To feel the grace in you, around you – just soak in gratitude!
A young friend I met last evening wanted to understand how we can know that there is divine grace in our Life. “I don’t get it. There is so much suffering in us, around us; how does one even believe that there is grace,” he asked.
I remember asking this question to Swami Sathya Sai Baba some years back. I must confess that I have never met Swami personally. But I have experienced him, I have learnt from him, through a young messenger, through whom Swami speaks. So, when I asked the young messenger this question about why we should believe there is divine grace, when we are in the throes of suffering, he replied: “Swami says if you believe you are in control of your Life you will never see the grace in it. When you flow with Life, when you see the beauty of your human creation, and understand the context of your Life’s challenges, and realize how you are still able to navigate through all of it, and are grateful for what you still have, you will feel the grace in you, around you.”
I never quite understood the import of Swami’s reply and the Life lesson it contained immediately though.
But over the years, I have learnt that, indeed, the choice to experience the grace in your Life is purely a personal one. Much as it is a personal choice to be happy despite your circumstances.
When Swami answered my question, it was still the early days of our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). We were steeped in fear and insecurity. There was so much pain. I hated my Life then. Every day was a constant battle to try and control the situation. Every day I would set out thinking I was going to fix the problems we were faced with. And every evening I would come back home – beaten, deflated. And I would cry in Vaani’s arms. I was suffering a lot because I saw myself as a failure – unable to control the raging crisis.
But, thanks to Swami’s coaching, and my practice of mouna (daily period of silence), when I learnt the art of being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, I stopped suffering. The pain was intense. But I did not resist the pain. I just let it be. And the suffering stopped.
You see, you suffer only when you resist what is. But when you accept what is, and go to work on changing it, diligently, without any expectation of result or reward, you don’t suffer. You are despondent when you are only wishing that things were different and you are not doing anything or enough about changing your current reality. But when you know you have tried your best, and the results are still not adding up, you can only be calm, content, and interestingly, happy! This awakening, this ability to see Life this way, is possible only because I am soaked in grace.
To be sure, our bankruptcy still endures. The pain is still intense. We are far, far, far away from normalcy. Even our living expenses are still not completely covered. We survive each day fervently, working hard to put things back on track, praying for an opportunity that will conclusively turn around our story. But we do all of this with great equanimity, without suffering! And while we are doing this, we invest every waking hour in being useful – sharing our learnings with whoever cares to pause and reflect – Inspiring ‘Happyness’. This, we believe, is our Life’s Purpose!
When I look back at all the treacherous times that Vaani and I have been through over the last 11 years, I bow my head in gratitude for the grace in our Life, for the compassion of the countless people who have helped us along the way.
Take for instance, young Kumar, Swami’s messenger. He’s an amazingly talented musician and graphic designer. He may well have walked in the direction of his own dreams. But for over two decades now, his first priority is to be available as Swami’s messenger to help people (who are battered by Life’s upheavals and are clueless about what to do) by sharing perspectives and advice that Swami has for them. And Kumar does all this selflessly. There have been months when we have had to be with him every day, for long spells, just to understand what Swami is teaching us. In these times, I have argued with Swami, through Kumar, brazenly. I have yelled and thrown things around, unable to handle my cluelessness, my lack of control of our situation. But Kumar has been patient and available every step of the way. To me, now, that is grace – the very fact that we had a Kumar to reach out to in the first place!
And just look at the beauty of what is happening today. It is close to 6 AM in India as I write this Blogpost. It is the 23rd of November. It is Swami’s birthday. It is Thanksgiving. It is Guru Nanak Jayanti too today. And here I am sharing a Life learning. Isn’t this grace? That Vaani and I are still around to tell our story, to share our learning, that I can express myself through the written word, that you can read it and perhaps connect a dot with your Life, somewhere…isn’t this indeed grace…?
Thanks to my lived experience, I realize now that grace is like a Wi-Fi signal. It is always available, 24 x 7, to anyone who seeks it. And the password to access that signal, well, you may have guessed it by now, is gratitude!
Be eternally grateful for what you have.
Someone I met yesterday asked me this question: “What is the simplest way to be in peace?”
And the simplest answer is this: be eternally grateful for what you have.
But an elaborate answer requires that we examine why we are not able to practice gratitude daily, consistently. The fundamental problem is that our minds are not nurtured by us. We almost continuously keep hurting ourselves by thinking negative thoughts, by pining for what isn’t there, by worrying. We are all badly bruised, battered in fact, within us. When you are injured within, you must first heal yourself for you to see the value in being grateful.
See, it is like this. When we injure ourselves physically, say with a nick while shaving or a cut while chopping vegetables, the body heals itself. If there is a deeper injury, with some care, we are back on the road. The truth is when the body is affected, it receives attention. The truth also is we injure our minds all the time but we don’t give it the care it needs to heal. Every angry thought, every remorseful thought, in fact every thought that is not centered around love, peace and gratitude, is injurious. Now, ask yourself, how many such thoughts on love, peace and gratitude, do you think out of the 60,000 thoughts that occur to you each day? Unlikely that we even think loving, peaceful, grateful thoughts for weeks on end!! Consider therefore how battered the mind must be and how much healing needs to happen for it to be ‘normal’ again. Unless we heal from within we cannot feel grateful.
‘Mouna’, the practice of silence periods daily, is the best way to heal our minds, to help it anchor in faith and patience. The 13th Century Persian poet Rumi couldn’t have said it better: “In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”
Stop weaving here means to stop worrying, to stop wanting to control your Life, to stop the continuous chatter in your head; it means to pause and reflect. When you are this way, you can only be grateful, you can only be peaceful. So, to be peaceful, stop battering your mind; heal it by anchoring in silence, love and gratitude!
On his birthday today, I recall an unforgettable experience and an unputdownable lesson that Swami taught me!
Today is Swami Sathya Sai Baba’s birthday. I have never met him. Or seen him.
But in the last decade his ‘presence’ has filled my Life. Vaani and I have been personally ‘coached’ by him, through his medium – a young man through whom Swami speaks to us. And what I have learnt from Swami is this: Live immersed in the moment, live in gratitude!
I remember some years ago, one evening, I sat at the Chamiers Café in Chennai brooding over my Life. Everything was so dark, so hopeless. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) And both Vaani and I were clueless. My laptop was open in front of me. But I was staring blankly at the screen – I had no idea of what I must do, where I must begin and how I must proceed. Vaani was at home attending to her father who was ailing at that time. So, I was alone. Without her by my side, there was no one to talk to. My thoughts were steeped in worry; I was feeling insecure, anxious and fearful.
That’s when the phone rang and I snapped out of my reverie.
It was Kumar, a supremely talented music composer and sound engineer in his own right. He is my dear young friend, who is just a shade older than my own son Aashirwad. Kumar is Swami’s messenger, he’s the medium through whom Swami communicates to seekers.
Kumar asked me: “AVIS, Swami wants to know what would you be doing at the moment, if you had nothing to worry about!”
I laughed and quickly replied, “Well, I would be enjoying a drink.”
Pat came Swami’s reply, through Kumar: “Then, go have it and then call back to report!”
I don’t know why. But I didn’t protest. I didn’t argue. I didn’t analyze. I just packed my laptop bag and trudged back home. I fixed myself a drink, played my favorite R.D.Burman tracks and enjoyed myself. Three drinks down, I called Kumar.
I said: “Well Kumar, please tell Swami that I had three drinks and I am feeling good.”
Kumar asked: “Swami wants to know how much did you worry while having the drink?”
I replied: “I didn’t worry at all. I was so immersed in the joy of having a drink and listening to R.D.Burman’s immortal music. I felt grateful that I could at least have a drink in peace when there’s so much turmoil and trauma in my Life. And I was grateful for R.D.Burman’s genius – how uplifting his music is!”
Kumar then said: “Swami says, immersion in the moment is the key to being non-worrying. You didn’t immerse yourself in your drink, you immersed yourself in the moment. Your faith in Swami made you just immerse – without questions, without analysis. Now that you have known how to do this, why do you need a drink, why do you need Swami? The next time your mind races to the future or is stuck in the past, bring it to attend to the present moment. And learn to be grateful for what is. Whatever you have, be grateful for it. The circumstances are not relevant to inner peace and happiness. Your immersion in the moment is important. Your gratitude is.”
That was a very beautiful, unforgettable, one-on-one ‘coaching’ session, if you like, that I had with Swami. There have been countless such sessions. And even many, many night-long conversations, debates, arguments on the meaning of Life, on why Life is inscrutable, on keeping the faith and on how to cultivate patience. Through each of these interactions with Swami, through Kumar acting as a self-less medium, I have learnt to anchor, to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, to be happy – despite my excruciating circumstances.
To me Swami is no Godman, as the term is popularly, loosely, used. He’s a dear, dear friend. On his birthday today, all I can say, humbly, to my Coach, my Teacher, my friend, is, “Thank you, Swami!”
Everything happens in Life to humble you, to make you stronger and happier.
Yesterday, after listening to my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk a gentleman in the audience spoke up. He was almost in tears, his voice was choked with emotion. He said that he was contemplating committing suicide but hearing our story – Vaani’s and mine – he was inspired now to “turn around and face Life than run away from it”.
Both Vaani and I are humbled that our Life’s journey and the lessons we picked up through it – which we share with audiences that care to pause and reflect – are useful. To be sure, ours has been a tumultuous ride over the past decade, numbing in many respects. I must confess that in the early stages of our bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) I would often cry hoarse asking “Why?”, “Why Me?”. There have even been times during my Talks or conversations centered around my Book or on Life and Happiness, when there have been fewer people in the audience than we would have expected. But almost every single time, someone has always walked up to us and said that our sharing helped them relate to their Life situation better. The gentleman yesterday elaborated, “Hearing you I realized that Life is not a curse but that this human form is a blessing. I have now resolved to learn to be happy despite my circumstances.”
Life by no means is easy. Sometimes you may be pushed to a corner or hung by a thin thread at the edge of a precipice. But in every challenging situation, through experiencing the pain, the trauma, you can learn to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. When you learn to be this way, you can only be happy.
Long back, when our crisis blew up on our face, a friend of ours, Philip, visited us from Kochi. He wanted to personally be with us and share his solidarity with us. He took me to the Woodlands Drive-In restaurant (in Chennai; which was later, sadly, closed down), bought me coffee, and told me this: “AVIS, the only reason why things happen to us in Life is for us to learn to be stronger and happier. Just accept your Life for what it is. Surrender to Life. Let Life take over. You don’t come in its way.” When he said this, it made no sense to me. But, over time, I have come to believe in what he said. I completely relate to, and agree with, that perspective. I have realized that everything happens for a reason. And I have not only emerged stronger and happier from our experience, I have been humbled by it.
When the gentleman spoke yesterday, I felt a lump in my throat. I held myself back from breaking down. Quietly, I prayed to Life, my Teacher, expressing my eternal gratitude for this awakening experience that we are going through. Without it, there will be no Book, no sharing, no Talks and, most importantly, I personally would have never learnt to ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’!
Value the opportunity in (and of) this lifetime. There may not be another as far as we know it!
I met someone recently who said that while he valued being an Indian, he valued owning an American passport more. He said, “With an American passport you can travel to most places in the world. With an Indian passport, you have to keep seeking visas to enter many countries.”
I don’t disagree with his logic. Of course, he has a point.
But I guess to be born human is the biggest opportunity that we often fail to recognize, let alone value or feel grateful for. This human Life is the most valuable passport we can ever ask for. Think about this deeply. We have all been created, we are born, without our asking. For all we care, we may well have been created as the swine that gives the flu than be created as the human that gets the flu from the swine.
So, to be human, to be alive and to be able to read this post means a lot. It means that you are more blessed than several million other people on the planet – who are vision-impaired, who don’t have an education, literacy, a computer or access to internet. Your lifetime is a limited period offer. Value it, avail of it, use it, live it fully, gratefully, happily, while it lasts.
It makes Life meaningful – no matter how grave the circumstances are.
“I feel thankful only when I am feeling good. I am not always able to sustain my state of gratitude. Why is that so,” asked a young lady, with whom we had dinner the other day.
That’s an interesting question. Before I proceed to share my learnings from Life, I would just tweak her expression there slightly though – you don’t necessarily feel grateful when you feel good, yet you always feel good when you are feeling grateful!
Almost everyone is blessed with enough intelligence to know the value of being grateful for all that we have. But we miss celebrating the beauty and miracle of our creation because we are trapped in a web of debilitating emotions and because we are constantly on this earning-a-living treadmill.
I have learnt that living in the moment and gratitude go hand-in-hand. When your mind is stuck in the past, the dead past, or has raced into the unborn future, you are simply not present in the moment. When you are not immersed in the now, how will you see its magic, how will you celebrate its beauty? So, it all boils down to training the mind. You must direct your mind to not go astray and train it to stay in the present. Only then will you be able to feel grateful – and sustain that state!
No matter how grave the circumstances are, there is always something you can feel grateful for. Whenever I feel the need to invoke gratitude in me, I feel the air in my lungs. I concentrate on my breathing for a brief while. And I am quickly reassured that as long as there is Life, jab tak hai jaan, anything is possible. The other clarity I have developed is that Life happens through us, for us – and never because of us. This understanding makes me eternally grateful for this Life, for my human form and all that I have experienced and am experiencing.
People all around are searching for meaning in their Life. They are seeking happiness. And they are praying hard for grace, to be blessed and to be granted their wishes. I believe that all of this – meaning, happiness, grace – can come into anyone’s Life, the moment they learn to be grateful for what is, for what they have, instead of complaining about or pining for what isn’t.
The most profound prayer – and the only one, according to me – is to keep saying “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” to Life. This prayer has surely turned me away from religion, rituals and the popular notion of God. Yet it has granted me something precious; it has blessed me with equanimity – the ability to be centered and happy despite the circumstances.
Life Hai, Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai!
We didn’t know of K.S.Narendran until Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 went missing on March 8th, 2014. Naren’s wife of 25 years, Chandrika, was on that flight. Vaani and I reached out to Naren and found him to be very warm, very gracious, even as he was stoic. Over the last 33 months, Naren has had to come to terms with the enormous, new reality he is faced with; he has had to pick up the threads of his own Life while helping their daughter Meghna cope, accept and move on. What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
This morning I found this post on Naren’s Facebook wall. Read on…
It is now 1000 days since MH370 last took to the skies.
I did not imagine that in today’s satellite surveilled world, a large plane with hundreds of people could just vanish.
I did not imagine that we will be searching six kilometres under the ocean for an aircraft that was flying ten kilometres up in the sky.
I did not imagine that we would know so little about its whereabouts after so many days.
I did not imagine that bits and pieces of the plane would reach waters and seashores thousands of miles away from where the last goodbye was heard.
I did not imagine that so few debris would be recovered after this long a wait.
I did not imagine that some day I would write “No debris today” and feel relieved.
I did not imagine that it would be the same status update for most days since that day in early 2014.
I did not imagine that a search will continue only where the plane is believed to have gone down, and not in parts where the parts and pieces of it show up.
I did not imagine that it was possible to be so cavalier in handling affected families.
I did not imagine that rich nations of G-something or the other will cavil about allocations for search and investigation.
I did not imagine that we would be arguing about my dollar or yours when it could be your life or mine the next time.
I did not imagine that we would make a trip to pick the pieces when we trusted our governments to do this on our behalf.
I did not imagine that we would have love and support from thousands for whom our loss has been theirs.
I did not imagine that a ‘Thank You’ to all would seem so inadequate, yet it is the best there is to give.
In sharing his deepest feelings, Naren holds out a lesson in fortitude and gratitude to all of us.
In May this year, I had the opportunity and privilege to be in conversation with Naren at the event series I curate for Madras Management Association (MMA) titled “The Uncommon Leader”. Naren told me then that he is neither an ‘uncommon leader’ nor has he any wisdom to share. But if you listen to this 80-minute conversation I had with him, you will understand how invaluable reflection and acceptance are in situations when we are dealing with disruptive change and when we must demonstrate personal leadership.
As we rush through our lives, often trying to obsess over its material aspects, we miss the opportunity to invest our precious moments in all that which matters most to us. Occasionally, a Life-changing event shows up, either in our own lives, or through the lives of others, which reminds us that this is an ephemeral Life – anything, absolutely anything, can happen at any time to anyone!
Take away what you find relevant from my blogpost today, but please do pause to send Naren, Meghna, and all those beautiful families a long distance hug and all your love!
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!
Mindfulness leads to an eternal celebration of Thanksgiving!
We were at a community dinner yesterday. It was hosted in the car park of a building that was nearing completion. As we waited in a queue to pick up our plates, a huge blob of black paint fell on me from above. I was wearing my favorite white Cottonworld linen shirt. The paint obviously stained the shirt badly, irreparably, on the shoulder and on my back. Of course I was startled. And angry too. It was a beautiful white shirt, always sitting so elegantly on me, despite being over a decade old. In a couple of minutes I could make out that the shirt was a write-off. Even as I was contemplating if I must go up the building and reprimand the painter in question for being negligent, the queue moved up. And it was my turn to pick up the plate.
I decided to focus on dinner. It was a simple, sumptuous dinner of bissibelebath and thayir sadam, pulikachal, vadam and appalam. Volunteers served us with so much warmth and joy. As I enjoyed my meal, I thought of the number of people who would have toiled to make it possible. I thanked the farmers who grew the grains, the mandi-wallahs, the cooks, the milk suppliers, the helpers who arranged the buffet and the volunteers who served us…my list was in no way complete! It can’t be. Because, in reality, so many stakeholders make each living moment possible for you. So, there’s someone, somewhere always for you to thank in any moment, in any context!
After the meal, when I was riding an Uber back home, I thought of the painter. In these times of demonetization, when daily wages are not being dispensed so easily, I celebrated the man’s willingness to work so late into the evening. He surely didn’t intend for the paint to drip down. He perhaps didn’t even know that it had or that it had stained someone’s shirt. To me, it didn’t matter – not anymore.
I simply loved the learning the entire episode and experience offered. In reality, I had lost a shirt, a beautiful white Cottonworld linen shirt – my favorite. I would have continued being livid had I clung on to that accident and to that wave of anger that had naturally arisen within me. Had I been that way, I may have eaten my dinner, but I may well have missed the beauty and magic it served. This is what being in the present can do to you, this is what mindfulness delivers to you. It helps you detach from a dead, often painful, past. It prevents you from straying into the future, where, because it is unborn and, therefore, unknown, it is always dark. When you graze in the dark, you will obviously be gripped by insecurity and fear. But when you are mindful, there is total freedom – you are neither held hostage by the past nor are you scared of the future. So, mindfulness is about being available in the present moment. It is about accepting whatever is. And when you are immersed in what is, there is only gratitude, only celebration. Just as my dinner yesterday was; a simple observation of gratitude over some bissibelebath and thayir sadam led to so much celebration in me.
Now, this isn’t about one dinner. It isn’t a one-time experience. To be sure, metaphorically, there’s always a painter dropping a blob of paint on you somewhere, somehow, and there’s always a great meal being served up with so much warmth somewhere, somehow! So, mindfulness is an opportunity that’s available in each living moment. And this can be the way you live your entire Life. Because from the moment you are born to the moment you die, your lifetime is never made up of only what you do. So many millions constantly contribute to make your Life happen. In fact, pause for a moment and think of how many people are helping you read this blogpost – think of the folks that invented the mobile phone, think of the founder of the Internet, think of me and all those people that helped me be who I am so I can share my learnings with you, think of your parents who gave birth to and have raised you, think of those that taught you the language, think of how miraculous it is that you have been born – without your asking to be created – human….again, this list too is endless…aren’t you soaked in gratitude, aren’t you recognizing the celebration that your Life really is? Even in times when you feel betrayed, beaten and defeated, by people and events, there’s an opportunity to be grateful – for such experiences teach you what not to do, they teach you forgiveness, they teach you of the impermanent nature of Life.
Being mindful is the simplest and the best way to live Life. Imagine, if we were to spend our entire lifetimes in gratitude for who we are and how we have got to where we are – then won’t Life be an endless celebration? Simply, mindfulness is the only way we can be celebrating Thanksgiving eternally…!
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