Beyond ‘earning a living’, make time for living!

Why do we do precious little to nurture, develop, grow and protect all those things that come free in Life while ending up working 60+-hour weeks ‘earning a living’ and trying to cling on to, protect stuff, that in the end are impermanent, dispensible, unimportant, forgettable and replaceable?

Indeed. Without doubt, it’s all small stuff!

Between wanting to be right and doing what is right, and what is best in a given circumstance, choose the latter.

Yesterday, while at a busy intersection, when the traffic light turned to green, I hung a right. My car was behind another. As I completed the right turn, a car coming from the street opposite, broke the red light (which was on for that lane) and rammed into my car’s rear. A traffic policeman was on duty. And he rushed forward. I stepped out and surveyed the damage. My car was dented while the other car only had a scratch as it had a huge metal guard mounted on its front. The gentleman driving the other car was wearing a tie. He looked like he was a senior management executive in a corporate; he had a blue tooth device on his ear and a smart phone strapped to his belt. I said nothing while I looked at both the cars. The cop, looked at the gentleman and asked him, “Couldn’t you see that you had a red light?” The gentleman retorted: “Of course not! I had a green light as I drove past the signal.” Pointing to me, he continued, “This man drove past the red light at his end.” The traffic cop was aghast. So was I. A couple of onlookers were surprised too. One of them, an auto-rickshaw driver was blunt. He said to the gentleman, “Sir, the least you can do is apologize.” That comment ticked off the gentleman even more. He became livid. He looked at the hapless traffic cop and declared that he knew senior officers in the police force. He looked at me and demanded an apology. I reflected on the situation. I considered that we were holding up traffic during rush hour. The dent on my car surely needed addressing. But, I concluded, I was not going to demand justice at the cost of my peace of mind. I apologized to the gentleman, shook hands with the traffic cop, thanked the auto-rickshaw driver, got into my car and drove away.

It is possible my choice is debatable. But that’s what, I believed, was the best thing to do in the circumstances.

As I drove away, I thought to myself: ‘How would I have handled this situation just 10 years ago?’ Surely, I would have stood my ground. I would have been seething with rage. I would have insisted that the gentleman was at fault. And the episode would have dragged into a saga – involving an accident complaint, an insurance claim and a burning desire to prove myself right and the other man wrong. And then I thought deeper, would my being right in a street brawl, have really mattered 10 years later, to this New Year’s Day of 2014? Certainly not! I guess that’s what evolution as an individual is all about. I felt good that I had evolved, even if marginally, over the years!

Often the biggest hurdle to individual evolution is the desire to want to control outcomes, to prove oneself right and to hold on to opinions. Focusing on the merits of each experience is perhaps a good way to ascertain and convince yourself if such clinging on is really worth it. I have learned that answering three questions really help making an intelligent choice in any circumstance:

  1.       Will what you are fighting for really matter some years from now?
  2.       What is best for all parties involved – letting go or proving yourself right?
  3.       Which stance – letting go or clinging on – will help preserve your inner peace?

Several years ago, I remember reading Richard Carlson’s fabulous book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…”. It makes so much more sense now than it did then. I particularly like the second line of the book’s title that says – “…and it’s all small stuff”. Indeed, in Life’s grander, larger, design, everything – absolutely everything – is small stuff. And any fight to cling on to anything is bound to affect your inner peace! Ask yourself, each time before you launch into an ‘I-am-right’ mode if it is really worth it?


Don’t let any irritant interfere with your living, your Life, fully!

Smile and feel your anger slink away!

Most of us get irritated with the small stuff. And it is how we deal with the small stuff that defines how we deal with the big stuff in our lives. Small stuff are the everyday irritants __ a flat tyre, a delayed flight, your smart phone or your computer hanging, an endless, boring, listless meeting, someone jumping the queue in which you are standing! All of these, and several more, punctuate our daily lives with alarming frequency. And each time we lose our temper or even feel irritated, we are losing that many more seconds, minutes, hours and days of our Life to stuff that won’t matter at all in the long run!

Junior Balamuralikrishna
Yesterday, a young, talented musician taught me an important lesson in how to deal with such small stuff. We were at a Carnatic music concert by the gifted artiste, whom The Hindu calls, Junior M Balamuralikrishna (so that he is not confused with the maestro and Padma Vibhushan awardee who goes by the same name). He was outstanding. I don’t follow the nuances of Carnatic music the way connoisseurs do, but I do know that there is a thing called concert etiquette. This, I believe, is to be normally adhered to by both organizers and audiences. Yesterday’s concert was organized to celebrate the 30th wedding anniversary of a couple we know very well. So, even as the concert was on, several late comers, walked up to the couple seated in the front row to greet them. Flowers were given, hugs were exchanged and wishes showered. Clearly the occasion’s spirit dwarfed the concert brilliance. Impolitely so too. Yet the artiste, Junior Balamuralikrishna, went on singing. What intrigued me was that he smiled each time he found the activity in front of him distractive or disturbing. I found it strange the first few times that he did it. So I thought it to be a coincidence. But, as I started to observe him closely, I discovered that there was a pattern to his smiling. He sang, I assume, flawlessly, immersed in his own joy of being able to create such divine music. And he smiled only when he felt disturbed or, if I have read his mind correctly, when he was irritated. As the concert progressed, something even more bizarre happened. The audio system at the venue acted up and at regular intervals started to give a shrill, shocking feedback through its speakers. I am sure any other artiste would have lost it for the number times this happened. But Junior Balamuralikrishna simply smiled each time, still singing! Then someone insensitively, perhaps inadvertently too, dropped a stainless steel tumbler. The tumbler landed on the ground a few times,  before someone grabbed it, and in that time it was such a jarring interruption. Everyone in the audience turned in the direction of the sound. But not Junior Balamuralikrishna. His smile only got wider and I could see the wonder in his eyes! He went on singing. But if I could have read his smile this time, it was saying: “Wow! Now, that’s interesting!” It was a beautiful, humbling and educative experience to watch this young man systematically turn sources of intense irritation into sources of amusement, wonder and amazement.

After the concert, I caught up with him. And asked him how he managed to smile every time he could have chosen to react with anger, provoked by the irritants. He replied, smiling, “I have been singing for 18 years now. I can’t let these (irritants) come in the way of my singing.

The lesson for me was simple: don’t ever let any irritant interfere with your living, your Life, fully! And there’s a simple way to define an irritant, the small stuff, and differentiate it from a problem or a challenge. I think it was ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ author Richard Carlson who said that an irritant very simply is stuff that you will not remember at all a year from now. When you employ this criteria, more than 80 % of stuff that irritate you, bug you, bother you, worry you and clutter your mindspace, will fall in that IGNORE and SMILE bucket. Learn to smile at them rather than be enslaved by them! Only then will you live a fuller, meaningful and trouble-free Life! Besides, when you learn to smile at these daily irritants, your ability to deal with the remaining 20 % __ Life’s really big challenges__goes up phenomenally. (There’s way to deal with the big stuff too in Life. But that’s matter for another post, another day!) Even so, it surely makes sense using your available energy in fixing the big stuff in Life than frittering it all away on non-meaningful, unproductive things!  Doesn’t it?