Pain always offers a teachable point of view

You appreciate Life’s inscrutability only when you don’t get what you want or when you get what you don’t want!
This is an amazing truth about Life. It is a revelation, a discovery, that often strikes you, dawns on you, when you are in the throes of pain and despair. When everything is going per your aspirations, your desires, you conclude that you are in control, that you are the Master, that it’s all your doing. You matter the most to you in such times – this is how it works: you do well in academics, land yourself a dream job, get married to a person of your choice; you think you managed all of that ‘success’ on your own steam; because of your brilliance, genius and effort. Undoubtedly, you have worked hard and efficiently. There has been your contribution. But to imagine that the design of your Life was woven by you smacks of ignorance, not just arrogance, of the way Life works.
I met a Tamizh movie director, a very successful man, recently. He is smart, intelligent and very creative. He said, “I don’t believe in dreams. I believe in subconscious aspirations, dedicated effort and flawless execution. You make your own destiny.” Poetic words. Makes sense to the rational mind. Except that Life doesn’t always work this way. A very successful industrialist I know, who went bankrupt and has clawed his way back into reckoning, and profits in business, has this learning to share: “When things were going fine, I was thinking it was my leadership, my acumen, my business-sense that were causing my success. When we started losing money and eventually went bust as a business, I found that the same leadership and acumen__mine__were of no use. That’s when I awoke to the reality that Life has a mind of its own.” I have learnt that it’s a good thing to not always get what you want and to sometimes get what you don’t want too. That’s when you learn from Life. The best thing about pain is that it always offers a teachable point of view. And trauma is a good transformation agent, a catalyst.

There’s no rocket science to why we__you and me__awaken only when in pain. Life is best understood by asking the right questions. And we pause to ask questions, explore with curiosity, only when we don’t get what we want – or when we get what we don’t want! Interestingly, the questions we ask may often get us no answers. Just more questions emerge. And the more questions we ask, the closer we are to understanding Life. That’s when we realize that Life is, well, inscrutable! 

Learning to live this “complimentary” Life

When you realize that Life is a gift, you will learn to stop wanting to control it!
Last evening our daughter was performing in a dance-theatre production. Several of our friends had bought tickets and had come to cheer her and her dance company. As the show was set to begin, and we walked towards the gates, my wife and I were advised, by a crew member of the dance company, to take the gate further ahead. It, we soon realized, was the VIP gate and offered the best views in the auditorium. Our friends had gone through their respective gates (depending on the denominations of their tickets) and had taken their seats. As we waited for the show to commence, a pang of guilt pierced through me. We seem to have unwittingly deserted our friends, I thought. Then I reasoned to myself that the only option we had – given our current financial situation, we didn’t have the means to buy tickets ourselves – was to celebrate the fact that we have VIP, “parents’ complimentary” tickets that our daughter’s dance company had offered us. So, indeed, the best thing to do was to sit back and enjoy the performance!
Soon the show got underway and I lost myself in it. On the way back home, my thoughts went back to our “complimentary” tickets. And as I kept thinking about them, I suddenly wondered: “Isn’t this whole Life complimentary? Isn’t it a gift we never asked for?” That realization was awakening. And I chuckled to myself. If only we held this awareness consistently in us, I thought, Life would be so much simpler living.
Most of our young adulthood is lost in “building a career” and “raising a family”. Then our middle-age is spent in “settling down” our children. And post-retirement is really about “managing to cope with our health situation” and if we live any longer, most of us treat that time as “waiting for death”.  Very few people actually manage to do both – which is get about issues like career, family, money, dealing with a Life-changing crisis and such and yet live a Life that they love living. This minority comprises those who have really understood that Life is a gift and we must live it fully – learning from each experience and enjoying each moment! Each of us has this opportunity, without doubt, but we must learn to not want to control Life and take it as it comes – one day at a time, one experience at a time.
The episode of our complimentary tickets brought my focus back, yet again, to the complimentary nature of our Life itself. At a physical level, given our financial challenges, my family is able to survive day-after-day only because of “acts of the Universe and the kindness of fellow human beings”. At a spiritual level, we understand that nothing really belongs to us. We are just guests on this planet, who are traveling this journey, this complimentary journey, called this lifetime! So when we came with nothing, when we own nothing, and when we will soon have to leave empty-handed, what’s the point in trying to control anything?

When you understand that this whole Life you have is complimentary, that it is a gift, you too will learn to sit back and enjoy it! Just as the way you would enjoy a show for which you have free VIP tickets! 

Spirituality means to live free and live in a let-go!

Nothing is difficult. Nothing is easy. As long as you are willing to experience anything, you will make progress on the spiritual path.
I have often heard people say that spiritual concepts are easy to preach, easier to understand yet they are downright difficult to practice in the real world. The reference here is to practising forgiveness, compassion, detachment and letting go of emotions such as fear, worry, insecurity, anxiety, hatred, grief, suffering and anger. I live in the real world. And I too am challenged by everyday situations where I have to grapple with these emotions. But my awareness helps me immensely. Which is why understanding spirituality is important to make progress on the path.
Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. It is to know that you came with nothing and will go with nothing. This understanding will help you stay detached. As the Bhagavad Gita says, spirituality will help you to, “live in this world, yet be above it”! Spirituality is not religion. It is not ritualistic, it calls for no abstinence and it does not hold you hostage to isms and preachings. On the other hand, it sets you free, it is personal and it is awakening!
Spirituality opens the doors to experiencing Life as it is, for what it is. Life is nothing but a string of experiences – of love, loss, companionship, separation, pain, joy, success, failure, betrayal, trust, compassion…the list can be endless. Living really means to experience each moment with the curiosity of a child and the spirit of an adventurer. The reason why we find it difficult to accept a spiritual perspective to living, which is living with this awareness, this understanding, is because we connect everything in Life to a material – and therefore impermanent – sense of security! All our fears, insecurities and worries are connected in some form or the other to money or to health or to relationships – all of which are impermanent and perishable. Which is why we say it is difficult to stay detached. Actually, detaching per se is easy. What scares us is what will happen when we become detached. So the idea of living without money is easy and simple. But the fear of living without money consumes us. And so we cling on to that fear and suffer. So it is with messy relationships. And with health situations that are beyond our control. As long as we cling on to something it will torment us. Spirituality means to live free and live in a let-go!  
Now, doing all of this, which is living on the spiritual path, and making progress, is not easy. Yet it is not difficult too. Just learn to be willing to experience anything that comes your way – absolutely anything. If you have to forgive someone – be willing to experience the struggle that forgiving involves and also the bliss that it can deliver! If you have to let go of fear, be willing to face whatever scares you, look it in the eye and be also willing to awaken to the realization that everything that you are scared of losing – including your own Life – is impermanent in any case! This is how you walk on the spiritual path. One experience at a time. One moment at a time. Living and loving each moment as you go along!

Employ awareness to exit the self-destruct mode

There’s a self-destruct button in each of us. And without fail, without exception, each of us will press it at least once in our lifetimes. We may do it gradually or we may do it all of a sudden, but press it, we sure will. The only way to shift from a mode prone to self-destruction to one of intelligent living is to practice awareness.

Today’s Economic Timesin India has run a story titled: Why do successful people resort to stupid acts? The writer, Sridevi K R, talking to psychologists and behavioral experts, refers to the saga of iGate President and CEO Phaneesh Murthy, who was sacked from the company for hiding an office affair. This is the second time Murthy’s ‘indiscretions at work’ have led to his sacking. The first time it happened was when he was at Infosys about 10 years ago. Sridevi’s analysis points predominantly to people’s sense of ‘boredom or incompleteness’ with Life and wanting to do something ‘daring, different’, often using their position and power, that forces them to throw discretion to the wind and leads to their fall from grace.

There’s also a different way of looking at this. All matters of morality, discretion, right, wrong, social hierarchy, power, position, grace, disgrace are subjective. Period. Who is to decide what’s right and what’s wrong? Who’s to define what’s discretion and what’s indiscretion? Is being physically intimate with someone wrong? Isn’t it a biological need? Is sharing with someone wrong? Isn’t it an emotional need? What makes a CEO or a President more powerful than a homeless destitute on the street? Is the CEO really powerful or does society make him or her appear powerful because of its own aspirations? And who decides acceptable and unacceptable behavior in an individual? Society__an organization or nation__may define it TOan individual perhaps, but nobody other than the individual__himself or herself__can decide that INthat individual!

So, let’s not rush to judge someone’s ‘indiscretion’ as perceived from a questionable, flawed social view point. Instead, let’s examine ourselves.

All of us, in some way or the other, is on a self-destruction mode. This is apart from the fact that there will be a physical end, with death, to each of our lifetimes. Our means of self-destruction may vary. Someone may be self-destructing with anger and someone else will be self-destructing with grief. Some may be prone to lust and others to insecurity. Some may be destructing with ruinous addictions like smoking or alcohol, while some others may be held hostage to gambling or a hi-flying lifestyle. So, ‘self-destruction and falling from grace’ is not the prevail of the rich and famous or the high and mighty alone. Their perceived ‘falls’ make news. Ours don’t. But the truth is if you cannot look at the face in the mirror, in the eye, with all honesty, then you have fallen in your own eyes. There’s no higher court of justice than one’s own conscience. There’s nothing wrong with living a Life, even if it were questionable to others, if it pleases you and works for you. Just don’t try to hide from yourself. If you see the point being made here, then appreciate that no one, that includes you, is free from self-destruction!

When you stop hiding from yourself, when you put yourself through self-examination, the result is an awakening. A brilliant awareness takes over. Every time a temptation arises in you, to get angry or grieve or lust or drink or smoke, your awareness will step in and awaken you from your stupor. Awareness is the only way to freedom. Then nothing will tempt you. Neither a cigarette, nor alcohol, nor anger or sorrow, nor sex or gambling. You may well continue to experience__and are free to__everything for sure. But you will cling on to nothing. Nothing can and will enslave you. Your awareness will ensure that you are free__and are not enslaved by someone or something.

Think about this. Employ awareness to exit the self-destruct mode. Successful or not, you sure will live more intelligently. At peace with yourself!

Don’t intellectualize Life, just live it!

You can’t intellectualize Life. You can only live it.

And the best way to live is to see from your soul. From the real core of your being. When you open your soul, you will see the light.

You are really not what you think you are __ you are not your name or body or qualification or your job! You are the Universe’s energy that’s powering you, and is actually powering all of creation. This isn’t complex at all. Every thing that’s happening to you and has happened or will happen in the future, is transient. Which is why in Indian culture, we refer to Life as ‘maya’ or as an illusion. So, in the end, this entire lifetime will be over, this experience you have had will end, but you soul will go on.

All your problems, worries, anxieties, fear, suffering come when you intellectualize Life. I have no money, what will I do? I am starting a new job, what will happen if I don’t fit into the new place’s culture? I have cancer and I will die soon. All these are intellectual responses. You have been conditioned to believe that you need money to live. That you cannot survive cancer. That people are unkind and that you must be wary of them in general. The soul has no such issues. It is impregnable. Nothing can touch it. If you understand your true Self, and see from your soul, you will live Life. And not merely exist.

Swami Ramakrishna Paramhamsa explains this very well. He was asked: “What is the logical, rational support for your illumination?” The question really was to understand what as the evidence for Ramakrishna’s enlightenment. He replied: “I am the argument. If you can understand me, if you can feel me you will know my illumination. It is radiating but your eyes are closed. Now I am not responsible for your eyes. If you want to know me, open your eyes — and not only the outward eyes but the inward too, because my illumination is of the inner.”

So it is with each of us. Our souls are closed. We operate as if our excel sheets and smart phones and our decisions make our lives happen. The truth is that Life makes our lifetimes happen. We don’t! If we accept this reality, Life will be simpler and much, much, much more beautiful!

When you pause for a while and watch lazy raindrops fall rhythmically on water puddles, when you see a baby sleeping peacefully with no care about the world around it, when you hear the bleating of a goat, when you see the sun magically disappear over the horizon, when you reflect on your breathing… those times, your soul will be open. The key is to make this experience consistently repeatable. And that can happen ONLY when intellectualization stops and living begins!