Beyond ‘earning a living’, make time for living!

Why do we do precious little to nurture, develop, grow and protect all those things that come free in Life while ending up working 60+-hour weeks ‘earning a living’ and trying to cling on to, protect stuff, that in the end are impermanent, dispensible, unimportant, forgettable and replaceable?

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Choose joy over earning-a-living

Between making money and following your bliss, choose the latter. Because even if you struggle with that choice you will struggle joyfully!
To drop the pursuit of earning-a-living and following your bliss instead is always a dilemma for you, for me, for all of humanity! It is only through trial and error, through endless experimentation, that you will find both joy and money coming from the same pursuit or profession. Very few people actually get it right or know it well and therefore benefit from both the joy and the money. Now, if you belong to the majority that doesn’t know yet or knows it but does not know how to choose, then first know that you are perfectly normal. If you are making good money in whatever you are doing and are happy (not comfortable, please note the critical difference here!) then there is no issue. But if you are part of the rat race, rushing off this morning for another stress-filled, meaningless, day ahead, and you grieve every minute of your Life thinking, “why am I doing this?” or “there’s no more joy in what I do”, then you seriously need to review your Life. You need to ask yourself: 1. Can I live with lesser income than what I am getting just now? 2. Can I confer with my family and make them share my vision for me and them? 3. Can I find a good platform to launch myself and work to a plan to restore my earning to match my joy factor in doing what gives me joy? The answers you get will determine how you proceed. Anything in Life requires planning, thinking through and excellent execution. Grieving, pining and cursing your fate is not a solution.
Prof.C.V.Chandrasekhar
Photo Courtesy: Ganesh/www.purpleganesh.com
 
A couple of years ago, I heard the maestro of Indian art and culture, and Bharatanatyam exponent, Prof.C.V.Chandraskehar, a Padma Bhushan awardee, reminisce about his years in Benares. He said although he had an MSc degree while starting off his career in the 1950s, he was not getting a job or salary that matched his qualifications. His heart, he said, was in the arts, particularly in dance. So, he made a decision: “If I must suffer, let me suffer in joy and bliss, doing what I love doing.” He dumped his Msc-based options and plunged into the world of art. That choice, he reminisced, led to a lifetime of joy and bliss, in the pursuit of learning and living his art, his dance, though money did not arrive in as much proportion as he would have wanted. “Money is incidental. In later years, it did come, and it did go. But that is the way money is. Joy, however, can be permanent if you embrace it,” he told us in his soulful, evocative, candid style.
There is a lesson here for all of us strugglers, climbers and rat race runners. If you choose making money, and therefore comfort yourself with a false sense of security, then please don’t complain about Life or pine for joy! If you choose joy, over money, remember that money will take its own time coming into your Life. If you find both in one pursuit, brilliant, just be content with it! In any case, be happy! Because it is only one Life that you will live. Live that Life well and happily!

Your experiences count – make them memorable

Between experiences and achieving goals or buying things, choose experiences. At the end of your Life, those experiences will matter most – both to you and to those you have had those experiences with!
Last evening, while on our walk, we crossed a young man walking with his two sons – one of them aged 6 and the other possibly was 9. The father was ribbing his boys and the three were having a good time laughing as they walked. I reflected back to the time, 15 years ago, when my own children were of that age. And I could not recollect a time when I had taken them on a walk like this. I was busy building my business and was chasing a dream to create a global consulting Firm. So I worked 18 hour days. And I worked on weekends too. If I was at home, I was either trying to relax watching TV or was going over mails and reports from my team members from all over the country. I remained available to my colleagues and my clients, 24 x 7, more than I was ever available for my own family. So, I missed my kids’ annual days and sports days at their school, on most occasions, though I never missed a client’s board meeting or Annual General Meeting of shareowners. Not that I was bad spouse or father. I tried to be the best provider but I guess I never made myself available. The only time I did something like “create a memorable experience” was when my son, then barely 17, suggested that he and I travel to Rajasthan – he decided not to join my wife and daughter who were going to the US to be with my wife’s sister who was having a baby. That four-day Rajasthan trip, when we visited Jaipur and Ajmer, remains etched in my memory. The year after that “father-and-son vacation” my son went away to pursue his undergrad education in the US. And he comes home barely once in two years. As he builds his career and grows his family, I guess we will be seeing him less frequently at home and for shorter stays. Awakened by my learning of missing much of my son’s growing up years, I made amends as my daughter went into high school and later to college. Whenever she has the time, I make it a point to goof off with her or share and learn from her. I have realized – ever since our Firm went bankrupt and we lost all our money – that achieving goals and buying things are important and relevant – but only momentarily. Our experiences create our memories. And the more beautiful experiences we have to reflect on, to lean on, the more fulfilled we will feel about the Life we have lived.
Earning money, buying a home, having a bank balance, saving for retirement – all these and more are important. But they are not more important than living your Life – everyday, fully, doing what you like doing and doing what’s more meaningful to you and to those people who you call your own! You are never going to be the same age again. With each passing moment your Life is growing shorter. Remember – every moment that you are living in drudgery or worry or insecurity, you are missing out on experiencing its magic and beauty.
Do this exercise. Take your age and multiply it by 365 to arrive at the number of days for which you have been around on this planet. Ask yourself how many of those days have been memorable. Now, if you start thinking, you have lost the game. You ought to be living each day of your Life memorably. That’s why you have been created. If you believe that your most memorable days have been only those when you vacationed or when you celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, you have lost the plot. Completely. But don’t despair. It is never too late. At least from now on concentrate on experiencing your Life fully. Even if it is about work – choose to do only meaningful stuff where you can enjoy yourself, create value and touch lives daily. And never, ever, miss an opportunity to be with your family – never kid yourself that you are working hard so your family can enjoy what you have created/provided for them. If you don’t believe me ask your family – they will much rather have you around than have all the things that you buy for them!

The most important point to remember in Life is that our experiences create the memories that we will need to last the evening of our lives. Let’s make sure that those experiences give us joy, are meaningful and memorable. 

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!

Be smart: Live fully, than just ‘earn a living’!

Above all else, prioritize “quality time” with your family! Nothing will count more in the evening of your Life than the memories you have of the time you spent with your family – especially with your spouse and children.
I read a very interesting, heart-warming syndicated story in today’s Times of India. It talked about how a high-profile, globe-trotting finance executive, Mohamed El-Erian, 56, quit his $100m++ job at the California-based PIMCO Investment Fund last year because his daughter complained that he had never been with her for what she thought were important events in her Life. The list of 22 events El-Erian missed included the child’s first day at school, her first football match and a Halloween parade. El-Erian told The Independent’s Cahal Milmo: “I felt awful and got defensive. I had a good excuse for each missed event! Travel, important meetings, an urgent phone call, sudden to-dos. But it dawned on me that I was missing an infinitely more important point. As much as I could rationalize it … my work-Life balance had gotten way out of whack, and the imbalance was hurting my relationship with my daughter. I was not making nearly enough time for her.”
Well, El-Erian was lucky that he heard the “wake up call” and actually “woke up”. There are many, many, many people out there who are too busy building their businesses and their careers at the cost of their families.
I too “woke up” to a “wake up call”. But I woke up only on the day that my son, then 18, took a flight out to Chicago, to join undergrad school. Until that day, back in September 2008, I too, like El-Erian was obsessed with work. The business came first. And business came second. Family, if at all, was treated by me as something that I had to merely “provide” for. But that day, at Chennai International Airport, when my son bid goodbye to all of us, who had gone with him to see him off, and took the escalator to the departure gates, it suddenly dawned on me that we were not just sending him to college, we were actually letting him be independent in this big, huge world. The bird had flown from the nest. That night when I fixed myself a drink and sat thinking of my son, I realized from here on…he would graduate, get himself a job, raise a family and be pretty much on his own. It struck me that he would never be home the way he had been with us for the past 18 years. And it dawned on me then that I had missed much of those 18 years – in fact, I had missed watching him grow. It wasn’t as if I was a reckless and irresponsible father. My son and I always bonded well – and we still are great friends. But that night I felt I could have done better being with him for some more of his birthdays and several more of his events in school and in his theatre group.
My awakening led me to conclude that it is only because we crave and “search” for work-Life balance that we never really find it. I have realized that we have to stop seeing work as different from Life. The truth is that there is just one Life that we all have. And our family is an important part of that Life. As important as work – as in a professional career or a business – is. We cannot claim that we are toiling for the family and kid ourselves that sometime, when we have saved enough for the family, we will enjoy, or invest in, quality time with them. It is because we kid ourselves with this flawed logic that we don’t ever find work-Life balance. Actually, living a well-balanced Life is indeed possible. What is required is that we define for ourselves what’s most important to us in Life. And invest our waking hours prudently among these few areas. It is important that we write for ourselves a list of “never miss” family events – which includes two week-long vacations annually – and stick to fulfilling this list at any cost. On an average, including vacation time, you may require 30 days of family time a year. Of course, this is doable. Especially if you consider the 80~100 work weeks that you end up clocking – often mindlessly – in any case!
As you grow in your career, and as your family grows too, you will do well to remember that no one is getting any younger. Each milestone of your career and family will just be a memory in some more years. There’s no point in arriving in the future to discover that you have no, or far too few, family-related memories because you were busy working your butt off earning a living! Living your Life fully, while earning, is what smart people do. Surely, you are smart. And like El-Erian, will “wake up” too!

You control nothing – and yet you are the Master!


You are a Master the moment you realize that you can never be one! Or, more simply, you can be in control of your Life when you realize that you don’t and can control nothing! This understanding is all that there is to spirituality!  

Most people don’t see spirituality as the flowering of internal awareness. They don’t get it that its essence lies in understanding an irrefutable paradox about Life __ that the less you believe you control, the more you are in control!

People often see any spiritual perspective as ‘beyond’ them because they are so caught up in the quagmire of worry, anger, guilt, sorrow, suffering and the ‘earning-a-living’ syndrome. They have an ostrich-like mentality _ their heads are buried deep in their ill-formed beliefs. Their minds are closed although there’s so much grace, so much abundance, freely available. Kabir, the 15th century weaver-poet asked us to think: ‘What if a fish said it was thirsty?’ Wouldn’t that be the most stupidest of situations? Won’t you tell the fish to go re-examine its brain? How can a fish be thirsty when it is always in water? Quite similarly, the human mind is being foolish by seeking peace outside and by not looking within. By not allowing this flowering of awareness to happen from within. So, you conclude that you can’t be at peace, you refuse to look within and choose instead to be enslaved by your self-imposed limitations. Only when the awareness within you blooms, only when you understand that you can be in control while controlling nothing, only then will you see the Master in yourself.

This understanding is elusive because, while being profound, it is, at the same time, too simplistic. That’s why, it doesn’t come to everyone __ especially when  they are employing their education, their logic, in trying to make sense of Life. The truth is Life doesn’t conform to any framework or rules. Least of all your logic. So, Life is simple__and uncomplicated__when you simply accept its paradoxical, often inscrutable, nature.

Look around you. Everything is illogical. Everything is contradictory to what you have been taught, what you have been brought up with or grown up on.

  • Consider this – People behave thanklessly. There’s no dignity for human Life. Ethics and integrity don’t always make you successful anymore. You are encouraged to be worldly-wise than be honest and sincere. You find that trust is impossible to place and impractical to earn. Yet all these symptoms of a decadent world are true of people, even if they are from within your close circle of influence, whom you have no control over. You just can’t control what others do. Yet doesn’t all your grief come from wanting them to be different?
  • Consider another context – A close friend of mine worked very hard. He was sincere and a genius with his craft __ marketing. He grew up the corporate ladder fast. Because there was none like him in the business. For a man with average qualifications, he earned substantially. He had only one son. And he was saving up for his son to be studying in an American University. Then one day, a few years ago, his 16-year-old son was killed in a car crash by a drunk driver. His son was not drunk. The driver was. I still remember what my friend told me when I visited him to condole his son’s passing away: “I wish I had known this would happen. I would have then spent enough time with my son rather than spending that time earning money for him!” It is so bizarre. A hard-working father saves up for his only son__only to lose him so tragically?

How can you, despite all their education and logic, ever prevent what happens in Life? But you can surely choose how you respond to people and to Life. You can be grateful, you can be human, you can continue to be ethical, hard-working and honest. You may not earn as much as the others do, but you can sleep well. And doing all the things that you are comfortable doing, you can feel good and peaceful __ within you! This is your personal paradox and you must learn to accept it, appreciate it and live with it! You must, for the sake of your own inner peace, know that you cannot control anyone or anything outside of you in Life. If you can control anything at all, it is just how you live, how you relate to and how you respond to what Life throws at you!

I may have shared this before. There’s this story of the Buddha. The Buddha was passing through a village. The people of that village were against him, against his philosophy, so they gathered around him to insult him. They used ugly words, vulgar words. The Buddha listened. Ananda, the Buddha’s disciple, who was with him, got very angry, but he couldn’t say anything because the Buddha was listening so silently, so patiently, as if he was enjoying the whole thing. 
Then even the crowd became a little frustrated because he was not getting irritated and it seemed as if he was enjoying.

The Buddha said, “Now, if you are finished, I should move – because I have to reach the other village soon. They must be waiting just as you were waiting for me. If you have not told me all the things that you thought to tell me, I will be coming back within a few days, then you can finish it.”

Somebody from the crowd said, “But we have been insulting you, we have insulted you. Won’t you react? Won’t you say something?”

The Buddha said, “That is difficult. If you want a reaction from me, then you are too late. You should have come at least ten years ago, because then I used to react. But I am now no longer so foolish. I see that you are angry, that’s why you are insulting me. I see your anger, the fire burning in your mind. I feel compassion for you. This is my response – I feel compassion for you. Unnecessarily you are troubled.”

So beautiful, isn’t it? Another’s thoughts and actions are not in your control. What happens to you in Life is not in your control.

This is the state we must all ascend to. When you awaken to this reality, you will discover that you are in control ONLY of yourself! That you control nothing and yet you are the Master! From that clarity, bliss is born! Then everything that matters fills your Life__love, peace, good health and joy!


See Life for what it is and not as you are!


Everything’s so perfect about our lives. We just don’t see it because we insist on seeing Life not as it is but as we are!

Just reflect on how you perceive Life on a daily basis. It is always about you. About your needs. Your wants. Your worries. Your anxieties. Your fears. And you fear, sometimes, about losing everything, because you are attached to them. So, on a daily basis, your Life revolves around you. Right from your maid not showing up to work (more prevalent in an Indian context!) to your commute to work being affected by a lousy traffic snarl to your meetings running behind schedule to your child having to be driven to the evening’s game to your report having to be readied for your customer __ everything, absolutely, everything about your Life is about you! And when you look at Life so myopically, the imperfections loom large in front of your eyes. Things are amazingly dysfunctional. Maids are thankless, so you believe. Traffic management in our cities is getting from bad to worse. You find the work-Life balance too hard to maintain and sometimes want to quit working but without the double income, the family cannot afford all the small luxuries it presently has! Arrrrrrrrrrrggggghhhh! And damn those reports. You wonder whether your customer hardly reads them __ but they want it because they are the ones who pay your bills! It is such a hard job living in this harsh, mad world!

There’s a way out of this tyranny. You just need to zoom out. Take your attention away from yourself for a while. And see Life as it is. You will then discover that you are having a hard time living, because you are trying hard to simply earn a living. You are making an effort. And there’s imperfection in every effort. Instead allow yourself to flow with Life. Look at nature. It just exists despite the scars on the mountain faces and the undulating depths of lakes and oceans. Or despite the stark contrasts of seasons. Or the waning and waxing moon leaving more nights dark than aglow. Nature doesn’t protest. But you and I do it all the time. We complain about what we have to do or what we don’t have. We protest. We resist. Therefore we see a whole Life of imperfection. Because the focus is on becoming something, than on simply being.

There is a Zen story that I once read in a book by Osho, the Master:

A Zen Master was making a painting, and he had his chief disciple sit by his side to tell him when the painting was perfect. The disciple was worried and the Master was also worried. Because the disciple had never seen the Master do anything imperfect. But that day things started going wrong. The Master tried, and the more he tried, the more it was a mess.

In Japan or in China, the whole art of calligraphy is done on rice-paper, on a certain paper, a very sensitive paper, very fragile. If you hesitate a little, for centuries it can be known where the calligrapher hesitated — because more ink spreads into the rice-paper and makes it a mess. It is very difficult to deceive on rice-paper. You have to go on flowing; you are not to hesitate. Even for a single moment. split moment, if you hesitate — what to do? — missed, already missed. And one who has a keen eye will immediately say, “It is not a Zen painting at all” — because a Zen painting has to be a spontaneous painting, flowing.

The Master tried and tried and the more he tried — he started perspiring. And the disciple was sitting there and shaking his head again and again negatively: ‘No, this is not perfect.’ And more and more mistakes were being made by the Master.

Then the ink was running out so the Master said, “You go out and prepare more ink.” While the disciple was outside preparing the ink, the Master did his masterpiece. When he came in he said, “Master, but this is perfect! What happened?”

The Master laughed; he said, “I became aware of one thing: your presence. The very idea that somebody is there to appreciate or to condemn, to say no or yes, disturbed my inner tranquility. Now I will never be disturbed. I have come to know that I was trying to make it perfect and that was the only reason for its not being perfect.”
 

So beautiful. In our trying to become something, like the Zen Master, we obsess with ourselves. And the myriad dimensions of our lives. Because we are attached to things and people in our lives and in trying to be very good at earning a living, providing, in trying to make our lives perfect, we don’t live at all. That’s why we don’t see the beauty of Life, of our lives, and we miss all that is flowing around us. We miss the perfection in Life’s ways, its timing of our lives’ events, our experiences, our learnings, our inner growth and our joys__which always emerge from our deepest sorrows! In Life, with Life, it is always__and only__what it is. So, stop expecting your Life to be any different from what it is now. And flow with it. Over time, Life will change. Your Life will change. And when you look back, you will find that had it not been for what you have gone through, you will not be the person who you are today and you will not have got to where you are too! So, don’t see Life for the way you are, but for what it is. Then, only then, will the Life that is waiting for you will unveil itself! Only then, as the Buddha said so famously, you will look up at the sky and laugh __ because everything, everything about this world and your Life, is so perfect!