Simply be. Drop this urge to constantly become this or that.

Life simply is.  There is really no objective to Life; there are no goals to be achieved, no responsibilities to be fulfilled. Nothing. You are born. You live. You die. Period. This is the truth – so simple, so uncomplicated. It is only society that brings in expectations of goals and outcomes, and labels of success and failure or joy and sorrow. You take away the social denominators from Life – starting with money – and suddenly Life simply is.
The other day, we were sitting at a coffee shop. I was thinking of something I had seen on Facebook, I was looking up from my phone and I was smiling – staring blankly into space. A friend walked up and tapped me on my shoulder and asked, “Wow! What are you thinking deeply about? What next creative idea are you pulling out of your hat?” I replied, “Hardly…No creative idea or such…I am just in the moment, enjoying it, savoring it.”
Our friend, and his wife who was with him, were hardly able to comprehend what I meant. They smiled and waved their goodbyes and walked away. I can understand what they must have been thinking about – “how can anyone not be doing anything?” And they are not alone. I believe the whole of humanity thinks this way and so is missing this beautiful opportunity to just be in the moment – because everyone is trying to become someone, by trying to do something or the other.
I am not saying you must not work or that you must not earn money or that you must not raise a family. But don’t get so caught in earning-a-living that you miss the opportunity to live itself. Look at nature around you. The trees, the birds, the flowers, the river, the ocean, all of them simply are. They have no concept of time nor do they have any targets or goals to achieve. It is only man who has time-bound goals in focus. Nothing wrong with that. But if the same goals start haunting you, when they make your Life miserable, then you have a problem. Earning money is not a problem. But complaining or worrying that you are not having enough is a problem. Working is not a problem. But feeling stressed out over your work is a problem. Having a family is not a problem. But sweating over the behavior of your family members is a problem.
Osho, the Master illustrates this point with the example of a rose and a hundred-rupee note. “Life is not a logical process. It is poetry, it is a lovesong — without any meaning, yet it is utterly beautiful. In fact, when something has a meaning, it can’t be beautiful – it is utilitarian. The rose is beautiful because it has no utility at all. Its sheer being is enough; it need not have any other significance. But a hundred-rupee note has no beauty; it has utility, it has meaning, it is a means to some end.”
The nub is this: to live your Life fully, celebrate each moment. Simply be. Drop this urge to constantly try and become this or that. Don’t try to desperately make a meaning out of your Life. Meaning is a social requirement. Life doesn’t care about any meanings. So, why don’t you also live your Life for what it is, as it is? Don’t seek meanings. Don’t get keyed up. Don’t complain. Be alive, be with your Life – as is!

Life = It is what it is

Life can be both an irony and a tragedy at times.  This isn’t the problem. Because such is Life’s nature. The problem arises when you don’t understand Life’s true nature and expect Life to be in a certain way – as you wish it to be!
Prasanna, A R Rahman and Vivek
Picture Courtesy: Internet
This morning’s papers carry the poignant story of Tamil comedian Vivek’s 14-year-old son Prasanna’s untimely death. The boy succumbed to suspected dengue and brain fever after 40 days in hospital. One of the papers pointed out the irony – Vivek has been an ambassador for the Tamil Nadu government’s dengue-prevention campaign! My auto-rickshaw driver amplified another angle to the irony: “Saar, Vivek made so many people laugh their guts out as a comedian. Poor guy, he is now having to cope with such a huge loss.” When I heard the news first, I remembered A.K.Hangal’s immortal dialogue (written by Salim-Javed) in Sholay (1975, Ramesh Sippy): “Jaante ho duniya mein sabse bada bhoj kya hota hai? – Baap ke kandhe pe bete ka janaaza!” It means: “The heaviest burden in Life is a child’s coffin on a parent’s shoulder”.
I am sure everyone today must be sending Vivek and his family a silent prayer and positive energy. Of course, beyond that none of us can do anything. The truth is, when our time comes, each of us has to deal with our own Life situations. This is perhaps why the famous Hindi poet, Harivansh Rai Bachchan (1907~2003), said this: “Jeevan ka matlab hai sangharsh”; “Life is a struggle, a challenge.” It doesn’t mean that Life is only full of pain and challenges. It means that you have to go through your share of challenges no matter who you are and no matter what you have done or not done, no matter whether you think you deserve it or don’t deserve it.
This is where the Buddha’s advice is very relevant. He said this: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Suffering is a human, self-inflicted condition. You suffer when you expect your Life to be any different from what it is, from the way it is. Someone dies and you feel the grief. That’s because your pain leads you to grief. And that is natural. But the moment you ask why should this person die or ask why should this person die now, then you have invited suffering into your Life. Who is going to answer your “whys”? Actually nobody has any answers. So, following any painful event or situation, only when you keep clinging on to the grief, do you suffer.

A friend, a retired Wing Commander from the Indian Air Force, who lost his grandson within a day of the child’s birth, had this to say: “Well, he came, he fulfilled his time on the planet and he went away. That was his design. We can’t do anything but accept his reality.” I agree completely with my friend’s outlook to Life. In fact, the simplest way to live Life is to be prepared for anything – and everything. And let us not ask the “whys”. Just take it as it comes. For it was what it was, it is what it is and it will always be what it will be. 

You get better at dealing with criticism with practice

Criticism can be debilitating only if you don’t know how to handle it. If you consider its constructive perspective and don’t dwell on who is criticizing, you can actually learn a lot from it – and improve yourself.
The best way to deal with criticism is the way you would deal with hot candle wax. First allow it to dry up. It is a lot easier to discard it and get it out of your system when it has become cold and stale. Understand also that criticism is just a review about an event or action that is over, past, dead and done away with. In the now, in the present, there is no issue. So, learn to let go and move on than dwelling in the past! Second, appreciate where the person who is critical of your actions is coming from. Even if the person is unjustified, rude, violent or cruel, understand that that person has a right to her or his view. It belongs to that person and does not belong to you __ even if it is about you. Third, understand the message that is being conveyed and see if you can learn from what is being said. Train your mind to respond with an exclamation__from awe, from wonder, from amazement__ that says “Is that so?” instead of responding with anger and violence while asking “How dare you?” Know that when you, even if it is only in your mind, question the other person’s right to opinionate, criticize, it is really your ego which is leading you. Refuse to follow. Turn your attention away. Learn to treat the whole experience like a game. Tell yourself: “Hey! Watch out! This situation, this comment, this person is provoking me. And my mind is urging me to fall prey, to succumb. Let me escape!” And each time you win, punch your fist up like a champion will. When you do succumb, do get dragged into the situation and when you emerge from it bruised and grieving, remind yourself to not fall prey again.
Like with all other games you have learned to play in Life, you get better and better at dealing with criticism with practice. Then, over a period of time, you will have mastered the art of being unmoved. All criticism, then, will just fall off you – like water falls off a duck’s back!

How do you pick yourself up when you have been felled by Life?

The only way forward from a crisis is to get up, gather yourself and move on. 
Many a time, Life deals with you in the most brutal ways. And before you know it you have been socked and have been left devastated with the turn of events. How do you pick yourself up when you have been felled by Life? Well, there are no easy ways in such a situation. You have to take Life as it comes, one day at a time, one step at a time.
When a tragedy or a crisis strikes you – death of a loved one, loss of business or money, a serious health challenge, a heart-wrenching break-up – you feel numbed by the event. All you are asking repeatedly is “why” and “why me”? But there are no answers to any questions in Life. So, you can spend time mourning and grieving – and feeling miserable – or you can move on. Now, there is no problem really with grief. It is after all a normal emotion that follows a loss. In fact, when you encounter grief, don’t try to suppress it. Allow it to rise within you. Feel the grief, hold it, let it hang around and watch it as it first rises and then recedes. When you suppress it, when you resist it, it will persist. But if you let it be, it will fade away. In the aftermath of a crisis, when the grief begins to subside, be aware and pick yourself up again. It will appear to be difficult initially. But when you choose to move on, it will happen more seamlessly than you can imagine.
For instance, just to cheer you up, when someone asks you out for a coffee or suggests a book or watching a movie, don’t say no. In the beginning it may appear that you are “indulging in being happy” while you need to be “clinging on to grief”. But allow yourself that indulgence. Don’t feel guilty. The truth is that your feeling sad is not going to undo your Life. In fact, nothing in Life can be undone. So, to move on, after you have been dealt a Life-changing blow, you must first be ready and willing, and then you must actually, physically, move. Moving on is not a feel-good philosophy, it involves a lot of practical, doable, must-do, actions.

But it all begins with believing that there is a lot of Life after a crisis. What you think is the end of the road, almost always, is the beginning of a new journey.  When you move on, when the scenery changes, as Life goes on, you will find that there is much more to Life than just clinging on to the dead past. 

In order to find time for yourself, simply create it!

If you can pause and reflect, for a quality period of time daily, the quality of your Life will undoubtedly improve.
Yesterday, at The Brew Room, a beautiful café in downtown Chennai, I caught a hand-written sign that read: “Everything gets better with coffee.” I smiled as I took a picture of this sign. And I thought to myself, how true this simple promotional line for coffee is – in a real world context.
If there’s one thing that we all need desperately in Life it is time. And if there’s one thing that’s available in abundance, and uniformly, to all of us it is time. To be sure, we have the same 24 hours at our disposal. Within our reach. No one has a minute more or a minute less than the other. Yet we scramble along, stumbling and falling, struggling and heaving, complaining forever that we don’t have enough time! Now, the reason why time seems elusive is because we expect all our responsibilities to be settled, all our tasks to be completed, all our goals to be achieved, before we sit down to experience some quality time for ourselves, with ourselves. That certainly is not going to happen. Because each gone moment is gone. It is never going to come back. With each moment that is past, we have lesser time on this planet. This is the bitter truth. And unless we invest time we are not going to be able to create quality time – for ourselves, our families and for doing what we love doing. Period. Just as investing money wisely helps multiply it, investing time wisely alone helps create time.

So, the simplest way to find that time for yourself is to create it. Just drop everything and sit down for 15 minutes to half-an-hour quietly, each day, and feel your breathing. Read something. Check Facebook. Listen to music. Just don’t be under pressure. Think through your day and week. Do this diligently, daily, and watch the quality of your work and Life improving with this practice. I am not sure really if “everything gets better with coffee” all the time, but everything does get better when you pause and reflect. As someone has wisely said, “Now and then it is good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”

When your body is not listening to you, listen to your body

The human body is your biggest asset in this lifetime. Yet, ironically, it often receives the least attention from you.
My late father-in-law, Venks, would often say this: “Sometimes, you must listen to your body. Especially when it is throwing tantrums, when it is protesting with aches or fever, you must simply let it rest.” Over the years, I have come to relate to Venks’ advice totally. Early on in my career, I used to believe that Sundays, holidays and vacations came in the way of my ambitions and dreams. I was consumed by the view that if you are awake, you must be firing away on all cylinders, working harder each day to stay competitive. At that time, health, to me was a destination, that one arrives at when success – as in a material sense, name, fame, money – has been achieved. Today I stand corrected. I realize that unless we nurture and care for ourselves, beginning with our body, we cannot last the course of this lifetime being fit, healthy – and competitive.
Most people disregard the view that the human body must be nurtured and preserved for as long as they can. Every gadget we possess – from our cars to phones to air-conditioners to washing machines to laptops to microwaves to refrigerators – receives our attention. The moment there is a slight whimper or blip in the functioning of any these “things” we rush to maintain them. But we have no regard for the human body. We whip ourselves – and our body – to perform. Only when we suffer a breakdown – a heart attack or a nervous collapse – we ‘wake up’. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to simply care for and nurture the body so that it allows us to function more efficiently or effectively?
I have learned to practice the following simple steps:
1.     Eat your meals on time – every time
2.     Drink lots of water
3.     Work out/walk at least 5 days a week
4.     Avoid addictions
5.   Invest time doing what you love doing – not necessarily work or career-related stuff – at least once a week
6.     Sleep for 8 hours daily
7.     When your body sends you a signal – a pain, an ache, a dysfunction – heed it
8.     Be eternally grateful for this lifetime and for this body that you have to experience it

I don’t want to sound preachy myself on a Monday morning when chances are you will be battling your own blues. So, I will lean on quality guru Phil Crosby’s (1926 ~ 2001) simple yet profound saying: “Health is true wealth. And it is totally tax free!” It sums it all up – doesn’t it?

“You are happy the moment you count your blessings”

‘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 am in conversation with eminent Bharatanatyam dancer Chitra Visweswaran!
Chitra Visweswaran
Photo by Vaani Anand
The way Chitra Visweswaran communicates, both with her eyes and with the words she chooses, elevates your understanding of whatever she is saying to a higher level, almost instantaneously. Yet, for someone who is among India’s most acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancers, and a Padma Sri awardee too, Chitra is so simple, so grounded, very down-to-earth and evolved. “Life is an eternal journey of learning, a sadhana. We must learn to enjoy the journey more than getting worked up about the end. That, to me, is happiness,” she says as we sit down one afternoon to have a conversation over green tea in her tastefully decorated living room. 
Chitra Visweswaran
Photo by Vaani Anand
That journey, to Chitra, has been eventful. The world sees only a great artist in her, but beyond her dance, she’s among the most compassionate human beings you will ever meet and a doting sister. Her brother, Arun, is two years younger than she is. He was born normal. But when he was just three, he was struck by an ailment that impaired the development of his brain. Chitra herself was young and did not then comprehend the import of how Arun – and her family – will have to cope with this lifelong situation. But when they were both adolescents, Chitra came to the realization that Arun will never be normal again. She was overwhelmed and grief-stricken. Arun’s condition often made him turn violent. And Chitra had to face the brunt of his uninformed rage on many occasions. Their mother, Rukmini, helped Chitra cope. “She ensured I didn’t wilt under sorrow. I was, at that time, unsure of what I wanted to do in Life. My father wanted me to be an engineer. I was good at singing. I also loved dancing. But my mother helped me find focus. She said to me, ‘You are an okay singer. But you are a brilliant dancer.’ And that got me started. My rigorous training as a dancer helped me come to terms with Arun’s condition and our Life,” recalls Chitra.
Rukmini also taught Chitra something that has remained at the core of all her Life’s work. “She told me never to dance for fame or name, but to dance, offering myself to the Universe, offering my dance as a prayer,” says Chitra.
As she evolved in Life, and as she rose in her career, Chitra began to value her mother’s perspective greatly. “I don’t think we must limit this ‘your work is prayer’ philosophy to dance alone. I have learnt from Life that whatever you do, if you do it as an offering to a higher energy, immersing yourself in it, it will be your prayer. ‘Doing’ this prayer consistently is what happiness is all about. You could be cleaning cobwebs, or cooking, or gardening or you could be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer or…a dancer, whoever you are, whatever you do, immerse yourself in what you are doing, and you will be happy,” explains Chitra.
How does she cope with her lows – especially with her soul-mate R.Visweswaran’s passing in 2007? “Viswesh was my best friend and my partner at work. I surely experienced a great vacuum. My guru, Mathaji Vithamma, took me away to her ashram, where she encouraged me to just dance to myself at the altar of the Maha Meru. I simply surrendered there, through my dance. It took several weeks. But I healed,” shares Chitra, adding, “The key to being happy is to stay anchored, stay detached and to love what you do.”
Arun joins us for a while. As he sips his coffee, Chitra tells me: “He can’t speak. He can’t express himself. Surely he has questions. He must be having so many opinions on what’s going on around him and so much to say about himself. Yet, he understands his limitations. He is accepting of them. He’s also very clear about what he wants and what he doesn’t want. And he is content with what he has, the way he is. He is happy.”
That perspective which Chitra has to offer, as a learning from Arun’s Life, sums up why some of us are unhappy or are still ‘searching’ for happiness. Chitra distils that learning further: “The key is to realize that until you learn to count your blessings, you will be unhappy. I am happy the way my Life is. In the time that I have left here, I want to continue to share of myself and of my art, to the best of my ability.”

Few can share Life’s lessons more humbly and gracefully than the way Chitra has. Perhaps such humility and grace comes from choosing to see Life the way it truly is – as an eternal blessing!  

Do you really need to carry that excess baggage?

All of us fellow voyagers in Life are traveling with far too much excess baggage than what we really need.
There are three forms of excess baggage we saddle our lives with:
1.     Emotional Baggage: Memories pertaining to past hurts, insults, events, experiences. Some of these are heart-wrenching and keep our spirit nailed causing deep anguish, pain and untold suffering.
2.     Physical Baggage: More than 50 % of the stuff that fills our homes__furniture to clothes to documents to kitchenware to shoes to display-ware__are the ones we have not used in months and, most often, in years. So, our homes are overloaded with ‘waste’ which can be useful for others when given away.
3.     Baggage that never was and that never may well be: This is the baggage of worry and anxiety. Of things and events that you fear will happen to you and because of which you are unable to live free and in the moment!
All three forms of excess baggage must be set down to travel in peace. The second form, the physical baggage, may still be reconcilable. As in, if you have a large living space, you can afford to accumulate, save or hoard the stuff that you don’t always use. Even so, Vaani and I follow a simple principle: we don’t hold on to anything – anything – that we have not used for over 6 months, except our passports! But the baggage falling in categories 1 and 3 are just not worth carrying. In a way, Life is pretty much like an airline company. You sure do end up paying a heavy price for traveling with heavy, excess baggage! In a Life context, that price is the inability to live in and experience the magic of the present moment, of the now!
All that you need to live is what you have in the now. Ask yourself what past memories are causing an inexplicable heaviness in you? Ask yourself what worries take your mind away from attending to the now? Burn your heaviness away by giving the present all your attention. Make a call, give a hug, simply forgive__do whatever that will bring you into the present. Stop worrying about what will or may happen in the future. Life is here and never in the future, just as it is not in the past! Most important, learn, and keep relearning, to offload all your baggage and travel light. You will then not only travel smart, but travel far too!

Patience is the way

If you have learnt to be patient in Life, with Life, you have mastered the art of living!
My friend and I had a creative and spiritual disagreement a few days ago. My friend argued that you cannot be patient when the whole world is impatient around you. The boss is breathing down your neck. The guy behind you is honking. People rush into elevators instead of filing into them with order and decorum. Your colleague is pressurizing you to finish up your part of the work fast so that she can get her job done faster. So, patience, really? It doesn’t work, my friend protested: “You live in a Utopian world, AVIS. Here, in today’s world, if you are not moving at the speed of light, if you are not overtaking slow-coaches and laggards, someone else is going to overtake you and them. The one who is moving fast, has the advantage. Patience does not work anymore today!”
Yet, despite my friend’s well-reasoned pitch, today’s world requires patience more as a must-have quality, a necessity, than as a rare virtue which, when available and used, can create value! Because patience alone can lead you to a Life of peace, personal well-being and prosperity.
Patience comes from a deeper understanding of Life. We are impatient with people, events, circumstances, service, technology, and with Life, because fundamentally we want things to happen our way. But that’s just not going to happen. Despite our living in a time of instant gratification – WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter surreptitiously aiding and abetting it – Life works only in its own way, at its own pace. You can have your way only if you are patient with and in Life.
Osho, the Master, often narrated these three lines to help people understand Life better. He would say:
1.     Everything comes in its own time
2.     Everything comes when you are ripe
3.     Everything comes when you deserve it
Now, review your own Life in the context of these three statements. You will find that anything you have got so far from Life, stuff you have welcomed and have wanted, has come only per these three dimensions of Life. You may have wanted something and may have even been frustrated. And it has never come. You know your story better than anyone else. So, think back, and ask if you got anything you wanted any earlier or any later than when you needed it – when you finally got it? Were you not in total receiver mode to have got it? And you only got something when you truly deserved it, right?

Patience is about simply understanding these three dimensions of Life and reminding yourself of them every time you mind grieves or when frustration sets in. Simply, there is a no way to be patient; patience is the way!

Of a Priest, Prayer, God and Job Security

Does prayer really work? Does it lead you to God? Does it solve your problems?
I guess these are questions that often rise in our minds at a deeply rational, logical level. But I have come to believe that the questions are misplaced! The question we really need to ask ourselves is, of what use are all the religious rituals that we conduct monotonously and mindlessly when we are not mindful of Life’s gifts__the grace, abundance, blessings in our lives__ itself and we continue to still worry, fear and agonize over what the (unknown) future holds for us?
I am reminded of a conversation that I had with our family priest a few years ago. A self-confessed champion of piety, who called himself a ‘strict Brahmin’, he came to me asking for career advice for his son who was looking to join an IT services company after completing his undergraduate studies in software engineering. He explained that his son had been selected by a leading software company through campus interviews. Yet he claimed he was worried. Our conversation went somewhat like this:
Me: Why are you still worried Sir?
Him: I don’t know if IT companies can offer job security the way the government can!
Me: Why would you, a faithful servant of the Lord, for years now, be insecure __ and want to seek security in a government job?
Him: Sir, how can God guarantee job security?
Me: What is God there for then if HE/SHE can’t guarantee you security?
Him: Sir, velayadathengo! Don’t pull my leg, Sir! God can’t come and tell me that my son’s future is assured!
Me: If God can’t tell you that, the one who has direct access to HIM/HER, who else can reach God? Why do you pray then?
Him: Sir, praying to God is my profession. I still need ‘something else’ to tell me that my Life is on track and that my family and I will be secure!
With due apologies, and respect, to my family priest, I must confess that this is the problem with praying mindlessly. That ‘something else’ which my priest was looking for__and I hope he found it in his own way subsequently__is ‘mindfulness’. When you are mindful of the present moment, and are grateful for it, that would be prayer enough to make you realize your God!

You will then find God in this blessing__that you have to access Facebook and are able to read a post. You will then find God when you feel the air in your lungs. You will the find God in the sunrises and sunsets that happen outside your window every single day without fail. You will then find God in a child’s smile, in leaves rustling in the night breeze, in a cow mooing and in a dew drop! You will then find God in every form of creation that you connect with. You will then find God in each moment. And then you will understand and value what being prayerful is all about. You will then realize that such true prayer, of living in the moment, alone can lead you to your God!