When Life’s problems seem insurmountable, take each day as it comes, but keep at your problems without thinking of the outcomes.
There will be times when nothing will seem to go your way. Situations at work will be unproductive – stressful, political and complex. Your relationship could be heading nowhere – often leaving you lonely and lost. The money may just not be enough. And any efforts you make to fix things, to find solutions, to make the situation better, may only end up confounding matters. The normal response to such a situation is anger, frustration and depression. When these emotions arise, observe them. Hold them and give them your attention. Ask yourself if feeling angry, frustrated or depressed is of any use in a situation when you don’t like what you are getting in Life. When you realize the futility of anger, frustration and depression, you will immediately want to let them go.
Running away from Life or feeling sad continuously for what has happened or feeling guilty for what you may have contributed to what has happened – none of these serve any purpose. In fact, Life never cares how you feel. Life just goes on happening. And if you bring debilitating thoughts to the table, if you keep clinging on to the negativity that arises as a result within you, you will feel bogged down and held hostage.
What is a problem situation at the end of the day? Any situation that you dislike is a problem situation. Plain and simple. If what you dislike must go away – one of two things must happen. Either you must work on driving it away. Or you must walk away from it. You can’t forever be lamenting that you dislike a situation. That’s escapism. Of course, in any situation, you can act, you can take remedial steps. So, act. Don’t worry about the results. Simply act. An action may lead you to a result. And you may like or dislike that result. Then act again if you must change that result. That’s how it works. Inaction on account of depression, anger, guilt, grief or worry is sacrilege. For anything about a current reality to change, you have to change something within you first. Which is, you must be ready and willing to go to work on your problem regardless of circumstance, outcome, reward or recognition. Just keep chipping away. When the going gets tough again, when you face rejection, failure and hit another no-go place, you may well face another bout of depression and frustration. Hold your depression again and examine its futility. Then let it all go. And you go back to work, to chipping away at your problem. One day, one day surely, what you are chipping away at will give way. And that day, when you connect the dots backward, you will be grateful for the choice you made – to have gone to work on your problem than sit and bemoan it!
When you feel frustrated about something or someone, stop wanting to control the situation or person, and simply let it – the frustration, the situation or the person – go!
I spent much of yesterday battling with my laptop. My laptop was gifted to me by someone last year. For some vague reason, in today’s age and time, it has only an Intel Pentium processor. For that reason, it is an awfully slow machine. I also have a Norton anti-virus software installed on my laptop which further inhibits its speed. Yesterday, I discovered that the Norton anti-virus program had crashed and when I tried to trouble-shoot and fix it, it made my machine even more slow. Now, I am not a tech geek. I just know how to use my machine and that’s it. So, while I battled with my laptop and agonized over every click of the mouse, my frustration mounted. I realized that I was letting my frustrations get the better of me, when I took it out on someone who rang the door-bell mistakenly. Soon, I was also hopping mad at the maid and beginning to sound irritable with a business associate who had called up proposing something impractical. That’s when I decided to let it all go! I said to myself that if this is the way my machine is going to be, so be it. If this is the way the Norton anti-virus program is going to behave, so be it. If this is the way people – my maid, the person who rang the door-bell and the unreasonable business associate – are going to be, let them be. I shut down my machine and went for a long walk with my wife.
I was healed at the end of that walk. I then returned to my desk and observed 20 minutes of silence. I forgave myself for letting my frustrations control me. I simply surrendered to the situation. I decided to live with the machine that I have – than lament about its idiosyncrasies or its slow speed or pine for a better, faster laptop.
I am sharing my experience – and learning – here just so that you too realize that it is perfectly normal for frustrations to happen in everyday Life. But to allow them to govern and control your moods is to push yourself into a depressive spiral. You feel frustrated only when you dislike whatever is happening to you. A frustration is a clear sign that you are resisting Life. You can’t avoid frustrations from arising though – a flat tyre, a computer that hangs, a phone that loses its display, an unreasonable fellow passenger on a plane, a delayed paycheck – anything, or anyone, can cause you to feel frustrated. But if you refuse to get dragged by that frustration into depression and instead are aware that your frustration is an early warning sign of your resisting Life, then you can overcome the situation and heal yourself. On the other hand, if you let the frustration take over and control you for more than a day, chances are you will let anger consume you soon, and before you know it, you will be depressed. Funnily enough, if you watch your thoughts and behavior patterns when you are frustrated, you will realize that you often end up feeling frustrated about everything around you – and not just with the one thing or person that ticked you off in the first place.
So, at the first sign of a frustration arise, pause, take a deep breath and let it go. Let go of the situation or the person who is frustrating you. Awaken to the realization that your being frustrated with a situation is not going to make it any better. On the contrary, it is surely going to make you feel worse!
Life is a great leveller.
Whether you like it or not, whether you ask for it or not, at some time or the other, in some unique, unfathomable way, Life will bring you to a state when you will awaken to the truth that your Life is not in your control. At such times, the best response is to simply surrender to Life. Let whatever must happen, happen. Because, whatever is to happen will anyway happen!
But the normal human response is anger, frustration, depression, fear, insecurity, anxiety, worry and grief. There’s no point suppressing these feelings. They will naturally arise in you. Allow those feelings to come. Feel each of them and ask yourself if they can help you deal with your Life situation any better. If they can, persist with them. Let’s say, someone’s dying of cancer. How can any of these feelings help cure the cancer? Or prevent that person from dying? Or let’s say you have been let down in a relationship. How can these feelings help you cope any better? When you sit calmly and analyze your Life situation – any situation which cannot be solved at a human level; and there are many of them – you will understand that going with Life’s flow, and the grand Cosmic Design, the Master Plan, is the only intelligent option you have. So, logically, there’s no point persisting with these debilitating emotions. Surrendering to Life really means dropping these feelings and being free!
There’s a forgettable Tamizh movie called Azhagiya Tamizh Magan (2007, Bharathan, Vijay) that has a great song (with some awful picturization though!) composed by A.R.Rahman in it. The song celebrates the Creator – to me, Life, the Higher Energy – and goes, “Ella Pughazyum Oruvan Oruvannuke, Nee Nadhi Poley Odikonduirru…”. It means, “All glory is to the Only One, you keep flowing like a river…” The essence of this song has resonated with me every time that I have heard it. I have come to believe that not knowing what to do in Life is an opportunity to understand, appreciate and live Life better. It is a humbling experience. Our education and intellect make us believe that we are in control, that we are achieving this and that, we are creating assets and raising families, that we have everything planned out and mapped out in our lives. But when a Life situation strikes, and pushes you into a corner, you realize that you were never in control then – or now. It is only through this awakening that you understand the value of surrendering to Life and going with its flow.
So, if you are in a place in Life when you don’t know what to do about someone or some situation, go with wherever your Life is taking you. Don’t resist. Don’t fear. Don’t agonize. Perhaps, that’s where you eventually need to be and that’s where you will be peaceful and happy!
Ultimately, you cause your own frustrations.
Whatever reasons you find to justify as to what or who created a situation that makes you feel frustrated, in the end, the buck stops with you. And unless you decide not to feel frustrated with your situation anymore, you will feel no better. Whether you invited it upon yourself or whether it was forced on you is immaterial.
Whenever I have used an auto-rickshaw, especially in Chennai, I have reasons to be frustrated. I am sure you have had similar experiences. The drivers are normally reckless, they don’t follow traffic rules, they speak on their phones while driving and are almost always argumentative over the fares. In the past, I used to often get into principle-based duels with auto drivers. Each encounter would leave me drained and exasperated. I would carry my rage from the experience on the road through the day and, at many times, back home too. When I saw a pattern to my irritable behavior, I discovered that an argument with auto-drivers always played havoc with my moods. So, for a long, long period of time, I simply avoided using auto-rickshaws. But, owing to my car breaking down, and me being car-less for now, I have had to rely on auto-rickshaws largely. Even now, there are many challenges and provocations in dealing with auto-drivers daily. But I realize how much better my response to each situation is now because I choose not to react to any of them – and therefore I do not get frustrated with them anymore.
There’s no magic way to deal with everyday frustrations. Everyone struggles. Including me. But one way, that often helps snap out of series of frustrating thoughts that torment me when things go wrong, is to ask myself, “What could I have done to avoid feeling frustrated?”. As you can see, this question is not directed at taking on the blame for the situation nor is it a solution per se to the problem on hand. It is only focused on the aspect of how you are feeling at the moment. Which is, you are frustrated. Period. So, how do you deal with that feeling? When you go to the root of that feeling, you will find that you could have responded differently to the situation which would have at least prevented you from feeling frustrated, helpless, despondent. Asking this question, again and again, each time that you feel frustrated, you learn the art of “non-frustration”. Over time, you develop an attitude of tolerance and acceptance in any situation.
When you are in an un-frustrated state of mind, you begin to think more clearly, more rationally and start addressing the problem on hand from a solution point of view rather than feeling frustrated about it!
The moment you think you have understood Life, that you have a handle on how it works, you are finished. You have then written your own warrant to live the rest of your Life – imprisoned by your suffering and depression.
There’s an old Hindi song, sung by the immortal Kishore Kumar, that goes: “Zindagi ka Safar….Hai yeh kaisa Safar….Koi samjha nahin, Koi jaana nahin…” (Safar – Journey; 1970, Kalyanji Anandji) It means that Life is a journey that is inscrutable – no one knows it, no one understands it! This syncs with what a Siddha Yogi, who I met some years back, told me: “Only a fool will try to understand Life! The intelligent will simply live it for whatever it is!” Two stories I read yesterday only reinforced this learning in me.
|Vincent Van Gogh: Tragically not valued in his lifetime|
The first one is of the celebrated painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853~1890). He lived and painted in abject poverty. He was so poor that he could eat only 3 days a week. Nobody understood him. Or his paintings. And so none of his paintings were sold in his lifetime. His brother would give him a weekly allowance to subsist. Because Van Gogh was passionate about his art, he would use some of this allowance to buy his canvases, brushes and paints. Which meant he could only eat three times a week. He looked haggard always and people around him thought he was mad. One day, his brother, unable to bear Van Gogh’s plight, set up a friend to go purchase a painting from him so that Van Gogh would find the motivation to bounce back in Life! The friend had no idea of art. And merely saw himself as a person sent to handover the money under the pretext of buying a painting. So, even as Van Gogh excitedly explained each of his works, the ‘buyer’ seemed disinterested and impatient. He merely wanted ANY painting. Van Gogh smelt a rat. He realized that his brother had set this man up. So he asked the man to leave with his money. He was so heart-broken that he committed suicide that day. It was a sad, premature end to a great talent that the world would later worship! Van Gogh, in his short Life is believed to have made over a 1000 paintings. Over 800 of them were lost because no one bothered about them. The remaining 200 are the precious possessions of museums and art collectors – with each of them worth over a few million dollars! Now, how do you explain this? One of the world’s greatest artists dies a pauper, and frustrated, because no one values his work? And the same work today is treated as priceless?
The second story I read was the cover story in India Today on Bollywood’s new super star, Ranbir Kapoor. He, when asked what he believes is the secret of his success, tells the magazine’s Kunal Pradhan: “I have realized that an actor needs to be constantly unsure about what he’s doing, and what’s going on around him. The moment you think you have nailed it, you’re dead.”
That’s so true about Life as well. And about each of us. In a way, we too are mere actors on this world stage. Here now. Gone tomorrow. During our lifetimes, we will have to play different roles. The script will keep changing. And the best way to stay grounded, stay anchored, stay peaceful is to enjoy the uncertainty. Don’t try to make sense of Life. You can’t. If you try, you will end up where Van Gogh did – depressed, frustrated. If you simply let Life happen to you, you will love the Life given to you and will forever be at peace – with Life, with the world, with yourself!