Your past can be your teacher

In hindsight, all of us are wise. The key is to learn from experiences and not either cling on to grief or guilt.
A recent issue of TIME magazine carries an interview with ace golfer Tiger Woods. Lorne Rubenstein asks him: “Your private Life was exposed in 2009. What would you have done differently?” And Woods replies: “In hindsight, it’s not how I would change 2009 and how it all came about. It would be having a more open, honest relationship with my ex-wife. The relationship that I have now with her is fantastic. She’s one of my best friends. We’re able to pick up the phone, and we talk all the time. We both know that the most important things in our lives are our kids. I wish I would have known that back then.”
Woods nails it. It is very important to pause, reflect and internalize what you can learn from a past – any – experience. With reflection, and introspection, grief and guilt may arise. But you must develop the ability to stay detached from these debilitating emotions. You must look at your own Life – and the past – dispassionately. Ask yourself if there is any point in brooding or feeling angry and guilty? There really isn’t! Once you realize the futility of harboring these emotions, you let them go. This does not mean you don’t either feel them or don’t learn from them. You will feel them. And you can learn from them. But just don’t get bogged down by them!
The past always teaches you – something about you and about Life! The past can also hold you hostage. It is up to you whether you want your past be your teacher or your captor!

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On why do ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ folks?

‘Good’, ‘Bad’, ‘Right’, ‘Wrong’ … all these are societal labels. In reality, Life simply boils down to events and choices.
Something happens to you. It is an event. How you react or respond to that event is your choice. Period. When events meet or exceed your expectations, you label them good. If they don’t, you label them bad. If a choice you made delivers the outcome you expect, you call it good. And if it does not, you call it a bad choice! Simple.
Last evening, over some exotic Moroccan Mint tea, someone who had heard of our story and my Book asked me how could a ‘talented’ couple like Vaani and me be put through such a ‘trial’ by Life? This is a question that we are often asked. And I don’t have a very elaborate answer. The one I have is this…

Talent. Trial. Time. These are three things that we always obsess about. We think we are talented so we must be successful. We believe because we are good folks, Life should not try us! And we always want to be having the time of our lives – the way we want it! To be sure, talent and trial have no correlation. Often, we wonder why should we be tried in Life when we are talented, intelligent and ethical? Why should ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ folks? We must remember that talent is what we are endowed with; that includes the ability to deal with all kinds of trials and tribulations in Life! Trials are what we are and will be faced with. Both talent and trials are Life’s ways of making us who we must eventually be. And time is the eternal healer. Time is the catalyst. Time eventually makes us complete. When it is time to be tried, we will be. And when it is time to be toasted, we will be! So, if we give up the expectation that talented folks must not be tried, and learn to flow with time, we will never agonize in Life! We will be blissful!






Last night, as I caught Yash Chopra’s 1965-classic Waqt (Time) on TV, this iconic song played on aptly. The lead lyrics are aage bhi jaane na tu, pichhe bhi jaane na tu, jo bhi hai, bas yahi ek pal hai…meaning that you don’t know the future, you can’t do anything about the past, all you have is this moment, the now, to live in! So, peel off those labels. Don’t obsess over whether your choices are right or wrong. Just be happy you made one! Just be – live – in the moment. For there is no right or wrong, good or bad. Your Life, at the end the day, is all about choices you make in response to the events that happen to you!

In order to find time for yourself, simply create it!

If you can pause and reflect, for a quality period of time daily, the quality of your Life will undoubtedly improve.
Yesterday, at The Brew Room, a beautiful café in downtown Chennai, I caught a hand-written sign that read: “Everything gets better with coffee.” I smiled as I took a picture of this sign. And I thought to myself, how true this simple promotional line for coffee is – in a real world context.
If there’s one thing that we all need desperately in Life it is time. And if there’s one thing that’s available in abundance, and uniformly, to all of us it is time. To be sure, we have the same 24 hours at our disposal. Within our reach. No one has a minute more or a minute less than the other. Yet we scramble along, stumbling and falling, struggling and heaving, complaining forever that we don’t have enough time! Now, the reason why time seems elusive is because we expect all our responsibilities to be settled, all our tasks to be completed, all our goals to be achieved, before we sit down to experience some quality time for ourselves, with ourselves. That certainly is not going to happen. Because each gone moment is gone. It is never going to come back. With each moment that is past, we have lesser time on this planet. This is the bitter truth. And unless we invest time we are not going to be able to create quality time – for ourselves, our families and for doing what we love doing. Period. Just as investing money wisely helps multiply it, investing time wisely alone helps create time.

So, the simplest way to find that time for yourself is to create it. Just drop everything and sit down for 15 minutes to half-an-hour quietly, each day, and feel your breathing. Read something. Check Facebook. Listen to music. Just don’t be under pressure. Think through your day and week. Do this diligently, daily, and watch the quality of your work and Life improving with this practice. I am not sure really if “everything gets better with coffee” all the time, but everything does get better when you pause and reflect. As someone has wisely said, “Now and then it is good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”

Accepting (extra-ordinary) pain leads to extra-ordinary grace entering your Life

Everything happens for the good. And you can’t quite get through Life unscathed.  
I don’t mean to sound overtly philosophical or even euphemistic about our rather unique Life journeys where we may be singed by a health challenge or a relationship issue or the loss of a dear one or a career nightmare or a business crisis. Our stories may be different. But the thread that binds all our stories together holds a common theme – all the trauma that we may have to encounter and endure in Life always has a deeper reason for it to happen. And that reason is to make us stronger from the experience. Also, without exception, every dark night eventually makes way for a beautiful dawn.
A recent issue of TIME magazine has a story by author Jim Rendon who writes about how trauma changes people for the better. Rendon’s new book Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth reveals that 75 % of people are affected by a traumatic phase at least once in their lives. He writes in TIME: “Post-traumatic growth can be transformative. Post-traumatic growth can be powerful. Many people I interviewed for my book told me that despite the physical pain they suffered, the daily struggles they faced, their lives were unquestionably better today than before their traumatic experiences. Trauma sent them on a path they never would have found otherwise.”
I can completely relate to this view. This has, in fact, been my experience too.
Just 12 years ago, I used to be perpetually angry with myself and the world around me. My business was under stress then, but there was business – work and income. I had clients and I led a team that operated in six cities in India. But I was neither happy nor content. I worked 16-hour days and worked on weekends too. I had a tobacco habit and drank daily. And then in end-2007, early-2008, my whole world fell apart. My Firm went bankrupt and I became insolvent. In the years that followed, my family and I have been through some indescribable times – often penniless; no work, no clients, no staff, no offices, no business, no money!
A couple of years ago, I was talking to my friend about the experience I was undergoing as a parent when I could not buy my dear daughter a new set of clothes as her old ones were worn out. My friend, quoting (I think so; disclaimer: I am not an expert in Tamil literature, I can’t read or write the language.) from the Tamil epic Kamba Ramayanam said, “Kadan Petrar Nenjam Pola” – denoting the ache in the heart of a man in debt. I know my pain pales in significance in front of someone who has lost a child or who is dying of a rare cancer or who has been convicted for a crime that they did not commit (like the Talwar couple). But trauma is trauma. Pain is pain. Whatever be the reason, whoever causes it, whichever way it happens, the way pain overtakes our lives and drives us to dead-ends and tests every sinew – that experience is the same for everyone. Pain cannot be avoided. It is inevitable. But you can avoid the suffering if you stop asking why there is pain – and stop asking why you have to encounter pain.
My problems are far from over. But because I have learnt not to suffer, I have discovered that the trauma, the pain, doesn’t affect me anymore. Yes it is difficult, at times excruciatingly difficult, to get through some situations. But because I don’t suffer, I am at peace with the way my Life is. There is complete chaos around me, in my world. But I have learnt to anchor within and maintain and preserve my inner equilibrium. I face Life every day with renewed vigor and pour my heart into whatever I am doing to get the business and our lives back on track. Important, I am no longer angry – with myself or my circumstances. I am a firm believer that this too shall pass.

This transformation in me has happened only because of the experience of abject penury that I have been through. In a material sense my family and I have lost everything. And we have a mountain of debt to repay. But I am grateful, just as many of the people Rendon interviewed for his book have revealed, for the Life-changing crisis that I have been through. I have now come to realize that extra-ordinary pain always leads you to experience extra-ordinary grace if you are willing to accept the pain and go with the flow of Life! Your problems may not always go away, but your ability to deal with the improves dramatically if you can handle pain and avoid the suffering! 

Remember: you too have come with an expiry date. So, live, don’t exist!

“The wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop, the leaves of Life keep falling one by one!” – wrote Omar Khayyam, (1048~1131), the Persian poet, in his classic ‘The Rubaiyat’.
Today our son Aashirwad turns 25. Suddenly a quarter of a century seems to have flown past. A quarter of a century!!?!! That’s a third of a lifetime, if you can hope to be at least 75! These are the 25 years that I have grown up from being a boy to a young adult to being a lover, a husband and a father, to being an entrepreneur to going bankrupt – and resultantly penniless – to being a student of Life. It is when I was ready and willing, as any good student should be, to learn,  that Life, the teacher, appeared before me and taught me this invaluable lesson – that we are all perishable. Each moment is perishing even as we are going through it. Everything around us is perishing and everything – and everyone – we knew has perished. You, me, all of us will perish too. The learning I have from Life is that the opportunity of this lifetime must be utilized within the lifetime of the opportunity. Life is a limited period offer. Period. Enjoy it as long as it lasts! Indeed, sometimes, you may only be in a position to endure Life. But if you understand Life and its impermanence, you will learn to accept, and therefore even enjoy, what you are enduring! So, as the famous song from the Hindi film, Golmaal(1979, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, R.D.Burman, Gulzar, Kishore Kumar) goes: “Aane Wala Pal, Jaane Wala Hai, Ho Sake To Isme Zindagi Bita Do, Pal Yeh Jo Jaane Wala Hai…”It means exactly what Omar Khayyam wants us to realize: “Each moment – and Life – is passing us by. If possible, seize the lifetime in the moment, because it too will be gone soon.”
Realize the value of each moment. At least from now on, go do what you love doing. Don’t think. Don’t analyze. Just do it! Also, please make time for your family and children today. Because even before you realize it, time would have flown, the birds too would have flown, leaving your nest empty. What you will be left with are just memories. Those are funny things, these memories. The stuff you laughed about will make you cry and what you cried over, you will laugh about when you look back! Work hard without doubt. Earn money, that’s important. But with advancing age, decreasing efficiency, and limited time left on this planet, what you will be left holding are only memories. Make sure they are happy ones, of happy times, of memorable moments that you want to relive. Not of times of which you have no memories because you merely existed back then! Someone wisely said, we don’t remember days, we remember moments. Ensure each of yours from now on are worth living for and remembering happily later!
We all have come with an expiry date. Except we don’t know what that date is. So, when you don’t know how much time you have left here, won’t you want to make each day, each moment, count?

Are you taking advantage of the time you have here?

Actually, the choice to live – and not to exist – is a no-brainer if you keep reminding yourself that “you live only once”!

Picture Courtesy: Internet
The latest issue of TIME features an interview with acclaimed American photojournalist Lynsey Addario, 41, who specializes in covering war and champions human rights and the role of women in traditional societies. In 2000, she photographed in Afghanistan under Taliban control. She has since covered conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, the Congo, and Haiti. She has covered stories throughout the Middle East and Africa. She has photographed for The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, and National Geographic. Addario was one of four New York Times journalists who were missing in Libya from March 16 ~ 21, 2011. The Libyan government released Addario and the other journalists on March 21, 2011. She reported that she was threatened with death and repeatedly groped during her captivity by the Libyan Army. Penguin has recently published Addario’s first book, It’s What I Do – A photographer’s Life of Love and War. TIME asked Addario to explain her unique, albeit risky, career choice – “Is it because you think you have a lot of time left that you can tolerate danger?” And Addario replied: “It is important to take advantage of the time that we each have.”

Her reply is awakening. Addario says it so well – and simply. In fact, it reminds me of what the Buddha has said: “The trouble is you think you have a lot of time.”

And that indeed is the problem with most of us. We go on postponing the Life we want to live by kidding ourselves with our earning-a-living logic: the family has to be provided for, kids have to be schooled, raised and sent to university, retirement has to be planned and saved for … The list of things to do, to prioritize, over living a full Life, is endless. This is why so many of us feel that our lives are incomplete, listless and monotonous. My wife and I have been, since January this year, running an Event Series in Chennai called “Follow Your Bliss” (inspired by Joseph Campbell’s famous thought/quote) which celebrates people who have had the courage to break free from “financially safe and secure” careers to do what they love doing. Almost everyone who attends this Event Series concurs that they are keen to do “something more meaningful” in their lives. But few actually take the first step. One gentleman, in his 50s, who quit his 26-year run with the IT industry last month, told us: “It had to happen. I realized that I had to give up running on the corporate treadmill if I really wanted to get some place else in Life. And I am not getting any younger either, you see.” I am sure you too agree with his view here.


Indeed, Life is a gift. And you should not waste it. The way to use this gift – effectively and efficiently – is to take advantage of the time you have on the planet, doing what you love doing. That’s the only way to live a Life of meaning and happiness! 

Forgiveness leads you to inner peace

When you want to forgive someone simply forgive. Don’t judge whether the person is worthy or not. What matters is whether you feel forgiveness at your very core.  
Think about it. When does the context of forgiveness arise? Forgiveness becomes relevant when someone has acted in an irrational, resentful, violent and/or a hurtful way with you. Your hurt is causing you to feel miserable about the episode and you want to see that the person responsible for this is admonished, made accountable or even punished. This is what anyone will normally want done. But as long as the act of reprimand or retribution is not complete you will continue to grieve, you will continue to suffer. In some cases, the person who hurts you may realize her mistake and seek your forgiveness. It’s possible then that you may or may not forgive her. If you choose not to, you will still be carrying the angst of the injury, the hurt in you. But, if in any situation, you choose to forgive, you will be liberated – instantaneously.
Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, the Rajiv Assassination, Nalini Murugan
Picture Courtesy: Internet
There’s so much attention on the people responsible for former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins, with the Indian Supreme Court, commuting the death sentences of some more of them to Life terms recently. This development, in the context of forgiveness, brings the focus back to what happened in March 2008. Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, Rajiv’s daughter, visited Nalini Murugan, one of those convicted in the assassination conspiracy, in Vellore jail in Tamil Nadu. According to what TIME magazine reported then: “The two women both wept when they met. Toward the end of their meeting, they compared stories about their children’s births (both have had caesareans) and even swapped small gifts, though neither revealed what they were. Nalini, whose initial death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment a few years ago after intervention by Sonia Gandhi, the president of the ruling Congress Party, apparently found Priyanka’s visit Life-changing. Nalini told her brother P. S. Bhagyanathan that she feels as if “all my sins have been washed off by Priyanka’s visit… I feel she has pardoned me by calling on me at the prison… I am indebted to her all my life.” Whether Priyanka explicitly offered forgiveness will probably remain between them. In her statement, Priyanka said that “meeting with Nalini was my way of coming to peace with [the] violence and loss that I have experienced.” Perhaps Priyanka was not trying to forgive so much as she was trying not to hate — and their meeting was a very private gesture that, after becoming public (through a media leak), has come to appear heartbreakingly heroic. “I don’t believe in anger, hatred, and violence,” Priyanka said simply in her statement. “And I refuse to allow it to overpower my life.”

Priyanka’s effort to reach out, and to be human, in the face of such a traumatic personal loss, is as awakening now as it was then. That she chose to do what she did, without investing to evaluate whether Nalini deserved any forgiveness, if at all, or not, is inspiring.
We must remember that when we forgive someone, we let go of all the pent up, wasteful emotions like anger and hatred, within us. We forgive someone for our own sake first. And through our inner cleansing and peace, we help the one we forgive too to move on in Life. Forgiveness frees the person who is forgiving and therefore is not dependent on whether the person receiving it is deserving or not. If you understand this perspective, you will never carry any resentment, any hurt, any suffering in you – ever. And you will be at peace!