If you can’t solve a problem, learn from it

Here’s the irrefutable truth about Life: Everyone really gets what’s their share in Life. And some of what may be given in Life, by Life, may be what’s unsolvable by us at a human level.
Clearly, not all of Life’s problems can be solved. Because they are not meant to be solved. They are meant to be dealt with, to be lived through and to be learned from. Dealing with Life is a much better approach than trying to solve the unsolvable. How do you solve the death of a dear one? Or a relationship where there’s no trust anymore? Or a rare health condition that has no cure?

It is Life’s nature to throw us into the deep end, untethered, and it is in our spirit, to deal with Life, with forbearance, with stoicism, with acceptance. And when we emerge from each ordeal, we come radiant, shining from the inner recesses of our soul! Live, therefore, your Life, learning from it even as you are dealing with it, and don’t try to solve the unsolvable. If you can’t solve a problem, learn from the experience! That’s living intelligently!


Advertisements

Allow yourself to be shaped by Life….!

Some years back, my good friend Rajmohan Pillai, seeing me in the throes of my Firm’s collapse and insolvency, gave me a profound piece of advice. He said: “Life will be full of problems. Don’t try to solve all your problems at the same time. Take each day as it comes and attempt solutions to the best of your ability. For the rest, just go with the flow.” When I first heard this advice, I was stumped by its simplicity. Is it that simple to deal with Life, I wondered. But, over these years, I have learned from experience that Rajmohan was on the ball. There indeed is no other way to live Life and to deal with the myriad situations that present themselves on a daily basis.
No one loves a problem. We all want to be problem-free. But that’s not how Life works. Life’s nature is to present you with a problem and get you to attempt solutions. In a way, Life’s playing with you and with each of us! As you progressively solve problems, newer ones will appear. And you will notice that the level of difficulty increases with each new problem __ pretty similar to the way our academic examinations are designed with an ascending level of difficulty through school and college. Now, there are some problems that you can solve. And there are those you can’t.. These ones, they sort themselves out over time. What’s interesting about the School of Life is that whether or not you solve problems, you will always learn. In a way, therefore, with each learning, you will continue to grow and evolve!
There’s a Taoist Zen story I remember reading: An old man accidentally fell into a river that had raging rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his Life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream – at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. “I adjusted myself to the water and did not expect the water to accommodate and molly-cuddle me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived!”
Don’t always expect what you want to happen in Life. Know also that your Life will never be free of problems. But you can be free from them if you allow yourself to be shaped by Life. Be prepared to and learn to adjust to what’s happening to you. This is the only way to a lifetime of peace, learning and bliss!

Switch On! Switch Off! Stay Tuned!!

Not worrying does not mean not acting on what worries you. It means acting with focus but without worry.

Worry doesn’t solve anything. Least of all your problems. Solutions to your problems can only be got when you attempt them. Many a time though, you are caught up with your problems so much that you don’t see solutions. You only keep worrying about being unable to solve them. And some problems are so complex, so protracted in nature that you can’t solve them immediately in any case. And definitely never by worrying! So, in such situations, caught in the maze of your problems, your worry turns into a deep, dark brooding and your Life is plunged into grief. It is not at all funny. Half of humanity lives like that __ merely existing, often drowning in their sorrow and suffering!

At such times, switching off from worrying can help. It turns your attention to living __ from merely existing.

Yesterday, at the IPL cricket match in Chennai, Ian Bishop, the expert commentator from Sony Max asked India and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) Captain, M.S.Dhoni, how he handles the pressure of his job. Of leading his country and his IPL team to success every single time. Dhoni replied in his characteristic manner: ‘Well, it’s a high pressure job. Many people say they try it. But I can claim that I have been successful at it. Which is, I have developed this ability to switch on and switch off. When I finish a game, I switch off from cricket. I then switch on when I come back to something connected with cricket, a meeting, or a practice session or a game itself.” This appears to be a good practice and one which seems to be working for Dhoni. For he is truly both Captain Marvel and Captain Cool for Team India and Team CSK just now!

I have learned this art too and over time have been successful with it. I have designated periods of time daily that I invest in addressing the worrisome, irksome, not-easy-to-solve issues of my Life. I switch on when I need to focus on them. And I switch off from them when I have tried my bit for the day and immediately switch the focus on another department of my Life that requires my attention. This method, I realize, has helped me live in each moment __ accepting it and enjoying it for what it is. This ensures that I don’t worry or brood. Either I solve what’s staring me in the face or I turn my attention to another aspect of my Life where I can be more productive. Switching off and switching on at will, I live mindfully, at peace and in bliss! This is the way I stay tuned to Life!

Mourning or Celebrating: Our world is the same!


In the midst of all of our problems lies a very beautiful world. Simply, we don’t notice it!

Yesterday I was on a flight. The hostess did a particularly bad job of the announcements. The food was cold. My ear was blocked thanks to an infection I have been carrying. And my thoughts wandered, at 30,000 feet, to the slew of problems we are faced with. I tried attempting solutions to some of them by making a diligent list of them on my little Post-it pad. My problem solving skills were particularly challenged because the nature of the problems were so nscrutable. After about 30 minutes of concentrating intensely on those problems, I was no more wiser or relieved than before! Suddenly I was forced to look up.  Some activity across the aisle from my seat had drawn my attention.

What I saw blew my mind away. There was a very, very old lady, perhaps well over 90. She had very little hair left. But whatever she had was in a brilliant silver and was neatly combed and made her glow. Her skin was all shriveled. And hanging. She had no teeth. Even so, she appeared to be completely at peace with herself and her world. She was looking radiant and very beautiful. Her toothless smile made me come alive and connect with a higher energy. She was struggling though to stand up to walk to the washroom. The hostess, with the pathetic announcement skills, was helping her. When she realized, the lady couldn’t make it with just she offering her hand for support, the hostess reached out and embraced the old lady and walked her slowly to the washroom. They were back after several minutes. In that time I put my pen down and replayed the whole spectacle again in my mind’s eye. What I had witnessed was a beautiful spirit in the old lady and genuine human compassion (and not just the discharging of a professional responsibility) from the hostess. When the old lady was seated again, she held the hostess’ hand, smiled benignly at her and said, in a beautiful voice, in English: “My child, I love traveling. And I prefer to travel alone without having to depend upon anyone from my family. Because I know the world is full of such angels like you. Thanks for being so kind to me.”

The irony struck me hard. Both the old lady and I were traveling together. We were literally seated next to each other, with only the plane’s aisle running in between us. Yet the world the lady inhabited seemed so much more beautiful and abundant than my own. For, if I had not looked up from my futile problem-solving attempt, I may have missed the beauty in the moment that I actually was so blessed to witness. An awakening and a learning dawned on me: The world we live in is the same. It is the same for the one who mourns and for the one who celebrates. It’s beauty doesn’t diminish ever. We actually see the world as beautiful, for the way it is, but in the throes of our problems, we hardly notice its beauty! So,we believe “our world” has lost its sheen. Because we see it with problem-tinted eyes and a depressed spirit! Alfred North Whitehead (1861~1947),English-American mathematician and philosopher, has summed it up perfectly: “Everything of importance has already been seen by somebody who didn’t notice it.”

The import here is not to say that we should not face our problems or attempt solutions. There’s only a humble submission that in doing that, don’t get so consumed, that you stop to pause and celebrate the magic and beauty of and in the Universe! When you allow yourself to notice the world you see, without judging whether you are in a frame of mind to celebrate it, you will open yourself up to such a whole new world of opportunity and a beautiful new way of living __ intelligently!

Step out of a problem if you must solve it!


To even attempt a solution to any problem you are faced with, you need to first step outside of the problem, detaching yourself from it.
Problems don’t have a mind of their own. A problem is a problem because you see it as one. Interestingly, a problem does not even know it exists and does not even know that its existence poses a problem to you!  It is your mind that sees a problem, defines it as big or small and responds with fear, worry and anxiety or, at times, with nonchalance and/or callousness.
Know that you cannot solve a problem by fearing it. Nor can you solve it by being in it! So, really, to solve a problem, and there will be many in Life, you have to step outside the problem. You have to be an observer to your own Life situation and ask yourself what is it that the person in the problem situation must do to solve it? And, interestingly again, if you can step outside and be an observer of your own Life, the most profound awakening__that you have to do nothing about anything__will sweep you in its wake! Yet, while this may be a very simpler way of looking at Life, despite being an observer, you may want to and be inclined to pursue some action on a practical plane. At least you will want to attempt something. Do that by all means, but do that dispassionately. Focusing only on what needs to get done. Go about attempting your solution in a clinical sort of way. Don’t engage with any emotion. Work with the spirit of – “some things have to be done, let’s just do them”. Period.
Let’s say you are struggling with a relationship issue. It’s been going on for years. Nothing has worked between the two of you. Yet every time you propose a solution, speak with a voice of reason, you have been ridiculed. You have been ostracized in the family. And each episode has only grown your grief. The relationship is a burden that you carry with you. You are tired, want to be free and in peace. So, why not step out of the situation? Ask yourself, what would you have done if you were looking at this from the outside and advising someone else? Well, possibly, you would have advised a complete breakaway between the two people who find each other difficult to deal with. Sure. But please also advocate the separation without any bitterness. You can even advise a legal separation when two spouses are involved. But what do you do in a mother-son or a brother-sibling relationship? At best you can advise, just walking away.
Understand that sometimes, some things, including close relationships will not work out in Life. Time changes. People change. So, it’s best to leave the other person to herself or himself. Just stay away. No resolution is needed. No treaty is to be signed. Face it: the relationship isn’t working out. So be it. Let it be. You don’t spoil your peace and don’t spoil the peace of the other party too. This may not make the relationship any better but it solves the problem that’s arisen from the relationship issue.
Now contrast this approach with the conventional one where you try remaining engaged in the relationship and therefore bring in emotions into play while also attempting a resolution. Some typical responses: Why should I walk away? I have done nothing wrong. Why can’t that person understand? Isn’t it basic common sense that we can’t continue to behave like juveniles? What about the future, what if we spar again? The issue will never get resolved this way. It will only get vitiated. Because either party will want to prove that she or he is right. The egos are hurt. So each one will fight back.
Wishing problems away or attempting to solve them when you are in its throes is not going to make any problem easier to solve! While, as I said, the best approach is to let problems be, even as you too just be, if you must at all attempt a solution, do it by detaching yourself from the situation. Intelligent living is continuously making a conscious choice on when to act on and when to accept Life. Dealing with problems, interestingly, requires a bit of both __ action and acceptance!

Be devoted to Life to experience Bliss!


Our primary, biggest and most important role, as a part of creation, is to be devoted to Life. Devotion here means to be in a state of acceptance of what Life has served for us. And to serve Life in return, whenever and wherever possible, by serving other forms of creation. 

This perspective definitely runs counter to our normal tendency to apply intellect to decipher what Life has served us or laid out to us! Hence it may immediately seem difficult to grasp. 

Here’s something to consider though! Try peeling off the layer of provider, bread-winner, care-taker, leader, mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, doer, undertaker, of whatever role you are essaying in Life. What is left then is the realization that you are just another aspect of creation. This is your true Self. The problem occurs when you don’t consider this role at all and instead think it is your bounden duty, it is your responsibility to solve all of your Life’s problems. Which, to be sure, you cannot in any case. Yet you foolishly attempt it. And you come back beaten, frustrated and devastated. On the other hand, when in a problem situation, when you have something to solve, if you accept the problem, may be attempt a solution, may be not, but choose to live with detachment__knowing that the fundamental reason you have been given a problem is so that you become stronger dealing with it than become cleverer solving it

A beautiful story came my way yesterday which celebrates this point __ about devotion to Life __ and is worth sharing here. 

A man was sleeping at night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with bright light and the Lord of Life (depending on your faith, you may want to call this person God or Savior or whatever!) appeared. The Lord of Life told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord of Life explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. This, the man did, day after day.

For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down with his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore, and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.

Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, a voice spoke up within the man’s weary mind: “You’ve been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You’re never going to move it” —thus, giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure. These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man.

“Why kill myself over this?” he thought. “I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort and that’ll be good enough.” And that’s just what he planned to do— but on an impulse, he decided to make it a matter of prayer and take his troubled thoughts to the Lord of Life. “Lord” he said, “I’ve labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you’ve asked. Yet, after all this time, I haven’t even budged that rock by half a millimeter. What’s wrong? Why am I failing?”

The Lord of Life responded compassionately.

“My friend, when I asked you to serve me— you accepted. I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength— which you’ve done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push. And now you come to me— with your strength spent, thinking that you’ve failed. But is that really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscular. Your back sinew is mighty. Your hands are callused from the constant pressure; and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you’ve grown much and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in my wisdom. This you’ve done. I, my friend, will now move the rock.”

This is the essence of Life. That problems come and go in our Life exactly the same way in which opportunities come and go. When we can’t do something about a problem, let’s not get frustrated. As Paulo Coelho says in ‘The Manual of the Warrior of Light’, in such situations, “make your work, even if you dislike it, your prayer”. What Life expects from us is acceptance. If we can accept what comes our way, without strife, without grief, with limited action __ only where and when we deem it necessary __ we will find peace and bliss. Our true calling is to devote ourselves to the task of living completely, despite our circumstances, with what has been served to us by Life!


Astrology is like a weather forecast: prepares you better if you use it well!


As long as the information you receive is reliable, use any tool to further your decision-making process. But apply your intelligence, gut feel and your FAITH too to make your choices. You may make some right decisions and you may make some decisions that go awry in Life. But whatever happens, you will have learned!

A friend told me yesterday that astrology doesn’t work. And wondered if I believed in it!

I am often asked this question. And my simple answer is the problem is really not with astrology as much as it is with astrologers. Astrology is a science. And it works pretty much like the way computer science or space technology or aviation works, Practitioners of science can do both __ for instance, they make life saving drugs and they make chemical weapons. Similarly, astrologers can be two kinds too. The ones who are like good scientists – precise, reliable, modest and ethical. And the others who are good with their craft but yet are greedy, want to control you so they can fleece you and therefore employ questionable practices and rituals in the name of ‘God’ and ‘religion’.

Obviously, people are free to choose. I am one who likes the truth up front, on the table and completely abhor religion and rituals. So, the astrologers I consult are those who are Masters __ they are as good as Sachin Tendulkar or A R Rahman are in their crafts.

Even so, I have also learned that astrology cannot change your Life. In fact nothing can change your Life’s design. And astrology can’t solve your problems. At best astrology serves as a dashboard __ just as you need to know various parameters to be able to drive your car efficiently, astrology can enable you to lead your Life better. It can help you deal with your problems better. But the aspect of leading your Life __ living it, being present, making choices, taking decisions, all of this is, and will forever remain, ONLY YOUR responsibility.

And this is where Faith comes into play. Faith, again what I have learned, is not about religion. It is about understanding and celebrating Life. It is about being. Being present, than about worrying or fearing, when Life is happening to you! I have learned to simply trust Life, which has given me this lifetime, and trust people who are Masters in their craft, their science, and lead it to the best of my ability. I employ astrology like I do a weather forecast. If I know it is going to be squally, I may prefer being indoors. Or if there are going to be showers, I will be better off carrying an umbrella. Just because the weather forecast says a storm lies ahead, I don’t plunge into a depression. And I sincerely hope no one does too. To be sure, praying to a God is not going to stop a Sandy hurricane from hitting you. A weather forecast and a natural calamity doesn’t mean you stop living. It only means you work on being better prepared. And you learn to accept whatever’s happening with the weather. So it is with you, your Life and astrology. Trust if you will, choose not to if you won’t!

Now you may wonder, and it is quiet logical, as to why and how do you trust someone who knows a science that you don’t. That’s precisely why you need that person. If you knew about something why would you need someone else to guide you? And don’t you trust a doctor, who knows how your heart or kidneys or lungs or liver work better than you do, with your Life when you sign up for a surgery? And don’t you also trust a pilot, whom you have not even met nor demanded to see his pilot’s license to check his credentials, with your Life when you board an aircraft to fly? So, why not trust an astrologer__who, by the way, is no small subject matter expert!

Good astrologers, like good doctors, are not charlatans or soothsayers. They are seers __ they have seen Life and see its inscrutable nature several-fold better than you or I do!

There was a time when, under advise from some quarters, I wore rings with special gems in them, on my fingers to ‘help protect me during my difficult times’. I was not convinced with this. But I still wore them because I thought I was not losing anything by wearing them. On one visit to my astrologer, a 75-year-old veteran, I showed him my rings and asked for his opinion.

He laughed heartily first! Then he asked: “Kallaala vidhi-ya matra mudiyuma, Saar?” ‘Can a stone change your destiny?’

I stared at him curiously. The absurdity of my choice and expectation that a pre-ordained design can be altered by wearing a ring became evident to me in a nano-second! I felt woefully stupid.

Then, he answered his own question: “Bhakti ala matrum mudiyum.” “Only devotion can change it.”

I also understood that the devotion he was talking about was not religious fervor. He invited me to stay devoted to the experience I was going through. He said experience is the ONLY teacher. And the more I resisted the experience of the challenging time I was being subjected to, the more I would suffer. Instead if I embraced it, loved it and devoted myself to the learning process, I may not suffer. Not that I can immediately change my current reality, he said, but I would be able to deal with it infinitely better.

I just loved his perspective and could relate to it completely. So, I put my faith in his advice. Astrology to me is a tool. It helps me take informed decisions. I use it as well as I use my cell phone. And both work on science!

As you can see, my Life goes on __ ridden with squally weather, hailstorms and cyclones, volcanoes, forest fires and earthquakes, but there’s phenomenal inner peace. Occasionally, I go back to astrology to refresh the forecast and my Life’s dashboard, so that I can lead myself and my family onward, on the path, that much better!