Go to work on your problems than just lament about them

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!   

Your ‘Mahamaham’ moment awaits you – not in Kumbakonam, but within you!

A dip in a ‘holy’ river or tank can never ‘cleanse’ you. Pausing, reflecting and awakening alone can.

A friend feverishly texted me on WhatsApp a few days ago. He’s close to me and believes that the financial challenges that my family and I are enduring, for close to a decade now, is directly related to my past karma– a ‘carry forward’ of sorts of ‘sins committed in a previous birth’. He furiously appealed to me I must make the pilgrimage to the Mahamaham tank in Kumbakonam and take a dip to ‘wash away all my bad karma, my sins’. “You will see an immediate change in your fortunes,” he insisted. I merely thanked him for his compassionate perspective and offered no justification for my choice not to accept his advice.
Mahamaham – Kumbakonam
Picture Courtesy: Internet
The Mahamaham is a Hindu festival that happens every 12 years in the Mahamaham tank in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. I have no disrespect for the Mahamaham. Nor do I intend questioning its legend that’s drawing several millions in (what they think is) piety. Yet, I sincerely don’t believe a ritualistic dip, however ‘holy’ the site may be, can ever cleanse anyone. In his memorable 2003 classic, Anbe Sivam (Love is God), Kamal Hassan beautifully explains to his co-star Madhavan why the God within us – the Universal Energy that keeps us alive – must awaken for us to realize the magic and beauty of Life. That realization, to me, is the biggest awakening. And only an awakening from within can truly cleanse us.
To be sure, there is a Mahamaham moment waiting for each of us – provided we are ready and willing to understand Life and have seeker’s, a student’s, attitude. And that moment need not be at a temple tank, where millions are crowding with a herd mentality, throwing personal and public hygiene to the wind! My own Mahamaham moment happened in my living room, some time in 2007, when I was having my favorite Royal Challenge whisky, and was utterly bored with two other things I was trying to do at the same time – swap channels on TV hoping to find something interesting and make sense of the English translation of the Sai Satcharita, a book on the Life and teachings of Shirdi Sai Baba. My search for something meaningful on TV drew a blank. And I soon turned it off. My family had long gone to sleep. Even as I poured myself another drink, I tried – but failed miserably – to understand what the Sai Satcharita was trying to say – it will easily rank as among the most horrible works of translation ever, from the original Marathi to English! I put the book away. And I thought deeply about what Shirdi Baba had taught the world in his lifetime. In a Eureka-like flash, it dawned on me that the two principles around which all his teachings were anchored are – Shraddha, Faith and Saburi, Patience. To face Life and to overcome the challenges that you are faced with, I realized that, you must keep the faith and learn to be patient.
Over time, I employed this awakening very constructively, through my daily practice of mouna (silence periods), to understand the impermanence and inscrutability of Life. I learned that this is the only Life we have. And to live this Life well – and happily – we must train our mind to be in the present moment. In the now. I discovered that the way religion is practiced in the world today is that it encourages you and me to fear people (who peddle religion) than inspire faith in creation – that if you have been created without your asking to be born, then the same energy that created you will care for you, will provide for you. When there is fear, how can there be faith? When there is no faith, how can you be patient?   
This clarity is helping me live my Life with total inner peace, despite the storm that rages on outside, in my business, professional and material Life. This clarity makes me believe that a dip in an insanely crowded temple tank will hardly cleanse anything – not even your body, let alone your mind. I am more with Kabir, the 15thCentury weaver-poet, here. He said:
Kabir Man Nirmal Bhaya, Jaise Ganga Neer 

Pache Pache Har Phire, Kahat Kabir Kabir

Translation
Kabir Washed His Mind Clean, Like The Holy Ganges River
Everyone follows behind, Saying Kabir, Kabir
That is, Kabir urges us to remove all impurities from our mind, from our thinking process, thus letting the light of divinity to shine forth. Truly, there is divinity in each of us. That divinity is suppressed, lying buried under layers and layers of grief, guilt, anger, fear and such debilitating emotions. This is why we are searching for God outside of us. This is why we are running to a Mahamaham.

Seriously, you don’t need to wait for 12 years to scramble to a Mahamaham for cleansing yourself. Your Mahamaham moment awaits you if you can simply pause, reflect and awaken to the opportunity of cleansing your mind, of living in the now! 

No matter what could have been, it is always what it is

And whatever it is, when you find yourself down in the dumps, get up, dust yourself and move on.
A friend, who had had one drink too many, left his car keys at the bar counter while he stepped into the restroom. When he came back he didn’t notice that the keys were missing. And when he did realize this, he also discovered, to his horror, that his car had been stolen! Obviously, he felt like a worm. Very miserable. He called me this morning. And we had a long chat.
Obviously, he’s been suffering with both grief and guilt over the past week. He told me that the last few weeks have been challenging for him. He’s been having a rough time at work. He’s lost his car now. And he’s not sure if will get one of the positions he’s applied for in another company. “I just feel all this is too much for me to handle. Why should I go through what I am going through,” he lamented.
I empathized with my friend. But I told him that “why” is the most futile question to ask in circumstances where you have no control over what’s happening to you. My friend, however, was angry with himself. “Didn’t my carelessness cost me car?” he asked.  I replied: “Sure it did. But what’s the point in lamenting that you were careless. You were careless. You lost your car. Period. It is what it is. Don’t be careless again. No point in going on brooding over what’s happened. Now that the car is lost, you are no longer in control of the car or the situation. And that is the brutal truth. You have only one option here. Which is to accept what is – your carelessness and carlessness – and move on.”
As he calmed down, my friend was keen to know how much of a role determinism plays in Life. Sure enough, one argument is that determinism governs our Life to a large extent. Whatever has to happen alone happens. This doesn’t mean that free will does not have a role to play. Of course it is free will that led my friend to drink more than he should have, it was also free will that led him to the restroom and it was the same free will that made him leave his keys on the bar counter. But people in favor of the determinism theory will say all of what happened to my friend was pre-determined. It was ordained. But I don’t see a need for a debate at all. It is a waste of time. Determinism, to me, is a theory that you bring in to explain your Life when free will ceases to reasonably justify whatever’s happening to you. So don’t theorize, don’t explain, don’t justify Life – simply accept it!  

The best way then to live your Life is to drop all the grief, drop all the guilt, and stop brooding on what could have been. No matter what could have been, it is always what it is. When you live Life with such clarity and a clinical detachment with the past, and with no expectation from the future, then you will be able to live in this world and yet be above it! 

Peel off and junk this label called “failure” – to hell with it!

You fail at something only when you can’t – or refuse to – face the reality. Not when you try, fall and don’t achieve the outcome you planned for.
I read an interesting interview with American researcher, story teller and author, Brene Brown, in a recent issue of TIME. Her most recent book Rising Stronghas just been released and deals with the subject of failure. Brown tells Belinda Luscombe of TIME, “We are handling failure with a lot of lip service. When failure doesn’t hurt, it’s not failure. He or she who is most capable of being uncomfortable rises the fastest…Shame needs three things to grow: secrecy, silence and judgment.”
I can relate to every word of what Brown is saying. I come from the view that nobody fails at anything just because the outcomes are not what society expects or what you want. Failure and success are but social labels. They come from judgment. Now, why judge anyone for any reason in the first place? So, when Brown says that one’s capacity to deal with being uncomfortable contributes to rising strong, she’s right! What does being uncomfortable mean? It means you don’t like what you are seeing. It means you are honest to yourself and are seeing the reality as it is. You are not in denial. When you accept a situation, you can handle it much, much better than when you don’t accept it. It’s as simple as that.
A friend of ours is separating from her husband. Now two people, mature adults, are concluding that they can’t be together anymore. Where is the need for failure as a label to come in here? But it does. The families of both people are labeling the marriage as a failure. And they don’t like our friend talking openly about it. They are trying to cover-up the separation as something that is bad, as if something grave has happened. But our friend is very clear. She says, “Listen, it is not working out. I didn’t sign up for this to be unhappy. I am very unhappy in his presence. I am moving on.” This ability to face the reality, to accept an uncomfortable truth that it’s all over (in the context of our friend’s marriage) – this is what determines how strongly you rise from a setback. Earlier this week, actors Konkona Sen Sharma and Ranvir Shorey too handled their separation – or their ‘failed’ marriage per a social definition – admirably. Here’s what Konkona tweeted: “Ranvir and I have mutually decided to separate, but continue to be friends and co-parent our son. Will appreciate your support. Thank you!”
We must all realize that things just happen in Life. We don’t always get what we want. To feel shameful of a situation is never going to help change it. Shame breeds guilt over what you may have done. Covering up an outcome that you don’t like to accept doesn’t help either. It is only going to accentuate your stress. And please don’t judge yourself. We all try. And we often don’t get what we set out to achieve. The logical next step is to try again – and try differently. It is not to sit and brood over what has happened.
I would go a step further than Brown and say there is nothing called failure. Or success. Both are subjective and are defined by a society that judges people far too quickly without ever having been in their shoes. I think you fail at something only when you refuse to face it. When you face a situation, when you see and accept reality, your desire to change that reality spurs you into action. Only through action can there be change, progress – and inner peace!

Empty yourself and feel abundant

Life’s an amazing paradox. When you fill yourself you feel an eerie emptiness. And when you empty yourself you feel a joyful fullness!
Think about your Life deeply. What are you filling it with? The more you fill yourself with fear, guilt, grief, ego, anxiety, greed and desires, the more empty you feel. You can’t just escape the emptiness. You may call it by any name: mid-life crisis, not enjoying your job, unhappy with your partner, feel lost with how to raise your children, whatever. But you do feel empty. The irony, however, is that to rid yourself of this emptiness, all you need to do is to empty yourself. When you empty yourself of all wasteful emotions, like those listed above, or many more, you are emptying yourself of your self. This is when you are enriched, filled with love and are full of peace. This fullness is what is called bliss. Emptying yourself of your self means to get rid of the ‘I’!
Several years ago, when my business started going horribly wrong, I sat in my hotel room in Bengaluru and shared my worries with a good friend, Deepak Pawar, a highly acclaimed media photographer in India. He’s much older to me and I have always valued his perspective. What was causing me immense grief was the way my team was behaving with me. There were resignations, a case of embezzlement and even blackmail from a colleague who threatened to share company data with competition if his salary was not paid. This was tragic for me. We had not only given this gentleman employment but had also supported his MBA program and his coaching in spoken English. As I shared my woes, describing my Life as being ‘empty, meaningless and thankless’, with Deepak, he said, “For your Life to be full and meaningful, you must shed yourself of your ego AVIS.” I was devastated by his remark. I shot back: “Sorry Sir, with due respect to you, I disagree. You are saying I have an ego. I don’t. I have worked hard to grow my business and I have done so with humility. My team is family to me. This colleague of mine who is today threatening me, I have groomed him. I have trained him. I have educated him. I have always sat with him and guided him on how to plan his career professionally. I have done so much for him and you are saying…” Deepak cut me short. He smiled and said, “Just see the number of times you have said ‘I’ in your defense just now AVIS….That ‘I’…that’s your ego speaking….that guy, the ‘I’ in you…you must empty yourself of that ‘I’…and you will find meaning and a Life full of peace and happiness!”

To me that moment, that nano-second, was the ‘CTRL+ALT+DEL’ moment of my Life. With that enlightening perspective, Deepak opened my eyes, helping me see clearly, why there was so much emptiness in my Life. Osho’s masterly perspective on this too helped me immensely: “Emptying oneself means emptying of all content – just as you empty a room of all the junk that has gathered there, over the years. When you have emptied the room of all the furniture and all the things, you have not destroyed the room, not at all; you have given it more roominess, more space. When all the furniture is gone, the room asserts itself, the room is.” What’s interesting is, as I discovered, when the ‘I’ goes out of you, all the parasites that thrive on it, off it__fear, guilt, grief, anxiety, greed and desires__run after it too. The feeling you get with emptying yourself, and therefore filling your Life with abundance and bliss, is truly liberating. It has to be experienced to be understood. It has to be lived! 

Mukesh Singh is a metaphor for all remorseless people who surround us

Ignore people who have hurt you and show no remorse. There’s no point in lamenting their behavior. Forgive them if you can, and even if you can’t forgive or forget, simply move on…  

Mukesh Singh
Picture Courtesy: BBC World/Leslee Udwin/Internet
I finally watched Leslee Udwin’s controversial – and now banned – documentary India’s Daughter that tells the horrific story of the gang rape (and subsequent death) of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh on December 16, 2012. What struck me most was the remorselessness of Mukesh Singh, one of the convicts on death row. He is one of the six who is convicted of rape and murder – he has since appealed against his conviction in the Supreme Court. He tells Udwin in the film: “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape.” As he says this, Mukesh’s face is expressionless, dead-pan and his tone is cold, showing no signs of either guilt or repentance. Of course, there’s a huge debate going on out there whether it is right to allow such an unrepentant and heinous view as Mukesh’s – which seeks to justify violence against women – publicly or not. Each side of this debate has its own argument. For now, the Indian government has banned the documentary. But my personal opinion is that it ought not have been banned – people must know how people who commit such crimes actually think. The film only portrays, brutally honestly, the mind of a rapist and murderer.
But if you pause to reflect and consider another perspective, Mukesh Singh is also a metaphor. He personifies anyone who tries to justify their unjust actions. And there are several people like that around us – in our families, among our friends, at our workplaces and in public, in society. These are people who continue to do what they do, often at the cost of other people’s rights, emotions and liberties, and, in almost as cold-blooded a fashion as Mukesh does in Udwin’s film, they justify that their actions are right. They believe vehemently that they did what they thought appeared to be right to them. So, there’s no question of them feeling guilty or repentant at all. And so they go on – often, mercilessly and remorselessly, trampling on people, emotionally, and at times, even physically. Now, here’s a view you may want to consider: what’s right and what’s wrong is always subjective. What appears right to you may not be so to me. And what’s wrong to me may appear right to you. Look at Mukesh – the way he looks at women is very different from the way all of us look at them. But Mukesh couldn’t care less. To him his view is the right one. So, he may as well go to the gallows, than repent – let alone reform. So, people who cause pain and suffering to others do so only because they firmly believe what they are doing is right. Period. No amount of our efforts to make them see reason, or reform them, is bound to bear fruit unless something within them changes; until their conscience awakens.

The tragic truth we must all live with is that our society and our lives abound with people like Mukesh. The best way to deal with them, if they are in your personal circle of influence, is to simply let them be. Don’t try to educate them. No education will be possible until there are both ready and willing to unlearn and learn. Don’t try to reform them. They won’t awaken unless they realize the futility of the path they have chosen. Don’t try to avenge them. This will only make you bitter – for they are likely to fight you to the end. It is best to leave such people to a higher energy, to a cosmic retribution, if you will. As for you, if you at all have one of these people in your Life, well, simply forgive them if you can. And if you can’t forgive or forget them, leave them alone and move on. This is the only way to protect your inner peace.