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!

Every crisis has a teachable point of view

A line in a song that I heard the other day, refuses to leave me, and makes me think. The song is by the first-ever American Idol, Kelly Clarkson, from her album “Stronger” (2011). The lyrics of Clarkson’s song, which explores themes of empowerment and recovery following a heartbreak, have this famous line – “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (follow the link below for the actual song). The original quotation is by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844~1900): “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!”
Indeed. This is so true.
Most often when we go through a crisis in Life, we think it’s all over. And we can’t be blamed. Because the human mind thinks only logically. So, when you cannot see the light at the end of a dark tunnel, you have to rely on your mind’s assessment and conclusion that an endless dark tunnels goes nowhere. This is how fear and insecurity, which are manifestations of the mind, control and consume us. But what seemed like romantic philosophy from Nietzsche has found some scientific backing in recent times. In a 2011 report on the correlation between adversity and resilience, researcher Mark Seery, a psychologist at the University of Buffalo, in the US, says that although traumatic experiences such as losing a loved one can be psychologically damaging, small amounts of trauma can make us more resilient.
I have a more experiential take on this. If you look back at your own Life and make a list of your own “no-way-ahead” moments, you will realize that while those times were really dark, often scary, they were important for your personal evolution. When you reflect on them now, you find yourself both grateful for the experience__because it has made you tougher__and feel that the challenge, the crisis, gave your Life a new perspective.
Over the years, I have learned to make peace with my crises. After the initial shock of a crisis hitting me has subsided, I enquire within:

·         What is this situation trying to tell me?
·         What is the best decision/action I can take?
·         What collaborations/outside help must I seek?
·         What can I learn from it?
This approach has helped me immensely. It may not often solve the crisis for me immediately but gives me the courage and equanimity to face it and deal with it effectively. I have realized that every crisis has a teachable point of view. When you learn the lesson, a similar crisis may just arrive in some time – not to torment you, but it’s Life’s way of testing if you have indeed learned the lesson. And newer crises often arrive too, with levels of difficulty that are always higher, and far more complex, than the previous ones. So, in a way, Life’s like many of those computer games that people play. You get better with each game, with each play. Only to ascend in levels of challenge and learn to play the game better. Which is why, it makes imminent sense to remember what Nietzsche said and Clarkson sang!

Everyone has to bear their own cross in Life

Life and grief comes to each of us in different ways. Often times something may not be hurting you directly. Someone you love may be going through, pain, suffering, agony and grief. Watching that person suffer, will force grief on to you! The situation gets amplified when it is someone very, very dear __ a spouse, a child, a parent, sibling or very close friend.

How do you handle a situation where someone else’s suffering is consuming you?

There is no easy or one way to do this. Even so, it is possible to avoid being consumed by someone else’s suffering. Surely, you can make a beginning by seeing the situation as an opportunity to train yourself to be detached.

Yesterday, a friend called to say that his teenage daughter, who often has been prone to depression over the past few years, confessed to him that she “had lost interest in Life”. My friend lamented over the phone that he couldn’t handle “her suffering” anymore. The girl had been under medical treatment and was receiving counseling regularly. Her parents, I know, had been the most understanding, despite their conservative background. I could understand and empathize with my friend’s sense of helplessness and grief. “I am suffering watching her suffer. I feel I will break down. I need a solution. I demand to know why my child is undergoing this turmoil and why we have to be put through this,”he exclaimed.

“Why” is the simplest and the most profound of all questions! Answering Life’s “Whys” eludes all of us uniformly. Well, if only we knew the answers to our “Whys”, Life will no longer be a mystery, right? So, think of such a situation, as the one my friend is facing, as an opportunity to understand Life itself, your role in it and to practice detachment.

Understand, first of all, that each one in Life has to bear her or his own cross. In India, actor Sanjay Dutt’s impending return to jail, over a folly he committed 20 years ago, is making headlines because of the Supreme Court awarding him the sentence finally. Most people know that Dutt is both guilty and repentant. But despite his huge fan following and his network of admirers and believers including the powerful in India, Dutt may still have to go back to jail. Unless of course the Governor of the state pardons him. I remember seeing pictures of Dutt’s father, Sunil Dutt, waiting outside the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai, for days on end, during his son’s frequent incarcerations there. Dutt Senior did his jail duty diligently as long as he was alive. I am sure he was pained. Maybe he even died with some of that pain and a sense of incompletion that he could not see his son’s name cleared. This is true of each of our lives__that each of us has to face and endure the Life given to us. Obviously, this includes what even your own child has to go through! Very simply, the moment we are born, our Life meter starts ticking and our Life’s screenplay starts unfolding. A good amount of that screenplay will have several episodes of pain. If we grieve for each of them, either our own or for others, we will end up spending an entire lifetime simply grieving. Not living.

Once you realize this truth about Life, accept that the painful experience someone is going through is for them to learn something. Pain is a great teacher. She teaches us to stop expecting Life to be painless. She also teaches us that suffering is a meaningless option, that we often end up choosing by default! Without pain, there would be no suffering. Unless you suffer, you will not realize that it is a completely wasted response to Life. So, if someone you know is suffering, believe that they are actually learning something. When your child is studying hard, staying up awake most nights, for a school or University examination, do you grieve? Don’t you admire your child for the focus and resilience? Then why do you grieve when your child is having to face a real Life examination? Well it may not be a child all the time, but know that whoever is facing Life’s tests is surely learning invaluable lessons too.

Finally, this person you grieve for is not going to be there forever. Death is bound to separate you. If not now, some day. So, let go! Detach from wanting for things to be different for that person. Accept the current reality and the eventual reality__of a physical separation__and practice detachment. This does not mean you should not feel or pray for the person. Of course you must if you can and want to. Just don’t grieve though. Because grief debilitates. It takes away your spirit. It draws you further out of your inner core of happiness and peace.

All of us grow in Life. Our families have grown. We have grown. Our assets and wealth may have also grown. That growth’s pointing to the physical, financial and biological aspects of Life. But there is another dimension. Growing intelligently. Using such trying situations as personal growth opportunities__to practice detachment__is about evolving, about growing intelligently in Life!