You are unlikely to find the perfect Life that you want. Even so, you can live fully with what you have, with what you have been given. And you do that by looking Life squarely in the eye, by facing it and by accepting what is, by learning to be happy despite the circumstances.
Young model and designer in the AR/VR space, Ranjani Ramakrishnan, who is just 21, has learnt this precious Life lesson early on in Life.
Ranjani was diagnosed with vitiligo – a Life-long condition where the skin loses color in blotches – when she was barely 11. She grappled with shame, the “why me” question and a lot of insecurity for several years. Then, when in college, she “made peace with her imperfections” and modelled for a Visual Communications assignment! That decision changed her Life! Today she “embraces Life’s adventures fearlessly”, even as she champions “acceptance” and “living fully with what is”!
Last evening, she was our guest on the happyness conversations – a live, reflective, non-commercial Conversation Series that Vaani and I curate and anchor. This Series explores the lived experiences of invited guests, it inspires people to be happy despite their circumstances! While celebrating imperfection and impermanence, it invites people to embrace their Life for the way it is and implores them to never postpone Happiness! The underlying theme of the Series is that Life can, and must be, faced stoically – no matter what you are going through! This Series is sponsored and hosted by the Odyssey Bookstore in Chennai.
It was a full house in yesterday’s Edition of this Series despite the rains and more inclement weather forecast for the night. And all those who attended the Event loved the way Ranjani’s lived experience helped them glean key Life lessons.
Her authenticity and her quiet, rare, courage shone. Here are some profound perspectives she shared:
- “It is very liberating when you let go of your fears,” she said, referring to her first photoshoot as a model, when she was in her first year in college. This photoshoot was significant – the decision to do it had come after several years of trying to cover up her patches, of crying herself to sleep, of asking her mom, “why me?”.
- “I have made peace with looking at myself in the mirror,” she told us stocially in the context of acceptance and moving on.
- “But I am still tired of answering random people who come up to me wanting to know why my skin looks different or when they have unsolicited advice to give me. So, I am a bit wary of going into unknown environments and meeting people.” she confessed, adding, “I have, however, for the most part, learnt to take Life as it comes and find Happiness in the company of family and friends who love me, who value me.”
This ability to take “Life as it comes” is a blessing. This wisdom can only come from having experienced pain and from understanding the power of acceptance. This is what makes Ranjani special. As Vaani pointed out, Ranjani, literally, does wear her vulnerability on her sleeve. This is also why her outlook to Life is invaluable, unputdownable and inspiring.
Consider this: How many people can gracefully accept their unique condition, particularly one that affects how they look? How many of them can actually come out and talk about it? How many will be able to expunge all the bitterness, grief, frustration and anger – at having been dealt an unfair hand by Life – and truly move on?
To me, and Vaani, Ranjani embodies the spirit of being happy despite the circumstances in the way she carries herself and expresses herself. This was evident in the Conversation last evening – she showcased with her simple, genuine, replies to our questions, by sharing her feelings authentically, that she is not the vitiligo that she has. “Vitiligo is only the condition that she has.” She is Ranjani – she is beautiful, confident, forthright and authentic!
Sample her take on what kind of modeling assignments she is looking for: “I love modeling. But I want people to invite me to shoots where I am a model who incidentally has vitiligo and not because I am good to be used as a vitiligo model.”
That’s amazing clarity and an awakening profundity from a 21-year-old!
Which is why, in closing, I leaned on my favorite, the 13th Century Persian poet Rumi: “What hurts you blesses you; your darkness is your candle!…Don’t run away from your grief, o’ soul, look for the remedy in the pain!…”
Pain is not a monster out to annihilate you as is popularly believed. Pain is a great teacher. While you can’t avoid pain, it teaches you, through your acceptance of any Life situation, that suffering is optional; that there is a lot of Life during and after a crisis. Indeed, acceptance of a painful situation is its only remedy.
Which is what Ranjani has done. She has accepted who she is, the way she is. Which is why she has been able to understand the art of living. She knows that living is always in the “present continuous” – not in the past, not in the future, but in the here, in the now, with “what is”; she knows that living is in thriving, in being happy despite the circumstances!
Note: AVIS and Vaani are the happynesswalas. They believe their Life’s Purpose is Inspiring ‘Happyness’! They are going through a fascinating Life-changing experience – a crippling bankruptcy!! Look them up here: www.avisviswanathan.in and www.avinitiatives.co.in.
Choose not to run away from what you fear.
The other day, I had coffee with a friend who said he is scared and insecure of the future. His business has been struggling and he is not sure about what to do: “I am not able to function freely. My fear is chewing me up.”
Fear is a very natural response to inscrutable Life situations. Fear will arise when you are clueless or are dealing with the unknown. What will happen if I am not able to get an income? How will I pay my bills? What will people think or say about me? What if my Life ends up being this way forever? These, and more, questions are what my friend is dealing with. This is what I told him: “You can’t prevent fearful thoughts from coming up within you. What you can do, however, is to learn to reason with yourself about the futility of such thinking.”
Ask yourself, what is the use of being fearful in a situation? Any situation. Can your being fearful about a situation change it to the way you want it to be? Of course not. So the best response to fear and debilitating thoughts is to just let them be. Face them. Don’t run away from them. Focus all your energies on what you can do in that given situation. No matter how grave a situation is, you can always be useful, you can surely do something meaningful in it. Immerse yourself in doing whatever you can. The criteria for your thought and action must be that they must be constructive and useful. Clearly, worrying or feeling fearful is not useful. So, barring indulging in those two, do whatever else you can.
You will find that your mind amazingly adapts to whatever you focus on. Supposing you are worried stiff and you love painting, if you paint, you will find your worries either dissolving or receding to the background. The more you train your mind not to attend to fearful thoughts, the more it will immerse itself in the moment. This may appear impossible to do in the beginning. But you have to keep at it. Over time, the mind learns to follow your new direction.
Another important point to note is that it always helps, especially in a situation when fear is gnawing at you from within, to immediately prepare for the worst case. In any situation, just be prepared to face the worst – and, instantaneously, your fear will evaporate. This is how you learn, this is how you train your mind in fact, to face your fear. When you face what torments you, it becomes powerless.
Remember this – what you run away from, always comes chasing. If you run away from your fears and insecurities, without doubt, they will come after you. Instead if you turn around and face them, if you immerse yourself in doing what inspires you, in what you love doing, in what makes you useful or when you indulge in any action that can help you turnaround a situation that is scary or worrisome, you will find that your worries and fears don’t torment you anymore.
Clearly, you can’t prevent fear from arising. But you can make it powerless by taking it head on, by facing it.
You are not alone and Life is not victimizing you.
Yesterday we visited our friends, a lovely couple, who are in their seventies. We talked a lot about Life and its inscrutability. They shared about how many challenges they have seen in their Life. Their daughter, now in her 50s, had to go through several surgeries during her early adulthood owing to a rare health condition. The gentleman has been, for over 18 years now, battling an enforcement body’s cases against him in courts. It was a beautiful evening of sharing learnings and perspectives from each other’s journeys.
When we got home, Vaani remarked to me, “Everyone’s Life is strewn with challenges. Everyone’s facing Life in their own ways to the best of their abilities.”
I believe what Vaani said sums up an important truth about Life.
Almost always when Life deals you a hard blow, you imagine there’s a conspiracy against you. You rush to conclude that you are being singled out, that you are alone and you are now consigned to a lifetime of suffering. Whenever you feel that way, pause and you look up from your situation. Look around, and you will discover that everyone – without exception – has a story of how they are dealing with a unique Life situation. Life, to me, really, is an equal opportunity player. It treats everyone with the same compassion and with the same rigor. And, important, Life is not out to victimize you or punish you. A Life challenge is just an event, a roadblock. You have to work around it, and sometimes even live with it. You can’t fight it and you clearly can’t wish it away.
When you consider the stories around you, than obsess with just your own, you realize that you are blessed in more ways than you know. You can’t surely avoid pain in Life. You can’t even choose pain – as in you can’t decide when – and with what impact – it must arrive. But you can make your pain less significant by looking at another’s pain, by sharing with them, by helping them cope with their own journey. And yes, you can avoid suffering totally by accepting your pain, by never asking ‘why’ or ‘why me’!
There are as many stories of grit and courage out there as there are people. Every single experience and story is precious. To be inspired you must just pause to listen, to share, to learn and to count your blessings!
Just stop feeding your “fears”!
Someone I know, a young man in his late 20s, is petrified that he will have a heart attack soon. Reason: he has been having a nagging pain in his chest and back regions; on the left side. He’s been through a battery of tests and nothing alarming has been reported except a suspected orthopedic condition which is being treated with regular physiotherapy. He wanted to know how to get rid of his “fears”?
This is a favorite human hobby: to conjure up worst-case scenarios and live in desperation and despondency. We must all remember that the worst that can happen to us, absolutely the worst per a worldly view, is that we will die. But this is known to all of us. So why live fearing our inevitable death?
I told the young man to stop feeding his fears. He’s done what he can. He has got medical advice. Now, he has an option to trust the doctors he is seeing or see another set of specialists. Or he can cower in fear and live a Life that’s full of suffering. His choice. But the one thing I will recommend is to let go and live free.
Negative thinking will lead you to depression. To flip your thinking switch and to break the negative spiral, you need to elevate your thinking. And the only principle that works is this: simply don’t connect the dots forward. Instead, rise above and see things from a 30,000 ft-level. When you fly in a plane and look down at the ground, you will find the tallest of structures looking like specks from the sky. Similarly, the gravest of our problems, as we perceive them, are but pimples, when seen from an elevated, zoomed out, perspective of Life! They will disappear just as they appeared. And if we don’t give them attention, they will not bother us. Only if you are anxious about them all the time will they seem like something grave and serious.
In Life’s grand theater, things will sometimes happen that you least expected or wanted and when you are least prepared for them. Such is Life. Don’t try to connect the dots forward or interpret each event and imagine the worst. What you fear most seldom happens. So, live well. Live happy!
You have greater inner strength than you imagine you have.
A CEO we know survived fourth stage colon cancer and is now leading a global corporation. When addressing his team recently he advised them to look within, not outside, for strength: “When the doctors first told me that I have only 3 months to live, I looked at my daughters who were in high school then, and told myself that I must stay on till they were young adults. So I meditated on my resolve to fight my disease. Of course I had the best of treatment and my family’s love and support. But I kept reminding myself to go on. It’s been 12 years since I was told I had only 3 months…”
This quality to demonstrate great inner strength is called Resilience. I am intentionally spelling it with a capital ‘R’ for emphasis. Each of us is endowed with this quality. We just need to activate it. Many people ask me and Vaani how we manage to survive this bizarre, prolonged phase of intense pain (Read more in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal ) that we are going through. And I always say, never in jest though, that we have activated our Resilience mode. To Vaani and me, Resilience is like the Bluetooth feature on our smartphones – it must be activated to be used, to be deployed!
Being resilient means to know that no matter what the circumstances are, you must face Life. It means that you don’t have the choice to cop out or run away from a challenging situation. It is your lack of awareness that makes you imagine that you are not resilient. All of us are equally strong – that’s the way we are created and engineered. To let your resilience – your inner strength – surface, you need to be more aware of your true Self.
What we have learnt from experience is that our circumstances can constrain us physically but nothing – except our attitude to Life – can cripple our spirit. Think about a wild adult elephant. This elephant can easily uproot trees that have been standing for years and that weigh tons. That’s how much strength an elephant is ordained with. Yet a temple elephant, through its conditioning from the time it is a calf, thinks it is incapable of breaking free from the iron shackles that a mahout has imposed on it. So it is with us humans. We are all hostages of our own perceived limitations. We are who we think we are. If we think our circumstances are so challenging that they are insurmountable, we will forever suffer from them. But if we decide to face our challenges and rise above them, whatever be the context, a way will emerge, a solution will be born.
So, when you are faced with a crisis for the first time, and you think you can’t survive it, just turn on your Resilience mode. If we can do it, you too can! Surely, your problems will not vanish, but your ability to deal with them will be enhanced substantially!
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When you don’t like what is being done to you, turn around and say NO!
A conversation we had yesterday with a young lady led to a question: “Why do some people hurt, harass and victimize others?” And to another, more important, one: “Why do the victims often suffer in silence?”
Vaani and I have experience of dealing with a long period of emotional strife with my own mother. So we know how it feels to be the victim.
We know of a lady, our age, who is married into a large, well-known and revered, business family in Chennai. Her husband abused her physically for 25+ years. It wasn’t until her son, who went to school with our son Aashirwad, stood up for her that the lady even realized she could say no, that she could walk out, that she could stop being the victim. Until then she suffered silently.
I have also been harassed and bullied at work for over 18 months by my former employer, a billionaire dealmaker. I had met him as a journalist when I was working for Business Today magazine. And I had written about his then-proposed foray into the telecom sector. I later joined him, on his invitation, as his traveling Executive Assistant and was based out of Singapore in the mid-1990s; I was part of his crack team that introduced cellular telephony into India. Over time, I noticed that there was a pattern to the way he was treating me. He was harassing me. His style of harassment was personal and abusive at one level and physically exhausting at another. He would call me names and would keep me unsettled for 20 hours a day, constantly ensuring that I was either traveling across continents, or running between the floors in hotels we stayed in doing petty errands for him. I was always backlogged on my Things To Do and therefore I was stressed out at all times of the day. Further he would not allow me to travel back to India to meet my family on short vacations (even at my expense) for birthdays or for a wedding anniversary. One day I asked him why was he doing what he was doing to me. He replied saying he was avenging an article, which critically examined his chequered past a businessman, I wrote about him when I was working with Business Today magazine. He said he employed me so that he could make me his ‘white-collared slave’. I resolved to quit; but I decided I would quit only when I had become totally indispensable to him. So I worked hard to achieve that goal of mine in six months and I left him when everything in his multi-million dollar business empire and Life depended on one man – AVIS!
I learnt a lot about being victim, closure and moving on from that experience. As I lay in bed last night, preparing to sleep, I thought about the conversation over coffee, and the two questions that came up – “Why do people hurt others and why do victims suffer in silence?” – in the backdrop of my own learnings.
First, I believe people who are causing pain – physical, emotional, whatever – to others are actually suffering themselves. Their behavior mirrors what they are going through within themselves. My mother browbeat us perhaps because that is what she had experienced – as a child, as a daughter-in-law and maybe emotional strife is all what she had seen. My former employer harassed me because maybe he was intrinsically insecure. Despite all his wealth, he was always chasing his tail making more money and had no family Life for himself, and all his time he had spent check-mating people to make business deals; so he was continuously wary of being check-mated himself! I am not trying to justify people’s behaviors here. I am just saying that this is one possibility why people bizarrely end up hurting others.
Now, we end up suffering as victims when people harass us because we are so shocked and numbed by their behavior when it all begins. And by the time we realize that we are being exploited, we have become a victim – cowering in fear and wallowing in self-pity. The only way to stop being a victim in any situation is to say no. When you feel uncomfortable doing something or in the presence of someone or when something is done to you, just say no. Each of us has the option to say NO – all the time! And only when we utilize that option, we stop being the victim. When you stop being the victim, even if the pain endures, even when the perpetrator continues to try to harm you, you don’t suffer. And in most cases, when you turn around and face your perpetrator, or what you fear, in the eye, the victimization stops.
It is only when you are facing Life and saying no to what you don’t like done to you that you become stronger. And Life is all about getting stronger at dealing with situations, becoming courageous by looking what you fear in the eye.
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