Simplify your Life: Trust only when and who you can

Each person who comes into your Life is a teacher.
Everyone is teaching you through not just what they know, but through their behavior. Some people teach you why you must never trust them. They have taught you this by repeatedly refusing to live up to the trust you placed in them. Eventually, you may have reached a point when you would have said that you can’t trust this person anymore. And yet you would have given this person one more chance. When your trust was betrayed one more time, you move from the can’ttrust to the must-never-trust zone. Please know, there is nothing wrong with you if you come to this conclusion. And there is nothing inhuman about this stance. To trust humankind and Life is indeed the best way to live. But to have your self-esteem trampled upon__that’s precisely what happens when your trust is betrayed__is foolishness. Remember if that person is a teacher, just as each person in your Life is, then you are being a bad student if you are not learning from your teacher! You don’t have to hate the person though. Just don’t trust.
When you don’t trust, there can be no relationship. You can still know the other person and not be in a relationship. Now, even if this is a parent, sibling, child, or spouse, it is imminently possible to stay this way. Because at the end of the day, the person is not trustworthy. And the person has taught you, given the empirical evidence you may have gathered through repeated patterns of behavior, that she or he is not trustworthy. Additionally, let me tell you, from my own experience, that it is also fine to let the other know that you don’t trust him or her.

So, please simplify your Life. If you have been let down repeatedly, know that you have a right to choose not to trust someone anymore. Exercise that right. Live your Life in peace and not in grief. Yet live leaving that person alone. Don’t fight. Don’t provoke. Just live and let live! 

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?

Pain is a great teacher, not a tormentor!

Pain is not Life’s way to torture you. Pain is not a tormentor. Pain does not cause you any suffering in itself. Your response to pain is what makes you suffer. By itself pain has an awakening tendency to it. When you accept it, you will awaken and not suffer. When you reject it, resist it, you will feel tortured and will wallow in grief.

To be sure, as human beings, all of us have an equal and natural ability to withstand any amount of pain. It is in acceptance that our levels vary and, therefore, so does, inversely, our suffering.

I recently heard the story of a lady__someone we know__who married a second time. It was a second marriage for both parties concerned. The lady has a daughter from her first marriage. Unfortunately, this second marriage too didn’t work well for the lady. She has been abused and victimized by her husband. They don’t live in India and this makes matters daunting because there are several legal implications of a separation and settlement. But she fights on resolutely for her rights as a wife, and for those of daughter’s, who had been legally adopted by her husband at the time of their marriage. Her basic existence is in question and it is a daily battle for survival. But she’s stoic and inspiring. She feels that while it is still difficult for her to come to terms that for the second time around her marriage has failed, on the other hand, she realizes that only her facing up to the situation can help her walk out and free with her honor and her settlement intact. She seemed to me to be someone who is undoubtedly in enormous pain but who may not be suffering anymore. And that, I believe, may be because she’s not resisting her pain, but may have accepted it!

Pain is a great teacher. A brilliant coach. When pain affects us, physically or emotionally, it shocks us out of our comfort zone. It shakes us awake from our stupor. Without a wakeup call, there will be no awakening. So, we must be grateful to pain than hating it. The other day I accidentally drank some hot soup. It was very, very hot. Because the first contact I made with it, scalded my lips and tongue, I put the soup down to cool before I had the rest of it. The first contact, the shock, reported to me that it was hot. Yes the scalding was painful. But the pain, the shock, made alert. It made me focus on the temperature of the soup for as long as I drank it. This is how pain works. It alerts you. Alertness means mindfulness. It means awakening and awareness. The awareness you get through pain, when you accept it, and not resist it, transforms your entire being. It cleanses you. And makes you understand the true nature of Life.

When everything is going fine, when you keep getting all that you want, you do settle into a comfort zone. The comfort zone spawns ruinous habits at times or makes you develop an ego, makes you arrogant perhaps or simply makes you a laggard, a dullard. But in a comfortable scenario, if pain is introduced__maybe someone dies or you lose your job or someone betrays your trust or your health suffers a serious setback__you wake up with a start! You begin to examine your Life closely. If you ask “why me?” and grieve, the pain will continue to haunt and torture you. But if you accept the pain, and ask “what can I learn from the moment”, from the experience, the pain may still be there but your ability to deal with it goes up phenomenally.

Look at your own Life. Haven’t you already withstood an unbelieveable amount of pain? Perhaps you have suffered a lot of it too. It may also be possible that you currently are going through a painful phase that’s testing your tolerance limits beyond your own imagination. If that were indeed so, stop looking at pain as a tormentor. Accept it instead as a teacher. And watch your suffering immediately disappear even as you learn from your painful situation! Remember pain comes into your Life only to awaken you, not to cause you any suffering. When you are awake, when you are aware, the suffering always disappears.

What the jackfruit tree taught me

The human mind is so fickle. It simply does not trust. I am sure this has happened to you too. That when you are beaten in Life, cannot go on any more and feel defeated, you often wonder why are you treated this way by Life? You wish at such times that Life was more understanding, compassionate and intelligent! You are suddenly aware of your mere, mortal, human nature and wonder if all the pain that you are being put through can even be endured by you__any more? The truth is however just the opposite. Nobody is ever given a situation in Life that she or he cannot handle. It’s the mind that says it can’t. What the mind protests, causing you untold misery and suffering, the spirit indefatigably accepts__always without protest!

Such is Life. Such is the beauty of creation.

The Teacher
There’s a jackfruit tree outside my balcony. In the last several weeks it has been bearing fruit. And is looking luscious, beautiful and inviting! Yesterday, I spent several minutes just staring at it. I noticed it held a very aesthetic charm __ a very poetic appeal! Right at my balcony’s level several fully-grown jackfruit hung. That’s when I noticed__and learned__the intricacies of how nature, how Life, created and provided. Jackfruits can grow up to 36 kg in weight. The branches and the stems that harbor fresh leaves look normal. As in they are green too and look vulnerable. They will break away from the tree even if a small weight is placed on them. But the fruit-bearing stems are strong, thick and hard. They are distinctly different from those bearing the leaves. It appeared to me that a Master Designer had taken adequate care to ensure that the heavy fruits that the tree bears are not falling off unless they are specifically plucked. In a special, masterful, way although each fruit is heavy, its stem is strong enough to hold it up.

I connected that learning to our own lives. We may not see it this way at all but our own burdens are possibly directly proportional to our ability to be able to bear them! If you sit down and reflect on your Life so far, you will discover that you have been able to eventually overcome every challenge, leap across every chasm, carry any burden or face any situation despite your initial doubts about being able to do so. Every time you have felt you had too much to do and too little time. Or each time you felt you will not be able to handle something. Or when you wished you could die than live and face a situation. Every such time, when you look back now, you will agree that you actually made it.

If you are faced with another such time, learn from the metaphor of the jackfruit tree. And remember that Life is both intelligent and benevolent. Remember also:

  • You have been given a situation only because you can and must handle it.
  • You have been given a burden only because you can and must carry it.
  • You have been given a test only because you can and must learn from it.
  • You have been given a challenge only because you can and must emerge stronger facing it.

And you have been given this Life only because you can must live it!

No experience is ever wasted!

No trial, pain or experience is ever a waste of your time or effort!

As we grow in Life it is our experiences that make us who we are. Many a time we are having to involve ourselves in doing things that seemingly have little or no meaning or relevance then. After all pain happens only when something you don’t want presents itself in your Life! So when we endure pain, we wonder why it had to be happening to us in the first place? We therefore resist that ‘uninvited’ experience. Our resistance plunges us into sorrow and depression. But if you look back at your Life so far, all that you have been through is what has made you who you are. Your real education happened in Life, and continues to happen now too, ONLY through the myriad experiences you have had.

I learnt this lesson the hard way too.

Almost two decades ago, I worked as the Executive Assistant to India’s pioneering telecom entrepreneur. This person prides himself to be the richest Tamilian in the world. I had quit a fairly successful media career to join him as his EA in Singapore. An EA’s role is actually one that involves a lot of planning, strategizing, reporting and number-crunching, while leading projects and, often, crisis management efforts. In the normal course, good EAs, to great Chairmen or organizational leaders, in about a decade, graduate to running those organizations themselves. After all, the EA would have learned so much about leadership and management, at the feet of the leader!

I had such a vision for myself as I took up my position at Singapore. I was barely 27 then.

But I was in for a shock. The man turned out to be brute at work. He paid me well, no doubt. But flogged me to work for 20 hours a day. I had to travel with him around the world. Living out of a suitcase. He was both impulsive and abusive. So, we would have barely landed in a country, a new city and checked into a hotel. But he would want the next morning’s flight out. He was never organized. And I was just the opposite. I liked, and still do, to have a daily list of tasks, maintain schedules and preferred quiet periods where I could sit and work on minutes of meetings, whet contractual documentation and create value for my boss and our organization. We were at that point working on two projects that would__and eventually did__revolutionize India. One was the introduction of cellular telephony and the other was introduction of Direct To Home TV broadcasting __ both through new legislations in India’s Parliament. My boss was a maverick, deal maker. He was not an institution builder. He liked to get businesses off the ground, often corrupting powers that be in the process, and then sell them to larger business houses for a profit.

Initially, I suffered the grueling schedule, the inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies believing it to be a learning experience. Traveling different time zones each week, managing a non-stop 20-hour day, daily, for over 18 months, non-stop, was indeed a learning experience.

But slowly I began to hate my work. Because it made no sense to be on tenter-hooks at the time. I lived by the edge literally. I had to always be around my boss. Despite all my preparation, I would fail. Because he had this knack of asking for the one thing I had not thought of or prepared for! He had, in addition to my responsibilities as his EA, also loaded me with responsibilities that normally have to be handled by a personal assistant. So, here I was, in one moment sitting in meetings with satellite manufacturers, or equity funds or global telecom players, and at another moment rushing to get his tickets confirmed or buying him coffee or Aspirin. Since he maintained no laptop, or email or papers himself, I had to make sure our documentation was perfect. And where was the time to do any documentation when you spend 20 hours on your feet each day? My boss invested in stocks heavily across the world. So, he slept for one hour spells during the day or night, depending on which stock market he was tracking that day. But never beyond an hour at a time. That hour, I could not sleep. I used that golden hour of peace and quiet to complete documentation, struggle with sending mails (email was so new at that time: Hotmail was not yet born!) and faxes. And I had no help.

I could notice that my efficiency was clearly suffering. I was losing hair and gaining weight. I tried broaching the subject of working in a more organized manner with my boss. But he would only get more abusive. He would shout expletives at me. It was very embarrassing. And it affected my self-esteem gravely. So, I started fearing speaking to him. Soon, I became a robot, just executing orders. Within me, I was grieving though. It was humiliating and frustrating.

One day, I walked into a meeting at Singapore, that I had coordinated, at the Ritz Carton Hotel’s Presidential Suite (where my boss was staying). I lived in the mini suite opposite to his. The meeting was between my boss and the Chairman of one of the largest business houses in India. My boss asked me for a set of papers which were not part of the agenda being discussed. In fact, they were completely unconnected with this business group we were meeting. I explained to him that I had had no time to prepare them and intended to get them ready shortly.

He shouted at me, in front of our visitors: “Punnakku! Thevidiya Payan. You are both stupid and foolish!‘Punnakku’ means ‘cow fodder’ and ‘Thevidiya Payan’ means ‘son of a whore’ in Tamizh. Both the Chairman of the business group visiting us and his CFO, who was part of the meeting too, knew Tamizh very well.

I felt like a worm. I quit that day. And took a flight back home. It took two months of sleeping entire days and much caring by my loving wife to recuperate from that traumatic experience. In the months that followed, even as my boss tried making peace with me and tried wooing me back, I wondered what a horrible waste of time this whole stint had been. I did not see any reason why I should have been paid so highly and treated so poorly. I did not understand why despite my integrity and ethics-based value systems I had to go through what I went through. I grieved struggling to make sense of the whole experience.

To be sure, at that time, I couldn’t understand it at all.

But over the years, with newer experiences coming in my way, I can see how that stint with the man, those 24 months,  had prepared me to deal with Life better.

1.   His temperamental and abusive nature have made me stronger. I have learned to face 
      and deal with any amount of irrational, unreasonable criticism.

2.  The 20-hour work days, not knowing what will hit you from where, have made me prepare meticulously. Sometimes, people around me think I am very paranoid. I am not really paranoid as much as I am usually well prepared.

3. Thegrief and the trauma I went through, when I was socked and beaten up, metaphorically, each day, have made me, despite all my preparation, to accept the bizarre turns Life can take at times. So, nothing really surprises or shocks me anymore!

4.   And being his EA and PA have made me, hopefully, a very adept crisis manager.

5.  Allthat crazy international travel have made me a road warrior. I can survive in any condition, in any airport, anywhere in the world! And I have learned to love travel and make my hotel rooms my home where I find peace and sleep the moment I hit the pillow!

I am claiming all of this with all humility. Because I am still learning each day from each new experience. But, without doubt, without that experience I wouldn’t be half as tough a person that I am today.

I met my former boss, many years later, in the lobby of the Mumbai Taj, at the Gateway of India. I held his hand and thanked him profusely for the experience. I said, “Without you, I wouldn’t be the AVIS I am today.” He was startled, but gave me a hug and invited me to stay in touch!

So, don’t resist what you are going through. Everything happens for a reason. If we knew the reason before hand, we would end up intellectualizing the experience. Like the way we intellectualize our academic syllabi through school or college. Life is a hard teacher, as someone said. Because she always gives the test first and the lesson later. Simply, accept and love whatever you are going through. Because it is preparing you for what you will have to live through! With each new experience, you can only get better with living this Life better!