Suffering and fear chew us up. They exist only because we are living in the past even as we keep worrying incessantly about the future. The key is to develop infinite faith in yourself – that despite the odds, despite what others say, you will last this trial and will prevail in the end. Even as the faith in yourself takes root, simply let go of everything that holds you back – forgive yourself and forgive others too!
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!
You often understand Life only when it becomes miserable.
This is the most amazing truth about Life. It is a revelation, a discovery, that strikes you, dawns on you, when you are in the throes of pain and despair. When everything is going per your aspirations, your desires, you conclude that you are in control, that you are the Master, that it’s all yourdesign. You matter the most to you in these times__times that are popularly labeled as ‘successful’. You do well in academics, land yourself a dream job, get married to a person of your choice – well, you think you managed all of that ‘success’ on your own steam. Because of your brilliance, genius and effort. Undoubtedly, you have worked hard and efficiently. There has been your contribution. But to imagine that the design of your Life was woven by you smacks of ignorance, even if not of arrogance, of the way Life works.
I met a successful Tamizh movie director, a very successful man from Chennai, recently. He is smart, intelligent and very creative. He said, “I don’t believe in dreams. I believe in subconscious aspirations, dedicated effort and flawless execution. You make your own destiny.” Poetic words. Makes sense to the rational mind. Except Life doesn’t work like that. A very successful industrialist I know, who went bankrupt and has clawed his way back into reckoning and profits in business, has this learning to share: “When things were going fine, I was thinking it was my leadership, my acumen, my business-sense that were causing my success. When we started losing money and eventually went bust as a business, I found that the same leadership and acumen__mine__were of no use. That’s when I awoke to the reality that Life’s designs are different from my own.” The thing about misery and pain is that it offers a teachable point of view. Always. Trauma is a good transformation agent, a catalyst. There’s no rocket science to why we__you and me__often awaken only when in pain. Life is best understood by asking the right questions. And we pause to ask questions, explore with curiosity, only when we don’t get what we want. Interestingly, the questions we ask beget us no answers. Just more questions emerge. And the more questions we ask, the closer we are to understanding Life. To realize the only truth that Life is, well, inscrutable! The 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche says, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” That meaning, when discovered by you in your own unique way, is that you too can avoid all suffering by simply accepting what Life has offered you. When you reach this state of understanding Life you will see how much your pain, your trauma has changed you and helped you evolve!
After being through a painful episode, “re-believing” in Life may be difficult – but not impossible. It is an imperative too!
After the launch of my book, “Fall Like A Rose Petal – A father’s lessons on how to be happy and content while living without money”, readers have been writing in – sharing their Life stories and perspectives. It is beautiful. It is humbling.
One reader writes saying her friend has become “commitment-phobic” after he lost money in the stock market 15 years ago, following which his family left him because they lost faith in his ability to provide for them. For several years, the man locked himself up in a room, refusing to come out, refusing to face people and Life. Thanks to some caring friends, he has begun to pick up the pieces of his Life recently. He has found himself a job, but he still struggles with dealing with people and is very, very fearful of the consequences of his choices and actions. “How can he find an anchor, how can he be normal again, leading a Life that’s happy and free from fear,” asks the reader.
Any pain in Life can cause trauma and can be debilitating. But after the first impact of pain, the suffering that follows is optional – and is always a result of your grief that the pain is there and your desire that the pain must not be there. I have been through such suffering. As I have recounted in my book, when my business failed and I was not able to honor my commitment to repay what I owed my family, my mother called me a cheat. I was devastated. For years I wished that what had happened had not really happened. But through my mouna(silence periods) sessions, I discovered that clinging on to the dead past was futile. I realized that if my mother held such a view, it was based on her perceptions of my reality. I became aware that I could not control what she – or anyone – thought of me. So, when some people – including a few “close” friends – cast aspersions on my integrity or my ability to honor my commitments – I no longer grieve. Nor do I see a need to clarify my position or prove my honesty – not anymore. Nor do I think that the whole world is cold, wicked and insensitive. In fact, I have found the world to be full of beautiful, kind, compassionate, understanding and forgiving people. Those who pass judgment, I have found, are few and I have learnt to forgive them – for, as the Bible says, they know not what they do – and move on. This way, I have learnt to let go of the past and have been able to avoid suffering, even while there is often acute, intense pain.
I believe my reader’s friend needs to realize too that nothing can be done to undo the past. We can’t go back in time and turn back the stock market crash. He may be able to make (and recover) his money through other means, but that event cannot be undone. It has happened. It’s over. So it is with his family leaving him. They have done what they have done. No amount of his grieving can change the way they treated him. And because of these experiences if he chooses to be wary of people, he, and only he, is responsible for his suffering. If a few people are unkind to you, it doesn’t mean all of humanity lacks a conscience and is insensitive. In fact, if he lets go of his past, he will find that he’s surrounded by people who care for him – including this reader who’s trying to help him – and who will hold his hand and heart as he rebuilds his Life.
In the end, no matter what you are put through, no matter how scarred you are by your painful episodes in Life, no matter how traumatic dealing with pain may have been for you, you, and only you, can stop your suffering. And you can do that by simply leaving the past as it is. Just let it go. Then you will find that “re-believing” in Life and in people is possible. “Re-believing” in Life is an imperative. You can keep avoiding it – but as long as you do that, you will continue to suffer. So, let go, “re-believe” in Life and find lasting inner peace and happiness.