Be willing to face your new reality when you end up causing shit to happen.
The lead picture across all media today led me to reflect upon a deep, spiritual, perspective and revisit a Life lesson. This is an image (like the one below; image copyright with original creator) of former Australian cricket captain Steve Smith breaking down (while admitting to his mistake and owning responsibility for the ball tampering scandal that his team has recently been involved in) while his father Peter Smith stands by him.
I believe, like Peter Lalor writes for The Australian, that Steve has done right by accepting that he messed up, by acknowledging that he is guilty and by facing up to his demons. He will emerge as a stronger human being – and cricketer and leader – from this experience.
I can relate to how Steve is feeling just now.
I too have been torn by guilt, anger, grief and shame over my actions – decisions I took and choices I made – that led to the bankruptcy of my erstwhile Firm and plunged my precious family into abject penury. Despite 10 years having gone past, despite every effort we have made in this time, that’s a state that we are still to climb out of. So, at times the guilt still comes gnawing at me. But, unlike in the past, over time, I have learnt to deal with it. I have discussed it in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Read more here). I share reflections about it in my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk and I have blogged about it a few times here too.
I have understood from my own experience of making mistakes – and learning from them – that it is important to be honest with yourself. When a choice you make in Life goes awry and the consequences of your actions come to haunt you, don’t run away from that moment, that reality. Turn around instead and face those consequences. Look yourself in the eye, in the mirror, and admit to yourself that you are guilty and that you screwed up. In such a situation, you will feel stupid, you will feel guilty, remorseful and angry with yourself – and with the world, with the people and circumstances that caused you to act in a certain way. Forgive yourself and forgive everyone around you. Do not cling on to the guilt or to the shame or the anger. Set them all down. By forgiving yourself you cannot repair what you have done, you can’t undo what is past, what is over. But forgiving yourself helps you unburden and deal with the consequences of your actions and your new reality better. It gives you focus and the courage to pick up the threads of your Life again.
I have clung on to guilt, shame, anger and grief for the longest time and have been held hostage by all of them. I have cried, screamed at myself and have, on several occasions, literally banged my head against the wall. But only when I admitted to my mistakes wholesomely, and forgave myself, did I understand the value in moving on. In this time, Vaani – like Steve’s father Peter stands by him today – has stood by me. Her presence, and trust in me, has given me immense strength and I will remain eternally grateful to her. And although we have a long, long way to go before we fix our bankrupt situation, we see it as our responsibility now and don’t see it as a burden anymore.
Let’s recognize this truth about Life. No one is perfect. Shit happens. And sometimes you make choices that you should not have made. When confronted with a Life situation that you caused but which you find too hot to handle, too heavy to hold, take it one step at a time. You can’t solve the problem overnight. First, face your new reality. Cry if it makes you feel better. But be honest with yourself and own the outcome of your choices and actions. At the same time, set down the guilt and let go of the grief, anger and shame. Believe me, your Steve Smith moment, whenever it comes calling, will not burn you – it will only steel you. It will make you stronger, wiser – and happy.
In a crisis, take it one moment, one step, at a time!
Yesterday, I delivered my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk at a large IT company where I was invited as an Author to speak to about 200 managers. A member of the audience wanted to know what methods we are employing to go through our enduring crisis.
Vaani and I looked at each other and smiled at hearing that question. People often want to know if there are methods and mantras to live Life. In fact, a publisher friend who went through the first draft of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal told us that it would flop if it did not have a list of To-Dos at the end of every chapter. We ignored that advice, with due respect to our friend, because we have learnt from our experience that there are no methods to live Life. Each one of us has to live through our stories in our own unique ways. Every moment has to experienced fully, unconditionally, no matter what the circumstances are. This is the only way you can be free from suffering even when you are in the throes of pain.
However, a deeper awareness of Life immensely helps in going through it. Just know that, no matter how ethical or compassionate you are, no matter how hard you pray, no matter how much talent or wealth you possess, there will be times when Life will be very, very challenging. You will feel defeated and deflated in such situations. But don’t despair. Because the entire essence of Life is to face whatever comes your way. Think about this – did Life promise you a turbulence-free ride at any time? It is your conditioning that makes you want only what you want. You want comfort, care, compassion, love, good health, money and, perhaps, an easy Life. But there are no guarantees that Life’s going to grant you all that you want. So, often times, you will have to encounter neglect, hatred, misunderstanding, cashlessness, worklessness, disease and a very, very tough Life – a Life that you don’t want! You will believe that it’s impossible to live such a Life. You would want a way to end all your suffering. And the way to do that is not to give up on Life, but to give in to it, to accept the way your Life is, face it and live in the moment.
So, especially in a crisis, you take one moment, one step, at a time. Life’s pretty much like the headlights of your vehicle. You know where you want your vehicle to go. You know the destination. But in the darkness of the night, the headlight can’t get you to see the destination. Yet it can light up the distance, a few feet at a time, and as you make progress you get to see what lies ahead. This goes on, until of course, it is daylight or you reach the destination you were driving toward. Life works exactly the same way. The night, the crisis, is not going away immediately. A new dawn awaits you, but it is never dawn until daylight arrives. So, in the darkness of the night, follow the headlight principle. Don’t expect the entire road to be lit up. Be content with being able to see just a few feet at a time. In Life, therefore, don’t expect clarity and answers to what lies a week, a month, a year down the road, or in the distant future. Just know that you will survive, that you will get all that you need, that you will be cared and provided for. Know that you will ultimately prevail.
I am reminded of a lesson that my guruswami (the one who leads a group of pilgrims) shared with me on my first pilgrimage to Sabari Malai (the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa in Kerala) years ago. He said that the climb was going to be very grueling – it’s a distance of 5 kms up very steep (at one point up an almost 75-degree incline) hills, to be covered by foot. We would all suffer, he said, if we kept thinking of when the climb would end. “Instead keep your thoughts on the destination, with wanting to see the Lord. Feel the air in your lungs. Enjoy the scenery. Don’t think about the climb and you will be able to make it with great ease,” he advised.
In any challenging context in Life, all your suffering comes when you think of what you are enduring and wish that you didn’t have to go through what you are going through. Instead experience whatever is. Feel the pain, the sorrow, the uncertainty, the fear, the anxiety – feel everything without wishing it away. Through this continuous feeling, your ability to withstand anything, and endure, will be greatly enhanced. Your problems may not go away. But you will be able to deal with them better.
Life, I have understood, is just a string of experiences, from birth to death. As long as you do not impose conditions on what you are experiencing, at any given moment, no matter what it is, you can always face it.
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None of us deserves anything more than all that we have. Seriously!
Yesterday was a long day. We were having legal issues to deal with, followed by a potential business opportunity being explored, then meeting with someone who will be a guest on one of the live events Vaani and I curate and finally having to explain ourselves – over the inability to repay money we owed him – to a creditor. Eight hours of meetings that were spread across different parts of Chennai. Phew! When we got home, I settled down for a quick throwback to my kind of music, from Hindi Cinema of the 50s ~ 80s, on Raina Beeti Jaaye on Sony Mix.
Last night it was a Madan Mohan special. And it was magical! As Lata Mangeshkar sang Lag Jaa Gale from Woh Kaun Thi? (1964, Raj Khosla, Madan Mohan, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Sadhana, Manoj Kumar), I could feel my fatigue dissolve and my spirits soar!
Show anchors Sumeet Raghavan and Akriti Kakar kept filling us in on trivia related to the great composer. But what caught my attention was the fact that Madan Mohan had died a heart-broken man, at 51, in 1975, because he had felt that the world didn’t recognize him as much as he thought he had deserved. He died of liver cirrhosis having taken to drinking heavily. I found this genius’ story very heart-rending.
Why do we expect Life to reward us with fame, wealth, adulation and recognition? Why can’t we simply use the opportunity of this lifetime to offer what we have, within us, to the world, to leave it a better place than we found it? Why must we expect and then suffer when our expectations go unmet?
Simply, expectations – of any sort, from anyone – bring agony. All human suffering is rooted in our desire that our Life must be different from what it is. I think if we remove our desires, our expectations, from the scene, Life is a wholesome opportunity to be blissful. Each of us is blessed with a bliss, which when we follow, we will be unconditionally happy, despite the circumstances we are placed in.
Among all the emotional issues a human being grapples with, when trying to seek inner peace and happiness, the principal debilitator is self-pity. It is your desire to stake claim for what you believe you deserve, that makes you brood, that makes you compare yourself with another, that makes you feel jealous and that makes you look outside for external validation and recognition. Osho, the Master, says self-pity is the highest form of ego. And as long as you don’t dissolve your ego, you can never be. And if you can’t just be, you will never be happy.
Whether it is Madan Mohan or me, or you, no one escapes this desire for deservance. It strikes everyone. But some people do rise above this desire. This is where embracing the witness state is very helpful.
I have gone through this process of catharsis and awakening, so I speak from personal experience. I have craved for attention, adulation and recognition too. And whenever I didn’t get it, I always suffered. I hated it, of course, when I suffered. So, it was my suffering that led me to seek ways to get rid of it. I found that the only way to be non-suffering in Life is to be expectation-less. I learnt, through Osho’s perspectives, to master the art of being a witness of my own Life. If you are an observer, you are engaged enough to report, to analyze. But as a witness, there’s no engagement; a witness is just seeing what’s going on. When you are a witness, you don’t expect anything, so you don’t suffer.
In that state, I discovered that each of us is special and is filled with a unique music, a personal signature tune if you like. And all we must do in this lifetime is to offer that music in us wholesomely to the world. Period. Someone’s a great cricketer, someone’s a wonderful gardener, someone’s an outstanding chef, someone’s a brilliant writer, someone’s an inspired teacher…so each one’s music has to play, to heal the world, to make it a better place. That’s the only reason why you and I are created on this planet. So simply offer yourself, selflessly, and quietly go away when your number is called. Seeking deservance is wasteful and self-destructive. You already have, and you only get, what Life believes you truly deserve. Even so, while on this human journey if some fame, wealth, reward and recognition comes your way, accept it humbly, acknowledging to yourself that you are but a messenger, a delivery channel. The music in you belongs to the world and all the credit for it therefore belongs to the Higher Energy that created both you and this world!
When you live your Life this way, offering yourself selflessly, without seeking deservance, you can only be non-suffering, you can only be happy.
Worrying about your children is pointless.
Vaani and I host a quarterly Event Series called Heart of Matter – Happiness Conversations along with the InKo Centre here in Chennai. At last weekend’s edition, we were in conversation with parents of special children. We talked about how parents coped with their new realities, and how they demonstrated grit and acceptance, to help their children pave inspirational paths. One of the parents, M.S.Ramesh, who is the father of entrepreneurs Sriram and Sunder Ram (both of whom were struck by cerebral palsy in their childhood) of Twin Twigs, had this to say: “When the doctors gave me this diagnosis about my children, my first reaction was ‘what next’….I didn’t ask ‘why’ or ‘why us’…I just moved on practically, to consider the next course of action.”
I find phenomenal value in embracing Ramesh’s approach and philosophy to parenting. Although we all know that worrying itself is futile, we still worry. Worse, we worry more about our children, than about ourselves, only because we feel protective towards and possessive about them.
As parents, all of us want our children to live comfortable and happily. We don’t wish that pain, in any form, touch them. Now, the truth is, what we wish for as parents is never going to happen. Our children are going to encounter pain, they are going to suffer if they don’t learn to be accepting of the Life that they get, they are going to be unhappy until they learn how to live in this world and yet be above it. Important, our children are possibly going to end up making the same mistakes that we made and what we don’t want them to make. They are more likely to reject our sage counsel than accept them. They are sure to stumble, fall down, grope in the dark, fight, resist, kick-about and then come around to discovering that their parents (aka us) were, after all, right. A young lady, in her late 20s now, we met last week said how much she could relate to what her parents had told her during her adolescent years and through young adulthood. “I feel they were sincere and profound with their perspectives. Every word rings true now,” she confessed.
So between two points of view – of the parent in Ramesh and the child in the young lady – I guess we have a pragmatic approach that’s worth considering. Keeping my focus on parenting and on parents’ tendency to get keyed up about their children, I would just say this: take a chill pill.
No amount of worrying about your children is going to make their Life journey simpler or easier. If you have children who are not taking your advice, please tell them what you have to say, and then let them go do what they want. If you have children who are dealing with a crisis that they can’t resolve or you can’t help them solve, pray for them if you believe in the power of prayer; if you don’t believe in prayer, just let them be and trust the process of Life. After all, you too have waged so many battles in and with Life to be where you are today. So simply trust that your children too will get past their crisis phases.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t live your children’s lives. No matter how much you wish, you can’t make their lives any more comfortable. No matter how much you want to, you can’t prevent them from going through their share of pain, unhappiness, suffering and catharsis. So, stop worrying about your children. As Khalil Gibran (1883~1931) has said, “…They are not your children…They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”
The more you think that Life happens because of you, the less you will see of Life’s magic and beauty!
I am often asked what have I learnt from this phase – our enduring bankruptcy – of my Life. And I always reply that I have been humbled by this phase, I have seen God through the compassion of so many fellow human beings, without whose selfless, spontaneous support Vaani and I wouldn’t be around today! I have learnt that I am a nobody – just a speck on the vast cosmic plane!
There was a time when I thought I was causing everything – my success, my fame and my wealth. But post-2007, as we grappled with imponderables – the bankruptcy and the ensuing pennilessness – and people just walked into our Life to help us – financially, emotionally, materially – I realized how wrong my whole thinking had been. I want to tell you that to be receiving help, and taking it, accepting it, from people can really be traumatic. It does not sit lightly ever. Your ego will hurt, you will find it being crushed like toilet paper and thrown away. After all won’t you feel like a worm if despite all your education, your work experience and your so-called intellect, you can’t get work and you have to depend on grants from people to meet your basic living expenses – your rent, electricity, phone and grocery bills? I struggled with this a lot until I learnt that you have to go with the flow; at different times in Life you have to go through different experiences. I spent over 10 years of my entrepreneurial Life as an employer, a giver, a benefactor. And I have now already spent the next 10 years as a receiver, a beneficiary. And I think both experiences are invaluable. The first experience made me believe that I was everything. The second experience has taught me that I am nothing.
I am reminded of an Urdu couplet by an unknown poet.
mita de apni hasti ko agar hazaar martaba chahe, ke dana mitti se mil kar hi gule gulzar hota hai!
It means let go of all your attachment to worldly possessions__including your ego, your desire for power and wealth__and allow yourself to be annihilated – to be razed to the ground. For only when a seed becomes dust, and is buried, does it germinate into a new plant!
So, I am very grateful to my bankruptcy for having cut me to size, for having humbled me. My only focus – and prayer – now is that somehow Vaani and I must claw our way back and turn around the business in due course and repay every single creditor of ours – with full interest due. Every morning we wake up in gratitude to the 179 Angels that we owe money to. We do our work diligently choosing to be unfrustrated by the results – which presently never quite add up in relation to our efforts.
I believe everyone should – and will – go through such an awakening, even if humbling, experience. And it need not necessarily be a bankruptcy. Any cathartic experience can awaken you. Without my experience I would have lived in my own delusion that my Life happened because of me. Now I live each moment with so much amazement, so much gratitude, so much joy. I live in total bliss because I see my God in the hearts and actions of all those who have helped us and who continue to help us!
The inscrutability of Life makes it magical, beautiful and worth living.
Yesterday, we attended a satsang, a communion, where a few people had gathered to share their Life stories and explore the possibility of learning from each other’s experiences.
There was a man, in his thirties, who had implants in his spine following an accident. Physically, medically, he was deemed to have perfectly healed – but practically, everyday living-wise he was immobilized. There was a brand and positioning expert who had launched several memorable brands in his 30 years in advertising, but was struggling with getting his never-before, never-again, disruptive product off the ground. There was a surgeon, who was an expert in his space for 20 years in UK and Australia, but who had hit a career low – no patients – ever since he shifted to India six months ago with the idea of serving the needy here. There was a brilliant vocalist and voice coach who trains thousands of people each year but had not quite been able to launch his own career as a musician. And then there was Vaani and me.
There was a common thread that connected all stories – none of the people in the group knew what to do about their situations. So, the sharing and the conversation that followed explored what faith and hope meant to each of us; it was a beautiful, uplifting and left all of us energized.
As I went to bed last night, I thought about the satsang – it offered me an important perspective on Life. If we knew all the answers to all the questions that confront us, if we have solutions to all the problems we are faced with, won’t Life cease to be challenging? Without a seeking, without the quest, how can there be any progress? Education empowers us with knowledge, but Life empowers us with experience. And experiences where you are clueless about how to deal with certain Life situations teach you humility and help you discover your inner strength, your resilience. It is only through catharsis that you grow up, that you evolve spiritually.
I have understood that you don’t have to have all the answers to live your Life well. You don’t even have to stop asking questions just because you don’t have the answers. Just learn to accept that when you don’t know what to do, when you don’t find the answer you are looking for, it doesn’t mean that your Life – the one that you desire for yourself – is eluding you. It only means that the Life you have is the one that you are meant to have. So, simply accept it as it is and live it well! Then, despite being unable to make sense of your Life, you will find it interesting enough to live!