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!
Flowing with Life is not inaction.
A reader asked me this question the other day: “How can you flow with Life when you are pulled in different directions by your situation?”
This is a very important question. Indeed. All of us have to face these pulls and pressures. You have family issues, health challenges, work targets, worries, heartbreaks, children to raise, parents to look after – and possibly so many, many more dimensions to deal with. How can you just let go and offer yourself to be led by Life?
The truth is that you have all along been, are being, and will continue to be led by Life. No matter whether you believe in this or not, your Life has been happening on its own. Yet, your education and therefore your intellect, make it appear to you that you are in control. That you have been directing the course of your Life. Which is why, when an inscrutable Life situation arrives, you immediately resist it. You want to use all your intellect, logic, reasoning, willpower and get rid of that situation. Now how can all of these resolve a complex relationship issue? How can they help you rid yourself of a final stage cancer? How can they bring back someone you love from the dead? But your desire to control your Life drive you to resist the Life that you get. Anything that you resist, persists. Which is why you suffer. Your suffering is there only because you want your Life to be different from what it is. So, to avoid suffering, the best way to live is to never resist the Life you have been given. Simply flow with it.
Reaching this state of being, when you can accept your Life for what it is, and keep going with the flow, takes practice. But it is possible. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, an ordinary storekeeper, who lived in Mumbai, until his death in 1981, and a spiritual thinker and teacher to thousands, says, when true awareness has come from within, we will be ‘open and willing to let Life just flow’. “Be like a cinema screen. Clear and empty. The pictures pass over it and disappear, leaving it as clear and empty as before,” he says. The ability to be ‘clear and empty’ at all times, untouched by the pictures of our lives, is the highest, most exalted state! To get to this pinnacle of spiritual evolution, we must begin first with accepting Life as it happens – instead of trying to either resist it or analyzing it beyond a point.
Going with the flow surely does not mean inaction. It really means that you will keep doing whatever you have to do in a situation but you will remain unfrustrated when you don’t get the results you want. This is the absolute key to living intelligently. The short of all I have said is captured in the magical word ‘detachment’. If you can stay detached and go with the flow, you can only be happy, no matter what your circumstances are.
Citizenship can be ordered about, but nation-ness comes from within!
On Tuesday evening, after a Talk I delivered at a Rotary Club, we sang the National Anthem at the end of the meeting. I get goosebumps every time I sing or hear Jana Gana Mana. That’s me. And I felt those goosebumps again that evening.
As far as I know, in half a century of being Indian, every Indian gets those goosebumps. And every Indian relates to our Anthem in their own special, private, unique way. Therefore, I find the drama over the recent order by the Supreme Court avoidable – it makes playing of the National Anthem in movie halls mandatory, and by inference, insists that people respect the song by standing up while it plays its 52-second length. I feel if people were not told that they have to respect the Anthem by standing up, had the Court order been understood as just to be playing the Anthem mandatorily, there would have not been an issue. Sadly now, the whole idea behind the playing of the Anthem in movie halls is not being understood, it is being interpreted and resisted!
As a case in point, I found a young friend’s recent comment on Facebook very disturbing. She said she did not stand up to the Anthem in a movie hall and instead preferred being called a ‘traitor’ by some members of the audience. I am sure she didn’t mean that she is a ‘traitor’; I am also sure she is not okay being jeered at and taunted by jingoists. What we must recognize here is that her choosing not to stand up for the National Anthem is symbolism; basically, what is unstated and what she – and several million other Indians – are trying to communicate is that “the state cannot dictate how I must feel for my country”. And I completely agree with that sentiment. To my knowledge, movie halls in Maharashtra have been playing the National Anthem for the longest time – and without any fuss. I have watched movies there and I have sung the Anthem with joy and fervor – and have had my goosebumps! Clearly, not standing up to the National Anthem, when it is played, is not being anti-national.
In fact, I want to go back in time to Republic Day, 2000. A.R.Rahman and Bharatbala launched the Jana Gana Mana video album that day. The President of India K.R.Narayanan released it in the Central Hall of Parliament. The album featured 35 leading Indian artists – vocalists and instrumentalists – coming together to create an unputdownable, timeless work of art. The video, which had the Anthem in subtitles in 16 Indian languages, did not stipulate that standing up as a mark of respect to the National Anthem was mandatory. In fact, it would not be very comfortable to stand for the entire duration of the video; the physical strain would certainly take away from soaking in the beauty of the song’s rendering! It is best enjoyed in private, in solitude, when reflecting. I have often had a glass of whisky by my side as I have let Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s lyrics of the Anthem, Rahman’s music and the rendering by various music maestros, take me on a pilgrimage of being Indian. And almost always, goosebumps apart, I have been moved to tears. For me, on the rocks, both whisky and the National Anthem, are awesome! I treasure that album because it helps me not just revisit but also celebrate my Indian-ness. It is a strong reminder that citizenship can be ordered about – given, taken away – but nation-ness comes from within, it is a deeply personal, spiritual feeling of longing and belonging.
However, the response to the queer Supreme Court order must not be what it is today. Okay, question the logic if you like. But don’t protest it, don’t resist it. Anything that you resist will cause your suffering. Instead surrender yourself to the joy of your Indian-ness by celebrating the Anthem. It appeals differently to each of us. You can never package patriotism, your Indian-ness, in a framework and generalize it – which is what the interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling is ending up doing. So, let’s go past that order’s letter and recognize the spirit in each Indian, which is a right to feel Indian in their own special way. It is a birthright, a jamnasiddha adhikar, not merely a Constitutional one. So, celebrate your Indian-ness by embracing the Anthem, by living it and by respecting it.
What is most admirable about India is how the National Anthem, without any formal, enforced education, is known to so many, many, Indians. This is a country where so many rules exist. And almost all those rules are flouted by the aam Indian – from not wearing helmets while riding two-wheelers to drinking and driving to littering in public spaces to paying petty bribes….the list is endless. Yet, nowhere is it mandated that you must sing the National Anthem to prove your Indian-ness – for instance, it is not a pre-requisite for issuing you a Passport or Aadhaar card; but still, so many million Indians know and sing the Anthem. And almost everyone, always, stands up in respect in public spaces – without any direction or reminder. This is the Indian-ness that we must preserve and nurture. In fighting a Court’s ruling, don’t let your inner Indian-ness, your peace, be vitiated.
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It is what it is. You just be available to, present in and accepting of what is. And you will be at peace and happy!
Yesterday, while watching Rockstar (2011, Imtiaz Ali, Irshad Kamil, A.R.Rahman, Javed Ali, Mohit Chauhan, Nizami Brothers) on TV, my daughter, listening to A.R.Rahman’s soul-stirring number Kun Faayakun, asked me what the song’s opening words meant. I have often wanted to know what they meant too. So, I looked up Google. And this was the most beautiful answer I got.
Kun Faayakun comes from the Arabic words “Kun (كن)” which means “to be” or “to exist” and “Faayakun (فيكون)” which means “It is”. So its literal meaning is “Be, and, It is”. Kun Faayakun actually is a Quranic verse referred to five times in the Quran. It is referred to symbolize God’s creative power. This term is about God’s will and absolute control over every creation. In Surah Baqrah (2:117) this phrase appears as: “The Originator of the heavens and the earth, when He decrees a matter, He only says to it: “Be!” and “It is.””
While that may be the definitive, scriptural meaning, I feel closer to understanding the meaning of Kun Faayakun, at a spiritual level, as this: Whatever it is, is; so just be and let whatever is, just be. It is what it is.
So, when there is pain, let the pain simply be. Don’t resist it. When there is grief, let the grief just be, don’t ask for it to not be there. When there is joy, experience the joy. Just be in what is, with what is. All your suffering comes from resisting any current reality in your Life. When you don’t wish the presence of anything that is, you suffer. So, Kun Faayakun, to me, celebrates the spirit of acceptance, by just being with what is.
And my favorite line from Irshad Kamil’s lyrics in the song is this one: “…araj tujhe kar de mujhe mujhse hi riha…” which means “…my plea to Thee is to free me of myself…” If you truly have understood the impermanence of Life, if you have understood its transient nature, you will feel closest to creation and learn to be detached from your worldliness. Your worldliness comes from all that you are attached to – your name, your gender, your age, qualifications, assets, wealth, relationships, opinions, memories, experiences, reputation…and anything that you have acquired here on this journey through this planet, in this lifetime. And it is only because of your being attached to your worldly acquisitions that you suffer. Drop your attachments and your suffering will end. Instantaneously.
This is how I have learnt to live. I am in great pain because of my circumstances. But I don’t suffer anymore. And I have learnt to be non-suffering only by just being and letting everything just be – as it is. ‘Kun Faayakun’ to me, therefore, is not only a great A.R.Rahman song, it is not just a Quranic verse, it is the spirit of my very being. And it is beautiful! It is, if you like, a prescription, for happiness too!
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.
It is our inability to accept our new, ever-changing, realities that causes all our suffering.
Yesterday, we watched an interesting Malayalam film called “Neena” (2015, Lal Jose, Deepti Sati, Vijay Babu, Ann Augustine). It’s a love triangle of sorts involving two very strong women characters, Neena and Nalini, and Nalini’s husband – who is also Neena’s boss – Vinu. When Neena chooses to distance herself from Vinu, just when he is willing to get involved with her, a character in the film, a psychiatrist, tells Vinu: “Everything changes. Absolutely everything.”
I loved the line and the impactful manner in which the psychiatrist character (played by Lena Abhilash) delivers it onscreen. Apart from triggering a pivotal turning point in the film’s script, the line has a deep spiritual import. If you have understood this line and internalized it, Life can be so much simpler to live. I will add to that line, remember this, everyone changes too – and that includes you!
It doesn’t matter how old you are, but if you spend some time reviewing and reflecting on your Life so far, you too will appreciate that you have witnessed so much change in and around you in all your time. Yet, why do we struggle with dealing with change? The answer is pretty simple. We refuse to accept that Life is ever-flowing, like a river, in fact. We want and expect our Life to be static, just so that it remains the way we want it to be. But this is impossible. According to a popular Zen saying, you don’t step into the same river twice. This means that in the time you took to step into a river, withdrew your feet, and stepped in again, the river has flown; it has changed! So it is with Life. Gulzar captures this so beautifully in the immortal Kishore Kumar song “Aane Wala Pal, Jaane Wala Hai” from Golmaal (1978, music by R D Burman). The second line of the mukhda is very powerful. It says, “…Ho Sake To Isme Zindagi Bita Do, Pal Jo Yeh Jaane Wala Hai…” It means, “…live your Life in the moment, for this moment will be gone soon…”
Indeed, over time, everything and everyone changes. This is the unalterable law of the Universe. So, if you find that people around you have changed, your old relationships have withered away even as newer ones have evolved, take them as they come. When you see physical, bodily changes in you, don’t fear them, know that it is a natural process of change – growing first, slowly withering away to eventually perishing. Every aspect of our lifestyle has changed in just the last 10 years – from the way we bank, to the way we communicate to the way we shoot pictures and the way we connect and share with our friends and family. With such irrevocable change happening to us and around us, it is a no-brainer that change must be welcomed and embraced for your own inner peace, your own happiness. Yet, the only reason why you struggle with change is because you are non-accepting of it. Instead embrace the change, accept it and move on. Learn to flow with Life. Remember: all what you resist causes your suffering. But the moment you accept whatever is, you can be totally happy – not matter what your circumstances are.