A gentleman comes to me “cowering in fear” over what he imagines is an impending job loss and a divorce. He wants to know if he can stop being fearful. In this Vlog, I share what I told him; I share how I overcame my fear through facing a Life-threatening experience!
View time: 5:04 minutes
Certainty is an illusion. It doesn’t exist.
“What if you have a heart attack and die suddenly? What if both of you die? Are you not scared of your impending death? Doesn’t it worry you when you have so many responsibility and commitments – especially your debt to repay,” asked a member in the audience at my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk recently.
I don’t grudge that question. I have thought about it to myself on several occasions. But I have also learnt that fearing uncertainty is the surest way to invite suffering into your Life. So, I always take the Kamaraj approach of “Agattum Parkalam” – “Let it happen, we will see!”
Certainty is a man-made illusion. Before you were born, where was the certainty that you would be? When you were an infant, where was the certainty that you would be provided for, fed on time, cared and loved? As you grew older you were tricked into this illusion of certainty __ you are sure to have a home, you usually have both parents with you, siblings, education is guaranteed, and you are bound to get a job, earn wages and raise a family! How much more simpler Life would be if only it were to progress in this certain, assured, linear fashion__one thing leading to another with such predictability and precision?
Just to demolish this illusion, and wake up to reality, if you live in any part of urban India, go to a busy traffic intersection closest to you. And after getting over the shock of seeing so many homeless, destitute children begging there, strike up a conversation with any or some of them. You will soon discover how uncertain their lives have been. And continue to be. Maybe some were abandoned by their parents. Maybe some were kidnapped by organized racketeers in the begging syndicate. They live on and off the streets. Abused by people like us who despise their presence and by heartless cops who extort their meager earnings from them. When you understand their Life’s design, you will awaken to the inscrutable, uncertain ways of Life. And when you think about it, you will just be grateful that you were born to your parents and not to theirs __ and there was no way ever you could have been certain of this realization until this moment!
It is also when you are faced with uncertainty for the first time, that you will stop taking Life for granted. A first layoff, a first health crisis, a first relationship break-down, a first financial crisis – that’s really when you begin to realize that perhaps you had read Life differently. That maybe, just maybe, you cannot really be certain about some things in Life.
The truth however is that you can be certain about nothing in Life. The way to deal with uncertainty is to welcome it. Don’t try to wish it away. Because it ain’t going anywhere. It is always here with you. For instance, if you have a good job, enough savings and investments to take care of your retirement, where’s the certainty that your health will be all fine or that your companion still loves you? Of if you have a health complication and have the best doctors treating you, where’s the certainty that you will still survive? Where is the certainty that your family members will live long enough to be with you till your very end? So, don’t try to crave for a Life without uncertainty. If you accept Life as being uncertain, you will find joy in each moment.
So, approach Life with a ‘what is’ than with a ‘what if’. ‘What is’ is a celebration of the moment you are in now and there’s nothing uncertain about that moment. It is happening. So, there can be no fear of it. ‘What if’ is fear-inducing and amplifies what is not yet. It is imaginary; it breeds fear and suffering. Literally, as in that iconic dialogue from Sholay, ‘Jo Darr Gaya, Samjho Marr Gaya’! In the end, it is so very simple: when you embrace uncertainty you will find immense joy and beauty in this totally unpredictable, inscrutable experience called Life!
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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Don’t resist Life – be ready and willing to flow with it!
Gauri Shinde’s new film Dear Zindagi (Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan) has suddenly revived interest in the Ilayaraaja classic “Aye Zindagi, Gale Laga Le” from Sadma (1983, Suresh Wadkar; Balu Mahendra, Kamal Haasan, Sri Devi). I am yet to see Shinde’s film, but I spent much of the weekend listening to the original song by Wadkar (the new version is sung by Arijit Singh); I simply love Gulzar saab’s lyrics…the opening line means…“Come, embrace me Life; don’t I embrace all the pain that you send my way…?”
As I write this blogpost, I remain immersed in the spiritual essence of this song…it teaches us to accept the Life we have. But unfortunately, because of our social conditioning, we don’t learn this simple lesson early enough. We live much of our Life steeped in insecurity, resisting pain, asking why, why me, and so we suffer!
I can relate to this conditioning from my own experience. To be sure, I too felt insecure when I first came face to face, nine years ago, with the reality that we were insolvent and our Firm was bankrupt (read more in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal ). Of course, I was devastated by the gravity of our crisis and was very, very scared of where we would end up in Life. But resisting the insecurity, wishing that things were different, only made me suffer. And in my suffering I could not focus. I was always unhappy. When you don’t focus or are unhappy, how can you function? How can you think of even attempting to solve your problems? While I could make sense of the futility of my suffering, I didn’t know where to start or what to do. What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
My daily practice of mouna (silence periods) helped me understand that all Life is impermanent, that pain is inevitable, and if we choose to embrace the Life we have, then we can completely avoid the suffering. I came to realize that Life really is an “adventure”, a “deep dive”, a “bunjee jump” into the unknown. Insecurity, pain and impermanence, I discovered, are the very weaves that make up the fabric of Life. Over time, I awakened to the truth that you can’t ever “fix” your Life, you can only flow with it, and allow Life to repair and reinvent on its own.
When I started seeing Life from this new perspective, I saw that each day threw up a fresh episode of “adventure” – a legal twist here, an irate creditor who had lost patience with our situation there, bills to be paid for essential services like electricity and telephones when there was no money to even buy groceries, a health situation to be urgently addressed; yet each time we thought it was all over, help, a.k.a miracles, arrived from unexpected quarters. No day, as Vaani and I have experienced, has been the same. Honestly, not all the stuff that comes our way on a daily basis, however new or fresh it is, is appetizing. But however much we feel spent at the end of each day, we wake up revived the next day. And take that day’s “adventure” head-on. This is how we have been living, in fact thriving, this past decade. In this time, it has become clear to me that Life has all along been, and will continue to be incredible, inscrutable and, therefore, insecure. Clearly, Vaani and I don’t have that sense of security that a steady income can provide, yet when we stopped feeling insecure about it, and let go, and let Life take over, things have happened on their own. We have learnt that our duty is to make our daily efforts and let the results take care of themselves. Even so, we don’t deserve, nor do we claim, any credit for the way we have learnt to live our Life. Why would anyone want a crisis, and as in our case, a prolonged state of cashlessness and worklessness? We simply chose to accept the Life we got and we have.
This numbing phase of our Life has taught us to live with insecurity. There are days, several times in a month, when we really don’t know what will happen from an income or business point of view. But we know fully well that we will be taken care of. Maybe this is what they call faith. Not in an external God. But in Life itself – that if you have been created and you are in whatever situation you are placed in, you will be cared for, provided for and looked after. Maybe this is what Gulzar saab’s lyrics, with the song’s revival, are trying to remind us; that always be ready and willing to flow with Life! So, Aye Zindagi, Gale Lagaa Le…!
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You too can be courageous in a situation – if you choose to face whatever you fear!
A reader of my Book ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’ (Westland) met me at The Uncommon Leader Event I was curating last evening. He said he found my Book very useful in developing the courage to deal with his own Life: “I was running away from my problems. Your story inspired me to turn around and face Life. Thank you!”
I am grateful to this reader for his feedback. It makes me feel blessed that our experience and learnings are useful for someone, somewhere.
It is only through living with fear, from feeling insecure, desperate and despondent, that I personally woke up to the futility of those emotions. When I was tired of living that way, I decided to turn around and face my situation. And, interestingly, what I feared most stopped haunting me. In fact, my worst fears have never come true and only facing my fears have made me be courageous in dark, apparently, no-go situations!
To be sure, fear spares no one. Even so, interestingly, all of us have the ability to be courageous. Because courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is what fear delivers when you face up to the fear. Only when you face up to something, will you realize that it cannot harm you; only what you run away from chases you, haunts you.
For instance, with a health challenge like cancer, you will feel fearful of death. But as long as you run scared of death, it will torment you. But the moment you discover that death is a non-negotiable eventuality that all of us who are born have to confront, you will no longer fear death. Then you start living. And you begin to feel blessed that at least you reasonably know how much time you have left to live. So, you start investing in the process of living than obsess with the process of dying. Clearly, fear of death has delivered to you the ability, the courage, to live simply because you stopped running away from death.
So, it is with every Life situation. The more you run away from a problem, the more fearful you will be. When you face it, the problem, even if it doesn’t go away, will at least stop tormenting you. Try this approach on anything that you are dealing with presently – watch your fear dissolve and feel the courage rising in you! Let me assure you, you will feel infinitely stronger, no matter what your circumstances are!