When you are hurting, take a 30,000ft view of your Life

Sometimes people mess around with you for no reason. Sometimes they do it intentionally. Whatever be their motives, the fact that you have been messed around with cannot be reversed. In either case, just shrug off the situation and move on. Even if you can’t forget what has happened, move on – and, if possible, forgive the people involved!
The other day, our client, an organization that we were conducting a workshop for, had provided us a car with a driver. It was a badly maintained car and the driver seemed particularly disinterested in his job. During the course of our ride, when we stopped at an eatery, we invited the driver to lunch with us. He politely declined saying he had “finished” his lunch. After our lunch, when we got into the car, we found it smelling of food. Apparently, he had had his lunch in the car; worse, to my dismay, he had used a document bag I had carried along as a prop for him to open his lunch box and set out the dishes. A lot of food had spilled on my bag and had stained it all over. When I confronted him, the driver mumbled a meek, remorseless, apology and volunteered half-heartedly to clean my bag for me.
Initially I was furious. The driver’s bad etiquette pissed me off no doubt. I was even more put off by his lack of empathy. He had messed up my bag – the least he could do was to genuinely feel sorry. But no, the driver was in no mood for this. For some time I was grumpy with him and the situation. He had no right or reason to do this to any guest/passenger, I thought. My wife, seeing my sense of exasperation, stepped in and urged me to move on. I had barely begun to reason with the driver, but I saw my wife’s point and soon dismissed the idea as a complete waste of time.
The next morning as I attempted to clean up my bag, I could not escape the learnings and perspectives the entire episode offered.
The driver and the food-spill are but metaphors for people and situations we find ourselves in. On many an occasion we are pissed on and passed over. It hurts more when there’s no provocation from our side. When you are focused on your work and someone comes to disrupt it or rides roughshod over you, you feel vulnerable. Not because you don’t know that you can retaliate but you feel so numb – why would anybody want to expect anyone to be insensitive and unkind to them? – that you don’t know what to do or how to respond. The best response, so that you protect your inner peace, is to forgive, even if you can’t forget, and simply move on. This applies as much in small, mundane, everyday skirmishes with rank strangers as it does with pre-meditated attempts to cause you anguish by people close to you. When you don’t move on, and instead demand justice or seek understanding from insensitive folks, you are only allowing yourself to be hurt more; to be trampled upon more. Because insensitive people are not bothered about how you are feeling. They may not have set out to hurt you but if you are hurt, it hardly bothers them. So, why waste your time with them and on them?

Also, people, events, situations are just the way they are meant to be in your Life. When I reflected, I concluded that the food-spill in the car was just meant to be. In the larger scheme of my Life, I reckoned, the food-spill and the irritation it caused should hardly matter. Because I am dealing with a far messier situation – I am in the throes of a bankruptcy, working harder each day to put our business and our Firm back on track. Besides, the driver’s insensitivity pales in significance in front of my mother’s – she called me a cheat because of my inability to return money I had borrowed from her. Similarly, when you reflect on your Life, you will find that the misery you feel over people’s actions and attitudes are hardly relevant in the context of your Life’s larger design. When something is hurting you and you are obsessed with that hurt, zoom out and look at the bigger picture. Take a 30,000ft view of your Life. You will realize soon that you can reason with someone when reason works. But you cannot reason with someone who doesn’t see reason. So, be smart. Protect your inner peace. In such situations, with such people, simply forgive and move on!

Mukesh Singh is a metaphor for all remorseless people who surround us

Ignore people who have hurt you and show no remorse. There’s no point in lamenting their behavior. Forgive them if you can, and even if you can’t forgive or forget, simply move on…  

Mukesh Singh
Picture Courtesy: BBC World/Leslee Udwin/Internet
I finally watched Leslee Udwin’s controversial – and now banned – documentary India’s Daughter that tells the horrific story of the gang rape (and subsequent death) of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh on December 16, 2012. What struck me most was the remorselessness of Mukesh Singh, one of the convicts on death row. He is one of the six who is convicted of rape and murder – he has since appealed against his conviction in the Supreme Court. He tells Udwin in the film: “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape.” As he says this, Mukesh’s face is expressionless, dead-pan and his tone is cold, showing no signs of either guilt or repentance. Of course, there’s a huge debate going on out there whether it is right to allow such an unrepentant and heinous view as Mukesh’s – which seeks to justify violence against women – publicly or not. Each side of this debate has its own argument. For now, the Indian government has banned the documentary. But my personal opinion is that it ought not have been banned – people must know how people who commit such crimes actually think. The film only portrays, brutally honestly, the mind of a rapist and murderer.
But if you pause to reflect and consider another perspective, Mukesh Singh is also a metaphor. He personifies anyone who tries to justify their unjust actions. And there are several people like that around us – in our families, among our friends, at our workplaces and in public, in society. These are people who continue to do what they do, often at the cost of other people’s rights, emotions and liberties, and, in almost as cold-blooded a fashion as Mukesh does in Udwin’s film, they justify that their actions are right. They believe vehemently that they did what they thought appeared to be right to them. So, there’s no question of them feeling guilty or repentant at all. And so they go on – often, mercilessly and remorselessly, trampling on people, emotionally, and at times, even physically. Now, here’s a view you may want to consider: what’s right and what’s wrong is always subjective. What appears right to you may not be so to me. And what’s wrong to me may appear right to you. Look at Mukesh – the way he looks at women is very different from the way all of us look at them. But Mukesh couldn’t care less. To him his view is the right one. So, he may as well go to the gallows, than repent – let alone reform. So, people who cause pain and suffering to others do so only because they firmly believe what they are doing is right. Period. No amount of our efforts to make them see reason, or reform them, is bound to bear fruit unless something within them changes; until their conscience awakens.

The tragic truth we must all live with is that our society and our lives abound with people like Mukesh. The best way to deal with them, if they are in your personal circle of influence, is to simply let them be. Don’t try to educate them. No education will be possible until there are both ready and willing to unlearn and learn. Don’t try to reform them. They won’t awaken unless they realize the futility of the path they have chosen. Don’t try to avenge them. This will only make you bitter – for they are likely to fight you to the end. It is best to leave such people to a higher energy, to a cosmic retribution, if you will. As for you, if you at all have one of these people in your Life, well, simply forgive them if you can. And if you can’t forgive or forget them, leave them alone and move on. This is the only way to protect your inner peace.

Forgive, even if you can’t forget, let go and move on!

When you end up having to fight someone or something, or plain injustice, don’t let emotion rule you. Being angry and emotional will only ruin your inner peace.
This morning’s Chennai Times reports Tamil lyricist Thamarai’s on-going protest against her husband Thiyagu. The couple have been estranged for a few months and Thamarai’s been on a sit-in protest with her son Samaran outside Thiyagu’s office for the last few days. She’s been demanding that her husband apologize to her and, possibly, reunite with her. The media has been full of stories of her protest. Today’s Chennai Times leads with this heading, a quote from Thamarai, for a story by Janani Karthik: “I need the 20 years I spent with my husband back.” 
Samaran and Thamarai sit in protest
Picture Courtesy: Internet
I felt sorry for Thamarai. Not just because she is having to grapple with a personal challenge. But also because someone as intelligent and as deeply soulful (her work in Tamil cinema in recent years is unputdownable) as she is, has lost her equanimity and is responding in such a futile manner to the situation. I am not even speaking in favor of or against either Thamarai or Thiyagu. I don’t know them. If we were to go by Thamarai’s version, Thiyagu left home in November last year and has been refusing to resume ties with her ever since. Clearly, it shows that the couple have stopped relating to each other. When there’s no relating between two people, what is the point in berating the relationship – that too in public? I feel sorry for Thamarai that she does not realize that her relationship with Thiyagu is dead. It’s over. Even if they come back together, it will be more for a social need than for experiencing the joy of being together. Also, by demanding something which cannot happen – wanting back the 20 years she spent with him – Thamarai is only causing herself more grief and agony. Which, although she claims otherwise, will affect her craft – something that is the bliss factor in her Life, something that she undoubtedly is a master of. In trying to shame Thiyagu and in trying to win the sympathy of her professional circle and of her fans, she’s simply on a mission to destroy her inner peace. In the context of a marital dispute, there are laws and the country’s family courts are more than equipped to sort out such an issue. In the context of her inner peace, she is only ruining it further by resisting what has already happened to her and failing to accept that her marriage with Thiaygu is, obviously, over! My advice, unsolicited obviously, to Thamarai is this: forgive, even if you can’t forget, simply let go and move on!

There’s a huge learning we can draw from l’affaire Thamarai. Very often in Life we may end up feeling let down, trampled upon, pissed on and passed over. We will want to avenge the person or the act or both. Every cell in our body will want revenge. After all, who can accept or tolerate injustice? This is when we must realize that the best way to win a battle is to not fight – emotionally – at all. Emotions only make any matter worse. By all means fight, but don’t respond emotionally. Chose a legal or sometimes a practical, strategic approach. Think through what you want. And act with a plan. Don’t react. In a dispute such as Thamarai’s and Thiyagu’s, public shaming will get neither party anywhere. Definitely not to feeling peaceful. Remember that people always do what they do because they feel they are right. In trying to tell someone that they are wrong, when they believe they are right, you may well end up burning a lot of your precious positive energy. You build up negativity and stress in you and, eventually, turn depressive. Instead if you approach the situation with peace, calm and – if possible, forgiveness, you will be able to operate with more clarity. When you are able to see the situation – and your Life – more clearly, you may really not want anything other than your inner peace. Most important, you may not want to fight at all. That’s when you will realize that there’s great value in forgiving someone, even if you can’t necessarily forget what they did to you!  

Nothing can ever be undone in Life

Never say or do anything in Life that cannot be taken back or undone. And you can take back and undo nothing!
This really means we must employ discretion at all times and never let anything be said or do anything that we will regret later. Scathing opinions are easy to roll off our tongues. Or, often times, we react in rage and anger, making choices and decisions that change things between us and other people – forever.
Some years ago, I used to be very trigger-happy. I had to say things as they occurred to me. And in one relationship, at least, I was keen that some decorum was maintained between me and the other person. So, I would hold a mirror. I would say the truth as it was. But this only made the relationship worse. The other person never understood anything – and never certainly understood me. So, here I was, to this person, for several years on the trot, irreverent, loud-mouthed, unfit and loathsome. It hurt me a lot that I was seen that way. So I resisted even more aggressively. Then, one day, in May 2009, we had a big, big, showdown. It was so intense, I would wake up with a nightmare thinking about it for weeks after that incident. It struck me, as I introspected deeply, that I had caused the distance between us to grow because of my insistence that the relationship be mended. I decided to give up that desire. And I withdrew into a shell. I have stayed there for a long, long time. Now, in the past few days, this person wants to revisit the relationship. The scars are there – very visible and so they remain unforgettable. I can’t forget what has been said about me or my family, I can’t ever forget how we have been treated at a very personal, human level. It’s true that I have evolved, so I have forgiven this person and I have moved on. But because the scars remain, and the wounds have been deep, I have given up hope that things can ever be improved between us. The fact that, once said and done, nothing can ever be undone in Life – especially in emotional, relationship contexts, only helps me continue to value my inner peace and forces me to stay where I am, in my shell!
When people anger us, they cause us to react in a similar manner. In our anger we say or do many things. These are further interpreted – they are never really understood – by those causing the situation in the first place. Then more anger gets expressed. More opinions are made and more negative energy is hurled at each other. Over time, a Great Wall, is built. And people begin to live on either side choosing to often wish the worst for those on the other side. Then, through a natural process of growth and evolution two realizations dawn: 1. That clinging on anger and hatred is futile. 2. That this is a big world and we are all small people. That our smallness is even more starkly evident with our “petty” disputes with people. But it is too late. Because a lot has been said and done, and because it can’t be undone, Life has to go on with the Great Wall growing longer, and often higher, with the passage of time.
I have learnt from Life that it’s always best to pause, to ask, in any potentially emotional and explosive situation, if what we are about to say or do is likely to do good to all concerned, if what we have to say is the truth and what we really believe in, if what we are choosing is what we always wanted. This kind of reasoning does not always help you get instantaneous clarity on issues but helps you with enough so that you can postpone making a choice or expressing an opinion immediately. Always a more reflective, informed stance on Life-situations, even if takes longer, benefits everyone concerned. At the core of our lives is the way people express and experience each other. Maybe, just maybe, if some thought can be exercised before saying or doing something, then there will be no need to seek to undo anything!?

Forgive, forget, act__but don’t avenge!

This may well sound counter-intuitive. Contradictory too!  How can you forgive and forget, still act, but not avenge? Doesn’t action, or reaction or revenge, come from remembering__and not forgetting__the pain of an injustice, an injury? How can one forgive and act__without avenging?

Let me share some learnings here. One sure learning is that we have made it complex with the way we deal with injustices and injuries in Life! This is not as difficult to achieve or as complex to understand as it sounds.

I met a friend recently after 20-odd years. I knew she had been divorced from her husband (whom I also knew very well__all three of us were colleagues at one point in time) for some years now. So, when we met for coffee, I did not bring up any reference to him, choosing to hold conversation over her son, her work and her interest in my work. Then, after hearing some of what I do and what I plan to do with our business, she quickly suggested that I should meet her ex-husband. I was quite surprised. I had known through common friends that in the years she been separating from her husband, things had been pretty rough for her. And so I had concluded that there might still be much acrimony between them. My first response was one of amazement when she said she would speak to him and re-connect me with him!

I asked her: “If you don’t mind, what led to the two of you divorcing? And how’s it that you both are still in touch?”

She replied: “Well, after the initial euphoria of the physical attraction had died down, we discovered that we could be excellent colleagues but never be good soul-mates. We enjoyed discussing work. But the moment we looked at each other as spouses we found we could not relate with the other on expectations, roles and responsibilities. Our sex Life had virtually ended in a few years of the marriage. But we went on with the charade of a marriage, first for family, then for society and then for our child. Every day was a nightmare__fights, followed by long periods of sulking. I always got the feeling he wanted me out. And I thought he was also interested in someone else. So I became both combative and possessive. This led to more fights. Then, seven years ago, I reasoned to myself, why am I holding him and me, and our son, to ransom in a relationship which is dead? It was so evident that it doesn’t exist. I reckoned that while I demanded him to be my husband, I had long ago refused to treat him as one. He was a doting father. But I could not accept him as my husband. While the early attempts to let go of him and our marriage were complete with mature reasoning, at the execution stage__when it came to speaking my mind__I faltered. Each time I tried, the beast of betrayal consumed me. I wanted to avenge him. But later I realized it was meaningless. It dawned on me that the reason he was interested in someone else was that he was no longer interested in me. So, I forgave myself, forgave him and decided to act! We sat together and agreed that we needed to dissolve this meaningless framework of marriage. We agreed to separate, divorce, while continuing be good colleagues. We are very good friends even now. He’s a good father to our son. He’s remarried and has a child from his second marriage. And there’s so much peace for all of us.”

I am impressed by the mature, practical approach my friend had taken in place of action that could well have been acrimonious, full of pain and suffering for all parties concerned.

My learning is that everyone who has been treated unjustly, unfairly by Life, or by someone, will initially want to dwell in the following two realms:

  • How dare ____________  do this to me? Fill in the blank with he, she, person’s name, company name, team name, Life, country name__whatever suits the context.
  • I will avenge this come what may!

Thinking within these realms is normal. So, relax if you have thought this way! But also know that both these realms thrive in the dark epicenter of your ego. If you are feeling hurt, feeling vengeful, about anyone or anything, it is because of your ego. The ego controls all negativity in you. The antidote for ego is awareness. When you are aware that the nature of Life is inscrutable__that anything can happen, including injustice, to you, you will be unmoved. When you realize that people act unjustly, causing untold suffering and misery to those around them, because they themselves are suffering, you will respond with empathy than react with anger.

Look around. There’s so much injustice that’s happening to you or to people around you! Even before the memories of the gory end Nirbhaya met with have died down, the Suryanelli rape case (of 1996) has come back into focus. If you read the facts of the case, your heart will ache with compassion and grieve with helplessness. If you understand truly how the ‘collective conscience of the Indian people’ led to the questionable trial and redoubtable hanging of Afzal Guru, you will feel your blood boil.

So, in a way, I don’t think either the world or Life is going to get any more just or fair. Every such episode can unleash in you a torrent of anger, anguish, suffering and misery! There’s no way you__or I__can escape being touched by the ripples of everyday Life. But you can, with awareness, refuse to be moved by them. Seeking vengeance always delivers more suffering than there already is. Awareness, on the other hand, delivers forgiveness. Understand the true implication of practicing forgiveness. Forgiveness is for you to feel free, liberated, because it is important you get away from what is causing you the suffering! It is only when you think forgiving someone is letting them go scot-free, that you hesitate, you cling on. Instead, focus on your freedom. Your liberation. Only then can you detach from what or who is causing the injustice and instead focus on the act of injustice itself. When you are free, detached, you are unmoved by the happening. It has touched you and left you unmoved. Like the way a wave touches the shore and recedes. You are then (like the shore) a mere witness, an observer, of your own Life, of people, of events (like the waves) in your Life. You will then be, and in, bliss.

This does not mean you should not act. If Gandhi had not acted on the injustice that was meted out to Indians, we would not have become free as a nation. Action, however, need not necessarily, in this context, connote revenge, violence and acrimony. Gandhi acted with monomaniacal focus, with ‘ahimsa’ (where he championed the absence of violent thought in the first place) as his main theme. Forgiving, forgetting if you can, acting, and not avenging, really means this: keeping the focus, replacing all violent thought with concerted action to change a current reality__that you find hard to accept__into a future state which you believe is the best for all concerned.

This is what my friend did. You too can try this in any situation you are faced with in your Life. Changing your approach to injustice, changes how you feel within yourself. How you feel within has a huge impact on what you will do to make things better. This is what intelligent living is all about __ making your Life better by living it better!

The Universal Prayer to Life

Life is a continuous process of unlearning and learning, repairing and renewing.

Many a time what you think, what you say and what you do may not be in harmony. And that really is the cause for all unhappiness. Or sometimes you may be thinking, saying and doing things in one way but others, often companions, observers, onlookers, will be thinking differently. And they may opinionate differently. This can be another source for unhappiness.

So, in either of these situations, how do you restore the equilibrium? How do you anchor within? How do you come back to being happy?

Some years ago, I would lean on religion for repair and renewal, but while I found such experiences ushering in peace momentarily, the peace at most times didn’t really last. When the experience was over, the hard-won peace was also gone. Besides, I never understood or experienced happiness through religion. Further, through a Life-changing experience that I have been through in recent years, I have lost all interest in religion, as it is preached and practiced today. I find it ritualistic and divisive. In the name of pluralism it alienates us humans from each other. They say spirituality is the flowering of internal awareness. They also say religion is for those who want to go to heaven, and spirituality is for those who have been to hell! I have been to hell and I identify with both these sayings closely. 

I composed this prayer some years ago. It was a fervent plea from me to Life to show me the right way, through the labyrinth of fear, anxiety and uncertainty that tormented me at that time. It has since become a prayer to Life, whom I have come to recognize as the greatest Teacher. That’s why I always spell Life with a capital ‘L’! To me, Life is the Higher Energy that embraces and nurtures all creation. Each day, during my ‘mouna’ (silence periods) session, I pray to Life, reciting this prayer slowly, savoring each word, and relating it to my experiences of the previous day. Since I don’t understand Sanskrit, and since most of Indian Hindu prayers are composed in that language, I have been unable to relate to any of them seriously. English, however, as a medium, helps me internalize each sentiment and embed my daily learnings firmly in my soul!

Teach me, O! Teacher…

Teach me, O! Teacher, each day as I awake and arise, to be humble. To respect another Life and to accept that just as I am entitled to my opinion, others are too. To contribute selflessly and without expectation.

Teach me, O! Teacher, to forgive every act of unkindness and injustice to me. To unlearn and forget what may not be relevant to me as I journey along.

Teach me to conquer anger and to attain that state of ahimsa, when all violence inside me subsides, and true love prevails.

Teach me to avoid hatred and jealousy. To resist ruinous temptations and to employ discretion at such times that I may waver.

Teach me, O! Teacher, to soak in and converse with the silence that engulfs me and for me to discover the real me in it.

Teach me to lead a Life of action, skillfully and selflessly, to live in this world and yet be above it.

Teach me, to remain detached from the fruits of my action and to know that if the motive is pure and the means are correct, in the end it will all be fine if I do my best and leave you the rest.

Teach me, O! Teacher, to be eternally grateful for this Life and this experience!

You too can try it. Learning, unlearning, repair and renewal, on a daily basis, are guaranteed. Peace and joy are both intended and assured outcomes too!