Don’t fight. Don’t resist. Simply, trust the process of Life.
August 1 is special for Vaani and me.
It was on this day, in 1996, that we decided to embrace entrepreneurship. I had come back to India in July that year, from Singapore, after serving as the traveling, globe-trotting, Executive Assistant to dealmaker and tycoon C.Sivasankaran. I was clear I did not want to take up another employment. So, Vaani and I conceptualized and set up our venture, imagequity+, with a Vision for it to be the world’s best consulting Firm from India. We grew very fast in the first six years of starting up and were even ranked as a qualitative global player in our space. But a couple of business decisions we took – while choosing to hold on steadfast to our values – led to our Firm going bankrupt and plunged Vaani and me, and our precious family, into prolonged periods of worklessness and pennilessness.
Vaani and I have spent the longest time, as business partners, as a family, these past 10+ years enduring this bankruptcy.
Interestingly, it was also on this day, in 2014, that my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal, was launched. When it became evident to us, in end-2007, that we were heading into a phase of uncertainty, financial distress, cluelessness and darkness, I intuitively started writing a journal, sharing our daily experiences and learnings. I addressed each day’s entries to my two children, Aashirwad and Aanchal (who were then 18 and 13), in the hope that when they turned adults, they may benefit from those Life lessons.
You see, in the early years of my career as a journalist, I wanted to be famous – and rich, and powerful – one day and write an autobiography that would showcase to the world ‘how I had done it’! Clearly, I was not just naïve in my thinking then, I was perhaps conceited and struck by hubris as well! And so, let me tell you honestly, I had never quite imagined that my first Book would be all about my spiritual journey – where I share reflections and lessons on happiness, contentment, compassion, love, forgiveness and faith – my evolution, from a rat race runner to the happynesswala that I am today! Yet, that’s exactly the way it has turned out to be.
So, that’s our big learning, for Vaani and me, from the past decade that have lived through: no matter what you desire or dream or what you plan, Life has a mind of its own; it always happens at its own pace and in its own time. Therefore, don’t fight Life as it happens to you – simply accept it for what it is. If you want your circumstances to change, go work on them. But without expectation. With total detachment. And in complete surrender. Know this: Life will always bring you to where you must arrive. So, trust the process of Life. This is the key to happiness – this trusting is what taught Vaani and me the art of being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. This is what has taught us to be happy despite our circumstances. To be sure, our bankruptcy is far from over, but we have learnt to be resilient, patient and happy while living through it.
August 1 is therefore special on two counts. For the first part, it denoted our being successful – when we turned entrepreneurs in 1996; we had broken free from the shackles of employment and, to my then-myopic view of Life, it signified freedom, success and ‘arriving’! And for the second part, with the launch of Fall Like A Rose Petal – interestingly, on the same day that we became entrepreneurs – we had chosen to be useful even when success – which is, fixing our bankruptcy – was elusive.
These past four years, since the launch of my Book, have been eventful surely. But they have also been very, very meaningful. They have been purposeful. Because we still don’t have the means to travel and promote the Book it may not have made it to bestseller lists. But it surely has connected with all those who have read it. And there’s always someone who is writing in every week to share how our journey and our learnings have made a difference to their Life. Just yesterday, a reader, who had received the Book as a gift from his father, pinged me on Facebook to share this: “Words cannot qualify or quantify the impact you and Vaani have made to my Life through your sharing. I have learnt a very valuable lesson from your Book – postpone everything else, but never postpone your happiness.” Interestingly, at this time, while we don’t have a publisher yet, the Tamizh translation of Fall Like A Rose Petal is ready – it is translated by the veteran writer Charukesi and edited by another legend, V.Ramnarayan; Sivasankari has graciously written the foreword to the translation.
On a day that marks these two anniversaries for us, Vaani and I are soaked in gratitude; we are anchored in equanimity and prayer. We believe that our Life is playing out exactly the way it is meant to be. I don’t know how long this bankruptcy will take to fix and when we will eventually turn zero-debt. But we are eternally grateful for this experience which has taught us what Life truly is, what happiness is and has given our Life a Purpose – which is “Inspiring ‘Happyness’”! So, we continue to share our learnings with audiences who care to pause and reflect – through this Blog, through our signature Talks and curated, non-commercial conversations and our specialized workshops.
And like everything else that has happened in our Life in this past decade, we are sure all our debt will be repaid by us and the Tamizh translation of Fall Like A Rose Petal too will launch in its own time. For our part, we continue to trust the process of Life and well, as the story in my Book goes, we continue to fall like a rose petal!
When you are forgiving someone you are choosing what – and who – is important to you.
Last week, I read a story that talked about Sabrina Lal forgiving Manu Sharma, her sister Jessica Lal’s killer. Interestingly, the same day Vaani and I bumped into a former colleague of ours who had maligned us in public for issuing her a pink slip when our erstwhile Firm went bankrupt and we had to lay off several team members. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal)
After we met the lady (our former colleague), Vaani and I discussed that dark time of our Life, which took place over 12 years ago. We recalled how it was incredibly painful then. The team we had built was made up of committed, enthusiastic young people. But our Firm’s financial woes necessitated that we laid off several people – all at once. This didn’t go down well with many, including the lady. She sent out mails to all our colleagues and clients literally calling us names and saying we were “heartless and remorseless”. However, when we met this lady the other day, after all these years, we exchanged pleasantries and enquired about each other’s families. We felt no rancor towards her when we spoke to her. The former colleague’s behavior back then surely caused us a lot of anguish. But we had long forgiven her. Not just her. But anyone who has judged us, who has hurt us – including my own family – has been forgiven.
We have learnt that forgiveness sets you – the forgiver – free. It may never erase a painful memory. In fact, you may never be able to forget what happened, but you will not be bitter over it. Not after you have forgiven and moved on.
To be honest, initially, I loathed the idea of forgiving people. But being this way didn’t help me one bit. I cooked within myself – I wanted to prove to people that I was right and they were wrong in doing what they did to me or to Vaani; I wanted to avenge their actions; and I wanted to see them suffer. But the more I held on to these feelings of being wronged, of wanting revenge, I was the one who suffered. My suffering made me angry, angsty and kept me perpetually on the edge. Clearly, I was not enjoying being that way. It was through weeks and months of practicing mouna – daily silence periods – that I understood the futility of clinging on to thoughts of hatred and revenge.
One day, at a Sai satsang bhajan session, which we were attending regularly around that time, I thought of all those people I hated. Several names and faces flashed through my mind – almost as if I was flipping past images rapidly in my phone’s picture gallery. As I thought about all those people, anger gripped me. I started praying feverishly for an opportunity – just one opportunity – to get even with each of them. Then, as if a switch had been flipped within me, I realized how vain my thinking was. And, miraculously, involuntarily, I decided to forgive all of them. And even as this feeling of forgiveness swept me, I broke down. I cried inconsolably for several minutes. At the end of that cathartic outburst, I felt so much at peace, so free, and so light. I realized I had unshackled myself, I had set down a huge, huge burden. That night I slept peacefully, like a baby.
So, from my own personal experience, I can completely relate to Sabrina Lal’s choice. Did Manu Sharma deserve her forgiveness? Is he really a reformed man? Will he value her sentiment? All these are immaterial. What matters to Sabrina is that she has forgiven him and so she is free – having let go and moved on.
That’s what forgiveness does to you. It makes you get out of this trap that your mind holds you hostage in – this trap of hatred, revenge and bitterness. It is irrelevant to you what happens to the other person, when you forgive someone. Forgiveness is a deeply personal choice. It is about what is important to you and you choosing that over everything – and everyone – else.
Be willing to face your new reality when you end up causing shit to happen.
The lead picture across all media today led me to reflect upon a deep, spiritual, perspective and revisit a Life lesson. This is an image (like the one below; image copyright with original creator) of former Australian cricket captain Steve Smith breaking down (while admitting to his mistake and owning responsibility for the ball tampering scandal that his team has recently been involved in) while his father Peter Smith stands by him.
I believe, like Peter Lalor writes for The Australian, that Steve has done right by accepting that he messed up, by acknowledging that he is guilty and by facing up to his demons. He will emerge as a stronger human being – and cricketer and leader – from this experience.
I can relate to how Steve is feeling just now.
I too have been torn by guilt, anger, grief and shame over my actions – decisions I took and choices I made – that led to the bankruptcy of my erstwhile Firm and plunged my precious family into abject penury. Despite 10 years having gone past, despite every effort we have made in this time, that’s a state that we are still to climb out of. So, at times the guilt still comes gnawing at me. But, unlike in the past, over time, I have learnt to deal with it. I have discussed it in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Read more here). I share reflections about it in my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk and I have blogged about it a few times here too.
I have understood from my own experience of making mistakes – and learning from them – that it is important to be honest with yourself. When a choice you make in Life goes awry and the consequences of your actions come to haunt you, don’t run away from that moment, that reality. Turn around instead and face those consequences. Look yourself in the eye, in the mirror, and admit to yourself that you are guilty and that you screwed up. In such a situation, you will feel stupid, you will feel guilty, remorseful and angry with yourself – and with the world, with the people and circumstances that caused you to act in a certain way. Forgive yourself and forgive everyone around you. Do not cling on to the guilt or to the shame or the anger. Set them all down. By forgiving yourself you cannot repair what you have done, you can’t undo what is past, what is over. But forgiving yourself helps you unburden and deal with the consequences of your actions and your new reality better. It gives you focus and the courage to pick up the threads of your Life again.
I have clung on to guilt, shame, anger and grief for the longest time and have been held hostage by all of them. I have cried, screamed at myself and have, on several occasions, literally banged my head against the wall. But only when I admitted to my mistakes wholesomely, and forgave myself, did I understand the value in moving on. In this time, Vaani – like Steve’s father Peter stands by him today – has stood by me. Her presence, and trust in me, has given me immense strength and I will remain eternally grateful to her. And although we have a long, long way to go before we fix our bankrupt situation, we see it as our responsibility now and don’t see it as a burden anymore.
Let’s recognize this truth about Life. No one is perfect. Shit happens. And sometimes you make choices that you should not have made. When confronted with a Life situation that you caused but which you find too hot to handle, too heavy to hold, take it one step at a time. You can’t solve the problem overnight. First, face your new reality. Cry if it makes you feel better. But be honest with yourself and own the outcome of your choices and actions. At the same time, set down the guilt and let go of the grief, anger and shame. Believe me, your Steve Smith moment, whenever it comes calling, will not burn you – it will only steel you. It will make you stronger, wiser – and happy.
Well, honestly, there’s nothing you can do about it!
A follower on Instagram asked me this question: “What do you do when someone refuses, despite your best efforts, to understand you – and what if that someone happens to be a close family member?”
I had a few relevant learnings to share. One is that honest conversations are critical for divergent views to be expressed and for close relationships to thrive. At least one member of the family must be allowed to play the role of an objective arbitrator to facilitate constructive confrontation in specific contexts. Second, it is futile to convince people who don’t want to understand you, despite your best efforts. If there is a misunderstanding you can present evidence, you can sit down, clarify and seek an understanding. But what if there is a concerted, sometimes even manipulative, effort to not want to understand you? Then, the best approach is silence. When you don’t stoke an argument, when you don’t try to prove anymore that you are right, when you let others hold on to what they believe is the truth, then distances may prevail alright – but there won’t be any further acrimony. Third, don’t hold on to what has been said about you, to judgments that have been passed. You can’t always erase the memory of a hurt, but don’t hold on to the hurt itself. Set it down, let it go. You don’t have to either pretend to be close or be awkwardly cold to people you can’t relate to anymore, but letting go of what they did to you can dissolve all hostility. And that contributes big time to your inner peace.
My own experiences (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) in Life have taught me that it is perfectly fine when you can’t relate to some members of your family. I have come to realize that no one person is right or wrong. Each one is entitled to their view. The key question is whether you are able to relate to the view being expressed. When you are not, just move on. Don’t try to challenge, or convince, or change the other person. There really is no point grieving over a situation which requires more than just your integrity and intention to bridge the distances. Such is Life. At best, when an opportunity arises, you speak your mind. Be detached, be dispassionate. Just say what you feel is important for you to say. Don’t expect anyone to be convinced. And leave things as they are.
Celebrating 100 ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’ Talks!!!
On this Podcast, I share a very personal experience. Learning from my own inability to have stood up for Vaani, I champion why our women must be respected and given dignity. It begins in our homes. When we see injustice happening, we must always remember we have a choice not to suffer it.
Listen time: 8:32 minutes