Let people and their opinions just be – you carry on living the Life that you love living

Don’t measure your Life in terms of success or defeat, asset value and brand value or on what people – including the media – have to say. Nothing matters in the end; except whether you lived each of the moments you were alive and except the lives you touched!    

This morning’s Economic Times had a story on Indian cricket’s most successful captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Written by Ratna Bhushan and Ravi Teja Sharma, the story (“Is Brand Dhoni on the wane?”) seeks to analyze if Dhoni’s appeal as a brand endorser is under threat and if it is worth betting on post the ban on Chennai Super Kings’ from the IPL. Nothing wrong with the story per se given that ET is a business paper and they have the need to comment on subjects such as brand value and asset value. But there’s a naïve perspective, in fact an avoidable opinion, that the story plays up. It reads: Dhoni was listed by Forbes in 2014 as the world’s fifth most valuable sportsperson brand, valued at $ 20 million. And only last week, he was named as the world’s ninth most marketable in a study by London School of Marketing. But can this change? It can.”  I infer the statement to mean that if you thought Dhoni was invincible, infallible, indispensable, think again; because his brand aura is waning with his poor ODI performance as captain, with CSK in trouble and with his retirement from Test cricket. My point is – whether any of the reasons Bhushan and Sharma attribute to Dhoni’s dropping brand value are relevant or not, the irrefutable truth about Life is that what goes up has to come down. Such is the nature of Life. The question whether someone’s position in a given context (in Dhoni’s case it is his supremacy in the game) can change or not is both irrelevant and naïve at the same time. Of course, all Life is about change. And nothing lasts forever – including the social definitions of success or failure.
Mercifully, the Dhoni we know is the man he is. He is unlikely to be bothered by the ETanalysis. 

Yet, I find so many people grieving over what other people have to say about their lives. They put on a mask and pretend to be living a Life to contend with social and peer expectations than to live fuller, wholesome lives. They work overtime on how they are perceived than how they simply are. So people suffer bad marriages because they have to protect their social identities. They get stuck in lousy careers because the money is more important than the quality of work they do. They work overtime, often vainly, to look presentable and appear good on Page 3 or on TV, while within them they are rotting – feeling empty, lost and unwanted by their immediate circle of friends and family. All of this is wasted, misplaced effort that only accentuates personal suffering.

Remember this: your Life will mean nothing to you when you are gone. You can’t take anything with you when your time here runs out – not your money, not your assets, not your memories, not your family and definitely not your rewards, recognitions, media stories and public opinion. What really matters are two things – First, how did you live your Life? Did you live it fully or did you merely exist? And second, did you do work that touched people’s lives and made a difference? When you believe you lived all the moments of your Life fully, when you believe you touched even one Life in your lifetime, then, you can say your stay here has been meaningful. Only then you can say your lifetime mattered. Else, it was all fluff. Before you know it, it’s gone with the wind! Pooh!  

So, drop all pretentions. Get real. Let people say what they want to and let their opinions be where they are. You simply carry on living – being who you are and living the Life you love living! 

Don’t fall for the bait and get attached to outcomes – stay detached!

Stay detached from the outcome of your efforts and you will be at peace. Detachment really means to be unmoved in any situation – success or failure, victory or defeat.

Picture Courtesy: The New Indian Express/Internet
Team India’s Captain Cool, M.S.Dhoni, reminded us yesterday, yet again, why he is such a rare human being, player and leader. After India’s comprehensive defeat at the hands of the Aussies in Sydney in the 2015 ICC World Cup semi-final on Thursday night, Dhoni said: “Of course we are disappointed not to be in the final, but then only one team can win. Australia played better cricket today (Thursday). The Cup did not belong to us. We took it from someone and someone else will take it from us. If we had played better cricket on this particular day, we would have won.” This is the simplest, most logical explanation anyone can give in any situation like the one India finds itself in – they played a great World Cup campaign, winning seven out of seven games until losing in the semi-final. Also, when you do badly and lose a game, there are only learnings, never justifications. And finally, staying detached – as Dhoni is and has always been – from the outcome is the best way to preserve and nurture your inner peace.
Indeed, like sports, Life too is competitive. But no matter how hard you work, and how ethical you are, there will be times when you will not get what you want or perhaps even deserve. And there will be other times when you will be successful. In either situation, stay detached. Remember this: Life happens through us, never because of us. So, when we succeed at what we are trying to achieve, stay unaffected by the accolades. And when you fail at something, or rather when someone else succeeds in your place, choose again to remain unruffled. In the game of Life, someone will necessarily have to win. And it need not always have to be you!
To be sure, however, on the spiritual plane, success and failure, victory and defeat, mean nothing. Everything is transient, everything is a mere experience, and if you pause to reflect deeply, everything is an impermanent illusionary experience! So, don’t fall for the bait and get attached to outcomes – stay detached. In any situation, you have only your efforts to focus on and count on. Here’s how you deal with your efforts:
       Good efforts and you succeed at the task – take it easy
       Poor efforts and you succeed at the task – take it easy
       Good efforts and you fail at the task – take it easy
       Poor efforts and you fail at the task – take it easy
Take it easy every which way. Learn every single time. Remember this too: as Dhoni recounted and the Bhagavad Gita says, “Nothing belongs to you. And nothing will be with you forever. What is yours belonged to someone else yesterday and will belong to yet another tomorrow!” So, stay detached. Stay in peace.

Let go and simply walk away when you must

When you can’t create value anymore or when you are not enjoying what you are doing anymore, simply walk away!
Graphic Courtesy: PTI/Internet
M.S.Dhoni surprised the cricketing world yesterday by retiring from Test Cricket. As India’s most successful Test Captain ever, everyone believes Dhoni has a lot of cricket still left in him. But the man himself thinks that he’s played enough of that format, having won 27 Tests for India and having led his team to be the # 1 Test side in the world, a slot the team retained for 21 months. Dhoni has always been remarkable – for being able to deal with victory and defeat with equanimity. His ability to stay unmoved in the middle, amidst all the action and chaos, has earned him the title of “Captain Cool”. But with his decision to retire from the oldest form of the game, Dhoni teaches us something far more valuable – he’s telling us that we must learn to let go and simply walk away when we must.
If you examine your Life closely, you will discover that much of your grief comes from clinging on to stuff – people, opinions, positions, things, money and such. The more you hold on to something, the more you will suffer. Such is the nature of Life. Life is in a perpetual, never-ending flow. To imagine that your Life should or will remain unchanged is downright foolishness. Trying to control Life is like holding on to water in your palm – it will simply flow away!
Each of us has a season in the sun just as we have our dark spells in Life. In our chosen vocation or in a field of interest, or in Life in general, we will have our own triumphs and travails. Yet we must never see any of this as permanent. We must learn to move on with time. We must also be willing to accept and appreciate that the generations that follow us will be smarter at doing whatever we believe we are currently best at. So, the intelligent way to live is to make way for others and for Life itself. Coming in the way of Life, by holding on to anything that you imagine is your own, is sure to cause inner strife and suffering. A simple rule of thumb can help here. In any situation, in any context, ask yourself if you are able to make a difference and create value? If the answer is no, walk away. Ask yourself if you are enjoying what you are doing or saying or whether you are enjoying being with someone? If the answer is no, walk away. It is that simple. Really!

Life often opens newer avenues when you let go of something or someone or some situation. Even if it immediately doesn’t, the very act of letting go is liberating. Clinging on is always about being under pressure, about wanting to prove a point – sometimes even to yourself.  But when you let go, there is no proving anything to anyone. When you let go, when you walk away, you are actually telling Life that you are open for new possibilities and opportunities. You are setting yourself free. And only when you are totally free can you be in bliss! 

Let neither praise nor blame fell you

A lot of our lifetime is wasted living our lives for others’ approval or praise or out of fear of their criticism or condemnation of our actions. An intelligent way to live would be to just do what you can and know to do, do it well, ethically, and simply don’t seek praise or fear criticism.

Shoaib Akhtar congratulates MS Dhoni after a match
Picture Source: EspnCricinfo/Internet
Former Pakistan bowling great Shoaib Akhtar (International Career 1997~2011) is one of the expert commentators in the ongoing Indian Premier League, IPL 7. The other day, ahead of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) vs Rajasthan Royals match, Akhtar had this to say of CSK (and India) captain, M.S.Dhoni: “What kind a guy is this Dhoni? I am just amazed. He’s won everything – a T20 World Cup (2007), was in the finals again this year, an ODI World Cup (2011), he’s taken his team to the number one spot in the ICC Test rankings, he’s led CSK to win the IPL twice…and he’s nonchalant about all this success? isko kuch hota hi nahi hai…kuch bhi dikhata nahi hai…” Akhtar is basically wondering how’s it that Dhoni is able to carry his genius, his greatness so lightly? How’s it that he’s so unmoved? Dhoni is true to that observation by Akhtar not only about the way he has handled success and praise, but also the way he deals with defeat and criticism. At 33, he’s a lot more evolved than most people twice his age. Surely it’s not only cricket that we can learn from him!

Internalizing a few truths about Life can be very useful as we live it.

First, know that however hard your work at something, there’s only so many times that you can win or keep winning. To fall, to fail, despite your best efforts and intent, is inevitable – and is an integral part of your Life design. Failure is an event – it is not a person! Remember that!

Next, when you win doing something, never let all those cheering you, con you into believing that you are great and that you caused your success. A humble flute was once put up for auction because it had been used by a world-renowned flautist. Bids for several million dollars were being placed for the flute. Suddenly, as the auctioneer’s gavel was coming down for the final, closing, bid, the flute spoke up. It said: “I am just a piece of bamboo. With a few holes. So, can’t you see how much I must be “really” worth? My value is only in the hands of a player who can make music out of me by blowing through me.” In a way, we are all like the bamboo flute. The music – whatever art or profession we follow – flows through us, in spite of us, and not because of us.

Third, don’t take what people have to say seriously – ever. Listen to your inner voice. When people praise you, be grateful. When people criticize you, be gracious – and forgiving. Don’t let people’s opinions – good or bad – take you away from being yourself and from experiencing the beauty and magic of your Life!
No matter what you do or what happens, let neither praise nor blame fell you. Be inspired by what Gautama Siddharta, the Buddha, had to say: “As solid rock remains unmoved by the wind, so do the wise remain unmoved by praise and blame.”


When Life slows down, enjoy it in slow motion!

There will be times in Life when you have to simply hang in there. Nothing you do will work for you. And each day will be slow, dreary and hard to live through. All you can do in such a time is to believe that Life is teaching you to keep the Faith and develop Patience.
Nobody loves a problem situation. So, really, no one wants a challenging phase in Life to prolong – joblessness, a business slowdown, a critical health condition or a messy relationship drama. But what can you do in the face of Life’s onslaught? As they say in cricket, when the bowling is intense and difficult to play, simply let the ball go past you. Don’t stick your bat out, don’t play a rash shot in desperation or you will lose your wicket! In fact, India Captain, M.S.Dhoni, told the media, after his team’s Tri-Nation Trophy triumph at Port of Spain (West Indies) yesterday: “Sometimes you have to play boring cricket.” He was referring to the difficult-to-negotiate overs in between when the Indian run rate slowed down and the team lost wickets in quick succession.
So it is with Life too – when it becomes boring and painful, you can avoid the suffering by simply accepting that your Life, for now, is playing out in slow motion. Actually, why must Life always be fast paced? Why do we need to be running from meeting to meeting, chore to chore, commute to commute all the time? Why must everything be an agenda item or on a To Do List?
A good metaphor to hold is that of a clock that’s ticking away even in a thunderstorm. Un-fluttered. Unmoved. A strong mind is like the clock. It remains untouched by the vagaries of Life. Neither exulting vainly in success nor tormented in failure. To be sure, Life is not only about winning and losing. It is, in fact, all about living. And living does not need a pre-qualification. Living simply means being present in the moment, no matter where you find yourself. Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century Persian mystic and poet, has said it so beautifully: “Take sips of this pure wine being poured. Don’t mind that you have been handed a dirty cup!”
I have learned that Faith is not about a God or religion. Faith is knowing that everything happens for a reason. And since the reason will not always be immediately evident, you must have Patience to last a trying phase, till the reason shows up! Life is not a 100-meter race. If you rush through it too fast or keep brooding its slow pace you will surely miss the scenery! And since you can’t ever go back in time or Life, the most intelligent thing you can do is to live fully every moment of the Life that’s playing out for you, enjoying its magic and beauty!  
                                                                                                                                                                                

Remain unmoved to stay unscathed

Just as it is important not to get bogged down by failure, it is equally, perhaps more, critical not to get carried away by success.
M S Dhoni: Unmoved
At the presentation ceremony of the ICC Champions Trophy at Edgbaston, Birmingham, two nights ago, former England captain and Star Cricket’s anchor Nasser Hussain asked India captain M.S.Dhoni: “The T20 World Cup, the ICC World Cup and now the Champions Trophy….you have seen and got them all. What would you want next?”
Embarrassed and smiling, Dhoni, in his characteristic down-to-earth, grounded, style, replied: “I am not here to prove to anyone how good I am. My focus is on the game. We are off to the West Indies from here and we will be keen to put in our best there and work as a team.”
Many observers and commentators have been amazed with Dhoni’s unflappable leadership and his ability to remain calm in a crisis. I feel the biggest reason why he continues to be successful is the because he doesn’t get all that he’s achieved go to his head. He doesn’t let defeat affect him either. And that’s a remarkable quality. An ability. Something each of us can consider, reflect upon and try internalizing.
Think about it. In this lifetime, which has been given to us without our asking for it, there are many things that will happen to us. There are many experiences that we will go through. Some of them will work to a plan. And we will start imagining we caused or created them. Some will happen to us without any effort from us. And sometimes things will simply happen – causing us pain, joy, grief, suffering and often leaving us numbed, shocked, defeated, delighted or humbled. Osho, the Master, invites us to consider the example of the wheel. He says a wheel moves. While its center remains unmoved. So, if your Life were a wheel, with its own fair share of ups and downs, you, the real you, your center, your soul, must remain unmoved. Only this state of staying unmoved, despite whatever is happening to you, can keep you perpetually blissful! The best way to respond to Life is to remain unmoved – by joy or by sorrow, by victory or by defeat. Then, and only then, can you hope to get through this lifetime, unscathed!

Understanding the potent power of Silence


Is silence a virtue or is it a sign of weakness? The latest target of media and public opinion for remaining silent is India’s charismatic cricket team captain, M.S.Dhoni. This morning’s papers liken him to Indian Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh (the Indian media and wags, by the way, have nicknamed PM Singh, ‘Moun’mohan – ‘mouna’ meaning ‘silent’ in Sanskrit!) and brand him a weakling who has allowed himself to be gagged by the BCCI  (Board of Control for Cricket in India) in the wake of the IPL (Indian Premier League) spot-fixing scandal.

The normal human tendency is to rush to speak, be heard, clarify, demand attention or defend – as the situation or context may warrant. So, when people choose to remain silent, either not making use of an opportunity to speak up or not responding to a provocation, the popular inference is that the person choosing silence is weak or has something to hide. Well, to be sure, it may mean neither. A perspective worth considering is, perhaps, the person has nothing to say or believes that being silent is an answer or sufficient response in itself or recognizes the futility in speaking at that point in time.

I have learned the value of remaining silent, over retorting, defending, clarifying or expressing, through experience. There was a time when I would rush to offer my point of view – either in defense or to justify – in all contexts. I used to imagine then that if something had to be said, it had better be expressed then and there, loud and clear. Over time though, I have learned to believe otherwise.

In fact, I now revere, and am inspired by my own father’s ability to choose silence as a response each time that he could have spoken. I remember, with a huge sense of shame, once, many years ago, when there was a raging issue in the family, my demanding to know from my dad whether he was spineless. My demand was uncouth, violent and unbecoming of a son. We sat in a hotel lobby (because we could not speak in private at his home) when I asked him the hugely provocative and embarrassing question: “Why are you not speaking up for what is right dad? Are you spineless?” My dad, much to my shock, and infuriating me no end, responded with a blank look on his face. He simply, yet again, said nothing, choosing to be silent. I came back from that meeting with my father disillusioned and angry. But today, perhaps wiser from learning from Life, I completely agree with my dad’s choice. I don’t think there could have been or can be a better response to situations that we are faced with as a family. And it is not just with my family or with a specific situation. In several situations in Life, remaining silent is perhaps the best response.

I am still learning this art though. And it isn’t always easy. I remember another instance where I could have remained silent but choose to express myself instead and that expression has led to a strained relationship and a continuous sense of angst among a few people connected with that episode. I wish now I had remained silent. Here’s what I have learned:

  • We may do some things. And we may not do several others.
  • Whatever be the course our lives take, based on decisions and choices we make, people will have opinions. They may cast aspersions on you. They may demand explanations. Or simply provoke you wantonly.
  • Wherever you see no value being added with your expressing yourself, and of course when you think your speaking (up) will only confound the situation, it is best to remain silent.
  • No matter what people say, remember, at the end of the day you have a job to do, a Life to live. And if you can avoid potential, wasteful conflicts by choosing to be silent, why not go about your Life and business silently? 

 

Of course, sometimes speaking up becomes a necessity, not an option. And in all such cases, a conflict normally becomes unavoidable. But such conflict is constructive and never destructive. How then do you decide when to speak up and when to be silent? A good rule of thumb is to make the choice of remaining silent not so much to avoid conflict__but so that you don’t end up creating one!

Silence is a great force. Because silence always speaks when words can’t or when words fail! Being silent is an art that is worth learning, exploring and practicing. It will ultimately lead you to a great, unimpeachable inner peace.

Switch On! Switch Off! Stay Tuned!!

Not worrying does not mean not acting on what worries you. It means acting with focus but without worry.

Worry doesn’t solve anything. Least of all your problems. Solutions to your problems can only be got when you attempt them. Many a time though, you are caught up with your problems so much that you don’t see solutions. You only keep worrying about being unable to solve them. And some problems are so complex, so protracted in nature that you can’t solve them immediately in any case. And definitely never by worrying! So, in such situations, caught in the maze of your problems, your worry turns into a deep, dark brooding and your Life is plunged into grief. It is not at all funny. Half of humanity lives like that __ merely existing, often drowning in their sorrow and suffering!

At such times, switching off from worrying can help. It turns your attention to living __ from merely existing.

Yesterday, at the IPL cricket match in Chennai, Ian Bishop, the expert commentator from Sony Max asked India and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) Captain, M.S.Dhoni, how he handles the pressure of his job. Of leading his country and his IPL team to success every single time. Dhoni replied in his characteristic manner: ‘Well, it’s a high pressure job. Many people say they try it. But I can claim that I have been successful at it. Which is, I have developed this ability to switch on and switch off. When I finish a game, I switch off from cricket. I then switch on when I come back to something connected with cricket, a meeting, or a practice session or a game itself.” This appears to be a good practice and one which seems to be working for Dhoni. For he is truly both Captain Marvel and Captain Cool for Team India and Team CSK just now!

I have learned this art too and over time have been successful with it. I have designated periods of time daily that I invest in addressing the worrisome, irksome, not-easy-to-solve issues of my Life. I switch on when I need to focus on them. And I switch off from them when I have tried my bit for the day and immediately switch the focus on another department of my Life that requires my attention. This method, I realize, has helped me live in each moment __ accepting it and enjoying it for what it is. This ensures that I don’t worry or brood. Either I solve what’s staring me in the face or I turn my attention to another aspect of my Life where I can be more productive. Switching off and switching on at will, I live mindfully, at peace and in bliss! This is the way I stay tuned to Life!

Indeed, you cannot be serious about Life!


A key factor that inhibits progress on the spiritual path is our tendency to take Life too seriously. Everything that we do, it appears, seems to key us up. Every small conquest seems to be a moment to claim superiority and every failure is seen as a numbing, lethal, final blow! So much so, when a hard-earned victory comes our way, we fritter away the moment in showmanship and bury ourselves under a heap of unsolicited critique and free opinion, when we fumble and fall.

So, it was with great interest that I read noted columnist Nirmal Shekar’s views on Indian cricket captain M.S.Dhoni in yesterday’s Hindu. Celebrating Dhoni’s legendary equanimity, Shekar made a case for sportspersons having the ‘right perspective’ to their game. That perspective, wrote Shekar, is to understand that a game is just a game. “…Sport is not really a matter of life and death. Sport is enjoyable only so long as we can get our perspective right and put it in its place, put it where it really belongs in the big picture. If we let it become too important, then what was sought as a pleasurable experience will turn out to be a pain.”

I completely agree with both of Shekar’s views: on Dhoni’s attitude to the game and on the nature of sport itself.

My two-penny worth learning from this lifetime’s experience so far is that Life is no different. In Life too the right perspective is very important. And we must place ourselves, and our perspective, where they belong in the big picture. Else what could well be a pleasurable experience may well turn out to be a pain!!!

The past week, I have been limping around, literally, owing to a nagging, painful condition in my right leg. Even a small step forward, at times, requires a big effort. I felt, at several times, crippled unable to carry out my routine normally __ like a bath, or driving, or going out for my daily walk. However, on my visit to the hospital the other day for a review with the doctor, I found a young lady seated on a wheel-chair. She seemed fine, for all practical purposes, laughing and joking with her family and nurses. So, I even wondered what she was doing seated cross-legged on a wheel-chair. Only when I looked closely did I realize that all her limbs were deformed. She didn’t have legs to speak of! Her lower limbs had shrunk abnormally owing to either a disease or birth deformity. Her hands were not normally formed either and her fingers seemed to be sticking out, without a palm, on both hands. I reflected on her spirit. And on my condition. I felt ashamed about the brouhaha I was creating over it! The right perspective and its place in the big picture fell in place immediately. I laughed to myself, much to the surprise of the nurse attending on me. When she insisted I tell her what the joke was, I said, “This leg, this painful condition, is the biggest joke! I find it absolutely funny!”

So it is with everything in Life! What seems like a grave problem momentarily, over a period of time, surely turns out to be laughing matter!  The key, I believe, is not to get keyed up about Life. The operative word and sentiment here is equanimity. Equanimity is simply the ability to deal with both success and failure, victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, dispassionately. Dhoni has it. You too can. The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gitaends with the highest state of consciousness a human being can attain. Krishna, replying to Arjuna, says: “…He lives in wisdom…Who sees himself in all and all in him…. He is not elated by good fortune…Nor depressed by bad…Such is the seer…!”

Whatever you are going through, take it easy! This Monday resist the temptation to get wound up any further. Invoke the right perspective and place it where it belongs in the big picture. To quote Swami Sathya Sai Baba, “Don’t we sometimes wake up from a dream, ponder over our conquests and defeat in our sleep-state, and shrug it all off thinking ‘it was but a dream’? We need to bring the same approach to Life as well. Because this lifetime is nothing but a dream.” Indeed. Maybe you will not understand, appreciate or accept this perspective just yet. But, may be you will at the end of your journey on this planet. Just maybe. That you really cannot or should not (have ever been) be serious about Life!