In today’s Vlog I answer a question that I am often asked: “How can one follow their bliss?”
View time: 3:54 minutes
the happynesswalaᵀᴹ – "Inspiring 'Happyness'"ᵀᴹ! Sharing Life Lessons from Lived Experiences! Inspired Speaker, Life Coach and Author of "Fall Like A Rose Petal"!
In today’s Vlog I answer a question that I am often asked: “How can one follow their bliss?”
View time: 3:54 minutes
A young man asks me this question: “While I find great conceptual clarity with regard to intelligent living as a key to happiness, I am somehow, never able to practice any of what I learn. I am always unsure of where to begin. It is not about the why or how, it is about where and when to begin. Can you suggest a method that can be easily mastered and practiced?”
A large part of the young man’s question is in order. He loses the plot towards the end though. He seeks a “method” and one that is “easy to master”!
The most fundamental truth is that there are no mantras, no methods to live Life. Intelligent living comes from awareness, from your inner awakening; it cannot be boxed into a standard operating procedure! And nothing that requires mastery is easy. Simple. Period. If you must master something, you must keep at it again and again and again; no matter how good you are, each time you start, you start as a novice!
Now, let me answer the young man’s question. My answer is most likely relevant to many others who ask similar questions or who are confronted with similar predicaments. The reason why many have a “starting problem” is because they think too much, they analyze too much. A true seeker dives deep, unquestioningly, once they gain conceptual clarity. They don’t need any analysis. They don’t demand guarantees. They believe in the process, they trust the source, the teacher, and they dive deep. Once on the path, there is no looking back. And the non-starters remain where they once were – debating, analyzing, arguing.
I lean heavily on my understanding of The Four Noble Truths that Gautama Buddha taught:
This understanding helps me keep it simple. When I started seeking, I didn’t question or analyze for too long. When I realized how futile any analysis of Life is, I simply looked to the evidence that lay in front of me. There had been, obviously, seekers ahead of me who have embraced the path that Gautama Buddha talked about. If they can, why can’t I – this logic is all that I needed to get going.
Now, having been on the path, for almost a decade now, I can tell you that it is beautiful. Here the journey is the reward. Because there is no attachment to where you started or to what you left behind nor any expectation of any destination to arrive at nor of anything to be attained or acquired! I am reminded of Vaali’s beautiful lyrics from a great song that features in the forgettable Tamil film “Azhagiya Tamizh Magan” (2007, Bharathan, A.R.Rahman, Vijay): “Nee Nadhipole Odikondu Iru.” It means, “You keep flowing like a river…!” And that’s really all we need to do to live intelligently! Not analyzing too much and getting bogged down, but to simply keep flowing!
Someone I met last weekend told me that detachment is the “privilege of a select few”. “Most people who claim they are detached are kidding themselves. You can be detached only when you have renounced the real world,” he said.
I humbly disagreed with the gentleman.
Just because he is not able to cultivate detachment, he cannot conclude that everyone who is detached is kidding themselves. That is like saying if you can’t play cricket well, then Virat Kohli’s genius is a fluke, or that, worse, he’s a fraud!
I have worked hard enough to cultivate detachment in the past decade. So, from my experience, I can surely say that being detached is possible. Important, it is possible while living in this real world – which is, you can be here, in the throes of everyday living and challenges, and yet you can be above all of it!
There are no methods to being detached though. In fact, detachment is the way to inner peace. Understanding the true nature of Life is key to detachment. I have learnt, on a spiritual plane, success and failure, victory and defeat, mean nothing. Everything is transient, every experience is fleeting, and if you pause to reflect deeply, all creation is impermanent! Nothing will remain. No one will remain. So, what is the point in getting attached to anything you have or anything you do or to the outcomes of your efforts? Stay detached. In any situation, you have only your efforts to focus on and count on. Here’s how I deal with Life as it happens to me:
To me success and failure, have become irrelevant. I have come to realize that Life happens through me – not for me, not because of me, and often inspite of me! So, in any situation, I just make my effort and leave the result to Life. And I accept whatever comes my way!
So, if you asked me, I would say, please don’t take Life so seriously. After all, your human form and experience too will perish, will cease to be, soon. Therefore, stay detached. Stay peaceful.
Citizenship can be ordered about, but nation-ness comes from within!
On Tuesday evening, after a Talk I delivered at a Rotary Club, we sang the National Anthem at the end of the meeting. I get goosebumps every time I sing or hear Jana Gana Mana. That’s me. And I felt those goosebumps again that evening.
As far as I know, in half a century of being Indian, every Indian gets those goosebumps. And every Indian relates to our Anthem in their own special, private, unique way. Therefore, I find the drama over the recent order by the Supreme Court avoidable – it makes playing of the National Anthem in movie halls mandatory, and by inference, insists that people respect the song by standing up while it plays its 52-second length. I feel if people were not told that they have to respect the Anthem by standing up, had the Court order been understood as just to be playing the Anthem mandatorily, there would have not been an issue. Sadly now, the whole idea behind the playing of the Anthem in movie halls is not being understood, it is being interpreted and resisted!
As a case in point, I found a young friend’s recent comment on Facebook very disturbing. She said she did not stand up to the Anthem in a movie hall and instead preferred being called a ‘traitor’ by some members of the audience. I am sure she didn’t mean that she is a ‘traitor’; I am also sure she is not okay being jeered at and taunted by jingoists. What we must recognize here is that her choosing not to stand up for the National Anthem is symbolism; basically, what is unstated and what she – and several million other Indians – are trying to communicate is that “the state cannot dictate how I must feel for my country”. And I completely agree with that sentiment. To my knowledge, movie halls in Maharashtra have been playing the National Anthem for the longest time – and without any fuss. I have watched movies there and I have sung the Anthem with joy and fervor – and have had my goosebumps! Clearly, not standing up to the National Anthem, when it is played, is not being anti-national.
In fact, I want to go back in time to Republic Day, 2000. A.R.Rahman and Bharatbala launched the Jana Gana Mana video album that day. The President of India K.R.Narayanan released it in the Central Hall of Parliament. The album featured 35 leading Indian artists – vocalists and instrumentalists – coming together to create an unputdownable, timeless work of art. The video, which had the Anthem in subtitles in 16 Indian languages, did not stipulate that standing up as a mark of respect to the National Anthem was mandatory. In fact, it would not be very comfortable to stand for the entire duration of the video; the physical strain would certainly take away from soaking in the beauty of the song’s rendering! It is best enjoyed in private, in solitude, when reflecting. I have often had a glass of whisky by my side as I have let Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s lyrics of the Anthem, Rahman’s music and the rendering by various music maestros, take me on a pilgrimage of being Indian. And almost always, goosebumps apart, I have been moved to tears. For me, on the rocks, both whisky and the National Anthem, are awesome! I treasure that album because it helps me not just revisit but also celebrate my Indian-ness. It is a strong reminder that citizenship can be ordered about – given, taken away – but nation-ness comes from within, it is a deeply personal, spiritual feeling of longing and belonging.
However, the response to the queer Supreme Court order must not be what it is today. Okay, question the logic if you like. But don’t protest it, don’t resist it. Anything that you resist will cause your suffering. Instead surrender yourself to the joy of your Indian-ness by celebrating the Anthem. It appeals differently to each of us. You can never package patriotism, your Indian-ness, in a framework and generalize it – which is what the interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling is ending up doing. So, let’s go past that order’s letter and recognize the spirit in each Indian, which is a right to feel Indian in their own special way. It is a birthright, a jamnasiddha adhikar, not merely a Constitutional one. So, celebrate your Indian-ness by embracing the Anthem, by living it and by respecting it.
What is most admirable about India is how the National Anthem, without any formal, enforced education, is known to so many, many, Indians. This is a country where so many rules exist. And almost all those rules are flouted by the aam Indian – from not wearing helmets while riding two-wheelers to drinking and driving to littering in public spaces to paying petty bribes….the list is endless. Yet, nowhere is it mandated that you must sing the National Anthem to prove your Indian-ness – for instance, it is not a pre-requisite for issuing you a Passport or Aadhaar card; but still, so many million Indians know and sing the Anthem. And almost everyone, always, stands up in respect in public spaces – without any direction or reminder. This is the Indian-ness that we must preserve and nurture. In fighting a Court’s ruling, don’t let your inner Indian-ness, your peace, be vitiated.
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Someone we know is very, very keyed up that her adolescent son is not focusing on his academics at all. The young chap’s apparently only wanting to play outdoor sports and hang out with his friends. The mother laments that “since he’s in his 12th grade, getting past school and into a reputed college is crucial”. She’s also stressed out because a. she believes her son is a very intelligent and capable child who does get “80+ % without even studying” and b. she herself lost out in academics for the same reasons around when she was his age, so she doesn’t want history to repeat itself! She desperately wants her son to “wake up, smell the coffee and take his Life seriously.”
When she shared her “concerns” about her boy with us, I told her to take a chill pill. In my opinion, the young man is to be celebrated for “waking up, smelling the coffee and for taking his Life seriously”! Simply because he refuses to be boxed into a decadent education system and pinned down by a race for grades that are really worthless in Life.
Interestingly, while most parents may agree with this perspective, they will refuse to allow their children to break-free. And the reason is that all parental influence on their wards comes from them viewing Life through the ‘earn-a-living’ prism alone. Why should your child slog to top exams and get the highest GPA? So that she or he can get a top-draw salary in a “growth sector” industry. Sadly, few parents encourage their children to look away from the compulsion of ‘earning-a-living’; fewer still champion happiness and ‘following your bliss’.
Apart from the insecurity that their children may end up not being ‘economically viable and performing’ assets, what drives parents to be conservative and wary is that they want to possess, to control their children. We imagine we can possess our children just because we gave birth to them; that’s why we always justify our ‘rightfully’ worrying for them. The very idea of possession is so vulgar. It reduces the child to a thing. You possess a thing. You don’t possess your child. You have children in your Life only because you are blessed!
Carefully consider this question – why are you worried for your adolescent child’s career and future? And the possible answer – you are finding that your child, who until now was listening to you, does not want to be told ‘anything’. You are beginning to wonder if your child is losing focus on academics. You worry, therefore, for your child’s grades and job prospects. If this is happening in your home, let me tell you that you are losing it! Your worry is unfounded. And if you are acting from that worry, from what you fear about your child’s future, it is totally unacceptable. Instead why can’t you act from faith in your child’s aspirations and ability to make intelligent, independent choices about her or his Life? And why can’t you have faith in your ability to guide, counsel and support your child’s vision for herself or himself? Your children want to live their lives, not yours. Get this straight. If you have raised them well, taught them good values and share a good bond with them, then, surely you have raised them well! You have got an ‘A+’. Beyond this, please, let us not come in their way.
If a child wants to take up badminton or tennis or cricket as a career or teach or join the defense forces or act in movies or ride a cycle rickshaw or be a rag-picker, what, pray, is the harm? How many more doctors and engineers and lawyers and software programmers do we want to produce in this world? And if children don’t take those decisions how will we have the next Kailash Satyarthi or Abdul Kalam or Dr.Shantha or P.V.Sindhu or Roger Federer or Virat Kohli or A.R.Rahman or Amitabh Bachchan or Zohra Seghal or Gandhi? How can we make our world any better if we keep championing predictable, ‘secure’ careers, accepting mediocrity in thinking and limiting the aspirations and creativity of our children?
Here’s a simple test that you may want to take in your private time. Do it with just yourself. If you are a parent, ask yourself:
You know what you answered. You know what needs to be done. You are not dumb-headed because you are the parent of such a beautiful, intelligent child! So, please, for heaven’s sake, get out of the way of your child’s future. Your child needs your love, your understanding, your support; not your ‘help’, not your advice and certainly not your decisions that are born from your insecurities, fears and worries!
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Today is special for two reasons – it marks 20 years of entrepreneurship for Vaani and me; and it is also the second anniversary of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal’s (Westland) launch.
It was on August 1, 1996, that Vaani and I set up imagequity+, Asia’s first Reputation Management Company, in our small apartment on Second Main Road, R.A.Puram, near the Kaliappa Hospitals (now Billroth) in Chennai. We set it up with all our love, passion and vigor – in the 50th year of Indian Independence even as Rahman’s Vande Mataram tugged at our heart strings – to be the consulting Firm from India for the world. We grew fast and grew well in the first 5~7 years of our existence. And then we made mistakes. Strategic ones. That changed the course our Firm – and our lives – took, forever.
It is almost 9 years since that Firm went bankrupt. I remember how, four years ago, I sat on the ground in a makeshift office (where we had moved, unable to sustain operating costs following our business going bust), and personally shredded display boards and signages of the Firm’s Purpose, Vision and Values. In the journey of the last 20 years as an entrepreneur, that was the most numbing moment for me personally. I was literally, and figuratively, presiding over the funeral of a Firm that we had birthed with Purpose, with Vision and with integrity. Even so, despite the catharsis, we feel no bitterness in us. Yes, there is great pain – owing to the physical demands that a bankruptcy places on your Life – cashlessness, worklessness, cluelessness and lightlessness in a dark, seemingly endless, tunnel. But there is no aftertaste – no regret, no heartache, no sense of loss, grief or suffering.
I believe our non-suffering state has been achieved by treating this period of material loss and acute physical strain, as one of awakening and evolving. And this is the spirit of my Book as well. I wrote it through the darkest phase of our Life. I wrote it because I first wanted to share with my children how you journey through Life, how you flow with Life, as it happens. At their insistence I took an edited manuscript to Westland’s Gautam Padmanabhan who put it to review and vote with his editorial board. Karthik Venkatesh, a key member of that board, gave me infinite support and direction as we prepared, over the summer of that year, to release it on August 1, 2014.
Fall Like A Rose Petal, even as I wrote it, and even now, continues to be a spiritual journey. My story has no beginning. And it has no end that I can see. Yes, someday in the future, Vaani and I hope, the physicality of our bankruptcy will end and we will eventually become debt-free. But I don’t think we can ever repay the debt of gratitude that we owe our 179 Angels, our creditors, who came forward and selflessly supported us and to whom we still owe money. So, this journey will continue as a means of continuously evolving, hopefully paying it forward by way of being as compassionate with others in need as the Universe has been with us.
Dates, anniversaries and wishes of what could have been don’t make sense to me anymore. They are but ways of reminding yourself that this is where you are in Life – having traveled from where you once were! At least, that’s how I have learnt to look at Life. I realize that merely clinging on to the start of my entrepreneurial journey, this day, 20 years ago, will keep me chained to the past; a past that is dead. Instead, I am eternally grateful for my past – for, without the experience of being an entrepreneur, without leading, winning and getting whatever I wanted, without making mistakes, without stumbling, falling, going bust and broke, without pennilessless and worklessness, I may have never discovered the power of reflection, resilience and resourcefulness. I may have never written my Book – which has connected me to hundreds of people who have found the lessons I have shared very useful to cope with their own Life situations. Without turning an author, I may have never been delivering Talks and curating events that inspire happiness. I may have never taken to writing this Blog – which to me, is a truly immersive, therapeutic, daily experience! Without the Life I have had, I may not have been the person that I am today – perfectly at peace with myself in my beautiful, bountiful, yet apparently imperfect, world!
Yesterday, while watching Rockstar (2011, Imtiaz Ali, Irshad Kamil, A.R.Rahman, Javed Ali, Mohit Chauhan, Nizami Brothers) on TV, my daughter, listening to A.R.Rahman’s soul-stirring number Kun Faayakun, asked me what the song’s opening words meant. I have often wanted to know what they meant too. So, I looked up Google. And this was the most beautiful answer I got.
Kun Faayakun comes from the Arabic words “Kun (كن)” which means “to be” or “to exist” and “Faayakun (فيكون)” which means “It is”. So its literal meaning is “Be, and, It is”. Kun Faayakun actually is a Quranic verse referred to five times in the Quran. It is referred to symbolize God’s creative power. This term is about God’s will and absolute control over every creation. In Surah Baqrah (2:117) this phrase appears as: “The Originator of the heavens and the earth, when He decrees a matter, He only says to it: “Be!” and “It is.””
While that may be the definitive, scriptural meaning, I feel closer to understanding the meaning of Kun Faayakun, at a spiritual level, as this: Whatever it is, is; so just be and let whatever is, just be. It is what it is.
So, when there is pain, let the pain simply be. Don’t resist it. When there is grief, let the grief just be, don’t ask for it to not be there. When there is joy, experience the joy. Just be in what is, with what is. All your suffering comes from resisting any current reality in your Life. When you don’t wish the presence of anything that is, you suffer. So, Kun Faayakun, to me, celebrates the spirit of acceptance, by just being with what is.
And my favorite line from Irshad Kamil’s lyrics in the song is this one: “…araj tujhe kar de mujhe mujhse hi riha…” which means “…my plea to Thee is to free me of myself…” If you truly have understood the impermanence of Life, if you have understood its transient nature, you will feel closest to creation and learn to be detached from your worldliness. Your worldliness comes from all that you are attached to – your name, your gender, your age, qualifications, assets, wealth, relationships, opinions, memories, experiences, reputation…and anything that you have acquired here on this journey through this planet, in this lifetime. And it is only because of your being attached to your worldly acquisitions that you suffer. Drop your attachments and your suffering will end. Instantaneously.
This is how I have learnt to live. I am in great pain because of my circumstances. But I don’t suffer anymore. And I have learnt to be non-suffering only by just being and letting everything just be – as it is. ‘Kun Faayakun’ to me, therefore, is not only a great A.R.Rahman song, it is not just a Quranic verse, it is the spirit of my very being. And it is beautiful! It is, if you like, a prescription, for happiness too!