Peace arrives when you stop resisting, stop fighting and stop struggling with Life.
Each of us is fighting something or the other. All the time. Someone fights for health. Someone else for wealth. There’s someone fighting for dignity. And someone for identity. Someone out there fights for companionship. Another soldiers on for acceptance. Yet a factor that’s common to all constituencies is that everyone, despite their individual fights, wants peace. You look around. Ask around. And you will find that almost everyone wants just peace. And they will all talk about inner peace __ bliss, joy, plain, good ol’ happiness.
But you can’t pursue peace when you are struggling with Life, fighting its every dimension. You cannot be angry with your situation in Life and expect to find peace in it at the same time. Peace will come, when you suspend all hostility in your mind, and through that act, make your immediate circle of influence peaceful. Peace has a price to be paid for, and that is to be accepting of a situation or a person or an outcome. Many people wonder what is the way to peace. And the simplest answer to their query is what Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh champions: “Peace is the way!”
But by ceasing to fight, are you embracing inaction? And isn’t inaction equal to committing hara-kiri? Let me clarify: ceasing to fight is not inaction. It means acceptance. You can be accepting of a situation, be peaceful, and yet work towards changing it. They are not mutually exclusive. On the other hand, they are complementary. The other day, at a coffee shop, I noticed a young couple argue with each other at another table. The lady was agitated. Often gesticulating wildly, raising her voice just so much that others around could hear and perceive that she was upset with the gentleman. The man, on the other hand, was stoic. He was calm and in control of himself, even if he was not in control of the situation. At the end of their discussions and arguments, I felt nothing had been resolved. Things were where they were when they came in. But the lady stomped out in a huff, and I believe she must have been continuing to fight the situation, or the man, in her mind. The man was calm, perhaps not happy either with the way the meeting ended, and made a slow, peaceful exit. He may also have felt that things could have been better, but for sure, he wasn’t feeling worse. He was peaceful. He wasn’t fighting. Yet he was not abstaining from action. Coming to the meeting, making an attempt, while staying calm, was indeed action.
We too can embrace this way of living. Simply, don’t start with asking ‘WHY?’ of Life at each of its twists and turns. Exclaim instead, ‘Interesting, so, we have a situation…!’, and mobilize your action to resolving it. Even a fight for a nation’s independence can be a peaceful__and successful__one. Gandhi proved it and so did 300 million of his followers, fellow Indians, back then. The same principle applies here. End all violent thinking __ about anyone or anything __ and approach each problem or situation with complete focus and total equanimity. Remember: to find peace, inner peace, peace is the way!
Letting go is not difficult. It is deciding to let go that is difficult. So, here’s a simple perspective on what it takes to let go!
When we try to control anything, we experience satisfaction and triumph in the short-term, but we are struggling with pain and suffering in the long-term. When we let go, there’s pain initially, but joy and bliss abound in the long-term. This applies to opinions, money, relationships, children, careers and any challenging situation in Life.
|The luckless rescue operation to save Thimanna (inset)
Picture Courtesy: Internet
I read a story in the papers last week of a farmer in Karnataka, Hanumanthappa Hatti, who had to take a heart-wrenching decision to let go. Hatti’s six-year-old son Thimanna had fallen into an abandoned borewell in their farm in Bagalkot. After three days of hectic rescue operations, Hatti pleaded with the district government officials to stop the rescue mission. Already a 75 ft trench had been dug to reach Thimanna who was believed to be stuck at 160 ft in the 300 ft-deep borewell. To reach the boy, the rescue mission team had decided to dig further, in an-L shape, even as almost everyone gave very little chance for the boy to emerge alive. Oxygen levels in the borewell beyond a certain point were nil, and at 160 ft, the chances of survival after three days was nil too. It was at this time that Hatti made the decision. He said already three lakh cubic metres of mud had been hauled out from the borewell. To fill the borewell back and reclaim his sugarcane crop will already require a humungous financial outlay – which was beyond Hatti’s means. If they were to dig further, Hatti reasoned, his costs would only go up with no chance of finding his boy alive. “I won’t get back my son alive after all this that is being done. I should at least save my land for the future of my two daughters,” he told reporters at his farm.
Hatti’s is a classic case of letting go – complete with the difficulty involved in making that crucial decision. Letting go is not about giving up. It is about accepting that there are some things in Life that simply cannot be.
The desire to control is an ego-based response. It represents a view within us, however subconscious it may be, that we are causing_and will want to continue to cause__things to happen the way they are. The decision to let go, is a spiritual decision, made in acceptance of and in surrender to a Higher Energy. When we let go, we feel a pain, an initial ache, but we also feel good. We feel a sense of relief, just the opposite of how we felt while we were clinging on to that situation__fighting, agonizing, suffering. Mitch Albom, the author of the beautiful book, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, awakens us to a new perspective: “Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you are not losing it, you are just passing it on to someone else.”
What a wonderful way to inspire all of us to let go. So, the choice is with us. Within us. To control or to let go. Let go, because you and I are mere voyagers, who came with nothing and will go with nothing. We will have led a meaningful Life if it can epitomize love and peace. By letting go, as the struggle within us ceases, we will become love and peace!
Choose to be a witness, especially when a ruinous emotion like anger rises in you, and you will attain bliss.
Watch your thoughts as you would watch traffic on the street. When riding to work, especially when you are not driving, aren’t you just a witness? You just see a million things happening in the hustle bustle of a daily Life in a metro. Ensconced in your car, in the comfort of your air-conditioning and listening to some music, you are just a witness. May be you are watching two irate drivers honking madly. Or you are observing a senior citizen crossing the road with extreme caution. Or you are seeing someone opportunistic brazenly edge past a more tentative driver. You are merely an observer__who sees everything but chooses not to participate in further confounding the chaos!
Is that really possible__being a witness to your own thoughts?
In fact, the Buddha, prescribes this, only this, to attain a Life of peace and fulfillment. He says: “Just be awake. Be a witness to your thoughts.”
The essence of the Buddha’s message is that we must not suppress ourselves. Take anger for instance. When someone does something stupid or hurts you or betrays you, you will feel angry. It is natural. And it is logical. What is the point in suppressing it? Suppressing ANYTHING that you believe is negative__like anger, sex, greed__is detrimental to your well-being. All these emotions are basically energy being expressed in different ways. So, suppressing them, means wanting to get rid of them, to kill them. How can you kill energy? Isn’t it a futile exercise? You will only end up creating more stress for yourself and within you. This also does not mean that you must succumb to these emotions and let their fiery energy consume you. Be aware. Be awake. Be alert. If you are witnessing your thoughts, you will realize that anger is rising in you. Then you won’t explode mindlessly, destructively. You will, through your awareness, be able to channelize your anger into, of all things, believe me, compassion!
Osho, the Master, says that anger can turn into compassion, a sexual desire into deep love and mindless greed into complete sharing! He says that these emotions are but energies. And the way to deal with them is to allow them to be expressed in a different form rather suppressing them.
I know, from experience, that this possible through relentless practice.
Once upon a time, I used to be a very angry man. I remember, in my teens, I once flung my shaving razor on the TV screen in our living room, because I was furious with my mother for saying something she should not have (at least in my opinion!). Over the years, right up to my mid-30s, which means a good two decades of my Life, I would let my anger control me. I wouldn’t even think before I exploded. It had become a normal, instantaneous reflex action to any situation that did not meet my expectations. Once when I was buying a car I had to travel urgently on the day the car was due to be delivered. So I had asked my admin assistant on my team to take delivery of the car while ensuring that the color I wanted was the one we got. My assistant called me AFTER taking delivery of the car that the company regretted not getting my color and said that I had to ONLY accept the color they had if I wanted immediate delivery. I lambasted my assistant for an hour on the phone, standing on the kerbside at a busy intersection in Bangalore. I went on abusing my assistant, who was both speechless and shocked at my tirade, and I went on, endlessly, until an old lady passing by, tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear: “Just be aware of where you are when you scream!”. I felt ashamed. I hung up. It was too late. My assistant texted me his resignation within the next 5 minutes. I lost a good resource. But that moment of personal shame and guilt did not transform me. I raged on. At work my colleagues had nicknamed me ‘chiefscreamer’. (My business title, also on my business card, is chiefdreamer!)
It wasn’t until Life landed me at the edge of a precipice, where I continue to hang from, and I realized that my kicking around is not going to help my situation in any manner, that I awoke to the futility, and vanity, of being mindlessly, violently angry. Anger by itself is not a bad thing. Without being angry, with any injustice or current reality, no change, transformation or revolution has ever been possible in the world! Yet mindless anger has to be channelized. And, in my experience, has to be converted into compassion.
Over the years of practicing mouna (daily silence periods) and growing awareness, I have come to realize that people that hurt you do so because they are suffering themselves. Their inner turmoil is reflected in their unreasonable and unfair behavior. So, when someone does something nasty to me, I try to understand them better. Anger is no longer a response. It has become an intelligent choice. When anger rises in me, and it well will, I watch it. Then I say to myself, why is this person doing what she or he is doing to me? And if it a foolish mistake the person has committed forgiveness is easy. But when there has been a willful assault on my privacy or dignity or sentiments, I simply feed someone on the street thanking the Universe and my detractor for the opportunity to serve. I don’t even tell my detractor I am doing this because I don’t need to. As I feed someone randomly, I concentrate all my energy on my detractor and wish deeply that she or he heals. And I dedicate the act of serving, and the meal, to my detractor. This practice gives me immense peace and joy. I find it meaningful that:
a. I have not lost my head and exploded.
b. I have been compassionate towards my detractor and another human being.
c. I feel grateful that I have been useful.
The bigger cause for celebration though is that when you are merely a witness, an observer, you don’t participate to perpetrate any mindless crisis that may emerge in the course of daily living. You don’t get distracted from your focus on being peaceful. You don’t feel disturbed. You feel love rather than raw desire for people around you. You choose saner responses and constructive energy options when you have to express yourself. You discover great joy in realizing that Life may often shake you but, by being a mere witness, you can ensure your inner core is not stirred!
All Life is equal.
Celebrating creation is our principal religion and only duty! Over centuries, religion, by its opportunistic practitioners pointing to an external God, has made bad spaghetti out of a perfect recipe for equality. Religion singularly has made us forget the divinity in all creation.
When you recognize that all Life is equal, and that you are as much the source of the cosmic energy, that which powers the Universe, as creation itself, then, you will discover the Godhead in you! Then, and only then, will your search for an external God end. When you have found God, why would you need religion?
Let’s do a small exercise to grasp this truth in a nanosecond.
Take an empty (water) glass.
Is the glass really empty? Or does it contain something?
Well, arguably, it contains air.
Now, drop the glass on a hard floor (not carpeted). Yes, just drop it!
It breaks, right?
Now what happened to the air in the glass? Where has it gone? Did it also break or did it go somewhere?
Well, it just merged with the air in the room. In fact, it always was merged with the air in the room in the first place. The glass was merely a container holding some of the air.
So is this, your, body. It is merely a container holding, during a specific tenure, a portion of the air, or the cosmic energy that’s powering the Universe. Isn’t that case strong enough to establish that you and everyone else are equal? Because all of us are powered by the same cosmic energy.
All our problems in the world, between us human beings occur because we identify too much with the human body. Without the body, without the mind, there can be no desire. Without desire, there can be no one-upmanship. Without one-upmanship, how can there be inequality? And without inequality how can there be ignorance? Just this awareness that you are not the body, that you are the God you seek, that you are the Universal energy is so brilliant and so very liberating.
“Desire, ignorance, and inequality—this is the trinity of bondage,” taught Swami Vivekananda, whose 150th birth anniversary it is today!
Indeed. We are enslaved by our ignorance of our true Self. We are trapped in our desires. And we are victims of the conditioning that we are an unequal race. The question we must ask ourselves is if you inhale from the same source I exhale into, how can you and I be unequal? If people across the world understood this truth, there would be no problems, no wars, and we will have peace and love everywhere.
Swami Vivekananda further said, over 100 years ago, and it is so true, so relevant, even today: “We believe that every being is divine, is God. Every soul is a sun covered over with clouds of ignorance; the difference between soul and soul is owing to the difference in density of these layers of clouds.”
By simply worshiping, and celebrating, creation, we will find our God and peace __ both that which we desperately seek and need!
It is from acceptance that equanimity comes.
Often we see people who have been exceptionally courageous in Life – in just accepting Life for what it is stoically. Karambir Kang, the General Manager of the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai, who lost his wife and two children to the 26/11 terror attacks at his hotel in 2008, is a case in point. We are quick to conclude that these are people who are extraordinary. Importantly, we overlook that they were and are ordinary folks who just chose to live Life as it came to them. The tag of extraordinariness is what we, the people who see them from the outside, have given them.
I have had a fairly rough morning today. Several things didn’t go to a plan. People were increasingly irritable and driving me up the wall. More than a few times, I lost my cool.
Then, in a desperate bid to gather myself and find equanimity, I followed Thich Naht Hahn’s three-step process. I smiled. I watched my breathing. And I slowed down my mind that was racing in different, mostly irrelevant, directions.
I looked at my checklist for the day. And I shifted my attention to a piece of paper on my desk. It was the bill of a coffee shop that I frequent. On the rear of the bill were a couple of phone numbers that the waiter there had written last evening. I wanted to enter those numbers in a place I could find them when I needed them.
|Calvin Lunmangte: “Will love what I get”|
The waiter’s name is Calvin Lunmangte. He is a Manipuri from a village near Imphal. Last evening he came up to me, smiled his characteristic smile, and bid goodbye. He declared that he was leaving the coffee shop and the city forever. He said he was returning to Manipur to take care of his father’s business, a retail garment store.
“I am unhappy but I have accepted it,” said Calvin with a tinge of sadness in his voice..
‘Why are you unhappy?” I asked.
“Well I never wanted to be doing business. I like this job. I love meeting people. I like this city. My child goes to a good playschool here. My wife has a good job in a parlor here. Where I am going back to, in my village, there are no job opportunities. There’s a lot of militant activity there. But I have no choice. I have to take care of my aged parents. My father wants me to come and run his business,” he explained.
“Is there no way in which you can convince your dad?” I asked hopefully.
“He is too attached to Manipur. He won’t relocate. Then I realize that some things in Life will never happen your way. You only have to accept what comes to you. So, I am sad. But my sadness will go away once I go home and immerse myself in what I have to do with the business. If I can’t do what I love doing, I will love what I have to do,” he answered with amazing clarity of perspective. As he said this, I noticed that the sadness in his tone was now replaced with equanimity. He spoke slowly, peacefully.
This morning as I held the bill with his numbers on the rear, I reflected on what I had learned from Calvin. You may not always get what you want – from Life, from people. But you can always want what you get! And, as I have often discovered, this acceptance, wanting what you get, is what happiness is all about!
Over the years that I have known Calvin, I recollected this morning sitting at my desk, I had never found him irritated with Life or complaining. Being in a front-end service role, as a waiter, it was obviously difficult for him to meet all expectations. Many a day I have seen him chasing his tail. Taking orders, fetching stuff from the kitchen, seating guests, settling their checks and often also being at the receiving end of an irate guest or handling a bunch of temperamental teenagers, possibly half his age! He did all this and more without the slightest hesitation and with a smile always. Some days when I was busy, immersed in my writing or reading, he would quietly come up to me, excuse himself and remind me that I had not eaten or drunk anything in hours. When I would say I don’t feel like it just now, he would say, “You must eat, Sir. At least drink a soup. You can’t work when you are hungry.”
Karambir Kang’s grim tragedy or my trivial upheavals of the morning or Calvin’s Life-altering career decision may not be comparable given the varying magnitudes of their contexts. But the principle of equanimity applies to all of them uniformly. And Calvin’s extraordinary attitude is inspiring. Also because he is so very ordinary. He reminds us that there is hope for all of us ordinary folks. There is a certain compassion about him that is genuine. He’s probably half my age but has taught me an important lesson – to go with the flow of Life, to accept what is given gracefully. Truly, that is the secret of equanimity! Important also is the fact that equanimity does not mean you will not feel unhappy. It means you will transcend unhappiness and find peace beyond it. That’s when, as the Buddha said, “Equanimity will make you imperturbable.”
Learning to deal with emotions you don’t want in you, requires a deeper understanding of yourself. You are the source of all your joy, your miseries, your habits and your overall attitude to Life.
Fundamentally, no one wants to be angry or sad, worrisome or anxious, fearful or complaining. Ask anyone and you will be told that all they want is to be happy. Yet why do the other emotions come into play?
The simplest way to understand this is to know yourself. Let’s say someone did something nasty to you. Broke your trust, or cheated you or conspired against you. Then your entire system erupts in response and emotions like anger and hatred come to the fore. “How dare you?” and “Let me teach you a lesson!” are the manifestations of these emotions. And you project your anger or hatred on that person or on that object. That is really of no use. Because while that person will perish, at times, unable to bear your shower of negativity, the source also gets scarred. And the source is you. So, if you want to check your emotions, go to the source. This happens also when you are sad. Someone dies. And you feel sad. You feel infinitely sad for days, weeks, months. The person who died is no longer there, the object of your grief is absent. But you keep on projecting your emotion on your memories. These emotional projections are like cinematic projections. They are magnified and become larger that you! They rule you, possess you only because you allow them to. For them to become inconsequential, you must go to the source. And that source is within you, not in the object that you project your emotions on. So, if you want to get rid of your anger or sorrow or fears or anxiety, stop focusing on what triggered it and focus inside you, on what’s continuing to cause it! You will need to turn off the projector if you want to stop the projection!
We are doing this projection business all the time. With a variety of emotions. In India people go to the beach for various reasons early in the morning. A jogger sees the rising sun in the Bay of Bengal and feels refreshed and energized. A child sees it and is excited about wanting to make sand castles. A man sprinkling the ashes of his dear father who he has just died the previous evening, wonders sadly, fearfully, anxiously, how the first day of his Life without his father will be. A lady looks at the sun and later at the sea, which appears surreptitiously calm, fearfully and angrily wondering how it will react the next moment – because that has been her experience with the tsunami of 2004 when she lost her entire family! The fact is that the sun and the sea are the same. It is the same sun and sea that people are seeing. But each one’s projection is different.
So the hatred, the sorrow, the fear, the worrying about that comes out on to objects that are causing you to behave that way are actually a reflection of how you are at the source. Some part of you dies each time you express yourself with any of these negative, debilitating emotions.
That’s why in Buddhism, everyone is encouraged to be a Buddha. And a Buddha is about compassion. In being unmoved by what’s coming at him or her, the Buddha projects compassion, because she or he is compassionate at the core. To reach that state, we only have one way, to understand who we are. We are all centers of love. If we bail out all the negativity in us, what will be left is love. Become that center of love, and you will be unmoved. In fact, you will attract everyone in the Universe, just as a magnet does.
Osho, the Master, often shared this marvelous Zen story: “One of the greatest of Zen Masters, Lin Chi, used to say, “While I was young I was very fascinated by boating. I had one small boat, and I would go on the lake alone. For hours together I would remain there.” Once it happened that with closed eyes I was in my boat meditating on the beautiful night. One empty boat came floating downstream and struck my boat. My eyes were closed, so I thought, ‘Someone is here with his boat, and he has struck my boat.’ Anger arose. I opened my eyes and I was just going to say something to that man in anger, then I realized that the boat was empty. Then there was no way to move. To whom could I express the anger? The boat was empty. It was just floating downstream, and it had come and struck my boat. So there was nothing to do. There was no possibility to project the anger on an empty boat.” So Lin Chi said, “I closed my eyes. The anger was there, but finding no way out, I closed my eyes and just floated backward with the anger. And that empty boat became my realization. I came to a point within myself in that silent night. That empty boat was my Master. And now if someone comes and insults me, I laugh and I say, ‘This boat is also empty.’ I close my eyes and I go within.””
Maybe you may want to use this technique of the empty boat. It works miraculously!
Be authentic, true to yourself, than wanting to be right all the time.
Being authentic means to do what you must, knowing that, sometimes, even if you have done what you believed to be the right thing, you don’t have to accepted as having done right.
Life will place you in difficult situations sometimes. In them, you will be always faced with options of doing what is right and what appears to be right. Now, this whole concept of right and wrong is very subjective and relative. Something may be right to some people at sometimes and the same thing will appear to be wrong to the same people at another time. Or something may be right to some people and appear wrong to others.
So, how do you act in such situations? A simple way to act is to not necessarily qualify your action as right or wrong. Because that debate will rage on __ both within you and among people who will have opinions to offer. The important thing is to act. And a simple framework to help decide if your actions will be useful or not is available. Ask yourself before you act in a difficult situation:
1. Will my action help all parties concerned?
2. Am I acting out of care and concern or out of ego?
3. Am I creating value in the given situation?
It is important you answer yes to all three questions before you proceed. If you answer yes, and you are willing to proceed, you must. It may well be possible that someone else looking at the situation may be answering the questions differently. So, this framework is purely for the individual intending to act in a difficult situation.
Having said that, be sure that any action always will attract attention, critique, criticism and often, unintended, equal and opposite consequences. When you act on something in favor and on behalf of another person, you will be questioned as to why you did it? The argument that it was the right thing to do won’t always work. Because the someone who you tried to help may never be seeing your action as right __ else, she or he may have done it themselves.
So, when you act, be prepared to face the consequences. If you are not, don’t act. Simple.
If as a consequence of your action, you end up doing good in your view/eyes, but causing anguish to other parties concerned, because they don’t share your sense of perspective, then apologize. Beyond that, I also follow a simple visualization exercise. I seek forgiveness from the person that I feel I have caused pain, through my actions, by visualizing that I am touching her or his feet and giving her or him a hug. The other person may not still see it your way. She or he may not even see the apology as tenable. But at least you feel the power of your intention to have both acted with purposefulness and apologized with humility.
The bottom-line is to be authentic. You can be authentic with action and authentic with inaction, depending on what kind of a person you are. Either way, strive to be authentic, than wanting to be right and be seen as right. I for one know that I can only find peace in being authentic and prefer to have acted__ always acting with the 3-step framework__ learned and apologized, than not have acted at all.