Accept your brutal reality – only then can you hope to change it.

However unpalatable the truth may be, once you accept it, you can work on changing it. This applies in all contexts to all of us.
Image Courtesy: Outlook Magazine Website

In a recent issue of Outlook, Tarun Tejpal, founder-editor of Tehelka and a former Managing Editor of Outlook, pays a beautiful tribute to his former boss Vinod Mehta who passed away earlier this month. Tejpal is facing charges of rape in a Goa court filed by a former colleague, a young lady who was also his daughter’s best friend. I have always been a great admirer of Tejpal the writer and the journalist. He was a senior colleague of mine when I was in India Today between 1990 and 1992. So, naturally, I was keen to read what he had to say about another man I greatly admired – who doesn’t? – Vinod Mehta. The tribute was vintage Tejpal – carefully chosen words to describe a man that few people can claim they knew personally and closely; each sentence painting a mental picture of the ‘last great editor’ in the reader’s mind. But what I liked most was Tejpal, with brutal honesty, referring to the six months he spent in prison (in Goa, on account of the rape charges levelled against him). He referred to his incarceration as he would refer to any other aspect of his Life – very matter of fact, ‘you-know-what…it-happened’ type. Now, given the salacious overtone that a rape charge invokes, it is possible that people may rush to conclude that Tejpal is brazen, that he is pig-headed and that he is being cold-blooded in his approach to his Life and the charges he faces. But I see in Tejpal the rare ability to confront and accept a brutal reality – that he is accused of rape; that he has to prove his innocence and until then public and popular sentiment will hold against him; yet his other Life – as a writer, a journalist, a family man, a father, son, husband and brother – must go on. What’s remarkable is that Tejpal, it appears to me, is both ready and willing to face Life squarely and deal with each aspect of it on the merit of the reality that lies in front of him!

To be sure, not many can do that. Most of us, when under pressure in Life, prefer to hide behind the shadows. We are either refusing to accept our realities or even if we accept them, we are unwilling to face people – and Life. When you don’t accept what is, and either keep justifying why things have happened the way they have or keep running away from facing the reality, you suffer. Tejpal teaches us that no matter what, Life has to be faced. In a way, your past actions do cause your realities. Or circumstances, events and people conspire to create them. But no matter how or why things happen to you, unless you accept what has happened as your current, final, non-negotiable, reality, you cannot hope to change it. What comes between you and acceptance is an imagined fear of social judgment, reprisal and ostracism. What- will-people-say almost always clouds the what-can-and-must-I-do-now thinking! The only way to deal with such fears and feelings is to know that no matter who created the mess, the one on whom the mess has arrived alone has to clear it up! And, without doubt, all change, all clearing up, begins with first accepting the mess for what it is.  

Grief comes from postponing to deal with an uncomfortable situation

Turn around and face the reality. Life is like darkness. The more you run away from it, the more it will haunt you. But you face it, and it will be bliss.
As kids we were all afraid of dark rooms. Or of stray dogs on the street (especially in India). As long as we feared the dark rooms, we were haunted by their mere thought. And as for the dogs, the moment we run from them, they start following us. Tormenting us. And if we were to just turn around, freeze and stare at them, they would whine and slink away. So, it is with Life’s realities. Often uncomfortable, disgusting and yet, hopelessly, real situations. Don’t hide from them. Face them. When you face up to a situation, it will stop haunting you. It will not change. But the fear will evaporate. And you will just be left with the reality.
Let’s say, you are extremely uncomfortable with the way someone is behaving with you. And for dignity’s sake, for retaining cordiality, you are not saying what you feel about this person to him or her. And prefer to grin and bear. Yet this is making you very sick of the person and of the situation. Over a period of time, discomfort has morphed into dread. This is when you must turn around and face things – and the person. Prefer always to be direct and therefore be understood than be dignified and be interpreted. It is like the age old saying: “I give credit, I go mad. I give no credit, you go mad. Better you go mad.” Similarly, your postponing dealing with an uncomfortable situation will make you grieve. But when you get it off your chest, when you say what you are feeling, you may cause the situation discomfort and may even cause the person who created the situation some discomfort, you will always lead everyone concerned to an eventual pedestal of peace and understanding. That’s where you__and your world__eventually need to arrive. In the end, what matters is peace. Just peace. 

Face your inner demons to change yourself

When you need to change yourself, you must face yourself – your inner demons and the brutal reality of your Life.
There’s a beautiful parable I remember reading in Daniel Gottlieb’s ‘Letters to Sam’. Once a man came back home late in the night to find that he had been locked out of his house. His neighbour saw him searching for the key under the streetlight and he too joined the search. Soon several other neighbors joined in the search wanting to help their distressed neighbor. After a while, one of them asked the man where he had last seen the key he was searching for. “Near the front door,” replied the man. The neighbor was puzzled. “Then why are you looking for it down here by the streetlight,” he asked. “Because the light is better here,” came the reply! Gottlieb shares the moral of this parable saying that when we are looking for answers in Life, we intuitively go where the light is better. Because it is convenient to search! But sometimes, says Gottlieb, for real transformation to happen, we must go where it is dark!
To be sure, no one likes to face the truth. The truth always is uncomfortable. Even thinking about it leads to a gnawing feeling arising within, doesn’t it?
Almost a decade ago I had a tobacco habit. For years since my early adulthood I had been chewing tobacco. I tried to give it up many times in those years. But every time I attempted, my resolve would break in few weeks because my mind would insist that I needed that habit, that crutch, to help me deal with the stressful Life I kept. So, I would capitulate and allow the habit to take over. But soon I would start feeling guilty – and depressed – with my inability to quit. Then one day, my doctor told me, that with the way my medical reports were reading, I would not live to be 40! I was 36 then. He held a mirror to me. And for the first time I faced my fear of my death. It was a very scary and, at the same time, awakening moment. I must confess that every time I popped tobacco into my mouth, I would always think of cancer and death. But I would brush aside the thought telling myself that since death was inevitable I would face it whenever it came. Besides, I vainly kidded myself that the habit helped me relax – when in reality it actually made me feel guilty and fearful, every single time that I chewed. But that moment in the doctor’s clinic was different. I clearly understood the import of what he was saying. I knew that if I continued this way, I was sure to die in the next few years, maybe as the doctor had estimated, by the time I was 40! I quit chewing that instant. I did not even heed my mind urging me to pop one last sachet of tobacco as I left the clinic and got into my car to drive back home. I simply quit. Period. When I look back now, I feel that it had been possible to quit – and abstain ever since – only because I had faced what I feared most – the reality about where I was headed with my habit and my lifestyle.
Interestingly, all of us know what’s right for us. We know the futility and the ruinous nature of some of the choices we have made and continue to make. It is our inability to face our realities that keeps us running down the path of escapism. The more we run, the more we live haunted lives. The more we run away from the truth the more we struggle to change, to transform.
It is only when you stop, turn back, and face your inner demons that you will truly transform. When you allow the truth about yourself to hit you, you will wake up to be the change that you wish to see in you – and in your world.