When you grieve for something – or someone – that you have lost, or don’t have, you are perhaps missing the bigger picture. You are missing focusing on what you have!
We had coffee with a friend over the weekend. She recalled her visit to the Gandhi Ashram, on the banks of the Sabarmati, in Ahmedabad some years back and told us about how a quote on gratitude at the ashram changed her thinking completely. The quote, she recalled, read, “When there is gratitude, there can be no grief.”
I can’t agree with that quote more. The nature of Life is that what is today will not be there tomorrow. With birth, death is certain. So Life itself is a limited period offer. While it is natural to grieve over loss, of someone or some thing, grieving endlessly pushes you into a depressive spiral. Grief has to be understood as a natural emotion, a response that arises with any loss. But you must value that grieving over what isn’t is pointless. What is over is over. What is lost is lost. It is gone. Stay with the grief to mourn the loss. But move on. And if you can’t move on, learn to be grateful for whatever is (left), whatever you have with you. This sense of gratitude alone will help you overcome your grief.
To be sure, there is no harm in grieving. But there’s no use either. With every moment that you spend grieving, you are missing a moment to live. The truth is that Life is happening for you, around you, 24×7, irrespective of whether you are grieving or whether you are enjoying it. It is up to you to decide what you want to do with your Life. With gratitude, your problems don’t recede, they don’t go away, what is lost cannot be always gained back (certainly not instantaneously), but you can at least avoid missing – losing – the magic and beauty that each new moment contains.
When something or someone gets taken away from you, just accept the event as an opportunity to live without that something or person. The most remarkable quality about Life is that, no matter how you feel about your loss, Life simply goes on!
This year opened with our “miracle” car breaking down! (Why I call it a “miracle” car is chronicled in my Book – ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal – A father’s lessons on how to be happy and content while living without money’; Westland, 2014.) The cost of fixing the car was far higher than the car’s value itself. Naturally, we sold the car. And obviously, given our financial state, we haven’t been able to buy another car. Then, our TV conked out. And then our 19-year-old (yes!!!) microwave too called it a day. We had been living without a washing machine for several months already, so suddenly, as I recalled to my wife, it seemed that we were the way when we were at the start of our careers. When we had none of the worldly assets that a household today necessarily needs – plus, we didn’t have work or money. As each of our basic necessities perished, we, as a family, adapted. None of us complained. None of us grieved. Yes, it was difficult. Whether it was having to wash clothes or heat food or simply not be able to put up your feet and watch TV. Without the car, we had to now deal everyday with the infamous auto-drivers of Chennai. But we just went on – knowing that this phase was something we all had to endure. Then, by the middle of the year, some friends stepped in and helped us replace our washing machine, microwave and TV. My smartphone too had crashed and another friend gifted me a spare phone he had. When I reflected on the year gone by, I couldn’t but marvel at the way Life works – Life just happens; things get taken away and yet, maybe you don’t get all that you want, but you do get whatever you need! Well, we still don’t have a car. But, seriously, we have learned to live without one!
Much of our insecurity about Life comes from our perceived inability to cope with loss. We imagine we cannot live without some things or some people. Yes, when we lose a thing or someone, that loss can be very painful. We will despair and grieve. But one way to deal with a loss is to ask yourself if you came into this world with this thing or person that you are grieving about. You came alone and empty-handed. And you will leave alone and empty-handed. Whatever you claim you own is what was given to you here. Your name, your qualifications, your experiences, your relationships, your money, your assets, your memories – all of them happened and are happening in this lifetime. And none of them can go with you when you depart from this planet. So, why fear losing someone or something, why grieve over the loss of someone or something, when you can’t take them away with you?
I have discovered that every loss is a beautiful opportunity to learn to live fully. This really means that every loss is an opportunity to trust Life more. To know that if you have been created, you will be provided for and looked after – no matter what happens to you. So, if you are faced with a loss, just accept your new reality and allow Life to take you forward. When you live this way, you will discover that Life simply goes on – and you too will learn to flow with it!
When you don’t know what to do, when you feel the most vulnerable, do what gives you inner peace – as long as it won’t hold you hostage in the long run.
When you go through crisis in Life, or when you start searching for meaning in Life, often times people or practices or movements or communities will come your way. They may have always been there – but it is only through being in a crisis that you may notice them! Just being with such people will give you immense inner peace in the face of all the chaos and turmoil around you. In fact all the anxiety and suffering within you will subside in their presence. And you will want to explore that path, the one that’s helping you anchor within, more. But people around you will warn you that such influences are ‘evil’; they will say that you have lost it or that you will be cheated or that you are headed in the wrong direction. Employ a simple rule of thumb: if you are finding greater inner peace in doing what you are doing, simply do it! I am not championing escapism – through drinking alcohol or doing drugs. I am suggesting exercising a mature, aware choice that helps you gain inner peace.
It is normally through a crisis, or from a sense of listlessness, that the search for the meaning of, and for meaning in, Life begins. This search may lead you to places of worship, to the scriptures, to spiritual Gurus, to a deep study of religion, to practices such as transcendental meditation or yoga, to communities like ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) or to self-help groups that use the scriptures or psychology-based methods and practices for healing and anchoring within. Normally, you end up trying several of these and then choose the one that works for you. And it is not necessary that your choice, your path, may the one chosen for someone else in your same situation. For instance, I know some who became a Buddhist when she wanted to get over her mid-Life career crisis and then decided she needed “no religion” to live her Life. Someone else, a Hindu, in the same situation, found great value in the teachings of Jesus Christ and embraced Christianity. Another person we know, who has a special child, is a devout follower of Swami Sathya Sai Baba. While someone else follows the teachings of Jaggi Vasudev. Each of us has a unique way of making sense of Life. And each person encounters and chooses as catalyst that someone or religion or practice that supports his or her journey the best. Yes the world is full of people who take people for a ride and try to capitalize on their vulnerability. But not all Gurus are crooks and no religion is flawed – just the way religion is practised today is questionable!
But I believe I am blessed. Because I have met only the most wonderful people in Life. Their experiences and their wisdom have contributed to my evolution in no small measure. I have understood that all the scriptures, all the religions, all the teachers and all the Gurus champion the same lesson – Live in the moment and live Life to the fullest! They may speak different languages, they may show different approaches, but the message is the same. So, there really is no problem if you use religion or if you follow a Guru to arrive at that awakening, to learn to live Life without worry and simply be!
The problem arises when you expect others to solve your problems! This is where you get waylaid. This is where the charlatans thrive and operate. This is how your vulnerability is leveraged. No one can solve another’s problems. Every problem, every crisis, every grief, every event of pain and loss has to be faced and gone through in Life. Genuine teachers are fellow voyagers – just like you and me. They have no magical powers. They will not tell you that they can solve your problems. They will only teach you how to deal with a problem. They will help you evolve and mature into a stronger person. In their company, from their teachings, through their grace, you will learn the value of letting go, the power of acceptance and the meaning of just being.
Whoever you choose to guide you, lead you, follow them or embrace such a practice only if it helps you anchor within, with inner peace. Because only when you are peaceful within that you can deal with the chaos and crisis outside!
Know that when you lose something, you gain something too. And, often times, what you gain is not material – yet, it is priceless.
The other day I had a rare, interesting, conversation with my parents. For various reasons, we have been, and continue to be, distant. In the last few months, however, we have come to have conversations among us. That, I would believe, is significant progress.
We sat at a coffee shop as we chatted. My mother was aghast that my wife and I were still in a hopeless, bankrupt situation. Out of concern for me and my family, and out of disbelief, she said that what was happening to us was “unfair”.
I told her that there was never a question of fair-play in Life. Because Life promises nothing. “Life doesn’t guarantee that you will not be challenged, that you will not lose anything or that your lifetime will be easy. So, let’s not grieve over Life’s perceived unfairness,” I said.
My mother replied: “Look around you. Everyone is well-settled. Everyone’s Life is stable – they have a steady income stream, they have savings, they have assets, some have even planned their retirement well. Why is it that your Life is so bizarre? In your late forties, you have lost everything. I am not even sure you can rebuild everything and reclaim whatever you have lost.”
I understood where she was coming from. I realized that she found the absence of an immediate solution to my situation baffling. I said: “What I have lost is material, ‘amma’. Everything material is gone. But look at what I have gained. I have learnt the value of faith and patience. I have understood the futility of anger. I have gained inner peace.”
My father, who had not spoken until then during the hour-long conversation, piped in: “And son, those are all qualities that could not be associated with you just 10 years ago – faith, patience, inner peace and your ability to conquer anger every time that you are provoked by someone or some situation. What you have gained, far outweighs whatever you have lost.”
I felt humbled with my dad’s assessment and his wisdom. To be sure, I too was gripped with fear and insecurity some years ago. I was angry with myself and my situation then. I was held hostage by my guilt and was filled with grief. But none of what I felt made my situation any better. When I examined my feelings closely, I realized that they were all about my material losses – they centered around what I did not have, money and things! Over time, I understood that feeling deprived or clueless or sorrowful was not helping me. I simply let go of the way I felt. Not that I am or can be ecstatic about being cashless. But at least I stopped grieving and being angry. I decided to wait, however long it takes, while resolving to work harder and try even harder, every single day, to make things better.
I remember reading somewhere that whatever material losses we suffer, including the loss of people we love, always eventually leads to our souls gaining inner peace. From my experience, I now know this bitter-sweet irony of Life to be true.
You will learn to value what you have, only when you lose something!
Only a loss, physical or emotional, often awakens us to the reality that our lives are soaked in grace. Until then each of us takes our Life for granted. So, we stumble along in a perpetual state of ‘I-know-it-all’ or ‘I-am-in-control’. And then something always happens – that shocks and numbs us, alright, but also awakens us. It’s intensity shakes us to the extent that we begin to count our blessings even in the darkest hours of grief and sorrow. In a way, therefore, a loss is a great way to reboot in Life!
Loss is inevitable. Just as death is inevitable. So, when you lose something, or someone, don’t worry about what happened. Don’t grieve over why it happened. Anybody offering you a rational explanation for the ‘why’ is only consoling you. Consolations are of no use. Instead of consoling yourself, face the loss upfront. Asking why, lamenting and crying hoarse are of no use. Get up and face the brutal reality of your Life. Focus on the learning that Life wants you to have through the experience. This is the only way to make the loss worthwhile.
A man lost everything material in his Life – money, assets, his home, his job. Everything. Absolutely everything. What he had left was his family – his wife and his two children. A close friend of the man was genuinely concerned and expressed his shock over what had happened. He said, “How do you manage? How do you live?” The man replied: “It is only now that I am living. Up until now, I was just existing, earning-a-living perhaps! Living through this cashless, penniless phase, I am realizing that money is resource. It is not a constraint. Not having money is not a crime. I am learning that the value of what I have, which is my family, is far more significant than what I have lost. Because I can always earn money in the future. But I can never get my family back had I lost them.”
That’s a remarkable way to look at Life and loss – to gain from what you have lost! If you look closely, you will see that all aspects of Life are impermanent, perishable, transient. So, try and simply witness the Life that is happening to you. Don’t ask why. Don’t attach meanings to any loss. Just watch what’s happening. And celebrate what you have. Not that such an attitude can make your Life, especially in the wake of a loss, any easier, but it can definitely make it peaceful!
I met someone briefly yesterday who is young and who has recently lost her two-and-a-half month old baby. She came across as someone who is stoic and who is learning to cope with her loss. Yet there, naturally, was a tinge of sadness in her eyes. I reflected on the brief conversation I had had with her as I sit down to write this morning. How can you console a mother who has lost a child?
The truth is you can’t. And you mustn’t. Not about this mother and her loss. But also about any loss, any crisis, any tragedy in Life. Life’s realities have to be faced. They can’t be justified or reasoned with.
In this mother’s case, she has to realize__and accept__that death is an integral part of Life. If you are born, you will die. You know this. But it is your expectation that Life last longer. This expectation is the one that causes you grief. The moment you drop that expectation, you will be able to deal with any loss__including death__better. A friend of mine lost his grandson within a few hours of the child’s birth. The child was born in San Jose, California. Everything was normal: the pre-delivery medical reports, the delivery itself and the baby’s condition post-delivery. Apparently the baby had suffered a heart attack as his heart was weaker than that of most infants at birth. So, one minute, my friend wrote to me over mail sharing his joy at being elevated to grandfather status. And within a few hours he wrote to inform that they had lost their grandchild. A line he wrote in his mail is worth reflecting over: “We are all still coming to terms with this. But I guess each of us has a role to fulfil in creation. Our little fellow’s was to remind us that, at the end of the day, Life is fleeting and fragile. He taught us, through his brief stay with us, to celebrate each moment of it and not to ever waste it!”
To be sure, we lose a bit of our lifetime every single day – 24 hours daily to be precise. None of us knows when we will have to depart. But know for sure that you__and I__have to depart. Someday. Our expiry dates are already set. Except, unlike in all the products that we consume, that date is not visible to us. So, here’s the choice we have to make: we can live our lives pining for all that we have lost or we can live celebrating what we still have left with us – even as our clocks keep counting down to our own ends.