Create your own magic, let your music happen and be happy!

When you can immerse yourself into doing something, no matter where you are, and you love doing it so much that you lose yourself, in it, to it – well, that’s one sure way to be happy!
T.M.Krishna in “One”
Picture Courtesy: One with Music/facebook Page
A couple of days ago, I watched the opening of Carnatic classicist T.M.Krishna’s “One” (P.Jayendra, 2014) at Sathyam Cinemas. It was a magical experience. Jayendra calls his film an “experiment” to take the artiste out of the confines of a studio and/or auditorium and allow him to perform unbridled and free in nature – where the artiste experiences a oneness with creation itself. But the “experiment” actually ends up breaking tradition, blazing a new trail and setting musicians and music free. None could have been a better protagonist for this path-breaking initiative than Krishna. As Krishna himself told Narayan Lakshman of The Hindu, a few days before “One’s” release: “I have, over the years, moved to a different space in what music means to me and what the experience of music is; singing in tranquil, lush surroundings such as the foothills and forests of the Nilgiris allowed me to feel the air and space, actually experience beauty, and let the music happen.” When you watch the film, you too will realize how Krishna let go and let the music flow – unmindful of the film’s crew at work or of the three cameras that were capturing his every move and the seven microphones that were recording live sound – of not just the singing, but of the water flowing, the birds chirping, the clouds rumbling and the leaves rustling. Clearly, there appeared to be no retakes – Krishna sang from his soul and the crew recorded. Which explains how they finished recording the entire film’s content – all the songs – in just two days! That was my key takeaway from the “One” experience – Krishna just lost himself to what he was feeling, immersed himself in the moment and let the music happen.
For lack of a better quote, let me repeat, one more time, what Osho, the Master, has always said and championed: “When the dancer becomes the dance, when the singer becomes the song, when the musician becomes the music, magic happens.” Clearly you can witness and feel the magic happening in “One”. Interestingly, we too can create this kind of magic in our lives if we too follow our bliss – doing what gives us joy and immersing ourselves doing it all the time.
My bliss comes from being able to express myself through my writing, my public speaking engagements and through leading and inspiring change among people in workshops that I lead. I have found that every time take the floor, I just forget where I am and even who I am. I simply become the subject that I am championing.
I remember, some years ago, we were mandated with leading change in a very fractious environment at a leading healthcare company. I was anchoring a crucial offsite workshop, which marked the culmination of several months of our intervention. But parallel to our professional commitments, there was a big seismic event happening in our Life – we were just coming to terms with the fact that as a Firm we were bankrupt and penniless as a family! One of our creditors, from a large, multi-national bank, had figured out where we were conducting the workshop for this client and landed up at the hotel’s banquet area. He accosted me during the coffee break and threatened to both disrupt the proceedings by informing our client of our “dishonorable nature” and to also sue us in court. I told the gentleman and his contingent that while I appreciated their claim I could not fathom them interrupting me while I was at work. I requested that we meet another day at my office. But the creditor insisted on creating a ruckus. There were raised tones and some aggressive body language followed. This led to my client’s Executive Director, to walk up to me and ask if everything was okay. Her intervention led to the creditor and his team backing off. They agreed to meet me the next day at my office. But my equilibrium was clearly disturbed. I requested my client if I could extend the break by a few more minutes just to gather myself. When I resumed, and took the floor again, after 10 additional minutes, the Chairman of my client company also joined his team. Over the next two hours, I made an impassioned plea and case for change, citing opportunities that this team had, and highlighting the problems that needed resolution urgently. I lost myself to the cause that I was championing. When I finished, the Chairman, rose and soon the whole team, gave me a rousing, standing ovation. Each of them, including the rabid elements on the team, without any suggestion from me or the Chairman, promised to personally change and pledged to transform their company. When I got back home that evening, I marveled at how I had shut out such a disconcerting experience with the creditor and yet had been able to contribute so passionately to a client’s cause. I reckoned that this was possible only because I had done what I love doing, because I had immersed myself both to the cause and in the moment. In a couple of quarters after this workshop I bumped into the Chairman of this company again at the lobby of the Taj Coromandel Hotel and he told me this: “Your intervention was magical. It healed my team. Of course we had to let a couple of managers go, but the rest of them have truly changed the way they think and behave. Resultantly, they are performing better. This would not have been possible without what you did for us.” It was a humbling compliment. I cherished it more because is showcased to me that it is possible to banish worry and anxiety, anger and grief, and to let your music happen, if you do what you love doing and learn to be in the moment!

You too can do this. Despite what you are going through and what you are faced with, choose to spend an hour every day doing what you love doing – be it cooking, walking, gardening, reading, singing, dancing, writing, driving or even working (if you enjoy your job). Immerse yourself in that activity. You will soon discover that it is possible to lose yourself to what you love doing. That’s how you create your own magic, let your music happen, and learn to be happy! 

On making this ‘absurd’ Life worthwhile!

Despite the absolute meaninglessness of Life itself, its absurdity, you have to make it worth living.  
Abbott cradles Hughes after the bouncer felled him
Picture Courtesy: Agencies/Internet
In today’s Hindu, noted sports writer and columnist, Nirmal Shekar, writes an open letter to New South Wales’ fast-medium bowler Sean Abbott, whose freak bouncer critically injured Phil Hughes last Tuesday  – an accident that claimed Hughes’ Life a few days later. Shekar’s letter is poignant and is an essay on Life itself. Urging Abbott to treat the incident only as an accident, Shekar talks about the absurd nature of Life. He writes: “…If the ball had climbed an inch higher or moved a shade wider, the world would be a different place for you (Abbott) today — as it would be for all of us, as cricket lovers. It was the rarest of rare accidents that cost Hughes his Life and you just happened to be at the wrong end of one of Life’s devilish deals…How can a person make sense of something that lies beyond all conventional powers of explanation, you might ask. After all, you chose to play a sport — and one of the most culturally sophisticated ones at that. And you might not have killed a fly in your Life…Why me, you might ask…But that’s Life Sean. There are no answers for certain questions, except that much of Life is down to sheer chance. And viewed from this standpoint, Life does indeed seem absurd…”
Shekar’s writing is simple and the wisdom he offers Abbott is profound. There is indeed no point in asking ‘Why me?’ in Life. People, events, situations, moods, attitudes, opportunities and challenges – most of them beyond your comprehension or control when they happen – conspire to take your Life forward. Your Life’s path is never your own doing alone. Some believe it is preordained. Others try to disagree, intellectualizing their argument with rational thinking and evidence. But whatever happens in Life, simply happens. Abbott’s and Hughes’ case is just another one in point. Two young cricketers, both of them in their prime, readying to play a big role for their national team in the upcoming World Cup – and suddenly one of them dies and the other is buried in grief and guilt; all this while playing a game that was their raison d’etre!. What did they do wrong? Nothing! They were simply playing a game! Therein lies the answer to the various contexts and situations, where we find ourselves entangled, in Life. We must recognize that we are just playing this game called Life. The only right we have is to keep playing this game well, being true to ourselves and the spirit of the game, no matter what happens to us.
And everything that happens to us will be – and is – meaningless. We came with nothing. And we will go with nothing. So, why then go through the travails of an academic education, why earn, why raise families, why create assets and why work? If none of what we acquire – degrees, wealth, name, fame and experience – is ever going to matter, why go through the grind of ‘earning-a-living’? So, evidently, everything’s meaningless.
But the purpose of Life is not to make meaning out it. It is never about you alone. And which is why you must often pause to reflect on what you are doing. Your upbringing teaches you that you must be self-obsessed with your grades, your money, your family and your career. But Life’s beauty lies in going through the unknown – called this lifetime – while being useful to others, to humanity. Life’s essence lies in being able to serve before you say you deserve! Only this attitude can make Life meaningful for you. Without this understanding, you will remain self-centered forever. And the more self-centered you are, the more you will resist the Life that is happening – and will happen – to you. That how you end up suffering and agonizing so much.
Life is just a series of events and experiences. The only way to live it well is to go through each of them with a child-like innocence and a student-like curiosity, serving humanity selflessly at every opportunity. Along the way you will learn to live your Life better and better. Every bouncer from Life will then not torment you and every fall will then not finish you. Because you will have learnt to get up, dust yourself and move on … playing on, and making a difference, until the last ball is bowled!

“Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we’re opened, we’re red.”

The more we respect each other as human beings the more peaceful our inner and outer worlds will be.
Yesterday, I was sitting with a couple from Hyderabad. The husband, a close friend, who has been living in Hyderabad for decades now was telling me that he was considering moving out to another state. When I asked him why, he replied that post the formation of Telangana as a separate state (it comes into effect on June 2nd, Monday), anti-Andhra and anti-Seema sentiments are running very high. Since he hails from Andhra, he preferred to move to a more “accommodating, neutral” city. Honestly, while he was dead serious about his impending decision, I did not think much of it. But this morning’s Hindu’sPage 1 headline shocked me. It read: “‘Andhra-domicile’ staff can’t work in Telangana: KCR”. Obviously the reference is to Telangana Rashtra Samithi chief K.Chandrashekar Rao’s (KCR) threat to people in government jobs. But I am sure, as my friend and his wife fear, these divisive sentiments can impact general public too. In fact, according to them, they can already feel the hate and the heat. 
Just the other day, a friend’s facebook status, in the wake of the NaMo wave, read: “I feel ashamed and insecure of being an Indian Muslim today.”
In an increasingly connected world, thanks to technology and social media, I wonder why are we are allowing people to play up divisive politics? At the very basic level, can’t we not insist that everyone respects each other as humans? Now, if this is how people are going to feel about being who they are, obviously there is an urgent need to reach out be inclusive as nation. And that job, really, is not to be left to the politicians or to the government. We, the people, have to make an effort in our daily interactions and start a movement that thrives on, above all, being human first.
In today’s Hindu itself, interestingly, I found an inspiration from a source where one would least expect an attitudinal change coming from. The Vithal Rukmini Temple Trust, in Pandharpur, which functions under the Maharashtra government, has decided to allow, for the first time, women, and men from all castes, to be priests at the famous 900-year-old temple. The Trust’s Chairman, Anna Dange, told The Hindu: “For the first time, a temple is throwing open its doors to everyone. We thought it was time now for us to set an example. No group should claim monopoly for serving as priests in the temple.”
I believe there must be more efforts like Dange’s and his Trust’s. Each of us has to champion the message of equality and freedom for all to everyone in our circles of influence. For my part, I would like to leave you with this quote from Clive Barker, the famous American author and filmmaker: “Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we’re opened, we’re red.” Think about it. Irrespective of what we wear, what we do, how much we earn, where we live, who we pray to or what we are about, we are the same within – powered by a red blood and the same source of Life! Do we need any further evidence of our equal nature?

Until your time comes

Dealing with death requires a deeper understanding of Life – through an awakening from within.

Our most normal reaction as children to death is total puzzlement. When we asked someone in the family why someone is ‘not waking up’ or ‘not coming these days’, we were told ‘the person has become a star in the sky’ or ‘gone to God’. Therein begins our misunderstanding of death. Slowly, as we grow older, while we begin to appreciate, albeit subconsciously, the certainty of death, and its tendency to arrive unannounced, we loathe it, we fear it. Anything that we fear will torment us. And death is no exception.

A friend passed away yesterday – consumed by cancer of the stomach. He was in his late forties. Seeing his picture in the obituary of The Hindu this morning, an eerie feeling crept into me. Is this it, I wondered. One day, you are there; and the next day you are gone? If this is an unchangeable reality, an eventuality, about Life, why and how is it that some are able to handle death, when it comes calling in their families, calmly while some others suffer endlessly in sorrow?

The answer lies, like with Life itself, in accepting Death for what it is. Osho, the Master, as always, is helpful in promoting our understanding: “Death is always close by. It is almost like your shadow. You may be aware, you may not be aware, but it follows you from the first moment of your life to the very last moment. Death is a process just as Life is a process, and they are almost together, like two wheels of a bullock cart. Life cannot exist without death; neither can death exist without Life. Our minds have an insane desire: we want only Life and not death.”

All desires will bring agony when they are not met. You ask for a cappuccino in a restaurant and you get an espresso instead. You are angry. You want a raise. And your boss says no. You are angry. In the case of desires such as the cappuccino and the raise, your anger__and resultant agony__may result in your desires being fulfilled. But let us say you live in Chicago and you desire that there be no winters? Or you live in Chennai and desire that there be no summers? Is there any point in having desires that are NEVER going to be fulfilled? To have a desire that death must not visit you, your family and your social circle is meaningless, absurd and sure to cause you a lot of suffering. Instead of fearing it, accept, embrace and welcome death. This is the only certainty that Life can offer you. The only guarantee. That you will die. So, what this knowledge calls for is celebration. Not grief. Each time you encounter death around you__to someone you knew, or knew of, or just heardabout it in the news__remember that it is Life’s way of nudging you awake, to remind you how precious, how fragile and how impermanent your own Life is. It is a wake up call to live fully and intelligently. We will do well to know that, as departures keep happening in our lifetime, we are all in the same queue, and until our time comes, we must live, share, love and serve.

The Universe will always show you a sign – if you are “tuned” in!

Nothing really happens without a reason. That reason may never be apparent when the event happens. But sooner, or later, in this lifetime, surely, the reason for an occurrence will manifest itself in front of you as a learning. In that flash of brilliance, when the Universe shows you a sign, Life’s beauty will shine, bright and radiant!

Some years back, my son and I travelled to Rajasthan on a vacation. We visited the holy dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti (1141~1236 CE), the Garib Nawaz, in Ajmer. I instantly felt connected with the energy of the place. I experienced the same Higher Energy at the dargahthat I had felt at the Vatican in 1995 or while visiting our family’s native shrine, the Mangottu Bhagavathi Kaavu, in Athipotha (Palakkad, Kerala). My own views on God and religion have evolved over the years – but I can surely relate to a Higher Energy, which is also why I occasionally visit select shrines – to “repair and recharge”. Following our visit to Ajmer, perhaps because I had left my business card with the person who arranged our visit at the dargah, I kept receiving mailers once every two months. The mailer always had an appeal to contribute to a scheme to feed the poor at the shrine daily and it had the Garib Nawaz’s scared thread – something that believers tie around their wrists as a talisman. Each time I got the mailer I would ask my office to make a small contribution to the feeding scheme and I would forget about the mailer. This went on, for months, almost mechanically. I never understood why I got those mailers. And I never cared to find out what happened to mailer or who took the sacred thread, the talisman, after I sent the contribution.

Over time, our business went downhill. And on December 31st, 2007, around 5.30 pm, I was coming back to my office, after a fateful meeting with my lawyer, who had told me and my wife that we were bankrupt. That was the first time I heard the word “bankruptcy” with reference to our debt-laden, cashless situation. I was struggling to internalize what our lawyer had told us. And my practical, logical instincts told me that “there was no way out for us” – we had no money and we had no work! As I rode the elevator up to our office on the third floor, in those 60 seconds, I closed my eyes and meditated on the “Higher Energy” that powers the Universe. I prayed: “Show me a sign that we will make it!” It was, on a logical plane, a wasteful prayer. It was a captain’s valiant effort to see through a dark, stormy night, looking for a passing vessel, when his own ship was almost sunk! The elevator jerked as it reached the third floor. I opened my eyes and stepped out. I walked to my desk and I found a fresh mailer from the Garib Nawaz’s dargah sitting there, on top of a set of papers demanding my immediate attention! My assistant told me it had arrived that afternoon. Was that “the” sign? If you had asked me then, I would have been unsure. But seven years on, we still are surviving, tethering at the edge at most times, but we still are there – hopeful and sure that we will make it! Was that “the” sign? You bet, it was!

The mailers from the Garib Nawaz’s dargahkept coming over the years. In May 2011, I read a story in the papers that a five-year-old girl, Tamannah, had gone missing on the Marina beach, in Chennai. The Hindu kept reporting this human interest story over the next few days and I followed it closely. The story became big because Tamannah’s father, Syed Noor Ahmed, accused the police of inaction. On the fifth day, after the girl disappeared, I was boarding a morning flight to Mumbai. The Hindu’sstory that morning talked of how distraught the parents of the girl were. I recalled that a mailer from the dargahhad arrived at my desk the previous afternoon. I texted my assistant and asked her to call The Hindu, get the coordinates of Ahmed and reach the mailer (with the talisman) to him. She promptly had that done, remembering to attach my business card with a note conveying our concern, prayers and best wishes to the family. Two days later I got a call from Ahmed. This is what he had to say: “Thanks for your prayers, Sir. Our baby girl has been traced and she’s back with us. The talisman you sent came just when I had finished ‘namaz’ the other day. I had asked for “some sign” that our child will be located soon. The doorbell rang soon after. And there was your person with the mailer, your business card and your note. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

I don’t like to either rationalize or emotionalize too much. Initially, there appeared to be no reason why the mailers came to me. But, at least twice, they served an important cause – of helping two distressed people keep the faith. As I write this, there’s a mailer from Garib Nawaz’s dargah, sitting in my draw – maybe the one it has to go to, will get connected with me in some time – if it is “the”  time! I have learnt that everything happens with a reason. This is not just about the Garib Nawaz or about “a” deity or shrine, it is about what I have learnt from my experiences of how the Universe will always send you a sign when you need one – and if you care to pause and spot it! To spot the Universe’s signs, you must be “tuned” in. You must anchor within and live Life in complete faith that if you have been created, you will be provided for, and taken care of!

Make your doing, your being

Whatever you do, immerse yourself in it – and your will be one with it. That’s how you make doing, being!
This past Sunday, I read an article by the enfant terrible of Carnatic music, T.M.Krishna, in the Sunday Magazine of The Hindu. No, Krishna was not waxing eloquent on music. Instead he wrote, provoking thought in the bargain, about how “great sportsmen and artists share a transformational quality”. His piece, ‘Beyond the Boundary’ examined if Sachin Tendulkar’s technique is really an art form. Krishna wrote: “I have watched the phenomenal Sachin Tendulkar almost right through his career, especially in his Test innings… there have been phases in his great innings when he seemed to dissolve into cricket itself…. In this state, not just cricket or sport but Life itself seemed to be one uninterrupted flow…. The man and his bat became one; the ball was not an object that needed to be negotiated, caressed or decimated; the bowler, not an enemy; and his wicket, no point of reference…. What actually happened was that everything merged. Sachin became one with that existence and, as a beholder, I saw Life’s beauty in its most natural self, without any burden of names, identities, action or result…To me, at that instant, even the fact that it was Sachin batting was immaterial. This was an artist lost in his moment of Life, living it to its fullest.
Krishna’s keen observation and perspective there has been simply, beautifully, explained by Osho, the Master, thus: “Forget the dancer, the center of the ego. Become the dance. Dance so deeply that you completely forget that you are dancing and begin to feel that you arethe dance. Dance so totally…because the dancer-dance division can exist only when you are not total in it. The dancer must go until only the dance remains.”  
In the Sufi tradition, dervishes of the Mevlevi order, perform the ‘sama’, or dancing meditation, where they abandon their ‘nafs’or egos or personal desires, by spinning in repetitive circles, symbolic of the planets in the solar system orbiting the sun. The dancer is merely a metaphor that Osho and the Sufis use. You could be a cook, a gardener, a writer, an orator, a clerk, a traffic policeman, a painter, a singer, a truck driver or a nurse. Who you are is immaterial. How you are (being) who you are is important. Of course, choosing to do what you absolutely love doing, is critical for losing yourself – for making your doing, your being! While it may be possible to even immerse yourself while loving what you are doing, your inner joy is always several notches higher when you have chosen to do onlywhat you love!
But your Life may not always pan out that way. As it turned out to be with my father. He is an amazing Carnatic vocalist himself – having been trained for over two decades by an accomplished Guru. But way back in the ‘60s, the pressures of having to raise a family forced him to seek a career in the private sector textile industry, and later with the government. “Financial security and stability” were chosen over “what gave him joy”. I don’t understand the nuances of Carnatic music as much as I should. But over the early years of my growing up, and even now, when he is well past 75, I have found that my dad always lost himself to his singing whenever he was or is having a stressful time. In those times that I have watched him sing to himself at home, I found him immersed in the music. In fact, I believe, he always became the song. On the few occasions when he has performed concerts too, I have found the singer (in him) disappearing and only the song remaining. I cite his example here because you may not often get to make a Life – and living – out of what you love. Yet it is imminently possible that if you still do what you love, even if it is done infrequently, it can help you just be! And that just being is happiness!
As I grew older and my understanding of Life evolved, I have come to realize that when you don’t force yourself to do anything, Life flows through you. The cosmic energy then expresses itself through you. Your doing then becomes your being. That state, when you are in unison with the Universe, is what is also known as bliss! And as you can see, from the expressions of Krishna, Tendulkar, Osho and my dad, that state is imminently attainable!

Get Better from Life, not Bitter

You can either be bitter from Life or better from it.
A key reason why many of us turn bitter, over time, with Life is because we are not able to treat events as events. We hold on to them, analyze them, and regret them, refusing to let go. Let’s say someone says something harsh to you. In reality, it’s just an event. But if you keep mulling over it, wondering why it was said, and what will others – who heard this person say this of you – think of you, then you are surely going to end up feeling miserable. Chewing endlessly on by gone events, holding on to past grudges and painful memories, is a sure way to invite suffering into your Life.
I am reminded of the Zen story of the two monks who were walking in the Himalayas.  
A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross the river. The young woman asked them if they could help her cross to the other side.
The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows at their monastery not to touch a woman.
Then, without a word, the younger monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on with his journey.
The older monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. He simply stood there staring as his young colleague briskly walked up the hill. After re-joining his companion, he was still speechless, but seething with rage nevertheless.
An hour passed without a word between them. Two more hours passed. Then three. Finally the older monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out: “As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The younger monk looked at him, startled at first, and then, comprehending the full import of his senior’s question, replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”
Unfortunately, many of us, even if we have grown older, like the senior monk, have not grown up. We still carry baggage from our past with us – principally, hurt, regret, resentment and grief. And so we stumble along through Life. Our painful memories enslave us to the past and ensure we stay bitter. And this way we remain unhappy – unable to enjoy the present moment, the now! This is true of a lot of people, a lot of the times.
Siddharth Varadarajan: No Bitterness
Therefore, it was indeed refreshing this morning, to read Siddharth Varadarajan’s (the former editor of The Hindu) views on his unceremonious exit from the paper, following some Boardroom intrigue at Kasturi & Sons Ltd. (KSL – the company that owns The Hindu) earlier this week. An online portal asked him if he was feeling betrayed. And Varadarajan replied: There is no question of feeling betrayed. I came to this job with my eyes wide open. I had a great run as Editor of The Hindu, which is India’s finest paper, and am grateful to the KSL Board for appointing me to the post.
Clearly, whatever be the event that you end up having to face in Life, you have two options. You can be bitter or better from it. If you choose to be bitter, you will miss the opportunity to live fully and to experience the magic and beauty of Life in each moment. If you choose to be better from the experience, you will find yourself soaked in abundance and inner joy!