You can’t fast-forward your Life

When you believe you can no longer go on with your Life, when the odds are stacked against you, when you feel you are up against a wall, when you vainly wish you could simply fast-forward such a phase of your Life, choose a quiet place and think deeply. Ask yourself: why is it that you feel you can’t endure your situation anymore? Is the situation forcing you to want to give up or is it your refusal to accept it for what it is? Be objective. Be practical. Be honest. You will quickly realize that the situation is simply, well, a situation. Let’s say the situation you are faced with is a broken marriage or a phase of acute unemployment or a stifling legal quagmire or fourth stage of a rare germ cell cancer or even something as common as a splitting, unbearable headache. Is the situation the problem or are you, and your inability to deal with it, the problem? Pain in reality comes without suffering. Your belief, expectation, desire, wish, whatever, that it must not exist in the first place, as pain, as a situation, is what makes you suffer!

Often thinking deeply about yourself and the way you are receiving and responding to Life helps. But when despite that effort, when your mind slips back into its default self-sympathy mode, it is perhaps a good idea to zoom out and look at Life around you. Almost always, when you stop obsessing with yourself__in sympathy or from grief__you will find how much more blessed your Life is, compared to so, so many peoples’ lives out there!

This morning’s newspapers reported that Anand Jon, the India-born fashion designer, who has been tried for fresh charges of sexual abuse this time in a New York court, had been awarded an additional five years in jail. So, that makes it 64 years in jail in all for Anand, with a Los Angeles court having already awarded him a 59-year sentence. Anand is only 39. If we take into account the years he has spent in jail so far, Anand’s got over 50 years of imprisonment still left. Without going into the merits of his case, because I am not entirely sure he has received a fair trial, I am just contrasting his situation with the one I am faced with. And I can’t help but internalize these two unputdownable lessons from his Life and my own:

  • Even wishing a situation doesn’t exist is a luxury many don’t have. Anand Jon surely doesn’t!  
  • The only way to be free from suffering is to accept pain: Assuming his cases are not immediately reopened through appeal (at the moment, the family does not have the financial wherewithal to support this) in a higher US court, what other way does Anand Jon have than to accept his Life for what it is?

I have no idea how Anand Jon feels about his Life just now. His last recorded sentiment in public is through a November 2010 blogpost. In that he writes: “…I do know that there is a Purpose to all of this and it is beyond my own exoneration. God clearly had bigger plans for me than just influencing the hemlines, and though I can and will win this ordeal, I may not survive it, and this makes me concerned about the pain my loved ones will go through. It is a fascinating concept that I think more about them than myself. My pencil (I only get two per week) is running out of lead, so I also learn patience. Maybe that’s what it’s all about – taming the ego and revealing love…” But, thanks to this reflection this morning, I do have a deeper understanding of how to face the Life that I have been given.

Maybe my sharing here will help you too to face your Life situation with equanimity. Because wishing that a situation didn’t exist is what triggers the suffering. And simply accepting that it does exist, and that you can’t do anything about it, is what makes it endurable. Some see this endurance as the indomitable human spirit. Some see it as raw courage. I believe it is nothing but an awareness of the humbling reality that you can never fast-forward your Life. You have to live through some of Life’s grueling situations __ however long it takes. You can comfort yourself though __ that, like Anand Jon says, along the way, you will grow to become more patient, more humble  and more loving!


Learning to live when you hate Life


We all know that not all our wants are ever going to be met. So, even though, often times, we do plunge into despair and grief over unmet expectations, we have the ability to overcome, repair and revive ourselves.

But what do you do when your basic needs are not met? What do you do when you are not loved? When you are not understood? What do you do when you don’t know where your next rupee or dollar in income is going to come from? What do you do when it is a special day in your Life, your child’s birthday, and you can’t even afford a new dress for her? What do you do when the only person you can relate to in the world has been taken away by Life, in a ghastly, unexpected accident? What do you do when you know you are dying of cancer and there’s so much pain that it feels like your whole body is on fire __ and yet death seems so elusive?

What do you do when you must live though you wish you could actually die?

Contrary to what you want to do is, often, what you have to do. And to do that, to live when you would much rather die, you must look your situation in the eye, and despite all your grief, choose to live, LIVE, in that tormenting, torturous moment. That’s when you will find that despite all the pain, you feel no suffering. When you have learned to overcome suffering, you have learned the way to joy, you have learned to live!

Yesterday, a close friend called. He is going through a painful phase in his Life where his brother and he are separating as business partners. The separation has turned messy. My friend says he has tried to be completely giving and has agreed to all terms and conditions stipulated by his brother, however outrageous they have been. The idea was to ensure a peaceful, amicable partitioning of the business. Even so, said my friend, his brother was taunting him and provoking him. My friend did not want to blow up and confound an already vitiated situation. So, he called me asking for advice on what I thought he could possibly be doing.

I was reminded, even as my friend spoke, of a similar situation I encountered some years back. My entire family had concluded that (my wife and) I had cheated them in a transaction involving family property and some substantial cash borrowings. In fact, they still do. Just hearing them say what they did, and reading some ghastly text messages from my siblings, was both humiliating and traumatic. I must have died a thousand deaths in the days and weeks following that episode. Then, call it a revelation, call it enlightenment, I suddenly reasoned that I sought my family’s understanding because I needed it badly. It dawned on me that to understand me (and my wife) did not appear to be on my family’s agenda. Instead misunderstanding every word and action of ours appeared to be on their agenda. So, what was the point in demanding understanding when it was not likely to be given? I looked at the scenario dispassionately and came to the following conclusions:

1.  What was the basis of the misunderstanding? – My family believed that my wife and I were faking our bankruptcy and so were feigning an inability to settle money borrowed from the family

2.   Where was my grief, my suffering coming from? – That I, a son of my family, was being misunderstood, was not being trusted. My ego demanded trust. Whereas the situation completely lacked it because my family simply did not give it or me any trust!

3.  What was the way to end my suffering? – Settle my family’s money for which I didn’t have any means then (or even now) or let go of my need, my craving, for understanding. I chose the latter.

4.   Despite what I felt or experienced, I realized my family had a right to its views and opinions. They didn’t fulfill my need, but surely they believed their reasoning to be sound and so backed their behavior!

I shared this learning with my friend yesterday. I told him to give up his need for his brother to understand him. I told him that at the root of all our suffering is a cause. The cause often has little to do with what may have led to a situation. Instead it has everything to do with our need for the situation to be different. So, let me clarify, it is not even about a want. It is about a need, a more basic, often elementary, non-negotiable, human requirement. For instance, a son, a child will need a family’s understanding and not merely want it. A brother will need his sibling’s understanding and not merely want it. A companion will need her partner’s love and not just want it. A cancer patient will need a cure or death and not simply want either of them! If money be a common denominator for a standard of survival in the world, a basic income is then a need for the qualified, skilled and experienced, and not just a want.

Yet, as is with my story, or my friend’s, or even your own, Life, sometimes, will put you in a place where even a basic need is not fulfilled. You will initially hate such a Life. Because unhappiness__when wants are not met__can perhaps still be endured. But insecurity__when needs are not provided for__suffocates. And yet you have to live! That’s a difficult place to be in. This is when you must learn to live fully with what is__without grief or angst or rancor or suffering. When you do that, your own definition of what is it that you need will undergo a tectonic shift. Then, you will realize that Life is so benevolent. Because all that you really, badly, immediately, need to live is always available, in abundance, to you! Then some of your needs become wants and you reconcile to them not being met. Such an awakening and reconciliation delivers inner peace unto you. You then learn to surrender completely to the moments that make up your Life and you live, fully, freely, peacefully, joyously, in them!


Lessons from Hansie Cronje: Only the Truth can set you Free!


The truth, and only the truth, can set you free!

All of us make mistakes in Life. Sometimes we succumb to temptations. No one who has lived on this planet has led a mistake-free Life. The big and mighty are no exceptions. When an unknown or lesser-known person slips, his immediate circle of influence are the ones that try him or her, pass judgment, and/or forgive her or him. When a person with a larger-than-Life image makes a mistake, the world tries her or him.

When you are being tried by the opinion of others, when you make a mistake, some of that trial may be what you deserve. Obviously, you caused the conditions, with your adventurous streak, your lack of discretion, your plain foolishness or your guile, that led to your trial. But a good portion of your trial by people, either those in your circle of influence or general public, depending on who you are, may be based on their perceptions of the truth. In almost all such instances, when you have erred in judgment, and have wittingly or otherwise, ending up wronging someone, it is best to own up. Just confess to your transgression, whatever it may be, and tell the truth, the absolute truth, as you know it.

The truth may make the already bad situation worse. But it will set you free and give you the energy and the peace to face the situation.

In recent times in India, I have admired (with no comment on the nature of his deviant actions or their impact) how Satyam’s Ramalinga Raju has actually handled his fall from grace. People say he had no choice. Maybe they are right. But it requires great personal courage to own up a mistake, especially if you did it willfully, and be willing to face the consequences__whatever they may be.

Last night I watched a very unique and lesser-known movie called ‘Hansie’ which is based on the true story of celebrated and controversial South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje. The movie, made in 2008 by his brother Frans Cronje and directed by Regardt van den Bergh, tells the story of Hansie’s rise and fall powerfully. The synopsis on the DVD’s back cover and the movie’s Wiki Page have this to say:

“How do you start over once you have betrayed a nation’s trust?” The news of Hansie Cronjé’s involvement with Indian bookmakers and his resulting public confession rocked the international sporting community. An unprecedented rise to glory was followed by the most horrific fall. A tarnished hero fueled the nation’s fury. Hansie, once South African cricket’s golden boy, had been stripped of everything he had held dear: a glorious captaincy, the support of his former team mates and the respect of a nation. In its place the stinging rejection of cricket administrators and the humiliating dissection of his life on international television, made his retreat into depression inevitable. Hansie’s bravest moment in finally confessing his involvement with bookies had suddenly become a tightening noose around his neck.”

To be sure, Hansie Cronje, at the peak of his stardom as independent, post-apartheid, South Africa’s most successful cricket captain, received money from bookmakers, in return for information. And when Indian police in April 2000 revealed his links, and those of other South African cricketers, with Indian bookmakers, Hansie came clean in front of the King Commission, constituted by the South African government and its Cricket Board, and confessed to his mistakes, accepted having been dishonest, but reiterated that he had “never thrown a match in return for the bookmakers’ payments” to him.

Hansie Cronje at the King Commission hearings (left) and the movie DVD (right)
The movie shows poignantly how a man, who speaks the truth, has to deal with its unimaginable, irreversible, repercussions. Hansie, played admirably by Frank Rautenbach, is dubbed a ‘criminal’ by a large section of the South African United Cricket Board, banished by the international cricket community and has to also deal with his own demons. He is consumed by enormous guilt, has fearful nightmares each time he tries to sleep and can’t even face himself in the mirror. His wife Bertha, played beautifully by Sarah Thomson, and his family are his only support. But he grieves endlessly that he has let them down to. The shame, the remorse, the fall from personal grace is both palpable, as the story unfolds, and wrecks Hansie personally.

Then goaded by Bertha, Hanise goes to meet his mentor on the Cricket Board, Peter (I am unable to presently recollect his full name or find it online). Peter receives him with open arms.

A still devastated, even 18 months after his public confession, Hansie, who is a devout Christian, breaks down on seeing Peter and asks him: “Will God ever forgive me?”

Peter’s remarkably enlightening and mature response is something like this (my recollection): “I believe God forgave you on the day you confessed. You now need to forgive yourself. You have told the truth. But in your clinging on to your guilt, you are enslaving yourself. Feel free. Feel liberated. It is immaterial how people see your truth. The only person who knows you didn’t throw matches for money is you. And that’s all that matters. If this is the truth, stop feeling guilty. You have shown extraordinary courage by telling the truth. Now show it again by living with it, irrespective of what people think or say of you and your truth.”

Hansie gets it! And starts over again. His inner peace helps him find his own, true Self. Magically, he discovers, people around him and the public of South Africa at large, still revere him as their hero. Not just for the great cricketer and the captain that he once was but for the courageous human being he now is. At a football match at his alma mater, Drew College in Bloemfontein, where his teacher invites him to be the Chief Guest, Hansie is overwhelmed when he receives as standing ovation from all students, parents and teachers.

He realizes that the truth has indeed set him free.

Sadly though, his eventful and beautiful Life, was cut short on June 1, 2002, when the plane he was traveling in crashed in the Outeniqua mountains due to inclement weather. At his funeral, his mentor Peter offers a fitting eulogy (as I recall): “Hansie’s truth set him free and has delivered unto him a peace and joy, now (in his death), that is beyond the comprehension of us humans.” Interestingly, South Africans, in 2004, voted Hansie as the 11th greatest South African ever in their country’s history!

So, when you are in the eye of a storm, especially when caused by your own questionable actions, saying the truth, as you know it, may, undoubtedly, make the situation worse. You may invite unprecedented, often hostile, reactions from unknown quarters. But still choose to say the truth. And live with it. Because it will set you free. And where the soul tastes freedom, it finds bliss!