It’s a big, beautiful world full of kind, compassionate people!
At my Uncommon Leader event yesterday, a member of the audience walked up to me and said, “It must be pretty tough on you and Vaani to be so vulnerable in this big, bad, cruel world. I don’t know if I would have survived the crisis you are faced with.” (To know more about the crisis and why this remark was made, please follow this link: Fall Like A Rose Petal.)
Vaani and I understand where this perspective is coming from. It appears that much of the world is cold, cruel, judgmental and self-obsessed. It also appears that wearing your Life on your sleeve, being transparent, being vulnerable, is an absurd, almost foolish, thing to do. But our experience has just been the opposite. In all the time that Vaani and I have been dealing with this bankruptcy, for about a decade now, we have never come across someone who has exploited our vulnerability. To be sure, we have always been very open about our enduring situation. But this hasn’t made us a target or victim of social prejudices or attitudes. Of course, there have been those who have proceeded against us legally to protect their rights (on account of having to recover from us the monies we owe them); we totally understand their need to have done what they have done. Yes, there have been those who have been judgmental and there are those who have distanced themselves from us only because we are no longer in a certain “league”. But such people have been few. A large majority of people in our circle of influence and who we have come across in the past decade have been, in reference to their specific contexts, forgiving, compassionate, sensitive, loving, understanding and important, in general, all of them have been trusting.
Just yesterday, someone we know came forward to make a generous offer to us. He noticed that we are struggling to earn an income. He said we could market his services as ours, he would deliver on the mandates that came by and we could take the fees that accrued as our own. We need not necessarily pay him any fees, he suggested. What a wonderful gesture! Except that his services don’t fall in our line, zone, of work. Even so, at what point will people offer themselves pro-bono just so that another set of professionals like them, who are going through a tough phase, stand to benefit? Vaani and I are moved beyond words.
This is not an isolated case. Last week at least two people reached out offering to help with any bills that we may have trouble paying. My Book and my several of my blogposts are peppered with examples of how people have come in, some of them rank strangers, unexpectedly into our Life and have helped us onward on our journey.
This experience has taught me and Vaani that God exists – but only through the godliness in the people around us. We have seen this God again and again and again, repeatedly, in the actions and hearts of those people who we have known or who have come into our Life. I believe if we drop our ego, abandon all judgment, and simply, humbly, accept the warmth, love and compassion of people around us, we will only see a beautiful, caring, loving world. This world doesn’t exploit your vulnerability, it does not take; it only gives – and gives unconditionally! Look around you – perhaps you live in this same world!
If you understand Life, you will discover that you are never alone or lost!
Someone I know needs a lot of help to cope with his complex Life situation. While he is feeling helpless, he doesn’t want to ask for help. Because he feels his decisions and choices have led him to where he is in Life. So, he believes it is his responsibility to fix his Life himself. But he’s stuck in his situation. It is debilitating him. And he is exasperated. He is lost. But he refuses to ask for help or accept help that is coming his way.
Now, why do people prefer feeling helpless when they can actually seek, receive and do with a lot of help?
It may appear that such people are stuck in ego traps – they may be unwilling to accept that they need help. Or they may be fiercely independent and so they want to handle everything in their own time, space and way. Or they may feel morally inclined to resolve situations that they have brought upon themselves or created. I don’t to judge either of these – or other possible – scenarios. To each one their own. But a deeper understanding of Life’s true nature always helps.
First, you never cause or create anything. Neither your success nor your failure. Everything in Life is just another event or happening. Life happens through you. Not because of you. So, you are a mere instrument. Second, you are never alone. If you examine it closely, dispassionately, there is inter-dependency written all over your Life’s story; every strand in the fabric of your Life connects to someone else somewhere. Third, someone, somewhere, sometime has always gone through something very similar to what you are going through – so asking for help is an intelligent thing to do in terms of bringing expertise and experience to resolving a problem situation. Fourth, the world is full of non-judgmental, compassionate, loving people who are always available at all times to help each other – such people are willing to serve, often selflessly. And finally, when you find no one around you that you can ask for help, when you feel the whole world is against you, then let go, surrender and ask the Universe for help. Unfailingly, the Universe will always send you someone who will give you that helping hand or who will point you in a direction where you will find help!
If you understand these truths about Life, you will never feel alone or lost. Nor will you ever feel helpless.
In almost a decade of going through strife and upheavals in Life (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), I have always found help coming our way. Every time someone’s dithered or closed a door on us, several others have come forward and helped us; and another door has always opened. That’s what makes Vaani and me believe, firmly, that it is indeed a beautiful world with beautiful people!
In any situation, stay with the truth.
In a workshop session I led recently, a young manager asked me if speaking the truth was worth it at all. He said, “I feel most comfortable saying things as they are. I prefer being in-the-face. But I am soon discovering that people don’t like it. I am losing friends and relationships.”
The manager raises an interesting question.
We too have been told, or have sometimes experienced, that staying with the truth can be a competitive disadvantage. Sometimes, we wonder if speaking our mind will make others uncomfortable or even hurt them. We desist from speaking the truth also because we want to cover-up. But let me tell you, from my experience, that truth is a liberator. It is a healer. It is a very deadly weapon, a brahmastra, in our arsenal. I believe we fight shy of using it only because we are worried about becoming vulnerable in this ‘big, bad, cold and merciless’ world.
Fundamentally, our world view has to change. The world is not made up of hypocrites, cynics, facists, corrupt folks and terrorists alone. They are but a small part of humanity. There is a lot of goodness among the rest of humanity. You will be able to relate to this perspective only by making yourself vulnerable, by clinging on to the truth, irrespective of the circumstance. This alone will fetch you the love, compassion and warmth of like-minded people around you. If someone deserts you because you spoke the truth, then they really were not worth being in your Life. Period.
Here’s an excerpt from my Book (Fall Like A Rose Petal) that details one situation (among many) when I have seen the truth work to our advantage (my Book is a collection of letters addressed to my two children Aashirwad and Aanchal; Mom here refers to Vaani):
For example, a year ago, a government department slapped a claim of ₹14 Lakh on our Firm. Our auditor refused to represent us to meet the authorities because we had not paid the audit firm their fees in two years. Mom and I decided to meet the officer in the government department directly and explain our circumstances. The auditor, whose son studies in the same class as Aanch, warned us against ‘putting our hand into a snake-pit’ but we decided to go ahead. Our reasoning: it was better to deal with the issue head-on than live in fear.
We met the official concerned and while narrating our story, concluded by telling him that we were not even contesting the claim because we were not qualified to do so. We asked for his understanding and for time to pay up. We said we can’t pay now and we can’t bribe.
The official, in whom were vested sweeping powers to slap claims and effect collections, was surprised at our candor. He said that in his 30 years of service, he had never encountered such an honest and proactive approach or heard such a moving story.
“My heart goes out to you and your family, Sir. This is a department where people like you come to bribe people like me only after they have been coerced into submission by the department. When we forcibly summon people, they seek both illegitimate, and often unreasonable, waivers. We allow them the waivers because that’s how the system works. We threaten people and they cough up. But here you are, proactively coming and meeting me. I am moved by your story. Just leave. Forget about this claim. You have bigger things, like saving your family, to deal with,” he told us, flinging the claim file for our Firm to a pile beside his desk.
Telling the truth as it is, however impractical and unbelievable it may seem, and by always choosing to wear my Life on my sleeve, has always worked for me. And for us. It has taught us that people always respect the truth and revere honesty.
Besides, when you stay with the truth you don’t have to remember what you said! Most importantly, having embraced the truth, you will sleep well. When you can sleep in peace, you are truly blessed. Nothing else, believe me, matters!
Don’t suffer in silence thinking it is a very cruel world out there. It clearly is not.
Through her Facebook post last evening, a young friend wonders if sharing your story of pain and suffering, and making yourself vulnerable, is worth it. She fears that it could prove costly. Instead, she believes in suppressing her suffering and smiling in pain.
From our own experience, I would say, doing just the opposite can be very liberating. Wear your Life on your sleeve. Be vulnerable. And the compassion of the Universe will nurture you, protect you and take you along.
This learning forms the essence of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal. Sharing this learning, and inspiring happiness by encouraging people to just be who they really are, has become our raison d’etre – for Vaani and me.
What we have learnt is that the world is full of compassionate, loving, helpful people. Someone, somewhere is always there to help us onward, to last one more day. Of course, there are those who will judge you. A few others may even dump you. And some more may just choose to avoid you. But they are a minority. A lot of people are really like you and me – caught in similar Life situations, trying to grapple with pain, trying to understand how to get rid of their suffering. So, this majority, believe me, understands, appreciates and is always willing to lend you a shoulder or give you a hand.
Even as I am writing this blogpost, we are working on a short film promoting our Life Coaching Program – Let’s Talk Happyness – which is being made at zero-budget. Because we seriously don’t even have money to cover our living expenses. But our financial handicap has not prevented us from pursuing the idea with two young film-makers who we met recently. When we told them our story, they spontaneously offered to do this film. A friend offered us the venue. And another friend is offering us her studio for dubbing. All of this pro bono. Nobody is judging us. Nobody is doing this out of sympathy either. Everyone is doing this because they know what Life is and what it means to be caught in a tight spot and be vulnerable. They empathize – truly!
We must understand three things about Life in order to appreciate that being vulnerable is not wrong, and certainly not dangerous; it, in fact, is a very normal, logical, intelligent, thing to do. 1. Pain is inevitable. You clearly cannot control what happens to you in Life. And some of what happens will always cause you pain. 2. But you suffer from pain only because you wish that the pain were not there in the first place. For instance, a headache never causes suffering. A headache is just painful. It is your desire, your want, that the headache must not be there that causes your suffering. Therefore, suffering is a human creation; it is optional, it is avoidable. 3. Whatever you suppress, or resist, will persist. Suppressing suffering and smiling in pain is just martyrdom. By doing that, you are only multiplying your suffering.
So, if you are having a Life challenge, a crisis, an enormous, extra-ordinary amount of pain, or whatever it is that you are dealing with, go out there and tell the world about it. Don’t worry about the judgments a few people are likely to pass. Don’t give such people the license to prolong your suffering. Don’t try to live two lives: one to hide your suffering and another to cook in it! Just be who you are. The Life you have is the only one you have! So, be open and declare courageously: Yes, I have intense pain, I am in a shithole, I am messed up, but this is who I am. Help me if you can and I will humbly take all that you give me compassionately. If you can’t help me, then please excuse me; what you think of me, my choices and my situation doesn’t really bother me!
Try this approach, of wearing your Life on your sleeve, and see what a beautiful world it is!
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!
It is when you feel love, loss, joy and pain, that you can even know that you can’t ever understand Life!
A reader of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Westland) reached out to me a couple of weeks ago wanting to send me a book of his choice. The book, My Little Epiphanies (Bloomsbury), by Aisha Chaudhary, arrived over the weekend. I finished reading it in one sitting last evening. Aisha passed away, at 18, on 24th January 2015. She had S.C.I.D (severe combined immune deficiency). Before she left this world, Aisha shared her most intimate thoughts – her joys, her inspirations, her fears and anything that told her more about herself and Life – in the form of My Little Epiphanies. All of 70 pages, the book is a rare, and profound, collection of very mature perspectives on Life. Coming as it does from an 18-year-old, it amazed me. The book does not tell a story, it is not a biography, it is not an account of her pain and hopelessness, fighting as a she was, a losing battle against Life, for her Life. To me, My Little Epiphanies, is a way for you, the reader, to discover the opportunity to be the light yourself, when you are going through a dark, seemingly endless, tunnel.
Sample here my selection of Aisha’s most profound thoughts from the book:
Are we living to die? Or are we dying to live? I want to do the latter.
If Life is a stop in the station, I must admit I don’t want to get on to the coming train.
I think we are the truest versions of ourselves at night before we go to sleep, just before we close our eyes.
If you feel like things aren’t moving, there is a cure for that, and that is time.
Happiness comes in all shapes and sizes; you just have to find the one that fits you best.
If you can’t change your own Life, there’s always someone else’s.
Pain lingers in the mind longer than it really lasts.
What was, is not.
My Little Epiphanies will stay with me for a long, long time. Not because I feel sorry for Aisha. But because I am grateful to her.
She reiterates what I have always believed in – that it is very important to be honest with your feelings. You don’t have to always be strong in the face of a Life situation. You just have to be yourself – even if it means you are being vulnerable! In sharing her deepest thoughts, Aisha helps us connect with the way we often feel when pinned down by Life. Reading her book, I felt that she was telling us that it is fine if you feel low and miserable some days. It is fine if you feel beaten and burnt out. It is fine if nothing makes sense. Most important, Aisha makes no claims about knowing more about Life either or how it must be dealt with. At almost her parents’ – Aditi’s and Niren’s – age, I couldn’t agree more. I certainly don’t know what Life is all about. So, to me, being honest and wearing your Life on your sleeve, is the only way forward in living this inscrutable Life!
I consider it a blessing that I came across My Little Epiphanies. I found inspirations in Aisha’s reflections there. Inspirations, that I believe, will give me enough energy to last longer on my journey. They say, when the student is ready, the teacher shall appear. I guess this is true of a seeker too. Almost always, an Angel will lead the way…helping you be the light that you are seeking!
Live your story. Live a Life that matters.
Over the weekend, I was invited to share a transformational moment of my Life at a story-telling session. Now, I am often invited to speak at forums and events. And I almost always share my story. Even through the workshops that Vaani and I lead and anchor, we share stories – both from our own personal experiences and of what we see and learn from Life around us. We also encourage participants at our workshops to share their personal journeys so that they can bond and function better as teams. But this story-telling session that we attended on Sunday was different. It was structured, time-bound story-telling. It was a beautiful experience, hearing so many, intensely personal, stories from rank strangers.
So, there was the retired principal of a corporation school – he talked of how he learnt to live intelligently and serve selflessly from his own students, most of them coming from broken homes; they came only for the lure of the noon-meals the school offered, as it was the only meal the children got daily! There was a man who shared his story of remorse and guilt – over shamelessly demanding a dowry from his millionaire father-in-law, turning an alcoholic thereafter – and how he found love and meaning in his Life, thanks to his wife forgiving him and showing him so much compassion and understanding. Then there was this young, TamBram lady who rebelled against the institution of marriage and who was given an apartment to live separately by her conservative father – she talked of the various people she ended up living with in her apartment and what she learnt from each of them.
This experience only corroborated what I have always believed in: understanding personal stories matters a lot in relationships. I read somewhere, long, long ago, that behind every beating heart is a personal story. And, I have learnt from Life that, if you understand that story, relating to – or choosing not to relate to – the other person in a relationship becomes that much simpler.
Most relationships, across all contexts and not necessarily limited to a romantic liaison between two people, become messy because, after the initial phase of getting to know a person, there is no effort by either party to understand the other. Knowing their stories helps. Our part-time helper at home, for instance, came late to work today. Now, it is normal for us to imagine that she, like most other housemaids like her, is playing silly and truant. But when Vaani paused to hear her story, it turns out that she’s being repeatedly physically abused by her drunkard husband. I am not saying that we can solve someone’s problems by knowing their story. But knowing someone’s story surely helps us deal with them with empathy and compassion. We may or may not choose to engage with a person after hearing their story. And that’s fine. But at least we can avoid imagining and perceiving the person to be something that he or she is not.
For a person who shares a story, the experience of sharing is a therapeutic one. I can vouch for this. Over the last few years, Vaani and I have healed greatly through being open and sharing our story – through my Book, my Talks, events that we curate and through this Blog that I write daily. So contrary to popular perception that sharing our stories makes us vulnerable, I would say, sharing our stories helps us experience the warmth, compassion, love and kindness that makes up the Universe!
But, most important, your story shapes you – it refines you, makes you stronger and helps you evolve. It leads you to live a Life that matters. But for that to happen, you must embrace the experiences that come your way, without resisting them, and be prepared to go through your own adventure. So, when your story unfolds, when you path begins to appear, just offer yourself to be led by Life. You can be sure that, over time, you will arrive where you must – and where you belong!
Be vulnerable. Be clueless. Don’t hide how you are feeling.
I watched ‘Talaash’ (2012, Reema Kagti, Aamir Khan, Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor) again on TV last evening. In the movie, Roshni asks her husband Suraj an all important question: “Is it wrong to feel vulnerable and go find your own way of dealing with your vulnerability by doing what gives you peace, what gives you happiness?” They have lost their only son in an accident and both are groping in the dark – angry, grief-stricken and depressed. Roshni decides to wear her vulnerability on her sleeve, she talks openly about her helplessness while Suraj simmers in anger, self-pity and guilt. Now, which approach is right?
To me Roshni and Suraj are not fictional characters. They are just celluloid depictions of people like you and me, of ordinary folks who are stumbling along through Life.
Don’t you often find yourself not knowing what to do in Life? Life has hit you strong and square. You feel numbed, paralyzed and rudderless. Suddenly you are not living. You are merely existing. The chores go on – eating, cleaning, bathing, working, sleeping…whatever, but you are not present. You are lost in the dark abyss of how you are feeling. You see no light. You are blinded and held captive by your cluelessness. I have been there, so I know. I have felt exactly this way. And, through a lot of stumbling, standing up and falling again, and again, I have struggled and found a way out of this state. As in, I have not found solutions nor have I solved the problems I have. Even now, in Life, I don’t know what to do. But I do know that being vulnerable and not knowing what to do is not a sin. And sharing how you feel is not wrong. So my way out has been – wearing my Life on my sleeve!
I have learnt that you must act exactly the way you feel. When you feel low, don’t try to put on a brave front. Sit down and cry if it makes you feel better. Tell people around you how you feel. Don’t worry about being judged. If it makes you feel better, share your despondency, your cluelessness. How would you deal with someone who puts up a Facebook status that says, “I am feeling lost in Life.”? Wouldn’t you reach out, be empathetic and share some time with that person making him or her feel better? I can assure you that should you do the same – as in say that “I have a problem that I don’t know how to deal with” – people will open up their hearts and homes to you.
Many of us resist sharing our vulnerability because we think it is a big, bad, cruel world. The experience Vaani and I have had, over the last 8+ years, sharing our Life, situations and problems openly, has completely disproved this assumption. Every step of the way, we have been greeted only with compassion and love. I found that people love people who are like them – normal, vulnerable and who are dealing with pain with no methods or pretensions. So, I would never recommend hiding how you feel or running away from what makes you feel low or vulnerable. Not knowing what to do in some situations in Life is perfectly normal; it is part of being human. Trying to go against what’s a natural response to Life is what causes suffering and leads you to depression.
So, be guided by the feelings that you want to get rid of. Do whatever it takes to make you feel better. From my experience, I can assure you, telling the world how you feel, sharing your cluelessness, helps immensely. Because while our stories are dissimilar, there’s always someone who’s walked your path before, and who will always appear at the right time, to share a perspective, to hold your heart and to give you a warm hug!