Be ready and willing to go through any situation, experience everything, in Life!
“How do you console yourself when you don’t get what you want; when your Life doesn’t go the way you planned it?” This question came to me yesterday from a lady I met at the Help Yourself to Happiness Talk I delivered at a Rotary Club.
The answer I gave the lady is that you must not try to console yourself. Consolation has an air of mourning, of grief, inherent to it – that you tried for something, you did not get it, so it is ‘okay’! There is no ‘okay’ status that works in Life. The best state to be in is to be unmoved. There is no need to either exult in Life nor is there a need to brood or mourn. You must taste, you must experience, everything in Life – success and failure, victory and defeat, joy and sorrow – and eventually you will realize that they are all imposters. You will discover that neither the state when you are exulting nor the one when you are brooding is permanent. So, don’t credit yourself for creating contexts where you exult at your achievements and don’t discredit yourself just because the context is one where grief is gnawing at you, over what you lost or what you didn’t get. Just learn to be unmoved. If you can be unmoved, then everything, every event, calls for a celebration! Then every moment is a celebration!
The lady urged me to explain my point with an example. I shared this story from my Life that I had also recounted to Vaani on New Year’s eve.
I took my first flight in my Life at the age of 10, in 1977, from New Delhi to Madras. I loved the experience. And resolved that I would only fly when I grew up; also I because I find train journeys very boring, very uninspiring. To date, I prefer a flight over a train! My second flight was the one I took at the age of 23, in 1990, from Madras to Bangalore. I was flying on work for India Today magazine and was on an assignment to report on Veerappan, the dreaded sandalwood smuggler. It was a big moment for a young, ambitious lad – flying on company expense. I saved the Indian Airlines (now called Air India) boarding passes of both my onward and return journeys from that trip. I reckoned that when I became ‘very famous, very rich, very successful’ I would display these boarding passing proudly in my office or home, as a trophy of where my ‘high Life’ had truly begun. Soon, I was traveling more and most of my trips were by flight too. And I started collecting my boarding passes. I extended my idea of the saved boarding passes to reflect the number of air miles I had logged in all my active Life. For the longest time, I had this vision of me sitting in my private study and bar, smoking a cigar, and having an entire wall done up with boarding passes from all my flights in my Life. Soon the collection grew. I now have a whole mound of boarding passes saved up – I don’t really think I have lost a boarding pass or missed saving one in my Life. At one time I was taking even three or four flights a week, and traveling 21 days each month. So the boarding pass collection really swelled in good time. Within India I was loyal to Jet Airways and was their Platinum Card holder for several years – in all those years, our family of four, always took vacations on free tickets purchased with my miles! My boarding passes collection reflected the Life I led – busy and flying around! For someone who came from a middle-class background, this was exciting stuff, a sign that you had arrived, in style!
And then, as I recounted to Vaani on New Year’s eve, 2016 has turned out to be the year of no flights for me. No flights taken in an entire year. Even in the past decade, owing to our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) my flying has shrunk considerably. But I never bargained for a flightless year, that too in what should have been the 28th year of an active, professional Life!
So, that’s my example, a story from my Life, I told the lady, who asked me to explain my point about being unmoved. Surely, I am not citing that I have traveled more than anyone else in the world. In fact, my story showcases how such a personal collection of boarding passes appears so vain now in the wake of Life’s larger design and Purpose. I am not even suggesting that I will not fly again or that I will not have that wall in my private study and bar. All I am saying is that I am no longer impacted by whether I am flying or not. It has ceased to mean anything beyond a data point to me. In the last quarter of a century, I flew a lot, then I flew less and last year, I did not fly at all! Simple!
The essence of intelligent living is that you must experience everything in Life. You must be ready and willing to go through any situation. Don’t ever expect Life to only be a particular way. Recognize that what goes up comes down. And what goes around comes around. Life is always flowing and you must learn to go with Life’s flow. This is the way to be unmoved, to celebrate Life’s every moment, no matter what you are faced with or are going through! This is how I celebrated my flightless year – 2016!
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Sometimes, you may have to be firm and tell some people off.
Well-meaning organizations, who necessarily don’t have a budget to remunerate us, sometimes invite us to deliver my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk. Since the opportunity is in line with our Higher Purpose of Inspiring Happiness we do accept such invitations and I deliver my Talk pro bono in such cases. But we do insist that our travel and logistics are taken care of. Recently, a host who, in our opinion, could have afforded to make our ground transfers more comfortable, was pushing us hard to accept mediocre arrangements. Further, the tone of the email we received was unprofessional and lacked dignity. We refused to accept the arrangements they proposed and canceled the Program. When I shared this instance with someone who was struggling to make a similar choice he wanted to know how we can make such a decision simple. “Doesn’t it appear that you are being finicky about making a small adjustment for a larger good? Isn’t there always this conflict,” he asked.
And I think his question is very pertinent. This happens to all of us, all the time, in all situations. The simplest way I have learnt to reason with this apparent ‘conflict’ is to ask myself if I am comfortable doing what I am being asked to do or what I am setting out to do. If I am not, I immediately withdraw myself from the scene, from the opportunity – whatever may be the context or whoever may be involved.
I have realized that if you don’t draw a line, even in seemingly ‘small or trivial’ matters, you will dither when it comes to making a choice with ‘bigger’ ones. Especially in close relationships where people start taking you for granted.
What do you do, for instance, when people close to want to have an opinion about everything you do. And they, if you are not wary, end up treating you like a doormat. You suffer them because you don’t want to be either petty – like them – or it’s not in your “intrinsic nature” to be “unkind” to people. Now, let’s get this right. There’s nothing “unkind” in asserting yourself so as to protect your inner peace and dignity. Whoever it may be – parent, sibling, child, neighbor, boss, colleague or friend – no one, no one has the right to treat you in a manner in which you don’t like or don’t want to be treated. Period.
So, be firm when you must. Just put people in their place. Protect your inner peace, because no one else will do this for you.
Some of the situations Life places you in will also require you to fight for justice. Often with people who are supposedly close to you. Don’t get clouded by sentiments about close blood relations in such cases either. I am not encouraging you to fight because it is the right thing to do. But what do you do when the situation created by people around you demands a firm response? A friend of mine recently called to say how his older brother, with whom he shares the ownership of the family business, was making it almost impossible for both of them to co-exist and survive. “Neither is he accepting a separation of the business and the assets, nor is he allowing me to lead it and run it well, nor is he running it efficiently. We are bleeding losses month-on-month. He’s challenging me to fight him. If I fight him I can at least save half the family’s fortunes – for my immediate family and for my mother and sister. But how can I fight my own brother? I am not interested in any fight,” lamented my friend. I told him: “Don’t let your ego – in the garb of compassion – come in between you and what you must do. Just do whatever you believe must be done in the interest of all parties concerned, without hatred, without anger, without any rancor.”
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna: “Don’t escape from the war… because I can see this escape is just an ego trip. The way you are talking simply shows that you are calculating, you are thinking that by escaping from the war you will become a great saint. Rather than surrendering to the whole, you are taking yourself too seriously– as if there will be no war if you are not there.” Krishna says to Arjuna, “Just be in a state of let-go. Say to existence, ‘Use me in whatever way you want to use me. I am available, unconditionally available.’ Then whatsoever happens through you will have a great authenticity about it. It will have intensity, it will have depth. It will have the impact of the eternal on it.”
Such is Life. When you have to do something to ensure that your inner peace is not disturbed, you have to do it. And only you can do it. Do it also knowing, as Krishna says, that you are a mere instrument, a conduit for something that Life wants done through you! In doing so, you are not being unkind or rude. You are simply responding to a situation that has been created by someone and which you intensely dislike. So, don’t fall short, don’t fight shy. If you don’t do what you must do in such situations, you will cause your own suffering.
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Can we learn to be unmoved by both success and failure? MSD’s Life tells us, of course, we can!
Yesterday, we watched M.S.Dhoni – The Untold Story (Neeraj Pandey, Sushant Singh Rajput). The film, of course, tells a very powerful, inspirational, story. Of a currently relevant and thriving Indian icon. It could have been much better made, in some parts, but I am not going to complain. I love MSD – who doesn’t? And I love Neeraj Pandey and Rajput! 🙂
The story focuses on the hitherto unknown part of MSD’s Life; of how he gave up being a ticket collector with the Indian Railways to go be the man he is now – cricketer par excellence and Captain Cool! Go watch the movie, mainly for the conversation on Platform 8 of Kharagpur Junction between MSD and his Railways boss A.K.Ganguly – it is almost as if Joseph Campbell (American mythologist and author, 1904~1987) scripted that part because it talks about how MSD really ended up ‘following his bliss’!
But I had a few other, more significant, takeaways. And I am sharing them here.
One, the hero of MSD – the film, is, to me, Paan Singh Dhoni (brilliantly played by Anupam Kher). When Dhoni the son calls from Lahore to validate his success with his father, and asks him if he is happy, Papa Dhoni replies: ‘Haan, mujhe khushi hai…apne galat hone pe mujhe khushi hai’; ‘Yes, I am happy…I am happy to have been proven wrong!’ He concludes the conversation, telling his son to be grounded and to never let the success go to his head. If this is what transpired between father and son in reality, my heart goes out to Paan Singh. One of the greatest qualities a human being can have is the humility to acknowledge a mistake and to be happy accepting it. I think most of the time we struggle with this opportunity to be happy with ourselves. When our intuition or assumptions are proven wrong by Life, and by people around us, we struggle with the new reality. We choose to cling on to an opinion we have had and therefore often suffer. Some see this as a manifestation of ego. I see it as lack of humility. Well, both are actually the same thing. To have an opinion or a sense of something and how it should be is not wrong. But when you are proven wrong, accept the new reality and be happy with it. This makes Life simpler and easier to deal with. Paan Singh, who did not ever wholeheartedly back his son MSD’s choice of a career in cricket, leads the way in acknowledging that he is happy being proven wrong! I clearly take that lesson away from the movie.
My second takeaway is something that is not stated but is evident enough, throughout the movie, to be sensed. Which is the fact that an entire ecosystem toiled to make MSD’s career successful. The coach who urges him to play cricket instead of football, his sister, his mother, his friends – the Sardar who owns a sports shop, Chittu, Santhosh who teaches him the famous ‘helicopter’ shot, his ticket collector friend Satyaprakash, his other friend who goes on to marry his sister Jayanti – and so, so, many more people! I personally felt a huge sense of gratitude to all these people. Without them India would not just have lost a great cricketer, but Indians would have lost an inspiration. And Indian children, particularly those from non-metro, non-urban backgrounds, need that inspiration to dream big and to follow their bliss. Rajesh Sharma, who plays Dhoni’s first coach, steals your heart away in the end, when he gestures, overwhelmed with joy, pride and a sense of accomplishment, after MSD hits the winning six at the Wankhede in the 2011 ICC World Cup, that it was he who had spotted this talent, this national treasure! My takeaway there was that there are so many, often nameless, faceless, people who have selflessly contributed to where we are in Life. You and I may not enjoy the iconic status that Dhoni has. We need not necessarily have it either. But there’s great value in pausing, reflecting and thanking all those who have, in whatever way, contributed to where we are today. Dhoni – the movie, reminded me of this important Life lesson.
Finally, how MSD gathers himself after the tragic death of his girlfriend Priyanka is a revelation. It is hard to imagine now that the early aggression and brilliance of MSD, that catapulted him to cult status with the 2007 T-20 World Cup win, was achieved despite the personal trauma that he was dealing with! So, the unflappability, the Captain-Coolness, that MSD is famous for…that will continue to be my inspiration. The movie only helped reinforce and reiterate this learning in me – to develop, and constantly hone, the ability to be unmoved by either success or failure, after all, both are mere imposters – and are, well, impermanent!
PS: What rankles me about MSD – the movie is that all through the film Sushant Singh Rajput, while showcasing Dhoni’s love for motorbikes, does not wear a helmet! I understand that Dhoni, in real Life, always wears one. The only time Rajput wears a helmet is when he, as Dhoni, is trying to disguise and save himself from fans!
This is irresponsible film-making. Dhoni is an icon. And impressionable kids are going to come away thinking it is ‘cool’ to ride motorbikes without wearing a helmet; just as they think it is ‘cool’ to not wear a seatbelt while driving a car – because most scenes in Indian films involving leading protagonists driving cars show them without seatbelts strapped on!
Our film-makers must play a bigger role in influencing behavioral change in society. They must utilize the opportunity they have! Seriously!
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