We are all hostages of our own perceived limitations

We are all ordained with greater strength than we are conditioned to believe we have.
Yesterday I watched a beautiful Malayalam film called “How Old Are You” (2014, Rosshan Andrrews). The main protagonist in the film, Nirupama Rajeev (played brilliantly by Manju Warrier), a clerk in the government, discovers her true potential when her college-mate reminds her of what a firebrand student campaigner she (Nirupama) once was. Until then Nirupama is at the mercy of her male chauvinist husband’s whims, and the target of petty politics at her workplace. But once she’s finds her lost verve, Nirupama sheds all her inhibitions and goes on to be a change agent not just in her neighborhood, but in the entire state of Kerala. The movie is not just inspiring, it is awakening.
Nirupama’s story is not her’s alone. It could be the story of any of us. All of us, at various times in Life, under pressure from our challenges and situations, stop believing in ourselves. We feel lost. Our self-esteem hits rock-bottom. And we think we can never be who we want to be again. But that’s not true. We are all capable. Our circumstances can constrain us physically but nothing – except our attitude to Life – can cripple our spirit. Think about a  wild adult elephant. This elephant can easily uproot trees that have been standing for years and that weigh tons. That’s how much strength an elephant is ordained with. Yet a temple elephant, through its conditioning from the time it is a calf, thinks it is incapable of breaking free from the iron shackles that a mahout has imposed on it. So it is with us humans. We are all hostages of our own perceived limitations. We are who we think we are. If we think our circumstances are so challenging that they are insurmountable, we will forever suffer from them. But if we decide to face our challenges and rise above them, whatever be the context, a way will emerge. A solution will be born.
The way to rise above what challenges you is to go within and anchor yourself. All change starts with you. And all change begins within. It is by going within, and realizing your true Self, that you can find the way to forever change your current reality and overcome whatever you are faced with!

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When you don’t know what to do, do nothing

Sometimes not knowing what to do is a good thing. Just surrender to Life and do nothing.

Some years ago, everything that I had created and had tried to protect was taken away from me through our bankruptcy – my business, the trademarks we owned, the assets we had built up, the team I led, the client we had, the cars we drove…Everything that conceivably had a monetary, material value was gone! And we had no money. No work. No clients. Irate creditors were hounding me asking for their money back. I had tried for weeks on end to raise cash. But in vain. Nobody wanted to trust our business or plans anymore. Our balance sheet and bank statements had no value in the financial market.

A banker I met on a Friday was brutally frank. He told me in as many words: “Sir, your balance sheet and bank statements are not even worth as much as toilet paper is. I am sorry we can’t consider your application for a loan from us.” I remember coming out of that meeting devastated, beaten, broke. Just as stepped out the bank, my phone rang. It was Philip Sir, my good friend from Kerala who is 20 years older to me. He said he was in town. And wanted to meet me. We agreed to meet at the Woodlands Drive In restaurant which was still around then. When we met later that evening, Philip Sir, who had some background to my Life’s challenges, asked for an update. I filled him in.

As I finished, I broke down saying, “I simply don’t know what to do! Where do I start? How do I start? Every door we know of has shut on us!”

Philip Sir beamed a big smile and said, “Fantastic! Just surrender and do nothing!!”

“What?” I remember exclaiming.

Philip Sir leaned across the table, placed his hand on mine, squeezed it tight and said: “AVIS I have known you for many years. I have admired the ambitious streak in you. You have achieved many things. You grew and rose very fast. But I hope you know what goes up must come down. So, when things come crashing, sit back and let Life take over. Do nothing. Surrender to Life.”

That conversation with Philip Sir did not make much sense to me immediately. But that Sunday, when I was in my ‘mouna’ (daily silence period) session, I read a passage by Osho, the Master. Osho talked about the philosophy that Rinzai, the Zen mystic, taught the world with his famous saying: “Sitting silently, doing nothing, and the grass grows by itself.” What I understood that day was that we humans have this phenomenal urge to keep on doing something or the other. The whole endeavor appears to be to control Life. To treat it like our hand maiden. We strive to ensure that “only the outcomes we desire happen for us. Now that never really happens all the time. So we get angry, frustrated, depressed and cynical about Life when things don’t go our way. That, as I have come to realize, is an immature response to Life. The truth is, Life was always in control. You – and I – were never controlling anything. You were only imagining that you were in the driver’s seat. When the chips are down, when whatever you do doesn’t seem to work for you, when you are clueless about what’s next in your Life, when you don’t know what you must do, simply surrender. When you do this of your own accord, through a deep acceptance of your current reality and your inability to find ways to resolve it, an awakening will happen within you. That awakening will help you understand the larger cosmic design.

My awakening, in a way, happened over the weekend following that coffee conversation with Philip Sir at Woodlands Drive In. But it took several months of “mouna”,  of reflecting upon Rinzai’s saying to actually see the “grass growing by itself”. I discovered that I had been rushing through Life – missing the whole aspect of living, while wanting to be rich, famous and successful. My personal cashless situation, compounded by my cluelessness and helplessness, forced me to reflect on Life. I have learned, through my experience, that more than material wealth, inner peace makes one richer. And that peace comes from soaking in the silence that engulfs you, from doing nothing – especially when you don’t know what to do – and letting Life take over!

“To Life!”….A Thanksgiving that never ends

If you must thank anyone, thank Life – for giving you this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn….!
As Thanksgiving weekend begins, the energies are perfect to pause, to reflect and to feel grateful for all the blessings in your Life. It’s a great season – warm and compassionate, beautiful and soulful. Yet, gratitude must not be expressed seasonally. It has to be flowing perennially – oozing from your every pore, bubbling from the fountainhead within you. The reason we don’t always feel grateful all the time is because we take much of Life for granted. We have subconsciously come to believe that we have the right to demand, to seek deservance and to expect Life to be our hand maiden – pandering to our whims and desires. But just the opposite is true. Since you – or I – did not ask to be born, since this lifetime is a gift, all that you can and must do in Life is to accept whatever comes your way – and be eternally grateful for it.
I was at a south Indian Palaghattan (a community of Brahmins having its roots in Palakkad, Kerala) wedding this morning. The wedding feast is a must for all invitees. It is an elaborate multi-course meal served on a banana leaf. Today’s menu had over 24 items on it. But something appeared to have gone wrong in the kitchen this morning. Or was it with the service crew? Either we guests had arrived for the sadya, the feast, several minutes ahead of the kitchen being ready with the whole meal, or the service crew were short-staffed. Whatever may have been the reason – the food service was haphazard and woefully slow. The rasam arrived ahead of the sambar. And the thayir-pachadi (a curd-based vegetable side dish) came after the whole meal was over! Several guests did not even receive all the 24 items that were on the menu. Even as I felt sorry for one of the hosts, who was running around rallying the kitchen crew to fall into a systematic way of serving, I could not but help recall what Epictetus (55~135 AD), a Greek thinker and philosopher, had to say about Life: “Remember that you must behave in Life as you would at a banquet. A dish is handed round and comes to you; put out your hand and take it politely. If it passes you, do not stop it. If it has not reached you, do not be impatient to get it, but wait till your turn comes.I would like to humbly suggest that when your turn does come, be gratefulfor whatever you get!
The wedding feast and Epictetus’ banquet metaphor perfectly sum up the spirit we need to nurture in Life! Not just around Thanksgiving but all the time. But in an instant-gratification, what’s-in-it-for-me world, where is the time to feel grateful for anyone or anything? Which is why we perhaps need a season to remind us of it.
One of the most inspiring examples of gratitude I have known is the way the inimitable Asha Bhosle, now 80, feels about Life. She’s had a roller-coaster 80 years! A bad marriage, being thrown out of home by her husband, struggling to get a toehold in Bollywood as a playback singer, a victim of her own sibling’s designs that prevented her from growing in her career, an eventful relationship with R.D.Burman before he suddenly died in 1994, the death of her only daughter who committed suicide recently. Such a Life, filled with pain and strife, could have numbed anyone. But not Ashaji! She was asked by Forbes Life a couple of years back what she thought of Life. She replied: “I am very grateful. If I had not married, I would not have had such wonderful children and grandchildren. If I had not married, I would not have left home. If I had not left home, I would not have started singing. If I had not met Bhosle (her estranged husband who ill-treated her), I would not have become Asha Bhosle!” What an inspiring take on Life? “If I had not met Bhosle, I would not have become Asha Bhosle.” How many of us can forgive someone who caused us immense pain and look at Life from this perspective – with absolute gratitude! Beautiful!!
Let us always remember that Life is a gift. The only way to live our lives is to celebrate Life in every moment! Every event we go through, each person we meet, is a teacher. Each experience is teaching us to live fully and happily – no matter what we have to face or endure. We are the ones who label each event as good or bad. From Life’s point of view, each event is simply a learning opportunity. It is for this continuous learning that we must be grateful – not just in this season, but all the time!