Don’t be a bad student – learn from what people teach you

Each person who comes into your Life is a teacher.
She or he is teaching you through not just what they know, but through their behavior. Some people teach you why you must never trust them. They have taught you this by repeatedly refusing to live up to the trust you placed in them. Eventually, you may have reached a point when you would have said that you can’t trust this person anymore. And yet you would have given this person one more chance. When your trust was betrayed one more time, you move from the can’t-trust to the must-never-trust zone. Please know, there is nothing wrong with you if you come to this conclusion. And there is nothing inhuman about this stance.
To trust humankind and Life is indeed the best way to live. But to have your self-esteem trampled upon__that’s precisely what happens when your trust is betrayed__is foolishness. Remember if that person is a teacher, just as each person in your Life is, then you are being a bad student if you are not learning from your teacher! You don’t have to hate the person though. Just don’t trust. When you don’t trust, there can be no relating, leave alone a relationship. You can still know each other and not be in a relationship. Now, even if this is a parent, sibling, child, or spouse, it is imminently possible to stay this way. Because at the end of the day, the person is simply not worthy of your trust. And the person has taught you, through repeated patterns of behavior, that she or he is not trustworthy.

So, please simplify your Life. If you have been let down repeatedly, know that you have a right to choose not to trust someone anymore. Exercise that right. Live your Life in peace and not in grief. Yet live leaving that person alone. Don’t fight. Don’t provoke. Don’t grieve. Just live and let live! 

Realizations of a “scumbag”

Don’t take what people have to say about you seriously. Better still, don’t take yourself seriously either!  
The other day someone I know called me a scumbag (per an online dictionary that I referred to, it is a noun and means ‘a contemptible or objectionable person’; ‘someone with poor judgment and no class’) in a closed-group message thread. I smiled at the charge. And decided not to respond.
Just three years ago, I had physically prevented this person from drinking and driving. He had then objected to me intruding on his privacy, personal preference (to drink and drive) and judgment (to know what is right for him). I had tried explaining to him that I only had his best interest in mind. But, in the same closed-group message thread, he had cried foul. Back then I was pained that I could not get him to see where I was coming from. I apologized for my behavior. But the matter never got resolved and, in fact, as he continues to see it, the “damage to our relationship is irrevocable”.
But this time, when in another context, this person referred again to the three-year-old episode and called me a scumbag I was unperturbed. I was neither pained. Nor was I keen to avenge his sentiment. And here’s why I chose to be so: after all, this person had a right to his view – if he found what I had done to him contemptible and objectionable, if he had found my judgment poor and for all those reasons, if he perhaps found me lacking in class and not worthy of his association, he definitely was entitled to his opinion. In essence, the best and the only thing I could do was to respect it.
Truly, the lesser importance you give to what others have to say about you, the more peaceful you will be. Developing this attitude need not mean that you must be thick-skinned, brazen and egotistic. It only means that you have learnt to respect an opinion which is divergent from yours, that you have stopped sweating the small stuff and that you realize the value in letting go and moving on!
The reason why we want to avenge people’s uncharitable (per our view, not theirs!) sentiments with a how-dare-you is that we place undue importance on ourselves. A how-dare-you is nothing but your ego erupting and manifesting itself as anger and intolerance – often even as physical violence – towards whoever you are disagreeing with.

Actually, you need not place so much importance on yourself. I have learnt this the hard way – from my own experience. There will be times in Life when people will not be willing to understand you or appreciate what you have to say. In such times, the best response is to not respond, not clarify, certainly not avenge and to simply let go and move on. You can never control what people say or do. You cannot make them understand you if all they want is to interpret what you say. Respect their right to have an opinion even if you disagree with the opinion. Forgive them if you can. If you can’t do either, just remember this: whether you are called a scumbag or a cheat, whether you are called a liar or an opportunist, at the end of the day, you know who you really are. As long as you are true to yourself, and are happy being who you are, don’t sweat over what others have to say! 

Look up from your ‘busyness’ to see the beauty in each moment

Stand, stare, pause, reflect…slow down and soak in Life. Don’t keep running, with no time to stop and smell the roses, as if Life were a race.
Hari and his friend
Yesterday, on our morning walk we saw a milkman feeding a stray cat. We paused and asked him why he was doing that. He beamed a big smile, said hello, introduced himself as Hari, and explained, “I just found her hanging around this neighborhood everyday as I made my deliveries. One day I offered her some milk. And since then we have become good friends. She comes by whenever I am here. I enjoy seeing her and feeding her. Poor thing, all she needs is some care and milk!”
Hari’s random act of kindness is so inspiring. It made me think. How often do we do something like that – which is to pause and care for someone who does not have anything to offer us in return?
Further down our walking route, my wife Vaani, an ardent lover of nature, birds, flowers and, in fact, of Life itself, pointed to a tall tree and its fall colors. I looked up, Indeed the patterns that the morning light was weaving through the leaves uplifted their colors. Vaani, who schooled at Rishi Valley, where her parents were teachers, said J.Krishnamurti (the philosopher who lived between 1895 and 1986; he founded the Rishi Valley School and The Krishnamurti Foundation) taught her, and her sister, “the value of mindfulness and observation”.
It’s been 28 years since I have known Vaani. Initially, I could never understand why she always got so excited when she saw a tree or a bird or a flower. But over the last decade or so, ever since I was forcibly evicted from the rat race – thankfully, mercifully – I have also learned to pause, observe and reflect. I have learnt to appreciate Life better by slowing down. There’s great beauty in each moment, I realize now, provided you look up from your ‘busyness’!  
Besides, beneath all the chaos and grime that hold a big city in a stranglehold, there are still ordinary folks like Hari who teach us how to be compassionate and there are people like Vaani who remind us that it is possible to find beauty in the most unexpected of places.

The greatest wealth in Life is be able to enjoy the gift of this lifetime. In trying harder to run faster to get to a destination you think is your ultimate one, you are missing out on the scenery and the opportunity that each moment is offering you. I am reminded of W.H.Davies’ (1871 ~ 1940) poem Leisure. What he wrote back then is still so, so, relevant: “A poor Life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

The man who knows how to harvest happiness

‘The Happiness Road’ is a weekly Series on this Blog that appears on Sundays where I share my conversations with people while exploring their idea of happiness!
This Sunday I feature eminent geneticist Prof.M.S.Swaminathan, who, at 90, shares with me his little secret to harvesting happiness!
When my meeting with Prof.M.S.Swaminathan ended, the word, ‘blessing’ kept popping up in my head on the ride back home. “What a blessing it is,” I thought, “to meet someone like him”. Not because of what he has achieved – but because of the way he is, despite what he has achieved! Titles like international geneticist, the ‘Father of the Indian Green Revolution’; honours like the Padma Vibhushan; an awe-inspiring work and travel schedule that includes fulfilling invitations from Heads of State of Afghanistan to Bhutan to Japan to Sri Lanka; all this, at 90, to Swaminathan, is “just a part of this journey called Life”!
Picture by Vaani Anand
He leans forward, with eyes lighting up, when he says, “You have an unusual question – ‘what makes you happy’?” “Happiness is a state of mind. I think Bhutan has got it right when they talk of Gross National Happiness (GNH). They asked me for suggestions on GNH. And I told them that it is more than just economics. It is what people feel through the influences of culture, music, spirituality, morality, work, work ethic…relationships…all of these. Happiness is an attitude.”
In Swaminathan’s presence you can’t but help wonder how he is so much at peace with himself and with the world around him. Swaminathan considers himself very fortunate that he always got the right support to be who he wanted to be. “Although I lost my father when I was only 11, my family has helped me go do what I loved doing. First it was my uncle, then it was my wife Mina and my three daughters. I believe your family plays a big role in your happiness,” he explains. Adding, “And of course, I had the opportunity to be led and surrounded by people who gave me the freedom to express myself through my work. I have been very, very fortunate to have achieved all that I set out to achieve.” Swaminathan recounts an incident from 1961 when he received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award from the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. One week later, Nehru invited him to his office and asked him, “Young man, I remember giving you a prestigious award last week. Tell me, what did you do to deserve it?” When Swaminathan explained his research focus, Nehru thumped his back and asked him to forge ahead. “Whether it was Nehru or later Indira Gandhi or C.V.Raman or C.Subramaniam, everyone I looked up to has only been supportive,” informs Swaminathan.
Quoting French philosopher Marquis de Condorcet, Swaminathan says, “Population will stabilize itself if children are born for happiness – not by chance, but by choice.” The World Happiness Report 2015 ranks India at 117thposition among 158 countries surveyed. Swaminathan refers to this report and believes we need a reorientation of our value systems to shift the focus from material wealth to happiness arising from the joy of sharing and caring. His modest office in Taramani is lined with dozens of awards – from across the world. In fact, there’s no more shelf-space to hold the next one when it arrives! Each of these awards has been accompanied by a cash prize in celebration of Swaminathan’s scientific genius. But he’s given it all away to further research at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation. “I believe in Gandhi’s philosophy of trusteeship – I don’t need to own anything more than what I need. My work is not my own. So many people, so many efforts, I have no right to take any of what I got for myself,” he says.
Swaminathan says he’s enjoyed every moment of the ‘60 years of adventure’ he’s had with agricultural research. Along the way, watching his daughters grow up and settle down, seeing his wife find joy in whatever she chose to do, reading Aurobindo and Ramana Maharishi – all these, he feels, make him happy. “And, of course, listening to T.M.Krishna live is such a delight – he always elevates you to a new high, takes you to a new horizon,” exults Swaminathan.
I believe Swaminathan has not just led the Indian Green Revolution, but along the way, he’s learned to harvest happiness too! That’s what makes his Life so meaningful. As we are winding down our hour-long conversation, I ask him if he’s thought of how he may be remembered. He laughs. “There are 6 billion people in the world. 100,000 may know me at present. I am not sure anyone will want to remember me. My work too may become obsolete as newer research arrives. My family may remember me for a few more years perhaps. But it doesn’t matter. The whole world thrives on receding memory!”

Humility and divinity truly converge in Prof. Swaminathan. Maybe that’s why he’s so happy, so peaceful – and so successful? 

A lesson in “seva” from the Swamiji I never met

If you can inspire even one person in this lifetime to serve and be caring, you can claim to have lived a productive and useful Life. And Swami Dayananda, who passed on earlier this week, touched and inspired so, so many people.
Swami Dayananda (1930 ~ 2015)
I have never met Swami Dayananda. My parents-in-law Venks and Padma were both long-time followers of Swamiji. Their children, including my wife Vaani, too knew Swamiji pretty closely. In the 14 years that Venks stayed with me and Vaani, after Padma’s passing in 2001, he would diligently make an annual contribution to Swamiji’s Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Anaikatti near Coimbatore. I knew this because Venks depended on me to ensure that his contribution, via a postal money order, reached Anaikatti. As my spiritual evolution progressed, Venks and I would often have long conversations and he would share anecdotes of what he had learned from meeting Swamiji or from attending his discourses. So, in several ways, Swamiji’s teachings found their way to me. But I never got the opportunity to meet him – the one time in recent years when he visited Chennai, much before his health began to fail, I was traveling.
But Swamiji touched my Life, and my precious family’s, in the most profound, yet in the most inscrutable, of ways.
Seeing my daily blog posts, three years ago, one of my friends on Facebook, a lady who I had never met back then, reached out to me. She is related to someone we know. And because she liked reading my blogs, I had added her as a friend. The post that had prompted this lady to reach out to me dealt with an episode during our grave, ongoing financial crisis, our bankruptcy. In that post I had talked about how I was learning to be calm in the eye of the storm. A criminal complaint had been filed against me for cheating and I was likely to be arrested. We had no money to run the family. So, there seemed no way out but to go with the flow. Seeking bail or remedial legal measures were out of the question – given that everything cost money! Besides, this complaint had been filed against me in a different Indian state – where we knew and had no one. I had written about how it is important to let go, especially when you don’t know what to do.
The lady, who lives in the US with her family, pinged me on Facebook Messenger and asked me if she and her husband could speak to me and Vaani. I thought she wanted to discuss the learnings from on my blog post – there are many people who reach out to me seeking and sharing additional perspectives; so, I agreed. Over the call, the lady’s husband asked me if I would mind if they wired us some money. I was flabbergasted. We had just a couple of thousand rupees on hand at that time; Vaani and I were in fact wondering how we were going to get groceries and keep the kitchen going, when this generous, completely unexpected, offer came our way. I thanked the gentleman profusely. In fact, I broke down as I expressed our gratitude, while accepting his offer.
But I soon gathered myself to ask him, “Why, why Sir would you want to help someone who you don’t even know personally? After all, Vaani and I are just rank strangers, you know us only through someone we mutually know. Also, I can’t really say when I can commit to repaying you.”
“No, no, don’t even talk about repayment. Please don’t embarrass us,” protested the gentleman, saying, “We are followers of Swami Dayananda. We are doing this because he has taught us and inspired us to practice seva – the art of serving others with no expectation of any returns. You are good folks going through a rough patch. We are happy we can be of some help.”
That money which came in from this couple lasted us a few weeks. It helped me and Vaani brave the onslaught on the criminal complaint front, because the home front was taken care of with this inflow.
Yes, all spiritual teachers share what they have learnt with their followers. Often they distill the essence of the scriptures, which they have mastered, in their teachings. But very few teachers will have the ability to inspire people to imbibe and practice the spirit of service. Swamiji, I understand now, did that not once or twice, but all his Life. And he managed to do that to a lot, lot many people.
From that couple who selflessly touched our Life, we have learnt to carry forward this spirit of seva, service. Someday, we hope we too can be angels in disguise to someone, just the way this couple has been to us. When that day comes, hopefully soon, we will look up at the sky and thank Swamiji, yet again, for teaching us that the true meaning of Life is ‘seva’!

Tell Life: “Aan De – Bring it on!”

The best way to deal with Life is to have the “bring-it-on-I-guess-we-can-handle-this” attitude!
Sometimes, Life can be very unsettling. Just when you have been dealt one blow, a few more punches will be hurled at you. Roll with the punches. There is no other way. If you start asking why, why me or cry foul or scream “hey, gimme me a break!”, you will end up suffering – in addition to having to deal with the pain.
Last evening I was sitting with a friend who knows me and Vaani very well. He was keen to know how things are with us given that our bankruptcy endures and we continue to soldier on. I gave him an update which was really a list of problems, some of them inscrutably complicated and defying any immediate resolution. From the time my friend and I had met last, a few new issues had arrived in our fold. So I said, “I have no complaints. Not anymore. I have learnt to tell Life, ‘bring it on, I guess we can handle it’.” My friend looked at me and said, “Man, things are so tough. Yet you guys make it look so easy!”
I replied, asking, with dead pan seriousness: “Vera Vazhi? Is there any other way to respond to and deal with Life?”
Indeed this is so true – for each of us, in our given Life contexts and situations. You can rave and rant. You can kick and stomp. But Life is not going to get any easier or better just because you are upset with what you have been dealt with. I have come to conclude that the magnitude of the problems you are faced with is directly proportional to Life’s assessment of your ability to face them and endure them. Life is like a gym trainer who is intent on increasing your ability to lift weights on a weekly or monthly basis. Yes, lifting those weights can be tough, painful and impossible at times. But ultimately they build your strength. Once you have endured a quantum of weights you can handle those weights easily. And the more you lift, the better, and stronger, you get.

Your suffering is an outcome of your wishing that your Life is different from what it is. So, instead of simply wishing, tell Life, to use Punjabi slang, “Aan De – Bring it on!And you will soon realize, like I have, that you can always handle everything that comes your way – no matter how impossible it seems at first! 

An unputdownable lesson in personal leadership: “Focus only on what you can never regain!”

There’s no point in clinging on to what you can always get back. Focus instead on what is most valuable to you and which you can never regain.
Rajeswari: brilliant and simple leadership wisdom
At a workshop we led earlier in the week, a young manager Rajeswari shared an unputdownable lesson in leadership. She said: “Leadership was thrust on me when I was barely 12. I had no idea back then what the world was all about nor did I know that you needed to demonstrate personal leadership to survive out here. I have been raised by my mother who is a single parent. Several traumatic circumstances in my family forced me to take a decision when I was 12 – was I going to spend the rest of my Life fighting over family wealth and property that was legitimately due to me or was I going to spend quality time with my mother? I chose the latter. My reasoning was that money can always be made. I reckoned that my mother and I may not always be there together. It’s been hard clawing my way through and climbing up in Life, but being able to be with my mother has made all the difference. I have no regrets.”
Young Rajeswari’s wisdom is both brilliant and simple. She reminds us to take our lives more seriously. Often times we are subconsciously prioritizing people and things that don’t matter over people (and things) that matter to us. And almost always we put ourselves last. Nothing wrong with being selfless. But being selfless at the cost of your inner peace and happiness is not quite an intelligent thing to do.
Personal leadership is critical to living intelligently. It requires that you understand what is more valuable to you, what gives you happiness and it requires your focusing onlyon it. Money can always be made. Things can always be bought or replaced. But people and Life’s many “liveable” moments, those that matter, are irreplaceable once they are gone.

Rajeswari had the intuitive common sense to decide in favor of what was really important to her than sweat over what appeared to be important. Perhaps you may want to borrow her principle and try applying it in your own Life. I believe it will definitely be worth the effort, time and opportunity! And then some day, like her, you too will not have any regrets!

Move onward in faith, trusting Life

Take that first step of faith and the path will unfold, taking you where it intends to, taking you where you are destined to be.
Your path to your final destination on this lifetime’s journey is already pre-ordained. Except Life doesn’t come with Google Maps. You can’t say which way the path is going and how soon you can get to where you have to be. All you can do, and do well, is to take each step, starting with the first one, in faith. Faith comes with attendant benefits. It brings prosperity and abundance __ not of all that you want, but of everything you need! This is how Life works. It wants you to be trusting. The more you trust Life, the more it unfolds in its magnificence and splendor.
Yesterday, we met a courageous lady who had an inspiring story. Over 20 years ago, her two-year-old son was diagnosed with a rare heart condition. Her husband and she were a middle-class couple. They did not have the means to go abroad for the treatment. He worked in the Indian Army but was often on duty in the border areas. The lady had to, in a non-Google era, when pediatrics was not so advanced a field in India, work with the Ministry of Defence, with the Ministry of Health and with doctors to both organize the money required for her son’s surgery as well as to understand his medical condition better. Hearing her story, I inferred that she clutched on to the basic principle of Life – faith. I am not talking about faith in an external God – but in yourself, in the fact that since you have been created without you asking to be created, you will be provided for, cared for and given all that you need. In any situation, you have to do what you have to do. Just do it well and leave the rest to Life. And that’s how it all worked out well for the lady and her husband. Their son is a strapping, healthy 23-year-old today!
Well sometimes, what you want, wish for and work toward may just not happen. But you cannot and must not be dismissive of Life just because “it” didn’t work for you. You have to just accept what is and move on.

Life is not to be feared. Nor is it to be rejected or resisted. It is to be trusted and accepted for what it is: for its benevolence and its amazing sense of equal opportunity. How else do you think that a child, who is of the same age as your own, who lives on the streets, is also able to survive and in fact does live on too withoutanyone to even provide for her or his needs, forget wants? Now, by a sheer quirk of fate your child is not on the streets but is with you. How cool a blessing is that? That, and just that, is a good reason why you must trust Life. And take that first step in faith! 

Refuse to hate whatever or whoever you don’t like

At the core of all our suffering is hatred.
Whenever we hate something or someone, we suffer. Consider this. You are in a relationship. And then you break up. Till the break-up happened, you did not suffer. But now you do because you hate the sight, even thought, of that person for all the reasons you ascribe to the break-up. Or you go to a restaurant and order food, let us say a paneer tikka sizzler. And what you get is a chicken tikka sizzler. You eat a bit of it and want to throw up! You hate the restaurant, the chef, the owner, everyone! You suffer. So to put an end to your sufferings from situations and people, you must stop hating__anyone and anything!
Learn to treat each event dispassionately. Believe that things will and do happen. People will and do behave differently at different times. Such is the nature of Life. By hating people for who they are, over which you have no control, you are hurting yourself. By all means, express yourself. Choose not to put up with nonsense or behavior that you find despicable or even hate. But don’t hate the person. It is indeed possible to not hate a person and yet fight their action. This is what Gandhi taught us. He said, famously, “I do not hate the English. I just don’t like the way they rule my country!” The essence of this philosophy is that all Life is equal, that people will do things which you may not subscribe to. In each such situation, bring in understanding and compassion. Pour love into that situation, for your own peace, and so that you don’t suffer, refuse to hate the person causing that situation. And refuse to hate the situation either. Like Gandhi, go down to work on changing the situation.
This is the true strength of your character, of your indomitable will. Doing this, each time you are oppressed, attacked, betrayed, or let down, means you are strong. Doing this, each time you are in a situation that you did not want or expect, means you are strong. Think about it. Do you have it in you? Try it. You will discover that you indeed do have it in you! Remember: Only when you stop hating, do you stop suffering!