Don’t try to escape your reality. You simply can’t.
I read a story on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, in TIME magazine recently. I liked the way TIME’s presented her story, of how Sheryl’s coped with her husband Dave Goldberg’s sudden death in May 2015. I haven’t read Sheryl’s book yet but I love its title and its focus. Basically, I understand that her book is an attempt to encourage people out there to talk about grief and to “change the conversation about adversity”.
This is what Vaani and I have done too over the last 10 years.
When we were first struck by the horrific reality of our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) in end-2007, there was so much guilt, grief and shame in me. I would go into the bathroom, so that Vaani couldn’t see me, and cry. I would look into the mirror and insanely ask myself “Why?”, “Why me?” Over time, I realized asking the “Why?” question was futile; Life had to be faced. No matter what your situation is, it is always what it is. You cannot escape your realities in Life. Whether you are bankrupt, like me and Vaani, or whether you have lost a dear one, like Sheryl has, or whether you have a debilitating health challenge, like a cancer or depression, or whether your career has plateaued or whether you are having a relationship issue – whatever it is that you are dealing with, you have no choice but to face Life. And the only, practical, way to face Life is to accept and embrace your reality. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily change your reality. Your problem doesn’t go away. But your ability to deal with your situation is enhanced immeasurably. Look at our story – for Vaani and me, our bankruptcy – read prolonged spells of worklessness and moneylessness – endures. It’s been a decade already. But we have only grown stronger through the crisis, from our experience.
And that’s something very true about us human beings – the more we deal with any problem situation, the stronger we emerge from it. To be sure, we are all endowed with inner strength. But like the Bluetooth feature on your smartphone, you must activate the resilience in you first for you to deploy it. For me personally, the activation and deployment happened when I simply told myself this: “This is it. We are bankrupt. We have a mountain of debt to settle. We have no work. We have no money. We have two teenagers to support. We have Vaani’s dad to look after. Now, what must we do to face this situation and survive it?” That’s really what resilience is all about. Asking yourself the now-what-must-I-do-to-face-this-situation-and-survive-it question activates the resilience feature in you; in anybody.
In our case, over the past decade, we have often times, hit situations when we don’t know what to do. But each time we faced a no-go, we did the next best thing. Which is to live in the moment. That’s how we trained ourselves to be in the present and, over time, we understood happiness as being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. Someone recently asked me, whether I am bitter about Life – especially after “being a failure and being unsuccessful for the longest time”. The truth is I am not bitter at all. Why will I be bitter about a phase that has taught me so much about living – about living purposefully, about being happy and about knowing how strong I really am?
For Vaani and me, like it is for Sheryl, our raison d’etre now is to encourage people to face Life and not to be snowed under the weight of their problems. We are, every waking moment, Inspiring Happiness among whoever cares to pause and reflect. Our crisis has given our Life a Purpose. If you can relate to and internalize what I have shared here, your Life situation can help you discover your Purpose too.
And that brings me to a very powerful, unputdownable, insight I have gained about Life. All our Life stories are unique but the learnings we pick up are often similar. So, each of us will come to our Option B points in Life and each of us will embark on our own Fall Like A Rose Petal journey. Adversity always brings in its wake shock, grief, guilt, fear, insecurity, anxiety and a whole host of debilitating emotions. But they will torment you and hold you hostage only as long as you resist adversity, as long as you run away from it. Once you turn around and face your Life situation, when you look Life squarely in the eye, you only emerge stronger, wiser and – believe me – happier than ever before!
There’s no point asking why things happen to you. Truth is, there are no answers!
Early this morning, I was on the weekly Southern Spice radio show (on Radio Zindagi 1600 AM), that’s popular in the Tristate area on USA’s East Coast, with RJs Subha, Venky and Sridhar. I was talking about how it is possible to ‘Help Yourself To Happiness’ despite your circumstances. Subha wanted to know how we can try to reason why things happen to us.
I often get asked this question. I have asked myself this question too for a long, long time. The truth is, among all the questions that you ask in Life, ‘why’ and ‘why me’ are the most wasted, pointless questions. There are no reasons for why things happen to us. Life is just a series of events, happenings.
Ideally, we must not approach anything with logic in Life. I firmly believe that there’s no logic to Life – for you can’t ask questions of Life and expect to get answers! Yet, look around you, isn’t Life sheer magic? But because logic is so ingrained in us, as part of our educational conditioning and knowledge-fabric, we ask ‘why’, we ask ‘why me’, we want to know the cause and effect of everything and we reason with Life’s happenings by trying to connect the dots. Even if we can’t say for sure why something is happening to us, our human, logical, analytical, mind, goes back and tries to connect the dots backwards. And we gloat over and glorify the fact that we have found the reasons for why Life happened to us the way it did. But, if we pause to reflect, we will see how pointless such analysis is. Isn’t it enough you know you have a problem and have to deal with it? How can you solve any problem by asking ‘why’ and ‘why me’? Isn’t ‘How’ a better question to ask when you seek resolution to a problem?
What comes between you and your happiness is all this avoidable, wasteful analysis. There is no Life for each of us, at any time, before the present and beyond the present. Your Life is always happening in the now. Yet you allow your mind to drag you into the past and hold you hostage there or you allow yourself to be terrorized by worries of a future which is yet to be born. Interestingly, if you drop the ‘why’ and ‘why me’ questions, dealing with Life becomes instantaneously simpler. Because when you don’t question, when you don’t resist whatever’s happening, you can only engage with it. Engagement means being available to, being accepting of, just being with whatever is. When you just are, you may be shaken, but not stirred, you may be under pressure, but not beaten, and you can be happy no matter what is happening to you!
You don’t have to know everything or have all the answers. It is fine to be clueless. In fact, it is great to just be.
I am in a familiar zone this morning. I have no idea of what’s going to happen. (Now, I know, the truth is none of us can ever know what’s going to happen!) But I am referring to all our efforts at putting our business back on track, the way we want it to be, that have come unstuck. Yet again. It surely is unsettling at a practical, material, everyday level. But this is not something that we don’t have experience dealing with. Vaani and I have seen this time and again, that whenever we don’t seem to know what is happening or why it is happening and what we must do, Life has always shown us the way. That way may not be something we would have known of or liked to take, but we implicitly trust Life and allow ourselves to be led by it. This is perhaps why we don’t suffer despite our often excruciating circumstances.
The human desire to know why something is happening to you is what causes your suffering. The simplest way to avoid suffering is to stop asking why or why me. Stop wanting to know all the answers to questions that fox you. Stop wanting to solve all your problems at the same time. In fact, there will be times in your Life, when you can’t solve even one of your problems – let alone all. You will just be pushed to a corner by Life, button-holed and made irrelevant. Of course, you will be irritated, you will feel helpless and totally, completely, lost. This is when suffering will arrive in your Life. But it will lay siege only if you want answers, only when you seek solutions, only if you ask why. Instead if you just accept that being clueless, being helpless, being solution-less is fine, you will not suffer, despite the pain.
So, when I am in that zone, where I am this morning, I don’t ask why. I simply surrender to Life and say, be my light, show me the way and give me the strength, the stamina, to further endure the journey. I have learnt, that it is best, when you don’t know what to do, to simply play along with Life – as in this immortal song from Dev Anand’s Hum Dono (1961, Amarjeet/Vijay Anand, Mohd. Rafi, Jaidev, Sahir Ludhianvi)!
Acceptance is the key to inner peace.
There will be times in Life when nothing will work according to your plans although you have planned and executed well. Instead of feeling frustrated and depressed, you must treat this as a sign that you must let go of wanting to control your Life and simply go with the flow. Only then can you be at peace with yourself and your circumstances.
A friend of mine has been looking for a job for the last 15 years. He’s a very talented man and has over four decades experience in his domain. Yet, there’s no one who’s willing to employ him. He keeps himself going doing short-term assignments from time to time. He’s tried and tried and continues to try. But you will never find him tired of trying or depressed. He tells me, “I can do nothing to avoid the pain that rejection, especially continuous rejection, gives me. But I don’t let it get to me. I take it as a divine sign that this is the way it is meant to be.”
Indeed that is the only way you must look at Life when you don’t get what you want. It is only when you rue the fact that you have not got what you want or that you have got what you don’t want that you start suffering. I have learnt that while you can’t be choosy about pain – it is inevitable, it will come at will – you can surely choose not to suffer. And that you can do only by accepting whatever you get.
Acceptance does not mean you should stop trying. It only means that you must develop the sagacity to understand that while you can be in control of your actions, the results are something that are never in your hand. So accept outcomes for what they are and keep moving.
Finding inner peace is not difficult. Accepting that you cannot always get what you want is what is difficult. But if you look around you, there are so many, many millions of people out there who live on without getting what they want. And many, many of them are also learnt to be happy with what they have. You too can learn the art of being happy despite your circumstances. Just stop fighting, stop resisting and start appreciating what you have. Inner peace will follow.
Don’t worry about death or Life after death. Focus instead on living this one Life well!
People often have this question: Why do ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ people? And, with some exceptions, they always also ask: And why do ‘good’ things happen to ‘bad’ people?
The questions themselves need review. What is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is subjective. What you may see as the right thing to do may be wrong from another’s point of view. And what you see as wrong, may seem perfectly right to someone else. I believe that these questions arise because of the ego being active in each of us. For instance, you are ethical, sincere and diligent. Yet, when you don’t get a promotion or a raise, your ego incites you to question the situation. It implores you to see someone else who has managed to get that raise as one who is ‘inferior’ to you on the work ethic scale. This is how this game of demanding fair-play from Life pans out. To be sure, it did not begin at the workplace. It began at home, in school, when parents or family pointed out to you that ‘Life has not been fair to you’. Over the years, you have only been led by your ego to continue to view Life this way.
Pause and reflect a bit. Did you ask to be born? This Life was “given” to you, wasn’t it? And at the time of birth did Life make you any promises? Did it say your Life will be this way or that? Since there were no guarantees offered, no assurances given, where’s the intelligence in craving for them? The truth is Life keeps on happening. Life sees all its creations as equal. It does not choose its “targets” for “tough examinations” per income or social strata. Life does not see anything as good or bad. Ethics, or the lack of it, make no sense to Life. Whatever Life delivers at your door, you have no choice but to accept it. Your suffering begins only when you refuse or resist the Life that is happening to you!
Religion and the scriptures talk of the Law of Karma. I agree with Osho that this is but a way to ‘console’ ourselves as humanity. The Law of Karma is no scientific law, like say the Law of Gravity. A ball thrown up in the air__whether in Chennai or Kabul or New York or Sao Paulo or Kyoto or Wellington or Kota Kinabalu or Colombo__will come down. We can argue and verify the Law of Gravity – it can be examined. But when the Law of Karma says that we will bear the consequences of our actions in a future birth or we are bearing the consequences of our actions, from a past birth, in this one, I am not sure we can verify or examine the case being made. Who has seen an earlier Life or can be sure to experience another one in the future? In my humble opinion (in no manner do I seek to rubbish the Karmic Theory), and in the limited context of my Life experience – this is the one and only Life we have. This is it. So, live it fully rather than think of your impending, inevitable death or another Life beyond this one!
Each of the events in our Life has happened because it simply had to happen. There’s no merit in qualifying and further analyzing if we deserve what we are getting or are given. Don’t label anyone or anything or any event as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Don’t compare. Don’t ask why. Life’s happening to you 24/7. Just watch it happen. You don’t like what’s happening to you, learn to accept it. You like what’s happening to you, learn to be grateful for it. Drawing inspiration from the lines of a famous song from the 1965-classic Waqt (Yash Chopra, Ravi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Asha Bhosle), I improvise as I conclude: “Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu, Peeche Bhi Jaane Na Tu, Jo Bhi Hai, Bas Yahi Ek Life Hai…”!!! So, the only way to live Life is to live it happily, for what it is!