Stop being anything else but happy – you are happiness!

Happiness cannot be pursued. It is who you are.
A common and grave misconception occurs when we mix up the definitions of happiness and success. Success is getting what you want __ a college degree, a car, a new apartment, an overseas job, a billion dollar fortune, whatever! But you may not always get what you want in Life. Happiness, therefore, is wanting what you get! Despite all your hard work, you may not graduate. You may not get the car of your choice. Or get an apartment in the neighborhood that your preferred. Or someone else may get the lucrative job that you wanted! Or a quirk of circumstance may deny you the fortune. The ability to be happy despite not getting what you want and despite your circumstance is true happiness. And that ability is resident in each of us: in you, in me, in everyone!
Nisha Kapashi: in 2011 (left) and now (right)
Photo Courtesy: ScoopWhoop/Internet
I read a story on ScoopWhoop this morning that interested me. It was the story of Jain nun Nisha Kapashi. She is of Indian origin but was born in the US. She grew up with all the luxury in the world – among Gucci clothes and Fendi handbags; she lived in a lavishly furnished single bedroom apartments on Sixth and 34th, near Macys, in New York. But while she was living a “fashionable and successful Life”, she was feeling an “emptiness” that made her very, very unhappy. She dug deeper into the Jain way of Life and found great value in the teachings of Mahavira. She quit her job with J Crew, moved to India and signed up to be a nun. She told ScoopWhoop’s Samarpita Das: “We sleep for six hours a night, meditate for 90 minutes a day, and we study Jain philosophy for 15 hours a day. We live a nomadic existence in India. I have no possessions. I have nothing, but I’ve never been so happy. I have no money, not even a bank account. I have committed to a Life of celibacy and simplicity for the rest of my Life. This is my Life now — and it’s the ultimate happiness.”
I am not exactly one who believes that we must practice celibacy and abstinence to experience happiness. But what Nisha’s story does reiterate is that each of us has this awesome opportunity to be happy! By simply being who we are comfortable being!
If everyone followed Nisha’s example of setting out to be who they love being, the world will be full of happy people – instantaneously! In fact, all of us are intrinsically happy folks. We become unhappy only when we allow our circumstances to suppress our happiness! Let’s say you are walking on the pavement on a rainy day, whistling ‘Raindrops are falling on my head….’, and an insensitive motorist splashes a dirty puddle of water on your work clothes. You stop whistling. And now you are angry. Does being angry mean that you have ceased to have the ability to be happy? Not at all. Your attention has shifted from whistling the memorable tune to hurling abuses at and showing a finger to that motorist. The moment you bring your attention to being happy – despite the soiled clothes, you can still whistle the tune and keep walking, can’t you? – you will find your anger disappearing.
We feel miserable when we are unhappy only because being angry or being anything negative is not normal, it is not human nature. Think about it. Don’t you always feel miserable when you have been sad or jealous or angry or guilty? But have you ever, ever, felt miserable when feeling happy? I rest my case. So, you don’t have to work hard at being happy. You are happiness. Just stop being anything else and please go back to being happy!

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There’s a lot of Life left after a crisis; believe me, a lot of Life!

Often when in the throes of a crisis, we think we cannot go on. We don’t see a way out of whatever we are faced with. And we think it’s all over. We want to give up. But just remember this – failure or defeat is temporary, it is giving up which is final!
On Sunday, I was in a conversation with the world-famous pianist Anil Srinivasan. This was part of a monthly Event Series I curate called “The Bliss Catchers” which is hosted by Odyssey, Chennai’s most happening bookstore. The Series celebrates people who have had the courage to let go of “safe and secure” careers to follow their bliss, to go do what they love doing.
Anil Srinivasan and AVIS Viswanathan
at “The Bliss Catchers”
Odyssey, Adyar
Over the course of our conversation, Anil shared his story of how he found and followed his bliss. Anil’s heart was always in the piano – he started playing it when he was just three years old; in fact, the piano is his Life. But family circumstances (a grave financial crisis had made it mandatory for him to pursue a career option that would be immediately economically viable and rewarding) and peer pressure forced him in the direction of an MBA at a US University. He followed that up with attempting a PhD at Columbia. But at one time, what he describes as his lowest phase, the PhD was just not happening. He had huge educational loans to repay. He had no money. And his academic career was going nowhere.
One day, Anil, out of sheer desperation and depression, just blacked out. “I was going to a friend’s place in a cab in New York. But I just lost track of what I was doing. I did not know where I was or where I was headed. When the cab reached the destination, I told the cabbie I had no money to pay him. He kind of made out that I was losing it. So, he said that it was okay, he waived the fare, but he also urged me to take care of myself. I got down from the cab and I just slumped on the stoop in front of my friend’s apartment. I was still clueless of who I was, what I was doing or who I had come to meet. So I simply sat there and spent much of the night there,” recalled Anil. Later that week, Mandolin U.Srinivas (1969~2014), who was a good friend of Anil, called him. Srinivas was performing at Burlington (on the US-Canada border, in Vermont) and wanted to just say hello to his friend. From Anil’s depressive tone, Srinivas surmised that Anil needed help. Urgently.So, Srinivas rushed to Anil’s apartment in New York the next morning and urged Anil to take a walk along with him. The two of them walked along the Hudson for over an hour. Anil says that Srinivas was certain that Anil needed help. But more important Srinivas felt that Anil must play his piano. Immediately. “‘How long ago is it since you played the piano?’ Srinivas asked me. I had no answer. I had forgotten when I had played the piano last. That was how far removed I was from my beloved piano and my music,” Anil told me and the other guests at “The Bliss Catchers” Event. As it turns out, Srinivas took Anil back to his apartment and encouraged him to play. Anil just followed Srinivas’ suggestions without protest. In just a few hours Anil was playing beautifully, enjoying himself and was feeling “totally alive”. “Srinivas re-infused the gift of Life, my music, back in me,” Anil reminisced, even as a tear dropped from his eye. “I can’t believe Srinivas is no more,” he added.
So, that’s how bad things really were for Anil Srinivasan – someone who, as much of the music world believes, is the finest pianist India has ever produced. Can you believe it? One of India’s best musicians was beaten by Life, was depressed and defeated just 15 years ago? And look at him today – he’s living the Life he truly wanted to live, he’s enjoying his music and he’s making music that everyone loves to hear. He’s traveling the world and making people realize that the piano is not just a Western classical instrument but one where it is possible to make any kind of music – from Carnatic to kuthu to Bollywood – if you play it from your soul!
Anil’s story teaches us, yet again, something very, very important. It is the most significant lesson you will ever need to learn about living intelligently – that Life’s darkest moments must be faced. And no matter how dark it is, no matter how hopeless it is, every storm will pass one day. All you must believe, when you are feeling down and out, done in by Life, people, events and circumstances, is that there is a lot of Life still left, after each crisis.

“If there ever is a good time – it is now!”

This is the only Life you have! So, live it fully, doing whatever you love doing!

Yesterday, we met a young (in their late 20s) and very inspiring couple – Resham Gellatly and Zach Marks. They both are from the United States of America and are currently traveling in India – researching on the chaiwallahs of India for a forthcoming book they are writing. To do this project, they have kicked stable, well-paying jobs in the US and have simply taking the “plunge” and “dived deep” into India. They have already met with thousands of chaiwallahs, having covered 15 Indian states in the last four months and propose to meet several thousand more, covering the rest of India, including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, by April 2014. Zach’s given up his consulting career (for now) with McKinsey & Co, while Resham’s paused her psychiatry research, in order for them to do this very offbeat, very, very demanding project! They are funding their project themselves – so they are walking a tightrope with their budgets all the time. This means they have to depend on people connecting them to people who are willing to host them as they move from place to place, hopping on to buses and trains. The key for them is to meet as many chaiwallahs as possible – and to understand their stories and lives, and through them, discover India!

Why chaiwallahs? “In a country with tremendous diversity, chaiwallahsare a constant presence, from the deserts of Rajasthan to the seaside megacity of Mumbai, everywhere bringing together people from different backgrounds at their stands. The same way that cab drivers tell the story of New York, we think chaiwallahs can tell the story of India. We have met some incredibly compelling characters – from a Delhi chaiwallah who sells books he has written and self-published at his stall, to a Bollywood spot boy who has been serving chai to the stars for 40 years, to a local politician in rural Odisha who uses the tea kettle as her party symbol,” explains Zach.

A chaiwallah, Zach and Resham
Picture Courtesy: Internet/DNA India
And Resham reveals that the decision to “take on this project and actually get down to doing it” was not very difficult: “We live only once. We realized that Zach’s McKinsey job, or for that matter any other corporate opportunity, would always be there. As would my psychiatry research. We reckoned that if we waited for longer to do what we believed in, and were excited about doing, we will have more responsibilities to deal with. Like a family, kids, demanding careers and such. We said if there ever is a good time, it is now – and that was it!”
There is this very positive aura around Resham and Zach. It is the kind of feeling that you get when you meet people who are genuinely happy with their lives. And that energy, while it’s rare, is infectious. Resham (she has an India connection – her mother is from Punjab) is from Hawaii and Zach’s from Philadelphia. But they didn’t meet in the US. They met, in fact, in New Delhi in 2010-11, while on Fullbright-Nehru Fellowships. Even as their love for each other blossomed, their fascination for Indian chaiwallahs grew. Important, they decided to go wherever their inner joy, their bliss, takes them – together! Listening to them, I was reminded about what Joseph Campbell (1904~1987), the American mythologist and author, had profoundly said: “Follow your bliss and doors will open where only walls existed – and you alone will be able to see those doors.” Resham and Zach are truly following their bliss. And, indeed, doors are opening for them! Resham sums it up beautifully: “We have discovered how kind and caring people in India are. They have opened their homes and hearts to us. Many of our hosts are rank strangers and yet without their generous support our project will not be possible!” Ask Zach, what next, when they eventually get back to picking up their American Life and careers in New York, and he replies: “We honestly don’t know. We are waiting to explore whatever awaits us or comes our way!”

The Zach and Resham story is a beautiful inspiration. It is also a gentle reminder to you and me to never postpone living the Life that you really want to live! Even as you finish reading this, your Life clock has ticked away some of your precious seconds. And you have just so much less time left. If you think too much about a bucket list, it just may become too long and the bucket heavy! So, the best way is to live is start doing whatever you love doing right away! As Resham said – “if there ever is a good time, it is now”!

You can look up Resham and Zach on http://www.chaiwallahsofindia.com 


Good, Bad, Beautiful, Ugly … this is the Only Life you have

People often have this question: Why do ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ people? And, with some exceptions, they always also ask: And why do ‘good’ things happen to ‘bad’ people?
The questions themselves need review. What is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is subjective. What you may see as the right thing to do may be wrong from another’s point of view. And what you see as wrong, may seem perfectly right to  someone else. I believe that these questions arise because of the ego being active in each of us. For instance, you are ethical, sincere and diligent. Yet, when you don’t get a promotion or a raise, your ego incites you to question the situation. It implores you to see someone else who has managed to get that raise as one who is ‘inferior’ to you on the work ethic scale. This is how this journey of demanding fair-play from Life pans out. To be sure, it did not begin at the workplace. It began at home, in school, when parents or family pointed out to you that ‘Life has not been fair to you’. Over the years, you have only been led by your ego to continue to view Life this way.
Pause and reflect a bit. Did you ask to be born? This Life was “given” to you, wasn’t it? And at the time of birth did Life make you any promises? Did it say your Life will be this way or that? Since there were no guarantees offered, no assurances given, where’s the intelligence in craving for them? The truth is Life keeps on happening. Life sees all its creations as equal. It does not choose its “targets” for “tough examinations” per income or social strata. Life does not see anything as good or bad. Ethics, or the lack of it, make no sense to Life. Whatever Life delivers at your door, you have no choice but to accept it. Your suffering begins only when you refuse or resist the Life that is happening to you!
Religion and the scriptures talk of the Law of Karma. I agree with Osho that this is but a way to ‘console’ ourselves as humanity. The Law of Karma is no scientific law, like say the Law of Gravitation. A ball thrown up in the air__whether in Chennai or Kabul or New York or Sao Paulo or Kyoto or Wellington or Kota Kinabalu or Colombo__will come down. We can argue and verify the Law of Gravitation – it can be examined. But when the Law of Karma says that we will bear the consequences of our actions in a future birth or we are bearing the consequences of our actions, from a past birth, in this one, I am not sure we can verify or examine the case being made. Who has seen an earlier Life or can be sure to experience another one in the future? In my humble opinion (in no manner do I seek to rubbish the Karmic Theory), and in the limited context of my Life experience – this is the ONE and ONLY Life we have. This is it.

Each of the events in our Life have happened because they simply had to happen. There’s no merit in qualifying and further analyzing if we deserve what we are getting or are given. Don’t label anyone or anything or any event as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Don’t compare. Don’t ask why. Life’s happening to you 24/7. Just watch it happen. You don’t like what’s happening to you, learn to accept it. You like what’s happening to you, learn to be grateful for it. The only way to live Life is to liveit happily, for what it is!