Make this a Happywala New Year!

Flow with your Life to experience the abundance and grace in it!
We had a meaningful New Year’s Eve. A few of us friends had got together. Through the evening, as the best of R D Burman and Kishore Kumar songs were played, and sung, we also had an interesting activity on. Everyone got a word from Santa’s big red bag that was passed around. Each person had to talk about the word in the context of the year gone by and what they hoped for in 2016 in relation to what the word meant to them!
So words like ‘Celebrate’, ‘Miracle’, ‘Serendipity’, ‘Awesome’, ‘Magic’, ‘Learn’, ‘Unlearn’, ‘Inspire’, ‘Happiness’, ‘Love’, ‘Be Yourself’, ‘Poetry’ and ‘Let Go!’ popped out of Santa’s bag! Most people who spoke related beautifully to their words, pausing to reflect on what the word had meant to them in 2015. Someone shared how the year had been full of celebrations all through! Another spoke of being awesome and celebrating awesomeness. The gentleman who got the word magic asked us to consider the magic in the moment when the year changed! Another talked about how spending time with his father, before he passed on, was an opportunity to re-experience unconditional love. Vaani talked about her inspiration that led her to resume learning music in 2015. And there was this friend, who did not exactly know what serendipity meant but realized upon reflection that everything in our lives is, uncannily, serendipitous.
The word I got was, interestingly, aptly, happiness. To me happiness is not just a state of mind or an attitude, it is a state of being. Over the last few years this state of being has helped us as a family face – and survive – what can be described as, to put it matter-of-factly, a cathartic phase in our Life. To be sure, we continue to grapple with imponderables. But we have learnt the art of being happy despitethe circumstances.
Being happy does not guarantee that your problems will disappear. Or that solutions to your problems will immediately appear. Being happy, we have discovered, has simply helped us feel and experience the abundance and grace that surrounds us. When you are happy, you magically see only what is – and don’t get stuck only complaining about what you don’t have. So, as we enter yet another year when our financially uncertain situation endures, we celebrate that we all have good health, we have a home to come back to, we have each other and that we have friends who treat us with love, compassion and dignity. Through this celebration, we recognize the grace that fills our lives, always giving us all that we need!

Really, it is not what happiness is. It is what happiness does. It makes you live a fuller Life, no matter what’s happening to you!  What comes between you and your happiness is you. You are unhappy only because you are trying to control what’s happening to you. When you try to control Life, you are not in it. You are looking at Life as if it were a problem that you have to solve. As if it is a third party that you have to deal with. Instead if you flow with Life, you will find that it is filled with abundance and grace every step of the way and you too will, as one of our friends last night exclaimed as the clock struck 12, have a Happywala 2016!
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Welcome to the party called Life – it’s on 24×7!!!

Celebration is not an event. It is a state of being.
As another year flows past and as yet another flows in, you may quite be tempted to believe that it’s the event tonight – New Year’s Eve – that’s the celebration. The truth however is that your entire Life is – has been and will continue to be – a celebration. You don’t see your Life as a celebration because you are preoccupied with the small stuff. And as Richard Carlson has famously said, ‘it’s all small stuff’! 
Just consider this: what if you didn’t join a New Year party tonight? Won’t you physically be missing all the action? All the fun? All the dancing and the drinks? Indeed, how can you enjoy a party for which you never showed up? This is the problem with most of us – this big, magical, beautiful party called Life is happening 24×7, 365 days, for us but we are not “in” it, we are not present or although we are physically there, we are lost in the maze of our grief, guilt, worries, fears and anxieties.
If I have learnt anything from Life, it is this: Life is one helluva celebration. If we start valuing what we have, instead of pining for what we don’t have or worrying about what may happen to us, we will be soaked in happiness. Celebration, in the context of Life, is a state of being. It is eternal and present continuously!
Okay, here’s a little exercise you can do. Sit down quietly for a few minutes. And make a list of your most memorable moments from your Life so far. Wasn’t that birthday five years ago awesome? Wasn’t that office party where you met you partner unforgettable? Wasn’t the day you child was born your biggest celebration up until this time? So, make the list….but hey, you know what? There’s a catch here. The moment you start counting your memorable moments of your Life, you have lost this game. If you take your age and multiply it with 365 days – that’s how many days you have been around here on the planet. And yet you can count only a handful of days as being memorable among the thousands that you have ostensibly lived, well, isn’t that a tragedy?
Think about it – if you are not celebrating each moment, aren’t you squandering this once in a lifetime opportunity, this limited period offer, called Life? Begin by celebrating what is and what you have. Celebrate the air in your lungs. Celebrate the magic of a sunrise, a dew drop, a flower, the smile of a child or the warmth of a pet. Celebrate that you have access to internet and Facebook so you can pontificate on whether Free Basics is a rip-off or not! Even if someone you love has passed on or moved away – celebrate their Life or your time with them. Life is too precious – and you don’t need me to tell you this – so, go beyond the party you have planned to be at tonight! Make each day of your Life a celebration – and see how it is then filled with abundance and grace!  

Empty your cup to fill your Life with abundance

Only when you empty yourself of your ego will you understand the essence of intelligent living!
Unknown to us we__you, me, everyone__carry a rather unnecessary sense of self-importance than we normally should or even need. Self-importance is different from self-respect or self-esteem. Self-importance means you think your Life is being controlled by you! The more self-importance you perceive of yourself, the lesser you will be closer to realizing your true Self and the angrier you will be with Life and with people around you!
Theatre Nisha’s V.Balakrishnan (in yellow shirt)
with AVIS Viswanathan on “The Bliss Catchers”
I anchor a monthly Event Series called “The Bliss Catchers” which celebrates people who have had the courage to let go of “safe and predictable” careers to go do what they love doing. Earlier this month I was in conversation with one of India’s most talented theatre artistes and directors, Theatre Nisha’s V.Balakrishnan. Bala had given up pursuing his dream to join the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) to join the National School of Drama (NSD). I asked Bala how it was to be coached at the NSD in a craft that has come to define him and his Life over the years. Bala replied, “The teachers at NSD teach you to empty yourself. I went in with the notion that I had the greatest voice and that by throwing it I could be a master of the stage. But the teachers there taught me to first empty myself, they urged me to stop thinking I could master anything, they made me realize that above us all was the stage. And to be worthy of that stage, I learnt, you must empty yourself.”
So beautiful. This concept of emptying yourself is so beautiful. It is downright simple: only when you are empty, when your mind is open and empty, can it receive any fresh inputs. When you are so full of yourself, you can hardly learn anything new. Emptying yourself also means being willing to unlearn so that you can learn – anew!
Several years ago, things were going horribly wrong for me at work. My team was playing truant. People were quitting. They were sharing information with competitors. And there was a whole deal of negative energy flying around. The final nail in the coffin was when one member of my team, an office assistant, filed a police compliant against me for non-payment of a statutory due. It was a particularly ignominious moment. We had, as a Firm, picked up that kid literally from the street. We had supported his education helping him acquire a degree in Commerce and an MBA in Marketing through distant learning programs. I was heart-broken when he did what he did. For one there was no truth in his complaint. Second, he had done that to me!
Over a drink, I shared my grief with a very dear friend, Deepak Pawar, whom I will call Guruji!
“You know how much I have done for this boy,” I lamented. And continued: “I have helped him financially when his mother was in hospital and later when she died. I have bought him clothes every quarter. I have paid for his exam fees and his tuitions. I have enrolled him to a computer training program and helped him become tech savvy. And he still did this to me?”
Guruji smiled back at me calmly and asked, “Are you finished with your tale of woe, AVIS?”
“Are you finding something funny with my plight,” I shot back, quizzically.
“Indeed. I find it funny that you think your team is the problem. To me you are the problem!” said Guruji bluntly.
“What are you saying? I have been a good employer. I have led with care and compassion. I have uplifted the lot of my team. I have provided them with rewards, recognition and opportunity. And you say I am the problem?” I roared.
“Just count the number of times you have used ‘I’ in this conversation AVIS. You are so full of yourself. Empty yourself of the ‘I’ in you. Be humble and you will grow and glow!” said Guruji.
It was as if a ton of bricks had fallen on me. I was devastated. But over several days and weeks of introspection and rumination I understood what Guruji had meant. I realized that is we who come between us and our opportunity to grow spiritually by imagining that Life happens because of us. The entire principle behind Life is that it happens despite us and never because of us. I soon learnt how to empty my cup. But the interesting thing is, when you empty it, the cup doesn’t stay empty. You have to keep on emptying it. It is a continuous process.

Each time someone slights you, each time someone rubs you the wrong way, your mind will tell you “How dare he or she?” Immediately, remember Guruji, remember Bala’s teachers at NDD, and empty your cup. When things are not going according to your plan, and you are getting angry, irritable, disturbed and your inner peace is destroyed, empty your cup. The more you stay empty, the more grace you will receive. Because Life can only fill an empty cup with abundance. How can a cup that is full receive any grace or abundance? 

“The winds of grace are always blowing…”

“The winds of grace are always blowing. You must hoist your sails to catch them.” So said Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836 ~ 1886).
Ustaad Anwar Khan Saab, Mansoor Khan and their troupe
I was, yet again, reminded of this beautiful perspective on Life last evening. A friend and his family had organized a concert by the Manganiyars – a community of folk singers from Rajasthan – on their rooftop. It was an unusual evening in Chennai – it was still very warm, but as the sun set, dark clouds gathered and very strong gusts of wind blew over the city. It didn’t rain. But it came menacingly close to raining. In this backdrop of the game of hide and seek that nature played, five Manganiyars performed at their soulful best. There were no additional lights on stage, no mics and no speakers. The artistes just jammed – led by the supremely talented Ustad Anwar Khan Saab on the vocals and the world-renowned Mansoor Khan on the Dholak. The other three artists played the Kartaal and the Sindhi Sarangi between them. As Anwar Khan Saab sang he lost himself to his music. And held all of us in the audience in a trance. His deep voice, the rhythmic beats of the Kartaals, the sublime strains of the Sindhi Sarangi and the unobtrusive yet unputdownable presence of the Dholak made the evening truly magical.  
I picked up a few learnings.
The first was humility. Anwar Khan Saab is one of the most feted Manganiyars. Yet, as he began the concert, he humbly looked at each of the other four artists in the troupe and asked them: “Izzazat ho, toh shuru karein…” Meaning: “May we have your permission to begin…” There’s an Urdu word called ‘tehzeeb’ which actually means ‘culture’ but combines the essence of being ‘humble and dignified in demeanor’. Khan Saab embodied that word ‘tehzeeb’ in the way he spoke, he sang and he conducted himself last evening – he personified humility.
Second, I re-learnt the value of respecting a senior. Mansoor Khan is younger, is more relevant and hugely famous across the world. Yet Mansoor let Khan Saab lead the whole concert last evening and do all the singing. It’s the kind of difference in appeal that would exist in the cricketing world between Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar that is there between Mansoor and Khan Saab. Even so, Mansoor was content with just being the Dholak player yesterday – happy to share stage presence with the Ustad and sing for the joy of singing alongside the maestro.
Third, I felt the grace – yet again – in my Life. Not that it is ever absent in any of our lives. It is always there. But we are so busy earning-a-living, running on our Life-treadmills, that we miss this grace. But I have realized that whenever I have let go, whenever I have just let a higher energy draw me in its direction, hold me in its sway and take me where it wants to, I have felt the grace. Last evening, I almost did not make it to this home concert of the Manganiyars. It had been a tiring Sunday at home. And all I wanted to do was have a drink and watch television. But our hosts are very, very special. And the Manganiyars are our favorites – particularly Mansoor Khan. So, despite my body protesting, I completely let go as Khan Saab began. For the next two hours it was a pure bliss and grace show! My wife Vaani concurs with me. How else do you explain such great weather in Chennai in the middle of June, such great artists jamming in front of you with no commercial trappings, such soulful music and us in the midst of all this – when we can never quite dream of buying tickets to a live performance of this class, given our fragile financial state?

As the concert ended, I took a swig of Kingfisher beer that my host graciously offered. And then I looked up at the sky and smiled in gratitude and joy. I was reminded of what the Buddha has said: “When you realize how perfect your Life is, you will look up at the sky and laugh!” Indeed, I don’t think that we will ever have a perfect Life – the way we want it. It is always what it is. And if you can accept what is, you will have raised your sails, you will then have felt the grace in your Life, you too will then perhaps look up at the sky and laugh….! 

To discover your true power, just let go

We often think we are powerless and our problems are all powerful. This is the paradox of Life. The truth is our problems are powerless in the face of the grace and blessings in our lives.
Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836~1886) said it so beautifully,”Hoist your sails, for the winds of grace are blowing.” Those winds are always blowing. Your Life__and mine__is always blessed. But in the throes of problems, in the epicentre of your personal maelstrom you forget to do the simplest thing, to hoist your sails__which is to open yourself up, to surrender and to let go.
In the Danny Boyle film ‘127 Hours’ , Alan Ralston prepares to die of hunger, pain, thirst and hopelessness, when he makes a last attempt to save himself__he lets go, literally, of his lower right hand. That act of letting go in his case was both physically painful and metaphorically liberating. For us, the metaphor alone should suffice and hopefully be awakening.

Each moment in your life has been waiting for you since you were born. The trajectory of your Life has been pre-cast and the problems you encounter too are the hurdles that are set up there to make you aware of your true power. To discover that power, you must just let go. When you let go, you actually invite boundless grace into your Life. It may bring pain, the thought and the act of letting go, but eventually, it leads to freedom, joy and bliss!

A crisis is your golden moment: Seize it!

When in a crisis situation, after all the initial fear and anxiety has left you crippled, when you are with yourself, and are grudgingly begin to accept your reality, take stock, dispassionately, calmly of whatever’s going on. Ask yourself what can you do about the situation you are faced with? There are only two ways to deal with any challenging situation: either you can do something to solve it or simply accept it. Most often we are able to see that, in some situations, we can’t do much to solve it. Even so, we simply refuse to accept the crisis, the situation, the reality. We wish things were not the way they are. This is what leads to suffering. Acceptance, on the other hand, ensures freedom from suffering, even if the source of pain, the crisis, doesn’t go away. When you are free from suffering, your inner peace will guide you to learn from the crisis and help you avoid feeling burdened by it.  
Every crisis we are faced with, without fail, is a precursor to a blessing, an opportunity. Extra-ordinary pain is not some cosmic ordinance for all the sins you have committed in this lifetime, or another one (as most religions will have you believe and, perhaps, fear), but is always a prelude to extra-ordinary grace that is due to drench you in its brilliance! In the Chinese language (although academic purists and linguistic experts do argue otherwise) the word for “crisis” is made up of the amalgamation of the Chinese words for “danger” and “opportunity”. Even if the purists’ view is considered, they concur that ‘weiji’, the Chinese word for crisis, does mean ‘dangerous or precarious or critical or crucial point’. And that’s what a crisis really is – it is a critical inflection point of your Life, from one orbit to another!
It is the duration of the inflection that kills any of us, and never the crisis itself. And this is where acceptance has a big role to play. To fight Life is being foolish. To accept it is intelligence. Whatever be your crisis, whatever it is that defines your circumstance right now, accept it. Some situations may bring you to the brink, may threaten to annihilate you, but your acceptance can miraculously give you the inner strength to cope with them. Life loves those that are prepared to go with it, all the way, down to the wire. So, it is that you will observe, that those who have been through excruciatingly painful times, have always emerged humbler, stronger, peaceful and more brilliant than they ever were. You will see such people in your family or among your friends itself. Be sure to be inspired by them than simply opinionate on them!
A crisis is a golden moment. It teaches you acceptance. If you learn that lesson, it means you have got yourself the most profound qualification (higher than any other degree that the world’s most scholarly university can award you) in Life – to lead a Life of true meaning, love, peace and joy!

Live a Magnificent Monday!


Live through each day gracefully, enjoying each moment, even if it is not the one that you ordered or wanted, but yet received. So receive your day, as it unfolds before you, with immense gratitude and live it fully!

If you are reading this on Monday, you must be wondering if this is just some armchair philosophy being dished out by someone who is both unaware of how Mondays are and who is just preaching without any practical insight.

Let me share my learnings that have brought me to this point in Life, thanks to which I can assure you that this is indeed the most intelligent way to live.

There was a time when I was globe-trotting. Breakfast in Singapore, lunch in LA and dinner in Rome. Traveling nine months in a year, living out of hotel rooms 21 days in a month. I loved that Life. I had heard of intelligent living then. And had assumed that it was all about applying your intellect in Life to make fame and fortune. So, I invested my every waking hour in working. Family was important but saw my role primarily as a provider who ‘scheduled’ to ensure presence at home to mark anniversaries and birthdays. I always felt being at my kids’ school annual days and Parent Teacher interactions as a waste of time. Those meetings didn’t add value to my Life. If I could pack in an additional meeting either with my clients or with my team, we would be better off as a Firm, was my irrefutable logic. And on the odd weekends I spent at home, I would pore over CEO reports, filed by each member of my 40-strong team. They would tell me what was wrong in the way we were running our Firm or delivering value to our clients. I would make copious notes and initiate steps and Programs each week to get our house and processes back in order.

I saw work as an investment for a future where I would be happy, as would my family, and our Firm would run on auto-pilot turning in dividends, enriching our lives.

I don’t think this line of logic is wrong per se. Except that it can neither be guaranteed that Life will happen the way you want it to nor that living can be postponed while you earn a living.

In the years that followed, despite my purposeful intent and my hands-on, paranoid leadership, my Firm went bust and the same team members, for whom I worked overtime, drifted away. Rightly so. Whoever wants to be on a sinking ship?  My children grew up. And suddenly, one fine day, although it was always on the cards, our son flew away to pursue an undergrad Program in Economics at the University of Chicago. The night he left for Chicago, we came back home to a half-empty nest. That sense of emptiness took months to get used to. I particularly felt I could have spent far more time with him in his growing up years. Initially, I grieved a lot. And even held myself responsible for missing out on such a never-before opportunity of living engaged with the growing up years of our son!

Life’s a hard teacher. She gives the test first and lesson later. And that’s how I failed the test and still learned the lessons!

I made amends with our daughter. I decided, and have been reasonably successful with it, to get involved with every aspect of her Life, alongside my wife. And what I couldn’t provide for our son on the ground, I made up with regular phone and Skype calls during his college years. I also forgave myself. And decided to not resist the manner in which my Life and business has slowed down. I decided to celebrate it. And so, now I see work as prayer, a form of expression of my inner Self, a joy. Result, we do take up only work that we love and prefer to rejoice each opportunity to live as one in which we can invoke soul, provoke thought and inspire action!

Now I can modestly claim I understand intelligent living better. I have learned that it only means living. The intelligent part is to choose living __ in the moment, mindfully, loving each moment __ over everything else. So, this Monday, what do you want to do? Maybe you can’t do everything that you want to either. But you can do one thing for sure __ appreciate the value of each moment and journey through the day gracefully, enjoying its beauty and celebrating its uniqueness, its “never-again-ness”. Do this knowing that maybe there’s a companion, a child, a parent, a sibling, a colleage __ someone who you are taking for granted, waiting for you to pause and engage with her or him. Know surely that it’s a blessing if you can indeed do it. And be eternally grateful for that opportunity!  

Live celebrating your Monday’s magnificence today!