There’s a lot of Life left after a crisis; believe me, a lot of Life!

Often when in the throes of a crisis, we think we cannot go on. We don’t see a way out of whatever we are faced with. And we think it’s all over. We want to give up. But just remember this – failure or defeat is temporary, it is giving up which is final!
On Sunday, I was in a conversation with the world-famous pianist Anil Srinivasan. This was part of a monthly Event Series I curate called “The Bliss Catchers” which is hosted by Odyssey, Chennai’s most happening bookstore. The Series celebrates people who have had the courage to let go of “safe and secure” careers to follow their bliss, to go do what they love doing.
Anil Srinivasan and AVIS Viswanathan
at “The Bliss Catchers”
Odyssey, Adyar
Over the course of our conversation, Anil shared his story of how he found and followed his bliss. Anil’s heart was always in the piano – he started playing it when he was just three years old; in fact, the piano is his Life. But family circumstances (a grave financial crisis had made it mandatory for him to pursue a career option that would be immediately economically viable and rewarding) and peer pressure forced him in the direction of an MBA at a US University. He followed that up with attempting a PhD at Columbia. But at one time, what he describes as his lowest phase, the PhD was just not happening. He had huge educational loans to repay. He had no money. And his academic career was going nowhere.
One day, Anil, out of sheer desperation and depression, just blacked out. “I was going to a friend’s place in a cab in New York. But I just lost track of what I was doing. I did not know where I was or where I was headed. When the cab reached the destination, I told the cabbie I had no money to pay him. He kind of made out that I was losing it. So, he said that it was okay, he waived the fare, but he also urged me to take care of myself. I got down from the cab and I just slumped on the stoop in front of my friend’s apartment. I was still clueless of who I was, what I was doing or who I had come to meet. So I simply sat there and spent much of the night there,” recalled Anil. Later that week, Mandolin U.Srinivas (1969~2014), who was a good friend of Anil, called him. Srinivas was performing at Burlington (on the US-Canada border, in Vermont) and wanted to just say hello to his friend. From Anil’s depressive tone, Srinivas surmised that Anil needed help. Urgently.So, Srinivas rushed to Anil’s apartment in New York the next morning and urged Anil to take a walk along with him. The two of them walked along the Hudson for over an hour. Anil says that Srinivas was certain that Anil needed help. But more important Srinivas felt that Anil must play his piano. Immediately. “‘How long ago is it since you played the piano?’ Srinivas asked me. I had no answer. I had forgotten when I had played the piano last. That was how far removed I was from my beloved piano and my music,” Anil told me and the other guests at “The Bliss Catchers” Event. As it turns out, Srinivas took Anil back to his apartment and encouraged him to play. Anil just followed Srinivas’ suggestions without protest. In just a few hours Anil was playing beautifully, enjoying himself and was feeling “totally alive”. “Srinivas re-infused the gift of Life, my music, back in me,” Anil reminisced, even as a tear dropped from his eye. “I can’t believe Srinivas is no more,” he added.
So, that’s how bad things really were for Anil Srinivasan – someone who, as much of the music world believes, is the finest pianist India has ever produced. Can you believe it? One of India’s best musicians was beaten by Life, was depressed and defeated just 15 years ago? And look at him today – he’s living the Life he truly wanted to live, he’s enjoying his music and he’s making music that everyone loves to hear. He’s traveling the world and making people realize that the piano is not just a Western classical instrument but one where it is possible to make any kind of music – from Carnatic to kuthu to Bollywood – if you play it from your soul!
Anil’s story teaches us, yet again, something very, very important. It is the most significant lesson you will ever need to learn about living intelligently – that Life’s darkest moments must be faced. And no matter how dark it is, no matter how hopeless it is, every storm will pass one day. All you must believe, when you are feeling down and out, done in by Life, people, events and circumstances, is that there is a lot of Life still left, after each crisis.

Are you taking advantage of the time you have here?

Actually, the choice to live – and not to exist – is a no-brainer if you keep reminding yourself that “you live only once”!

Picture Courtesy: Internet
The latest issue of TIME features an interview with acclaimed American photojournalist Lynsey Addario, 41, who specializes in covering war and champions human rights and the role of women in traditional societies. In 2000, she photographed in Afghanistan under Taliban control. She has since covered conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, the Congo, and Haiti. She has covered stories throughout the Middle East and Africa. She has photographed for The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, and National Geographic. Addario was one of four New York Times journalists who were missing in Libya from March 16 ~ 21, 2011. The Libyan government released Addario and the other journalists on March 21, 2011. She reported that she was threatened with death and repeatedly groped during her captivity by the Libyan Army. Penguin has recently published Addario’s first book, It’s What I Do – A photographer’s Life of Love and War. TIME asked Addario to explain her unique, albeit risky, career choice – “Is it because you think you have a lot of time left that you can tolerate danger?” And Addario replied: “It is important to take advantage of the time that we each have.”

Her reply is awakening. Addario says it so well – and simply. In fact, it reminds me of what the Buddha has said: “The trouble is you think you have a lot of time.”

And that indeed is the problem with most of us. We go on postponing the Life we want to live by kidding ourselves with our earning-a-living logic: the family has to be provided for, kids have to be schooled, raised and sent to university, retirement has to be planned and saved for … The list of things to do, to prioritize, over living a full Life, is endless. This is why so many of us feel that our lives are incomplete, listless and monotonous. My wife and I have been, since January this year, running an Event Series in Chennai called “Follow Your Bliss” (inspired by Joseph Campbell’s famous thought/quote) which celebrates people who have had the courage to break free from “financially safe and secure” careers to do what they love doing. Almost everyone who attends this Event Series concurs that they are keen to do “something more meaningful” in their lives. But few actually take the first step. One gentleman, in his 50s, who quit his 26-year run with the IT industry last month, told us: “It had to happen. I realized that I had to give up running on the corporate treadmill if I really wanted to get some place else in Life. And I am not getting any younger either, you see.” I am sure you too agree with his view here.

Indeed, Life is a gift. And you should not waste it. The way to use this gift – effectively and efficiently – is to take advantage of the time you have on the planet, doing what you love doing. That’s the only way to live a Life of meaning and happiness! 

To meditate is to immerse yourself in whatever you do

The true meaning of meditation is to immerse yourself totally in whatever you are doing. To just be.
Meditation therefore is immersion. Contrary to popular notion, to meditate you don’t need a room, a pre-arranged environment or music or solitude or even quiet. You can immerse yourself in whatever you are doing __ cooking, reading, singing, cleaning, playing golf, gardening, carving fruit, walking….whatever, and you will find yourself meditating. As the Buddha discovered and taught, meditation is not an activity in itself but it is concerned with our alertness while doing any action. Meditation means to add awareness and alertness in our actions. Which is why immersion is a better word to describe the meditative state. For instance, when you are immersed in reading an unputdownable book, you may miss hearing the telephone ring or someone at the door. Surely, this has happened to you more than once in your Life. It would be fair to conclude that at such times you are meditating on or are immersed in something. Now, therefore, a pre-condition for immersion is always joy.
Only when you enjoy something, do you immerse yourself in it. For instance, if you ask a teenager to clean up her room or do the dishes, she’s going to be grumpy. But let her read her favorite piece of fiction or listen to her favorite music or allow her uninterrupted access to facebook and you are unlikely to find her unhappy even momentarily. What gives you joy could be anything __ a poem, a dance, music or a painting. It could even be just watching the traffic crawl from your window or feeling the waves crash into you on the beach. Wherever there is joy, chances are you will feel timelessness, a certain oneness with whatever you are experiencing. That oneness state is meditation.
Joseph Campbell (1904~1987), American author and mythologist, famous for his ‘Follow Your Bliss’ philosophy, says he was inspired greatly by the Hindu Upanishads. His rationale is powerful in the context of our learning today. He declared: “Now, I came to this idea of bliss, because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.”
So, immerse yourself in what you love, be in a rapturous state always, just being; your eternal meditative threshold will be eventually attained!

“If there ever is a good time – it is now!”

This is the only Life you have! So, live it fully, doing whatever you love doing!

Yesterday, we met a young (in their late 20s) and very inspiring couple – Resham Gellatly and Zach Marks. They both are from the United States of America and are currently traveling in India – researching on the chaiwallahs of India for a forthcoming book they are writing. To do this project, they have kicked stable, well-paying jobs in the US and have simply taking the “plunge” and “dived deep” into India. They have already met with thousands of chaiwallahs, having covered 15 Indian states in the last four months and propose to meet several thousand more, covering the rest of India, including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, by April 2014. Zach’s given up his consulting career (for now) with McKinsey & Co, while Resham’s paused her psychiatry research, in order for them to do this very offbeat, very, very demanding project! They are funding their project themselves – so they are walking a tightrope with their budgets all the time. This means they have to depend on people connecting them to people who are willing to host them as they move from place to place, hopping on to buses and trains. The key for them is to meet as many chaiwallahs as possible – and to understand their stories and lives, and through them, discover India!

Why chaiwallahs? “In a country with tremendous diversity, chaiwallahsare a constant presence, from the deserts of Rajasthan to the seaside megacity of Mumbai, everywhere bringing together people from different backgrounds at their stands. The same way that cab drivers tell the story of New York, we think chaiwallahs can tell the story of India. We have met some incredibly compelling characters – from a Delhi chaiwallah who sells books he has written and self-published at his stall, to a Bollywood spot boy who has been serving chai to the stars for 40 years, to a local politician in rural Odisha who uses the tea kettle as her party symbol,” explains Zach.

A chaiwallah, Zach and Resham
Picture Courtesy: Internet/DNA India
And Resham reveals that the decision to “take on this project and actually get down to doing it” was not very difficult: “We live only once. We realized that Zach’s McKinsey job, or for that matter any other corporate opportunity, would always be there. As would my psychiatry research. We reckoned that if we waited for longer to do what we believed in, and were excited about doing, we will have more responsibilities to deal with. Like a family, kids, demanding careers and such. We said if there ever is a good time, it is now – and that was it!”
There is this very positive aura around Resham and Zach. It is the kind of feeling that you get when you meet people who are genuinely happy with their lives. And that energy, while it’s rare, is infectious. Resham (she has an India connection – her mother is from Punjab) is from Hawaii and Zach’s from Philadelphia. But they didn’t meet in the US. They met, in fact, in New Delhi in 2010-11, while on Fullbright-Nehru Fellowships. Even as their love for each other blossomed, their fascination for Indian chaiwallahs grew. Important, they decided to go wherever their inner joy, their bliss, takes them – together! Listening to them, I was reminded about what Joseph Campbell (1904~1987), the American mythologist and author, had profoundly said: “Follow your bliss and doors will open where only walls existed – and you alone will be able to see those doors.” Resham and Zach are truly following their bliss. And, indeed, doors are opening for them! Resham sums it up beautifully: “We have discovered how kind and caring people in India are. They have opened their homes and hearts to us. Many of our hosts are rank strangers and yet without their generous support our project will not be possible!” Ask Zach, what next, when they eventually get back to picking up their American Life and careers in New York, and he replies: “We honestly don’t know. We are waiting to explore whatever awaits us or comes our way!”

The Zach and Resham story is a beautiful inspiration. It is also a gentle reminder to you and me to never postpone living the Life that you really want to live! Even as you finish reading this, your Life clock has ticked away some of your precious seconds. And you have just so much less time left. If you think too much about a bucket list, it just may become too long and the bucket heavy! So, the best way is to live is start doing whatever you love doing right away! As Resham said – “if there ever is a good time, it is now”!

You can look up Resham and Zach on