There is great joy in living dangerously

Don’t ever fear living dangerously. Simply focus on the living, for you can do nothing about the danger!
Neerja Malik
Picture Courtesy: Facebook
The other day we were at an event to launch a book based on the Life of Neerja Malik, a two-time cancer survivor. Titled ‘I Inspire’ (Jaico, written by Megha Bajaj), the book tells Neerja’s story – of grit, of letting go, of acceptance and of being happy despite the circumstances. At the launch, Neerja, just as the way she always is, was beaming and radiating abundance. She personified being joyful! Without any prior notice, finding me and Vaani in the audience, Nina Reddy, of Savera Hotels, who was the chief guest at the event, invited me to share some perspective (perhaps given our own experience with dealing with a Life-changing crisis) on how “it is possible turn a crisis into an opportunity”.
I talked about how ancient Chinese philosophy and literature support this belief that the word “crisis”, when written in the Chinese language, is actually the sum of two other words. One meaning ‘danger’ and the other meaning ‘opportunity’. So to the Chinese, crisis always means danger + opportunity. The import for us is this – whenever you see crisis, don’t get overwhelmed by its inherent dangerous nature. See the opportunity. To be sure, there is opportunity all around, everywhere, and every step of the way.
Osho, the Master, takes the Chinese argument one step further. He says Life is intrinsically fraught with dangers. Each moment is an encounter with the unknown. He says our academic education, social conditioning and the availability of economic resources makes us believe, actually kids us, that we know what outcomes can occur each time all necessary and sufficient conditions are fulfilled. But every now and then – when an MH 370 disappears into thin air, when you are faced with a debilitating ailment with no cure, when a close relationship sours irrevocably because you have stopped relating to that person – you realize that you are controlling nothing. That only Life was, is, and will be, in control. You discover then that you are a mere pawn. So, when this realization strikes you it can be very unsettling. You thought you were the boss, the king. But now, Life’s telling you are that you are just a cog in the wheel, a nobody who controls nothing. Osho says that instead of feeling depressed and powerless, celebrate the joy of living dangerously. Since you can’t do anything about what happens to you in Life, since you have no idea or control over what dangers lie on your journey ahead, simply let go and be happy!
Neerja epitomizes that spirit. It’s her joie de vivre that’s helped her conquer cancer not once – but twice! It’s her zest to live that spreads so much positivity and cheer among all those she touches. She doesn’t make living this way seem easy. Living this way iseasy because she lives each moment fully – with awareness, with joy! There’s indeed great joy in living dangerously. If you can find some time from your worrying and fearing and fretting and fuming about the ‘dangers’ you are currently dealing with, believe me, you too can feel – and be – that joy! 

Stay stoic. Be happy with what is!

The best way to lead Life is to be stoic.

This is what both history and the scriptures have been teaching us all along. Zeno, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, who lived around the 3rd Century BC, championed the belief that God determined everything for the best and holding on to that view was a virtue sufficient for happiness. Zeno’s followers were called Stoics – some of the more popular followers were Seneca and Epictetus. The Roman philosophers who followed advocated the calm acceptance of all occurrences as the unavoidable result of divine will or of natural order. The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita ends with the highest state of consciousness a human being can attain. Krishna, replying to Arjuna, says (presenting here only the relevant extract): “…He lives in wisdom, who sees himself in all and all in him, Whose love for the Lord of Love has consumed every selfish desire and sense-craving tormenting the heart. Not agitated by grief, nor hanker after pleasure he lives free from lust and fear and anger. Fettered no more by selfish attachments he is not elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. Such is the seer….” The key operative part is to be “not elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad”. Mahatma Gandhi meditated on this verse for 50 years every morning and night and devoted all his Life to translating it into his daily action. This was the key to his self-transformation.


In our lifetimes, we are seeing stoicism all around us as people deal with catastrophic calamities – like MH 370 or the Nepal quake. We also see people deal with their private tragedies stoically – a health challenge, a relationship issue, the passing of a dear one. There is immense pain for those who are caught in these Life situations. Yet we don’t see them beating their chests and wailing. They see no point in grieving and suffering endlessly. Instead, we see them, almost prayerful, moving on with their work, seemingly unaffected by the pain and grief. This is the highest spiritual quality individuals can acquire. In learning from them, we can find a better way to deal with our own, smaller, calamities. Stay stoic. Stay anchored. Be happy with what is!

Don’t complain! Just practice ‘shogonai’ and ‘gaman’!

If you can’t be solve a problem – just let go and be patient!
Complaining about Life and its vagaries is a sign of weakness. It demonstrates a tendency to resist what is happening and that does not yield any positive outcome.
In the context of the recovery of what may be debris from MH 370 at Reunion island, off the coast of Africa, I am reminded of two traits that the Japanese possess as a people: ‘gaman’ and ‘shoganai’.
‘Gaman’ means patience, endurance, perseverance. And while ‘shoganai’ literally means ‘nothing can be done’  or ‘it can’t be helped’; it also denotes a calm determination to overcome what cannot be controlled. The Japanese language testifies to how a sense of precariousness__since Japan is located in one of the most seismologically active spots on the planet; remember the tsunami of March 2011__has shaped a national consciousness. We have a lot to learn from this Japanese philosophy because most of us are forever complaining of what could have been and what we don’t have!
Obviously, the recovery at Reunion brings to the surface the pain and trauma the MH370 passengers’ families have been experiencing. But ‘shogonai’ – what can be done to undo that pain? Nothing at all. So, only ‘gaman’ will work for them. Only time can heal their souls.
Just like the families of those who went missing with MH370, we too will do well to embrace ‘gaman’ and ‘shoganai’ as simple, practical philosophies to deal with even in everyday Life.  You are in a traffic jam and late for your meeting. ‘Shoganai’. You get a non-reclining seat on the plane. ‘Shoganai’. There is a power outage. ‘Shoganai’. By any stretch of imagination, ‘Shoganai’does not imply fatalism. Which is why, it must be understood and practiced with ‘gaman’. Both together encourage us to stop complaining about things that are beyond our control; instead they urge us to accept situations that leave us numb and helpless and plod us to persevere to change those things . In the context of acts beyond our control__like a health set back or a natural calamity or the passing away of a dear one__they remind us to accept reality and endure Life patiently.

Either way, the Japanese way of Life, invites us to stop complaining. To complain means to live in grief. And grief does not change reality. Neither does acceptance. But acceptance of any reality at least helps the one facing it to be at peace. When there is peace, there will be prosperity__as the Japanese have amply demonstrated in the past, bouncing back from the WW II Hiroshima bombings, and the more recent tsunami!

Accept your “no-thingness” and give in to Life

Being able to do nothing is freedom. Having no idea of what to do is bliss.
There will be times in Life when you have hit rock bottom, when you are in the depths of treacherous ravine, you see no way out and your mind can’t even think. The harder you try, the more blank you feel your mind is. There are only two kinds of problems in the world. One which you, or anyone you know, can solve and another which no human can solve. What do you do when you are faced with the second kind of problems – which no human can solve, at least not in an immediately imaginable, conceivable time window? Think Michael Schumacher, think MH 370, think of a five-year-old who is struck by a fourth stage cancer! At a practical, human level, this state may be a no-go. Where do you go when you have hit rock bottom and don’t have the means or even ideas to climb back up? But at a spiritual level, every dead-end, every no-go signifies an opportunity to evolve and grow within. Through such evolution, you become free and happy – despite your circumstances.  
In Zen Buddhism, there are koans. A koan is a paradoxical riddle or anecdote without a solution to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and provoke enlightenment. There are many famous koans. One is: “Find out your original face.” A Master asked his disciple to solve this koan.
The disciple asks the Master: “What is the original face?”
And the Master replies: “The face that you had before your parents were born.”
And the disciple starts meditating on that: “What is your original face?” Naturally, you have to deny all your faces. Many faces will start surfacing: childhood faces, when you were young, when you became middle-aged, when you became old, when you were healthy, when you were ill…. All kinds of faces will stand in a queue. They will pass before your eyes claiming: “I am the original face.” And you have to go on rejecting. The disciple too goes on rejecting all the faces that come in front of him. He goes through this process of rejection over many, many years. Finally, when he’s himself the Master of knowing which is not the original face, he realizes that there is no original face. That there is only emptiness. There’s nothing. When all the faces have been rejected and emptiness is left, you have found the original face. Osho, the other great Master, explains this so simply: “Emptiness is the original face. Zero is the ultimate experience. Nothingness – or more accurately no-thingness – is your original face.”
Similarly, some Life situations are koans. For example, everyone is looking at the Tarun Tejpal episode through the eyes of either Tejpal or the Young Woman who’s filed the complaint against him. But when you look at it through the eyes of Tejpal’s daughters Tiya, who’s best friend the Young Woman is, and Cara or from Geetan’s, Tejpal’s wife, point of view, you will see a koan there. An inexplicable situation with no solution. A legal redemption may still be on the cards for Tejpal. But will there ever be a moral one – in the eyes of his own family?
I have learnt from Life, in my own small, yet eventful, way that a no-go is really the time to let go! I have realized that when you can’t do anything about a situation, when nothing seems possible, when the mind can’t think and no one can even attempt a solution any more, then accept your “no-thingness”. And give in to Life. Let Life take you where you belong. And if Life doesn’t take you anywhere, then perhaps it’s here, in this dark abyss, that you were always ordained to arrive?

Don’t leave home without a Hug and a Goodbye!

Every time you leave someone who matters to you, at home or at work, take an extra minute to say good bye, to hug even if you don’t always do. This minute costs nothing but can mean everything.
As the families of the 239 people who were on board MH 370 come to terms with their new reality, pronounced in an understandably painful, yet inevitable, way by the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday, we can’t but pause and reflect on how we want to live – and love – in the time that we have left on the planet. Death is a certainty – unavoidable and inescapable. In fact, it is the only certainty in Life. All of us know this. But we often still struggle to come to terms with it. And one of the reasons we struggle is because we, subconsciously, take it for granted that death won’t come calling on us or will not touch our lives anytime soon. It’s wishful thinking. It is steeped in the fallacy of imagining that we have all the time in the world. The reality is, we don’t. Now is the only time we have.
A cousin was dying of cancer. He struggled for many, many years. His wife was tending to him dutifully and compassionately, lovingly, all those years. Yet when he passed away, she said, her only regret was that she could not bid him a final goodbye. She was so caught up in rushing him to hospital as his vital parameters sank that when the end came, she was just dumbfounded. She perhaps still carries that regret. Think about it. If there’s so much regret when death and separation come announced and forewarned, then what happens when it’s sudden?
No, I don’t want you to think of death and separation each time you part with someone who matters to you or who you love. That’s morbid. Let’s think positive. Think lovingly. Learn to part carrying their warmth in you. And leaving some of yours with them.
And if there is a possibility of reconciling with someone you have had an issue with, reach out if you can, and if you believe your initiative will be accepted. And if a reconciliation is not possible, spend a minute praying and sending positive energy to that person daily. This is a simple, healing act. It will dissolve, over time, all acrimony in you.
Since 1975, American Express has run a very successful ad campaign, which is rated as among the world’s top campaigns of all time, that says: “American Express – Don’t leave home without them!”, first promoting their Traveler’s Cheques and then their Credit Cards. I believe it’s time now, in today’s rat race-ridden world, to run a global heat-warming campaign saying “Don’t leave home without a hug and a goodbye”! Life is too short to be spent ruing over something that you could have done but never did. Especially if it is something so simple, doable and meaningful like saying a goodbye and giving a hug!

Inspirations from a fellow voyager’s fortitude

To remain centered in the face of uncertainty is the only option you have to avoid suffering. Either you suffer asking why something’s happening to you, wanting to understand what your Life is all about, or you just let go and anchor within.  
           
CNN.com has run a story on the husband of one of the passengers aboard the missing flight MH 370. The story, by Moni Basu, talks of the fortitude and feelings of K.S.Narendran, whose wife Chandrika Sharma was traveling to Mongolia on MH 370, and his daughter Meghna. Narendran has shared a personal note he wrote to his family and friends with CNN. I reproduce here some excerpts from Narendran’s poignant note – reading it we can gain a meaningful insight to dealing with uncertainty.
Narendran writes:

Chandrika, Meghna, Narendran
Picture Courtesy: CNN.com/K.S.Narendran

“… It only brings to the fore how little we actually know, how vulnerable we are, and the things we take for granted about people, places and things…As individuals, we can do very little. We wait patiently. With every passing day and each fragment of information that comes in, we revise the narrative strung together, and articulate the new set of perplexing and urgent questions that inevitably come up…I remain focused on what we have at hand by way of information, and stay with the knowledge that Chandrika is strong and courageous, that her goodness must count for something, somewhere. I carry firmly the faith that the forces of Life are eternal, immutable and ever present to keep the drama ever moving. In the ultimate analysis, I am neither favored nor deserted. No one is…As family, we are not given to histrionics/theatrics. We suffer, we agonize, we tether on the edge, but seldom allow ourselves to be overwhelmed. I don’t say this with any sense of self-congratulation or offer it as recommendation. I am merely saying this for those who know us from a distance or fleetingly…”

Narendran told Basu that he has drawn strength from his recent experience with Vipassana, an ancient technique of meditation in India. Vipassana means to see things as they really are. The essential message of transience and impermanence has lent perspective, he said. The practice of being in the “present,” however difficult, he said, has helped him manage “the menace of an overworked imagination.”
I can completely relate to every word and sentiment expressed by Narendran. My wife and I go through these feelings every single day. As we have been doing for several years now. What started off as a business situation, a bankruptcy, 10 years ago has morphed into an inconclusive, inscrutable, unfathomable personal drama over the last 20 months. Without work and without cash, we too hang precipitously from the edge. But we have learnt not to suffer and we have learnt to be happy despiteour circumstances. However absurd and irrelevant this may sound in a material sense, this learning has been the greatest wealth that our bankruptcy has unwittingly created for us.  
Living with uncertainty was never easy. And it still is difficult. But I have realized that suffering comes only from not accepting what is. Through our experience, I have understood that the nature of Life is uncertainty. It was always this way. Even when our business flourished and we were able to buy all the things that money could buy, it was uncertain. But I did not see either the beauty or the uncertain nature of Life then. I thought my leadership was causing all our success. So, when the business failed and the money stopped flowing, I suffered. Suffering can cripple and incapacitate you – totally. I suffered for months and years until I understood that while pain in Life is inevitable, suffering is pointless – and optional. I haven’t tried Vipassana – but completely agree with its concept of seeing things as they really are. Mouna, practicing silence periods daily, helped me see what is and taught me to live in the moment. Mounamagically set me free – from the tyranny of the past and the anxiety of the future. I have experienced the value that anchoring within brings to Life. It definitely, to quote Narendran, helps keeps the mind from whipping up “the menace of an overworked imagination”.
In Zen, they emphasize that you to learn the art of remaining untouched. They say that a Zen Master is one who can walk through a stream without the water touching him. It doesn’t mean he will not get wet. But he will remain “untouched” within. Swami Vivekananda (1863~1902) says this so beautifully, so powerfully: “Live in the midst of the battle of Life. Anyone can keep calm in a cave or when asleep. Stand in the whirl and madness of action and reach the center. If you have found the center, you cannot be moved.”
From my experience I know this to be true – and possible.

Suffering comes from arguing with reality

Whatever happens in Life, you can’t escape it. You have to face it, you have to accept it. It’s when you try to fight it or wish it away that you suffer.
As the MH 370 episode drags on inconclusively, befuddling the whole world and over 30 countries searching for the missing plane, I watched a news report on BBC last night that said that the relatives of some passengers on board the flight were “extremely distressed” and were threatening to go on a hunger strike. They demanded better “quality” of information and wanted more frequent updates. A Malaysian Airlines official, trying to calm down the agitated family members, told them: “We know as much as the world does at this stage. What do we do?” It may seem that the official was downright rude, cold and bureaucratic. But I guess he was also being brutally honest. Well, from whatever information is now available, Malaysian Defence radar officials did not report a blip on their screens that fateful night as the plane flew over the Malacca Strait because it is believed they slept while on duty. They weren’t supposed to be asleep – but apparently they were. What do you do now? Malaysia could have shown agility with the investigations – but they took a whole week to realize the seriousness of what they are dealing with. And even now there are reports that they continue to stonewall offers from the USA for help with the search and investigations. What do you do when a government does not appear to be serious enough? What do you do when 30 countries can’t find a plane? While we can empathize with the pain and the agony of the families of the passengers, the truth is that their resisting the reality – that the whole world doesn’t know where MH 370 is – is of no use. Apart from causing them suffering, their agitation is not going to help them in any manner.
                                                                                                                                                      
Closer home, I witness the agony of an 80+-year-old couple. Both their sons live with them but don’t care for them. The mother has just been through a surgery. But neither of her sons is available to nurse her. Both the men, in their late 40s~early 50s, are “depressed” with their own lives and so are not in the “frame of mind” to look after their aged parents. Forget caring for parents. At a basic, human level, if you are living with someone who needs post-operative care, won’t you volunteer to help, to support, to care? Who can educate grown-up men on compassion and being human? The poor mother though grieves and pines for affection from her sons. But what’s the point in her grieving? She’s only causing herself to suffer. The more she pines for what is not likely to happen, the more miserable she will feel.
What causes our suffering often is our desire to see perfection around us. We expect people to understand. We crave for their attention and appreciation. But people have their own priorities, their own views, their own ways of doing things and leading their lives. Many around us are even steeped in shallow thinking – they simply don’t get it! They don’t know what empathy is or what being human means. Expecting to see perfection, where mediocrity abounds, is futile. Such an expectation will make you suffer endlessly. A simpler, more peaceful way to deal with Life is to be prepared for anything. A plane can go missing and no one in the world can find it even after 12 days! A father, who’s rated as one of the country’s most intelligent minds, can molest his daughter’s best friend. Sons can choose to not care for their mother because they are depressed. A mother can call her son a “cheat” when there’s no evidence of such misdemeanor. Parents can lose their only child because the driver of the car he was in was drunk! Well, as disturbing as all this sounds, there’s no doubt that absolutely anything can happen in Life!
Even so, if you care to pause and look around, Life is beautiful despite all these upheavals. But when you are caught in a bind and are dealing with an unforeseen challenge, you don’t notice Life’s beauty and magic. The only way then to respond to Life, when something that you don’t want happens to you, is by not resisting it. Don’t wish that it didn’t happen. Simply accept what is. And begin to work with that reality. As long as you don’t argue with reality, you will never suffer!

“Life is a Taste!” – Simply taste what is!!!

Deal with hope judiciously. It’s good to have it but don’t cling on to it. Just let it be. And you simply be too.  
Picture Courtesy: Internet/Twitter
This morning’s papers carried stories of how Chandrika Sharma’s family in Chennai is coping with the lack of information or even a clue of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 that went missing over the weekend. Sharma was on that flight, going to Ulan Bator in Mongolia, via Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, to attend a conference. Her husband K.S.Narendran and daughter Meghna shared their sense of despair, amidst diminishing hope, with the media yesterday. ‘The New Indian Express’journalist, out of some really-hard-to-fathom, cold logic, asked Narendran if he still “nursed a small amount of hope that his wife is alive”. ‘TNIE’ reports that Narendran, in response to the question, “glanced away, turned his wrist around and smiled wryly”. And the story concludes with this rather poignant line: “Whatever else dies, hope never will, he (Narendran) seemed to say.”
The situation that the father-daughter duo find themselves in is indeed difficult to even imagine. But often times Life will bring you to the edge of such a precipice. When even to hope will be a hopeless thing to do. Yet hope is all you will have in such moments. Understanding how to deal with and handle hope then can be immensely helpful.
What must be understood first is that hope is always about a future which is yet to arrive. And Life is always happening only in the present moment. In the now. So, anything which is not real or true, which is not from the present, has the potential to cause agony and suffering. Not only because the thing or event that you hope for has not happened yet, but because you will agonize wondering whether it will happen at all or not.
Osho, the Master, in one of his discourses, has talked of a signage that some of his followers had put up at Rajneeshpuram, his ashram at Oregon in the United States. The signage, quoting a significant line from Dante Alighieri’s (1265~1321, the Florentine poet) ‘The Divine Comedy’, read: “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here”. Osho urged his followers to abandon hope too, abandon seeking the unborn future, drop the dead past, and start living in the present moment rejoicing in the small things of Life. He famously said: “Meaning is a mind thing. Life is a Taste!” What he meant was this: all of us, based on our own individual Life experiences, try to make meaning out of everything that happens to us – why is something happening to me, why should it happen now, what will I do with this Life in the future, where does this leave me, how will I cope, will I survive…and, on and on, the questions seeking meaning keep arising in you and in me. Osho says it’s futile to ask these questions. He says Life is a taste. He asks, in his inimitable, thought-provoking, unputdownable way: “Do you ever think what meaning taste has? Eating spaghetti, do you ask what meaning the taste has? Having a beautiful shower, feeling the freshness of it, have you ever asked what the meaning of freshness is? Looking at the sunset with so many colors spread all over the horizon, have you asked what meaning the sunset has?”
My inference is that when we try to reason and seek meaning from Life’s events, we will never be successful. Hope, in a way, is about reasoning and seeking to create meaning out of a Life situation. This does not mean that you must not have hope. Or that you must not want to be hopeful. Just don’t cling on to it. Anything that you cling on to, hold on to, will cause your suffering. Instead, just be.  
So, if you are in situations like the one that Narendran and Meghna find themselves in, when even hoping seems futile and yet you can’t abandon hope, remember Osho’s advice: “Life is a Taste!” Simply taste what is. And go on to the next moment, the next tasting session! Don’t try to search for Life’s meaning. Don’t yearn for an unborn future. Life’s a unique experience that is born and dies, anew, each moment. Live in and for the moment. You will never suffer then because nothing else will matter.
PS: My heart goes out to Narendran and Meghna, and to all families of those who are missing in the MH 370 episode. I pray that Life shows them all the light and the way…