Complaining or grieving don’t help – they are the root cause of suffering!
A friend lost her father a few months ago in a tragic road accident. And she’s not been able to come out of the shock. She wrote to me asking if there a way to cope with the loss of a “dear, dear one”?
Well, any instance of death, particularly of someone who you have been close to, is irreparable. You will always miss that someone. But grieving continuously is definitely going to cause – and accentuate – your suffering.
I shared with our friend what I know of the two traits that the Japanese possess as a people: ‘gaman’ and ‘shoganai’.
‘Gaman’ means ‘patience, endurance, perseverance’. And while ‘shoganai’ literally means ‘nothing can be done’ or ‘it can’t be helped’, it also denotes a calm determination to overcome what cannot be controlled. We must appreciate that Life and death are two sides of the same coin; if you are born, you will die. So, death naturally follows birth and Life. But the Japanese way of Life teaches us how to accept this non-negotiable reality and cope.
The Japanese language testifies to how a sense of precariousness__since Japan is located in one of the most seismologically active spots on the planet; remember the tsunami of March 2011?__has shaped a national consciousness. We have a lot to learn from this Japanese philosophy because most of us are forever complaining of or grieving over what could have been and what we don’t have! Obviously, my friend is going through a lot of pain and trauma over her father’s sudden passing. But ‘shogonai’ – what can be done to undo that pain? Nothing at all. So, only ‘gaman’ will work for her. Only time can heal her. I encouraged her to celebrate her father’s Life – do everything that he loved doing to engage with his ‘presence’ instead of mourning and grieving his absence!
In any context when you are confronted with the uncontrollable, we must embrace ‘gaman’ and ‘shoganai’ as simple, practical philosophies. They are effective to deal with even in everyday Life situations. You are in a traffic jam and late for your meeting. ‘Shoganai’. You get a non-reclining seat on a packed flight. ‘Shoganai’. There is a power outage. ‘Shoganai’. By any stretch of imagination, ‘Shoganai’ does not imply fatalism. Which is why, it must be understood and practiced with ‘gaman’. Both together encourage us to stop complaining about, or grieving over, things that are beyond our control; instead they urge us to accept situations that leave us numb and helpless. In the context of acts beyond our control__like a health setback or a natural calamity or the passing away of a dear one__they remind us to accept reality and endure Life patiently.
Personally, I believe the Japanese way of Life invites us to stop complaining and grieving. Complaining or grieving does not change reality. Neither does acceptance. But acceptance of any reality at least helps the one facing it to be in peace.
Be eternally grateful for what you have.
Someone I met yesterday asked me this question: “What is the simplest way to be in peace?”
And the simplest answer is this: be eternally grateful for what you have.
But an elaborate answer requires that we examine why we are not able to practice gratitude daily, consistently. The fundamental problem is that our minds are not nurtured by us. We almost continuously keep hurting ourselves by thinking negative thoughts, by pining for what isn’t there, by worrying. We are all badly bruised, battered in fact, within us. When you are injured within, you must first heal yourself for you to see the value in being grateful.
See, it is like this. When we injure ourselves physically, say with a nick while shaving or a cut while chopping vegetables, the body heals itself. If there is a deeper injury, with some care, we are back on the road. The truth is when the body is affected, it receives attention. The truth also is we injure our minds all the time but we don’t give it the care it needs to heal. Every angry thought, every remorseful thought, in fact every thought that is not centered around love, peace and gratitude, is injurious. Now, ask yourself, how many such thoughts on love, peace and gratitude, do you think out of the 60,000 thoughts that occur to you each day? Unlikely that we even think loving, peaceful, grateful thoughts for weeks on end!! Consider therefore how battered the mind must be and how much healing needs to happen for it to be ‘normal’ again. Unless we heal from within we cannot feel grateful.
‘Mouna’, the practice of silence periods daily, is the best way to heal our minds, to help it anchor in faith and patience. The 13th Century Persian poet Rumi couldn’t have said it better: “In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”
Stop weaving here means to stop worrying, to stop wanting to control your Life, to stop the continuous chatter in your head; it means to pause and reflect. When you are this way, you can only be grateful, you can only be peaceful. So, to be peaceful, stop battering your mind; heal it by anchoring in silence, love and gratitude!
On his birthday today, I recall an unforgettable experience and an unputdownable lesson that Swami taught me!
Today is Swami Sathya Sai Baba’s birthday. I have never met him. Or seen him.
But in the last decade his ‘presence’ has filled my Life. Vaani and I have been personally ‘coached’ by him, through his medium – a young man through whom Swami speaks to us. And what I have learnt from Swami is this: Live immersed in the moment, live in gratitude!
I remember some years ago, one evening, I sat at the Chamiers Café in Chennai brooding over my Life. Everything was so dark, so hopeless. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) And both Vaani and I were clueless. My laptop was open in front of me. But I was staring blankly at the screen – I had no idea of what I must do, where I must begin and how I must proceed. Vaani was at home attending to her father who was ailing at that time. So, I was alone. Without her by my side, there was no one to talk to. My thoughts were steeped in worry; I was feeling insecure, anxious and fearful.
That’s when the phone rang and I snapped out of my reverie.
It was Kumar, a supremely talented music composer and sound engineer in his own right. He is my dear young friend, who is just a shade older than my own son Aashirwad. Kumar is Swami’s messenger, he’s the medium through whom Swami communicates to seekers.
Kumar asked me: “AVIS, Swami wants to know what would you be doing at the moment, if you had nothing to worry about!”
I laughed and quickly replied, “Well, I would be enjoying a drink.”
Pat came Swami’s reply, through Kumar: “Then, go have it and then call back to report!”
I don’t know why. But I didn’t protest. I didn’t argue. I didn’t analyze. I just packed my laptop bag and trudged back home. I fixed myself a drink, played my favorite R.D.Burman tracks and enjoyed myself. Three drinks down, I called Kumar.
I said: “Well Kumar, please tell Swami that I had three drinks and I am feeling good.”
Kumar asked: “Swami wants to know how much did you worry while having the drink?”
I replied: “I didn’t worry at all. I was so immersed in the joy of having a drink and listening to R.D.Burman’s immortal music. I felt grateful that I could at least have a drink in peace when there’s so much turmoil and trauma in my Life. And I was grateful for R.D.Burman’s genius – how uplifting his music is!”
Kumar then said: “Swami says, immersion in the moment is the key to being non-worrying. You didn’t immerse yourself in your drink, you immersed yourself in the moment. Your faith in Swami made you just immerse – without questions, without analysis. Now that you have known how to do this, why do you need a drink, why do you need Swami? The next time your mind races to the future or is stuck in the past, bring it to attend to the present moment. And learn to be grateful for what is. Whatever you have, be grateful for it. The circumstances are not relevant to inner peace and happiness. Your immersion in the moment is important. Your gratitude is.”
That was a very beautiful, unforgettable, one-on-one ‘coaching’ session, if you like, that I had with Swami. There have been countless such sessions. And even many, many night-long conversations, debates, arguments on the meaning of Life, on why Life is inscrutable, on keeping the faith and on how to cultivate patience. Through each of these interactions with Swami, through Kumar acting as a self-less medium, I have learnt to anchor, to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, to be happy – despite my excruciating circumstances.
To me Swami is no Godman, as the term is popularly, loosely, used. He’s a dear, dear friend. On his birthday today, all I can say, humbly, to my Coach, my Teacher, my friend, is, “Thank you, Swami!”
Everything happens in Life to humble you, to make you stronger and happier.
Yesterday, after listening to my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk a gentleman in the audience spoke up. He was almost in tears, his voice was choked with emotion. He said that he was contemplating committing suicide but hearing our story – Vaani’s and mine – he was inspired now to “turn around and face Life than run away from it”.
Both Vaani and I are humbled that our Life’s journey and the lessons we picked up through it – which we share with audiences that care to pause and reflect – are useful. To be sure, ours has been a tumultuous ride over the past decade, numbing in many respects. I must confess that in the early stages of our bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) I would often cry hoarse asking “Why?”, “Why Me?”. There have even been times during my Talks or conversations centered around my Book or on Life and Happiness, when there have been fewer people in the audience than we would have expected. But almost every single time, someone has always walked up to us and said that our sharing helped them relate to their Life situation better. The gentleman yesterday elaborated, “Hearing you I realized that Life is not a curse but that this human form is a blessing. I have now resolved to learn to be happy despite my circumstances.”
Life by no means is easy. Sometimes you may be pushed to a corner or hung by a thin thread at the edge of a precipice. But in every challenging situation, through experiencing the pain, the trauma, you can learn to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. When you learn to be this way, you can only be happy.
Long back, when our crisis blew up on our face, a friend of ours, Philip, visited us from Kochi. He wanted to personally be with us and share his solidarity with us. He took me to the Woodlands Drive-In restaurant (in Chennai; which was later, sadly, closed down), bought me coffee, and told me this: “AVIS, the only reason why things happen to us in Life is for us to learn to be stronger and happier. Just accept your Life for what it is. Surrender to Life. Let Life take over. You don’t come in its way.” When he said this, it made no sense to me. But, over time, I have come to believe in what he said. I completely relate to, and agree with, that perspective. I have realized that everything happens for a reason. And I have not only emerged stronger and happier from our experience, I have been humbled by it.
When the gentleman spoke yesterday, I felt a lump in my throat. I held myself back from breaking down. Quietly, I prayed to Life, my Teacher, expressing my eternal gratitude for this awakening experience that we are going through. Without it, there will be no Book, no sharing, no Talks and, most importantly, I personally would have never learnt to ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’!
Value the opportunity in (and of) this lifetime. There may not be another as far as we know it!
I met someone recently who said that while he valued being an Indian, he valued owning an American passport more. He said, “With an American passport you can travel to most places in the world. With an Indian passport, you have to keep seeking visas to enter many countries.”
I don’t disagree with his logic. Of course, he has a point.
But I guess to be born human is the biggest opportunity that we often fail to recognize, let alone value or feel grateful for. This human Life is the most valuable passport we can ever ask for. Think about this deeply. We have all been created, we are born, without our asking. For all we care, we may well have been created as the swine that gives the flu than be created as the human that gets the flu from the swine.
So, to be human, to be alive and to be able to read this post means a lot. It means that you are more blessed than several million other people on the planet – who are vision-impaired, who don’t have an education, literacy, a computer or access to internet. Your lifetime is a limited period offer. Value it, avail of it, use it, live it fully, gratefully, happily, while it lasts.