Living prayerfully

Make your Life your prayer. And you will be soaked in peace.
The popular notion that we have, thanks to our upbringing and conditioning, is that prayer is an action that requires a time, a place and certain necessary and sufficient conditions. Each religion preaches worship through prayer differently. Therefore, while all of us have become adept at prayer, and praying, we have become completely incapable of living our lives meaningfully! Even when in prayer, the mind is distracted, often anxious, fearful and disturbed! How can merely, mechanically, by rote, chanting a mantra or reciting a hymn, compensate for intelligent living?
This is my humble, personal view. Over the years, I have learned that your entire Life, the way you live, think and work, can be prayer if you understand that this lifetime is a gift and that you must forever be grateful to Life for this experience! Choosing forgiveness over angst, love over hatred, postponing worrying than postponing happiness, serving others over seeking deservance for yourself, practising gratitude over harboring expectations and making each moment count are all ways in which you can live your Life prayerfully. When you do this, repeatedly, over days and months and years, you become the peace that you seek. This doesn’t mean that Life will not serve you any more problems. Problems – perhaps even complex ones – will always be there. But you will be able to deal with each of them effectively and efficiently, because you are now anchored in peace.

It is only because you relegate peace and prayer to a specific time, and do it with a ritualistic obsession and not with soulful fervor, that you are unable to escape fear, worry, anxiety, guilt, grief and suffering. But if you make your Life your prayer, always being grateful for all that you have, you will always be at peace – with yourself and your world! 

Making your work brilliant

Approach your work with humility and innocence. That’s when it will become a work of art!
&Pictures, a TV channel, recently premiered “Chale Chalo – The Lunacy of Film-making”(Satyajit Bhatkal, 2004), a documentary on the making of the Aamir Khan-classic Lagaan (Ashutosh Gowariker, 2001). As part of the telecast, the channel had organized a live interaction with Lagaan’s cast and crew. Famous Bollywood film-maker Karan Johar, who hosted the show, asked the film’s lyricist Javed Akhtar to comment on his experience of writing the film’s songs – each of which went on to become memorable hits. Akhtar replied, modestly: “I feel as artists, we must set aside our past successes, our fame, our glory, our ego and approach each new assignment or opportunity with a child-like innocence and curiosity. Then the opportunity becomes simple to deal with. You should never work with the pressure of past success weighing on you. When you approach your work with humility, it always produces great results.” In cricketing parlance, one would say, “You take a fresh guard and start from zero in every new inning.”
There’s great wisdom in what Akhtar has said. Think about it. No one really wakes up to do a bad job. Yet works of art are rare – in whatever field you choose to consider. Besides, very few artists, professionals, sportspeople or other achievers, are able to sustain their success and stay on top of their game. The reason for this is that they are weighed down by their own success. They feel they have to prove something every time they work or play or create. It is only those who, as Akhtar explained, approach their work with humility, innocence and curiosity, who end up repeating their success or excelling in whatever they do – consistently. Another all-time great, Amitabh Bachchan often confesses to being nervous every time he faces the camera. Imagine, a legend like him feeling so! But that perhaps is the secret of his brilliance and of his ability to stay relevant in a highly competitive industry for over 40 years now!
 
I see my work as a prayer. I feel when I work – write, deliver Talks, coach people, consult, lead Workshops – the Universe’s energy is expressing itself through me. I offer my being as a prayer, whenever I work, and I allow this energy to speak through me. None of what I do, or what anyone does, is an individual effort. Life expresses itself through each of us. And since there are so many of us – the expressions are myriad too. So, whether you are a housekeeper or a music composer, if you bow humbly to Life and offer yourself as an instrument for Life to express itself, whatever you do will turn out brilliant!

Of God, Prayer and Rewards

Prayer in the purest sense is an expression of gratitude for all that you have and is an offering, of anything, including yourself, to the Universe.
I know someone who is never available for any conversation or meetings. Every time we try to connect with him he’s either at work (which is for about 5 hours a day) or he is performing poojas, worshipping. He’s runs a small business and by his own admission, performs 8 prayer rituals a day, in three spells, over 12 hours. Is he happy, I asked him one day. “Hardly. Business is tough. A lot of money is stuck with debtors. I am continuously in prayer trying to seek a way out,” he said.
To each, his or her own way. Especially in matters concerning faith and prayer. But Zen offer a beautiful perspective on prayer. And it is worth understanding and thinking about.
Zen Buddhism says that true prayer is when no petition, no wish, is made, when no assistance is sought, but when mindfulness is practised. Through such practice, you offer whatever you have, a flower, an incense stick, or maybe even yourself, to something higher than yourself. What can be and is greater than you? Creation. Creation is the higher energy. So, offering yourself to Creation, makes you be one with the Universe. When you offer yourself you are expressing your gratitude for your creation and everything that you have. You are saying – “You created me. Thanks. I am offering everything I have, mindfully, consciously, with all my being, to you.” That’s when you truly unite with the Universal energy and are soaked in its brilliance and abundance.
The popular notion that prayer is an appeal to an “external, invisible” God is a by-product of how religion has come to be practised over many centuries. Maharishi Patanjali had demystified this in one of his works, perhaps at the beginning of the Common Era, where he equated God to be a mere clothes peg. Just as you would hang a coat on a clothes peg on the wall, we have been taught to pray looking to a “non-existent” God. He says, God is an invention, because, if God isn’t there, who will you pray to? But just as you would have learnt to hang your coat elsewhere if there were no clothes peg, you must learn the value of prayer, and develop the ability to pray, in the purest, truest sense. When you pray, as a means of complete surrender to Creation, then you don’t need a God, you are the prayer and you are one with who you pray to. God, he says is for beginners. Like when you are learning cycling, you need the small wheels on either side of the bicycle’s rear wheel to help you balance. But once you have mastered cycling, you don’t need those two small wheels jutting out – you discard them and that helps you ride freely. So, it is with prayer. The more you learn to pray, unconditionally, humbly, as a thanksgiving, the more peaceful you become.
True prayer is totally non-ritualistic and non-demanding. It imposes no conditions. It asks for nothing from you – not your time, not your offerings. You don’t need to fast nor do you need to give up or abstain from anything! It is not what you do out of fear (that God will punish you if you don’t pray) or out of greed (I want this or that – grant me my wish!). It is always about being in the moment. The moment that you choose to offer your gratitude to Creation for all that you have and are endowed with – that moment itself is your prayer. You can be anywhere in that moment – you could even be seated on the potty! Also, there is no price to be paid in prayer and there are no rewards to be claimed. When you pray, you pray. And that prayerful moment, when gone through with all humility and gratitude, is itself the reward, the treasure, the fortune!
                            

When Life becomes prayer…!

Immerse yourself in what you do, lose yourself to Life, then your entire living experience is a prayer!

Later this evening, the eminent dancer Chitra Visveswaran is set to be honored, by The Music Academy, with the title ‘Natya Kala Acharya’. This morning’s Hindu runs a beautiful profile of Chitra akka (as she is fondly called) written by her close friend and art lover Hema Iyer Ramani. The profile is titled, “Journey of Challenges”. I have had the opportunity to observe Chitra akka, from a distance, in the past decade or so. I am aware of some of the challenges she has faced as a person. But I have always admired her resilience. And have often found myself inspired by her ability to be grounded (despite all the adulation she receives), to be calm (despite all the chaos around her) and to always be giving – of her time, her understanding to others at one level, and of herself, to her art form, dance, at another level!

Chitra Visveswaran
I remember an experience – and learning – I had, some years ago, when Visveswaran, Chitra akka’shusband, passed away. Just as in her name, I could never think of Chitra akka in singular. To me, she and Visvesh (who was an accomplished singer apart from being a ‘Santoor’ expert) were a couple, always together – in their music, in their dance, in social dos and in their inspirations. It was unfathomable to think of them as separate. As Hema points out in her profile this morning, “When ‘Santoor’ maestro Pandit Shivkumar Sharma asked him (Vishvesh) to give up all else to the exclusion of ‘Santoor’, he said he could give up all else except singing for his wife and composing music for her productions!” So, when Visvesh died, at least I expected Chitra akka to be in mourning for a very long time. But within 10 days of Visvesh’s passing, Chitra akka convened an event at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Chennai to “celebrate” Visvesh’s Life. It was a memorial service with a difference. There was no mourning. There were no grief-stricken speeches. Visvesh’s own guru, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma too spoke, oozing joy, as if he was holding a toast to honor his student! And then Chitra akkaherself spoke. She said (I recall vividly), “I only see Visvesh as not being here physically. But his presence will always be with us, with me. He taught me to live this Life as if it were a prayer. As if it were an offering to the Universe. Which is why we both enjoyed each other’s companionship and the work we did together. To me my Life, my work, is not something which has to be ‘gone through’. It is a prayer.” She then performed a dance piece, accompanied by Visvesh’s song recording, that left all of us in the audience in a trance!

I have, ever since, held that learning from Chitra akka close to my heart. I have discovered that when we immerse ourselves in what we enjoy doing then it ceases to be work. It becomes our Life. Then no loss nor any challenge can pin us down for too long. Then our individual energy, the one within us, resonates with the Universe’s energy. In that beautiful communion, an inner peace, a rare joy, takes over. And our entire Life becomes a celebration, a prayer, an offering to this Universe!