Whatever you lose or is taken away from you, simply, let it go!
In yesterday’s IPL X Final between MI and RPS, when MI’s Krunal Pandya dropped Ajinkya Rahane’s catch off the bowling of Lasith Malinga, it looked like the dropped catch would cost MI the match. While frustration was writ large on the faces of players and supporters alike, with MI’s captain Rohit Sharma apparently howling in disbelief, Malinga smiled. And that’s the way he is. Whenever he is hit for a boundary or when someone drops a catch off his bowling, Malinga smiles. There’s an evolved, detached quality to his response to a competitive, aggressive, often frustrating, sporting moment.
And I simply love that quality.
It always reminds me of the simplest way to understand, appreciate and celebrate the transient nature of Life. The point Malinga’s smile is making is, don’t take anything seriously. Definitely not what you fail at or what you lose. And don’t cling on to your success, your glory, your rewards, your recognition either. After all, you can’t take anything with you when you depart from here. So, why exult, why mourn?
People often tell me that bringing this attitude to Life is difficult. And I don’t think so. Whenever you are in the grip of a frustrating situation, your own dropped catch moment, just ask yourself if that loss, that frustration will matter some years from now. Ask if it will matter when you die. It most certainly will not. So, let that feeling of frustration go. Don’t attend to it, don’t cling on to it. Just smile. Bring the same logic to moments of personal achievement too. Life happens through you, for you, but not because of you. If you remember this truth about Life you can always be unmoved, non-frustrated, and like Malinga, smiling!
Someone I met last weekend told me that detachment is the “privilege of a select few”. “Most people who claim they are detached are kidding themselves. You can be detached only when you have renounced the real world,” he said.
I humbly disagreed with the gentleman.
Just because he is not able to cultivate detachment, he cannot conclude that everyone who is detached is kidding themselves. That is like saying if you can’t play cricket well, then Virat Kohli’s genius is a fluke, or that, worse, he’s a fraud!
I have worked hard enough to cultivate detachment in the past decade. So, from my experience, I can surely say that being detached is possible. Important, it is possible while living in this real world – which is, you can be here, in the throes of everyday living and challenges, and yet you can be above all of it!
There are no methods to being detached though. In fact, detachment is the way to inner peace. Understanding the true nature of Life is key to detachment. I have learnt, on a spiritual plane, success and failure, victory and defeat, mean nothing. Everything is transient, every experience is fleeting, and if you pause to reflect deeply, all creation is impermanent! Nothing will remain. No one will remain. So, what is the point in getting attached to anything you have or anything you do or to the outcomes of your efforts? Stay detached. In any situation, you have only your efforts to focus on and count on. Here’s how I deal with Life as it happens to me:
When I get what I want – I take it easy
When I don’t get what I want – I take it easy
When I get what I want, without my asking for it – I take it easy
When I get what I don’t want, without my asking for it – I take it easy
To me success and failure, have become irrelevant. I have come to realize that Life happens through me – not for me, not because of me, and often inspite of me! So, in any situation, I just make my effort and leave the result to Life. And I accept whatever comes my way!
So, if you asked me, I would say, please don’t take Life so seriously. After all, your human form and experience too will perish, will cease to be, soon. Therefore, stay detached. Stay peaceful.
Rejections and delays can’t debilitate your spirit if you are aware!
“Can you stay detached while having wants, desires and ambitions,” asked a reader after reading my blogpost yesterday.
I replied: “Of course you can. That is what the whole point of understanding detachment and its practice is all about!”
Detachment is not trying to rid yourself of your wants, dreams, ambitions, aspirations or desires. The truth is you can never be in a desire-less state. What is a desire? It is a thought. You see an ice cream hoarding and a thought arises in you reminding you of how it tastes. If you dwell on that thought a trifle longer you may even start salivating – wanting the ice cream now! So it is with every thought. You cannot reach a state of thoughtlessness. As long as you are alive thoughts will arise. The key is to learn to aware of your thoughts and to train your mind so that your thoughts don’t hold you to ransom!
Thoughts on ambitions and dreams are perfectly normal. Whatever be your career goal or your deepest aspiration you must nurture it. There can be no progress without thoughts relating to your ambitions. So detachment is not about suppression. It is also not about running scared of wants and desires. Detachment is about being aware – that, in any context, in any situation, in Life, you are entitled only to your actions and not to the results or outcomes. Which is why detachment is not about inaction. You must act, you must strive, but you must also learn to remain detached from the results.
I used to imagine that detachment was impractical. For the longest time I believed that it was a Utopian state that could not be attained by ordinary mortals. But this past decade has been an awakening experience. In this time, Vaani and I have been making every possible effort to get our business back on track (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). We have been discovering, repeatedly, that no matter how good we are or how hard we try, doors to a steady income don’t just open. Initially, we ended up being frustrated and dejected. After all, rejection and delays can debilitate your spirit. But when we examined the pattern closely, we found that there was nothing lacking in our efforts. Just that the results were not happening. So, we concluded that a. we must not blame ourselves if the results were not happening despite our best efforts and b. we are not the problem that we are dealing with. This awareness helped restore our self-esteem and self-confidence. This, in turn, has helped us plough on, no matter what is happening to us. This is how we learnt that detached determination is crucial to enduring inscrutable, inexplicable phases in Life. To be sure, we both are very ambitious – we want to repay all our debt, with full interest due, to the people we owe money to; we want to travel the world and live our Purpose of Inspiring Happiness among whoever cares to pause and reflect. Yes, we too have wants. And we have clear and lofty goals. But we are not frustrated, not any more, when our efforts don’t yield results. We have, if I may say so, spiked our ambitions with detachment! Which is why I call it detached determination. This is the secret of our happiness!
The truth about Life is that we must all wake up each morning and work enthusiastically doing whatever we can do best in any given situation. Beyond that, we must simply trust the process of Life. Not to try, not to work, that would be resignation, that means inaction. But to keep dreaming, to keep stoking your ambition constructively, to try and to keep trying, without getting depressed or frustrated, even when the results don’t add up, that is detachment.
Watching the inauguration of the US President on Friday last, I could not but help reflect on the beauty of the American democratic system. Every 4~8 years it promotes the effective practice of detachment – not just for those administratively connected with the Presidency but for all American people. As Michelle and Barack Obama’s Executive One helicopter took off from Capitol Hill, I felt, the moment was poignant. “That’s it. The Barack Obama Presidency can never be back. America has to let him go. No choice,” I remarked to Vaani. I felt a lump in my throat, as did Vaani, as did perhaps so many millions of people across the world. But such is Life when it comes to the American Presidency. Which is why I feel it holds out a great lesson in detachment to all of us.
We often think of detachment as something which is beyond the reach of common folks like us. We think of it as the exclusive prevail of more evolved, spiritually-inclined people. But I think different. Each of us is capable of understanding and practicing detachment. All we need to do is to celebrate the impermanence of Life itself. If you are born, death is certain. So, when Life is impermanent, transient, why cling on to anything? In a way, one of the most powerful positions in the world – purely going by the worldly definition of power – has a limited-period tenure, between 4~8 years. So, why suffer wanting to hold on to anything – least of all material?
I believe that the key to happiness is to be detached – from what you possess, from what you want, from what haunts you, from what possesses you, from what worries you and from all who you love or dislike. If you can immerse yourself in whatever you love doing – painting, cooking, gardening, reading, singing, cleaning, whatever – without regard to either space or time, then you can call yourself detached. Then you can only be happy!
In a way, I guess guided detachment helps. Like in the case of the US Presidency. During the early months of our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), I found it very difficult to stop worrying. It seemed such a natural, normal, thing to do. When you don’t know what to do, you end up first worrying that you are clueless. Then you start being fearful. And you are soon pinned down and held hostage by your fears and your worries. It’s an ugly state to be in. I hated being that way. Then through my daily practice of mouna (silence periods), I learnt to postpone worrying. The more engaged I was in the beauty of the present moment – however imperfect it was, it was always beautiful – the more I was able to detach myself from my worries and fears. I told myself that we were waging a war. And to fight that war, Vaani and I needed to be in top gear – physically, emotionally, spiritually. So, every evening we came home battle-scarred, but we refused to let the pressure get to us once we sat down for dinner. This is how I trained myself in the art of detachment.
Detachment doesn’t mean you are irresponsible. Nor does it mean inaction. It simply means you are smart enough, intelligent enough, not to take Life so seriously that you stop enjoying the journey because you are obsessed with the reward – a reward that you cannot anyway take with you!
A reader asked me this question the other day: “How can you flow with Life when you are pulled in different directions by your situation?”
This is a very important question. Indeed. All of us have to face these pulls and pressures. You have family issues, health challenges, work targets, worries, heartbreaks, children to raise, parents to look after – and possibly so many, many more dimensions to deal with. How can you just let go and offer yourself to be led by Life?
The truth is that you have all along been, are being, and will continue to be led by Life. No matter whether you believe in this or not, your Life has been happening on its own. Yet, your education and therefore your intellect, make it appear to you that you are in control. That you have been directing the course of your Life. Which is why, when an inscrutable Life situation arrives, you immediately resist it. You want to use all your intellect, logic, reasoning, willpower and get rid of that situation. Now how can all of these resolve a complex relationship issue? How can they help you rid yourself of a final stage cancer? How can they bring back someone you love from the dead? But your desire to control your Life drive you to resist the Life that you get. Anything that you resist, persists. Which is why you suffer. Your suffering is there only because you want your Life to be different from what it is. So, to avoid suffering, the best way to live is to never resist the Life you have been given. Simply flow with it.
Reaching this state of being, when you can accept your Life for what it is, and keep going with the flow, takes practice. But it is possible. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, an ordinary storekeeper, who lived in Mumbai, until his death in 1981, and a spiritual thinker and teacher to thousands, says, when true awareness has come from within, we will be ‘open and willing to let Life just flow’. “Be like a cinema screen. Clear and empty. The pictures pass over it and disappear, leaving it as clear and empty as before,” he says. The ability to be ‘clear and empty’ at all times, untouched by the pictures of our lives, is the highest, most exalted state! To get to this pinnacle of spiritual evolution, we must begin first with accepting Life as it happens – instead of trying to either resist it or analyzing it beyond a point.
Going with the flow surely does not mean inaction. It really means that you will keep doing whatever you have to do in a situation but you will remain unfrustrated when you don’t get the results you want. This is the absolute key to living intelligently. The short of all I have said is captured in the magical word ‘detachment’. If you can stay detached and go with the flow, you can only be happy, no matter what your circumstances are.
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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Don’t let anything possess you – it’s simply not worth it!
A friend sent me a picture of a brand called ‘Bliss’ and suggested, totally in jest, that I should perhaps sue the company that owned the brand. The allusion was to a perceived infringement of copyright since I curate the popular Bliss Catchers Event Series at Odyssey bookstore each month. I replied asking, again in jest, “Sue them, and lose my bliss?”
Indeed. I have learnt from Life that there is really no original idea. Every idea is inspired by someone or something. Always. Yes, you must patent, you must trademark your work or idea to protect it from infringement. But just protect. Don’t get into the possessor mode. When you try to possess something and someone tries to take it away from you, you always become rabid – you lose your inner peace!
To be sure, I too used to want to control what others did to me and my work. My thinking then was that I am the owner of my Life, of my work. I wanted to be the # 1 player in my space and I wanted to leave behind a legacy that people worshipped for generations. I now realize that ambition per se is not a bad thing. Without ambition, there can be no progress. But to insist that everyone around you buys into your vision for yourself and to imagine that everything you plan will turn out exactly the same way as you want it to – well, that’s surely inviting misery into your Life. When everything Vaani and I had built painstakingly – our Firm, our business model, our modest material asset base, our name – was snatched from us and smashed to smithereens 9+ years ago (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), we initially suffered a lot. Until we discovered that the key to non-suffering is detachment. It is only by remaining detached from all that you create, all that you own; it is only through being in a non-possession mode that you can be free from fear, insecurity, worry and anxiety.
Upon reflection I have realized that being perpetually inspired by Life and people is a great place to be in. Take whatever inspires you, build on it, and put it out into the world to make it a better place. As you do that, be fully aware that someone will soon come along who will be inspired by what you do and build on your idea and launch their version. And so it will go on and on and on. Such is Life. My popular Bliss Catcher Series, for instance, is inspired by Joseph Campbell’s liberating Follow Your Bliss philosophy. To imagine, even in jest, that I must control the usage of the term ‘bliss’ just because we have built the most recent body of work in that space is self-ruinous. Such possessiveness is sure to wreck our inner peace, our bliss!
The truth is also that when you possess something, eventually it starts to possess you. You need to ask yourself if such ownership serves any purpose; especially when you came with nothing and will go with nothing. Remember: You own nothing, you create nothing. Everything happens through you.
So, the simplest way to live is to be detached even as you do your bit, every single day, to leave the world a better place than you found it!
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