Here’s a humble plea…let’s co-create a better, equal, world.
At an engagement ceremony in the family on Sunday, I witnessed, helplessly, as gender inequality played out. The mother of the groom, a single parent, was discouraged openly by the priest, from leading the ceremony from her family’s side. Her friend and the friend’s husband were “allowed” by the priest to lead the ceremony though. The implied message was that a male member and his spouse alone could lead this “auspicious” event. Single mothers (separated or widowed) may not, I inferred, lead. Interestingly, neither the groom nor his mother protested.
I didn’t volunteer to offer my perspective to the groom or his family because I am not very close to them to have known if they would be open to my “interference”. From the way everyone was so “comfortable” with the conduct of the ceremony, I am quiet sure they may have resented my “intrusion into their space”.
Even so, I am sharing my thoughts here to highlight the responsibility each of us has to throw out archaic practices which, in the name of religion or tradition, disrespect a woman, take away her dignity and treat her with a contemptuous bias. I don’t understand how an unrelated male leading an engagement ceremony is more appropriate, relevant or acceptable than a single mother – for heaven’s sake, the boy’s own biological mother! – leading it? I seriously don’t get it. This incident only reiterates in me the belief that a lot, lot more has to be done in the area of gender equality – and a lot of it begins in our homes. I wish the groom, a strapping young man, had stood up for his mom – who has given her all for raising him and his sister – and invited her to preside over the ceremony. It would have ushered in a progressive, refreshing, new egalitarian era.
I am not suggesting here that we turn activists at all family dos and social events. Activism is not necessarily required in all contexts; we also don’t have to be belligerent and aggressive. We can and must learn to put our foot down firmly on such practices that are clearly outdated, distasteful and stupid. I am sure if someone from the groom’s family had told the priest that the groom’s mother would lead the ceremony, he would not have had a serious problem. And if he had had a problem, he could have been reasoned with – either by talking him out of his regressive logic or by reiteration that he must conform to his client’s brief and expectations. Surely, the priest could be made to accept that choosing to accord dignity to a single mother is not blasphemous; because without her, there would be no son, no groom!!
Lest I sound preachy and hypocritical, I must disclose and reiterate here that I do have a dysfunctional relationship with my mother. I talk about this openly. Yet, I have not disrespected her at any time; I may not value what she has achieved or agree with what she has done or does, but I do respect her for always going out and doing what she believes in doing. I am also very grateful to her for having brought me into this world and for having raised me and for teaching me the alphabet. We have different outlooks to Life, our values are not in sync and so our chemistry has never worked. My way of according her respect is to let her be who she likes being without intruding into her space with either my presence or opinions.
Sunday’s incident leaves me very baffled. I am not sure how we can garner support towards changing attitudes and mindsets. So, I make a humble plea. I wish, as a people, we have more conversations on this subject. I wish people stand up for gender equality instead of being button-holed by shallow reasoning in the name of God, religion, tradition, culture and society. I just wish we all co-create a better, equal, world…
My conversation with international para-swimming champion and DGM, CTS Research Centre, Justin Vijay Jesudas, for my ‘The Happiness Road’ Series that appears in DT Next every Sunday. Read the conversation on the DT Next page here. ‘The Happiness Road’ is also my next Book. Photo Credit: Vinodh Velayudhan
“My happiness is eternal”
Two qualities in Justin Vijay Jesudas strike you when you meet him. Self-confidence and equanimity. Those are the reasons why Justin’s been able to pick up the threads of his Life after a car accident left him paralyzed neck-below in 2009. He’s a wheel-chair user alright, but he lives a full Life – he drives a customized car, he wins medals at international Paralympic swimming championships and at national rifle-shooting events, he surfs and he’s always beaming his electrifying smile! I seek to know the secret of his persevering spirit and positivity. “After the accident, when the prognosis reported that I wouldn’t be able to walk, I never asked ‘why me’. I simply got down to training myself to walk. But 18 months later, I decided that let me not try and control what I can’t. Instead I focused on what I could control. My shoulders were strong, my elbows and wrists worked partially, so I adapted myself to driving, swimming and shooting. I chose to be happy with what I could do instead of complaining about what I could not,” says Justin.
Despite keeping a day job how does he manage to find time to do all the other things he does? “The accident reminded me that all we have is one Life. So I decided that it is only in this lifetime that we have to do all that we want to do. It’s not the medals and accolades that excite me. It is the joy of being able to compete at an international level, it is the journey, of going out and giving Life your best, that makes me happy! I believe I may not have been so ‘alive’ had it not been for the accident and my disability,” explains Justin.
Doesn’t he ever grieve over what has happened to him? He confesses that he does feel grief, but only fleetingly – it doesn’t linger for too long. “My happiness is eternal. I see emotions such as grief or reasoning with the fate theory as a complete waste of time. I have faith in myself and I believe in enjoying each moment. And I know, as long as I am moving, feeling content with what is, the possibilities are immense,” says Justin.
Life may have dealt him a debilitating spinal cord injury, but Justin’s ensured that it hasn’t crushed his spirit or taken away his happiness! Bravo!!
Going numb with a Life situation is a natural response; but it pins you down and makes you unhappy!
A reader’s comment on my Blogpost yesterday invites me to clarify between two different states that we can possibly be in when dealing with Life. One is when we are unmoved. And the other is when we are numb. The two are distinctly different states of being.
Let me share what I have learnt from Life about these two states.
Being numb is an inactive state. It signifies a resignation. There is a detachment here, a let-go too, perhaps. But all of it is passive, inanimate, almost as if you are feeling dead and are just going through the motions.
But being unmoved is a very alive state. Here you are conscious of everything that’s happening to you, but you are choosing not to respond. You can feel pain, you can feel the weight of whatever is being thrust on you, but you are choosing not to get snowed down by any of it. Being unmoved is a spiritually evolved state. Here too there is detachment, there is a let-go, but you are letting go while fully trusting the process of Life.
In our case, Vaani and I going through this decade-long bankruptcy. In a physical sense it is numbing. It has incapacitated us materially. It has slammed us to the ground and pinned us down. Yet, we are unmoved by the situation. We soldier on unmoved by the gravity of our problem or by the debilitating nature of our circumstances. We awaken each morning to live a Life of Purpose – of Inspiring Happiness among all those who care to pause and reflect – but we are unmoved about whether we are successful or not, we are unmoved about what people think of us and we are unmoved about how much longer we have to go through this phase of our Life.
Going numb with a Life situation is a natural response to a shock, when Life deals you a crushing blow. When you are numb, you are unhappy. But choosing to be unmoved is a lot of work. You have to, over time, train your mind to be alive to the moment. You have to make an important, intelligent, choice to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. And only by being unmoved can you be happy!
It is your mandatory daily recharge, revive and repair time.
My daughter and I spoke over a WhatsApp call this morning. She shared notes with me from her grad school orientation program. As part of the schedule, she had an hour’s introduction to meditation as a concept and as a practice. I feel it is a fascinating idea to introduce meditation to young people. If you learn the art of stilling your mind, if you can be unmoved when standing in the middle of the whirl of Life, then you are living intelligently.
I remember as a young teenager, when I was studying in 10th grade at Nutan Vidyalaya in Gulbarga, Karnataka, my entire class went through an orientation program on Transcendental Meditation – a form of meditation propagated by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918~2008). I can’t remember now whether I liked my first experience of meditation or not, but what I do remember is that my mother admonished me for “embracing wayward practices” and, worse, she accused my school of “thrusting the occult” on students. I realize now how wrong and ill-informed my mother was (and surely still is).
Meditation is an absolute must to still the mind and anchor it. The mind thinks up 60,000 thoughts on an average daily. And the mind thrives only in the dead past or in the unborn, yet-to-arrive, future. Which is why we often are feeling angry, guilty or grieving about the past or we are feeling anxious, stressed out, worried or fearful about the future. Meditation is simply about mindfulness – about bringing your mind’s fullest attention to the now, to the present moment.
However, as I discovered through my own evolution, most forms of meditation insist that you first silence the environment around you. That didn’t work for me. Because I was then (for the past decade) and I am even now living in a state of total chaos. The daily pulls and pressures on me (and on Vaani) are intense. So, I could never find “that place” outside of me that was calm and quiet. Which is why I embraced mouna – or the practice of observing daily silence periods – the moment I found it. Mouna, I discovered, is like spirituality – it places no unreasonable demands on you. You just have to be silent for a full hour every day. Let whatever is happening around you happen – you be silent! And this practice has helped me immensely. I learnt not to respond to stimuli around me. I just remained silent – no matter what – for an hour daily. Over time, I trained my mind to be still and focused only on the present moment. This has taught me how to be fully aware only of what is. It has been a truly liberating, awakening experience.
Any form of meditation is sure to work when practiced with diligence and with full immersion. Please choose what works for you. But please don’t think it is about religion or about a God. It is about the godliness in you. It is your holy communion with the Higher Energy. Just like your mobile phone needs recharging to function, meditation is your way of recharging, reviving and repairing yourself, by connecting with the Universal source!
PS: You may like to look up other posts on this Blog where I talk about mouna and detail its practice and benefits.
Neither impatience nor denial is going to solve a problem or make it go away.
A lady we know is embroiled in a legal dispute over her property with her siblings. Her matter has been pending in court for over 25 years. She said she was at her “wits’ end” and wanted to know this: “How much more patient must I be?”
I shared with her my perspectives on patience with solving problems.
When confronted with a problem the human mind responds typically with impatience – you want it solved in a jiffy, immediately. Or the mind wants to live in denial, it wants to run away from the problem. What we must realize is that both responses are wasted. Neither impatience nor denial is going to solve a problem or make it go away. Only when you accept a problem, only when you start living with it, does the problem – even though it may drag or linger on – reveal its teachable point of view. Every problem we face is teaching us something about ourselves. And only through learning from our problems do we evolve into better leaders of our Life.
In the lady’s specific case, her problem was not just that she was fighting over property with her siblings. It was also that she was fighting over it in an Indian court. So there’s being impatient is absolutely futile. She has to recognize that a resolution will take long and possibly may not even arrive in a lifetime. When she is in that state of acceptance – and clarity – she can either let law take its own course or opt for an out of court, mediated settlement. Not will to go with either choice will only cause her suffering. Which actually explains her current frame of mind, what she is experiencing right now.
More than anything else Life, teaches you patience by throwing you in the deep end of the pool or by hanging you from the edge of precipice. Yes, you have a choice to be impatient with Life. But when you are impatient, you are suffering simultaneously. Patience with a Life situation does not mean your problem will be solved immediately or that it will go away. It only means that you will not suffer, it means that you will learn to endure the pain while working diligently on resolving the situation.
Never allow yourself to think that you are worthless just because you have been rejected.
We met a gentleman the other day. A seasoned IT professional and a very sensitive human being. In his early 50s now, he has been asked to leave an organization that he had barely joined a few months ago. This was the third job that he was having to quit in the last three years. We were informally counseling him on how he could cope with this phase of his Life. Although his age and experience had imbued in him the maturity to know that such phases do happen to all of us in Life, he broke down a few times during his conversation with us. He confessed that he was deeply hurt by the manner in which some people were treating him. He was suddenly finding that all his experience and professional abilities were being viewed warily. He had been repeatedly rejected by his last three bosses and employers. All this was hurting him and he was finding it difficult to hold himself together.
I can relate to and empathize with this person’s situation. I too have struggled with being rejected. It really, really hurts; especially when you have put in your best, when you are being pushed to a corner and are told – without logic or reason – that you are not good enough. But over the years, through severaI experiences, I have learnt to deal with the grief that follows rejection. I have realized that grief is a very self-serving emotion. All it does is that it makes you depressive. Yes, it is natural that when you are rejected by someone, you will feel sad. And depressive. But wallowing in that depression is of no use. It will pin you down. It is like being locked up in a coffin that’s dumped into the sea. Now, you – and I – are no Houdini to stage a great escape. So we sulk, pine and suffer.
There’s a way to deal with rejection though. That way is to never take the act of rejection or the person rejecting you personally. Let’s understand, accept and appreciate that everyone is entitled to their opinion, their choices and their decisions. If someone exercises their prerogative with reference to you, they have only done what they are entitled to. Their choice need not necessarily be viewed as a judgment of your ability or character. Well, it may be possible that you can learn from the experience of being rejected and you may want to improve yourself. But in any case, don’t let the experience of getting rejected get to you. It is just another situation in Life where you have the opportunity to develop and demonstrate strength of spirit and character. Don’t get obsessed with rejection and use it as a benchmark to measure yourself. What can help you is your moving on and trying again. Chances are you may get rejected again. Then you move on again and try one more time.
All our lives have fragmented phases when things don’t go according to our plans. Unfortunately, there’s no Life Defragmenter that you can run to fix such phases. You have to endure such phases patiently. Feeling frustrated, humiliated and sorry is of no use. Instead remember that what you are going through, whatever is happening to you, is no reflection of who you are or of your ability. With time, every phase passes, everything changes and nothing lasts – not even tough times!