Ever since Tuesday morning, when the NDTV App on my phone broke the news of Café Coffee Day’s V.G.Siddhartha going missing, Vaani and I have not stopped sharing notes on our own 23-year-old entrepreneurial journey. We both are, in a worldly sense, “failed” entrepreneurs too. And so we could relate, in more ways than one, to the letter purportedly written by Siddhartha and to the agony that he may have been experiencing that led him to jump off that bridge on Monday evening. This post offers some of the many learnings we have gleaned from our lived experiences – these may be relevant to all entrepreneurs and to any student of Life.
(I am abstaining from commenting or conjecturing on what may have been the nature of Siddhartha’s financial deals and troubles; at the time of posting this, his body has been recovered from the Nethravathi river near Mangaluru.)
“A quick overview of our entrepreneurial story and Life currently”
In 1996, Vaani and I set up Asia’s First Reputation Management Firm, imagequity+. We grew fast – expanding to have a footprint across India and South East Asia in 7 years. But an ethical decision we took 16 years ago (in 2003) to separate from an unethical client – to whom we had a 60 % revenue exposure – plunged us into a debt crisis, and eventually into a bankruptcy in end-2007, from which we are still to recover! In over 11 years now, our income has never really been consistent nor has it ever covered even our living expenses as a family. In fact, we have endured, and continue to go through, long spells of worklessness and pennilessness. So, despite all our efforts, our debt to over 170 creditors still remains unpaid and we continue to, at most times, hang patiently, purposefully, from the edge of a precipice, with hope and Faith, investing unfailingly in a lot of hard work and prayer.
“The pangs of entrepreneurship are similarly debilitating”
Our contexts may appear to be different – Siddhartha had a large business empire, we ran a small consulting Firm; he came from a well-endowed business family, we are first generation entrepreneurs – our parents were salaried middle-class people; he had built a huge asset base, and we had created no material assets; his financial troubles may have been to the tune of hundreds of crores, our debt pales in significance at Rs.5 crore. Yet, when Life challenges you, the pangs of entrepreneurship are, we believe, always similarly debilitating. It feels just the same, irrespective of the scale of your business – when despite all your integrity and toil, your dream comes crashing, when your Vision goes up in smoke, when cash and debt woes stifle not just your imagination but your very being, when your choices and decisions in Life come back to bite and haunt you, when the entire world appears to chase you down with cudgels, when darkness, worry and fear incessantly consume you…
Vaani and I have been there. And we have felt this ‘hopeless-clueless-no-go’ feeling. Intensely. Fearfully. Numbly.
We remember writing to our investors in January 2008. Our Investor Memorandum was titled ‘Building a Business on Faith and Patience’ (see picture below). And the first, opening, line of that investor proposal was, to us, authentic and powerful. It read – “This Firm will survive.” That’s what entrepreneurs are often driven by – an inexplicable sense of belief and confidence – even when they have hit a dead-end. Only one of the many investors we approached got back. And he bluntly told me: “AVIS, we don’t want to invest in a ‘Failure’.”
Vaani and I still recall that stab on our self-esteem – we felt totally hopeless, clueless, worthless and useless. Suddenly, it was clear to us: no one wanted to consider our original and thus-far-perfectly-executed business idea, our values, our integrity of Purpose – they were all cast aside in one fell swoop. All people wanted to do was to point to our abysmal financial metrics and deny us any more investment. Our debt had ballooned by then, revenues were nil all through 2007, and all we were doing was borrowing from Peter to pay Paul!
It was a very, very dark time in our Life.
Well, seriously, what do you do, when you don’t know what to do…?
I have always found words failing me when I have tried to describe that gnawing, aching, quivering, feeling in us. An anonymous Tamizh poet is the one, we believe, who even gets close to putting words to that feeling. This verse below was written sometime in the 18th or 19th century (I have cross-verified this with heritage and literary expert Madhusudanan Kalaichelvan); it describes Ravana’s fear at seeing Rama’s arrow approach him in the final moments of the battle in Lanka. The poet equated this fear, among other apt references, to the anguish of a person in debt:
“vidam konda meenai polum
venthazhal mezhugai polum
padam konda panthal vayil
patriya therai polum
dhidam konda rama banam
serukkalathu utra podhu
kadan kondar nenjam polum
kalanginan Ilangai vendhan”
It translates roughly as: “Like how a poisoned fish flutters, like how light flickers in a candle, like how a toad caught in a snake’s mouth twitches, like how restless is the mind of a person in debt, such was Ravana’s state of mind when he saw the brave Rama’s arrows coming at him in the battlefield.”
We have felt darkness choke us on the night of 31st December 2007, when we were left with just Rs.2000/- in Life; and with a debt pile of Rs.5 crore, that we are still to repay. We have felt that helplessness on 3rd March 2008 when Aanchal, our daughter, turned 13, and we did not have money to even buy her a rose. We have felt completely clueless when we gave away the last Eighty Rupees we had to ride an auto to a friend’s place for dinner on 29th April 2014; that was the night we turned penniless. We lived through the next several months – groping in the darkness, dealing with imponderables, and turning penniless again on four different occasions! These few instances (from so many) may offer some graphic perspective into what continues to be a seemingly never-ending, enduring, saga of survival. Of staying afloat even when we are shackled and locked down in every material sense! And even as I write this, several challenges continue to plague us – those that come with a prolonged bankruptcy…including legal upheavals and a forever deficit cash situation with regard to covering our living expenses.
However, these 11+ years have been special in a very beautiful way. They have awakened us to our Life’s Purpose, they have given our Life meaning. Through this dark time, we have learnt what Life and Happiness are truly all about.
“Lesson # 1: True Entrepreneurship = Deploying Resilience”
The first lesson we have learnt from this phase is that entrepreneurship is a state of mind – it is not quite just about being ‘self-employed’ or creating jobs or taking an idea to market or a getting a valuation and/or eventually exiting the venture, cash-rich, to ‘live happily ever after’. Entrepreneurship is fundamentally about bringing an attitude of ownership to whatever you do. So, it is really about taking responsibility for the gift you have been given, of this Life; a gift which you didn’t even ask for! We must understand that the very nature of Life is risky – it is totally inscrutable, there are no guarantees, there is so much uncertainty in every moment – anything, absolutely anything, can happen. So, entrepreneurship is taking ownership of the Life we have and embrace the risks involved in every choice we make in Life. But we must remember that Life is no MS Excel spreadsheet where all business plans always work out handsomely. There will be phases in Life when, for long spells of time, things simply won’t add up. So, being entrepreneurial really means being Resilient. Plain and simple.
And, as Vaani and I have discovered, that Resilience comes from wearing your Life on your sleeve. You are always stronger from facing Life than from fighting it or from running away from it. Fighting Life drains you, makes you weaker and running away from it makes you cower in fear. So, turn around and face Life, deploy Resilience. Talk to someone you trust, keep sharing – honest conversations always help. Or, if you prefer it, seek therapy. Bottomline: Do not keep your emotions bottled up. Do not think of what people will say or how society will judge you. Know that there is no shame in taking ownership for the choices you have made. Be accountable, responsible, reliable and responsive to all your stakeholders – no matter what they think, say or do – at all times. When you are Resilient, when you wear your Life on your sleeve, believe us, a lot of love, understanding and compassion, flows your way. You may not find immediate solutions to problems, but you are able to deal with them better.
“Lesson # 2: Beware of the Big ‘F’ Word”
Second, Vaani and I decided that no matter what, we are not going to allow the Big ‘F’ Word – Failure – to stick to us. Yes, when what you tried to do, with your Vision, with hard work, integrity and passion, has come unstuck, when your business has gone bust, when you have no money, when you owe people money, when you have to live off grants from compassionate people, some will call you a Failure. And you may well start believing them too. Besides, in business stories, when you cannot repay borrowed money, you may even be called a cheat – my own mother has called me so! But if you examine your thoughts carefully you will realize that letting a social definition of who are stick to you is what is pinning/will pin you down. Look within instead – isn’t the fire in you still burning? Stoke that fire. Peel off that label of Failure that society has stuck on you and shred it! Remember: Success and Failure are both imposters, both are impermanent. You came with nothing. And you will go with nothing. So, don’t get attached to either Success or Failure. Your only focus at the moment, when dealing with a crisis, must be on the fact that you have a problem(s); and that you must get down to solving it – no matter what people say, no matter how long it is going to take, no matter how hard it is to find a solution(s).
“Lesson # 3: Be Useful even if you can’t be/are not immediately Successful”
Third, no matter what happens, how bad the situation gets, you are never worthless. You can always be Useful, even when you are not immediately Successful. In our case, our conversations between us and our collective Resilience has helped us shrug off the bankrupt/Failure labels. We constantly reminded ourselves: “We are not the problem – we are going through a problematic, turbulent, phase!” So, even as we have tried to be Successful to earn money to first survive (and subsequently surely repay our debt), we chose to be Useful. In this time, we had learnt to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering; which is, we had learnt to be happy despite our circumstances. So, we decided to go out and share this learning with the world – with all those who are willing to pause and reflect! Being Useful simply means living with a sense of Purpose. Which is why, I wrote my first book Fall Like A Rose Petal. Interestingly, our now bankrupt/defunct Firm, imagequity+, was founded on Aug 1, 1996. Fall Like A Rose Petal launched on our Firm’s Anniversary, 18 years later, on August 1, 2014. And tomorrow is August 1 again – it marks our 23rd Anniversary as entrepreneurs and 5 years of Fall Like A Rose Petal! It is remarkable, isn’t it, that I am sharing these lessons here on the eve of these special Anniversaries!
Thanks to our choice to be Useful, even when we haven’t yet turned Successful again (in a worldly sense), our Life’s Purpose of “Inspiring ‘Happyness’” found us. That’s how this materially broken Life of ours now thrives with so much meaning. We lead a very purposeful and immersive Life – I blog daily sharing lessons from Life we have learnt, Vaani runs an initiative to promote awareness for eco-friendly lifestyle choices, we both curate and host live, reflective, non-commercial Conversations on Happiness in public spaces in Chennai and we shares lessons on Life and Happiness from lived experiences with managers in the corporate world – that is, whenever we get commercially remunerative work as the happynesswalas!
In summary, the darker it gets in Life, the more we have to let go and flow with Life. Simply, we can’t solve all our problems immediately. Nor can we simply wish them away. So, we must learn to be happy with what is, by being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering! Particularly when going through prolonged crisis-ridden phases we have to have Faith and Patience. From our own experience, Vaani and I can tell you, that while you may not get all that you want, Life is very compassionate – you will always get whatever you need; it will come to you on its own. So, trust the process of Life – that’s Faith; trust that you will emerge stronger, wiser and happy from a crisis, trust that there is a lot of Life through and after a crisis. And until the crisis blows over, be Patient! As I say in my book, “When Life overtakes you, as it often will, let Life take over and you simply Fall Like A Rose Petal”!
Remember: you can’t fight Life. It is your fighting, your resisting what is, that is causing all your suffering.
A reader wrote to me after reading my Blogpost, ‘Why blame your God, who is a human invention anyway, for Life’s upheavals?’, a few days ago. His point: “Our culture, our religions, our elders, constantly remind us that if rituals are not performed, something terrible will happen to us. I practice all the rituals out of fear.” Another reader enquired on WhatApp: “How can we keep the faith when going through a grave time in Life? For instance, what is there to look forward to about when a loved one is dead, when you are struck by a terminal illness or when you have lost your job and are in the throes of worry and uncertainty?”
Both sets of questions are relevant and are open for exploration.
You see, we must understand the true nature of Life. It is what it is; no matter what you do, or don’t do, Life will happen to you the way it must and wants to. For instance, no ritual, no amount of piety, no prayer, can always get you what you want or always help you avoid what you don’t want. You have to go through what you have to go through in Life. So, doing a ritual out of fear or praying with an expectation that your wish must be granted are both sure ways of inviting misery into your Life.
This human form, your creation as a human, is a gift, is a blessing. You are squandering this gift if you are cowering in fear in every moment that you are alive. It is okay to be ritualistic if you are doing something without an expectation and are enjoying the process of doing it. But what is the point in doing anything when you are hating every moment of doing it, when you are deeply unhappy doing it, and are doing it only out of fear?
Similarly, why resist death or a debilitating health challenge or a job loss? Each of them is an event, a happening in Life, which has happened only because you could not control it. Think about it. If you could have controlled it, wouldn’t you have ensured that your loved ones did not die? Or that you were cured of your terminal health condition? Or that you did not lose your job? Clearly, contrary to what your conditioning – scientific, religious and social – has led you to believe, you do not control your Life. Just because you earn an income, and know that 2+2 adds up to 4, and are in good health, right now, it does not mean that you are controlling your Life. The truth is that if you are getting what you want then Life is willing it so – for now. There may be another time in Life when you may not get what you want, when things will not add up – no matter how hard you work or pray. So, simply be grateful for, and enjoy, what is. And when you get what you don’t want or don’t get what you want, again be grateful for, and accept, what is. Because fighting Life, resisting what is, will only make you miserable and unhappy.
What I am sharing here is what I have learned from Life, from Shirdi Sai Baba’s teaching. He has always championed that Faith and Patience are crucial to going through this journey called Life.
Here, Faith does not refer to an external God or to a religion or a prayer – Faith truly means trusting the process of Life. Trust, believe, keep the Faith that the Higher Energy that created you as a human, that has brought you to this point in Life, just as it has done all this while, will take you onward too, will take care of you, will provide for you and will look after you. Your not getting what you want, or your getting what you don’t want, does not ever mean that you will not be given what you need. At every stage in Life you will be given, you will get, exactly what you need. Believing in this truth is what Faith is all about. And you don’t have to look outside of you for evidence of this: haven’t you, all through the Life you have lived so far, at every stage, through every crisis of yours, always received whatever you needed? You know what your answer is, so please stop worrying, and keep the Faith. And until such time that your Life situation changes – and it eventually will, no matter what you are going through – to give you all that you want, be Patient. Remember: you can’t fight Life. It is your fighting, your resisting what is, that is causing all your suffering. So, accept what is, embrace your current reality, however dark it is, and move one step at a time, one day at a time, in Faith, with Patience.
To be sure, Vaani and I have been enduring our bankruptcy for almost 11 years now by staying anchored in Faith and Patience. Let me share here an anecdote, from some years ago, from a particularly numbing time in our Life. We had no money and our mobile phone connections were due to be disconnected the next day – for non-payment of the monthly bills. There was no money to buy groceries too and the next day was also Krishna Janmasthami – a time when Vaani would normally make special sweets and savories as part of the celebrations!
To have a change of scenery and to surrender in prayer, we decided to visit a young man, who is a messenger of Swami Sathya Sai Baba, through whom Swami speaks to seekers. When we reached this young man’s place, in Nungambakkam (in Chennai), a weekly Sai Bhajan was in progress. When the Bhajan got over, the young man met us.
He asked us, in English, “Swami wants to know if you have any questions for him?”
Vaani replied: “Please tell Swami that we don’t have money even for basics like paying our phone bills and for buying groceries…”
The young man cut Vaani short. He said, “Swami is asking, ‘Isn’t Faith basic…?’ If you have Faith…anything can happen!”
We didn’t have anything more to ask. What do you ask when you are the answer? As we went to sleep that night, both of us surrendered to the process of Life…I remember telling Vaani: “If this is what it is, we will live through it…”
The next day a friend called me, out of the blue, on his own. He knew our situation well and offered me Rs.5,000/- with which I managed to save our mobile phone connections and bought some groceries that were urgently needed. And that evening, another friend walked into our home, unannounced, with a hamper of Krishna Janmashtami bakhshanam (sweets and savories) – cheedai, appam and such. She told Vaani, “I was passing by and wanted to share with you what I had picked up for my family.”
How do you explain this?
Vaani and I have seen this happen to us, again, and again, and again. We have always got what we need; and at the right time. Nothing has ever come a moment early or a moment late. I talk about several such experiences in my Book ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’, in the documentary on us, ‘Rise In Love’, and here on this Blog. For both of us, Life has come to mean to live this learning – work hard, do whatever you must do in the given situation and then let go, trust Life and be patient. This is how we pray – eternally grateful for whatever we have and completely surrendering to the Higher Energy to take care of us, to look after us and to provide for us. And, believe me, it always has. Repeatedly, unfailingly.
This is how – and why – we are happy – being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering – despite our circumstances.
Don’t fight. Don’t resist. Simply, trust the process of Life.
August 1 is special for Vaani and me.
It was on this day, in 1996, that we decided to embrace entrepreneurship. I had come back to India in July that year, from Singapore, after serving as the traveling, globe-trotting, Executive Assistant to dealmaker and tycoon C.Sivasankaran. I was clear I did not want to take up another employment. So, Vaani and I conceptualized and set up our venture, imagequity+, with a Vision for it to be the world’s best consulting Firm from India. We grew very fast in the first six years of starting up and were even ranked as a qualitative global player in our space. But a couple of business decisions we took – while choosing to hold on steadfast to our values – led to our Firm going bankrupt and plunged Vaani and me, and our precious family, into prolonged periods of worklessness and pennilessness.
Vaani and I have spent the longest time, as business partners, as a family, these past 10+ years enduring this bankruptcy.
Interestingly, it was also on this day, in 2014, that my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal, was launched. When it became evident to us, in end-2007, that we were heading into a phase of uncertainty, financial distress, cluelessness and darkness, I intuitively started writing a journal, sharing our daily experiences and learnings. I addressed each day’s entries to my two children, Aashirwad and Aanchal (who were then 18 and 13), in the hope that when they turned adults, they may benefit from those Life lessons.
You see, in the early years of my career as a journalist, I wanted to be famous – and rich, and powerful – one day and write an autobiography that would showcase to the world ‘how I had done it’! Clearly, I was not just naïve in my thinking then, I was perhaps conceited and struck by hubris as well! And so, let me tell you honestly, I had never quite imagined that my first Book would be all about my spiritual journey – where I share reflections and lessons on happiness, contentment, compassion, love, forgiveness and faith – my evolution, from a rat race runner to the happynesswala that I am today! Yet, that’s exactly the way it has turned out to be.
So, that’s our big learning, for Vaani and me, from the past decade that have lived through: no matter what you desire or dream or what you plan, Life has a mind of its own; it always happens at its own pace and in its own time. Therefore, don’t fight Life as it happens to you – simply accept it for what it is. If you want your circumstances to change, go work on them. But without expectation. With total detachment. And in complete surrender. Know this: Life will always bring you to where you must arrive. So, trust the process of Life. This is the key to happiness – this trusting is what taught Vaani and me the art of being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. This is what has taught us to be happy despite our circumstances. To be sure, our bankruptcy is far from over, but we have learnt to be resilient, patient and happy while living through it.
August 1 is therefore special on two counts. For the first part, it denoted our being successful – when we turned entrepreneurs in 1996; we had broken free from the shackles of employment and, to my then-myopic view of Life, it signified freedom, success and ‘arriving’! And for the second part, with the launch of Fall Like A Rose Petal – interestingly, on the same day that we became entrepreneurs – we had chosen to be useful even when success – which is, fixing our bankruptcy – was elusive.
These past four years, since the launch of my Book, have been eventful surely. But they have also been very, very meaningful. They have been purposeful. Because we still don’t have the means to travel and promote the Book it may not have made it to bestseller lists. But it surely has connected with all those who have read it. And there’s always someone who is writing in every week to share how our journey and our learnings have made a difference to their Life. Just yesterday, a reader, who had received the Book as a gift from his father, pinged me on Facebook to share this: “Words cannot qualify or quantify the impact you and Vaani have made to my Life through your sharing. I have learnt a very valuable lesson from your Book – postpone everything else, but never postpone your happiness.” Interestingly, at this time, while we don’t have a publisher yet, the Tamizh translation of Fall Like A Rose Petal is ready – it is translated by the veteran writer Charukesi and edited by another legend, V.Ramnarayan; Sivasankari has graciously written the foreword to the translation.
On a day that marks these two anniversaries for us, Vaani and I are soaked in gratitude; we are anchored in equanimity and prayer. We believe that our Life is playing out exactly the way it is meant to be. I don’t know how long this bankruptcy will take to fix and when we will eventually turn zero-debt. But we are eternally grateful for this experience which has taught us what Life truly is, what happiness is and has given our Life a Purpose – which is “Inspiring ‘Happyness’”! So, we continue to share our learnings with audiences who care to pause and reflect – through this Blog, through our signature Talks and curated, non-commercial conversations and our specialized workshops.
And like everything else that has happened in our Life in this past decade, we are sure all our debt will be repaid by us and the Tamizh translation of Fall Like A Rose Petal too will launch in its own time. For our part, we continue to trust the process of Life and well, as the story in my Book goes, we continue to fall like a rose petal!
To appreciate the magic and beauty of Life, you need to be mindful.
Someone pinged me the other day and asked me if I know anyone who practises “hygge”. I replied saying while I don’t really know anyone who practises “hygge”, I do know of the concept. It is an integral part of Danish and Norwegian culture and philosophy.
“Hygge” (pronounced ‘hue-guh’) can mean anything from coziness to well-being. Some say the word originates from the word hug, which itself comes from the 1560s Norse word ‘hugga’ or ‘hugge’, which means ‘to embrace’. So “hygge” is about embracing your situation or circumstances and to live in the moment. But the best way to understand the concept is to appreciate it as a feeling – it is the ability to recognize and enjoy the present moment, in its fullness, without judging it, without resenting it, by just being, just celebrating the moment for what it is, as it is.
So, in essence, “hygge” is total mindfulness.
Vaani and I practise this all the time. To be sure, mindfulness didn’t come to me naturally. When we went out for walks together, Vaani would often notice and celebrate Life around us. She would hear a cuckoo even amidst the noise and bustle of a crowded street. Or she would point to a flower in a someone’s garden and reminisce about how her father had introduced the botanical species to her and her twin sister. Vaani has this innate ability to pause and, metaphorically, smell the roses. I never ever did that – until a decade ago. I obsessed instead over my to-do lists, my inbox stuff, my business, my targets, my worries and my insecurities. And then, despite all our years of toil to build our consulting Firm and all our valiant efforts to prevent its eventual downfall, we went bankrupt! That’s when I woke up – and awakened! I realized the folly of leading Life the way I was living it. The bankruptcy, which we are still enduring – for over a decade now – has changed my Life completely. Most importantly, it has taught me why being in the moment and celebrating it is very valuable.
I recall an anecdote here, from the early days of our bankruptcy, that I have also shared in my Book, ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’. It forms the opening of the first chapter – Of Living In the Moment – in the Book.
On the morning of March 17th, 2008, I woke up to realize that we had just ₹1000 with us. This was all the money we had left as a family. No assets, no savings in the bank, nothing. Just ₹1000. We were bankrupt as a Firm and insolvent as a family. Survival seemed impossible. Yet, Vaani gave me ₹500 of the cash left with us as I pulled on my jacket to leave for Mumbai at 4 AM to meet a potential client.
The client, a well-meaning and professional CEO, had arranged for my tickets, though he need not have. As I boarded the flight to Mumbai and fastened my seat belt, I was informed by the flight attendant that I had been upgraded to Business Class – perks of being the frequent-flier that I was, until business slowed down! The irony hit me hard as we got airborne. 50% of our net worth as a family was sitting in my wallet. The remaining 50 % was with Vaani! And I was sure, at that moment, that Vaani would have been as nervous as I was about the fate of the client meeting. The only reason I clung on to hope was, as I asked myself – why would a client fly me out, at his cost, if he was not serious about the engagement? Yet, even as my mind raced to worry, I tried to hold it still to attend to the beautiful morning sky. It was a magnificent sunrise over Chennai that day, one of the most humbling sights you can be blessed with if you have a East-facing window seat when the flight takes off. It made me realize how small I was – and how insignificant my problems were – on the scale of the grand, cosmic, design that powers the Universe. I drank in the beauty of that sunrise – a feeling that is still fresh inside me. In some time, my worries dissolved and I had become peaceful. It was in that equanimous frame of mind that I arrived in Mumbai…(To know what happened next and how the client meeting went, please read my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal.)
That feeling of equanimity I experienced on the flight, despite all my worries, fears and my challenged circumstances, that feeling is “hygge” – and it comes from mindfulness!
This is what I have learnt from Life. I have learnt that Life happens to us at its own pace, of its own accord and design, despite our best intentions, plans and efforts. So, it is always what it is. And what will be, will be. You can’t solve your problems overnight. So, don’t postpone happiness. Postpone worrying instead. And embrace the moment. Learn to live with what it is. Through my daily practice of mouna – silence periods – I have trained my mind to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. This, Vaani and I know, from our own experience, is the secret of being happy despite the circumstances.
Now, you may wonder, how can you embrace a moment that you dislike; one that you never invited into your Life, but which has arrived? This is why being non-judgmental is critical to practise mindfulness. Think about it. What is the point in resenting what is – what has already happened, what has already arrived? It is only your resenting that causes all your suffering. Instead, accept your Life for what it is. No matter how hopeless a situation may be, how dark the road ahead may be, each day brings with it a fresh flavor of magic, beauty, hope and positivity. But to appreciate this beauty of Life, you need to be mindful.
As I see it, mindfulness is the ability to drink in each moment, without judging it, without questioning it, without hating it but simply savor it for what it is. No one could have said this better than Rumi: “Be aware of the pure wine being poured, don’t complain that you have been given a dirty cup!” This is what “hygge”, as a concept, reminds us to do – in every living moment of ours!
Life’s ways are inscrutable alright, but they are also beautiful, miraculous and serendipitous.
Today Vaani and I celebrate the 21st anniversary of embracing entrepreneurship. Today, Aug 1, also marks the third anniversary of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal.
It is unusual that on the anniversary of your Firm’s founding you launch a Book that celebrates the learnings you have picked up going through the Firm’s (and your personal) bankruptcy. But that has been our Life’s journey – a decade on since we went bankrupt, Vaani and I are still dealing with treacherous, long, spells of no work and no money. Even so, we both are not bitter. We have learnt to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. We have learnt to be happy despite our circumstances.
Personally, we are grateful for our bankruptcy – because the experience has brought meaning and Purpose into our Life. Without it, there will be no Book. And without the Book, and my Talks and our curated Events, we won’t be “Inspiring Happiness” and be meeting so many, many, many wonderful people.
The biggest lesson we have learnt through this phase is that Life simply goes on. When we cannot control something, our logical mind will implore us to believe that we are losers and that it is the end of the road. But our experience has taught us that when we find ourselves in situations that we can neither understand nor solve, we must simply trust the process of Life. Look at our story – from the education of our two children in premium global schools, to surviving close to 120 months without even an income stream to cover basic living expenses (of which 52 have been without any income!), to overcoming health challenges, to facing up to legal and police action, to having no idea when the situation will turn around – Vaani and I have been looked after, cared for and provided for by the benevolent Universe. We have seen rank strangers come and help us. We have seen the milk of human kindness flow. Every time we have fallen off the edge of the precipice, we have found that either a miraculous hand has hoisted us up or a safety net has serendipitously appeared to cushion our fall. So, I can tell you without doubt, that it is never the end of the road. Figuratively, your road ends only when your Life ends. Metaphorically, as we understand, the journey of Life has no end. So, the best way to anchor in peace and be happy is to fall like a rose petal – unquestioningly, trusting Life to take you to where you should arrive!
You too can learn to live this way. Just stop worrying about what you can’t control and what you can’t solve. Learn to be non-frustrated when the results don’t add up despite your best efforts. And stop asking “why?” or “why me?”. Simply accept your Life for what it is and keep moving on. Flow with Life. You can only be happy when you live this way!
Here are some moments from the 3-year journey of Fall Like A Rose Petal. Catch a glimpse of the first spiral-bound manuscript from October 2012! Check out the different cover options by Sana Srinivasan, Kumar Narayanan and Sowmya Nagarajan. Sowmya’s design was finally chosen by the publisher Westland. One of the most courageous people you will ever know, the beautiful and supremely talented, Malvika Iyer received the first copy of Fall Like A Rose Petal on August 1, 2014.
There’s also an image of a business card from our erstwhile Firm imagequity+ (which went bankrupt) – this card was carried by all new team members when they joined, until they got their own business cards! Our Firm was cool in many respects – for instance, all our team members, mintmakers as we called them, got to choose their own titles and had their caricatures at the back of their business cards!!!
Vaani and I have a long, long way to go…to rebuild our lives financially and repay all our debt…but we have the faith and are patient with our enduring situation.
Watch out for the Tamil translation of Fall Like A Rose Petal later this year. I am blessed that Charukesi Viswanathan has translated my work and Ramnarayan Venkatraman has edited it.
Do order Fall Like A Rose Petal from here or from Amazon and read it in case you haven’t already. Or order it as a gift for someone who you believe needs a reaffirmation that Life can and must be faced – no matter what the circumstances are!
You can’t control how people treat you.
“What are your thoughts on loneliness, on feeling isolated and unwanted,” a young reader asked me.
I want to share here, while hopefully answering that question, what I have learnt from two teachers.
The first teacher I would like to lean on is Swami Sathya Sai Baba. As I have often said here, I have never met Swami. But I have experienced him through a medium. On one occasion, just before the launch of my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal, Swami told me this, through the medium, his messenger: “To be alone is a virtue, to feel lonely in a crowd is a learning and to have a crowd is a gift.” That message has stayed with me. It is a fascinating perspective. It has helped me value every member of the audience in events I curate or when I deliver my Talks and workshops. I treat it as a gift that people like Vaani and me, who are materially on the verge of extinction, broke to the bone, still have an audience that is willing to pause and reflect on what we have to share. So, I am eternally grateful to all those who read my Book or read what I have to share on my Blog or follow me on my various social media handles.
To be sure, in a way, with Vaani by my side for the past 30 years, I have never experienced loneliness. Yes, while in my mouna (silence) spells, daily, I have been alone. I like to sit quietly at times and reflect on Life. But I have never experienced loneliness. So I will not comment about it.
Both Vaani and I have, however, come across many situations when we have felt isolated or unwanted. But we have chosen to be unaffected by such attitude. Our companionship has helped us immensely – we always talk about what we feel and those conversations help us get rid of debilitating emotions. Over time, we have learnt that giving attention to what is not in your control is futile.
Think about it. When do you feel isolated or unwanted? Only when you are not included. Now, what can you do about a situation when someone else simply doesn’t want you, doesn’t want to think about you? You can pine for attention, you can feel hurt, you can feel isolated or unwanted – but whoever has chosen to ignore you has done what they have done; or they continue to be that way. How you feel is just not important to them. Clearly it is not. So, why give their action and attitude so much attention? Just move on. Drop that feeling of isolation and unwantedness, turn in the direction of where people are waiting to celebrate you and simply move on. And if you have no one, and you feel alone, celebrate that feeling too. After all, as Swami Sathya Sai Baba told me, being alone or feeling lonely is either a virtue or a learning. Both, in their own ways, are invaluable experiences.
The second teacher I have learnt from, in this context, is my young, super-talented, friend Sundari Sivasubbu. She has amazing energy even though, being wheel-chair bound, she has several physical limitations and challenges. I met her when she came to watch my Bliss Catchers show at the Odyssey Bookstore. Now The Bliss Catchers’ event happens on the first floor at the store where there is no elevator access. Despite coming to the store, Sundari could not attend the event that evening. She could have felt unwanted and isolated. But she was brimming with Life as she introduced herself to Vaani and me when we were leaving the store after the event.
Her positivity held us a mirror. Here we were doing so many events in public spaces but without being truly inclusive. Almost all of the venue partners we work with somehow have spaces that don’t have proper elevator access for making special people like Sundari feel wanted. We have tried to correct the situation at least in one of our Event Series, Heart of Matter – Happiness Conversations – at the InKo Centre, where host Rathi Jafer has opened up her gallery space on the ground floor with an effort to start being inclusive. Even so, every time I have apologized to Sundari when we have not been able to have her join our events (for reasons of those spaces being inaccessible for people on a wheelchair), I have never found in her a trace of anger or bitterness with the way we as a society treat people like her. She’s always said, “Oh! I understand. Things have to certainly change. And that change can’t happen overnight. So, please don’t feel bad or sorry for me.” And that’s the learning I want to showcase here. If you attach importance to people’s attitudes you are squandering precious time. People do what they do because they are that way. If they are not sensitive enough to think of whether you will feel unwanted or isolated, it is only because you are not priority for them. You can rave, rant, pine and grieve or like young Sundari does, you can just move on. The choice is yours.
What others do to you, how they treat you, is clearly not in your control. Thinking about how you have been treated and feeling isolated or unwanted is the greatest disservice you can do to yourself. Instead, try diverting your focus and attention in a different direction – you will not just feel liberated, you will be happy too!
Find your center, so you can be unmoved by the turns, tumbles and upheavals of Life.
Someone who listened to my Podcast on Monday asked me how I avoid identifying myself with my problem situation – my bankruptcy. “Don’t you feel deprived and incomplete living the way you are for the past decade,” he asked.
That’s an interesting question. My response is that, yes, there was a time, early on in the bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), when I felt there was a conspiracy to “pin me down” and “finish me off”. As long as I believed in this conspiracy theory I felt like a victim, I felt like I was hounded. I suffered. This was in the period 2003~2005.
But through daily reflection, in my mouna (silence) sessions, over the next three to four years, I realized that my suffering was self-inflicted. I understood that, undoubtedly, I had a huge problem to deal with. And I had to face it, I had to deal with it. There was no way it was going away merely because I wished it weren’t there. This quality of acceptance helped me to stop suffering. This is how I stopped feeling like a victim.
So, to be sure, our bankruptcy is where it is. There is a lot of pain, it is often intense, but we don’t suffer from it. We make our efforts to claw our way out of our situation but we remain non-frustrated when the results don’t simply add up. Important, we are non-judgmental about our efforts. Just as we are not bitter that things have not worked out for us.
Vaani and I have learnt that there is no conspiracy out there to fix any of us. Life is a cycle. What goes up comes down. And what’s down goes back up again. When we are down in the cycle, we may feel like Life is being unfair. But the way to avoid feeling like a victim is to find our center. As long as we are in the periphery of the cycle, we will be subjected to the up and down movements, to the turns, tumbles and upheavals. But if we are at the center, we will be unmoved.
Finding your center means understanding the true nature of Life. Which is essentially to celebrate its impermanence. Everything, absolutely everything, including Life itself is transient. Everything will change. Everyone will change. And everyone and everything will be taken away. Know that your suffering comes only because you cling on to people and things and expect them to be there forever. When you understand this irrefutable truth about Life, you will be free. You too will then stop identifying yourself with your problems – because you now know that they will, over time, go away. You will stop thinking that you are being victimized. This is how you too can learn to be happy despite your circumstances!