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!  

Do such work that you don’t ever have to leave your heart behind!

Is your enjoyment better than your effort or is your effort more than the joy you derive?

Ask this question at the end of each activity and you will discover what gives you joy and what you are having to struggle with. Just this simple realization is liberating. It does not immediately mean that you can do away with or that you must stop doing all things that you struggle with. But with some review, introspection and iteration you may be able get out of doing or delegate stuff that you struggle with.

This simple question on what gives you joy can change your Life forever. Aristotle (384 BC ~ 322 BC), way back, had simultaneously simplified the definition of a career and offered a perspective on excellence. He said, “All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind. Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” In the absence of joy, any activity__whether it is mowing your lawn or doing the dishes to drawing up strategy to dentistry to leading an organization__will be a drag, a burden, and will eventually peter down to becoming a chore. But when you derive joy even the most arduous task will be light, easy and you will be able to accomplish it with amazing quality.

Joy, therefore, is more than a sentiment. It is a catalyst that makes living easy, wholesome, enriching, fulfilling and, simply, worth it. So, make an important choice today. To choose work that has you immersed in it, soaked in joy, drenched in bliss! Choose work such that in going out for or about doing it, you don’t ever have to leave your heart behind!

Everything happens for a reason and, in the end, does get sorted out

There’s a reason why everything happens in Life. And there’s no way you will know that reason until much later – when everything eventually gets sorted out.
A young couple we know are going through a difficult time understanding each other. Just some years back when they married we all believed they were the most ideal pair – although they came from different communities. Another friend’s house is being repossessed and auctioned by a bank because of his inability to pay up his mortgage dues. He’s a very well-known personality and is distressed with the beating his reputation is taking publicly. Over 200 families are on the edge as there’s still no news of the Malaysian Airlines MH 370 flight that “vanished into thin air” over the past weekend. You may be faced with a difficult situation at work or with your health as you read this. And you too must be wondering why do bizarre things happen? That too to people like you and me – who are hardworking, sincere, ethical and are, by default, “good folks”!
Well, let me tell you a story. A turtle and a wave were good friends. The turtle loved to walk on the wet beach during low tides and create patterns on the sand with its webbed feet and claws. One day, the turtle had made an elaborate design on the beach and was admiring its own work, when the wave came crashing on the shore and washed away the whole design. The turtle was cross with the wave and demanded an explanation for this rude behavior.
“I want to know why you washed away my labor of love,” asked the turtle.
“Honey, I had no desire to spoil your fun. But if you notice, there’s a poacher coming by at the far end of the beach. If he had seen your footprints he would have tracked you down. So, I wiped the beach clean. Now, go hide yourself before the poacher spots you!” replied the wave.
Unfortunately for us, Life is not as forthcoming as the wave was when it comes to justifying each event or happening. At most times, we are left wondering what’s going on or why is something happening in the first place?
Aristotle (384~322 BC), the Greek philosopher, explains this thus: “There’s always a reason for everything that happens. Your experiences are designed to shape you, define you and, hopefully, grow you into the mightiest you possible.” However ridiculous such a perspective may be when you are going through a rough phase, when you feel worn out, trampled upon, pissed on and passed over, there’s no denying the truth that Aristotle put forth centuries ago.
Life has no agenda to hurt you or cause you any pain. Life doesn’t do something grave to you because you have sinned. And Life doesn’t reward you because you have been a good Samaritan or a saint! Life’s nature is to keep on happening – delivering event after event after event at your doorstep. You classify them as good or bad depending on your preferences and expectations. So, it appears to you that Life oscillates between highs and lows, good and bad. But Life just goes on – almost mechanically. If you learn from each Life experience you get better and better with living. You understand then that a break-up is not the end of the road. Or that a pink-slip does not mean you are worthless. Or that a hopeless prognosis does not mean it’s all over. Or that darkness now does not mean there will never be light. Incredibly, Life has a way of sorting out every situation that it creates! It is only when you don’t learn from your experiences and you keep hating whatever’s happening to you, that you become irritable, you hurt and you suffer.
So, if you are going through a Life situation that foxes you, let me tell you what I told my friend whose house is being repossessed by the bank this morning: “Let go. Do your bit – do whatever you must do. And leave the rest to Life. You will be amazed at how, over time, Life sorts everything out.”

Understand, don’t interpret


A lot of our problems arise from our tendency to rush and interpret people, occurrences or even thoughts than understand them. Even before people have finished saying what they want to we have composed our responses in our mind. When a simple coincidence like a cat crossing our path happens, we have interpreted it as a bad omen. If we dream of someone dying in our dream, we interpret it as a sign that something grave is due to happen, often as a premonition of our own death! Our urge to interpret, or our inability to deeply understand Life, often comes in the way of our living fully, completely!

Even if unwittingly, my neighbor taught me the value of understanding, over interpreting, this past week. My neighbor also happens to be administering the affairs of the condominium in which we live. When we moved in here, I noticed that the common waste disposal bins were too small for the amount of trash that was generated by the apartments in our building. It never struck me then that I could suggest to my neighbor that she consider enhancing the capacity of those bins. However, when a journalist friend from a local daily pinged me asking for some thoughts on being responsible citizens in today’s age and time of community living in condominiums, I did speak openly on how ‘insensitive’ condominium planning and planners can be. I requested my friend not to quote me because I loathe any visibility and also because I was new in our condominium. My friend assured me that I would not be quoted. I was traveling for several weeks after this conversation so I missed reading the local papers in that time. Upon my return from my travels, I happened to meet my neighbor. She promptly referred to the report in the local daily, which had appeared when I was away, and said: “Good point. But I wish you had told me about this first before talking about it in the media.” I was shocked. I looked up the newspaper clipping and there I was, evidently quoted. My journalist friend had obviously not kept her word. I apologized to my neighbor profusely and transparently shared with her how this had come about. “I am sorry we are experiencing each other this way. I seek your understanding,” I prevailed upon her. It was a particularly awkward moment. I was meeting my neighbor only a second time since we had moved in. And to be defending a banal situation such as this one was so stupid. Further, in a condominium’s context, where neighbors, particularly if they are also administrators, have huge egos, this unintended media coverage and its possible aftermath were both imminently avoidable. My neighbor and I shook hands and we promised to reach out if we could help each other in any way. Ever since that instance, surprisingly, our neighbor has been always available for any escalations we may have had with regard to issues relating to the common areas or shared services in our building. And yesterday, she even reached out and apologized for an inconvenience that we were put through owing to the elevator not working.

I personally am humbled by her maturity and personal leadership. While the incidents in question itself are so inconsequential, her decision to employ trust and understanding, in place of ego and interpretation is both commendable and inspiring. If we look around us, more than half the time, our relationships are strained because of the scourge of interpretation. Almost anyone who lives in a condominium will appreciate the potential that such episodes have to vitiate the environment and spread disharmony. If my neighbor, more so in her role as an administrator, had chosen to interpret me, she may well have approached the entire episode of that media coverage as follows:

  1. How dare he talk about our condominium’s planning and planners when he is a rank newcomer here?
  2. Why did he choose to talk to the local daily when I was just living a floor above him – obviously he has a sinister agenda to paint me black?
  3. For all the damage he has caused, for which he feigns an apology now, I don’t want to have anything to do with him and his family – let him fend for himself!

There’s so much destructive power that interpretation holds. And so much constructive opportunity that understanding offers. It is a no-brainer which path we must choose. Yet, by default, we all often rush to interpret. To interpret means to judge. To judge means to perceive. And, as Aristotle has said, to perceive means to suffer, because what you perceive may or may not be true. To understand, on the other hand, is to accept people for who they are. There is no judgment involved here. And those that understand always, as I have learned from my neighbor, have a teachable point of view.


Awareness makes all the difference


How much you know or don’t know about something does not make much of a difference to your Life. More often than not, you know enough about almost everything to make intelligent choices. But it is your lack of awareness, while doing simple, small, daily tasks, or activities, that impacts your Life in bigger measure than you can imagine! Awareness makes all the difference between living Life fully, making each day count, and merely getting past one!

For instance, it is common knowledge that:

  

  1. Regular exercise is important
  2. A balanced diet holds the key to a disease-free Life
  3. Smoking and drinking alcohol are injurious to health
  4. Too much work and stress kills
  5. We must save money for a rainy day

Although a large mass of humanity knows these simple tenets of intelligent living, very few actually practice it. The reason why many don’t practice is not lack of intent. Who wouldn’t want to be physically__and financially secure? The reason is that most people begin each day with good intent but simply lose themselves to the ‘doing’ conundrum. Between the morning cup of coffee and the kids being packed off to school to rushing off some work-related mails from your smartphone to 8 AM conference calls with the US West Coast to 10 AM calls with Singapore and 2 PM operations review meetings to more mails to attend to kids to be picked up and rushed to music, dance and sports coaching classes to getting dinner ready or sending off more important mails to packing for tomorrow’s trip to rushing to the grocer’s __ phew! __ where’s the time to think? Forget being aware! So, sometimes, because you haven’t had a meal at a proper time, a third cup of milky, sugary coffee, seems okay. Or when you light up one more time, although you KNOW you are overdoing it, you justify to yourself saying you need to ‘de-stress’. So destroy and de-stress suddenly become synonymous! Not that the protagonists of such a Life do not know the difference. They do. But they are caught in the web of doing__and doing and doing__without, at most times, being aware__of why they are doing what they are doing!  

Awareness has to be cultivated. It is about training your mind to understand the difference between getting wet in the rain and feeling it! So, a person whose level of awareness is high will feel the raindrops falling on her face while rushing off to work than simply worrying about her new laptop bag getting wet! It is about training your mind to feel grateful every time you eat, feeling thankful for each morsel you imbibe while relishing its delicious taste. You know a lot of people have contributed to making your meal delicious. But when you eat without awareness, you are in the doing mode. Your knowing anything is of no use. Because you have no awareness to celebrate your knowing. When you bring in awareness into every small detail in Life, you learn to live fully in each moment, from one moment to another! Through repeated practice, awareness improves. Then you realize, when your alarm goes off, that you are better off working out than sleeping longer. That you are better without lighting up. That you don’t need the one drink for the road. That the dessert only looks good and tastes good but does no good to your diabetic condition. Awareness gets you started. You, only then, start living!

Fundamentally, increased awareness reduces resistance and inertia to personal change. When you begin to change personally, transformation, an orbital shift in your thinking and living, becomes a distinctive possibility. With awareness, you too can be a Buddha. As Bodhidharma, the Buddhist monk who lived in 6th Century BC, said: “Buddha means awareness. Awareness of both body and mind that prevents evil from rising in either.”