Stay stoic. Be happy with what is!

The best way to lead Life is to be stoic.

This is what both history and the scriptures have been teaching us all along. Zeno, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, who lived around the 3rd Century BC, championed the belief that God determined everything for the best and holding on to that view was a virtue sufficient for happiness. Zeno’s followers were called Stoics – some of the more popular followers were Seneca and Epictetus. The Roman philosophers who followed advocated the calm acceptance of all occurrences as the unavoidable result of divine will or of natural order. The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita ends with the highest state of consciousness a human being can attain. Krishna, replying to Arjuna, says (presenting here only the relevant extract): “…He lives in wisdom, who sees himself in all and all in him, Whose love for the Lord of Love has consumed every selfish desire and sense-craving tormenting the heart. Not agitated by grief, nor hanker after pleasure he lives free from lust and fear and anger. Fettered no more by selfish attachments he is not elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. Such is the seer….” The key operative part is to be “not elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad”. Mahatma Gandhi meditated on this verse for 50 years every morning and night and devoted all his Life to translating it into his daily action. This was the key to his self-transformation.


In our lifetimes, we are seeing stoicism all around us as people deal with catastrophic calamities – like MH 370 or the Nepal quake. We also see people deal with their private tragedies stoically – a health challenge, a relationship issue, the passing of a dear one. There is immense pain for those who are caught in these Life situations. Yet we don’t see them beating their chests and wailing. They see no point in grieving and suffering endlessly. Instead, we see them, almost prayerful, moving on with their work, seemingly unaffected by the pain and grief. This is the highest spiritual quality individuals can acquire. In learning from them, we can find a better way to deal with our own, smaller, calamities. Stay stoic. Stay anchored. Be happy with what is!
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Live simply: don’t try to control the uncontrollable and don’t ignore the controllable

Life really is so simple. It is a whole of two parts: one that is beyond your control and the other that is within your control.

This is the truth of Life. Intelligent Living is about knowing this truth and practicing it, knowing what is beyond and what is within your control. When you try to control what is uncontrollable or when you don’t act on things that are within your control, in both these instances, you experience suffering.

Epictetus, the Greek sage and philosopher who lived between 55 AD and 135 AD, was a great champion of this thinking. His life epitomized this perspective too. Born a slave (something beyond his control), he was able to convince (something within his control) his Master to allow himself education while staying bonded to slavery and loyal to his Master. According to Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control, but we can accept whatever happens to us calmly and dispassionately. Individuals, however, are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline. Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power. As Universal beings, each of us has a duty to care for all fellow humans, he taught. The person who follows these tenets, preached Epictetus, would achieve happiness and peace of mind. It is said that Epictetus’ Master broke his leg deliberately (something which he couldn’t control) but Epictetus responded with forgiveness and labored on, working and sharing his learnings (something that he could control), perhaps, earning his freedom that way. Epictetus says knowing, understanding and living this truth is the key to success in this lifetime: “If you seek truth you will not seek victory by dishonorable means, and if you find truth you will become invincible.”


Soak in this simple philosophy. Don’t try to control Life. But you can choose to respond by living intelligently though__accepting whatever happens, calmly, dispassionately!

“To Life!”….A Thanksgiving that never ends

If you must thank anyone, thank Life – for giving you this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn….!
As Thanksgiving weekend begins, the energies are perfect to pause, to reflect and to feel grateful for all the blessings in your Life. It’s a great season – warm and compassionate, beautiful and soulful. Yet, gratitude must not be expressed seasonally. It has to be flowing perennially – oozing from your every pore, bubbling from the fountainhead within you. The reason we don’t always feel grateful all the time is because we take much of Life for granted. We have subconsciously come to believe that we have the right to demand, to seek deservance and to expect Life to be our hand maiden – pandering to our whims and desires. But just the opposite is true. Since you – or I – did not ask to be born, since this lifetime is a gift, all that you can and must do in Life is to accept whatever comes your way – and be eternally grateful for it.
I was at a south Indian Palaghattan (a community of Brahmins having its roots in Palakkad, Kerala) wedding this morning. The wedding feast is a must for all invitees. It is an elaborate multi-course meal served on a banana leaf. Today’s menu had over 24 items on it. But something appeared to have gone wrong in the kitchen this morning. Or was it with the service crew? Either we guests had arrived for the sadya, the feast, several minutes ahead of the kitchen being ready with the whole meal, or the service crew were short-staffed. Whatever may have been the reason – the food service was haphazard and woefully slow. The rasam arrived ahead of the sambar. And the thayir-pachadi (a curd-based vegetable side dish) came after the whole meal was over! Several guests did not even receive all the 24 items that were on the menu. Even as I felt sorry for one of the hosts, who was running around rallying the kitchen crew to fall into a systematic way of serving, I could not but help recall what Epictetus (55~135 AD), a Greek thinker and philosopher, had to say about Life: “Remember that you must behave in Life as you would at a banquet. A dish is handed round and comes to you; put out your hand and take it politely. If it passes you, do not stop it. If it has not reached you, do not be impatient to get it, but wait till your turn comes.I would like to humbly suggest that when your turn does come, be gratefulfor whatever you get!
The wedding feast and Epictetus’ banquet metaphor perfectly sum up the spirit we need to nurture in Life! Not just around Thanksgiving but all the time. But in an instant-gratification, what’s-in-it-for-me world, where is the time to feel grateful for anyone or anything? Which is why we perhaps need a season to remind us of it.
One of the most inspiring examples of gratitude I have known is the way the inimitable Asha Bhosle, now 80, feels about Life. She’s had a roller-coaster 80 years! A bad marriage, being thrown out of home by her husband, struggling to get a toehold in Bollywood as a playback singer, a victim of her own sibling’s designs that prevented her from growing in her career, an eventful relationship with R.D.Burman before he suddenly died in 1994, the death of her only daughter who committed suicide recently. Such a Life, filled with pain and strife, could have numbed anyone. But not Ashaji! She was asked by Forbes Life a couple of years back what she thought of Life. She replied: “I am very grateful. If I had not married, I would not have had such wonderful children and grandchildren. If I had not married, I would not have left home. If I had not left home, I would not have started singing. If I had not met Bhosle (her estranged husband who ill-treated her), I would not have become Asha Bhosle!” What an inspiring take on Life? “If I had not met Bhosle, I would not have become Asha Bhosle.” How many of us can forgive someone who caused us immense pain and look at Life from this perspective – with absolute gratitude! Beautiful!!
Let us always remember that Life is a gift. The only way to live our lives is to celebrate Life in every moment! Every event we go through, each person we meet, is a teacher. Each experience is teaching us to live fully and happily – no matter what we have to face or endure. We are the ones who label each event as good or bad. From Life’s point of view, each event is simply a learning opportunity. It is for this continuous learning that we must be grateful – not just in this season, but all the time!