5 minutes is all it takes – to being happy doing what you love doing

Happiness cannot be pursued. It has to be found. And you will find it, here and now, if you remove all the conditions in your Life that are making you unhappy. When those conditions disappear, happiness appears. It is as simple as that!
But how do you leave a lucrative job, that comforts you with security, gives you a societal edge and take up something you love no doubt, but is hardly likely to reward you financially? This is where intelligent living comes in. You start a journey of a thousand miles, by taking the first step.
And that first step is to invest just 5 minutes a day doing what you love doing. One of the principal reasons people don’t switch to doing what they love doing is because they are too caught up doing things all day that they loathe doing! But 5 minutes is not a bad deal. However busy you are running your rat race, you can take a 5-minute-break and that shouldn’t hurt anyone, least of all you. In those 5 minutes, do what you love doing __ reading, writing, painting, composing music, researching, cooking, whatever! You will discover a rare peace in you in those 5 precious minutes. You will want those 5 minutes to never end. So, extend the tenure of that daily activity by 5 more minutes – daily! Keep feeling joyful and keep extending the tenure as you graduate through this experience and exercise! Soon, in about a quarter, you will have created a daily window of your own ‘Happy Hour’!
Imagine from being frustrated with your Life, bemoaning the lack of joy in what you were doing, you have a full ‘Happy Hour’ daily to do what you love doing! And that’s 30 ‘Happy Hours’ in a month. If you are an artist, you could complete a masterpiece in that time. And if you are a writer you could perhaps complete a chapter of your book in that time!

If you are smart, as all people usually are, you may look at how many ‘Happy Hours’, over how many years, will you need to make that career switch from being a highly-paid unhappy professional to being a well-earning, happy individual. And once you know your math, you simply go after the opportunity – 5 minutes is all it takes! 

Enjoy every experience for its own sake – don’t dramatize or intellectualize Life

In this illusory experience called this lifetime, take nothing seriously – including yourself!
I caught up with my cousin after a long, long time. We talked about Life, philosophy and spirituality for a couple of hours. In the course of the conversation, my cousin remarked that Adi Shankara (788 ~ 820 CE) was the greatest philosophers of all time – greater perhaps than Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. My cousin extolled the virtues of the Vivekachudamani, the epic poem that Adi Shankara wrote in 580 verses, to expound his Advaita Vedanta philosophy. I found the conversation with my cousin empowering and enriching. Even so, I came away with a sense of disagreement over anyone wanting to merely pride Indian intellect as being ahead of and above the rest of the world.
Why can’t we enjoy anything – philosophy, experiences, whatever – in Life without comparing, I thought to myself. In fact, a story that Osho often narrated from Adi Shankara’s Life, highlights the same perspective.
Adi Shankara was in Benares. One day, early in the morning – it was still dark because traditionally the Hindu monks take a bath before sunrise – he took a bath. And as he was coming up the steps, a man touched him on purpose, not accidentally, but on purpose, and told him, “Please forgive me. I am a sudra, I am untouchable. I am sorry, but you will have to take another bath to clean yourself.”
Shankara was very angry. He said, “It was not accidental, the way you did that; you did it on purpose. You should be punished in hell.” 

The man said, “When all is illusory, it seems only hell remains real.”

Shankara was taken aback.
The man said, “Before you go for your bath again, you have to answer my few questions. If you don’t answer me, each time you come up after your bath, I will touch you.” 

It was lonely and nobody else was there, so Shankara said, “You seem to be a very strange person. What are your questions?”

He said, “My first question is: Is my body illusory? Is your body illusory? And if two illusions touch each other, what is the problem? Why are you going to take another bath? You are not practicing what you are preaching. How, in an illusory world, can there be a distinction between the untouchable and the brahmin? – the impure and the pure? – when both are illusory, when both are made of the same stuff as dreams are made of? What is the fuss?”
Shankara, who had been conquering great philosophers up until then with his intellect, could not answer this simple man because any answer was going to be against his own philosophy. If he says they are illusory, then there is no point in being angry about it. If he says they are real, then at least he accepts the reality of bodies…but then there is a problem. If human bodies are real, then animal bodies, the bodies of the trees, the bodies of the planets, the stars…then everything is real.
And the man said, “I know you cannot answer this – it will finish your whole philosophy. I’ll ask you another question: I am a sudra, untouchable, impure, but where is my impurity – in my body or in my soul? I have heard you declaring that the soul is absolutely and forever pure, and there is no way to make it impure; so how can there be a distinction between souls? Both are pure, absolutely pure, and there are no degrees of impurity – that somebody is more pure and somebody is less pure. So perhaps it is my soul that has made you impure and you have to take another bath?”
Now, the second question was even more difficult. Shankara had never been in such trouble – actual, practical, in a way, scientific trouble! Rather than arguing about words, the sudra had created a situation in which the great Adi Shankara was check-mated. He gracefully accepted his defeat. And the sudra said, “Then don’t go take another bath. Anyway there is no river, no me, no you; all is a dream. Just go into the temple – that too is a dream – and pray to God. He too is a dream, because he is a projection of a mind which is illusory, and an illusory mind cannot project anything real!”
I find this story beautiful. Unputdownable in fact. I believe the big learning here is this – enjoy everything that you see or experience for it’s own sake. Don’t try to dramatize and intellectualize anything. Least of all Life. My cousin has phenomenal insights into Advaita Vedanta no doubt, but he lost me while making the avoidable comparison.
I don’t think it ever is about who is bigger or who is better or who is richer or who is more beautiful. Everything is what it is. Everyone is who they are. And nothing is permanent. Everything and everyone is transient. So, don’t get caught up in a competition that is meaningless, in running a race which is a non-starter or in ritualizing and intellectualizing Life. Just live – as long as your Life lasts!  

There is great joy in living dangerously

Don’t ever fear living dangerously. Simply focus on the living, for you can do nothing about the danger!
Neerja Malik
Picture Courtesy: Facebook
The other day we were at an event to launch a book based on the Life of Neerja Malik, a two-time cancer survivor. Titled ‘I Inspire’ (Jaico, written by Megha Bajaj), the book tells Neerja’s story – of grit, of letting go, of acceptance and of being happy despite the circumstances. At the launch, Neerja, just as the way she always is, was beaming and radiating abundance. She personified being joyful! Without any prior notice, finding me and Vaani in the audience, Nina Reddy, of Savera Hotels, who was the chief guest at the event, invited me to share some perspective (perhaps given our own experience with dealing with a Life-changing crisis) on how “it is possible turn a crisis into an opportunity”.
I talked about how ancient Chinese philosophy and literature support this belief that the word “crisis”, when written in the Chinese language, is actually the sum of two other words. One meaning ‘danger’ and the other meaning ‘opportunity’. So to the Chinese, crisis always means danger + opportunity. The import for us is this – whenever you see crisis, don’t get overwhelmed by its inherent dangerous nature. See the opportunity. To be sure, there is opportunity all around, everywhere, and every step of the way.
Osho, the Master, takes the Chinese argument one step further. He says Life is intrinsically fraught with dangers. Each moment is an encounter with the unknown. He says our academic education, social conditioning and the availability of economic resources makes us believe, actually kids us, that we know what outcomes can occur each time all necessary and sufficient conditions are fulfilled. But every now and then – when an MH 370 disappears into thin air, when you are faced with a debilitating ailment with no cure, when a close relationship sours irrevocably because you have stopped relating to that person – you realize that you are controlling nothing. That only Life was, is, and will be, in control. You discover then that you are a mere pawn. So, when this realization strikes you it can be very unsettling. You thought you were the boss, the king. But now, Life’s telling you are that you are just a cog in the wheel, a nobody who controls nothing. Osho says that instead of feeling depressed and powerless, celebrate the joy of living dangerously. Since you can’t do anything about what happens to you in Life, since you have no idea or control over what dangers lie on your journey ahead, simply let go and be happy!
Neerja epitomizes that spirit. It’s her joie de vivre that’s helped her conquer cancer not once – but twice! It’s her zest to live that spreads so much positivity and cheer among all those she touches. She doesn’t make living this way seem easy. Living this way iseasy because she lives each moment fully – with awareness, with joy! There’s indeed great joy in living dangerously. If you can find some time from your worrying and fearing and fretting and fuming about the ‘dangers’ you are currently dealing with, believe me, you too can feel – and be – that joy! 

“Aham kills your inner beauty and joy”

‘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 actor-dancer Vyjayanthimala Bali, who, at 82, celebrates Life in each moment!
Picture by Vaani Anand
“It is not what happiness is. It is what happiness does,” declares Vyjayanthimala Bali, as she sits down in her study, adding, “Being happy with your Life, the way it is, makes you deal with it better.” Her study is full of awards, citations and souvenirs, showcasing a lifetime’s work in movies, in politics and as a dancer. At 82, Vyjayanthimala, is enviably fit and so full of Life. Her big, beautiful, expressive eyes radiate an indescribable sense of inner joy. And her million-watt smile can revive the most heart-broken soul. Where does all this energy come from? “From simply being happy,” she replies. “Whatever is beautiful makes me happy. Life is so beautiful, it is full of beautiful people. So, I see all of the beauty around me and that keeps me happy,” she explains.
Vyjayanthimala’s Life has been an interesting one. The reigning goddess of Indian cinema through the 50s and 60s (the first actor from the South to make it big in Bombay) and then a successful stint in politics (she has been a member of both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) in the 80s and 90s. Yet, she never clung on to either profession. I ask her how she was able to let go of her celebrity-hood. Wasn’t it difficult? “Not at all. Cinema and politics were mere opportunities that came my way. I liked them and so I took them up. But when I stopped enjoying them, I left them. My dance is who I am. It is as a dancer that I am the happiest. The only constant in my Life is my dance,” says Vyjayanthimala. Her husband, Dr.Chamanlal Bali, who passed away in 1986, inspired her to continue dancing. “Quitting films was a conscious decision I took with Dr.Bali. I wanted to be a homemaker. I wanted to get away from all the limelight. Which is why I have avoided making a comeback although there have been numerous offers for character roles. But Dr.Bali always told me I must never quit dancing. I am so grateful for his foresight and encouragement. Without my dance I will not be who I am,” she reveals.
Picture by Vaani Anand
Over the last several years, Vyjayanthimala has been researching on ancient temple dance forms. She continues to stage productions each year – there was one at Bangalore’s Chowdiah Hall in September and there’s one at Mumbai’s famed Shanmukhananda Hall in November. “As I research, I find that one lifetime is just not enough to live and learn about everything that there is. This Life is like a drop in an ocean. I realize that I am no achiever, I am just a pursuer. I am a student. I am still learning. You see, apart from making me so fulfilled and happy, it also takes me closer to the divine. The wealth of knowledge in this vast Universe makes me wonder why there is so much aham (ego) in people. Ahamkills your inner beauty and joy,” she observes.
How does she want to be remembered? She doesn’t answer the question directly. But she responds with her characteristic spontaneity, simplicity and clarity: “Dr.Bali taught me that true happiness is about making others happy. True happiness is in giving. I practise this at two levels. I acknowledge everyone I know and meet at a human level. For instance, on a day-to-day basis I never say no to people asking to take photographs with me; I always stop to smile at a security guard in a building or at airports. When you acknowledge and respect people for who they are, it makes them happy, you see. Second, I offer myself, and everything I have, to the divine in my audiences through my dance. The happiness I feel dancing, being myself, I share through my dance. That’s it. I think of nothing else.”
But, obviously, like everyone else, she too has to deal with problems, crises, worries, challenges. How has she managed to face and live through her low phases? “I have learnt not to keep on and on at it when things don’t go the way I want them to. I don’t focus on my worries and problems all the time – that will only magnify them. I have discovered that as long as there is Life, you have to keep moving on. There are no full stops in Life, there are only commas. That’s the best way to live,” she shares.

 

In her hey days as a movie star, Vyjayanthimala was considered as one among the pantheon of female Hindi film actors – among Nargis, Meena Kumari, Madhubala and Nutan. She was worshipped by both her male co-stars and her audiences for her blemishless beauty and charisma. But, as she saw me and Vaani off at the door of her Alwarpet home, I thought to myself – this is not Vyjayanthimala, the yesteryear star and celebrity. Here is someone who personifies what Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 ~ 1962), the former US First Lady, had to say: “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature. Beautiful old people are works of art.”

If someone has a problem with you, whose problem is it?

If someone sees you as their problem, it is, seriously, their problem – not yours!

A friend called me to share how his brother has been making Life miserable for him in their family business. Although a formal separation has been gone through between them, my friend’s brother is insinuating and charging his sibling with transgressions and non-compliance. “I have no problem with him. And I have no problem with the share of the business that I have been left with to manage. I feel very disturbed that my brother has a problem with me,” lamented my friend.
Now, this could be anybody’s story. People often have problems with other people. And if you happen to be, like my friend, with whom someone has a problem, you too may want to learn to simply ignore it. What can you do if someone has a problem with you? At best you can hear their point of view and if there’s something to learn, something to unlearn and something to change in you, you can go to work on it. But what if someone continues to have a problem with you despite your best efforts and intentions to appease them? More important, what if you are someone’s problem – not what you do or what you don’t do? Well, the most sensible response must be to shrug off that viewpoint saying ‘too bad’ and move on. It is when you lack that discerning ability, and instead grieve over why you are being perceived wrongly, that you suffer.

When you grieve and suffer over such inconsequential opinions, you sometimes end up becoming a problem for yourself. And that’s such a sad thing to happen. So, develop a more evolved and mature view of Life. You can only control what you think and do. You cannot control what others think and do. So, if someone’s insists on having a problem with you, let them have the pleasure of keeping it that way! Why work overtime to displease or dissatisfy them?

Don’t churn the past or the future – just let it all be

The human mind is powerless in the present moment. That’s why it insists on dragging you back to the past or into the future.

An important and fundamental clarity we must all have is over the functioning of the human mind. It thrives in the dead past – spewing thoughts of anger, grief, guilt over what has happened. And it thrives in the still unborn, unknown future – throwing anxiety, worry and fear over what may (or may not) happen. So, as long as the mind is controlling you, you are oscillating between the past and the future. The mind never allows you to settle. Such is its nature. 60,000 thoughts arise daily and all of them invariably dwell in the past or concern the future. This is why we often feel chewed up and are desperate for clarity. And this is where mindfulness comes in. When you are mindful of the present moment, immersing yourself in your current reality, your mind is powerless. When your mind is not controlling you, and when you are directing it instead to be in the present, there can neither be grief or guilt nor can there be worry or fear.
Once you understand this basic concept about intelligent living, you can begin the practise of mindfulness. It requires that you train your mind. And the principle to remember is that just like the human body can be trained, the human mind can be trained too. Mindfulness begins when you stop churning the past or the future in your mind. Just let it all be. You focus only on what is, on what is available, in the present moment. It may be difficult – as is the case with any new practice – but if you keep at it, you will make progress. Surely, over 21 days of daily practise, you can learn to be mindful.
I love what the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has to say about mindfulness. He says it so simply, so beautifully: “To be mindful is to bring body and mind back to the present moment so that you do not miss your appointment with life.”

The one who is angry is often helpless

Being angry with a situation and expressing your anger on everyone and everything around you is never an intelligent response.

I watched a beautiful Malayalam film the other day called Manjadikuru. Made by Anjali Menon (of Bangalore Days fame), the film tells the story of a family as seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy, Vicky. One of the protagonists of the film is a man called Raghu (played by Rahman). And Raghu is forever angry with his family – with his brother and his sisters. Raghu’s anger seems often irrational and habituated. As in one moment he could be complaining about his brother’s decision to turn a Naxalite, abdicating his family responsibilities, and the other moment he could be ranting about his sisters flocking together only to seek a share in the family wealth. So, Vicky, while narrating the story, concludes that his big learning watching Raghu’s bouts of anger is that those who are angry are often helpless.
Anjali Menon (who is also the writer of the film) shares a phenomenal spiritual insight there. Something that I can totally relate to. I used to be prone to senseless bouts of anger too. I once remember, as a 20-year-old, flinging my shaving razor at our television – which left it cracked – because I could not have a reasonable, logical conversation with my parents. Years later, when these anger spells had become far too frequent and had begun to ruin my professional stature, I discovered that each time I lost it, I was choosing to express myself in a violent sort of way only because I was unable to control what was going on or what others were saying or doing or because I was unable to convince someone. Bottomline: my helplessness was manifesting as anger.
Through diligent practice of mouna (daily silence periods), I learnt that your helplessness is nothing but a ego-based position. Why do you need to convince anybody? You have a right to your opinion. And they have a right to theirs. It is only when you try to force your view on someone and you fail, it is only when you try to control a situation and you fail, that you get angry. But the truth is that you never were in control of anything or anyone. Things just happen. People just behave the way they want to. So, just go with the flow. There is no need to be angry. And even if you do experience anger, channelize it constructively. Anger is nothing but the energy within you. Don’t squander it through violent thought, expression or action. Simply use it to drive change in a logical, legitimate fashion. This is what Gandhi did to practise ahimsa and help secure India her independence. This is what anger, when used constructively, can eventually yield.

So, if you are experiencing too much anger within you, pause and ask yourself if you are responding so only because you are helpless? In asking that question, you may well unlock the way to a lifetime of inner peace.

Everyone has a right to be happy the way they are

Someone’s idea of happiness need not be the same as yours. But this does not mean you can hold it against them for being happy the way they are.

Today’s Economic Times runs a story by Rashmi Menon on VIP Industries Managing Director Radhika Piramal speaking openly about her sexual orientation. Piramal says that she knew she was gay when she was 15 but she was able to come out in the open only 2011. She adds that her sister, parents, extended family and her colleagues, all of them have been very supportive all through. Piramal’s story, and her wearing her Life on her sleeve, is indeed a reaffirmation of a deep spiritual principle – follow the path of your inner joy and you can never quite go wrong.
                                                                                                                     
This is not about sexual orientation alone. This is about anything that is a personal choice. Between living for social norms and rituals, in the name of “culture and traditions”, or simply “earning a living” to drive your economic engine, and being unhappy, and being happy doing what gives you joy, choose the latter. Always. Even if it does piss off some people or forces some others to ostracize you!

Here’s a simple thumb rule on happiness to follow. If you are not happy with the way your Life is going, if you are not happy doing what you are doing, start over afresh tomorrow. Try something different. Trying this repeatedly is how you arrive at what really makes you happy. And once you know that, just go live that Life. Don’t bother about what people will say. Remember: They have a right to say or do what they want and you have a right to be happy the way you are. 

Aap Kataar Mein Hein

There’s no doubt that our Life stories will end soon. They will – one day surely. So, while our lifetime keeps ticking away, the only real time that we have available with us to live is the now, the present moment!  

A friend called a couple of days ago. We talked about the passing of Manorama, the Tamil actor, who we had all grown up watching on the big screen. And we talked about Amitabh Bachchan, whose birthday day it was, about how his era symbolized our youth. And how at 73, he was having the best time of his Life. Yet, said my friend, there’s no disputing the fact, that everyone’s aging, and will die one day, sooner or later. I quipped, punning on the old BSNL call-on-hold message, “Aap kataar mein hain…you, me, all of us, are in a queue, to eventually pass on…When our number is called, we have to simply go!”
Although it was a casual conversation, I cannot but reflect on the spiritual perspective it offers. If we treat Life as a soon-to-expire reality, we will want to seriously live. And not just exist. I mean we will want to live another way than the way we are living right now. Just this morning I read of Infosys CFO Rajiv Bansal’s resignation. He told The Times of India that at 43, he is re-evaluating what he wants from Life. And I believe it’s only right that like Bansal, each of us understands that Life has to be lived fully. And living fully does not mean spending your first 25 years qualifying, then spend the next 35 years earning, procreating and saving and then at 60-something “waking up” (if you are lucky) to decide what you want out of your Life. At that stage, possible you may have the means to do what you want but you may not be assured of either your health or enough time.

However corny the BSNL call-on-hold message may sound, it’s relevance to intelligent living cannot be ignored. If we take heed, and act on it, we will surely live a better Life than we are living presently!