Let’s learn to respond to relationship issues with maturity

Loving someone or having sex is not a sin. It is just a natural way for us, humans, to express ourselves.  
I recently read in the papers that the Indian Navy had sacked an officer of the rank of Commodore for having an affair with the wife of a fellow officer, also a Commodore. Both officers were at that time based in the Southern Naval Command in Kochi. And both had college-going kids. “Stealing the affection of his brother officer’s wife is simply unacceptable and the Navy has a clear zero tolerance policy towards the same,” a Ministry of Defence official was quoted by one of the papers I read.
Now, I have nothing to say about the Indian Navy’s protocols, rules and regulations. But conceptually I have a problem with the phrase “stealing the affection of someone”. How do anyone steal anyone’s affection? Yes, poets and lyricists have for the longest time romanticized the concept of “stealing someone’s heart”. But in reality affection and love are given – wilfully. They can never be stolen or forcibly taken away. So, if someone, as in this case, is married and is drawn to someone else outside the marriage, it really means the marriage, the relationship, did not fulfil that person’s emotional or physical needs. It means that there was no more relating in the relationship. And that this person related to another one, and not to his or her spouse. There’s nothing sinful, nothing wrong if such a situation arises. If anyone has a problem in a marriage, the best way to deal with it, after making sufficient attempts to resolve the issues, is to move on. There’s no point feeling suffocated, vegetated and listless in a relationship where there’s no more relating between the two parties.
However, the way people discover that their relationship with someone is over is through the way they start relating to someone else. Either they are drawn to someone because this new person is fulfilling an emotional need. Or maybe this person is fulfilling a physical need – which is about simply having sex. Or maybe there’s a strong bond, a special friendship that draws someone to another person. All these or more are indicative of the fact whatever one does not get in a relationship, one seeks in another. And there’s nothing wrong with this. As humans, we need affection, we need to be cared for, we need physical intimacy – and if we can’t get these with one person, we will naturally be drawn to someone who has these to offer us.
I believe that as individuals, and as a society, we must learn to respond to relationship issues with maturity. We cannot continue to dub a human need as a sin. Of course, people who seek love, affection and sex, outside of a relationship, must also be responsible about how they communicate their choices to their families. Especially when children are involved – the communication must be timed well and must be honest. There’s no point fearing social stigma or family pressure and therefore continue to keep the choice under wraps. When something natural is pursued clandestinely, it will be viewed scandalously. And that can hurt everyone involved. However, if the same choice is made openly, while it may shock and surprise initially, over time, everyone impacted by the choice will feel liberated. After all, who wants to be stuck in a relationship which had been dead for a long, long time!?

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Where does love go?

More than being in love, be love. Then you will never stop loving!
Someone wrote to me wondering, “Why do people, who fall in love and get married, fall out with each other?”  Good question. This happens all the time. Many factors contribute to a marriage or a relationship breaking up. But principal among them is the fact that the couple have lost the ability to love; not just each other – but to be loving themselves.
Let’s understand love and loving in the context of relationships.
When two people come together professing love for each other, all they are saying at first is that they love the way each other is, they love the experience and they love the circumstances that have brought them together. They soon start exploring each other – physically that is. People often talk of a great chemistry between young couples – that’s nothing but an expression of their sexual energy. Then they start experiencing the non-physical side of each other. It is this constant exploration that keeps them engaged in each other and together.
Then what goes wrong over time? First, when their exploration goes beyond the physical, they realize that they don’t like certain things about each other. “He smokes way too much and I hate his breath.” “She talks a lot and shops like a maniac.” Next, the way they experience each other has become predictable, boring. The thrill of meeting her at a coffee place or texting sweet nothings is no longer there. She knows he’s busy chasing deadlines and he knows she’s tearing her hair between her work and looking after the baby. Both know that they will be exhausted when they meet – even having sex then becomes a mechanical exercise, merely to meet a biological need. So, what’s there to experience anew? And finally the circumstances that brought them together have changed – people meeting and dating each other when single is a dramatically and diametrically different context when compared to them living together. Whether in or out of a wedlock, living together is a lot of work – the dishes have to be done, the meals have to be cooked, the beds have to be made, the floor has to be mopped, bills have to be paid. So, when circumstances change, the way people look at – and experience – each other changes.
There lies the crux of the problem. Love, the way it is understood and practised in relationships today, is flawed. Whereas love is really about being compassionate for another person, no matter what the circumstance is, love today, sadly, has become an expression of selfishness and ego. Over time and through living together, when you find qualities in your partner that you can no longer tolerate or accept, you are basically telling yourself that you love yourself more. Which is why you find your companion’s tobacco habit or tendency to flirt or workaholic nature unacceptable. Which is why even sex has become boring. Which is why you cannot accept your partner in the new, changed circumstances. Consider the conversations that couples have after a few years of living together: “You no longer care for me.” “Do you know how much I do for you?” “You just don’t have the time for me or for the children.” “You are drinking way too much and I don’t like it.” “Is there someone else in your Life that’s taken you away from me?” All the reasoning is focused on how you are being treated by your companion. It’s your view. It is self-centered and does not immediately invite a mutual perspective. I believe the key lies in dropping your ego, your desires and your selfishness. Stop looking at what you like or what you want. A better way would be to simply observe your Life with your companion. And ask yourself what you both can do together – about whatever needs addressing. Magically, you will find the romance blooming again – irrespective of age, physical condition and circumstance.
I have learnt that it is more important to be love, and to be loving, than being “in” love. When you are “in” love, you can be “out” of it too. But when you are love – you are loving. Period. I learnt this from my wife. We too came together, 27 years ago, through a confluence of liking each other, enjoying the experience of being with each other and the carefreeness that our circumstances then allowed us. But soon things changed. I developed a ruinous habit of chewing tobacco, I became obsessed with my work and decisions I took with our business caused it to blow up and landed our family in abject penury. But my wife’s love for me has remained unchanged. When I understood why she continued to be loving – despite my excesses and the circumstances that we found ourselves in – I gained great insight. She is selfless and sees the entire journey as something that always involved the two of us. She never saw my destructive habit or my Work-Life imbalance or my poor and costly decisions as her problem. She saw it as ours. This is what I mean when I say you have to go beyond yourself – and drop your ego – if you want to be love and be loving! When you are loving, and not just in love, you are relating to the other person. You are not simply imposing conditions or demanding they be met. Instead your relating helps you make the exploration – that began when you first came together – an ongoing process, now in a new set of circumstances. And it keeps the experience of being with each other, for each other, engaging. Remember: Living and loving always happen only in the present continuous!
Of course, when you have tried hard, selflessly, to make your relationship work, and you have discovered that it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, the best thing to do is to let go! Do it very calmly. Just let go. An important aspect of being loving and selfless is to give the other person, no matter how you have been treated, all the freedom and compassion. A divorce or separation turns messy because you ask, “What’s in it for me?”. Instead ask, “What can I give him or her that can make his or her Life better?” Being loving means giving the situation, the context, the relationship and the person all that you possibly can – physically, materially, financially and spiritually.
So, don’t ask where’s all the love gone? Just be loving. In your loving, and being love, you can make Life beautiful – for you, for your companion and for your precious family!

Always empower your children with the truth

One of the key responsibilities we have as parents is to be honest and speak the truth with our children.
There may often be the urge to hide the truth from children imagining that they may not comprehend or they may not be able to handle the real world. So, whether there is a relationship issue between parents or there is some difficult or unique Life situation that the parents are handling, with regard to either the children or the family, it is best to share whatever is going on with the kids. Honestly. Transparently. Of course, you can always package the truth in a creative yet simple manner in which the children will understand it better.
All of us know that children are very perceptive, intelligent and curious. Yet we are reluctant to share what we have learnt from Life with our children. Really, the adult view that children will not understand is a myth. They know almost everything about everything. Often times, they know better than the parents! An integral part of parenting is to have open conversations even on “seemingly difficult or taboo” subjects like sex or a biological process like menstruation or divorce. Children have no notion of right or wrong. And none of what is socially taboo is really wrong. So, by not discussing with them or telling them what we know when they ask us, we are encouraging them to either conform to mindless social norms or to think of those subjects as wrong! Which is unfair. For if sex were something wrong to indulge in then children wouldn’t be born in the first place. Or how can a biological process, which is as an aspect of creation, be wrong? It is like saying facial hair in men is wrong – even if you don’t like it, can you do anything about the way a male is biologically engineered? Is going for a divorce really wrong? It is only an affirmation of incompatibility between two people – which really is a great step towards their own happiness and inner peace. It’s another matter that most parents can’t handle incompatibility issues maturely and make the divorce process messy – particularly for their children.

Don’t philosophize the truth with your children. Tell it the way it is. Children are phenomenally intuitive. They grasp the truth. And internalize it quickly. My own experience with parenting has been full of interesting moments of truth and learning opportunities.
I remember when our son was about three years old, we attended the weddings of a few of our friends – all of which took place in the same year. And naturally, in the following year, some of these women got pregnant. We attended their baby shower events with our son in tow. Around then, my wife and I were also expecting our second one. One evening our son demanded to know from my wife: “Mom, how do people have babies?” My wife replied matter-of-factly: “When they get married!” There was a long silence for several minutes. It appeared to us that our son had forgotten both the question and the answer. He seemed to be immersed in playing with his collection of Hot Wheels miniature cars. Suddenly he looked up and shot his next question: “But dad and you never got married, so how did you have me? And now you are having another baby?” Startled, my wife and I looked at each other and smiled. Obviously, since our son was not at our wedding, he didn’t think of us as married at that time! I explained: “Babies are born when a man and a woman come together. Most of the times they are married when they come together. Just as your mom and I. You will learn how this works when you grow older. It’s pretty simple actually!” That’s it! Our son did not have another question. And we have never discussed it again!
Children are also always watching their parents – and imitating them. The first heroes and icons for a child are her or his parents. As a young CEO, I was wantonly aggressive in my 30s. I used swearwords all the time. My son was barely eight when I caught him swearing. The computer, on which he was playing a video game,  was hanging. “F#%$!”, he swore. I happened to be in the room. I looked at him and told him in a stern tone: “No! That’s not a word you must use son!”. He shot back: “But you use it all the time!” I remember being caught defenseless. I quickly apologized to him and promised him that I would not use it again. My assurance didn’t matter to him, I suppose, for he asked: “What does f#%$ mean, dad?” I concealed my shock and replied with a straight face: “It’s a word that people use to swear. It means the act of sex that a man and woman have. Again, I am sorry for using it. It’s not a word that people should use. Definitely not children. And you will understand this word and what sex means when you grow up. I won’t use the word again. It will be nice if you also don’t use it!” From that day on, I curbed my urge to swear – eventually I have given up swearing totally! I guess my son may be swearing at times, like most people do in a subconscious sort of way these days – but I am also sure he will remember this conversation from an educational perspective, of what he learned from me, just as the way I remember teaching him!
Surely, discussing the truth – in any context – is always uncomfortable. Yet, whenever we have had to discuss difficult situations or issues with my son and my daughter, through their teens and into adulthood now, my wife and I have always told them the truth. If we know better than them we share what we know. If we don’t know something, we admit we don’t know. Simple. At the end of every conversation, we pause and ask them if they have questions. If they don’t we invite them to come forward to ask them whenever they have one. We have found this approach very productive; evidence being that their adolescent years have been very enriching – full of learning, sharing and camaraderie – for all of us!
The initial growing up years of children, from childhood to adulthood, are both precocious and precious. It is important that parents hold their hands and walk them through this phase. What they learn through this time stays with them forever. Irrespective of the circumstances in which you have to be a parent to them and irrespective of the environment they have to grow up in, if you can help your children know and face the reality of their lives, of this world, you will have given them the best education that they can possibly receive. One reason why many of us like to avoid telling it as it is to children is because our parents never told us so. But that’s not a great excuse. The world we live in is not the same world in which we were raised. What our parents did__or did not do__was from their worldly view. Surely we don’t necessarily hold the same view. So, we can be progressive, a lot more liberal and certainly direct and upfront. Not that our children will not learn without us. They eventually will. But there’s greater joy in educating our children and empowering them with the truth than watching them struggle, stumble, fall and learn!

Employ awareness to exit the self-destruct mode


There’s a self-destruct button in each of us. And without fail, without exception, each of us will press it at least once in our lifetimes. We may do it gradually or we may do it all of a sudden, but press it, we sure will. The only way to shift from a mode prone to self-destruction to one of intelligent living is to practice awareness.

Today’s Economic Timesin India has run a story titled: Why do successful people resort to stupid acts? The writer, Sridevi K R, talking to psychologists and behavioral experts, refers to the saga of iGate President and CEO Phaneesh Murthy, who was sacked from the company for hiding an office affair. This is the second time Murthy’s ‘indiscretions at work’ have led to his sacking. The first time it happened was when he was at Infosys about 10 years ago. Sridevi’s analysis points predominantly to people’s sense of ‘boredom or incompleteness’ with Life and wanting to do something ‘daring, different’, often using their position and power, that forces them to throw discretion to the wind and leads to their fall from grace.

There’s also a different way of looking at this. All matters of morality, discretion, right, wrong, social hierarchy, power, position, grace, disgrace are subjective. Period. Who is to decide what’s right and what’s wrong? Who’s to define what’s discretion and what’s indiscretion? Is being physically intimate with someone wrong? Isn’t it a biological need? Is sharing with someone wrong? Isn’t it an emotional need? What makes a CEO or a President more powerful than a homeless destitute on the street? Is the CEO really powerful or does society make him or her appear powerful because of its own aspirations? And who decides acceptable and unacceptable behavior in an individual? Society__an organization or nation__may define it TOan individual perhaps, but nobody other than the individual__himself or herself__can decide that INthat individual!

So, let’s not rush to judge someone’s ‘indiscretion’ as perceived from a questionable, flawed social view point. Instead, let’s examine ourselves.

All of us, in some way or the other, is on a self-destruction mode. This is apart from the fact that there will be a physical end, with death, to each of our lifetimes. Our means of self-destruction may vary. Someone may be self-destructing with anger and someone else will be self-destructing with grief. Some may be prone to lust and others to insecurity. Some may be destructing with ruinous addictions like smoking or alcohol, while some others may be held hostage to gambling or a hi-flying lifestyle. So, ‘self-destruction and falling from grace’ is not the prevail of the rich and famous or the high and mighty alone. Their perceived ‘falls’ make news. Ours don’t. But the truth is if you cannot look at the face in the mirror, in the eye, with all honesty, then you have fallen in your own eyes. There’s no higher court of justice than one’s own conscience. There’s nothing wrong with living a Life, even if it were questionable to others, if it pleases you and works for you. Just don’t try to hide from yourself. If you see the point being made here, then appreciate that no one, that includes you, is free from self-destruction!

When you stop hiding from yourself, when you put yourself through self-examination, the result is an awakening. A brilliant awareness takes over. Every time a temptation arises in you, to get angry or grieve or lust or drink or smoke, your awareness will step in and awaken you from your stupor. Awareness is the only way to freedom. Then nothing will tempt you. Neither a cigarette, nor alcohol, nor anger or sorrow, nor sex or gambling. You may well continue to experience__and are free to__everything for sure. But you will cling on to nothing. Nothing can and will enslave you. Your awareness will ensure that you are free__and are not enslaved by someone or something.

Think about this. Employ awareness to exit the self-destruct mode. Successful or not, you sure will live more intelligently. At peace with yourself!


Life may shake you often, but you can choose not to be stirred!


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!


Relating is more important than relationships!


Relating is more important than relationships. The day people understand this there will really, seriously, be no problem between people.
What a relationship does is to make anything a quid pro quo. There is an unstated contractual arrangement. So then it becomes business.
This is why people break up, marriages fail and families suffer. Because a business arrangement has failed.
What does the business arrangement say? That I will be faithful as long as you are faithful. If you breach my set code of conduct, my terms, then it is off. Love between people cannot be conditional. An overwhelming proportion of marriages break up because the spouse “strayed” in the relationship! But that assessment of love is based on passion and not compassion. A physical yearning to try out a different partner is only an expression of a bodily urge. Sex is just pure passion. But love is about compassion. It is perfectly possible to satiate a physical urge and still be relating compassionately to another. But that is not the way the world sees it.
Society loves link-ups, extra-marital affairs and juicy tales of passion. The General Petraeus scandal or the Monica Lewinsky one titillates public sensibilities. People love hearing of others’ exploits. So the whole theory of relationships has acquired an unwarranted ring of morality to it! For no earthly reason! Judgments are passed and people are ostracized.
Nehru and Edwina
There’s still so much talk about the interest that former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had in Edwina Mountbatten (the wife of British India’s last Viceroy Lord Mountbatten). Edwina Mountbatten enjoyed a close and warm relationship with Jawaharlal Nehru but it was spiritual and intellectual, not a sexual one, says the lady’s daughter Pamela Hicks. Excerpts from her just released book Daughter of Empire published in Friday’s Daily Mail say Lord Mountbatten was aware of his wife’s fondness for Nehru but did not interfere. Edwina fell madly in love with the country and with Pandit Nehru, the first Prime Minister after Indian independence, says Hicks, now 83. From the start, there was a profound connection between them, she said. “She found in Panditji the companionship and equality of spirit and intellect that she craved. Each helped overcome loneliness in the other.”
That’s what relating is all about. Mountbatten’s decision to not interfere is commendable. It is that maturity which we need to bring into our lives and associations with people. Seriously, if they did have a physical dimension to their affair, so what? It is between two adults. Why judge their desire to explore and enjoy each other privately?
Osho, the Master, says,”Relationship means something complete, finished, closed. Love is never a relationship; love is relating. It is always a river, flowing, unending. Love knows no full stop. It is an ongoing phenomenon. Lovers end, love continues. It is a continuum. It is a verb, not a noun. And why do we reduce the beauty of relating to a relationship?”.
Think about it. If you are having pain in a relationship__any relationship: brother-sister, boss-subordinate, husband-wife, lovers, neighbors, parent-child__then the simple truth is that YOU BOTH, whoever you may be, have stopped relating to each other! If you want to experience joy, then the only way you can have that happen between two people is when they relate to each other. So, in which context in your Life are you finding the river of love flowing and in which one are you finding the relationship stagnating? You know what you must do. Only when you do that, will you find the happiness that you seek!