Remember: you can’t fight Life. It is your fighting, your resisting what is, that is causing all your suffering.
A reader wrote to me after reading my Blogpost, ‘Why blame your God, who is a human invention anyway, for Life’s upheavals?’, a few days ago. His point: “Our culture, our religions, our elders, constantly remind us that if rituals are not performed, something terrible will happen to us. I practice all the rituals out of fear.” Another reader enquired on WhatApp: “How can we keep the faith when going through a grave time in Life? For instance, what is there to look forward to about when a loved one is dead, when you are struck by a terminal illness or when you have lost your job and are in the throes of worry and uncertainty?”
Both sets of questions are relevant and are open for exploration.
You see, we must understand the true nature of Life. It is what it is; no matter what you do, or don’t do, Life will happen to you the way it must and wants to. For instance, no ritual, no amount of piety, no prayer, can always get you what you want or always help you avoid what you don’t want. You have to go through what you have to go through in Life. So, doing a ritual out of fear or praying with an expectation that your wish must be granted are both sure ways of inviting misery into your Life.
This human form, your creation as a human, is a gift, is a blessing. You are squandering this gift if you are cowering in fear in every moment that you are alive. It is okay to be ritualistic if you are doing something without an expectation and are enjoying the process of doing it. But what is the point in doing anything when you are hating every moment of doing it, when you are deeply unhappy doing it, and are doing it only out of fear?
Similarly, why resist death or a debilitating health challenge or a job loss? Each of them is an event, a happening in Life, which has happened only because you could not control it. Think about it. If you could have controlled it, wouldn’t you have ensured that your loved ones did not die? Or that you were cured of your terminal health condition? Or that you did not lose your job? Clearly, contrary to what your conditioning – scientific, religious and social – has led you to believe, you do not control your Life. Just because you earn an income, and know that 2+2 adds up to 4, and are in good health, right now, it does not mean that you are controlling your Life. The truth is that if you are getting what you want then Life is willing it so – for now. There may be another time in Life when you may not get what you want, when things will not add up – no matter how hard you work or pray. So, simply be grateful for, and enjoy, what is. And when you get what you don’t want or don’t get what you want, again be grateful for, and accept, what is. Because fighting Life, resisting what is, will only make you miserable and unhappy.
What I am sharing here is what I have learned from Life, from Shirdi Sai Baba’s teaching. He has always championed that Faith and Patience are crucial to going through this journey called Life.
Here, Faith does not refer to an external God or to a religion or a prayer – Faith truly means trusting the process of Life. Trust, believe, keep the Faith that the Higher Energy that created you as a human, that has brought you to this point in Life, just as it has done all this while, will take you onward too, will take care of you, will provide for you and will look after you. Your not getting what you want, or your getting what you don’t want, does not ever mean that you will not be given what you need. At every stage in Life you will be given, you will get, exactly what you need. Believing in this truth is what Faith is all about. And you don’t have to look outside of you for evidence of this: haven’t you, all through the Life you have lived so far, at every stage, through every crisis of yours, always received whatever you needed? You know what your answer is, so please stop worrying, and keep the Faith. And until such time that your Life situation changes – and it eventually will, no matter what you are going through – to give you all that you want, be Patient. Remember: you can’t fight Life. It is your fighting, your resisting what is, that is causing all your suffering. So, accept what is, embrace your current reality, however dark it is, and move one step at a time, one day at a time, in Faith, with Patience.
To be sure, Vaani and I have been enduring our bankruptcy for almost 11 years now by staying anchored in Faith and Patience. Let me share here an anecdote, from some years ago, from a particularly numbing time in our Life. We had no money and our mobile phone connections were due to be disconnected the next day – for non-payment of the monthly bills. There was no money to buy groceries too and the next day was also Krishna Janmasthami – a time when Vaani would normally make special sweets and savories as part of the celebrations!
To have a change of scenery and to surrender in prayer, we decided to visit a young man, who is a messenger of Swami Sathya Sai Baba, through whom Swami speaks to seekers. When we reached this young man’s place, in Nungambakkam (in Chennai), a weekly Sai Bhajan was in progress. When the Bhajan got over, the young man met us.
He asked us, in English, “Swami wants to know if you have any questions for him?”
Vaani replied: “Please tell Swami that we don’t have money even for basics like paying our phone bills and for buying groceries…”
The young man cut Vaani short. He said, “Swami is asking, ‘Isn’t Faith basic…?’ If you have Faith…anything can happen!”
We didn’t have anything more to ask. What do you ask when you are the answer? As we went to sleep that night, both of us surrendered to the process of Life…I remember telling Vaani: “If this is what it is, we will live through it…”
The next day a friend called me, out of the blue, on his own. He knew our situation well and offered me Rs.5,000/- with which I managed to save our mobile phone connections and bought some groceries that were urgently needed. And that evening, another friend walked into our home, unannounced, with a hamper of Krishna Janmashtami bakhshanam (sweets and savories) – cheedai, appam and such. She told Vaani, “I was passing by and wanted to share with you what I had picked up for my family.”
How do you explain this?
Vaani and I have seen this happen to us, again, and again, and again. We have always got what we need; and at the right time. Nothing has ever come a moment early or a moment late. I talk about several such experiences in my Book ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’, in the documentary on us, ‘Rise In Love’, and here on this Blog. For both of us, Life has come to mean to live this learning – work hard, do whatever you must do in the given situation and then let go, trust Life and be patient. This is how we pray – eternally grateful for whatever we have and completely surrendering to the Higher Energy to take care of us, to look after us and to provide for us. And, believe me, it always has. Repeatedly, unfailingly.
This is how – and why – we are happy – being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering – despite our circumstances.
Mindless anger is avoidable.
The CEO of a mid-size firm confessed to me that he has anger management issues. He said he gets ‘ticked off on the flimsiest pretext’ and wanted to know how he could ‘control his anger’.
This CEO reminded me of myself. I used to be this way. In fact, even now, at times, I do get angry. But, until a few years ago, my anger was mindless and would last several days. But now, my awareness, cultivated to through the practice of mouna (observing silence periods daily) helps me see the anger rising in me and encourages me to allow it to subside – because I now know that I can’t solve any problem or change any situation that I dislike by merely being mindlessly angry with it!
Let me explain how I have understood to deal with anger.
I used to have a personal assistant who would always, always, mess things up. And his behavior, his body language, his utterances, in fact, his very presence would infuriate me. One day, after another high-decibel screaming episode with him, I remarked to Vaani, in complete frustration, “You know what? I am to blame for retaining this guy with us. He’s not the source of my anger and misery. I am!”
That statement was a Eureka moment for me! Perhaps I was aided by my reflective practice of mouna, maybe I was driven to enlightenment by my frustration with myself, whatever it was, it certainly helped me see the futility of my mindless rage. Clearly. Over the following weeks, I meditated more on this understanding. I realized that whenever you get angry with someone, you have caused that anger within you first. The target of your anger is outside of you – but the anger has risen within you. There is no point working on the target. You must work on the source.
I employed this learning sincerely over the months that followed. In fact, after some years of diligent practice, I still believe this awareness is something you must sustain continuously. You must work on being aware in each moment.
So, every time I get angry with someone or something, I remind myself that just getting angry mindlessly is a waste. Trying to control anger doesn’t work either. Because when you control anger, you are repressing it – which is why you are often not even “seeing” that you are angry, whenever you are angry! You are resisting a natural human response. And whatever you resist, persists. Instead, go to the root cause of your anger. And always, every single time, you will find that your anger is born out of what you expect, out of what you desire. And when you see your desire clearly, ask yourself if you are capable of changing a current reality into an aspirational reality? If you think you can do this, then channelize the energy from your anger to achieve that aspirational state. Employ your anger for a Higher Purpose. (That’s what Gandhi did with the Indian Freedom Movement.) If you can’t, simply let go of your anger.
Anger is like any other emotion – it will rise like a wave in you, as a natural human response to a situation. If you are aware of it you can either use the energy for a constructive outcome or you can let it go. If you are not aware of it, in extreme cases, it can even consume you. But more often than not it makes you feel helpless and miserable! Why would you want to cause your own suffering?
A good starting point to deal with anger is to work on yourself – so begin with letting go of all expectations. Do your best, each time, and don’t set any conditions on the outcome of your efforts. Let whatever will happen, happen. In fact, whether you like it or not, whatever is due to happen will only happen. So, have an open mind, this awareness, all the time. That way, when anger arises within you, as it naturally will when what you don’t like, want or expect happens to you, you will see how pointless it is to get mindlessly angry. See if your anger can be employed to achieve a Higher Purpose. If you see that it can’t be, simply let it go. This is the only way to avoid being mindlessly angry!
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To be unfrustrated when you don’t get the results you want is a skill that you can teach yourself.
A gentleman asked me the other day: “It must be so frustrating AVIS to endure a bankruptcy for such a long time. Why do talented and ethical people like you have to go through a tough Life?” I smiled back at him. My reply: “Talent and integrity don’t ensure a crisis-free Life. The nature of Life is such that it is one continuous adventure. You just have to deal with whatever comes your way.”
I feel people unnecessarily complicate Life by imagining that they should be free from problems, challenges or crises. To be sure, Life never promised anyone a hassle-free ride. In fact, Life makes no promises. We humans bring our expectations to the party and then we invite suffering into our Life when those expectations are not met. When Life makes no promises, and when you expect something out of Life, and that expectation is not fulfilled, and you suffer, who is to blame? Of course, you have only yourself to blame. So, simply, drop all expectations and Life will be a lot easier to deal with.
In “Gandhi The Man”, Eknath Easwaran (1910~1999), writes about how Mahatma Gandhi drew great inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita to keep the focus only on his efforts and to learn to be detached from the outcomes. The Gita says: ‘Do your allotted work, but renounce its fruit – be detached and work – have no desire for reward and work’. And Gandhi internalized this learning thus: “This is the unmistakable teaching of the Gita. He who gives up action falls. He who gives up only the reward rises. But renunciation of fruit in no way means indifference to the result. In regard to every action one must know the result that is expected to follow, the means thereto, and the capacity for it. He, who, being thus equipped, is without desire for the result, and is yet wholly engrossed in the due fulfillment of the task before him, is said to have renounced the fruits of his action.”
I meditated, during my daily mouna (silence periods) sessions, on this learning for weeks on end some years ago. And over time I cultivated the ability to stay detached from the outcomes of my efforts. Vaani helped me through this process. This is how both of us have been able to deal with our Life with great equanimity.
Internalizing this learning has helped us immensely to remain unfrustrated when we don’t get what we want despite our very sincere efforts and all our integrity. When you are unfrustrated then you see any challenge only as an opportunity to learn patience and to retry. Which is why, when people often ask me, when do I think we will get out of our bankruptcy, I always reply, “I know we will be out of this. I just can’t say when.”
To be unfrustrated is a skill that can be learnt with practice. It requires training your mind to engage with only the present moment, with only the efforts. Simply, when there is integrity of Purpose, when there is relentless, unsparing effort, when you trust the process of Life, then you can never be frustrated with the outcomes!
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There will be times in Life when you can’t solve your problems. This is when you must learn to trust the process of Life!!!
A member of the audience at one of my Talks recently made this observation: “I am very inspired by you and Vaani. Both of you have phenomenal trust in each other and have demonstrated the power of resilience. But how I wish your story had a happy ending, how I wish your story had turned around for all the positivity you both exude. Then your story would have been a lot more inspiring!”
Vaani and I too wish the same outcomes. Not so that our story is inspiring, but so that we end up repaying all our debt and become debt-free. There’s a huge responsibility that we bear in us, every single day, of repaying our 179 Angels (creditors) the USD 1 million dollars that we owe them. There’s a line from a Tamizh classic (I not well versed in Tamizh literature, so I am not sure of the source – if anyone can enlighten me on the source, you are most welcome; will be grateful for the learning!) which goes like this…‘kadan petraar nenjam pola’…translated loosely, it means ‘like the heaviness in a debt-laden person’s heart’. While we have learnt the art of not allowing our spirit to be smothered by the weight of our problems, both professional and legal, and our debt, we still wake up every single day with an awareness of this enormous responsibility. We try to get our business back on track – meetings, proposals, networking, presentations…we keep doing a lot of stuff, a lot of new stuff too…but we remain unfrustrated when our efforts don’t bear the results we seek. To be sure, over the last 9+ years, our efforts have come unstuck more times than they have yielded any profitable outcomes. And, through this catharsis, this has been our big learning. Sometimes in Life, talent, integrity and hard work will not get you what you want. So, this is when you must keep the Faith and learn to be Patient. Faith here is the ability to trust the process of Life – that if you have been created, you will be provided for, you will get all that you need and you will be cared for and looked after. Patience here means the ability to keep the Faith even when there is no evidence to support that you will get the results that you are toiling towards.
Clearly, Faith and Patience are not capable of solving your problems. Your problems will either sort themselves out over time, in their own timeframes – not necessarily within the deadlines you wish or strive for – or your efforts will lead you to solutions over time. Yet, Faith and Patience are great coping devices. They help you and me, anchor within, find inner peace and be happy, even as Life works at its own pace, in its own time. Our learning and experience is also that if you have found inner peace and have learnt to be happy despite your circumstances, you can face anything, absolutely anything, in Life! Which is why we don’t wish for anything, anymore. We simply put in a 100 % every single day, go to sleep happy and content that our efforts have been true and genuine, and wake up the next day to go back to putting in another 100 % effort. We know that someday, we trust Life enough for knowing this, we will eventually get to what we are working toward!
Being silent is an art that is worth exploring, learning and practicing.
In response to my blogpost yesterday on living in a WhatsApp Group-ridden world, a reader pinged me to ask: Is silence a virtue or is it a sign of weakness?
Good question, I thought.
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. 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 my family, how I demanded to know from my Dad whether he was spineless. I asked that question brusquely – my tone 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 with reference to the context we were all dealing with then – and now! 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. Here’s what I have learned:
- 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 your 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! It will ultimately lead you to a great, unimpeachable inner peace.
If we can overcome the urge to want to make a point and to be seen as being right, every single time, we will have learnt the art of intelligent living.
Yesterday, I posted this Prayer on my personal Facebook Wall:
Grant us this day, and ever after, this Prayer…
Disable Forwarding Privileges on WhatsApp
And give us Sense and Sensibility among our WhatsApp Groups
And grant people the compassion so that they don’t add us back when we have quit a WhatsApp Group
And, through all of this, make this digital world a better place for us to leave behind for our children, and their children…
PS: Even if you like this status, please don’t forward it…:) 🙂 :)!!!
It was posted half in jest. And half out of concern.
I am part of very few WhatsApp Groups. Out of these, a majority are well-regulated, non-spamming Groups. Some are virulently spamming and so, I ignore the spam in them and scoop out only relevant messages. In one Group that I am part of, the Admins are making a valiant effort to invite people to pause and reflect before they spam. They are encouraging self-regulation and sensitivity rather than enforcing discipline with non-negotiable rules.
It is in watching their struggle that I was inspired to write this Prayer yesterday and this blogpost today.
Over a drink last night, I thought through deeply about what we can learn about human behavior and about ourselves while being part of WhatsApp Groups – spamming, non-spamming, whatever kind!
I personally don’t read forwards, jokes and spam memes (including festival wishes). I don’t believe in anything that’s not personal. If it lacks a personal touch – including stuff that comes over email/bccs) – it gets trashed by me instantaneously. In fact, my WhatsApp Status message reads thus: “Please don’t send me Jokes and Forwards. Appreciate your kindness. :)” A huge majority of my contacts respect this choice of mine. And I deeply value their sensitivity.
But, of course, I realize that not everyone is the same. Fundamentally, we human beings are very expressive. Introverted is a word that does not really apply to us. Seriously. Even the most “introverted” person is expressing himself or herself through their silence. Silence is a great way to say something – several things in fact! So, because we are expressive, and because not all of us are very powerful conversationalists, over phone or face to face, a platform such as WhatsApp gives us so much space, and opportunity, to say whatever we want to. Sometimes, we may have nothing to say, but WhatsApp is seductive enough to entice us to want to make a statement. A Forward, which has no connection with either the subject being discussed or the core intention of a WhatsApp Group, is someone’s way of seizing the opportunity to make that statement. A meaningless festival meme or joke being forwarded is the person’s way of hollering in the deep, black, endless, digital hole: “Hellooooooow! See, I Forward, Therefore I Am!” Further WhatsApp – more than Facebook – because it is at this time hugely text/image driven and smartphone-based, allows instant gratification on several fronts: you can express yourself by forwarding, you can speak your mind on social, economic, cultural, political and religious issues, you can berate someone, you can take on anyone, argue, debate, and fire your salvos (often your dormant emotions, feelings, opinions a.k.a your dil ki bhadaas) head-on. In a face-to-face debate, a better communicator can win an argument. But on WhatsApp, you can drown someone and their argument with your ability to type faster and, interestingly, purge endlessly. If you observe closely, a pattern you will often find in your Groups is that very combative stances taken on issues by people are purely a function of what they think of you as an individual and has nothing to do with their being objective or issue-based. I chose to exit my school WhatsApp Group for the same reason – people who believed Vaani and I were faking a bankruptcy kept attacking every post of mine, while others watched in ‘dignified’ silence. Initially, I didn’t see the pattern. But when I saw it, I exited because I didn’t want the camaraderie in a school buddies forum to be vitiated by a few people’s opinions of one individual and his Life! So, in summary, WhatsApp to a majority of people is not just a messaging platform. It is the virtual version of the Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park. At least in London, the police intervene when there is a complaint. In a WhatsApp Group, unless the Admins are strict, who is to regulate? And, seriously, no Admin wants more administration responsibilities on their Life’s plate – which is overflowing from so much to do already!
So, how do we live, survive, converse and, if you like, share, in a WhatsApp Group-ridden world?
Here’s what I have learnt to do – take whatever works for you, if it doesn’t, well, trash it! 🙂
#1. To not be in a WhatsApp Group is a personal choice, so exercise it. In essence, this is a leadership moment – decide!
#2. If you choose to stay (if you are being forced to stay, revisit #1), please be sure to stop complaining. Complaining never made anything better. It only makes you bitter.
#3. If you are on a WhatsApp Group that’s stuffed with folks who are Forward Terrorists, you can learn to ignore their posts. Ignoring is an art. Not everything in Life is relevant or requires your attention and focus. And these folks are giving you a great opportunity every single day to learn the art of ignoring all that is not relevant.
#4. Related to #3 are two other arts – the art of not having an opinion and/or the art of not having to share an opinion. The human mind rushes you to want you to have a say in everything. You need not opinionate on everything and in some contexts, even if you have an opinion, it is pointless to voice it. So, simply, learning these two arts, helps you practice patience. A very, very, very important Life skill.
#5. Finally, if someone’s being rude, combative, unnecessarily argumentative, then don’t react. Just be silent. The best way to win any battle is to not fight at all. That’s an art too – and WhatsApp gives you just the right opportunity daily to forgive, forget and move on.
I treat my engagement with the world via WhatsApp as an opportunity to unlearn, learn and share. If my saying anything will create value, if it is an original thought, I share. If not, I remain silent. Yes, I am human too. And so I wish my fellow humans are more sensitive than they are…but then, because I can’t go change the way people are engineered, or the way they think, I lean on this great, spiritual, song from Amar Prem (1972, Shakti Samanta, R.D.Burman, Anand Bakshi, Kishore Kumar) which reminds me that Kuch Toh Log Kahenge…
And this is the way I believe I can live happily, peacefully, in a WhatsApp Group-ridden world!
|The Venerable Subul Sunim
Abbot of the Beomeosa Monastery in Korea
|Picture Courtesy: Outlook/Internet|