A prayer to live meaningfully

Living meaningfully is an individual choice and a personal responsibility.
Yesterday I saw a post in the Chennai Bloggers Club where a young lady Janani announced that she has launched a “Make it Meaningful” campaign around her wedding. Her fiancé and she have invited their family and friends to avoid lavishing them with gifts and instead donate to the cause of funding the education of 200 children.
I think the idea is not just innovative and compassionate, it is super cool. I wish more people take inspiration from this young couple and make their celebrations meaningful.
Whether it is a wedding, birthday, anniversary or just about any celebration, gifting is an integral part of both traditional and contemporary culture. But if you dispassionately observe the whole process of gifting, it has somehow stopped being aesthetical. Gifts are, unfortunately, brandished more as status symbols. Who gave what seems to have overtaken the art of giving. Besides, the big, fat, Indian wedding has gone beyond being just big and fat – it has become a pompous show of wealth. So much money – and food – gets wasted at our events in the name of ceremony and tradition. In a world where so many people die of hunger, where so many don’t have a roof over their heads and where so many more don’t have the means to education, all this spend can be better utilized than wasted.
Young Janani and her fiancé promise us light though. I know of a gentleman who plants trees on the birthdays of his friends. For several years now, Vaani and I have been donating to www.rasaindia.org and to Narayanan Krishnan’s www.akshayatrust.orgon the birthdays, anniversaries or weddings of people that are very close to us. I am sure several people out there are doing something very similar. The Bhoomika Trust has a program called www.truegiftsindia.orgwhere people can choose gifts from Rs.200 to Rs.10000 and above – all funds gifted will go to the specific needs of participating NGOs. Yet, so much more public participation and groundswell is required.

Gifting is not a bad idea. Spending on celebrations is also not a bad idea. But splurging and wasting precious resources – time, energy and money – definitely is! Each of us has a responsibility to leave this world a better place than we found it. And we can do that only by living meaningfully – starting, well…Oh! Yes! Abhi! 

Our true work is the journey of Life, of moving on, and never clinging

The easiest way to let go is to never equate events, actions and people to money.
Money is important. No doubt. But you don’t necessarily need to have money to live intelligently! When you lose your job, fear grips you. Why? Not because you are incompetent and worthless. But because you are worried about the lack of a revenue source in the present moment and perhaps in the immediate future! The more you cling on to that job, which you already have lost, the more difficulty you will have moving on and moving forward. It could be a job, a position, a lover, a title, a piece of land….whatever you have lost…..the same principle applies. Why do you need a position in society? So that your stature can attract career and professional/business opportunities. Why? So that you can earn more money. Now, what if this position is taken away? You can still earn money through some other means. But you want to cling on to what is already lost because you are thinking scarcity __ of what isn’t, instead of thinking abundance, of what is possible with a fresh start! Money and all the conditioning related to money, from the time you are born, has led you to hide behind money’s façade of security. Money can surely buy you things. But it can’t buy you inner peace or love or a Life.
So, if you are agonizing over letting go of something (or even everything), because all you want is to live in peace, in love and be blissful, then stop thinking about money. Your decision to let go will then be easier to make. When you let go, you are free, unfettered and are ready to go where you want and where nobody ever has!
In ‘Illusions: The Adventures of A Reluctant Messiah’ American author Richard Bach (who also wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull) shares a story: “Once there lived in a village creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self. Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks at the river bottom, for clinging was their way of Life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth. But one creature said at last, ‘I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.’ The other creatures laughed and said, ‘Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you shall die quicker than you will of boredom!’ But the creature heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks. Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more. And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, ‘See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!’ And the one carried in the current said, ‘I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.’ But they cried in unison more, ‘Savior!’ all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a Savior.”
Our current is this Life. It is constantly offering to take us to where we have never gone before. But we are not willing to let go; we are clinging on our deeply conditioned sense of ‘financial’ security. It is because we cling on to money or sources of money, that we find our lives listless, monotonous and boring. This is why we are unhappy. The truth is that only when we let go and move on will we see newer horizons. Remember too that our true work is the journey of Life, of moving on, of living, and not of clinging on to what we perceive as ‘safe and secure’ pastures!

Giving is the most beautiful part of being human

When you give, just give. Don’t analyze. Don’t expect anything, not even a thank you, in return. And don’t give holding back. Just give freely.
Giving is the most beautiful part of being human. The Buddha has said: “If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.”
Here’s a very true moving story, an old and popular one albeit – but worth revisiting – that illustrates this point the best.
One day a man saw an old lady, stranded on the side of the road, but even in the dim light of day, he could see she needed help. So he pulled up in front of her Mercedes and got out. His Pontiac was still sputtering when he approached her. Even with the smile on his face, she was worried. No one had stopped to help for the last hour or so. Was he going to hurt her? He didn’t look safe; he looked poor and hungry. He could see that she was frightened, standing out there in the cold. He knew how she felt. It was those chills which only fear can put in you.
He said, “I’m here to help you, ma’am. Why don’t you wait in the car where it’s warm? By the way, my name is Bryan Anderson.”
Well, all she had was a flat tyre, but for an old lady, that was bad enough. Bryan crawled under the car looking for a place to put the jack, skinning his knuckles a time or two. Soon he was able to change the tyre. But he had to get dirty and his hands hurt. As he was tightening up the lug nuts, she rolled down the window and began to talk to him. She told him that she was from St. Louis and was only just passing through. She couldn’t thank him enough for coming to her aid.
Bryan just smiled as he closed her trunk. The lady asked how much she owed him. Any amount would have been all right with her. She already imagined all the awful things that could have happened had he not stopped. Bryan never thought twice about being paid. This was not a job to him. This was helping someone in need, and he knew there were plenty who had given him a hand in the past. He had lived his whole Life that way, and it never occurred to him to act any other way.

He told her that if she really wanted to pay him back, the next time she saw someone who needed help, she could give that person the assistance they needed, and Bryan added, “And think of me.”
He waited until she started her car and drove off. It had been a cold and depressing day, but he felt good as he headed for home, disappearing into the twilight.

A few miles down the road the lady saw a small cafe. She went in to grab a bite to eat, and take the chill off before she made the last leg of her trip home. It was a dingy-looking restaurant. Outside were two old gas pumps. The whole scene was unfamiliar to her. The waitress came over and brought a clean towel to wipe her wet hair. She had a sweet smile, one that even being on her feet for the whole day couldn’t erase. The lady noticed the waitress was nearly eight months pregnant, but she never let the strain and aches change her attitude. The old lady wondered how someone who had so little could be so giving to a stranger. Then she remembered Bryan. After the lady finished her meal, she paid with a hundred dollar bill. The waitress quickly went to get change for her hundred dollar bill, but the old lady had slipped right out the door. She was gone by the time the waitress came back. The waitress wondered where the lady could be. Then she noticed something written on the napkin.
There were tears in her eyes when she read what the lady wrote: “You don’t owe me anything. I have been there too. Somebody once helped me out, the way I’m helping you. If you really want to pay me back, here is what you do: Do not let this chain of love end with you.” Under the napkin were four more $100 bills.
Well, there were tables to clear, sugar bowls to fill, and people to serve, but the waitress made it through another day. That night when she got home from work and climbed into bed, she was thinking about the money and what the lady had written. How could the lady have known how much she and her husband needed it? With the baby due next month, it was going to be hard….She knew how worried her husband was, and as he lay sleeping next to her, she gave him a soft kiss and whispered soft and low, “Everything’s going to be all right. I love you, Bryan Anderson.”

Indeed, what goes around, comes around! Give today! Give freely and without expectation! Discover the joy of being human! 

Nothing in Life is worth agonizing over

Everything that you once did is laughable today. And what you do today will soon be laughable.

For instance, when you look back at your student years, all the pre-exam stress is so irrelevant. So much so, that when you see your child agonizing over revisions on the eve of exams, you laugh and say, “Take it easy.” Or when you reflect on how keyed up you were before your first date or your first job interview, you laugh and say, “Man, I was so inexperienced then.” Even when you have lost a dear one, and have been in pain and trauma for years, when you finally attain that position of spiritual equilibrium and equanimity, you would come to terms with the reality__that the person is no more__and laugh to yourself saying, “Such is Life!”

It is a truism of Life that every experience we undergo is to teach us a new lesson. And when we do learn from it, we understand how simple Life actually is. Once this simplicity becomes evident, everything__believe me__everything, is laughable. Imagine if you were asked to recite two tables up to twelve, wouldn’t you laugh at how simple the ‘challenge’ is? And yet, as a seven-year-old, you struggled a lot with this ‘simple’ stuff? This realization is what makes life fun and laughable. Nothing, repeat N-O-T-H-I-N-G, in Life is worth agonizing over. Everything about your Life__and mine__is laughable.

Never miss the opportunity or the ability to laugh at yourself. Just keep laughing….

Serve to connect with the Godliness in you

During the course of a business discussion yesterday, we talked about leaders developing ‘a servant attitude’ towards their teams. A manager present at the meeting wondered aloud: Isn’t projecting a ‘servant attitude’ something negative?
The manager’s premise is symptomatic of what ails society today. We have all become so obsessed with what we get than what we can give. Let’s remember that the larger purpose of being born human is to be able to serve, to touch another Life and to be able to make a difference. But because most of us are caught in this trap of focussing on what we deserve, we rarely recognize the opportunity and potential that exists in each moment, to serve, to create value and to make this world a better place.
To serve, to give, is a blessing. It will enrich the giver immeasurably when the act of giving is selfless and spontaneous. True service is not to be done out of pity, as a charity. It cannot be done to fulfil your ego either – to  ‘feel good’. When you see people serving communities through charities or social service organizations, they are doing immense good no doubt, but much of it is also to ‘earn a good name’. Again that’s not true service. In the context of true service the giver is indebted to the receiver – for having got the opportunity to serve in the first place. This is what having a servant attitude to leadership and to Life is all about. It is being grateful for the opportunity, the experience, to give, to make a difference. In effect, serving is humbling. That’s the reason why almost every religion and scripture celebrates true service as an act of worship, as a means to ‘realize’ God.
I am not sure God exists outside of us. But if an important port of anchor for many of us is indeed God, I can, from my own experiences, share a little secret: You do connect with the Godliness resident in you __ and in all fellow beings __ when you serve, when you offer yourself to, another!

Get off that “ledge” and get going…

Last night I watched the 1993 Hollywood action movie Cliffhanger. In the movie, Gabe, played by Sylvester Stallone, is a mountain rescue team member. When attempting a rescue mission, across from a ledge on a mountain top called The Tower, Gabe is unable to save Sarah, whose harness breaks and she falls 4000 feet to her death. Gabe is unable to forgive himself and vows to never attempt another rescue in his Life. In fact, he gives up climbing. Eight months after Sarah’s funeral, Gabe comes to pick up his belongings from his girlfriend Jessie’s place and asks her if she too will go with him. Jessie is livid and distraught that Gabe’s gone into a shell and is grieving with guilt. She tries to talk to him, invites him to move on while explaining to him that it wasn’t his fault! But Gabe refuses to accept her point of view. In one final, desperate attempt to make him see reason, Jessie screams at him. She says: “If you don’t forgive yourself, let go and move on, you will be on that ledge forever.
Metaphorically, many of us are on our own “ledges” too. Often times, we make Life choices that backfire or even blow up on our face. It’s important we recognize that making mistakes, judgment errors, is an integral part of growing up. Almost with every wrong call, the realization that it was indeed a wrong call is instantaneous – as soon as it fails or bombs! Within ourselves, we know that it didn’t work out. And we know for sure that it was our __ the individual’s __ mistake. But we will not want to admit it, and instead prefer to grieve with guilt, pretty much like Gabe, because it “feels good” to take the “higher moral ground”. Well to sit on a perch, even if it made from a mountain of guilt and self-soothing morality, is good for a while. But how long can anyone be up there? And how long can anyone be carrying the burden of a past guilt? At one time or the other, you have to climb down, you have to set down your guilt, free yourself, and move on. If you don’t do that, you will be depressive and will suffer endlessly.
Today is Kshamavani– the Forgiveness Day, per the Jain calendar. Mahavira taught that forgiveness begins with the Self. Unless you forgive yourself for your mistakes, your transgressions, your anger and your ego, you cannot forgive others. And if you don’t forgive others you are a breeding ground of more hatred, more anger, more himsa (violence – violent thought). The Jains use a very beautiful phrase to practise and propagate forgiveness: Micchami Dukkadam. It means ‘May all the evil that may have been done be fruitless’.
Today’s a good day to make an intelligent choice. To forgive. Begin with yourself. Let go of all resentment. And let all the himsa in you, turn into ahimsanon-violent thought. Get off that “ledge”, learn to forgive, if possible forget, and move on! You, surely, will live happily ever after!