Pain always offers a teachable point of view

You appreciate Life’s inscrutability only when you don’t get what you want or when you get what you don’t want!
This is an amazing truth about Life. It is a revelation, a discovery, that often strikes you, dawns on you, when you are in the throes of pain and despair. When everything is going per your aspirations, your desires, you conclude that you are in control, that you are the Master, that it’s all your doing. You matter the most to you in such times – this is how it works: you do well in academics, land yourself a dream job, get married to a person of your choice; you think you managed all of that ‘success’ on your own steam; because of your brilliance, genius and effort. Undoubtedly, you have worked hard and efficiently. There has been your contribution. But to imagine that the design of your Life was woven by you smacks of ignorance, not just arrogance, of the way Life works.
I met a Tamizh movie director, a very successful man, recently. He is smart, intelligent and very creative. He said, “I don’t believe in dreams. I believe in subconscious aspirations, dedicated effort and flawless execution. You make your own destiny.” Poetic words. Makes sense to the rational mind. Except that Life doesn’t always work this way. A very successful industrialist I know, who went bankrupt and has clawed his way back into reckoning, and profits in business, has this learning to share: “When things were going fine, I was thinking it was my leadership, my acumen, my business-sense that were causing my success. When we started losing money and eventually went bust as a business, I found that the same leadership and acumen__mine__were of no use. That’s when I awoke to the reality that Life has a mind of its own.” I have learnt that it’s a good thing to not always get what you want and to sometimes get what you don’t want too. That’s when you learn from Life. The best thing about pain is that it always offers a teachable point of view. And trauma is a good transformation agent, a catalyst.

There’s no rocket science to why we__you and me__awaken only when in pain. Life is best understood by asking the right questions. And we pause to ask questions, explore with curiosity, only when we don’t get what we want – or when we get what we don’t want! Interestingly, the questions we ask may often get us no answers. Just more questions emerge. And the more questions we ask, the closer we are to understanding Life. That’s when we realize that Life is, well, inscrutable! 

Rafa’s lessons on Life and Peak Performance

Living in the past, wishing that things were different from the way they were or are, not only causes our suffering, but also makes us mediocre.
Photo Courtesy: Times of India/Internet
Yesterday’s Times of India and Economic Times had interviews with Rafael Nadal. His answers to a couple of questions establish a deep linkage, yet again, between spirituality and high-performance.  
TOI asked Nadal: Talking about your worst losses, do you think it is tough getting over them and how do you prepare yourself after the loss?
And he replied: I am a very good loser. I always accept losses very well. We lose more than we win. Every week, just one player wins and the rest lose. You need to accept that and be positive and see where you can improve. For sure, the family helps but I am a good loser and I’m not a guy who becomes sad for three weeks after losing. I accept it and move on.
ET’s Boria Majumdar asked Nadal: You have been plagued by many injuries in recent times. Have you ever thought that had it not been for injuries where would you be today? Perhaps a few more Grand Slams, perhaps a higher ranking? 

And he replied: Injuries are part and parcel of a sportsman’s Life. They will happen. Having said that I don’t always think about them or about what could have been. 


There is a direct connection between inner peace, happiness and peak performance. You may be able to perform at the top of your game a few time based on your talent and potential, but you need to have a Nadal-like spiritual perspective to stay at the top and remain relevant consistently. This, I say, is not just true for sport – it is as true in any walk of Life. The sum and substance of what Nadal told TOI and ET is this: There will be ups and downs in Life. Don’t get bogged down by what could have been or what isn’t there. Just accept what is and move on.
High performers go beyond hard work. They know the value of inner peace and happiness. They know that both of these come with acceptance of what is – and that includes failure! They know that their peak performance depends on how anchored and peaceful they are.
The truth is that each of us is capable of high performance in our chosen fields. But we rarely achieve our peaks or sustain them only because we are going by social definitions of who we are and what we are doing or have done. To be able to do very well, what you love doing, just don’t brood over what’s dead – the past! Keep moving on.

Peel off and junk this label called “failure” – to hell with it!

You fail at something only when you can’t – or refuse to – face the reality. Not when you try, fall and don’t achieve the outcome you planned for.
I read an interesting interview with American researcher, story teller and author, Brene Brown, in a recent issue of TIME. Her most recent book Rising Stronghas just been released and deals with the subject of failure. Brown tells Belinda Luscombe of TIME, “We are handling failure with a lot of lip service. When failure doesn’t hurt, it’s not failure. He or she who is most capable of being uncomfortable rises the fastest…Shame needs three things to grow: secrecy, silence and judgment.”
I can relate to every word of what Brown is saying. I come from the view that nobody fails at anything just because the outcomes are not what society expects or what you want. Failure and success are but social labels. They come from judgment. Now, why judge anyone for any reason in the first place? So, when Brown says that one’s capacity to deal with being uncomfortable contributes to rising strong, she’s right! What does being uncomfortable mean? It means you don’t like what you are seeing. It means you are honest to yourself and are seeing the reality as it is. You are not in denial. When you accept a situation, you can handle it much, much better than when you don’t accept it. It’s as simple as that.
A friend of ours is separating from her husband. Now two people, mature adults, are concluding that they can’t be together anymore. Where is the need for failure as a label to come in here? But it does. The families of both people are labeling the marriage as a failure. And they don’t like our friend talking openly about it. They are trying to cover-up the separation as something that is bad, as if something grave has happened. But our friend is very clear. She says, “Listen, it is not working out. I didn’t sign up for this to be unhappy. I am very unhappy in his presence. I am moving on.” This ability to face the reality, to accept an uncomfortable truth that it’s all over (in the context of our friend’s marriage) – this is what determines how strongly you rise from a setback. Earlier this week, actors Konkona Sen Sharma and Ranvir Shorey too handled their separation – or their ‘failed’ marriage per a social definition – admirably. Here’s what Konkona tweeted: “Ranvir and I have mutually decided to separate, but continue to be friends and co-parent our son. Will appreciate your support. Thank you!”
We must all realize that things just happen in Life. We don’t always get what we want. To feel shameful of a situation is never going to help change it. Shame breeds guilt over what you may have done. Covering up an outcome that you don’t like to accept doesn’t help either. It is only going to accentuate your stress. And please don’t judge yourself. We all try. And we often don’t get what we set out to achieve. The logical next step is to try again – and try differently. It is not to sit and brood over what has happened.
I would go a step further than Brown and say there is nothing called failure. Or success. Both are subjective and are defined by a society that judges people far too quickly without ever having been in their shoes. I think you fail at something only when you refuse to face it. When you face a situation, when you see and accept reality, your desire to change that reality spurs you into action. Only through action can there be change, progress – and inner peace!

Stop being anything else but happy – you are happiness!

Happiness cannot be pursued. It is who you are.
A common and grave misconception occurs when we mix up the definitions of happiness and success. Success is getting what you want __ a college degree, a car, a new apartment, an overseas job, a billion dollar fortune, whatever! But you may not always get what you want in Life. Happiness, therefore, is wanting what you get! Despite all your hard work, you may not graduate. You may not get the car of your choice. Or get an apartment in the neighborhood that your preferred. Or someone else may get the lucrative job that you wanted! Or a quirk of circumstance may deny you the fortune. The ability to be happy despite not getting what you want and despite your circumstance is true happiness. And that ability is resident in each of us: in you, in me, in everyone!
Nisha Kapashi: in 2011 (left) and now (right)
Photo Courtesy: ScoopWhoop/Internet
I read a story on ScoopWhoop this morning that interested me. It was the story of Jain nun Nisha Kapashi. She is of Indian origin but was born in the US. She grew up with all the luxury in the world – among Gucci clothes and Fendi handbags; she lived in a lavishly furnished single bedroom apartments on Sixth and 34th, near Macys, in New York. But while she was living a “fashionable and successful Life”, she was feeling an “emptiness” that made her very, very unhappy. She dug deeper into the Jain way of Life and found great value in the teachings of Mahavira. She quit her job with J Crew, moved to India and signed up to be a nun. She told ScoopWhoop’s Samarpita Das: “We sleep for six hours a night, meditate for 90 minutes a day, and we study Jain philosophy for 15 hours a day. We live a nomadic existence in India. I have no possessions. I have nothing, but I’ve never been so happy. I have no money, not even a bank account. I have committed to a Life of celibacy and simplicity for the rest of my Life. This is my Life now — and it’s the ultimate happiness.”
I am not exactly one who believes that we must practice celibacy and abstinence to experience happiness. But what Nisha’s story does reiterate is that each of us has this awesome opportunity to be happy! By simply being who we are comfortable being!
If everyone followed Nisha’s example of setting out to be who they love being, the world will be full of happy people – instantaneously! In fact, all of us are intrinsically happy folks. We become unhappy only when we allow our circumstances to suppress our happiness! Let’s say you are walking on the pavement on a rainy day, whistling ‘Raindrops are falling on my head….’, and an insensitive motorist splashes a dirty puddle of water on your work clothes. You stop whistling. And now you are angry. Does being angry mean that you have ceased to have the ability to be happy? Not at all. Your attention has shifted from whistling the memorable tune to hurling abuses at and showing a finger to that motorist. The moment you bring your attention to being happy – despite the soiled clothes, you can still whistle the tune and keep walking, can’t you? – you will find your anger disappearing.
We feel miserable when we are unhappy only because being angry or being anything negative is not normal, it is not human nature. Think about it. Don’t you always feel miserable when you have been sad or jealous or angry or guilty? But have you ever, ever, felt miserable when feeling happy? I rest my case. So, you don’t have to work hard at being happy. You are happiness. Just stop being anything else and please go back to being happy!

From what you learn from your Life experiences, you can only get better at the art of living

There is no success or failure in Life. There are just experiences and there are the lessons you learn from those experiences.
Yesterday, at a workshop I was leading, a manager asked me: “How do you retain your hunger for success while not getting too desperate with whether you succeed or not?”
That’s a very interesting question.
Success and failure, victory and defeat, win and loss – all these are social labels. In reality, all of us have only choices, to act in a given situation or not to act. When we act and the outcomes match our expectations, we call it success. When the outcomes fall below our expectations we call it failure. But the truth is that our choice of action – or inaction, as the case may be – is far more important than the outcome itself. Which is why the Bhagavad Gita invites us to focus on our efforts, on the action, and to leave the results, the outcomes, to Life.

So, I would simply rephrase the manager’s perspective. I would say that we must exercise our choice of action and learn from the experience that leads to the outcome. It is when you are attached to the outcome that you invite ego and suffering. You turn egoistic when the outcomes match or exceed your expectations. You suffer when they don’t. So why go through this up and down cycle? Why not simply be focused on the action and leave the outcomes to happen in their own way? And whatever is the outcome, the way it is, simply accept it – without qualifying it as good, bad or ugly. At the end of the day, nothing is good, nothing is bad, nothing is won, nothing is lost, no one succeeds, no on fails. Life is just a series of experiences that you learn from you. And through your learning, as long as you are continuously learning – and sometimes unlearning too – you can hope to get better and better, and better and better, and better and better, at the art of living!