Why do we do precious little to nurture, develop, grow and protect all those things that come free in Life while ending up working 60+-hour weeks ‘earning a living’ and trying to cling on to, protect stuff, that in the end are impermanent, dispensible, unimportant, forgettable and replaceable?
What have we done to our lives?
We have become so mechanized. So robotic. We are trying to constantly ensure our incomes go up, our families are provided for and yet we are not even bothered if we are happy? In fact, our unhappiness has become so much a part of us that we have stopped knowing that we are unhappy. We imagine that running the household, driving the kids to school and back, preparing reports and presentations, taking the annual vacation, IS Life! Is that really so?
Step off this treadmill. For a second. Take a brief moment. Focus on a flower in your neighborhood, in your garden, in a vase in your home. Just find a flower this morning. Look at it intently. Examine every aspect of its creation __ the color, the shape, the texture. Feel its pollen with your fingertips. Smell it. And ask yourself, how often have you stopped, even paused, to look in the direction of this flower? How you have chosen to ignore this flower represents the way you live your Life. You are doing everything else except living, my friend. When you are in front of the mirror, getting ready to rush to work, you have time to examine that pimple on your forehead, the dark circles beneath the eyes, or to certify the quality of your shave. But you don’t have time to look into your own eyes and ask yourself how are you?
As people we are becoming more and more efficient. There’s an App, an application, for everything on our smart-phones. From music to medical tests to running our schedules to buying stuff. Our phones can get us anything and everything we want. Despite all this efficiency, why are we still so lost? What are we searching for? What are we trying to complete in us? Ask anyone__yourself to begin with__as to what will make them happy, and you would hear people express it differently of course, but most will say that they would like to live a different Life from what they are leading currently. Then why is it that nobody is willing to make that change in the way they live?
Remember: to go back to being who you are really are, you must stop becoming something. Our entire efficiency race is about becoming: successful, rich and, eventually, happy__as if it were some destination. How would your Life be, if you just focus on being happy, being rich, being the way you are __ with WHATEVERyou have? Have you ever tried that? To find your Self, you must stop running this rat race, and make the journey within. Pause. And dive within. Listen to what, Osho, the Master has to tell you this morning: “Constantly remember that you are not here in Life to become a commodity; you are not here to become an utility, that is below dignity; you are not here just to become more and more efficient — you are here to be more and more alive; you are here to be more and more intelligent; you are here to be more and more happy, ecstatically happy.”
And that you will surely be, my friend, when you stop becoming and start being!
Don’t avoid worry. Understand it.
In the time that you spend worrying, you are missing living! You cannot do both at the same time. You can either live. Or you can worry. If you are worrying, be sure, you may be alive, breathing, seeing and doing, but you are notliving! The nature of the human mind is that it will keep churning thoughts incessantly and most of them will be about your worries. If you want to stop worrying, then that want may now become a new worry!
Instead understand why you worry in the first place. You worry about things, people, events, money, health, relationships, jobs, because you want them in your control or you want to know more about them or both. And when you are unable to do any of that, you worry. You say that you want a job. Is that a worry? Hardly. Will you get that job? Now, that’s a worry: because you want to control the outcome of your want and you want information about the future. My wife has gone to meet a friend. Is that a worry? Not really. But who is that friend? It is this greed for the detail, for that information, that will spawn a worry. And then the issue is no longer about the wife meeting the friend, it is about the gender of the friend and then it morphs into another, new, horrific worry: Is my wife cheating on me?
How do you contain this human urge to want to control what’s going on and/or keep seeking information on what’s going on? The simple truth is, you can’t. So, wanting to stop worrying is an improbable vision to begin with. What you can do, however, is to attempt living. When you are filling out your job application, for instance, why do you worry about the outcome of the effort? Focus on the application you are preparing. Pour your heart into it. Don’t let your mind wander. Bring it to attend on the only, supremely important, singular task at that moment in your Life, the job application. You will never enjoy a sunrise if you keep thinking about your nightmares. Even if you are at the most beautiful resort in the Pacific, you will not even see the sun rise if you are not present in that moment.
The cure to worrying is like the cure to diabetes. Once a diabetic, always a diabetic. At best, you can astutely manage your diabetes with your strict diet and exercise regimen. Even a day’s, or even a meal’s complacency or indulgence, can spike your sugar levels. So it is with worrying. You cannot stop worrying. Period. But you can always start living. When you live, in the present, no worry can plague you! Will you please live, worry-free, today, a day that has been crafted exquisitely for you?
Don’t postpone living – go do what you love doing and Life will take care of your bills and responsibilities!
Yesterday, our neighbor visited us and we spent a good hour chatting about Life. His family has been going through a lot of challenges. His wife has been bed-ridden for over two years now. She’s had several orthopedic challenges with respect to her lower limbs. She’s already been through four surgeries and the prognosis is that she can walk with support only in a few more months. Meanwhile, my neighbor too was felled by a rare disease that paralyzed his muscles, and he had to spend over a month in hospital and six months recovering at home. Now that he’s much better, my neighbor, who’s in his late 50s, told us, “I want to spend the rest of my Life doing what I love doing. This experience has taught us that we must live our lives fully and enjoy every moment. In fact, thanks to my stay at the hospital, I have learned to even love my physical limitations and challenges.”
My neighbor makes a very valid point. Most of us postpone living, hoping that we can “some day” live the Life that we want. The moot question is when is that “some day” going to arrive? The truth is that if you expect that day to arrive in the future it never will – because when you reach a milestone you have set for yourself, a new one will entice you. For instance, if at 20 you decide that you will make a million dollars, by the time you are 30, to secure your finances and then go to do what you love doing, chances are you will either make that million or you won’t. If you don’t, you will want to continue to keep trying and so you will push your “do-what-I-love-doing” deadline to 40. And if you do, you will want to make some more money, to feel more secure – because more the money, more the insecurity! Or finally when you are ready, your family responsibilities will weigh you down – either your parents need looking after or your spouse needs support or your kids need financial assistance. Or simply, after you turn 50, after over 30 years of running the rat race, earning a living, raising a family, meeting targets and working hard, you are just exhausted. You don’t want to take “any risks”. And this is how, sadly, Life gets postponed.
There is no better day than today to start living the Life you want. You can either postpone living and keep suffering work and Life situations that you abhor or you can simply take the plunge and live the Life you want to – doing what you love doing. I talk from experience. Though I decided at age 29 that I will follow my bliss, it wasn’t until I turned 36 that I discovered what gave me joy. But over the last 11 years I have stood my ground – despite the gravity of my financial challenges – choosing to do only what I love doing and where I can create value. In this time, while money has been virtually non-existent, Life has taken care of all that I need. So, from the Life I have and what I have seen, I will always champion that when you know what gives you joy – just go do it. Don’t worry or feel insecure. Know that if you have been created, you will be taken care of and provided for. Learn to trust Life and go follow your bliss!
Life is a limited period offer. The Buddha has famously said: “The trouble is you think you have time”. This is so true. Which is why we naively keep postponing living. It is important that we pause and reflect on our lives from time to time. And no better time to do it than today – this Monday, now! Ask yourself – What am I running around for? What do I really love doing? And what am I doing about it? Hopefully, your answers will awaken you to a Life of joy and you will go do what you want to do in the time that you still have left. When you let go, and live your Life without postponing it, Life will take care of you in ways in which you can’t even fathom!
The amount of time we spend complaining about Life can actually be spent living it fully, spiritedly!
|Justin Vijay Yesudas
Picture Courtesy: The New Indian Express
I read an inspiring story in this morning’s New Indian Express (NIE). Archita Suryanarayanan profiles 34-year-old Justin Vijay Yesudas who has recently won three gold medals at the National Paralympic Swimming Championship at Indore. An accident in 2004 left Justin paralyzed. Save his shoulder and elbow, Justin cannot feel or move any other part of his body below his neck. Yet he took to swimming and has managed to get this far. He tells NIE’sArchita that he’s now ready to aim for the Asian championships. Justin is not just a swimmer. He also has a corporate job as a Deputy General Manager at Cognizant Technology Solutions. He accepts his special condition as part of his Life’s design. He does not complain about it. In fact, he keeps a tight schedule daily – swimming, weight training and his regular corporate work. I simply loved this quote that he gave NIE: “Everyone tries to walk, but I know that I can’t. So, I continue doing what I used to (before the accident) instead of trying what I can’t. I see many able people who find excuses not to do things. What I do is find reasons to do things, Life can be beautiful even after paralysis.”
Reading this and seeing his million watt smile in the paper today lit up my morning! I just thought to myself – Isn’t it a shame that we, well-endowed folks, succumb to negativity and depression so often? Don’t we always end up complaining about what we don’t have? And aren’t we quick to cite constraints for not being able to do several things in Life? People like Justin invite us to re-examine our attitude to living and encourage us to live more spirited lives!
If you reflect on the way you approach your Life, you will find that complaining about what you don’t have comes naturally. To complain about lack of resources, lack of time, lack of money or lack of understanding is comfortable. You don’t have to do anything to complain. You just have to state what isn’t there and sit back and pine for it. We miss the whole point of intelligent living this way. We don’t realize that it is part of our Life’s work to work around constraints – whatever they may be. When we complain the lack of something in Life and feel deprived, we are actually beginning to suffer. Over time, this suffering holds us hostage and keeps us depressed. That’s really how you lose the yen to live and be happy. But if you work around your constraints – either by getting what you don’t have or by learning to live without what you don’t have – you may surely feel the pain, but you will not suffer. Justin surely feels the pain of being paralyzed. He will feel it all his Life. But clearly he is not suffering.
It is only when you end your suffering that you can actually live fully and spiritedly. That’s when you feel inner peace and happiness. But it all begins first with stopping to complain. Inject yourself with Justin’s spirit today – stop whining, start living!
Above all else, prioritize “quality time” with your family! Nothing will count more in the evening of your Life than the memories you have of the time you spent with your family – especially with your spouse and children.
I read a very interesting, heart-warming syndicated story in today’s Times of India. It talked about how a high-profile, globe-trotting finance executive, Mohamed El-Erian, 56, quit his $100m++ job at the California-based PIMCO Investment Fund last year because his daughter complained that he had never been with her for what she thought were important events in her Life. The list of 22 events El-Erian missed included the child’s first day at school, her first football match and a Halloween parade. El-Erian told The Independent’s Cahal Milmo: “I felt awful and got defensive. I had a good excuse for each missed event! Travel, important meetings, an urgent phone call, sudden to-dos. But it dawned on me that I was missing an infinitely more important point. As much as I could rationalize it … my work-Life balance had gotten way out of whack, and the imbalance was hurting my relationship with my daughter. I was not making nearly enough time for her.”
Well, El-Erian was lucky that he heard the “wake up call” and actually “woke up”. There are many, many, many people out there who are too busy building their businesses and their careers at the cost of their families.
I too “woke up” to a “wake up call”. But I woke up only on the day that my son, then 18, took a flight out to Chicago, to join undergrad school. Until that day, back in September 2008, I too, like El-Erian was obsessed with work. The business came first. And business came second. Family, if at all, was treated by me as something that I had to merely “provide” for. But that day, at Chennai International Airport, when my son bid goodbye to all of us, who had gone with him to see him off, and took the escalator to the departure gates, it suddenly dawned on me that we were not just sending him to college, we were actually letting him be independent in this big, huge world. The bird had flown from the nest. That night when I fixed myself a drink and sat thinking of my son, I realized from here on…he would graduate, get himself a job, raise a family and be pretty much on his own. It struck me that he would never be home the way he had been with us for the past 18 years. And it dawned on me then that I had missed much of those 18 years – in fact, I had missed watching him grow. It wasn’t as if I was a reckless and irresponsible father. My son and I always bonded well – and we still are great friends. But that night I felt I could have done better being with him for some more of his birthdays and several more of his events in school and in his theatre group.
My awakening led me to conclude that it is only because we crave and “search” for work-Life balance that we never really find it. I have realized that we have to stop seeing work as different from Life. The truth is that there is just one Life that we all have. And our family is an important part of that Life. As important as work – as in a professional career or a business – is. We cannot claim that we are toiling for the family and kid ourselves that sometime, when we have saved enough for the family, we will enjoy, or invest in, quality time with them. It is because we kid ourselves with this flawed logic that we don’t ever find work-Life balance. Actually, living a well-balanced Life is indeed possible. What is required is that we define for ourselves what’s most important to us in Life. And invest our waking hours prudently among these few areas. It is important that we write for ourselves a list of “never miss” family events – which includes two week-long vacations annually – and stick to fulfilling this list at any cost. On an average, including vacation time, you may require 30 days of family time a year. Of course, this is doable. Especially if you consider the 80~100 work weeks that you end up clocking – often mindlessly – in any case!
As you grow in your career, and as your family grows too, you will do well to remember that no one is getting any younger. Each milestone of your career and family will just be a memory in some more years. There’s no point in arriving in the future to discover that you have no, or far too few, family-related memories because you were busy working your butt off earning a living! Living your Life fully, while earning, is what smart people do. Surely, you are smart. And like El-Erian, will “wake up” too!
Don’t waste your time trying to make meaning out of Life. You simply can’t. Any effort in that direction will only frustrate you.
When your Life doesn’t go the way you want it to, your mind will throw up some seemingly relevant questions that also appear to be critical: “What’s the point in me living a Life that I don’t want?”, “Why should I go through experiences that make me suffer?”, “What is the purpose of Life?”. There can be more questions – it depends on how frustrated or disturbed you are with your Life. But none of these questions will be answered by your merely asking them. When you understand what Life is, these questions may not even arise and even if they do, they won’t matter.
The first point to internalize is that you, me, each of us is having a Life that we never asked for. You didn’t ask to be born, did you? So, the argument that you don’t want to live a Life that you don’t want is absurd. You have been created. And you must live as long as your Life lasts. Since you did not have a say in your creation, in your birth, don’t seek to have a say in your death. Let death happen on its own. It is inevitable as it is – so let it come when it must. You or I need not and must not be even thinking of death just because we don’t get some things that we want from Life. Instead invest the time you spend brooding in living. Life has not promised you a painless tenure on this planet. In fact, Life promises you nothing. So when you experience pain, which is natural and likely to happen several times in your lifetime, don’t resist it. Resisting is pointless. It is the resisting that causes suffering. Pain is just pain. Suffering arises when you wish that there is no pain. Drop that wish and bingo, all your suffering vanishes! Instantaneously, just like that! So, at one level, since your birth is choice-less and since you have no control over what happens to you in Life, it may appear that there really is no purpose to your creation. But if you look beyond just yourself, you will see how purposeful your Life can actually be. If you can share what you have with people around you – with those who need your love, your compassion, your understanding, your time, your knowledge, your talent or perhaps your money – you can make a difference to their lives. And that way your Life becomes useful. But even if you don’t want to touch another Life and just want to live all by yourself, Life’s beautiful when you stop imposing conditions on your Life and drop all expectations.
Life is beautiful as it is. The way it is. To see its beauty, to experience Life’s magic, you must let go of your urge to intellectualize it. You cannot make any meaning out of Life by applying reason and logic to it. It is an experience. And an experience is gone through, it is felt, it cannot be explained or understood. Every experience that you go through, whether you want it or not, teaches you something new about Life. And through your learning, consistently and continuously, you appreciate Life better.
In the face of Life’s trials and challenges, don’t think of death as an option. It is not. The important thing to remember is that very often, what you don’t want will arrive in your Life. You can’t get rid of it by wishing it weren’t there. The more you wish that way, the more you will suffer. But you can avoid suffering, if you simply accept Life for what it is. If possible, and if you are up to it, make a difference to another Life. In a choice-less Life, this is the only choice you have. And when you exercise it, not only do you encounter inner peace, you also prevent your mind from imagining absurd, morbid perspectives!
Life is an opportunity to love and be loved. That’s what makes living so special!
|N.Ramachandran (extreme left) at Sochi
Picture Courtesy: The Hindu/Internet
Yesterday I was at an Awards function. One of the awardees was the newly-elected President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) N.Ramachandran. He was feted with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Indian sports (other than cricket) including introducing Triathlon events in India, building Squash as a sport in India and helping India regain its official status at the Olympics. Ramachandran’s election as IOA’s President led to the Indian Tricolor being unfurled at the closing ceremony of the Sochi Olympics. But it was not Ramachandran, the sports administrator that I admired last evening. It was Ramchandran the man, the father who touched my heart. In his acceptance speech, Ramachandran thanked his family, his wife, his son and his daughter, without whose support, he said, he would not have been able to do all that he did. He said his son and daughter-in-law were not able to make it to the event. Then he called out to his daughter.
“Bubbles, are you there,” he asked.
“Ya….,” came the reply. We all turned in the direction from where the reply had come from. And there she was – a young lady, specially-abled, cheering lustily for her dad. She was truly overjoyed that her father was given the award and equally delighted that she had been called out by him in his speech. It was a poignant moment. An achiever, a busy industrialist, pauses to thank his family and then celebrates the presence of his special child in the audience and thanks her for her support in his Life. I have not known too many people to be able to do that – which is to include members in their family who are special in the mainstream of their social Life.
That moment was a lesson in humility, love and living. We all get so obsessed with the rush of our daily lives that we sometimes don’t consider the contributions of so many people that make each day count for us. As we grow in our careers and, often times, encounter success and fame, we may get carried away that it’s all been caused a lot by our own intentions and efforts. But if we care to pause and reflect, there would be so much support that has come to us from those who have backed us silently – sometimes with just their presence. That presence is love. And recognizing and celebrating that presence is what Life is all about!
Be eternally grateful for this Life and this experience! Life is a mixed bag. You often will get what you don’t want. And you will also often get what you didn’t expect. Every which way though the best you can do to be anchored in peace is to be grateful for whatever happens to you, for whatever you get!
Zen practitioners advise using this mantra in all contexts: “Thank you for everything. I have no complaints whatsoever!” This may not appeal to most people instantaneously because when you are caught in the throes of your everyday challenges, the last thing on your mind is gratitude. And this Zen practice seems almost escapist – as if you are choosing to deny what is, to deny reality! But if you examine Life closely, you will appreciate that there is no other way to respond to Life than with gratitude. Being thankful is the only way to live peacefully. And if you live without being grateful, for everything that’s given to you in each moment, you will never be in peace.
The human mind always craves for what is not there. And rarely appreciates what is there. Look at you: don’t you bemoan scarcity all the time, rarely celebrating the abundance in your Life? Years of living like this have conditioned you to miss the opportunity in gratitude. To break free from this self-defeating attitude, do a simple exercise. Make a list of all, absolutely ALL, the things that you are grateful for in Life. And make another list of what’s not there, what you miss, in your Life. Now, do a dispassionate assessment asking yourself: Do you really think what you miss outweighs what you have? What you will discover through this exercise is the power in the Zen mantra we discussed above.
You will then conclude that the best way to live is to simple be thankful for everything that Life’s given you. And you too will stop complaining and start living!