The idea of living is not about obsessing over earning-a-living.

At the end of the day, if you can’t sleep well, you need to examine what’s it that’s disturbing you. And you must weed that factor out of your Life. 

This morning I met someone who says he isn’t able to get a good night’s sleep. “I used to love my work. I still believe I love it. But I don’t know why I am unable to enjoy what I am doing, and of late, I am even unable to sleep well. The stress keeps me awake,” he confessed. I told this gentleman that if he is unable to enjoy whatever he is doing, and if it has reached a point where he is unable to sleep well, he must seriously pause and reflect. I advised him to step out of his “work-work-work zone”, take a vacation and think through his Life!
This is the nub: nothing, nothing at all, is worth losing your sleep over. If you can’t take your mind off work it means one of three things: 1. You don’t have enough reliable support (staff, material, resources) to do what you are doing 2. The system (colleagues, bosses, clients, work culture) at your workplace is highly disorganized and stress-ridden. 3. You are a lousy leader and manager. There could be other reasons. But these three are principal among them. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, then you must go do what you love doing. Simple. And if you enjoy your work but if any of those reasons is/are prevalent in your work Life, you must get down to fixing them. Simple again!
The idea of living is not about obsessing over earning-a-living. It is not about slogging for 40 years and then hoping to find happiness, inner peace and freedom to do what you want to do at the age of 60. You have been given this Life so that you can be yourself, so that you can go do what you love doing. Now, when something disturbs your equilibrium, you must zero in on what it is and weed it out. Rather than suffer and endure a Life that you don’t want, you must make choices that help you with your inner peace, and help you to find and follow your bliss.

I simply loved what Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian author who won the Nobel for Literature yesterday, said: “I do only one thing. I buy freedom for myself.” Indeed! What is the point of this Life if you cannot be who you want, do what you want to do, live the Life that you believe in and, at the end of the day, get a good night’s sleep?  

Of freedom from insecurity

When you accept insecurity, it disappears.  
A friend called a couple of days ago. He is the head of operations for a multinational company. His company is very conservative and every single decision is controlled by the top management sitting in their global headquarters. My friend had over a decade built a reputation for himself within the company as a reliable and responsible manager. Therefore, he was allowed a higher degree of empowerment. He was, exceptionally, allowed to lead a couple of crucial processes in the India operation on his own. Which meant that he did not have to seek approvals for these processes from the top brass. But just this week, these processes too were taken over by senior managers at the corporate headquarters. My friend called me to seek my view on making sense of this development. “I am very uncomfortable that my empowerment is withdrawn. I have asked my boss why this has been done,” he told me. He was sounding very disturbed and the feeling I got was that he feared for his job. I told him: “You are feeling insecure. Which is natural. Accept your insecurity. Talk to your boss or senior manager and ask them upfront if the reason for this change has anything to do with their view of your efficiency as the process owner. If your insecurity persists, despite that conversation, go look for another job. If you get one that you like, move. If you don’t get one or don’t want to move even after getting another offer, at least you would have realized the value of  what you have on hand and you will be able to be more productive and efficient. Important, you will stop feeling insecure and disturbed.”
For various reasons, in myriad situations, each of us encounters insecurity. The best way to deal with insecurity is to accept that it is there.
Insecurity is a normal human response to situations that you can’t immediately make sense of. Metaphorically, you are groping in the dark. There is no light. Suddenly you feel lost. Lonely. You are filled with fear. What do you do? Well, you can shiver and shudder. You can cry in despair. But soon you realize that none of that can drive the darkness away. What you need is light – and you don’t have a source like a torch or a matchbox or such. So, when you understand and accept the hopelessness of the situation, when you embrace your insecurity, you will be able think with greater clarity.
When you think about Life deeply, you will recognize the truth that there is nothing called security. On the vast cosmic plane, the human being is as powerless as an ant is in front of humans. One event, and in under a moment, a Life is snuffed out. So what security are you and I seeking when we can never really escape the inevitable end, death? When you understand this quality – its impermanence – about Life, you will stop seeking security.
In the course of a lifetime, there will be a million, or more, occasions when you will feel insecure. Accept your insecurity every single time. When do that, your awareness, through your acceptance, will remind you each time that the security you crave for is a myth. Then insecurity will not hound and haunt you. You will be free from it. 

A lesson in love from a flower-seller

True love is when you can drop all conditions – including notions, opinions, premises and preferences – and think only about the other person!

A friend shared a story the other day. She is a doctor and was pressed into emergency service some years back – during a devastating cyclonic storm in southern Tamil Nadu, near Nagapattinam. As she, and her fellow healthcare providers, were driving to a medical relief camp one evening, they saw a man walking along a deserted road in the blinding rain. It was strange that someone could even muster courage to brave nature’s fury and be outdoors at that time. Interestingly, the man had a jasmine garland in his hand. My friend asked for the jeep, in which she was traveling, to pull alongside the man and offered him a lift. The man hopped on. And when asked where he was headed in this terrible weather, he shared his story. He was a flower-seller that made and sold garlands outside the temple in his village. Almost a decade ago, he had fallen in love with a girl from his village. She belonged to another caste and both of them knew that they would have to face a lot of opposition should they even attempt discussing their alliance with their respective families. Also, the man and his lady love had never spoken to each other. They knew of their love for each other through a simple, beautiful ritual they would perform daily. The man would make a jasmine garland every evening and take it to a desolate temple outside the village. At an appointed hour he would leave the garland on the steps leading up to the temple. The girl whom he loved would be waiting for him to do this and would come forward, look into his eyes lovingly, take the garland and go away. No words were ever exchanged. No love was professed verbally for each other. Yet they loved each other and it was all understood. For more than two years this “silent” courtship happened between the two of them. Then the girl was forcibly married off by her family into her own community. But the man still made the garland daily and left it at the steps to the temple. She came some days. But most days she did not show up.  But the man never missed leaving the garland there every day.Then he heard from people in the village that she had died while giving birth to her first child. That was six years ago. Even so, he continued the practice of making the garland daily and leaving it on the temple steps. The man told my friend and her colleagues that, this stormy evening too, he was headed to the same temple to leave the garland on its steps. My friend asked him if he was married. He said no. And he affirmed that he would never marry. When asked why he still went to the temple on the outskirts of his village every evening, especially after his lady love had died years ago, the man replied: “My lady love may have died. But my love for her is still alive!”

I thought this is a beautiful love story.

Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999), my guru, would often say that when you are truly in love, you don’t think of yourself or for your welfare. You always think for and of the other person. “If you want a relationship to blossom, you will do well to change the focus from me, me, me to you, you, you. Then selfish passion is transformed into pure love”. Osho, the Master, said this even more powerfully, “If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up it dies and ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. It is about appreciation.”

Learning to love really means learning to put the other person ahead of yourself. It means learning to appreciate that person’s needs, thoughts, opinions and preferences. What such loving does to you, from whom love flows to the other, is that it sets you free. In that freedom, you experience bliss!

Living free – from Fear

The best way to deal with fear is to understand it. Go to its root. When you get to the bottom of what’s causing you fear, you will be free from it! Important – fear cannot be mastered or conquered. Only understanding it deeply can set you free.
We are all scared of different things – of joblessness, of losing someone we love, of losing money or health, of losing the assets that we have built up, and, of course, of death! Each of those fears connects back to a desire – to be employed, to possess someone, to keep having money, to prevent the biological ageing process, to cling on to what we believe is ours and to not die.
Now examine each of those desires and understand how irrelevant they are in the end. Consider this perspective: Why is it important to be employed? Why is it important to earn money? Do they really matter in the larger scheme of Life when ultimately you have to die leaving behind all your experience, all that you have created or acquired in this lifetime, and all your money?
The truth is also that as long as you fear something you cannot enjoy it. Your job is seeming monotonous because you are insecure in it. You are unable to enjoy the money you have because all the time you fear that you will lose it. You are not enjoying Life because you are consumed by fears of death. The Buddha taught that fear is a manifestation of a subconscious resistance to the impermanent nature of our human existence. When we accept that our entire Life, as we know it, is transient, we will be free from fear.
Here is a Zen story that illustrates this point. A fierce and terrifying band of Samurai was riding through the countryside, creating fear and causing harm wherever they went. As they were approaching one particular town, all the monks in the town’s monastery fled, except for the Abbot. When the band of warriors entered the monastery, they found the Abbot sitting calmly, in a perfect, meditative posture. The leader of the Samurai band took out his sword and said, “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know that I’m the sort of person who could run through you with my sword without batting an eye?” The Abbot, a Zen Master himself, responded, “And I, Sir, am the sort of man who could be run through by a sword without batting an eye.”
You may like to say that the Abbot displayed a rare courage – fearlessness. But, in reality, he may well have been fearful within. Yet his fear did not surface because he did not mind the outcome of the Samurai’s rage if it came to it! Courage and fearlessness are not the absence of__or denial of the presence of__fear. They come when you develop an intimacy with fear, when you look fear in the eye and face up to it! When you do this, you are actually telling yourself – “What are you afraid of? After all, everything has to be over with one day. So let me let go!”
When you let go, this way, you also let fear go. And you start living – free from fear!

When you are fearless, you are free!

Life’s arduous situations can break you physically, can make you immobile, can cripple you – but they cannot break your spirit, they cannot puncture your conviction, if you simply choose to remain strong from within! But how do you remain strong from within when there’s absolutely no respite from the outside? Say, when your Life is hanging by a thin thread owing to a terminal health condition, or when you are caught in a legal maze and there’s no way out, or when your business has gone bust and you simply don’t have any money to even meet your daily needs, or when your separation from your spouse has drained you emotionally, financially, physically and you have lost your will to live? Where do you draw strength from in such, and other debilitating, circumstances, where you are consumed by fear, self-doubt and hopelessness?
Interestingly, you must leverage your fear to gain courage. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is what you get by looking your fear in the eye, by accepting it, and deciding to face it. In reality, a courageous person is also fearful of consequences that logically appear to be on the horizon. But while she or he is fearful from within, she or he is able to pull herself or himself together on the outside. A coward, on the other hand, is both fearful from within and on the outside. But if you can leverage your courage, while becoming more aware, you can attain fearlessness. And fearlessness is not an outward emotion. It is the complete attainment of freedom from fear – within! That will happen, that can happen, only when you realize the true nature of your inner being. When you know that your soul is untouchable, unbreakable and immortal.
Let’s understand this better. All the world’s scriptures talk of this truth. Yet why do you still fear things, people, events in your Life, despite perhaps, knowing and believing this doctrine to be true? Because you haven’t allowed your inner being, your soul, to experience this truth. Examine all your fears. They are always about losing all that you already know as impermanent – your job, your money, your health, your relationships! What kind of intelligence are you, the much educated you, displaying when you are fearful of threats to any of these impermanent aspects of your Life? Someone says you will die because of your health condition – and you are afraid of death? Someone says she will leave you for whatever reason – and you are afraid of losing her? Someone says you will be sacked for non-performance – and you are scared of unemployment? Someone says you will be convicted and sentenced – and you are afraid of imprisonment? But aren’t you already imprisoned, held hostage, by your fear(s)? Think deeply about this. Everything about your Life so far and the rest of your Life will be taken away from you sooner or later. If it is the fear of losing all that you hold on to that’s keeping you anxious, agonized and fearful, then know that your fears are fully justified. What you fear most will surely happen to you. Sooner or later. Including your death! It is only when you experience this realization, this awakening, at the core of your inner being, in your soul, will you be free from fear. Will you be fearless from within. Will you be free.
Review whatever’s making you insecure. Focus on what you fear. And peel away each fear by asking yourself, ‘So what if this (that which you fear most) happens?’ When you get an answer to this question, ask yourself this question again, in the context of your answer, and so on. Keep going until you have no more answers. For instance, ‘What will happen after I die?’ does not have an immediate known answer. Yes, conjecturally, from what the scriptures tell us, the answer could be that ‘your soul is set free’. And so what if the soul is set free? Or if it is trapped somewhere, someplace? Will it matter to the person that you are currently? Since it won’t, why labor over your fears? So, whatever be the situation confronting you just now, don’t resist it, simply accept it for what it is. And know that since your spirit can never be broken or taken away from you, anything that’s happening to you, therefore, is not at all relevant! So be fearless. Be free!

Lessons from Hansie Cronje: Only the Truth can set you Free!

The truth, and only the truth, can set you free!

All of us make mistakes in Life. Sometimes we succumb to temptations. No one who has lived on this planet has led a mistake-free Life. The big and mighty are no exceptions. When an unknown or lesser-known person slips, his immediate circle of influence are the ones that try him or her, pass judgment, and/or forgive her or him. When a person with a larger-than-Life image makes a mistake, the world tries her or him.

When you are being tried by the opinion of others, when you make a mistake, some of that trial may be what you deserve. Obviously, you caused the conditions, with your adventurous streak, your lack of discretion, your plain foolishness or your guile, that led to your trial. But a good portion of your trial by people, either those in your circle of influence or general public, depending on who you are, may be based on their perceptions of the truth. In almost all such instances, when you have erred in judgment, and have wittingly or otherwise, ending up wronging someone, it is best to own up. Just confess to your transgression, whatever it may be, and tell the truth, the absolute truth, as you know it.

The truth may make the already bad situation worse. But it will set you free and give you the energy and the peace to face the situation.

In recent times in India, I have admired (with no comment on the nature of his deviant actions or their impact) how Satyam’s Ramalinga Raju has actually handled his fall from grace. People say he had no choice. Maybe they are right. But it requires great personal courage to own up a mistake, especially if you did it willfully, and be willing to face the consequences__whatever they may be.

Last night I watched a very unique and lesser-known movie called ‘Hansie’ which is based on the true story of celebrated and controversial South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje. The movie, made in 2008 by his brother Frans Cronje and directed by Regardt van den Bergh, tells the story of Hansie’s rise and fall powerfully. The synopsis on the DVD’s back cover and the movie’s Wiki Page have this to say:

“How do you start over once you have betrayed a nation’s trust?” The news of Hansie Cronjé’s involvement with Indian bookmakers and his resulting public confession rocked the international sporting community. An unprecedented rise to glory was followed by the most horrific fall. A tarnished hero fueled the nation’s fury. Hansie, once South African cricket’s golden boy, had been stripped of everything he had held dear: a glorious captaincy, the support of his former team mates and the respect of a nation. In its place the stinging rejection of cricket administrators and the humiliating dissection of his life on international television, made his retreat into depression inevitable. Hansie’s bravest moment in finally confessing his involvement with bookies had suddenly become a tightening noose around his neck.”

To be sure, Hansie Cronje, at the peak of his stardom as independent, post-apartheid, South Africa’s most successful cricket captain, received money from bookmakers, in return for information. And when Indian police in April 2000 revealed his links, and those of other South African cricketers, with Indian bookmakers, Hansie came clean in front of the King Commission, constituted by the South African government and its Cricket Board, and confessed to his mistakes, accepted having been dishonest, but reiterated that he had “never thrown a match in return for the bookmakers’ payments” to him.

Hansie Cronje at the King Commission hearings (left) and the movie DVD (right)
The movie shows poignantly how a man, who speaks the truth, has to deal with its unimaginable, irreversible, repercussions. Hansie, played admirably by Frank Rautenbach, is dubbed a ‘criminal’ by a large section of the South African United Cricket Board, banished by the international cricket community and has to also deal with his own demons. He is consumed by enormous guilt, has fearful nightmares each time he tries to sleep and can’t even face himself in the mirror. His wife Bertha, played beautifully by Sarah Thomson, and his family are his only support. But he grieves endlessly that he has let them down to. The shame, the remorse, the fall from personal grace is both palpable, as the story unfolds, and wrecks Hansie personally.

Then goaded by Bertha, Hanise goes to meet his mentor on the Cricket Board, Peter (I am unable to presently recollect his full name or find it online). Peter receives him with open arms.

A still devastated, even 18 months after his public confession, Hansie, who is a devout Christian, breaks down on seeing Peter and asks him: “Will God ever forgive me?”

Peter’s remarkably enlightening and mature response is something like this (my recollection): “I believe God forgave you on the day you confessed. You now need to forgive yourself. You have told the truth. But in your clinging on to your guilt, you are enslaving yourself. Feel free. Feel liberated. It is immaterial how people see your truth. The only person who knows you didn’t throw matches for money is you. And that’s all that matters. If this is the truth, stop feeling guilty. You have shown extraordinary courage by telling the truth. Now show it again by living with it, irrespective of what people think or say of you and your truth.”

Hansie gets it! And starts over again. His inner peace helps him find his own, true Self. Magically, he discovers, people around him and the public of South Africa at large, still revere him as their hero. Not just for the great cricketer and the captain that he once was but for the courageous human being he now is. At a football match at his alma mater, Drew College in Bloemfontein, where his teacher invites him to be the Chief Guest, Hansie is overwhelmed when he receives as standing ovation from all students, parents and teachers.

He realizes that the truth has indeed set him free.

Sadly though, his eventful and beautiful Life, was cut short on June 1, 2002, when the plane he was traveling in crashed in the Outeniqua mountains due to inclement weather. At his funeral, his mentor Peter offers a fitting eulogy (as I recall): “Hansie’s truth set him free and has delivered unto him a peace and joy, now (in his death), that is beyond the comprehension of us humans.” Interestingly, South Africans, in 2004, voted Hansie as the 11th greatest South African ever in their country’s history!

So, when you are in the eye of a storm, especially when caused by your own questionable actions, saying the truth, as you know it, may, undoubtedly, make the situation worse. You may invite unprecedented, often hostile, reactions from unknown quarters. But still choose to say the truth. And live with it. Because it will set you free. And where the soul tastes freedom, it finds bliss!