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.

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! 

Make your work and Life meaningful, make them your prayer!

When your work becomes purposeful, it becomes prayer. When your work becomes prayer, you lose yourself in the work you are doing – and become the work itself!

Kailash Satyarthi
Picture Courtesy: Internet
The other day, I was reading an interview that 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi gave the Times of India’s Nalin Mehta. Satyarthi told Mehta: “Pride, honours and awards don’t matter much to me personally. I am not a saint but I’m driven by spiritualism, not political theories or mere emotions.” Mehta then asks Satyarthi: “Please explain your spiritualism.” And Satyarthi replies: “I am not a religious person. I’ve not gone to a temple or mosque in the last 40 years. I don’t worship in temples because I worship children — by giving them freedom and childhood. They are the true faces of God and that is my strength.”

Satyarthi personifies the “work-becomes-prayer” paradigm. I can completely relate to what he is saying. Most people, in fact almost everyone, work to make a living. Hardly a few, of the world’s seven billion people, work to make another Life or work to make a difference to others’ lives. It is only when you immerse yourself in your work, without worrying about what’s in it for you, that your work becomes purposeful. That’s when it becomes prayer. And unless your work becomes prayer, you cannot create value. You cannot become the work itself. This is evident mostly in the field of art – as Osho, the Master, has famously said, “When the dancer becomes the dance, magic happens!” So, you see that magic when Federer or Tendulkar play, you see that magic when Birju Maharaj dances, when Ustad Zakir Hussain plays the tabla, when Amitabh Bachchan acts, when Asha Bhosle sings or when A R Rahman makes music. The same possibility, to excel and create value, exists in other vocations as well. When you pour yourself into your work, when you offer yourself and your work as an offering to the Universe – you don’t just work, you create value. This is what Satyarthi was explaining as his spiritualism. And what he has achieved, is imminently possible by each of us. We too can create value and make our work our prayer. What we need to do is to stop earning a living and simply live – doing what gives us joy and do it consistently and well.

Your work becoming your prayer does not mean that you will not faces hurdles in Life. Satyarthi too has faced a lot of challenges in his lifelong efforts to deal with child labor in India effectively. But when you work with a sense of purpose that drives you, you remain unfazed. That’s when, despite all odds, you will figure out ways to keep ploughing on. As Harivansh Rai Bachchan has said in his immortal poem, “lahron se dar kar nauka par nahi hoti, kosish karne walon ki kabhi har nahi hoti” meaning “by fearing the waves, a boat can never make progress, those who keep trying can never fail”.

Whatever you do, do it with a sense of purpose. Make your work and Life meaningful. Watch it become your prayer. And feel the magic, as Osho says, of the work becoming you and you becoming your work! 

There are no full stops in Life…

When your Life changes, do not resist that change. Realign, rebuild and learn to relate to your new reality – that is the key to being happy.
In today’s Chennai Times, Priya Gupta interviews actor Hrithik Roshan. She asks Roshan, who is going through a painful separation from his wife Sussanne, how he’s coping with this difficult time even as he has worked in his ambitious, forthcoming film, Bang Bang. Roshan replies: “There will be a point in Life when the model of your world may change and you may not be able to see the way forward. Because you have been looking at it in a way that you have been trained to look at it. You have grown up with a philosophy of work hard, gain success, have a family and that is equal to happiness. But the model breaks and you have to realize that you have to be happy first and all the other things will follow.”  
I totally agree with Roshan here. What he has understood about Life is at the same time simple and yet not-so-easy to grasp. The model he talks about is our own individual, personal, view of Life. Which means that there are as many models, as many personal views, as there are people in this world. Each of us imagines and expects that Life will be a linear progression. Life, we imagine in vain, will work like this: you study hard, get good grades, go to college, get good grades, land a job, start a family, buy an apartment, raise kids, grow in your career, save for retirement, put your kids through college, see them marry and “settle down”, while you retire and,  eventually, die. But Life does not happen this way, in a straight line, to any of us. Someone may have a hole in the heart, someone may have a career crisis, someone may have a learning disability, someone may get embroiled in a scandal, someone may just lose a close family member – something keeps happening to someone all the time. And crises happen with no apparent reason. Tragedy – and fortune – strikes irrespective of social standing or talent. The only thing you can be certain about Life is that whatever is – a tough time or a great time – will change. Your Life will change, often irrevocably. And, to be happy, you must too change with your Life.
Picture Courtesy: Times of India/Bombay Times/Internet
Getting to this level of acceptance is not easy. Initially, when your Life changes, you hate that change. For instance, in his interview to Gupta, Roshan says, “There was a point in time that I just didn’t want to go ahead with anything in my Life. I think it’s at that precipice that you decide what kind of a man you want to be and that is when I discovered myself. There was a point where I just wanted to put a full stop to my Life and I discovered a whole new world.” I am glad he found that whole new world while discovering himself, his real self! For, the truth is that there are no full stops in Life. Life simply goes on even if you are faced with what you think is a no-go situation.

My Life experiences have taught me that happiness is available and possible in any situation, in any context, in Life. Being grumpy with Life and resisting whatever’s happening to you is the only reason you are unable to be happy. Just accept, as Roshan says, the “new model of your world”, when your Life changes, and you will be the happiness that you seek! 

Be smart: Live fully, than just ‘earn a living’!

Above all else, prioritize “quality time” with your family! Nothing will count more in the evening of your Life than the memories you have of the time you spent with your family – especially with your spouse and children.
I read a very interesting, heart-warming syndicated story in today’s Times of India. It talked about how a high-profile, globe-trotting finance executive, Mohamed El-Erian, 56, quit his $100m++ job at the California-based PIMCO Investment Fund last year because his daughter complained that he had never been with her for what she thought were important events in her Life. The list of 22 events El-Erian missed included the child’s first day at school, her first football match and a Halloween parade. El-Erian told The Independent’s Cahal Milmo: “I felt awful and got defensive. I had a good excuse for each missed event! Travel, important meetings, an urgent phone call, sudden to-dos. But it dawned on me that I was missing an infinitely more important point. As much as I could rationalize it … my work-Life balance had gotten way out of whack, and the imbalance was hurting my relationship with my daughter. I was not making nearly enough time for her.”
Well, El-Erian was lucky that he heard the “wake up call” and actually “woke up”. There are many, many, many people out there who are too busy building their businesses and their careers at the cost of their families.
I too “woke up” to a “wake up call”. But I woke up only on the day that my son, then 18, took a flight out to Chicago, to join undergrad school. Until that day, back in September 2008, I too, like El-Erian was obsessed with work. The business came first. And business came second. Family, if at all, was treated by me as something that I had to merely “provide” for. But that day, at Chennai International Airport, when my son bid goodbye to all of us, who had gone with him to see him off, and took the escalator to the departure gates, it suddenly dawned on me that we were not just sending him to college, we were actually letting him be independent in this big, huge world. The bird had flown from the nest. That night when I fixed myself a drink and sat thinking of my son, I realized from here on…he would graduate, get himself a job, raise a family and be pretty much on his own. It struck me that he would never be home the way he had been with us for the past 18 years. And it dawned on me then that I had missed much of those 18 years – in fact, I had missed watching him grow. It wasn’t as if I was a reckless and irresponsible father. My son and I always bonded well – and we still are great friends. But that night I felt I could have done better being with him for some more of his birthdays and several more of his events in school and in his theatre group.
My awakening led me to conclude that it is only because we crave and “search” for work-Life balance that we never really find it. I have realized that we have to stop seeing work as different from Life. The truth is that there is just one Life that we all have. And our family is an important part of that Life. As important as work – as in a professional career or a business – is. We cannot claim that we are toiling for the family and kid ourselves that sometime, when we have saved enough for the family, we will enjoy, or invest in, quality time with them. It is because we kid ourselves with this flawed logic that we don’t ever find work-Life balance. Actually, living a well-balanced Life is indeed possible. What is required is that we define for ourselves what’s most important to us in Life. And invest our waking hours prudently among these few areas. It is important that we write for ourselves a list of “never miss” family events – which includes two week-long vacations annually – and stick to fulfilling this list at any cost. On an average, including vacation time, you may require 30 days of family time a year. Of course, this is doable. Especially if you consider the 80~100 work weeks that you end up clocking – often mindlessly – in any case!
As you grow in your career, and as your family grows too, you will do well to remember that no one is getting any younger. Each milestone of your career and family will just be a memory in some more years. There’s no point in arriving in the future to discover that you have no, or far too few, family-related memories because you were busy working your butt off earning a living! Living your Life fully, while earning, is what smart people do. Surely, you are smart. And like El-Erian, will “wake up” too!