Take that leap from ‘lasting’ to ‘living’!

Do you LAST or do you LIVE each day?
Thanks to all the pressures, pulls and stresses in Life these days, do you often catch yourself waking up thinking how to LAST today? Why haven’t you ever considered the possibility of waking up thinking how to LIVE today? Or perhaps, waking up thinking to LIVE today better than you did yesterday?
You can make that transition from LASTING to LIVING if you have conversations with yourself daily. Most people think talking to themselves is weird. Know that it is not. While intensely private, talking to yourself, gives you an opportunity to review your performance__as a living entity__in a brutally honest fashion. Swami Vivekananda (1863~1902) prescribes this therapy for individual wellbeing: “Talk to yourself at least once in a day else you may miss a meetingwith the most EXCELLENT person in this world.” Think about it folks. We spend time reviewing our budgets, our children’s homeworks, our business performance, our shopping lists and even our laundry daily. Do we ever review how we LIVE daily?

Because we don’t do this is why we miss the opportunity to make a difference to ourselves and end up working harder than ever before, worrying more than ever before, and trying simply to just LAST each day. Most of your efforts to LAST the day, to survive, are controlled by the matters of the head. Your meetings, appointments, schedules, menus, bills, collections are all in your head. And your soul is empty. Because it is empty you are pining for a better Life. You don’t know how to express your aspiration for freedom. You don’t know how to liberate yourself from the pangs of your everyday existence. So you have crutches: habits like tobacco or alcohol or emotions like anger, hatred and jealousy. The leap from LASTING to LIVING can be made if you stop thinking with your head and start feeling from your soul. The soul operates on a timeless, limitless plane. What you may see as insecurity thinking from your head is actually an opportunity to LIVE with the beautiful uncertainty of Life __ moving in and with the unknown. Osho, the Master, explains this thus: “Life is dangerous, and only cowards can avoid the danger – but then, they are already dead.  A person who is alive, really alive, vitally alive, will always move into the unknown.”

So stop wishing you could just LAST today. Want, badly want, to LIVE today better than you ever did before. You will! 

Don’t postpone intelligent living anymore

What is yours? What is mine? Everything is so transient.
What is real, true, untouched, eternal is the soul. This concept is so simple and a part of every scripture. But this Truth is lost in the maze of religious brouhaha and communal theatrics. Another reason is that its espousers are all people who have renounced the world, and have taken to wearing orange or maroon or white or black robes, grown flowing beards or matted hair and sit in inaccessible, distant, lonely locales. That too is a way to attain the eternal and to encounter and internalize this Truth. But a simpler, easier, practical way, is TO LIVE IN THIS WORLD and yet BE ABOVE IT.
Enlightenment does not require you to be seated under a tree nor does it champion abstinence, renunciation and running away! Enlightenment requires awareness, it asks for you to open up your soul so that the light can illuminate your Life. And the soul is not some unseen metaphysical dimension to your Life. It is a presence. It is you. It is who you are. Have you seen air? But don’t you believe that there is air in this Universe? Similarly, you must believe that there is a soul, yours and everyone else’s. That everything, including this body of yours, will eventually perish. But the soul, like Life, will go on.
Subhashini Kaul, 43, a former IIM-A professor realized this when she was in her late thirties. So did her husband. Resultantly, both of them gave up their lucrative corporate careers. And decided to find meaning in their lives. While her husband roams railway stations across the country, preferring to be a fakir, Subhashini, has become a ‘sadhak’ (seeker). Her religious views are that the ‘Truth is One’! She’s on facebook and stays connected with like-minded people. “It’s not because of any incident that I turned a sadhak… but I started feeling that all the effort one puts in the materialistic world to get ahead isn’t worth it…God directed me to another way of Life. That was a monkey world where everyone was in the rat race to get ahead. But I blame no one for the happenings in my Life. I have pulled out from all relations. Now, I dance when I want to and sleep when I feel like it. An atheist earlier, now I feel closer to God,” she once told the Times of India.
The God she speaks of, to me, is the One within. The Truth. We don’t have to take such a dramatic step, as Subhashini and her husband took, to renounce the world. We can continue to have our Ferraris, our Single Malts, our First Class Seats….the only thing we must give up is all attachment to any of these. Because attachment brings grief. And detachment is bliss! What happened to Subhashini in her late thirties I believe, happened to me when I was 35. Over time, my awareness has helped me to accept whatever comes my way in Life – unconditionally. You too can get there if you don’t impose conditions on the Life you have.

But please don’t postpone intelligent living anymore. Because, as the Buddha reminds us, “The problem is that you think you have time!” 

Your pain is your teacher, your God

Pain is an important, necessary and sufficient pre-condition for your personal evolution. Don’t, therefore, hate any pain that you are put through.

Sometimes people around you put you through pain. A normal reaction would be to hate them. You may want to get even with them. Don’t. Oftentimes Life too will inflict pain on you. Don’t hate Life either! Because your hating Life is only going to make you miserable. What is the point? Who loses when you hate a teacher? Does the teacher lose anything? Or do you? Ultimately, if you don’t learn the lessons that the teacher is teaching you, you lose. Similarly, each painful event, caused by a fellow human being or by Life, is teaching you something. Don’t hate the teacher. Instead, learn the lesson and be grateful for the experience that taught you the lesson.
When you hate someone or hate Life, you are entrapping yourself in a quagmire of negative, debilitating emotions: anger, fear, bitterness, cynicism, self-pity. No event in your Life is going to make a difference to you as your Life comes to an end. Your awards, medals, successes, wealth, the career you built, all this and more will mean nothing. Your lost fortunes, the number of times you have been betrayed or let down, your lost health, your lost image – none of these will matter in the end either. When this lifetime is over, only your soul will prevail. And the soul thrives only when you are at peace. The more pain you undergo, in an accepting, non-resisting way, the more peaceful you will be. Peace is the grace that arrives when pain strikes you and you accept the pain. Most often, however, when pain strikes you, you recede into a shell, plunged in grief, letting the pain numb you. As long as you remain in the stranglehold of pain, you will feel debilitated. The moment you understand, accept and appreciate that pain is a great teacher, you will learn and you will grow. You will realize that you can live through pain, without suffering from it. You will find the world to be a beautiful place where you can be happy despiteyour circumstances.
You may sometimes wonder where is God when you are in pain? The truth is your pain is your God. Because the pain is in your Life to teach you the value of Life, the value of grace and the opportunity for your soul to grow into peace. What more do you want from your God anyway?

Be soul-bound to live in bliss

What you assume is permanent will wither away. What you never thought existed or never took seriously will live on.

This is amazing. Think about it. Your money, your car, this body, your work, your position, your power, your iPhone__all these are transient. Over time, they will wear away, they will become useless. Of what use is all the money in the world if it can’t fix an artery that bursts in you? Of what use is your power if you can’t bring happiness into your child’s Life? Yet we subconsciously take all these things for granted, as permanent. If you are reading this, it is almost certain that you don’t even think of a minute of your Life when you are likely to be without your computer or tablet or mobile. You assume that all your Life your eyesight will be stable and your fingers will be able to work the keys. Yet the soul, that which you don’t connect with on a daily basis, indulgent as you __ and I __ are with things that tantalize your senses, never withers away. It lives on. Your soul is the gateway to experience your oneness with creation. You do briefly connect with your soul when you stand on the beach or in a quiet garden and look at the horizon, or look up at the sky and see a full moon or hear the evening birds. Or when you think of someone you love and feel her presence in you, with you. In that nanosecond you experience a soul connection.

This, the soul, is the only constant, the only real, indestructible, immortal part of you. This is the only part of you that is capable of bringing you to experience inner joy, that is capable of drenching you in bliss. Recognize that all Life__and all money and all that money can buy__is impermanent. So, be more soul-bound. You can stay connected with your soul if you are humble and are eternally grateful for whatever you have. To know this and to live with this “awareness” is to live intelligently!

Gaining from Loss – the bitter-sweet irony of Life

Know that when you lose something, you gain something too. And, often times, what you gain is not material – yet, it is priceless.
The other day I had a rare, interesting, conversation with my parents. For various reasons, we have been, and continue to be, distant. In the last few months, however, we have come to have conversations among us. That, I would believe, is significant progress.
We sat at a coffee shop as we chatted. My mother was aghast that my wife and I were still in a hopeless, bankrupt situation. Out of concern for me and my family, and out of disbelief, she said that what was happening to us was “unfair”.
I told her that there was never a question of fair-play in Life. Because Life promises nothing. “Life doesn’t guarantee that you will not be challenged, that you will not lose anything or that your lifetime will be easy. So, let’s not grieve over Life’s perceived unfairness,” I said.
My mother replied: “Look around you. Everyone is well-settled. Everyone’s Life is stable – they have a steady income stream, they have savings, they have assets, some have even planned their retirement well. Why is it that your Life is so bizarre? In your late forties, you have lost everything. I am not even sure you can rebuild everything and reclaim whatever you have lost.”
I understood where she was coming from. I realized that she found the absence of an immediate solution to my situation baffling. I said: “What I have lost is material, ‘amma’. Everything material is gone. But look at what I have gained. I have learnt the value of faith and patience. I have understood the futility of anger. I have gained inner peace.”
My father, who had not spoken until then during the hour-long conversation, piped in: “And son, those are all qualities that could not be associated with you just 10 years ago – faith, patience, inner peace and your ability to conquer anger every time that you are provoked by someone or some situation. What you have gained, far outweighs whatever you have lost.”
I felt humbled with my dad’s assessment and his wisdom. To be sure, I too was gripped with fear and insecurity some years ago. I was angry with myself and my situation then. I was held hostage by my guilt and was filled with grief. But none of what I felt made my situation any better. When I examined my feelings closely, I realized that they were all about my material losses – they centered around what I did not have, money and things! Over time, I understood that feeling deprived or clueless or sorrowful was not helping me. I simply let go of the way I felt. Not that I am or can be ecstatic about being cashless. But at least I stopped grieving and being angry. I decided to wait, however long it takes, while resolving to work harder and try even harder, every single day, to make things better.
I remember reading somewhere that whatever material losses we suffer, including the loss of people we love, always eventually leads to our souls gaining inner peace. From my experience, I now know this bitter-sweet irony of Life to be true.

Ishq-wala Love

To love and be loved, at a soul level, is a blessing.
The forgettable 2012 movie “Student of the Year” (Karan Johar) had a simple song which went on to become quite popular – “Ishq-wala Love”. I was reading a discourse by Osho, the Master, and he explains why “Ishq-wala Love” is different from just plain Love. (I am not sure, going by the lyrics of the song from ‘Student of the Year’ if the lyricist had really heard or read Osho’s discourse!) Osho says that contemporary interpretation of love – thanks to hype-driven traditions like Valentine’s Day – implies that you like or adore someone for their mind, their intellect or their body.  He says true love transcends the mind and the body and touches the soul. And he says no English word can ever do justice to describe love that encompasses mind, body and soul – all three dimensions. So, he dips into the Persian language and pulls out the word “Ishq”. It means loving with total intensity. It is often used in a Sufi context and has a celestial, even divine, connotation. “Ishq” is when you lose yourself in love, when love possesses you, when it oozes from your every pore and makes you go mad, turn fanatic – with which the other word with Sufi origins is closely connected, “Fanaa” – which means to be annihilated in divine love! “Ishq” has a level of unbelievable passion and obsession associated with it, that goes beyond the ordinary and is often hard to describe. “Ishq” comes from the Persian root “a-sha-qa” – which really means an ivy plant that winds itself around other plants. Similarly, the “aashiq” or lover gets entwined with his beloved, in an incomprehensible, inscrutable love. When the lovers are experiencing “Ishq” – they are actually mindless – so they are unmindful of pain, of the sentiments of their families, they don’t care for what society thinks and don’t relate to their surroundings or circumstances. They simply lose themselves – “dissolve” in each other at a soul level.
The ancient story of Laila and Majnu has immortalized “Ishq”. Laila was dark-skinned and never considered good-looking. The King of the land who was known to have a harem, which no woman could escape, had rejected Laila. But Majnu loved her. He was in “Ishq” with her. He fought Laila’s rich father valiantly. He ignored the social ostracization that he was subjected to. He refused to forget Laila even after she was married off forcibly. All of this forced the King to send for Majnu. And he asked Majnu why was he so “madly in love” with Laila. Majnu simply replied that the King would “never understand”. Which was the truth. Because “Ishq” does not look at the body, it does not even look at the mind, it does not look at social standing, it is not affected by circumstances. While the King and society looked at Life through all these lenses, Majnu saw only Laila’s soul and saw himself as one with her. So, in the story, Laila dies in another land, succumbing to an illness and Majnu too dies at the same time. (To be sure, there are various versions of this story in circulation – thanks to the creative genius of many story tellers and artists who have tried to bring it alive over the years.) The word ‘Majnu’ has now come to mean someone who is “madly in Ishq”.
Valentine’s Day is a good time, as any other, to reflect on the depth of your own love for another or others. If you have been noticing a growing distance between you and someone you once fell in love with, it’s important to go beyond the flowers and the gifts, and enquire within. Maybe there never was “Ishq”. Maybe it is relevant now that you examine if there’s a role “Ishq” can play in your Life. Maybe there’s a need to break-free from a relationship, where there’s no relating anymore, and open yourself to “Ishq”? Whatever you do, or choose not to do, just know that to love this way, beyond mind and body, at a soul level, is a celebration of Life – and “Ishq-wala Love” indeed is a blessing.

“I am 17 short of a century”

Someone has wisely remarked: “How old would you be if you did not know how old you are?”

Today is my father-in-law’s 83rd birthday! He’s been telling everyone who’s been calling to wish him: “Today is the 17th and I am 17 short of a century!” There’s a rare zest in his voice. To me, he is equanimity personified. He goes about his daily schedules – peacefully, undeterred, unperturbed with his surroundings. People call on him to seek his blessings or advice or sometimes just to chat up. He greets all of them with warmth and affection – he has never once been grumpy that he has been disturbed. He loves to watch the Indian cricket team and Chennai Super Kings play – and win! The only times I have seen him flustered, that too momentarily, is when the “boys” throw away their wickets or give away too many runs!! It is not that he doesn’t have age-related health complications. He has. For reasons of protecting his privacy, I will refrain from detailing those. But he has never once complained. Over these years, it has been as if, his physical condition and his spiritual state have happily co-existed – for they have never been in conflict with each other. It has been over 12 years since he lost his wife (my mother-in-law). While I know he misses her greatly, I also know he always feels her presence. It is a beautiful spirit of companionship, I believe, he nurtures within himself which makes him deal with worldly feelings like ‘loneliness’ and ‘boredom’ very spiritually. Truly, he never fails to amaze me with his wit and disciplined lifestyle!

My dad too, at 75, is a very inspiring man. A chronic diabetic, he simply manages to set his age, and his condition’s complications, aside and keeps moving on. An accomplished singer himself, he coaches young children in the art of Carnatic music – keeping himself busy and active all the time. He often tells me that he is grateful for this “bonus” Life and for being able to move around rather than be confined to a bed. Recently he regaled a full house in his condominium – singing hits of legendary Tamil actor-singer Chandrababu on karaoke for the New Year celebration! He has this phenomenal ability, thanks to his music and his prayer routine, to always rise above the fractured fabric of a very complicated family situation. I may have found him often stirred by circumstances, but never once shaken.

I am sure you have such inspiring icons in your family as well. If we observe them carefully, there is a lot we can learn from them.

First, is the art of forgetting your age.  I guess the ability to treat age as a mere number, a data point, helps immensely in learning to continue to live a full Life. Second, I feel, in your own unique way, learning to be detached from “worldliness” helps. This simply means that you must accept the impermanence of everything – including your own Life. Next, if you can drop all expectations from everyone around you, you can be blissful. Always, expectations that people – children and grandchildren – must be this way or that surely brings agony. After all, people have their own lives to lead. So letting them be and you too simply being is a great way to creating a peaceful ecosystem. Then, realizing that the idea, that happiness must be pursued is a myth, is a great eye-opener. When you realize that you are the happiness you seek, Life becomes simple, no matter what situation you are in. And finally, learning to respect the body as the temple that houses your God, your soul – and therefore treating both the body and the soul with dignity is the clincher, the Killer App, that delivers inner peace unto you!

So, the next time you have a painful joint or an aching muscle, the next time you catch yourself hopelessly worrying or woefully lonely, the next time you think you cannot plough on in Life, spare a thought for the senior citizen in your immediate family or circle of influence – the one who continues to live Life fully despite the odds! You will then immediately awaken to the futility of your crib. If you are smart and intelligent, which you indeed are, you will quickly expunge your wasted feelings and step up – to keep playing on, until the last ball is bowled!   


To the MAESTRO called YOU…

Sachin Tendulkar has finally announced his retirement from the game that made him God! While there are people who are still awestruck by his legend, there are others, his admirers-turned-critics, who opine that he should have quit the game at his peak – which was a few years ago. Sachin himself explains his rationale for continuing to play well past his prime in his statement, issued by the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), yesterday. He says: It’s hard for me to imagine a Life without playing cricket because it’s all I have ever done since I was 11 years old.
I would like to share what I have learned, so far, from Sachin’s Life. Each of us has three questions to answer and three circles to fill in Life:
  •      What can you be best at in the world? – What’s your innate talent?
  •      What are you deeply passionate about? – What keeps you excited about living?
  •    What drives your economic engine? – What earns you money?

When you answer these questions and fill the circles with your answers, the one vocation – or answer – that leads to the convergence of these three circles is your inner core of joy, your bliss. When you follow your bliss, you too will become a world-leader and world-beater, and consequentially wealthy too, in your chosen field. Of course, the time it takes to reach that pinnacle of greatness varies from individual to individual – it is often a direct correlation between effort, the time the individual is passing through, and the larger, unfathomable, cosmic design. But one thing is for sure: if you have identified that one vocation, which led to the convergence of these three circles in your Life, your bliss that is, you will always be happy doing what you have chosen to do – even though your financial success make take time coming. They key is to keep following your bliss, as Joseph Campbell (1904~1987), the American thinker and writer, famously said, knowing that doors will soon open where only walls existed. The difference between people who have identified their bliss and those who go on to become Gods, legends in their chosen fields, lies in the following. When you follow your heart, your  bliss, no matter what, you will arrive where you truly must and deserve to be! Important, focus only on your bliss, while following it, and not on becoming great! Greatness follows when you truly follow your bliss! (Just to clarify: the concept of these three circles was first presented by Management Guru Jim Collins in the context of helping organizations derive their Core Purpose. But I have found it extremely relevant in the case of individuals too – after all, people make organizations tick!)
Osho, the Master, has explained following your bliss beautifully. He says when you do what you love doing, when the doer becomes the deed, for instance, when the dancer becomes the dance or when the player becomes the game, magic happens. That’s when the Universal, cosmic, energy is flowing through you. The actor and the action are in unison then. That’s what the world calls genius, greatness. That’s how ordinary people become maestros. Did you not see that magic in Sachin – then, and don’t you not see it even now, when he is on a song? Sunil Gavaskar, the legend himself, said this of Sachin Tendulkar when talking to India Today, a couple of years ago: “The secret of Sachin’s longevity in the game lies in his joy. His mind, body, soul – all three are in a state of perpetual joy when he’s playing!”
To reach your own state of perpetual joy, you need to only shift your attention from your economic engine circle to the other two circles – concerning your talent and passion – in your Life. Then you too will be soaked in bliss and will be able to uncork the magic within you! Here’s then, cheers, to the MAESTRO called YOU!

When you are fearless, you are free!

Life’s arduous situations can break you physically, can make you immobile, can cripple you – but they cannot break your spirit, they cannot puncture your conviction, if you simply choose to remain strong from within! But how do you remain strong from within when there’s absolutely no respite from the outside? Say, when your Life is hanging by a thin thread owing to a terminal health condition, or when you are caught in a legal maze and there’s no way out, or when your business has gone bust and you simply don’t have any money to even meet your daily needs, or when your separation from your spouse has drained you emotionally, financially, physically and you have lost your will to live? Where do you draw strength from in such, and other debilitating, circumstances, where you are consumed by fear, self-doubt and hopelessness?
Interestingly, you must leverage your fear to gain courage. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is what you get by looking your fear in the eye, by accepting it, and deciding to face it. In reality, a courageous person is also fearful of consequences that logically appear to be on the horizon. But while she or he is fearful from within, she or he is able to pull herself or himself together on the outside. A coward, on the other hand, is both fearful from within and on the outside. But if you can leverage your courage, while becoming more aware, you can attain fearlessness. And fearlessness is not an outward emotion. It is the complete attainment of freedom from fear – within! That will happen, that can happen, only when you realize the true nature of your inner being. When you know that your soul is untouchable, unbreakable and immortal.
Let’s understand this better. All the world’s scriptures talk of this truth. Yet why do you still fear things, people, events in your Life, despite perhaps, knowing and believing this doctrine to be true? Because you haven’t allowed your inner being, your soul, to experience this truth. Examine all your fears. They are always about losing all that you already know as impermanent – your job, your money, your health, your relationships! What kind of intelligence are you, the much educated you, displaying when you are fearful of threats to any of these impermanent aspects of your Life? Someone says you will die because of your health condition – and you are afraid of death? Someone says she will leave you for whatever reason – and you are afraid of losing her? Someone says you will be sacked for non-performance – and you are scared of unemployment? Someone says you will be convicted and sentenced – and you are afraid of imprisonment? But aren’t you already imprisoned, held hostage, by your fear(s)? Think deeply about this. Everything about your Life so far and the rest of your Life will be taken away from you sooner or later. If it is the fear of losing all that you hold on to that’s keeping you anxious, agonized and fearful, then know that your fears are fully justified. What you fear most will surely happen to you. Sooner or later. Including your death! It is only when you experience this realization, this awakening, at the core of your inner being, in your soul, will you be free from fear. Will you be fearless from within. Will you be free.
Review whatever’s making you insecure. Focus on what you fear. And peel away each fear by asking yourself, ‘So what if this (that which you fear most) happens?’ When you get an answer to this question, ask yourself this question again, in the context of your answer, and so on. Keep going until you have no more answers. For instance, ‘What will happen after I die?’ does not have an immediate known answer. Yes, conjecturally, from what the scriptures tell us, the answer could be that ‘your soul is set free’. And so what if the soul is set free? Or if it is trapped somewhere, someplace? Will it matter to the person that you are currently? Since it won’t, why labor over your fears? So, whatever be the situation confronting you just now, don’t resist it, simply accept it for what it is. And know that since your spirit can never be broken or taken away from you, anything that’s happening to you, therefore, is not at all relevant! So be fearless. Be free!

When you are lonely and in darkness, bask in the sunshine of your soul…!

Often times, there may be no way out of a Life situation. There may be nothing, or no one, to guide you either. Not even a ray of hope. It may seem that it’s all over. That you can go no further in this dark, seemingly endless tunnel. This is the time, when you are pushed to a corner, when you are up against a wall, that you must make your journey inward.
To be sure, there are many methods to go inward. The one that works for me is a long walk in silence. In the silence that engulfs me, I often find my real self. I don’t mean that the environment around me is quiet. Hardly. My walks are often through busy roads. But when I drop anchor, I become silent. This silence is what restores faith in a hopeless situation. This silence is what leads the way to the light within. And whenever I reach that point, I am reminded of this immortal line by the 14th Century Persian mystic and poet Hafiz: “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.”
If you find it difficult to either conceptualize the inner journey or comprehend the power of your real self, let me explain this again differently. The human body is simply a vehicle. Anything material you acquire in this lifetime is temporary and perishable. Including your body and your name! But what powers this body, and makes you experience this lifetime, is the energy in you. And that energy is indestructible. So whatever you are going through or are faced with is impermanent. If it is pain and suffering, know that it too shall pass. So, why grieve? Know that the worst thing that can happen, if ever it does in the throes of your crisis, is that you could die because of your situation. But why fear or worry about a death which is inevitable? Besides, when you die you won’t even know you are dead – because only someone else can pronounce you dead! So, when nothing seems to work and you see no road ahead, go within and bask in the sunshine of your soul. Stay calm. Stay warm. Allow your inner light to awaken you to your true self. That’s what challenging and hopeless times are really for – to take you to the real you!