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! 
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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!