Being ready is not enough – are you willing?

Change, personal transformation, is possible, when you are not just ready, but willing!
Talk to all those people that have a habit, a ruinous temptation which they can’t get over. Smoking, alcohol, being a compulsive skirt-chaser, staying cynical at all times__all these are habits. Yesterday a friend posted a status on his facebook Page saying there’s this man who comes jogging to the same park as him every morning. Except that this person is always on the phone, reviewing the previous day’s sales with his junior colleague. Shouting, ranting, kicking butt and both experiencing and expressing a lot of stress in the bargain! My friend concluded in his post that it doesn’t look like the man is enjoying being the way he is. And perhaps he is consumed by his occupational challenges. Possibly. In fact, no chain smoker or alcoholic enjoys being one. Every cynic wants to stop and see the magic and beauty in everyday Life. They are ready to change. But they are not willing. Being willing means this: you must accept that you will go through some pain as you begin the journey to transform yourself. You must know, believe and motivate yourself that this pain, this change is for the good. Willingness is a soul-related emotion. Readiness is mind-related. The voice of reason readies us. But it is our inner voice that makes us willing.

As Richard Bach, the famous American writer, wrote: “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly!” It is only because the caterpillar is willing, and not just ready, despite excruciating, life-threatening pain, that it becomes the butterfly! So, why crawl, as Rumi, the 13th century poet asked us: “Why crawl when you have been created to fly!” On a cosmic plane, our lifetimes are just about the lifespan of a butterfly’s! We have been created to enjoy the beautiful open spaces, and to drink in the pure nectar of Life. Then why do we crawl? Why are we suffering? The only reason is we are unwilling, even if ready, for change, for personal transformation. Be sure to encounter pain on this path!  But then, what’s Life, without some pain, without change!? You can avoid or escape neither. So, go change folks __ for your own good! 

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.  

Celebrate Life’s chameleon nature!

The best way to deal with uncertainty is to stop fearing it.
One of the biggest fears we deal with is the fear of not knowing what will happen if__and when__we don’t have enough data, don’t have information, don’t have an idea or clue or any guarantees of what will happen. But such a fear is unfounded. Think about it. There’s uncertainty all around us, all the time, in each moment. It is only the fickle human mind that imagines that it knows what’s going to happen in the next nano-second or in the immediate future. Life can and almost always changes with no prior notice!
We have a friend who wants to postpone a vacation abroad because his son is in final year in high school. The postponement is to allow for the child to ‘settle down’ in Life. Someone else is worried about what will happen if the company he works for is acquired by a larger company in the same industry that has a notorious reputation for downsizing. An investment banker I know laments the state of uncertainty of his investments and says he has been on sleeping pills each night! All these people are postponing their present out of fear of an unknown future that they think they control. So, what is the predictability, certainty, that these people__or even you__are clinging on to? The assurance of financial security? Or perhaps the fear of its absence?
Know this: Despite all that you think you control, nothing really is in your control. Definitely not Life! Know also that dealing with uncertainty is no big deal. You__and I__have been masters at this from the time we arrived on this planet. How did we survive the years we took to make sense of the world without knowing a thing? What if our parents were child-traffickers and not the noble souls that they are? Did we worry about our future then? What if we were left to die and were not picked up each time we bawled, demanding to be fed? Did we fear uncertainty then? Can you say with confidence that you will survive the next minute? What if there’s an earthquake? Or you have a brain hemorrhage? Dealing with uncertainty is therefore easy. Because you can say for sure that you will never ever know what will happen next. Despite all the steps that you take to control all that you can__you can never be sure what hand you will be dealt next in Life or that Life will deal with you fairly, squarely and predictably!

Uncertainty is permanent. By fearing something that’s permanent, aren’t you being foolish? Instead, deploy the intelligence that’s embedded in you. Accept that your Life will change. What is now yours will be gone. What was never yours will come your way. What you wanted may go to someone else. What you never want will arrive in your Life. And even if you do get what you wanted, there are no guarantees that it will stay that way forever. So, stop suffering and fearing what you can never control or determine. Celebrate Life’s chameleon nature and revel in its possibility to change in a heartbeat!

There are no full stops in Life…

When your Life changes, do not resist that change. Realign, rebuild and learn to relate to your new reality – that is the key to being happy.
In today’s Chennai Times, Priya Gupta interviews actor Hrithik Roshan. She asks Roshan, who is going through a painful separation from his wife Sussanne, how he’s coping with this difficult time even as he has worked in his ambitious, forthcoming film, Bang Bang. Roshan replies: “There will be a point in Life when the model of your world may change and you may not be able to see the way forward. Because you have been looking at it in a way that you have been trained to look at it. You have grown up with a philosophy of work hard, gain success, have a family and that is equal to happiness. But the model breaks and you have to realize that you have to be happy first and all the other things will follow.”  
I totally agree with Roshan here. What he has understood about Life is at the same time simple and yet not-so-easy to grasp. The model he talks about is our own individual, personal, view of Life. Which means that there are as many models, as many personal views, as there are people in this world. Each of us imagines and expects that Life will be a linear progression. Life, we imagine in vain, will work like this: you study hard, get good grades, go to college, get good grades, land a job, start a family, buy an apartment, raise kids, grow in your career, save for retirement, put your kids through college, see them marry and “settle down”, while you retire and,  eventually, die. But Life does not happen this way, in a straight line, to any of us. Someone may have a hole in the heart, someone may have a career crisis, someone may have a learning disability, someone may get embroiled in a scandal, someone may just lose a close family member – something keeps happening to someone all the time. And crises happen with no apparent reason. Tragedy – and fortune – strikes irrespective of social standing or talent. The only thing you can be certain about Life is that whatever is – a tough time or a great time – will change. Your Life will change, often irrevocably. And, to be happy, you must too change with your Life.
Picture Courtesy: Times of India/Bombay Times/Internet
Getting to this level of acceptance is not easy. Initially, when your Life changes, you hate that change. For instance, in his interview to Gupta, Roshan says, “There was a point in time that I just didn’t want to go ahead with anything in my Life. I think it’s at that precipice that you decide what kind of a man you want to be and that is when I discovered myself. There was a point where I just wanted to put a full stop to my Life and I discovered a whole new world.” I am glad he found that whole new world while discovering himself, his real self! For, the truth is that there are no full stops in Life. Life simply goes on even if you are faced with what you think is a no-go situation.

My Life experiences have taught me that happiness is available and possible in any situation, in any context, in Life. Being grumpy with Life and resisting whatever’s happening to you is the only reason you are unable to be happy. Just accept, as Roshan says, the “new model of your world”, when your Life changes, and you will be the happiness that you seek! 

We are all hostages of our own perceived limitations

We are all ordained with greater strength than we are conditioned to believe we have.
Yesterday I watched a beautiful Malayalam film called “How Old Are You” (2014, Rosshan Andrrews). The main protagonist in the film, Nirupama Rajeev (played brilliantly by Manju Warrier), a clerk in the government, discovers her true potential when her college-mate reminds her of what a firebrand student campaigner she (Nirupama) once was. Until then Nirupama is at the mercy of her male chauvinist husband’s whims, and the target of petty politics at her workplace. But once she’s finds her lost verve, Nirupama sheds all her inhibitions and goes on to be a change agent not just in her neighborhood, but in the entire state of Kerala. The movie is not just inspiring, it is awakening.
Nirupama’s story is not her’s alone. It could be the story of any of us. All of us, at various times in Life, under pressure from our challenges and situations, stop believing in ourselves. We feel lost. Our self-esteem hits rock-bottom. And we think we can never be who we want to be again. But that’s not true. We are all capable. Our circumstances can constrain us physically but nothing – except our attitude to Life – can cripple our spirit. Think about a  wild adult elephant. This elephant can easily uproot trees that have been standing for years and that weigh tons. That’s how much strength an elephant is ordained with. Yet a temple elephant, through its conditioning from the time it is a calf, thinks it is incapable of breaking free from the iron shackles that a mahout has imposed on it. So it is with us humans. We are all hostages of our own perceived limitations. We are who we think we are. If we think our circumstances are so challenging that they are insurmountable, we will forever suffer from them. But if we decide to face our challenges and rise above them, whatever be the context, a way will emerge. A solution will be born.
The way to rise above what challenges you is to go within and anchor yourself. All change starts with you. And all change begins within. It is by going within, and realizing your true Self, that you can find the way to forever change your current reality and overcome whatever you are faced with!

The first step on your journey of personal change is crucial

To get started on any new journey in Life, you have to simply take the first step. Wishing and dreaming of something alone cannot get you started. Only calm, decisive action can get your initiative off the ground.
I met with a friend from college recently. He’s every bit a corporate citizen – he’s the CFO of a large MNC and is based in Hong Kong. Over coffee, we got chatting about our lives. And in the course of the conversation he declared that his biggest wish and his biggest problem were the same. “I want to get back home from work by 6 pm every day. I have been trying to achieve this for a few years now, but I am simply not able to! I badly want this happening and I am sore that I have been unsuccessful despite my best efforts,” he confessed.  
I have been in my friend’s shoes. Just 12 years ago, I was pretty much running the rat race. I was working 100-hour weeks and even on Sundays I used to be slouched over my laptop all day – responding to emails from clients and colleagues. Meal times with family were often interrupted by client calls and I always prioritized business over family. I had a tobacco addiction and I drank almost every day. Then one fine day, I decided to change the way I lived and worked. I began by giving up my tobacco habit instantaneously. That was my first step. And then every week I added a new change to my routine and my lifestyle. This included a diet and fitness regimen on the one side, and packing in quality – and productive – working hours on the other side. Within a couple of months, I was working fewer hours and yet I was able to pack in more in that time. My improved levels of efficiency made me feel better. And the way I felt made me work better. This is how I transformed the way I lived and worked. I maintain that changed discipline in my Life even now.
All personal change begins with the first – crucial – step. Unless you take that step, the journey never begins. And while wishing demonstrates intent, please remember that mere intent, with no action, will take you nowhere. Which is why my friend’s intention to get back home from work by 6 pm daily remains a non-starter.
Even as some of you, who are struggling with the same 6-pm-home-aspiration, read this and wonder how can this even be practical in your work or company context, let me tell you this – anything’s possible! All you need is to be resolute about what you want to achieve. If you must get back home by 6 pm daily and want to keep your weekends free for family, you must have conversations with your boss and your team members alike. If your boss is a workaholic, who is both unplanned and aggressive, you must hold up a mirror. Having a heart-to-heart chat to discuss matters relating to your work and productivity is not insubordination. And if your boss thinks so – then, my friend, you perhaps need a new boss! Which is, in real terms, you must start looking for a new job!!! There are no two ways about this: no change can happen in your Life unless you work on yourself and the circumstances in which you are placed. And please don’t expect results overnight. Most of us are so steeped in certain Life and work patterns, it will require a lot of effort and will power from within us, and consistency, to ensure that we stay on the path of change.
One sure way to stay on the path, that you have started on, is to remember that with each passing day your Life is getting shorter. And that you are not going to get any younger. And if you have children, know that they are growing up faster than you imagine they are. If you don’t invest time in yourself and your family now, no matter what stage of your Life you are in at the moment, you will have lost some more of the precious time you are left with. Even so, don’t start with making sweeping, radical changes. Start with one crucial, and what you think is doable, step. And then take another. And then yet another. Over time, with increased self-confidence coming from seeing results, your personal journey of change will gather momentum.

How you feel depends on how you see, and think about, Life!

Nothing ever is as bad as we make it out to be. Every moment happens just the way it was designed. It is the way we perceive each moment or event in our lives that dictates how we feel about it.

For instance, some of us perceive a dark room as an opportunity to let fear take over. How would a visually impaired person deal with darkness? Or we eat at a restaurant and lament about the quality of the food; we carry the aftertaste of that experience all day, cribbing relentlessly. How would a person who has been starving for days have reacted to the food had you bought it for her? A malfunction in your car’s air-conditioning makes it unbearable for you to ride in it. Wouldn’t someone who travels by a bus or local train daily, packed like a sardine in a can, consider a ride in your car a pleasurable experience? One sure way to change perceptions is to metaphorically ‘refresh’ the situation almost the way you would press the ‘refresh’ icon on your browser. Compel yourself to consider the positives in it each time you are confronted with an agonizing situation. Watch how your feelings transform magically, like your webpage gets refreshed instantaneously allowing a new newsfeed (if on facebook!) to show up.

It is not without reason that we have all be taught the adage, ‘every cloud has a silver lining‘! All perception is relative. Change the way you see, and think about, something. Be sure, you will change the way you feel about (most things in) Life!

If you can’t change someone, don’t grieve and suffer

If you can’t convince someone to change, accept the person for who he or she is, and do whatever you can best do in the circumstances. Important: Don’t complain, don’t grieve, don’t suffer!
My 59-year-old friend lost his alcoholic brother, who was three years younger to him, a couple of days ago. It was a traumatic end to a Life that had been consumed by the habit. Over the past month every organ in his body had failed and he had been held up by Life support systems. This brought an end to a 40-year-old saga in my friend’s Life. After the death of their parents, my friend had raised his brother, struggling hard to put him through school. But the lad did not take to academics. Instead he fell among wayward company and took to drinking and gambling. As the years passed, the brother’s habit and behavior caused my friend innumerable problems. Their family was forced to leave the neighborhood they lived in because of the younger fellow’s incessant drunken brawls. My friend, who is a very reputed photographer in Indian media circles, had to close down his studio because his brother would land up there at all times demanding money for his drink in front of clients – much to my friend’s embarrassment! Efforts were made several times by my friend to put his brother through de-addiction programs – but each attempt, while consuming precious cash, failed miserably. Over the last five years, the alcoholic brother’s hospitalization and associated medical costs led my friend to hawk every financial asset he had created painstakingly through his career. Family and friends had been advising my friend to legally separate from his brother and leave him to his fate. But my friend always explained it away saying: “I don’t want to flinch from my duty as a brother and as a human being. I know it is pointless to expect my brother to turn a new leaf or even be cured of his various bodily ailments. But I want to be able to care and tend to him.” All through the 22-odd years that I have known my friend, I have never heard him complain of his brother. Nor have I seen him grieve or suffer. He simply went about looking after his brother – dutifully, diligently. “When I saw his dead body in the hospital, I wept. Not because I couldn’t save him or transform him. But because he was no longer there for me to care for him,” said my friend, when I called to condole his brother’s passing away.
People may have their own views of how such a pointless, futile situation could have been handled differently. But, all the same, the learning from my friend’s experience is simple – yet profound. Which is to accept people for who they are, to do our best and to not complain or grieve or suffer.
People are people. They will do what pleases them or what they think is right. Each Life comes with a pre-ordained cosmic design. Until that design plays out completely that Life will go on. Sometimes, the best of advice from the most experienced people will not be heeded. In those times reason will cease to apply. People will drive themselves – and others – crazy, appearing to be on a suicidal mission. You will feel helpless when you are unable to wean them away from their self-destructive tendencies. Normally, in such situations, people in my friend’s shoes will tend to become bitter. They will complain. They will feel miserable about their helplessness. Or they may get agitated with the whole situation. Or even depressed. This applies not only to people but to Life situations as well. My friend’s attitude teaches us to simply flow with Life. Peacefully. Because what has to happen will happen. The only choice we have is to accept Life for what it is and to go on doing whatever we think is the best in any given situation!