes fall below our expectations we call it failure. But the truth is that our choice of action – or inaction, as the case may be – is far more important than the outcome itself. Which is why the Bhagavad Gita invites us to focus on our efforts, on the action, and to leave the results, the outcomes, to Life.

So, I would simply rephrase the manager’s perspective. I would say that we must exercise our choice of action and learn from the experience that leads to the outcome. It is when you are attached to the outcome that you invite ego and suffering. You turn egoistic when the outcomes match or exceed your expectations. You suffer when they don’t. So why go through this up and down cycle? Why not simply be focused on the action and leave the outcomes to happen in their own way? And whatever is the outcome, the way it is, simply accept it – without qualifying it as good, bad or ugly. At the end of the day, nothing is good, nothing is bad, nothing is won, nothing is lost, no one succeeds, no on fails. Life is just a series of experiences that you learn from you. And through your learning, as long as you are continuously learning – and sometimes unlearning too – you can hope to get better and better, and better and better, and better and better, at the art of living! 

Empty your cup to fill your Life with abundance

Only when you empty yourself of your ego will you understand the essence of intelligent living!
Unknown to us we__you, me, everyone__carry a rather unnecessary sense of self-importance than we normally should or even need. Self-importance is different from self-respect or self-esteem. Self-importance means you think your Life is being controlled by you! The more self-importance you perceive of yourself, the lesser you will be closer to realizing your true Self and the angrier you will be with Life and with people around you!
Theatre Nisha’s V.Balakrishnan (in yellow shirt)
with AVIS Viswanathan on “The Bliss Catchers”
I anchor a monthly Event Series called “The Bliss Catchers” which celebrates people who have had the courage to let go of “safe and predictable” careers to go do what they love doing. Earlier this month I was in conversation with one of India’s most talented theatre artistes and directors, Theatre Nisha’s V.Balakrishnan. Bala had given up pursuing his dream to join the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) to join the National School of Drama (NSD). I asked Bala how it was to be coached at the NSD in a craft that has come to define him and his Life over the years. Bala replied, “The teachers at NSD teach you to empty yourself. I went in with the notion that I had the greatest voice and that by throwing it I could be a master of the stage. But the teachers there taught me to first empty myself, they urged me to stop thinking I could master anything, they made me realize that above us all was the stage. And to be worthy of that stage, I learnt, you must empty yourself.”
So beautiful. This concept of emptying yourself is so beautiful. It is downright simple: only when you are empty, when your mind is open and empty, can it receive any fresh inputs. When you are so full of yourself, you can hardly learn anything new. Emptying yourself also means being willing to unlearn so that you can learn – anew!
Several years ago, things were going horribly wrong for me at work. My team was playing truant. People were quitting. They were sharing information with competitors. And there was a whole deal of negative energy flying around. The final nail in the coffin was when one member of my team, an office assistant, filed a police compliant against me for non-payment of a statutory due. It was a particularly ignominious moment. We had, as a Firm, picked up that kid literally from the street. We had supported his education helping him acquire a degree in Commerce and an MBA in Marketing through distant learning programs. I was heart-broken when he did what he did. For one there was no truth in his complaint. Second, he had done that to me!
Over a drink, I shared my grief with a very dear friend, Deepak Pawar, whom I will call Guruji!
“You know how much I have done for this boy,” I lamented. And continued: “I have helped him financially when his mother was in hospital and later when she died. I have bought him clothes every quarter. I have paid for his exam fees and his tuitions. I have enrolled him to a computer training program and helped him become tech savvy. And he still did this to me?”
Guruji smiled back at me calmly and asked, “Are you finished with your tale of woe, AVIS?”
“Are you finding something funny with my plight,” I shot back, quizzically.
“Indeed. I find it funny that you think your team is the problem. To me you are the problem!” said Guruji bluntly.
“What are you saying? I have been a good employer. I have led with care and compassion. I have uplifted the lot of my team. I have provided them with rewards, recognition and opportunity. And you say I am the problem?” I roared.
“Just count the number of times you have used ‘I’ in this conversation AVIS. You are so full of yourself. Empty yourself of the ‘I’ in you. Be humble and you will grow and glow!” said Guruji.
It was as if a ton of bricks had fallen on me. I was devastated. But over several days and weeks of introspection and rumination I understood what Guruji had meant. I realized that is we who come between us and our opportunity to grow spiritually by imagining that Life happens because of us. The entire principle behind Life is that it happens despite us and never because of us. I soon learnt how to empty my cup. But the interesting thing is, when you empty it, the cup doesn’t stay empty. You have to keep on emptying it. It is a continuous process.

Each time someone slights you, each time someone rubs you the wrong way, your mind will tell you “How dare he or she?” Immediately, remember Guruji, remember Bala’s teachers at NDD, and empty your cup. When things are not going according to your plan, and you are getting angry, irritable, disturbed and your inner peace is destroyed, empty your cup. The more you stay empty, the more grace you will receive. Because Life can only fill an empty cup with abundance. How can a cup that is full receive any grace or abundance? 

Dive into Life with complete abandon!

Don’t approach the future with fear.
Many a time, thanks to the blows Life would have dealt you, you may choose to tread warily, cautiously. This innate human nature to be forewarned sometimes evolves into fear. Fear breeds insecurity. And that leads to worry. How can you deal with what’s coming up in your Life when you are not even present – in  the present moment?

A friend who had a terrible experience almost losing his Life to a chronic gastro ailment refuses to experiment with any new cuisine or with anything other than home-cooked food. His entire day is packed with planning what to eat – and importantly, where to eat. Every moment that he is awake he is fearing a relapse of his ailment. He is petrified of dying because of which, I suspect, he has stopped living and instead is merely fearing death – 24 x7.
Life’s inevitable situations are agreeably numbing. They just leave you scarred and socked. But don’t let a past experience prevent you from living what you are endowed with right now or prevent you from approaching what’s coming up, freely. Anchor in faith. I am not talking about faith in an external God. I am saying that you must believe that if you have been created, you will be cared for, provided for and taken care of. Also, know that if you have lived through your worst times, then you are ready for anything. And believe me when I say that what you fear most never happens. And if it is death that you fear, then that’s foolish. Because if you were to die, you would not even know you are dead. Someone else will have to be called in to certify that you are dead!
By letting fear get to you, you are losing Life as it is happening. Going through challenging times IS Life! While planning is important and we should all work towards higher fiscal and physical efficiencies, we must also understand that Life’s Master Plan is above all else. And when Life happens, you better be present. If you are busy planning, fearing or are swamped in the past or worrying about the future, you will miss living. And when you think you are ready to live, it’s already too late for the time to die, to depart has come!

Remember: Life is a bunjee jump; dive into each moment with complete abandon, in a total let go! Every moment of Life is a leap of faith. Either you can let the fear of the unknown cripple you or you can anchor in faith and know also that during the course of your jump, even as you think it’s all over, you will either be given wings to fly or a hand will haul you up! 

Be authentic, be true, to yourself, than wanting to be right all the time.

Being authentic means to do what you must, knowing that, sometimes, even if you have done what you believe is the right thing, you won’t be accepted as having done right.
Life will place you in difficult situations sometimes. In them, you will be always faced with options of doing what is right and what appears to be right. Now, this whole concept of right and wrong is very subjective and relative. Something may be right to some people at sometimes and the same thing will appear to be wrong to the same people at another time. Or something may be right to some people and appear wrong to others.
So, how do you act in such situations? A simple way to act is to not necessarily qualify your action as right or wrong. Because that debate will rage on __ both within you and among people who will have opinions to offer. The important thing is to act. And a simple framework to help you decide if your actions will be useful or not is available. Ask yourself before you act in any difficult situation:
1.     Will my action help all parties concerned?
2.     Am I acting out of care and concern or out of ego?
3.     Am I creating value in the given situation?
It is important you answer yes to all three questions before you proceed. If you answer yes, and you are willing to proceed, you must. It may well be possible that someone else looking at the situation may be answering the questions differently. So, this framework is purely for the individual intending to act in a difficult situation.
Having said that, be sure that any action will always attract attention, critique, criticism and often, unintended, equal and opposite consequences. When you act on something in favor and on behalf of another person, you will be questioned as to why you did it? The argument that it was the right thing to do won’t always work. Because the someone who you tried to help may never be seeing your action as right __ else, she or he may have done it themselves.
So, when you act, be prepared to face the consequences. If you are not, don’t act. Simple.
If as a consequence of your action, while you end up doing good in your view/eyes, you caused anguish to other parties concerned, because they don’t share your sense of perspective, then apologize. Beyond that, I also follow a simple visualization exercise. I seek forgiveness from the person that I feel I have caused pain, through my actions, by visualizing that I am touching her or his feet and giving her or him a hug. The other person may not still see it your way. She or he may not even see the apology as tenable. But at least you feel the power of your intention to have both acted with purposefulness and apologized with humility.
The bottom-line is to be authentic. You can be authentic with action and authentic with inaction, depending on what kind of a person you are. Either way, strive to be authentic, than wanting to be right and be seen as right. I for one know that I can only find peace in being authentic and prefer to have acted__ always acting with the 3-step framework__ learned and apologized, than to not have acted at all.

Don’t expect fair-play in Life – it was never promised

Life never promised to be fair. So, don’t complain. Just go with what is.
Neelam Krishnamoorthy: Picture Courtesy – Internet
Last week a major news story, which had been engaging much of India for 18 years, made headlines yet again. But like most other stories in today’s hyper-reactive, and insensitive, televised media world, it too appears to have died a sad death. This was the story of the Supreme Court “letting off” the two prime accused for the Uphaar cinema fire tragedy (of 1997 in which 59 people had died in New Delhi), famous builders Sushil and Gopal Ansal (who owned the cinema), with a fine of Rs.60 crore, but without a jail term. Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost her two young children in the fire, has been spearheading the legal battle on behalf of all the victims’ families for 18 years now. She broke down on hearing the verdict and said: “I am angry and disappointed. I’ve been let down very badly.” She later told NDTV in a late evening show, “I have not been able to go into my kids’ room. I can’t face them. This is just not fair…” She choked as she spoke and buried her face in her hands.
The pain of Neelam and Shekar Krishnamoorthy, and that of the other families who lost their loved ones in the gruesome tragedy, which was caused by the sheer negligence of the owners of the cinema, is palpable. Most people in India believe that the verdict has not been a fair one. Yet, a verdict is a verdict. And that too it is from the highest court in the land. At best, a review petition may be filed – with no guarantees that the verdict will be revisited, let alone revoked.

So, all that anyone affected by such a consequence can do is to accept what is, live with it and move on. This is not just true and valid for a legal situation where there isn’t an opportunity to appeal any higher. This applies to all contexts in Life too. The simple truth is that Life did not and does not promise any fair-play. To expect Life to be fair, therefore, is sure to cause agony. All that Life does is that it keeps on happening. There are no explanations, no justifications, to what happens in Life. All that we can do is take it as it comes. If we fight Life we will suffer. If we accept Life for what it is, we can’t change what happens to us, we can’t ever avoid pain, but we can certainly do away with the suffering.  

Don’t seek a perfect solution – there isn’t one!

No solution is ever going to be the perfect one for any problem. So, don’t despair.
Just attempt a solution and stay anchored in faith, humility and patience. Think about it. There is genius embedded in each of us. We know the solution to every problem we are faced with. But we end up applying way too much logic (too much academic education is a handicap here!) to our approach to finding solutions. We debate within ourselves on whether it will work, what if something unseen crops up, how that will affect other constituencies and such. This how we end up diluting our initial enthusiasm to solve the problem with debilitating arguments. Result: we don’t pursue attempting the solution.

This is why we are unable to deal with most of our Life situations efficiently – from losing weight to giving up a habit to pursuing a career that we dream of or to ending a relationship that is not working out. The way to end this conundrum is to follow your heart. Apply logic, but don’t be swept away by logic along. Allow what you feel about the situation to contribute to your solution. Remember that the imperfection in any solution that you foresee can be overcome with your sense of integrity to make a difference to the situation in front of you. Stay with the action always. Leave the result and outcome to the higher energy that surrounds us all.

What spirituality really means

Spirituality is not religion. In spirituality there is no God.
Spirituality is about ‘knowing’ what’s going on and accepting it, without resistance. There is only an awakening that results in a sustained awareness. There is no blame possible in spirituality__neither on oneself nor on another. In fact, there’s none to take the blame. Spirituality is like a mirror: you look into it, you find yourself. Spirituality is about oneness. The oneness that is visible all around us, of which we are a part. If we care to L.I.S.T.E.N. Interestingly, for that we need to be S.I.L.E.N.T. Both words are made up of the same alphabets. When we listen to creation, while being silent, practicing mouna, we will see, feel and experience the oneness. In that experience, you become awake and aware.
Legend has it that Adi Shankara, the revered Indian Saint, on his way to the Kasi Viswanath temple in Benares, came upon an ‘untouchable’ (given that Shankara was born in a Namboodiri Brahmin family, he was deemed higher in the social echelon) hunter accompanied by four dogs on the banks of the Ganges.

Overzealous disciples of Shankara tried to influence the hunter to make way for the ‘superior’ Saint. The hunter responded with a query that ‘awakened’ Shankara to the truth of our (human) existence: “Do you wish that I move my everlasting ‘atman’ (the Self, the Soul) or this body made of flesh?” While the legend further talks of an ancillary outcome of Shankara composing five of his famous shlokas known as ‘Manisha Panchakam’ based on this experience with the hunter, the bigger take-away for Shankara must have been__or to any of us reading this story__that all Life is equal.

Spirituality is simply the flowering of this awareness from within. Spirituality is at end of the finish line of the seeking race. When you reach that line, you begin a new journey, of living. Up until that moment, you were just there. Now, you are alive, awake and aware. 

A magnificent Monday morning Namaste to all of you!

There’s divinity everywhere, all around us, and in each of us.
To spot the divine in yourself and in all creation around you, you must be willing, not just looking for or seeking it. The willingness here is the ability to know that just as you are unique, so is all of creation. Just as you have dreams, others do too. Just as you have opinions and emotions, others have them too. Willingness here is to accept that all creation is beautiful and special and that you are blessed to be part of this whole Universe. When you see divinity in everything and everyone around you, you see the Master Plan, the Cosmic Design, at work.
In Hindu mythology there are several stories of the different incarnations of God. While this has led to a plethora of Gods being worshipped by Hindus worldwide, the hidden message in the propagation of such myths must not be lost. That each of us is God incarnated as well. And each of us is capable of love, compassion and selfless service like Rama or Budha or Muhammed or Jesus. Awakening to this truth and discovering the divine in us, around us, is what nirvana__a state where we extinguish ignorance of who we are and find ourselves liberated and free__is all about. The Indian greeting ‘namaste‘, interestingly introduced to me and elucidated by my American friend Mark Lewis from Phoenix, Arizona, is not just a mere folding of hands, bowing of the head or a respectful gesture. It means “I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are One. The divine in me bows  to the divine in you.” Namaste to all of you! 

Expunge fear with the awareness that the real you will live on

Fear not. Fear cripples. Stand up to fear. When you face your worst fears, they will dissolve, dissipate and disappear.

We all fear several things__different things at different times in Life. As kids, we fear going into a dark room or would prefer closing our eyes tight when the lights went out at bedtime. In our teens we feared exams. And we feared getting caught when we did something natural as part of our adolescent years __ like having our first smoke or having our first crush! As young adults, we feared proposing to someone we loved deeply. As professionals, we fear asking for a raise or role clarity! As we grow older, we fear for the financial and physical security of our families, we fear the cumulative impact of our lifestyle habits on us, we even begin to fear death. All these fears, and their myriad other manifestations, are natural. Fear rears its ugly head only because you are unable to stamp it out with the truth that whatever happens, you, the real you, will live on. What will wither away, and die, is this body. But you will live on. Knowing this truth means not just overcoming the fear of death but knowing yourself – your true Self!

When you know yourself faith replaces fear. The two cannot co-exist. Don’t reason with fear. Don’t allow ‘What If’ questions to nag you in your sub-conscious. Swami Vivekananda invites us to divest ourselves of all fear and embrace faith: “This I have seen in Life—those who are overcautious about themselves fall into dangers at every step; those who are afraid of losing honor and respect, get only disgrace; and those who are always afraid of loss, always lose.”

So, expunge fear with awareness that no matter what, the real you will live on. Armed with this awareness, make your decisions and choices in your Life. And see how your Life turns purposeful. 

You and I have a moral responsibility towards the world we live in

Each one of us can and must make a difference.
The world today has become so chaotic and cold __ global warming, terrorism, corruption, scandals, crime. What we need the most, love, hope, faith and trust are at a premium in society today. It is when Life and nature strike back with a vengeance that we pause in shock, just briefly, helpless and humbled. Only to continue to run this rat race yet again, with blinkers on, conveniently forgetting that we have a social, actually moral, responsibility towards the world we live in!
At a personal level we pine, lament, crib about the way things are, even as we wait for someone to lead the way for creating a better world. But we must not wait any longer. Each of us has to make a beginning. Let’s take baby steps. For instance, we can stop using plastic carry bags every time we do our groceries. One plastic bag less for recycling means you have helped Nature avoid 1000 years of biodegradable effort! We can stop watching pirated movies on DVDs or through unauthorized video streaming sites and encourage our kids to do the same. Piracy is nothing short of stealing. Will we encourage our children to steal money? Why then would we allow them to abet the poaching of someone’s intellectual property? We can avoid drinking and driving. Children learn most from their parents. Aren’t we teaching them to break law by drinking and driving or by speaking on our cell phones when we are driving?

Each of us has a huge responsibility – to leave the world better than it was when we found it. Making simple resolutions to change the way we live and abiding by them can help this cause immensely. Must we wait any longer? Take your first step to making a difference. Each of our small steps collectively can make a giant leap for humankind!