Only when you accept a situation can you go to work on it with clarity and focus.
“How do you learn to accept Life for what it is? Isn’t it very difficult,” asked a young man from the audience the other day, ahead of my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk at the Madras Literary Society. Interestingly, after hearing my Talk, he didn’t have that question anymore!
It is not just him, a lot of people out there struggle to accept Life for what it is. As I reveal in my Talk, I too have struggled with acceptance. The fundamental reason for resisting Life is that we think we can fight, we can out-think, we can out-smart Life. We think just because we are educated and think logically, rationally, we believe we can solve all the problems we are faced with. But there are some Life situations that are beyond our control. And those cannot be solved no matter how strong our intent may be or how capable we really may be. In such instances, acceptance is the key to avoid suffering and helps immensely with keeping the focus on what needs to get done and in keeping the faith that it will get done.
Consider some instances to understand the value in acceptance. What do you do in Chennai, and most parts of Tamil Nadu and South India, that are struck by drought? The day temperatures are closer to 40 degrees and there’s no respite from the merciless heat – with no signs of rain. Is there any point in fighting Nature? Or take the case of the Malaysian Airlines plane MH 370 – that went missing over 3 years ago. All the world’s forces and resources, technologies and experts, cannot trace the plane. Is there any point in resisting that situation? Is it worth at all to fight it? Or what do you do when you have a rare health condition that no doctor can really put their finger on it? Is there any point in fighting this situation?
So, when a situation is beyond your control, when you know you can’t solve it, the best way to deal with it is to go with the flow. This does not mean inaction or resignation. It means you must accept the situation, you must keep making your efforts to solve it if you believe it can still be resolved, but you must remain non-frustrated if the results don’t add up. So, acceptance is not failure. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is employing common-sense in the wake of an inscrutable Life situation and trusting Life to sort itself out over time. Only acceptance can help you to be non-suffering. And only when you don’t suffer can you get down to working calmly on a situation that requires to be changed.
If you can’t enjoy it at certain times, learn to endure it while not resisting it.
In Palaghattan lingo (native to TamBrams hailing from Palakkad, Kerala), there is a phrase called “chatyam pidikarthu”. It means to “behave like a spoilt brat – adamant and obstinate”! Exasperated parents often use a variation – “chatyam pidikathey ‘tya” – (“Don’t behave like a spoilt brat, ok?!”) to admonish their children who are protesting vehemently when they are denied toys or food or anything that they immediately want.
I was reminded of this phrase when someone I know called me to a while ago. The caller referred to his cousin who continues to “brood, mourn and sulk” over his inability to get a job. “This has been going on for months now. My cousin has been refusing to heed any reason, he just goes into a dark hole and refuses to come out,” said the caller.
People who are sulking or brooding over their Life situations usually are very strong-willed. They like to have everything under their control. They can’t imagine that their efforts are not bearing fruit. So, they continue to fight Life, often by being angry with Life. In a way, to marry Palaghattan with colloquial Tanglish usage, “chatyampidichufying” with Life is of no use. Life is never bothered about how you are feeling. Whether you exult or mourn, Life couldn’t care less. It just goes on and on, doing what it pleases. And whatever you resist, not just persists, it causes all your suffering. So, while a Life event or a phase that you are going through may cause you intense pain, you suffer only because you are adamant and obstinate, you suffer only because you wish things were different from what they are. But if you think about Life deeply, it is always what it is. And all your bawling, your sulking, has no impact on Life. When a child acts cranky, demanding attention or that a wish be fulfilled, a parent usually relents immediately. But Life has no such compulsions or sense of urgency. No matter how much you sulk, how long you brood, how depressed you are, Life happens only at its own pace, in its own time, happening only the way it wants to happen.
Simply, “chatyampidichufying” with Life, fighting it, is a zero-sum game. Instead flow with it. If you can’t enjoy it at certain times, just learn to endure it. That’s the key to avoid suffering and to be happy!
Pain is a teacher. Learn from it.
Recently, a money lender came to me asking for his money back. I explained our grave situation to him and asked for his forgiveness for being unable to repay what I owed him. He said: “You are being honest, you are available and you are facing the situation. Pay me back when you can AVIS. But never give up the good fight to bounce back in Life.” He then shared this sage line with me: “Extra-ordinary pain in Life is not a sign of some past karma or your sins catching up. It is a sign of extra-ordinary grace.”
I find great value in his perspective.
We have two options in Life! Either to learn from our suffering and move on, finding in the process the true essence and meaning of Life, or we live our Life remaining stuck with our pain and misery.
Think about it this way. Just as you cannot control the seasons, or the sunrises and sunsets, or the rain, or the rainbow, you cannot control Life. Nor can you control what happens to you through your lifetime. So, pain and pleasure are both inevitable. Pleasure you never have a problem with. Because who will say no to pleasure? But when pain arrives, you have a huge problem. You wish it weren’t there. Whenever and wherever there is a wishing, an expectation, agony and suffering is assured. So, in effect, nobody can escape suffering the first time you are afflicted by pain. But surely you can learn not to suffer when pain strikes the next time!
Intelligent living is the ability to learn, appreciate and accept the nature of Life as being uncontrollable and to understand its essence. It is to know that if you are born, you will be subject to some pain, some time or the other, in Life. It is also to know that you have the choice to learn from Life’s painful episodes and moments, and move on, by choosing, therefore, not to suffer. On the other hand, if you cling on to your pain, or the sources that cause you pain, you will be stuck with it. You will then be wallowing in a cesspool of suffering, misery, agony, accompanied often by self-pity and low self-esteem!
Only those who know that freedom from suffering, and peace, comes only when you stop fighting Life, will be able to move on. And unless you discover this truth about Life, you will remain stuck.
Nobody can avoid or escape pain. Your awareness can, however, help you understand that whatever is happening is happening to you only for you to learn from it, only for you to become stronger and wiser from the experience. This understanding of Life is the way out of suffering. This is the truth! The other truth, though paradoxical, is also profound – without suffering you cannot understand Life! This is the grace, the awareness, that my money lender friend is referring to.
So don’t remain stuck with pain. Use whatever is causing you pain__and suffering__as a means, a channel, to understand Life. And liberate yourself through that understanding!
You need to be peaceful to face Life and to last the journey. Inner peace comes from letting go.
A couple came to me to talk about their child. He’s 17 and has been on drugs for over a couple of years now. They have tried counselling him. They have tried changing his school. They have sent him to rehab. But the boy simply finds a way back into the circle that got him hooked on in the first place. In yet another attempt to wean him off the habit, they have moved him to a residential school in another city. They looked beaten and battered to me. Naturally. They wanted to understand if they had failed as parents or if there was anything more they needed to do. I could feel their pain and anguish. They have been exceptional parents: they have been understanding, they have been proactive and they have been decisive at every step. So, I advised them to stop feeling guilty. Honestly, there’s nothing more they can do for their child. They have done everything that’s practical and possible. So I said, “Just let go and let Life take over. If you believe in prayer, pray. If you don’t want to or don’t believe in prayer, just let Life happen…you go with the flow.”
The father of the boy asked: “Doesn’t letting go mean we are ‘washing our hands off him’?”
I totally understood where the man was coming from. People often think letting go means abdicating. So I clarified that letting go does not mean getting rid of a problem or situation or person. It is surely not inaction. Letting go is about practicing detachment, so that you preserve your inner peace, when you have tried your best and have been unable to solve a Life situation. Letting go is about surrendering to Life. It is about you telling Life that you acknowledge that Life is the Higher Energy. It is about confessing that you are clueless and powerless. And it is about offering yourself to be led by Life.
Seriously, consider the couple’s situation. If you had been in their shoes, you too would have done all that they have done. And then what else would you have done? What else can you do when all that you have done is not producing results? The boy has to turn around. Or, he will just stay trapped in the ruinous habit. When he refuses to see reason, what else can you do other than trusting Life?
You must understand that there are only two kinds of problem situations in Life. Those that you can solve and those that, no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot solve. These are problems that Life solves, on its own, at its own pace, over time. Now, for those situations or problems that you can solve, you don’t need to worry. While logically you don’t need to worry about situations that you can’t solve either, your mind will force you to worry about them. So, instead of letting go and surrendering to Life, you keep fighting the situations imagining that you are trying to solve them! This is how you create suffering and invite misery into your Life!
Intelligent living is not about applying your intellect to Life. It is about being intelligent enough to know that you must let go when you can’t solve a problem situation! All our scriptures talk of the concept of surrender. In Hinduism it is called saranagati. It basically means being in a let-go! But because the wisdom of the scriptures are often expressed through religion, which currently is practised very divisively and needlessly ritualistically, it ends up alienating even those people who may be willing to give the concept of total surrender, of let go, a chance.
Surrendering to Life involves letting go of your ego. It is the state when you realize that you can’t solve a problem or crisis! You are then willing to go with the flow of Life. Even then your Life’s problems may not get solved immediately. But, importantly, you are not fighting them anymore. And when you are not fighting, when you are not resisting, you are always peaceful. It is only through inner peace that you develop the resilience to face Life and to last any long, crisis-ridden, journey!