Life’s upheavals and scars, interestingly, make it beautiful, meaningful.
Last evening, I sat alone with my coffee at Starbucks. And I thought back on the year gone by.
It’s been an interesting one surely.
My dad passed on in April. It has been a new, unique, often reflectively painful, experience living without him. In May, our daughter Aanchal graduated in her Master’s program – thanks to two angels who sponsored her. Even so, she and our son, Aashirwad, have had to deal with their own share of challenges. Watching them deal stoically with these Life-defining experiences definitely made Vaani and me proud. But there were spells of agony too – arising from our inability to help them as parents; at all such times, we took refuge in prayer. Nalli’s Kuppuswami Chetti came forward serendipitously, voluntarily, miraculously, to publish the Tamizh translation of my book Fall Like A Rose Petal – and so, Uthirum Roja Ithazh Pola launched in October. Our 100th non-commercial Conversation, as the happynesswalas – Inspiring ‘Happyness’, happened in April. And the 50th Edition of our popular, longest-running, non-commercial, Conversation Series, #BlissCatchers, was hosted in August.
Although we awoke each day with renewed vigor to reinvest ourselves in the task of turning around our business and repaying our over 170 creditors, we have been pushed back by Life. One more time. Another year has passed without a steady or serious revenue opportunity. The glimmer of hope that came between end-2017 and mid-2018 evaporated this year, plunging us into yet another phase of worklessness; leaving us to survive on grace and grants. So, as we enter 2020, we continue to endure our bankruptcy – and all its material, emotional and legal challenges – into its 13th year now!
Both Vaani and I are over 50 now. So, understandably, some persistent health issues certainly raised alarms all through 2019. They pointed to what could be potentially debilitating conditions, but without the means to immediately deal with them, we have left them where they are – for Life to heal, to take care!
As I thought deeply, I felt 2019 offered itself for review on two counts.
- This was yet another tumultuous year, one that was often punishing. Given that we have already been faced with a grave challenge for over a decade now, on whether we deserved a year like 2019, we could possibly label it as bad or as ugly. Well, it certainly was not a good one on that scale!!!
- A constant theme for Vaani and me, that was evident all through 2019, is Happiness! Clearly, Happiness has held us together and helped us endure and survive. Our ability to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering – which is, essentially, being happy despite our circumstances – shone through the year, through one more year!
I quickly dropped the first count. And as I embraced the second one, I smiled to myself – in gratitude, in prayer, in surrender. I thanked Life for reiterating a lesson that we have learnt and known only too well over this past decade. Which is, no year is good or bad. It’s just a happy one!
You see, a year is, at one level, a simple measure of time that we humans invented. It denotes approximately 365.256 Earth cycles around the Sun. Good, bad, ugly – well, these are human labels, again human inventions! Something happens that meets or exceeds your expectations – you label it as good. Something that you don’t want happens to you and you call it bad. And if that something causes you acute trauma, makes Life unbearable, you call it ugly. Such is the human response to Life events. And a year gets labeled based on how you, as a human, have chosen to evaluate the events that occurred in your Life, based on your expectations! But although their actions deliver this unit of time called a year, the Sun and the Earth are not bothered about how – and what – we mortals think. Hafez, the 14th Century Persian poet, says this so beautifully: “Even after all this time, the Sun never says to the Earth, ‘You owe me’. Look what happens with a love like that, it lights up the whole sky.” Now, this is how Nature operates: without any concept of time or of profit or loss. The Sun simply, unconditionally, without judgment, lights up Life on the planet – it lights up our lives – even as the Earth keeps going around the Sun! There’s love, there’s abundance, there’s a selfless giving in both these acts. Therefore, there is no worry, there is no frustration, there is no suffering in how Nature works. There’s a pure, unadulterated, sense of just being – a.k.a Happiness!
Which is why a year can really, truly, be filled with Happiness! No matter what you are faced with, if you don’t complicate your Life with human ideas – if you don’t bring up your expectations, if you don’t analyze what you want and what you deserve and instead humbly accept what you are given – you will be happy!
Yes, as is with the process of Life, at every step, you will face upheavals. Just as you will be blessed with grace.
…~ You may find and follow your Bliss. People you know will die or leave you. There may be times when you will deal with material loss or there will be others when you have to cope with heartbreaks. You may not get what you want – someone else may get it though; and you will feel frustrated and suffer when you compare yourself with them! Your Life’s Purpose may find you. Some of the challenges you are dealing with may leave you numb. You may want answers to your questions or seek logic and reason that can explain whatever’s happening but you may end up being more frustrated with Life’s inscrutability. You may find love. A child may arrive in the family. The government you voted for with so much hope may let you down – horribly! You may win a jackpot. Or a dreaded health condition may not be what you have. Towards the end of the year, you may realize that your resolution to lose weight may have dissolved long, long ago, because the pangs of earning-a-living held you in their vice-like grip.~…
So, all these, and other, scenarios may well play out through the year. And such is the process of Life! To be happy you must simply trust this process. You must celebrate the suchness of Life. You must go with its flow.
In Japanese culture, there is this ancient art called kintsugi. It is the art of fixing broken pottery with golden lacquer. As a philosophy, kintsugi invites us to celebrate imperfections. It reminds us that what happens to an object, including its breakage and repair, is an integral part of its history. Which is so true of your journey through Life too. Every experience that you go through is part of the process of the unfolding of your myth. If you sit back and reflect on your own 2019, on how Life dealt with you this year, you will see how every upheaval, every scar in your Life, is precious in its own way. You will realize how you have emerged stronger and wiser from each experience you have been through. You will be amazed at how you have learnt to cope, how you have moved on this year too, just as you have done, all your Life.
This is why it is pointless to label a year as good or bad (or ugly). A set of events simply happened to you this past year. And another set will happen in the year coming up. Instead of over-analyzing and labeling the year gone by, embrace what is, and train your mind to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. This holds the key to your Happiness. This is the way a “Happy New Year” stays true to its meaning and you stay happy through those 365.256 times that the Earth circles the Sun!
Note: AVIS and Vaani are the happynesswalas. They believe their Life’s Purpose is Inspiring ‘Happyness’! They are going through a fascinating Life-changing experience – a crippling bankruptcy!! Look them up here: www.avisviswanathan.in and www.avinitiatives.co.in.
Whatever you lose or is taken away from you, simply, let it go!
In yesterday’s IPL X Final between MI and RPS, when MI’s Krunal Pandya dropped Ajinkya Rahane’s catch off the bowling of Lasith Malinga, it looked like the dropped catch would cost MI the match. While frustration was writ large on the faces of players and supporters alike, with MI’s captain Rohit Sharma apparently howling in disbelief, Malinga smiled. And that’s the way he is. Whenever he is hit for a boundary or when someone drops a catch off his bowling, Malinga smiles. There’s an evolved, detached quality to his response to a competitive, aggressive, often frustrating, sporting moment.
And I simply love that quality.
It always reminds me of the simplest way to understand, appreciate and celebrate the transient nature of Life. The point Malinga’s smile is making is, don’t take anything seriously. Definitely not what you fail at or what you lose. And don’t cling on to your success, your glory, your rewards, your recognition either. After all, you can’t take anything with you when you depart from here. So, why exult, why mourn?
People often tell me that bringing this attitude to Life is difficult. And I don’t think so. Whenever you are in the grip of a frustrating situation, your own dropped catch moment, just ask yourself if that loss, that frustration will matter some years from now. Ask if it will matter when you die. It most certainly will not. So, let that feeling of frustration go. Don’t attend to it, don’t cling on to it. Just smile. Bring the same logic to moments of personal achievement too. Life happens through you, for you, but not because of you. If you remember this truth about Life you can always be unmoved, non-frustrated, and like Malinga, smiling!
Fears and frustrations will arise, but you can choose to be fearless and non-frustrated.
This morning, as I woke up, I noticed emails from Google. Both my Gmail account and my YouTube channel were suspended because Google saw “suspicious” activity on them that violated their standard guidelines and policies.
Phew! That was the last thing I wanted. I had a packed day ahead of me and I reckoned now that I would be set back by a couple of hours having to restore both my Gmail account and my YouTube channel. The Gmail account was easily done with a normal verification process. But the YouTube channel, linked to my Gmail account, remained suspended. Even as I prepared to appeal against the suspension, I thought of the consequences. What if my appeal was not considered and the channel was shut down? Content on the channel and its subscriber base had been built up over a considerable period of time. To re-curate and reload all the content was going to take some effort. A sense of frustration came over me. I was particularly miffed because the mail from YouTube stated that I had indulged in activity that was in violation of their guidelines. Surely I had not done any such thing. So, perhaps, it appeared to me, someone had tried to hack into my account. And its suspension was more a preventive step.
I took a deep breath and decided to appeal against the suspension. Once that was done, I made a note in my calendar to spend a full day next week to create a new YouTube channel. Vaani volunteered to help me with that process. I felt reassured and we stepped out on our morning walk.
While we had moved on to consider a worst-case scenario – of the channel’s suspension not being revoked – the “stupidity” and “unfairness” of it all continued to rankle me. But the decision to move on, our willingness to create a new channel, helped in pulling the mind back into the present. It helped us to stay engaged with our morning walk – to a cuckoo’s call, to a walker who called out to her dog “Inji Marabba”, to a lady who struggled to learn to balance her two-wheeler, to newspaper boys who went about their day’s early routine.
Then, suddenly, a mail popped into my phone from YouTube saying they had re-reviewed the suspension and had revoked it. My channel, they now said, held a good standing and I was good to go. I, naturally, heaved a sigh of relief! Now, on the face of it, this morning’s developments for me, are not serious. But they did bring along with them pain – and may have left us more frustrated than anything else.
But that’s how Life is. The Google actions are but metaphors of how Life can surprise us – and, sometimes, even shock and sock us. I have learnt that however painful some episodes are, it is always practical to consider the “worst thing” that can happen in the given situation. Once you have considered that eventuality, just prepare yourself to face it. Even as you are prepared for the worst in the given situation, deal with the ongoing crisis – as it unfolds. That way, you can be focused while being non-frustrated, and fearless. Yes, pain will be there in come contexts and phases in Life, fear and frustrations will arise; but you can always choose to be fearless and non-frustrated. Of course, as it often turns out, in most cases, the worst case scenario doesn’t happen at all. But being prepared for any eventuality surely helps us to deal with any situation better – a lot, lot better!
Acceptance of your current reality is different from resigning to your fate.
Yesterday was full of upheavals. A couple of key business opportunities we were hoping would come our way fell through owing to challenges that prospective clients were facing. We are not new to such last-minute setbacks in business. For over a decade now, this has been the pattern we have seen in our business plan and with our cashflow; where we try to fix the economic engine of our business only to find that it will sputter and stop one more time. It can be very draining, having to pick up the threads of your Life and trying to wind them up – only to discover that they have been plucked away from you and discarded mercilessly in a hopeless tangle.
Obviously frustration and worry will follow in such a situation. But acceptance of what is and trusting the process of Life helps immensely.
So, when I began to sense the stress building up within me, I suggested to Vaani that we go out for a walk. During the walk, I did what I have learnt to do very well over the years – I played witness to my own Life. Systematically, we reviewed the impact these upheavals will have on our Life and concluded dispassionately that, yet again, we are now on the brink. With this clarity, interestingly, the frustration, the worry, dissolved as soon as it had arisen. There was a great inner peace as we sat down for dinner. And I slept very well.
People imagine that those on the spiritual path are immune to challenges of everyday Life. This isn’t true. As long as you live, you will be flooded with thoughts – all the time. And debilitating emotions arise in everyone – anger, grief, guilt, worry, anxiety, frustration, depression, insecurity, fear, the works! But the spiritually inclined know that these emotions are like waves. They will rise and ebb away. So, they don’t cling on to these emotions, to these thoughts. That’s really what I did with Vaani last evening – I refused to walk down the depressive spiral with frustration and worry.
Today is Swami Sathya Sai Baba’s birthday. I haven’t met him personally. But Vaani and I have experienced him through a medium, a messenger, a young man in Nungambakkam (in Chennai). It is through intensive and personal coaching from Baba, through his medium, that I learnt the art of mindfulness, of trusting the process of Life. Once, some years ago, we were on the edge of a similar precipice – as we find ourselves now, struggling for cash and work! We went to Baba’s messenger and told him: “We don’t even have money for groceries and telephone bills. Ask Swami what we must we do when even basics get affected?” Pat came Swami’s reply, through the messenger, “Isn’t faith basic?” That day we learnt this unputdownable lesson that trusting the process of Life is integral to intelligent living. Through all our years of experiencing Swami, we have not been asked to chant any mantra or do any bhajan or perform any pooja. We have not even been asked to pray. We have only been, repeatedly, reminded to live in the moment, accepting what is, even when we are working on changing our current reality.
The way I learnt to trust the process of Life, through experiencing Swami Sathya Sai Baba, may sound incredible. But this is how it happened to me. They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears. In my case, the teacher came through this young man, a medium for Swami.
Now, when dealing with debilitating thoughts, you have to be aware, mindful, all the time. If you drop your awareness, they will creep up quickly and take you hostage! Anger, frustration, self-doubt, self-pity and depression – all these are by-products of an expectation that if you are hard-working, sincere and ethical, nothing should go wrong with your plans or that every effort of yours should yield the result or outcome that you truly deserve and expect. There’s nothing wrong with this logical expectation. In reality though, Life doesn’t conform to any logic. Fortune or tragedy, success or failure, opportunity or rejection – none of these choose those that they strike! They simply happen. And because Life itself happens over time, each of us, whether we like it or not, whether we accept it or not, whether we believe it or not, is a product of the time we are going through. So, you can be the most talented, most respected person in your chosen field and you can be out of work. You can appear to be the fittest person around but you could be having a grave health challenge. You can be the most understanding, caring and compassionate spouse, and yet your partner could be in another relationship. Simply, there’s no point getting angry with the Life you have. Because your anger or depression can’t change your reality.
This doesn’t mean that you should resign to your fate. Acceptance is different from resignation. In resignation, there’s a certain frustration and depression that is simmering within. In acceptance, there’s peace and equanimity. In acceptance, there’s an opportunity for further action. In resignation, your frustration will numb you and hold you hostage. It will keep pushing you down a negative spiral. When you accept your current reality, you will realize that the best thing to do when things are not working out as planned, is to simply make your daily efforts and choose not to get frustrated and depressed when the results don’t come as expected.
This is a simple, real world, practical point of view. It comes from experience and from knowing that when you don’t get what you want, it doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you. It simply means it is not time yet for you to get what you want!
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