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.

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Aap Kataar Mein Hein

There’s no doubt that our Life stories will end soon. They will – one day surely. So, while our lifetime keeps ticking away, the only real time that we have available with us to live is the now, the present moment!  

A friend called a couple of days ago. We talked about the passing of Manorama, the Tamil actor, who we had all grown up watching on the big screen. And we talked about Amitabh Bachchan, whose birthday day it was, about how his era symbolized our youth. And how at 73, he was having the best time of his Life. Yet, said my friend, there’s no disputing the fact, that everyone’s aging, and will die one day, sooner or later. I quipped, punning on the old BSNL call-on-hold message, “Aap kataar mein hain…you, me, all of us, are in a queue, to eventually pass on…When our number is called, we have to simply go!”
Although it was a casual conversation, I cannot but reflect on the spiritual perspective it offers. If we treat Life as a soon-to-expire reality, we will want to seriously live. And not just exist. I mean we will want to live another way than the way we are living right now. Just this morning I read of Infosys CFO Rajiv Bansal’s resignation. He told The Times of India that at 43, he is re-evaluating what he wants from Life. And I believe it’s only right that like Bansal, each of us understands that Life has to be lived fully. And living fully does not mean spending your first 25 years qualifying, then spend the next 35 years earning, procreating and saving and then at 60-something “waking up” (if you are lucky) to decide what you want out of your Life. At that stage, possible you may have the means to do what you want but you may not be assured of either your health or enough time.

However corny the BSNL call-on-hold message may sound, it’s relevance to intelligent living cannot be ignored. If we take heed, and act on it, we will surely live a better Life than we are living presently! 

Inspiration from someone who ripped off the ‘bastard’ label!!!

When you face up to the realities in Life, and accept your Life for what it is, you will always be happy.
Viv Richards, Neena Gupta and Masaba Gupta
Picture Courtesy: Internet
I read an inspiring interview in a recent edition of Times of India. Priya Gupta, the editor of Bombay Times, talks to famous actor Neena Gupta and her daughter Masaba Gupta on their relationship with West Indian cricket legend Sir Vivian Richards. Masaba is Neena and Vivian’s daughter though the two never married. When she was asked what it meant to be brought up by a single, unwed mother, Masaba told Priya Gupta: “I was in Class VII when someone said to me that you are a bastard. I didn’t understand what it meant, but someone said it means that you don’t have a father and I said, ‘Well, I have a father. It’s just that he is not around.’ I am attached to my father, but it won’t kill me if he is not a part of milestones in my Life.” That’s phenomenal clarity of thought for a 26-year-old. Masaba adds that because she has lived away from Vivian for all these years, she does not see him in that light – as a father. “Over the last 4~5 years, I visit him for a fortnight 3~4 times a year. We chat about Life a lot and he has great lessons to give basis his experiences.”
Masaba’s spirit of acceptance, even as a teenager when she ripped off the bastard label, is commendable. She teaches us to understand that each of us has unique lives. It is only a social norm that Life must conform to certain criteria – that parents must be married, that they must live together and that the children must be raised by both of them. In reality, Life conforms to no society and no norm. Things just happen to people. From unplanned pregnancies to debilitating cancers.
Sometimes, relationships that are toasted the world-over, in all societies, are dysfunctional for some people. My chemistry with my mother, for instance, never works. The question between us is no longer about why we don’t get along or whose attitude is causing more of that poor chemistry. The point is simply that we don’t relate to each other as mother and son. Only when I accepted this truth did I encounter inner peace. I am still ‘counseled’ and ‘ridiculed’ by my family for being ‘stubborn’ and ‘egotistic’ on this matter. But I just let it be. I know how I have been treated. And I feel most peaceful now when I have no expectations from that relationship and, in fact, I don’t even think it exists for me. But that doesn’t mean I have ill-feelings towards my mother. To be honest, I have no feelings towards her. I am sure, though she may present a different view in public, in private, she too has no feelings towards me – other than of a borrower who still owes her money. 
What I have learnt from Life is this: Things are just the way they are meant to be. And if they are not the way you want them to be, then they were not meant to be so. Simple!
Examine your relationships. Take stock of your Life. Consider de-prioritizing or even dropping all relationships, no matter how close they are biologically or socially, where you have stopped relating to the other person. Stop doing, or at least move away from, all those actions or situations when you feel miserable and suffer. When you do this, you will experience a new, rare inner peace. If you like the way you are feeling, do more of it. And do it consistently. Only when you accept your Life for what it is can you be happy and peaceful. There are no two ways about this!  

What all of us need is a ‘Life Unconditioner’

Don’t expect predictability in Life. There is no such thing. You can only be sure of Life’s unpredictability. Period.
Over the last few weeks, while watching the IPL 8 season on TV, I have seen an ad for a brand of air-conditioner that claims to have graduated to being “your Life Conditioner”. ‘Life Conditioner’, I wondered, thinking about that flippant ad for several days?
Can Life really be conditioned to perform in a particular way, conforming to your wishes and producing outcomes that you want? Of course not! Even so, the tragedy is most of us have been subjected to so much social conditioning already that we need a ‘Life Unconditioner’ more than a ‘Life Conditioner’!!! From what we must eat to what we must wear to how we must marry to what are ‘safe and predictable’ careers we have been conditioned. I read a story in this morning’s Times of India where Chidanand Rajghatta reports from Washington D.C that a professor at UC San Diego has, for 11 years, been asking his students to appear in the nude for an exam in an elective course on visual arts. When the exasperated mother of a student created an uproar on social media last week, when she discovered this “perverse practice”, the professor himself has been unfazed by the controversy it has stirred. He has said, “It’s a standard canvas for performance art and body art. If they are uncomfortable with this gesture, they should not take the course.” I am not taking either side here. I am only presenting a case for how conditioned we are as a race – what the professor is doing is that he’s simply choosing to work outside the confines of such conditioning!
All our grief and suffering comes from our wants being unmet. Now, to be sure, there’s nothing wrong with wanting. It is the expectation that our wants must be met that causes us agony. And that expectation invariably arises from a perceived sense of predictability that conditioning invariably delivers. For instance, we have all been raised to believe in truth, honesty and hard work. We have been fed one myth after another to prove this point. But when you arrive in the ‘real world’ you see that there is so much falsehood, dishonesty and ‘easy-get-luckiness’ around – and it is creating wealth too for sure – that you wonder if your belief systems are wrong in the first place. (Think of the week that was and of Salman Khan, Jayalalithaa and Ramalinga Raju!) No. Your beliefs are right. And they are still relevant. But your expectation that just because you have the right value systems, everything must go to a plan and must lead you to your just rewards, well, that expectation is wrongly placed! In Life, some times, 2 + 2 will not equal four. Life is not an input = assured output linear progression in the short-term. Eventually, Life’s math will add up, but not before going through a sea of unpredictability, highs and lows and gut-wrenching turbulence of its own inscrutable kind.

The best way to live is to not expect anything from Life. Simply do what you feel good about. And do it well. Leave the outcomes to Life. Important, please don’t be button-holed into social conditioning either. To take on that TV ad on a spiritual plane, choose a ‘Life Unconditioner’ approach to living – that alone can deliver a truly liberating, aha!, experience. 

Learn to accept and celebrate the non-negotiable, inevitable, part of Life – Death!

Accepting and celebrating death is an important aspect of learning to live intelligently.  
Picture Courtesy: Internet
Cricketer Phil Hughes’ tragic accident on the field, and his passing away so suddenly, has shocked the entire world. Cricket Australia (CA) has confirmed that the first Commonwealth Bank Test Match between Australia and India, scheduled to begin on Thursday, December 4, 2014, will now be rescheduled. CA says three of its senior players, Shane Watson, David Warner and Brad Haddin, are among those who have said that they are not in the perfect state of mind to return to competitive cricket. Now, contrast this view with those expressed by two former Australian captains, Ian Chappell and Mark Taylor. They feel next week’s first Test in Brisbane should go ahead as it would help the cricketers and the fans to come out and share the loss of Phillip Hughes. Taylor feels it will be difficult for the players to deal with the massive loss but “cricket is probably the best medicine to heal the pain”. Chappell, too, echoed Taylor’s views, saying going back to the game is the best way to deal with the loss. “In a strange way I think it’ll be best for the players if they play the first Test,” Chappell was quoted in an agency report. I tend to agree with Taylor and Chappell. When someone dies, the best way is to celebrate the person’s Life – and what she or he stood for. To Hughes, cricket was his Life. And what better way to celebrate his Life than play a fascinating game of cricket?
I remember how Carnatic musician Nithyashree Mahadevan returned to singing within a couple of months after her husband committed suicide in 2012. The famous Chennai music season was on then and Nithyashree was booked to sing various concerts through most of December 2012.This sudden development shocked everyone and most definitely Nithyashree. The pictures that appeared in the media made everyone’s heart go out to her. They showed a forlorn, distraught Nithyashree and most people, while sympathizing with her, wondered how she would cope. But just two months after her tragedy, Nithyashree was back on the concert circuit. She was singing better than she had ever been. And, most importantly, she was not in grief. She presented a picture of complete acceptance and inner peace. I remember The Times of India carried a picture of her singing at that concert. The picture was captioned ‘Like A Song’. Indeed Life’s like a song. It has to be sung, and sung well, no matter what’s going on! What Nithyashree has done is truly inspiring. She has shown all of us the way that we must continue to live our lives, doing what we love doing, irrespective of what happens to us.
I believe that the human ability to cope with death is hugely crippled by the way society treats death. Death is not some gory end that society makes it out to be. It is the only thing that you can be certain of in Life. If you are born, and are alive, as you are, you will die. Period. So, you must learn to accept and appreciate death. Every one of us will die. In fact, we are all speeding towards our death, albeit at different speeds. So, death must be accepted as a logical end, and, as some would believe, as a new beginning, of yet another journey through another unknown. But let’s not lose our focus in over-intellectualizing death either. Simply accept death as a reality. And do everything that you can to celebrate the Life of the person who has died in your midst. Do not grieve. Do not mourn beyond a point. Recognize that death is inevitable. Take inspiration from those who live in the slums of Chennai.These people get drunk and dance as they go to cremate their dead. Reason, as one rickshaw-puller once told me, “The dead have been liberated from living on this planet! And that calls for a celebration!”

Wise words those are. And we will do well to learn from them. For, only when we accept that death is a constant, an unavoidable, non-negotiable part of our Life, that we will actually begin to live fully! And only then will we learn to celebrate the lives of those who are no longer with us! 

A lesson in staying strong from a resilient 23-year-old

When we get into a mess in Life, either self-created or situational, focus not on why you got into it, but on how you must get up, dust yourself and move on. Analyzing the why of it is important – but after you have learned to cope or have found a way out.
Shweta Basu Prasad
Picture Courtesy: Internet
Shweta Basu Prasad, 23, the National Award winning actress (for Makdee, 2002 as a child artist; she also acted in another award-winning film, Iqbal, 2005), who recently found herself embroiled in a sex scandal in Hyderabad that made shocking headlines, has spoken her side of the story to the Times of India earlier this week. When I read her version I came away admiring her grit and maturity. Referring to her experience as “an episode in my Life”, Shweta told TOI’s Meenal Baghel: “I don’t understand how I got into such a big mess. I was not doing drugs, I was not murdering someone…people are so interested (only) because they think here’s some sex, some suffering and someone with a name (sic).” Shweta’s just out of a remand home that she was sent to after she was picked up from that Hyderabad hotel for, what the police allege, “soliciting customers to have sex with her”. At the remand home, she encountered people like her – women and young girls – confused, insecure and worried about their future. Shweta decided that she was not going to brood over what had happened. She resolved that she was going to stay strong. And so, she decided to teach poor children in the remand home. She offered her services to the school inside the premises and taught children Hindi, English and music. Shweta tells Baghel, “I told myself ‘Shweta is dead’; she has disappeared into this character of a school teacher that she is portraying.” And that’s how Shweta picked herself up. Commendable, right?
On her fifth night at the remand home, Shweta wrote this poem – The Cliff:
Thunderstruck, all alone,
I stand here at the edge of the cliff.
I crawled the dense forest to get here
The tribes and wild and strays
They say ‘Jump, jump from the cliff.’
As I look down, naked, cold and trembling,
The ferocious sea I see with its mouth open
It’s ready to swallow me.
The noises are unbearable, the place so dark.
 As I decided to jump in the sea, I saw the North Star.
I remembered how it shone above my blessed home where singing hugging and laughter awaited me
I said, ‘Wait, I want to go home.’
 The voices murmured, ‘End the journey.’ ‘Jump! Jump you ugly thing.’
I smiled to them and pitied them,
They don’t know I have wings….  
Shewta’s poem reflects her phenomenal ability to rise above her situation. And to look beyond the mess that she had gotten herself into. This is the unputdownable learning here – that we are not the situation that we find ourselves in. I am bankrupt. But I am not the bankruptcy. Shweta is stuck in a sex scandal. But she is not a prostitute, she is not the sex scandal either. It is irrelevant to me whether Shweta was indeed soliciting customers or whether she just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. What’s important is that irrespective of what happened to her, she is facing Life squarely. She’s resilient in the face of it all. And that’s why I feel inspired this morning.

Let’s understand this well. Often times in Life, what we chose to do will work for us. And there are times when our choices will come back to haunt us or even blow up in our faces. The world will offer its opinion in myriad voices. You should have done better. You shouldn’t have done this. Or whatever. Ultimately – for each of us – it is an intensely personal, individual decision – are you doing to sit down and keep brooding over what happened, or are you going to move on? None of the opinion-makers in your Life is ever going to have to live your Life. So while you can value opinions, and learn from them, don’t make Life choices based on them. You are not what other people think of you. Period. When you awaken to this realization, you too will, like the young and courageous Shweta, treat the messes in your Life as “mere episodes” and learn to move on!