In any crisis the greatest benefit is the lesson it teaches you

Life’s beauty lies in knowing that the tougher the situation, the stronger you will emerge from it.
I met up with a four of my close friends from college, who were visiting Chennai, at a coffee shop last weekend. The conversation soon veered around to how my wife Vaani and I were coping with this seemingly endless bankruptcy of ours. One of my friends, who lives in Jakarta, complimented me and said: “You are remarkably resilient man. I don’t think any of us here would have got through what you and Vaani are facing.” The others at the table agreed with his view wholesomely. I explained to them that resilience is a quality that all of us are endowed with. We will never know it exists until we summon it in the wake of a crisis. “All smartphones these days have Bluetooth. But unless you activate your Bluetooth option you cannot use it,” I said, adding, “Resilience is like that. When the situation demands that you have to be tough, you will be. Anyone in that situation will be.”
Of course, one good way to remind yourself that you can survive, endure and get through a crisis is to look up to someone who has done something similar. In our case, Vaani and I looked up to Amitabh Bachchan and his wife, Jaya. Their company went bankrupt too. They had loans of Rs.90 crore, 55 legal cases and several creditors at their door for months and years on end. At one time, their house, “Prateeksha”, in Juhu was attached by a bank for a loan default. But despite being the celebrities they were, they overcame the embarrassment of being without money and faced their situation stoically. It is from seeing how they did it that we believed that we too were capable of being resilient.
Each of us is resilient. To be resilient is not rocket science. You must however believe that no matter what, there will always be a door that will open. So, when everything is dark, when there is absolutely no way out, breathe easy. Because when it is dark is when light can shine! Light cannot shine when it is bright. When what you see are only walls, and no road ahead, anchor within, with your deepest intent. If you have integrity of purpose, the walls will make way for doors to open, even mountains will move, to roll out a path in front of you!
Consider this: take your own Life. Make a list of all the crises you have faced so far. And make a list of learnings you gained and personal traits you see developed in yourself through those situations. Give yourself a score on 100! I bet you, you will score a full 100! Problems and challenges are Life’s way of humbling us. Of coaching us. What is the point of all this you may wonder? Why do I want to be taught anything? I just want to be left alone, you may protest. But such is Life. You can say what you want, think what you want, but Life will still do what it wants. So, the best thing to do in a situation, where you are not in control of the game, but are merely being played on, is to sit back and count your blessings. In a crisis, the greatest, and perhaps only, benefit is the lesson it teaches you. Celebrate that learning. Each new learning makes you wiser.

In India, we have a custom, a tradition, of touching the feet of those older to us, and seeking their blessings. Many do it mechanically, mindlessly. They do it thinking it is a sign of respect. It surely is. But what you are actually doing is telling the older person, “Boy! You have a wealth of experience with living Life and I salute you!” The older person was not born any wiser than you were. But Life taught her or him. They learned. Are you willing to? 

On making our world not just better but happier…

Having continuous conversations with your children is the best way to prepare them for the real world and to help groom them into being smart human beings.
Goldie Hawn, 69, with MindUP kids
Picture Courtesy: The Hawn Foundation Website
The latest issue of Harvard Business Review features an interview by Alison Beard with the famous Hollywood actor Goldie Hawn. Hawn was famous for such hits as Cactus Flower, Private Benjamin, The First Wives Club and Everyone Says I Love You. Hawn told Beard that her Hawn Foundation teaches resilience and mindfulness to 400,000 children around the world: “After 9/11, I realized that our children were no longer going to be living in a secure world. I also realized that the things we do in the first part of our Life aren’t always what we do moving on. How could I make a change and give back? So I brought together neuroscientists, positive psychologists, teachers, and mindfulness practitioners to create a program we call MindUP. It’s designed to help children understand their own neurology, develop mental stability, and reduce stress. People told me I would never be able to teach children how their brains work. And I said, Why not? There are now more than 400,000 doing MindUP worldwide.” Calling herself a “mindfulness campaigner”, Hawn says she wants to “build leaders of tomorrow by nurturing the children of today”.
I second that and champion that totally. The Information Age that we live in today delivers unfiltered, often uncensorable, information to children 24×7. There’s hardly any child who’s not aware of rape or terrorism or break-ups/divorce or poverty or prostitution or child-trafficking or drugs or war. On one side we parents wish to raise our children teaching them to be truthful and compassionate. On the other side, our societies, our nations and even our families are behaving so contradictory to the value systems we preach and wish that our children practice. For instance, you teach your child not to steal or lie. But you watch, often with your child, pirated online links of new movie releases. Don’t we realize that lifting someone’s intellectual property without paying for it is theft? Or consider the fact that we want, especially in the wake of the Nirbhaya episode in India, our male children to grow up to respect women. But we ourselves use so much of abusive slang (our seemingly innocuous MCs and BCs are precisely that!) or crack sexist jokes that deride women. Or we want protect our children from the gory social challenges of terrorism, poverty, child abuse and child trafficking. But the real world – and all our cinema – is full of them. The more we conceal, the more curious our children are to “see” first-hand what the real world is really like. Or the amount of academic and social pressure, in the name of extra-curricular activities, we heap on our children is not funny. We don’t realize that all this stress is perhaps numbing them, making them cold and, in some cases, even insensitive to their role as responsible global citizens of the future. This is where Hawn’s program attempts to want make a difference.
But you don’t need to wait for Hawn’s initiative to arrive in your neighborhood. You can lead as a parent by starting to have honest, open, conversations with your children. Teach them what’s right. Teach them to learn from their choices and mistakes. Share with them the gory details of real world issues from poverty to prostitution and help them resolve to make a difference. My wife and I ran a program on Life Skills for two years at a government-aided school in Chennai some years ago. We noticed that all 60 children we worked with each year resolved never to smoke or drink because they were all from families where a parent, or both parents, were alcoholic or smoking addicts. So, our learning has been that children are very open and willing to make intelligent choices – even better than adults – if they have access to facts and the true, bigger picture. And finally, help children, through conversations, understand that Life is never a straight line. Teach them that Life cannot be progressed in a linear fashion. Prepare them – and invite them – to face Life and whatever comes their way; be it a health challenge, a financial setback for the family, a relationship breakdown or even death. Preparing children to be “ready for anything” makes them less insecure and, in fact, stronger to deal with the ups and downs of Life.
The key is to help children realize the value of living smartly, intelligently. I learnt the value of mindfulness, and the power of being resilient, at age 35. I wish I had learnt it earlier. I would then have lived many more years of my Life meaningfully and fully. Like Hawn, I totally endorse the view that we must “catch ‘em young”! Because a more resilient and mindful generation of adults will not just make our world better, it will make it a happier one too!

A lesson in staying strong from a resilient 23-year-old

When we get into a mess in Life, either self-created or situational, focus not on why you got into it, but on how you must get up, dust yourself and move on. Analyzing the why of it is important – but after you have learned to cope or have found a way out.
Shweta Basu Prasad
Picture Courtesy: Internet
Shweta Basu Prasad, 23, the National Award winning actress (for Makdee, 2002 as a child artist; she also acted in another award-winning film, Iqbal, 2005), who recently found herself embroiled in a sex scandal in Hyderabad that made shocking headlines, has spoken her side of the story to the Times of India earlier this week. When I read her version I came away admiring her grit and maturity. Referring to her experience as “an episode in my Life”, Shweta told TOI’s Meenal Baghel: “I don’t understand how I got into such a big mess. I was not doing drugs, I was not murdering someone…people are so interested (only) because they think here’s some sex, some suffering and someone with a name (sic).” Shweta’s just out of a remand home that she was sent to after she was picked up from that Hyderabad hotel for, what the police allege, “soliciting customers to have sex with her”. At the remand home, she encountered people like her – women and young girls – confused, insecure and worried about their future. Shweta decided that she was not going to brood over what had happened. She resolved that she was going to stay strong. And so, she decided to teach poor children in the remand home. She offered her services to the school inside the premises and taught children Hindi, English and music. Shweta tells Baghel, “I told myself ‘Shweta is dead’; she has disappeared into this character of a school teacher that she is portraying.” And that’s how Shweta picked herself up. Commendable, right?
On her fifth night at the remand home, Shweta wrote this poem – The Cliff:
Thunderstruck, all alone,
I stand here at the edge of the cliff.
I crawled the dense forest to get here
The tribes and wild and strays
They say ‘Jump, jump from the cliff.’
As I look down, naked, cold and trembling,
The ferocious sea I see with its mouth open
It’s ready to swallow me.
The noises are unbearable, the place so dark.
 As I decided to jump in the sea, I saw the North Star.
I remembered how it shone above my blessed home where singing hugging and laughter awaited me
I said, ‘Wait, I want to go home.’
 The voices murmured, ‘End the journey.’ ‘Jump! Jump you ugly thing.’
I smiled to them and pitied them,
They don’t know I have wings….  
Shewta’s poem reflects her phenomenal ability to rise above her situation. And to look beyond the mess that she had gotten herself into. This is the unputdownable learning here – that we are not the situation that we find ourselves in. I am bankrupt. But I am not the bankruptcy. Shweta is stuck in a sex scandal. But she is not a prostitute, she is not the sex scandal either. It is irrelevant to me whether Shweta was indeed soliciting customers or whether she just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. What’s important is that irrespective of what happened to her, she is facing Life squarely. She’s resilient in the face of it all. And that’s why I feel inspired this morning.

Let’s understand this well. Often times in Life, what we chose to do will work for us. And there are times when our choices will come back to haunt us or even blow up in our faces. The world will offer its opinion in myriad voices. You should have done better. You shouldn’t have done this. Or whatever. Ultimately – for each of us – it is an intensely personal, individual decision – are you doing to sit down and keep brooding over what happened, or are you going to move on? None of the opinion-makers in your Life is ever going to have to live your Life. So while you can value opinions, and learn from them, don’t make Life choices based on them. You are not what other people think of you. Period. When you awaken to this realization, you too will, like the young and courageous Shweta, treat the messes in your Life as “mere episodes” and learn to move on! 

We are all “Work In Progress”

We are all ‘Work In Progress’. Always. Constantly evolving, continuously improving and perpetually discovering ourselves!

At the time of our creation, we are created completely__endowed with features and all that we need to live a complete Life. And as we journey along, we unravel each of our endowments. As kids what we thought impossible, slowly with the nurturing of our families and teachers, we start accomplishing. As adults, with each stumbling block that comes our way, we discover faith, patience and resilience__qualities that we thought we never possessed in our early years.

And yet, our evolution and our process of self-discovery is never complete. The day we think we are complete and there is no more self-growth possible, we stop living and start existing.

So, don’t crib about Life working on you all the time, because with each blow, with each stroke, you are becoming more complete, more beautiful! Enjoy growing up, don’t worry about growing older!!!

The three ‘R’s of Intelligent Living

Intelligent living has to be learnt – just the way you learn to speak a new language, with consistent practice.

Many people ask me if there are methods to live intelligently. They want to know if there are models they can study and learn to live their lives better. And my response to them is that living means to simply, totally, live – with whatever you have, with things, people and events, just the way they are! But oftentimes people are not convinced. They prefer complex treatises to simple approaches to live. They don’t get it when they are told that Life – and living – are not at all complicated.
Even so, here are some simple, universally appealing tenets, the three ‘R’s, that anyone, including those who look for methods and models, can embrace in order to practice intelligent living.
Reflection: This is a very important quality we must all develop. As we grow through Life, our responsibilities and challenges only increase. Most of the time we are leading hectic lives in the material realm. We are all the time in the earning-a-living mode. Every once in a while, we must pause and ask ourselves if we are earning-a-living or are we living – the Life we want to live? This is what reflection can help you achieve. Reflection happens when you pause running the rat race. Any practice of meditation can help you with reflection. But a quick disclaimer is important here – reflection is a deeply personal and intense exercise. You cannot borrow a practice from someone else. You have to try many and choose what works for you.
Resilience: Most of us are afraid of what awaits us – the unknown – when we are faced with Life’s challenges. A quality we all are capable of summoning is our inner strength, our resilience. And this quality will come to the fore only through reflection. Being resilient means to know that no matter what the circumstances are, you must face Life. It means that you don’t have the choice to cop out or run away from a challenging situation. It is our lack of awareness that makes us imagine that we are not resilient. All of us are equally strong – that’s the way we are created and engineered. To let your resilience – your inner strength – surface, you need to be more aware of your true Self and that can come only through reflection.
Resourcefulness: We are so steeped in our wants that we are hardly aware of what we have. Through perpetually wanting things or people or events to be different from what they are, we are missing out on what is. When you are deeply reflective, when you are totally aware of your true Self, your inner strength will let you see every situation you are in clearly. Through this clarity, you will learn to accept what is and learn to live and work with what you have. Resourcefulness is the ability to know what you have and to be content with it, while never giving up your efforts to overcome the odds, overachieve and win!
These three ‘R’s are the baby steps to learning to live intelligently. You can adapt these three perspectives to suit your lifestyle and preferences. When you begin with reflection, you will feel different. And that feeling will egg you onward, on the spiritual path, one day at a time. Intelligent living is a necessity more than a practice. But it is an art too – that can be learnt and mastered. When you live intelligently, you learn to live in this world – with its manic demands, pressures, pulls and pace – and yet be above it!