Feeling grateful for what you have helps you to bounce back from no-go situations!
People have often asked me if there have been times when I have felt like I can’t go on anymore; when I have felt beaten and deflated. Of course, I have. I am no less human. I live in the same world as everyone else and I have similar issues that many are grappling with.
Just two days ago, looking at our Life’s design – how every department is ravaged – I was recollecting an old Tamizh song to Vaani: Sothanai Mel Sothanai, Podhum Ada Saami. It is from the 1974 super-hit film Thanga Padhakam that stars Sivaji Ganesan (P.Madhavan, M.S.Viswanathan, Kannadasan, T.M.Soundararajan). The song is a cry in despair of a heart-broken man, an appeal to a Higher Energy, saying, “Test after test, challenge after challenge, oh, can’t take it any more…!” Each line of the lyrics by Kannadasan carries so much depth and meaning – anyone who is clueless about what lies next and feels numbed by an inscrutable Life challenge can relate to every word.
So, when I recollected a memory associated with the song to Vaani, I too was feeling the way the lyrics describe Life to be. (Read more of our story here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). I had heard of this song first as an 7-year-old when my father’s oldest brother passed away suddenly. We were living in Delhi back then. When we arrived in Madras and visited our grieving grandparents and the rest of the family at their home in George Town’s Rasappa Chetty Street, I heard someone mention to my parents that my uncle had last heard this song on the radio late in the evening and told his wife that he could relate to it totally. If my memory serves me right, I think he died in his sleep. It wasn’t until a few years later that I watched the movie itself on TV and then for several decades I never thought about the song. Until, of course, two days ago.
I am not even trying to suggest any parallels here! I am just confessing that we are all vulnerable in the wake of Life’s onslaughts. I have read an interview of Amitabh Bachchan, which he gave sometime in 1998 or 1999, when he was in the throes of ABCL’s bankruptcy, where he recounts telling his God, his version of the Higher Energy that we all look up to, this: “Bahut Ho Gaya, Ab Bas!” It means, “I have had enough, please, please spare me…” So, each of us is vulnerable in our own unique ways. We cannot be immune from fear, grief, insecurity or worry. No one is.
But there’s something each of us can do when we are plagued by debilitating emotions. You can zoom out and look at your own Life as a witness – dispassionately. The moment you do that, self-pity, self-doubt, fear, anxiety, all these wasteful emotions will dissolve. I did just that, yet again, a couple of days ago. When I recounted this song, and I was beginning to tell Vaani that it’s been so, so many years since our crisis broke, I realized that I still had her by my side. And she still had me. And together there’s a lot more we can do. I was immediately soaked in immense gratitude. So, let us keep ploughing on, one day at a time, was what I told myself. That’s how I bounced back. I told her: “Varattum, Pathukalam!” It means: “Let it come, whatever it is, we’ll face it!”
What I have learnt from dealing with cluelessness in an inscrutable situation is that you must never hide from, or fight shy of, your vulnerability. Know that, not just you, all forms of creation are vulnerable. Know also that there is a Higher Energy that’s more intelligent and more compassionate than us humans!! So when you recognize that there are some problems that you cannot solve, just trust the process of Life and let go! This means that you must accept your situation, accept your vulnerability and only focus on whatever you can do. Feel the way you do, but don’t cling on to that feeling. If you feel you can’t go on, explore that feeling. Ask yourself, isn’t that just a way of pitying yourself; does it serve any purpose? When you see how futile your self-pity is, and all the negativity is, zoom out. Look at your Life like a third party, like a witness. And you will always find, no matter what the context is, that there’s so much still to be grateful for, so much to celebrate. The moment gratitude comes in, it drowns self-pity, self-doubt and all the negativity!
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!
Don’t try to overanalyze Life. Just take it as it comes.
This is what I told a friend who wanted to know what’s the method I practice to live my Life with “so much equanimity in the midst of so much strife”. I added that there are no methods or mantras to live Life. Each one chooses a way and, over time, they keep reviewing, refining, reinventing that way till they come to the point where they are ‘just being’, they are immersed in the present moment, with no grief about the past and no expectations from the future or no anxieties about it.
My friend insisted that there must be a method and our Life’s Purpose is to find that method. I simply said, “That’s your way brother, go with your sense of your way and it will eventually bring you to where you must be.” My friend dismissed my perspective saying that I was being “very spiritual”. “Spirituality”, he said, “is very abstract and what the world needs are logical, practical insights.”
I simply smiled back. I am sure, over time, my friend too will discover that spirituality is deeply personal, simple and practical. It is not religion. Religion, as it is practiced today, has methods and mantras. It is ritualistic and holds you hostage, reminding you constantly that you must be God-fearing. Spirituality, on the other hand, is simple. It is merely the flowering of inner awareness. This awareness sets you free. This awareness helps you understand that all Life is impermanent, and that, therefore, you must not squander this lifetime. It champions living in the moment, ‘just being’ and celebrating Life!
People often miss any spiritual perspective because they find ‘just being’ a very difficult thing to do. They want to be in control of Life. But ‘just being’ means sitting back and watching the magic and beauty of Life being in total control. So people see spirituality 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, they are still focused on what they don’t have, steeped in scarcity. Kabir, the 15th century weaver-poet asked us to think: ‘What if a fish said it was thirsty?’ Wouldn’t that be the 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. Clearly, there are no methods or mantras to live Life. It is simple – and uncomplicated – when you unquestioningly accept its paradoxical, often inscrutable, nature. So don’t dissect or analyze Life – live it for what it is, with what is!
Can we learn to be unmoved by both success and failure? MSD’s Life tells us, of course, we can!
Yesterday, we watched M.S.Dhoni – The Untold Story (Neeraj Pandey, Sushant Singh Rajput). The film, of course, tells a very powerful, inspirational, story. Of a currently relevant and thriving Indian icon. It could have been much better made, in some parts, but I am not going to complain. I love MSD – who doesn’t? And I love Neeraj Pandey and Rajput! 🙂
The story focuses on the hitherto unknown part of MSD’s Life; of how he gave up being a ticket collector with the Indian Railways to go be the man he is now – cricketer par excellence and Captain Cool! Go watch the movie, mainly for the conversation on Platform 8 of Kharagpur Junction between MSD and his Railways boss A.K.Ganguly – it is almost as if Joseph Campbell (American mythologist and author, 1904~1987) scripted that part because it talks about how MSD really ended up ‘following his bliss’!
But I had a few other, more significant, takeaways. And I am sharing them here.
One, the hero of MSD – the film, is, to me, Paan Singh Dhoni (brilliantly played by Anupam Kher). When Dhoni the son calls from Lahore to validate his success with his father, and asks him if he is happy, Papa Dhoni replies: ‘Haan, mujhe khushi hai…apne galat hone pe mujhe khushi hai’; ‘Yes, I am happy…I am happy to have been proven wrong!’ He concludes the conversation, telling his son to be grounded and to never let the success go to his head. If this is what transpired between father and son in reality, my heart goes out to Paan Singh. One of the greatest qualities a human being can have is the humility to acknowledge a mistake and to be happy accepting it. I think most of the time we struggle with this opportunity to be happy with ourselves. When our intuition or assumptions are proven wrong by Life, and by people around us, we struggle with the new reality. We choose to cling on to an opinion we have had and therefore often suffer. Some see this as a manifestation of ego. I see it as lack of humility. Well, both are actually the same thing. To have an opinion or a sense of something and how it should be is not wrong. But when you are proven wrong, accept the new reality and be happy with it. This makes Life simpler and easier to deal with. Paan Singh, who did not ever wholeheartedly back his son MSD’s choice of a career in cricket, leads the way in acknowledging that he is happy being proven wrong! I clearly take that lesson away from the movie.
My second takeaway is something that is not stated but is evident enough, throughout the movie, to be sensed. Which is the fact that an entire ecosystem toiled to make MSD’s career successful. The coach who urges him to play cricket instead of football, his sister, his mother, his friends – the Sardar who owns a sports shop, Chittu, Santhosh who teaches him the famous ‘helicopter’ shot, his ticket collector friend Satyaprakash, his other friend who goes on to marry his sister Jayanti – and so, so, many more people! I personally felt a huge sense of gratitude to all these people. Without them India would not just have lost a great cricketer, but Indians would have lost an inspiration. And Indian children, particularly those from non-metro, non-urban backgrounds, need that inspiration to dream big and to follow their bliss. Rajesh Sharma, who plays Dhoni’s first coach, steals your heart away in the end, when he gestures, overwhelmed with joy, pride and a sense of accomplishment, after MSD hits the winning six at the Wankhede in the 2011 ICC World Cup, that it was he who had spotted this talent, this national treasure! My takeaway there was that there are so many, often nameless, faceless, people who have selflessly contributed to where we are in Life. You and I may not enjoy the iconic status that Dhoni has. We need not necessarily have it either. But there’s great value in pausing, reflecting and thanking all those who have, in whatever way, contributed to where we are today. Dhoni – the movie, reminded me of this important Life lesson.
Finally, how MSD gathers himself after the tragic death of his girlfriend Priyanka is a revelation. It is hard to imagine now that the early aggression and brilliance of MSD, that catapulted him to cult status with the 2007 T-20 World Cup win, was achieved despite the personal trauma that he was dealing with! So, the unflappability, the Captain-Coolness, that MSD is famous for…that will continue to be my inspiration. The movie only helped reinforce and reiterate this learning in me – to develop, and constantly hone, the ability to be unmoved by either success or failure, after all, both are mere imposters – and are, well, impermanent!
PS: What rankles me about MSD – the movie is that all through the film Sushant Singh Rajput, while showcasing Dhoni’s love for motorbikes, does not wear a helmet! I understand that Dhoni, in real Life, always wears one. The only time Rajput wears a helmet is when he, as Dhoni, is trying to disguise and save himself from fans!
This is irresponsible film-making. Dhoni is an icon. And impressionable kids are going to come away thinking it is ‘cool’ to ride motorbikes without wearing a helmet; just as they think it is ‘cool’ to not wear a seatbelt while driving a car – because most scenes in Indian films involving leading protagonists driving cars show them without seatbelts strapped on!
Our film-makers must play a bigger role in influencing behavioral change in society. They must utilize the opportunity they have! Seriously!
Being silent is an art that is worth exploring, learning and practicing.
In response to my blogpost yesterday on living in a WhatsApp Group-ridden world, a reader pinged me to ask: Is silence a virtue or is it a sign of weakness?
Good question, I thought.
The normal human tendency is to rush to speak, be heard, clarify, demand attention or defend – as the situation or context may warrant. So, when people choose to remain silent, either not making use of an opportunity to speak up or not responding to a provocation, the popular inference is that the person choosing silence is weak or has something to hide. Well, to be sure, it may mean neither. Perhaps the person has nothing to say or believes that being silent is an answer or sufficient response in itself or recognizes the futility in speaking at that point in time.
I have learned the value of remaining silent, over retorting, defending, clarifying or expressing, through experience. There was a time when I would rush to offer my point of view – either in defense or to justify – in all contexts. I used to imagine then that if something had to be said, it had better be expressed then and there, loud and clear. Over time though, I have learned to believe otherwise.
In fact, I now revere, and am inspired by my own father’s ability to choose silence as a response each time that he could have spoken. I remember, with a huge sense of shame, once, many years ago, when there was a raging issue in my family, how I demanded to know from my Dad whether he was spineless. I asked that question brusquely – my tone was uncouth, violent and unbecoming of a son. We sat in a hotel lobby (because we could not speak in private at his home) when I asked him the hugely provocative and embarrassing question: “Why are you not speaking up for what is right, Dad? Are you spineless?” My Dad, much to my shock, and infuriating me no end, responded with a blank look on his face. He simply, yet again, said nothing, choosing to be silent. I came back from that meeting with my father disillusioned and angry. But today, perhaps wiser from learning from Life, I completely agree with my Dad’s choice with reference to the context we were all dealing with then – and now! I don’t think there could have been or can be a better response to situations that we are faced with as a family. And it is not just with my family or with a specific situation. In several situations in Life, remaining silent is perhaps the best response.
I am still learning this art though. And it isn’t always easy. Here’s what I have learned:
- Whatever be the course our lives take, based on decisions and choices we make, people will have opinions. They may cast aspersions on you. They may demand explanations. Or simply provoke you wantonly.
- Wherever you see no value being added with your expressing yourself, and of course when you think your speaking (up) will only confound the situation, it is best to remain silent.
- No matter what people say, remember, at the end of the day you have your Life to live. And if you can avoid potential, wasteful conflicts by choosing to be silent, why not go about your Life and business silently?
Of course, sometimes speaking up becomes a necessity, not an option. And in all such cases, a conflict normally becomes unavoidable. But such conflict is constructive and never destructive. How then do you decide when to speak up and when to be silent? A good rule of thumb is to make the choice of remaining silent not so much to avoid conflict__but so that you don’t end up creating one!
Silence is a great force. Because silence always speaks when words can’t or when words fail! It will ultimately lead you to a great, unimpeachable inner peace.