When you are not playing well, go back to the basics

You may not always get what you want in Life, but happiness is wanting what you get!
Last evening I attended an interesting event. It was conversation between three writers – two of whom are former cricketers and have written books on learnings from, and memories of, playing the game. They are V.Ramnarayan (Third Man: Recollections from a Life in Cricket, Westland) and Harimohan Paravu (50 Not Out: Powerful Life Lessons from Cricket to Excel in Our Lives, Jaico). The third one was the moderator and anchor for the evening Krishna Shastri Devulapalli (Ice Boys in Bell Bottomsand Jump Cut, Harper Collins). So, as the conversation between the three men progressed, a question that Krishna asked, prompted Ram to talk about Life as a cricketer. He said, “There’s nothing called ‘out of form’ in cricket. A good cricketer is never ‘out of form’. If you believe you are ‘out of form’, you are actually playing bad cricket. And when you are not playing well, you need to go back to the basics. You need to examine how you are playing the ball, how you are delivering it and how you are picking it up.” I was amazed with Ram’s perspective that basically debunked the popular notion that cricketers do tend to go ‘out of form’ – at least once or twice in their careers. But when I mulled over his view, I not only agreed with it, I also found a deeper, spiritual, insight to dealing with Life in what he had to say.
When are you ostensibly ‘out of form’ in Life? When you don’t perform to your potential, when you don’t get what you want and are depressed and when, despite your best efforts, the results or outcomes don’t add up to what you had envisioned them to be. This is the time, to borrow from Ram’s cricket analogy, to go back to the basics. And the most basic, the fundamental, truth about – and in  Life is that Life happens on its own terms; it happens in spite of you and never because of you! Not realizing this, we go on questioning what is happening to us, we go on resisting the Life we have and so we keep suffering. This suffering manifests itself as depression, as bodily ailments, as poor performance at work and as breakdown in relationships. Going back to the basics in Life will help us also awaken to the reality that everything in Life is impermanent. As in cricket, in Life too, both success and defeat are imposters. This entire lifetime is transient. So, why cling on to anything that is impermanent? Why fear losing anything that we can’t take with us when we depart? This going-back-to-basics may not necessarily change the situations we are placed in, but our attitude of acceptance and non-clinging, of let-go, will help us deal with the situations better. It will help us play the game of Life better.

And playing the game of Life better simply means accepting what is, choosing to enjoy or endure what is, with equanimity. What you resist persists. When you stop resisting, the pain may be there, but there is no suffering. When you don’t suffer, your quality of Life improves dramatically; you are happy, despite the circumstances!  
Advertisements

On making this ‘absurd’ Life worthwhile!

Despite the absolute meaninglessness of Life itself, its absurdity, you have to make it worth living.  
Abbott cradles Hughes after the bouncer felled him
Picture Courtesy: Agencies/Internet
In today’s Hindu, noted sports writer and columnist, Nirmal Shekar, writes an open letter to New South Wales’ fast-medium bowler Sean Abbott, whose freak bouncer critically injured Phil Hughes last Tuesday  – an accident that claimed Hughes’ Life a few days later. Shekar’s letter is poignant and is an essay on Life itself. Urging Abbott to treat the incident only as an accident, Shekar talks about the absurd nature of Life. He writes: “…If the ball had climbed an inch higher or moved a shade wider, the world would be a different place for you (Abbott) today — as it would be for all of us, as cricket lovers. It was the rarest of rare accidents that cost Hughes his Life and you just happened to be at the wrong end of one of Life’s devilish deals…How can a person make sense of something that lies beyond all conventional powers of explanation, you might ask. After all, you chose to play a sport — and one of the most culturally sophisticated ones at that. And you might not have killed a fly in your Life…Why me, you might ask…But that’s Life Sean. There are no answers for certain questions, except that much of Life is down to sheer chance. And viewed from this standpoint, Life does indeed seem absurd…”
Shekar’s writing is simple and the wisdom he offers Abbott is profound. There is indeed no point in asking ‘Why me?’ in Life. People, events, situations, moods, attitudes, opportunities and challenges – most of them beyond your comprehension or control when they happen – conspire to take your Life forward. Your Life’s path is never your own doing alone. Some believe it is preordained. Others try to disagree, intellectualizing their argument with rational thinking and evidence. But whatever happens in Life, simply happens. Abbott’s and Hughes’ case is just another one in point. Two young cricketers, both of them in their prime, readying to play a big role for their national team in the upcoming World Cup – and suddenly one of them dies and the other is buried in grief and guilt; all this while playing a game that was their raison d’etre!. What did they do wrong? Nothing! They were simply playing a game! Therein lies the answer to the various contexts and situations, where we find ourselves entangled, in Life. We must recognize that we are just playing this game called Life. The only right we have is to keep playing this game well, being true to ourselves and the spirit of the game, no matter what happens to us.
And everything that happens to us will be – and is – meaningless. We came with nothing. And we will go with nothing. So, why then go through the travails of an academic education, why earn, why raise families, why create assets and why work? If none of what we acquire – degrees, wealth, name, fame and experience – is ever going to matter, why go through the grind of ‘earning-a-living’? So, evidently, everything’s meaningless.
But the purpose of Life is not to make meaning out it. It is never about you alone. And which is why you must often pause to reflect on what you are doing. Your upbringing teaches you that you must be self-obsessed with your grades, your money, your family and your career. But Life’s beauty lies in going through the unknown – called this lifetime – while being useful to others, to humanity. Life’s essence lies in being able to serve before you say you deserve! Only this attitude can make Life meaningful for you. Without this understanding, you will remain self-centered forever. And the more self-centered you are, the more you will resist the Life that is happening – and will happen – to you. That how you end up suffering and agonizing so much.
Life is just a series of events and experiences. The only way to live it well is to go through each of them with a child-like innocence and a student-like curiosity, serving humanity selflessly at every opportunity. Along the way you will learn to live your Life better and better. Every bouncer from Life will then not torment you and every fall will then not finish you. Because you will have learnt to get up, dust yourself and move on … playing on, and making a difference, until the last ball is bowled!

It’s never over until the last ball is bowled

Your biggest crisis is always your greatest opportunity.
There are times in Life when you conclude that it’s all over, you have hit rock bottom and you have nowhere to go, no reason to live and you simply want this lifetime to end. This is a natural, normal feeling. Each of us hits this “low point” in Life at some time or the other. But before you let this feeling grow within you, before you let your desperation exaggerate, before you quit, ask yourself what does rock bottom really mean?
Does it mean end of a phase in Life? Or does it mean the end of your Life? When you examine these two perspectives, in relation to your own Life situation, you will find that every crisis that has hit you, or perhaps the one you are going through just now, is always about a phase ending. It is never about Life ending. Because Life, simply, goes on and on. There are no dead-ends in Life – not as long as you are alive. Each phase ending signals a new beginning. And each new beginning will surely end.
The fickle human mind craves for a steady, stable Life. But Life itself is a roller-coaster. Every day is filled with as many new opportunities as there are challenges. You don’t see Life that way because all your focus is on securing stability. Which really means a good, well-paying job or source of income, a comfortable home, an affectionate family and – if possible, a hobby or an art form to pursue. For most people around the world, most of the time, this is how Life is. So, you don’t see Life events as upheavals. But almost each one of us has had our fair share of surprises or rude shocks. Someone may have lost a parent very early or may have made it through a Life-threatening health ailment, another may have struggled with a job search, or yet another may have never got a relationship right. Or someone may have lost a child or may have failed miserably with academics.
Each beating heart has a story to tell – of trial, tribulation and eventual triumph. You too have had your own share. Even so, why is it that you fear hitting rock bottom? Why do you fear loss? Why do you resist failure?
The answer lies in your definition of Life. You have, thanks to your upbringing and conditioning, concluded that your Life must be in a certain way. So, anything outside of your definition is something you label as bad and, so, don’t want in your Life. Having a job and a steady source of income, irrespective of whether you like the work you do or not, is good per your conditioning. Joblessness and incomelessness means a crisis is upon you. Being married to a person, who you don’t relate to, is stability. But having an intimate relationship, outside of your marriage, with someone you completely enjoy being with, is a sin! Smoking and drinking is fun. But to be diagnosed with a terminal illness, owing to your habit, is suffering! The key to opening the door of opportunity that is always there at every dead-end is to drop all definitions. Drop your own definition of Life. Drop all societal definitions. Just look at the Life that you have, even when you have hit a dead end, and ask yourself where do you go from here. Almost immediately, you will find a new world of opportunity opening up. From nowhere a door will appear where until then only a wall existed.
There was a time, about 20 years ago, when a project I led failed. The promoter who was backing the project did not honor his financial commitments to the project – to me and my team. He simply went missing. My son was only four and my daughter was a month old. Since my taking up this assignment had, unwittingly, made headlines, its collapse too was much talked about. I saw no way out. For weeks on end, I locked myself up in my bedroom, refusing to face the world or even talk to my mother-in-law, who was at that time staying with us, helping my wife with our just born. Life was embarrassing. Life was scary. I was consumed by depressive thoughts. There was an important cricket series going on at that time in India. And although my depressive state prevented me from watching TV or following the series, I heard a snatch of commentary that came in from the neighbor’s TV, one evening, at the close of a tight contest that India won. I was standing in the balcony in my apartment and I could hear the TV blaring at my neighbor’s. The commentator was animatedly describing the spectacular, surprise win that India had managed. He said: “In cricket, it is never over until the last ball is bowled.” That comment, indicating that India had snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat, made imminent sense to me as I sat brooding. I suddenly felt energized and rejuvenated. I used that moment of awakening to claw my way back in Life.
That learning has stayed with me ever since. I have faced, and continue to face, many a crisis since that one. But giving up has never been an option for me. Because, I have realized that, the unmistakeable truth about Life is that when you are dead, you are dead. Till then there’s no end. And you must simply go on…

To the MAESTRO called YOU…

Sachin Tendulkar has finally announced his retirement from the game that made him God! While there are people who are still awestruck by his legend, there are others, his admirers-turned-critics, who opine that he should have quit the game at his peak – which was a few years ago. Sachin himself explains his rationale for continuing to play well past his prime in his statement, issued by the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), yesterday. He says: It’s hard for me to imagine a Life without playing cricket because it’s all I have ever done since I was 11 years old.
I would like to share what I have learned, so far, from Sachin’s Life. Each of us has three questions to answer and three circles to fill in Life:
  •      What can you be best at in the world? – What’s your innate talent?
  •      What are you deeply passionate about? – What keeps you excited about living?
  •    What drives your economic engine? – What earns you money?

When you answer these questions and fill the circles with your answers, the one vocation – or answer – that leads to the convergence of these three circles is your inner core of joy, your bliss. When you follow your bliss, you too will become a world-leader and world-beater, and consequentially wealthy too, in your chosen field. Of course, the time it takes to reach that pinnacle of greatness varies from individual to individual – it is often a direct correlation between effort, the time the individual is passing through, and the larger, unfathomable, cosmic design. But one thing is for sure: if you have identified that one vocation, which led to the convergence of these three circles in your Life, your bliss that is, you will always be happy doing what you have chosen to do – even though your financial success make take time coming. They key is to keep following your bliss, as Joseph Campbell (1904~1987), the American thinker and writer, famously said, knowing that doors will soon open where only walls existed. The difference between people who have identified their bliss and those who go on to become Gods, legends in their chosen fields, lies in the following. When you follow your heart, your  bliss, no matter what, you will arrive where you truly must and deserve to be! Important, focus only on your bliss, while following it, and not on becoming great! Greatness follows when you truly follow your bliss! (Just to clarify: the concept of these three circles was first presented by Management Guru Jim Collins in the context of helping organizations derive their Core Purpose. But I have found it extremely relevant in the case of individuals too – after all, people make organizations tick!)
Osho, the Master, has explained following your bliss beautifully. He says when you do what you love doing, when the doer becomes the deed, for instance, when the dancer becomes the dance or when the player becomes the game, magic happens. That’s when the Universal, cosmic, energy is flowing through you. The actor and the action are in unison then. That’s what the world calls genius, greatness. That’s how ordinary people become maestros. Did you not see that magic in Sachin – then, and don’t you not see it even now, when he is on a song? Sunil Gavaskar, the legend himself, said this of Sachin Tendulkar when talking to India Today, a couple of years ago: “The secret of Sachin’s longevity in the game lies in his joy. His mind, body, soul – all three are in a state of perpetual joy when he’s playing!”
To reach your own state of perpetual joy, you need to only shift your attention from your economic engine circle to the other two circles – concerning your talent and passion – in your Life. Then you too will be soaked in bliss and will be able to uncork the magic within you! Here’s then, cheers, to the MAESTRO called YOU!

When Life slows down, enjoy it in slow motion!

There will be times in Life when you have to simply hang in there. Nothing you do will work for you. And each day will be slow, dreary and hard to live through. All you can do in such a time is to believe that Life is teaching you to keep the Faith and develop Patience.
Nobody loves a problem situation. So, really, no one wants a challenging phase in Life to prolong – joblessness, a business slowdown, a critical health condition or a messy relationship drama. But what can you do in the face of Life’s onslaught? As they say in cricket, when the bowling is intense and difficult to play, simply let the ball go past you. Don’t stick your bat out, don’t play a rash shot in desperation or you will lose your wicket! In fact, India Captain, M.S.Dhoni, told the media, after his team’s Tri-Nation Trophy triumph at Port of Spain (West Indies) yesterday: “Sometimes you have to play boring cricket.” He was referring to the difficult-to-negotiate overs in between when the Indian run rate slowed down and the team lost wickets in quick succession.
So it is with Life too – when it becomes boring and painful, you can avoid the suffering by simply accepting that your Life, for now, is playing out in slow motion. Actually, why must Life always be fast paced? Why do we need to be running from meeting to meeting, chore to chore, commute to commute all the time? Why must everything be an agenda item or on a To Do List?
A good metaphor to hold is that of a clock that’s ticking away even in a thunderstorm. Un-fluttered. Unmoved. A strong mind is like the clock. It remains untouched by the vagaries of Life. Neither exulting vainly in success nor tormented in failure. To be sure, Life is not only about winning and losing. It is, in fact, all about living. And living does not need a pre-qualification. Living simply means being present in the moment, no matter where you find yourself. Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century Persian mystic and poet, has said it so beautifully: “Take sips of this pure wine being poured. Don’t mind that you have been handed a dirty cup!”
I have learned that Faith is not about a God or religion. Faith is knowing that everything happens for a reason. And since the reason will not always be immediately evident, you must have Patience to last a trying phase, till the reason shows up! Life is not a 100-meter race. If you rush through it too fast or keep brooding its slow pace you will surely miss the scenery! And since you can’t ever go back in time or Life, the most intelligent thing you can do is to live fully every moment of the Life that’s playing out for you, enjoying its magic and beauty!  
                                                                                                                                                                                

Learn from your mistakes, don’t brood over them!


It is perfectly fine to make a few mistakes in Life. So don’t ever waste time regretting or brooding over what’s happened. When you make a mistake, and you realize it, get up, dust yourself, look for the learning(s) from the experience, and move on!

Sreesanth : Not guilty until proven

India was shocked yesterday as news broke, yet again, of spot-fixing in cricket matches and a well-known player Sreesanth was arrested with a few others. It was also yesterday that Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt surrendered in court to complete his 42-month jail term for a crime he inadvertently committed in 1993. Both events, naturally, led to mixed reactions from people. Many were quick to write Sreesanth’s epithet and to conclude that Dutt perhaps deserved this. I would, however, humbly urge that we look at the learnings here rather than judge, criticize and opine.

Each of us, at some point or the other, has erred. Sometimes wantonly, sometimes knowingly, and at other times, simply, unknowingly. To not make mistakes is inhuman. What’s important__and intelligent__ however is to learn from mistakes and not repeat the same mistake twice. Clinging on to regrets in Life is a sure recipe for disaster. More disastrous, at times, than even the mistake and its repercussions!

To that extent there’s a big learning from Dutt’s surrender. People are free to argue that he was left with no other choice. But did he not display enormous courage and personal leadership while surrendering in the face of such intense public scrutiny? True courage is not really physical! Courage is always about facing the harsh realities in Life. It is all the more difficult to face them when those realities are an outcome of a mistake you have made. It surely takes great courage to stand up and say that “I messed up” and to “own the outcome” of one’s actions __ whatever they may be. That’s really what Dutt’s surrender teaches us.

Let’s stop thinking of Life as having to be clinically perfect. We are not robots. We will make mistakes. And it’s fine. No matter what we do. What is crucial is to learn from our actions, our decisions and their outcomes. And the learning will be complete and the awakening brilliant when we don’t grieve and regret over what we have done. Another principle worth following is, since none of us is perfect, and we have all made mistakes, it is best not to opine, not to judge when we see others having to pay for their mistakes. It is a simple courtesy we can extend to fellow human beings who are going through their own learning curves in Life!

Simply, to make a mistake is not a terrible thing to happen in Life. To brood over it definitely is!


Switch On! Switch Off! Stay Tuned!!

Not worrying does not mean not acting on what worries you. It means acting with focus but without worry.

Worry doesn’t solve anything. Least of all your problems. Solutions to your problems can only be got when you attempt them. Many a time though, you are caught up with your problems so much that you don’t see solutions. You only keep worrying about being unable to solve them. And some problems are so complex, so protracted in nature that you can’t solve them immediately in any case. And definitely never by worrying! So, in such situations, caught in the maze of your problems, your worry turns into a deep, dark brooding and your Life is plunged into grief. It is not at all funny. Half of humanity lives like that __ merely existing, often drowning in their sorrow and suffering!

At such times, switching off from worrying can help. It turns your attention to living __ from merely existing.

Yesterday, at the IPL cricket match in Chennai, Ian Bishop, the expert commentator from Sony Max asked India and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) Captain, M.S.Dhoni, how he handles the pressure of his job. Of leading his country and his IPL team to success every single time. Dhoni replied in his characteristic manner: ‘Well, it’s a high pressure job. Many people say they try it. But I can claim that I have been successful at it. Which is, I have developed this ability to switch on and switch off. When I finish a game, I switch off from cricket. I then switch on when I come back to something connected with cricket, a meeting, or a practice session or a game itself.” This appears to be a good practice and one which seems to be working for Dhoni. For he is truly both Captain Marvel and Captain Cool for Team India and Team CSK just now!

I have learned this art too and over time have been successful with it. I have designated periods of time daily that I invest in addressing the worrisome, irksome, not-easy-to-solve issues of my Life. I switch on when I need to focus on them. And I switch off from them when I have tried my bit for the day and immediately switch the focus on another department of my Life that requires my attention. This method, I realize, has helped me live in each moment __ accepting it and enjoying it for what it is. This ensures that I don’t worry or brood. Either I solve what’s staring me in the face or I turn my attention to another aspect of my Life where I can be more productive. Switching off and switching on at will, I live mindfully, at peace and in bliss! This is the way I stay tuned to Life!