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.
To feel the grace in you, around you – just soak in gratitude!
A young friend I met last evening wanted to understand how we can know that there is divine grace in our Life. “I don’t get it. There is so much suffering in us, around us; how does one even believe that there is grace,” he asked.
I remember asking this question to Swami Sathya Sai Baba some years back. I must confess that I have never met Swami personally. But I have experienced him, I have learnt from him, through a young messenger, through whom Swami speaks. So, when I asked the young messenger this question about why we should believe there is divine grace, when we are in the throes of suffering, he replied: “Swami says if you believe you are in control of your Life you will never see the grace in it. When you flow with Life, when you see the beauty of your human creation, and understand the context of your Life’s challenges, and realize how you are still able to navigate through all of it, and are grateful for what you still have, you will feel the grace in you, around you.”
I never quite understood the import of Swami’s reply and the Life lesson it contained immediately though.
But over the years, I have learnt that, indeed, the choice to experience the grace in your Life is purely a personal one. Much as it is a personal choice to be happy despite your circumstances.
When Swami answered my question, it was still the early days of our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). We were steeped in fear and insecurity. There was so much pain. I hated my Life then. Every day was a constant battle to try and control the situation. Every day I would set out thinking I was going to fix the problems we were faced with. And every evening I would come back home – beaten, deflated. And I would cry in Vaani’s arms. I was suffering a lot because I saw myself as a failure – unable to control the raging crisis.
But, thanks to Swami’s coaching, and my practice of mouna (daily period of silence), when I learnt the art of being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, I stopped suffering. The pain was intense. But I did not resist the pain. I just let it be. And the suffering stopped.
You see, you suffer only when you resist what is. But when you accept what is, and go to work on changing it, diligently, without any expectation of result or reward, you don’t suffer. You are despondent when you are only wishing that things were different and you are not doing anything or enough about changing your current reality. But when you know you have tried your best, and the results are still not adding up, you can only be calm, content, and interestingly, happy! This awakening, this ability to see Life this way, is possible only because I am soaked in grace.
To be sure, our bankruptcy still endures. The pain is still intense. We are far, far, far away from normalcy. Even our living expenses are still not completely covered. We survive each day fervently, working hard to put things back on track, praying for an opportunity that will conclusively turn around our story. But we do all of this with great equanimity, without suffering! And while we are doing this, we invest every waking hour in being useful – sharing our learnings with whoever cares to pause and reflect – Inspiring ‘Happyness’. This, we believe, is our Life’s Purpose!
When I look back at all the treacherous times that Vaani and I have been through over the last 11 years, I bow my head in gratitude for the grace in our Life, for the compassion of the countless people who have helped us along the way.
Take for instance, young Kumar, Swami’s messenger. He’s an amazingly talented musician and graphic designer. He may well have walked in the direction of his own dreams. But for over two decades now, his first priority is to be available as Swami’s messenger to help people (who are battered by Life’s upheavals and are clueless about what to do) by sharing perspectives and advice that Swami has for them. And Kumar does all this selflessly. There have been months when we have had to be with him every day, for long spells, just to understand what Swami is teaching us. In these times, I have argued with Swami, through Kumar, brazenly. I have yelled and thrown things around, unable to handle my cluelessness, my lack of control of our situation. But Kumar has been patient and available every step of the way. To me, now, that is grace – the very fact that we had a Kumar to reach out to in the first place!
And just look at the beauty of what is happening today. It is close to 6 AM in India as I write this Blogpost. It is the 23rd of November. It is Swami’s birthday. It is Thanksgiving. It is Guru Nanak Jayanti too today. And here I am sharing a Life learning. Isn’t this grace? That Vaani and I are still around to tell our story, to share our learning, that I can express myself through the written word, that you can read it and perhaps connect a dot with your Life, somewhere…isn’t this indeed grace…?
Thanks to my lived experience, I realize now that grace is like a Wi-Fi signal. It is always available, 24 x 7, to anyone who seeks it. And the password to access that signal, well, you may have guessed it by now, is gratitude!
Gratitude, humility, grace and dignity are required to deal with Life’s inscrutability.
Our friend Arup from Kolkata called us up last evening. He sounded distraught. He reported that we had lost Tandra Sarkar to cancer. Tandra was Arup’s close friend, and a beautiful and courageous lady, who had launched my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Read more here) in August 2014 in Kolkata.
When we launched my Book in August 2014 across Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata, with Hyatt being the Principal Sponsor, both Vaani and I were very clear that we didn’t want a ribbon-wrapper unveiling. We wanted people like us, stoic folks, who had braved Life, to launch my Book. So, we had a bomb blast survivor and bilateral amputee Malvika Iyer launch the Book in Chennai. We had Maneesha Ramakrishnan who survived the ghastly Carton Towers fire launch it in Bengaluru. And in Kolkata, we had Tandra Sarkar, who had then been battling Stage 3 cancer, to launch Fall Like A Rose Petal.
Like Tandra, her husband Kushal too was stricken with cancer when the Book launch happened. They were fighting the disease valiantly when we met them. Arup reported yesterday that Kushal passed away last year and Tandra died last fortnight. Apparently, she had enquired about Vaani and me a few weeks ago and had expressed a desire to meet us again. Arup promised to arrange that meeting. But since she passed away, Arup connected to share her wish with us.
We have met Tandra and Kushal just once at the Hyatt Regency, Kolkata, at the Book launch. But I have such a vivid memory of that meeting. Former NASA scientist-turned-filmmaker Bedabrata ‘Bedo’ Pain (who has written a meaningful Foreword for my Book) handed over the copy of Fall Like A Rose Petal to Tandra. In her address, to a hall packed with 200 guests, Tandra talked about Life – about its inscrutability…she spoke about approaching Life with humility and gratitude. Even once she did not talk about her pain. Or about her fears, insecurities or worries. My sense is she had none. Nor did Kushal. They both were an embodiment of grace and dignity despite Life having dealt with them ruthlessly. They both knew they were dying and leaving behind their wonderful daughter but there was no grief in them. No regret. Just an affirmation of what is, of the now. They enjoyed themselves thoroughly at the launch and helped us – who were rank strangers to them – celebrate our big moment of sharing our story with the world. Such selflessness, particularly in the face of personal pain, is both indescribable and not often seen.
Last night, after Arup’s call, when I lay down in bed, several questions came to me. Why did Life, through Arup and his wife Ruma, connect us to Tandra and Kushal? Why did Tandra ask to meet me and Vaani again? Why did we not meet again? I reckoned we will never know the answers to these questions. But I believe Tandra and Kushal came into our Life to remind us of the need for gratitude, humility, grace and dignity in dealing with our inscrutable lives. I know somewhere deep within me that they connected with the message of Fall Like A Rose Petal – which is of acceptance, of going with the flow of Life and of falling like a rose petal in the face of Life’s upheavals! Arup told me yesterday that my Book still sits on Tandra’s and Kushal’s bookshelf. I guess, someone, sometime will read it. And perhaps will glean their own learning from it.
As I fell asleep, I sent out a prayer to Tandra and Kushal; and to their daughter. I silently thanked Bedo, Arup and Ruma and prayed for them too. It is these human connections, however temporary or fleeting they may appear to be, that make Life meaningful despite all its apparent inscrutability!
When you ask ‘why’ or ‘why me’ in any situation – that’s when you suffer!
We met a lady at my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk the other day. She wanted to know if “pain serves any purpose at all apart from causing one so much suffering”.
I told her that I have only emerged stronger from all the pain that I have been through and am still facing. “Pain elevates you to look at Life differently – you value it for what it is than what it should be; and you value it more, particularly when you have been through a lot,” I said.
Pain is what’s common to our unique Life journeys. You may be singed by a health challenge or a relationship issue or the loss of a dear one or a career nightmare or a business crisis. Our stories may be different. But the thread that binds all our stories together holds a common theme – pain is inevitable. Yet, the truth is that all the trauma that we may have to encounter and endure in Life always has a deeper reason for it to happen. And that reason is to make us stronger from the experience. Also, pain does not cause you any suffering; it is your desire that you must be free from the pain that causes all your suffering. When you ask ‘why’ or ‘why me’ in any situation – that’s when you suffer!
I have learnt to be non-suffering despite all the pain that Life has served me. I have come to believe that post-traumatic Life is transformative. It can serve as a powerful learning opportunity if you reflect on it. Eventually, despite all the pain, despite the daily challenges you face, when you sit down calmly and review your Life, you will realize that it is unquestionably better today than before your traumatic experience. Trauma always leads you on a path that you may never have found by yourself otherwise. If you are a good student and are willing to learn, trauma can teach you to be non-suffering.
Just 14 years ago, I used to be perpetually angry with myself and with the world around me. My business was under stress then, but there was business – work and income. I had clients and I led a team that operated in six cities in India. But I was neither happy nor content. I worked 16-hour days and worked on weekends too. I had a tobacco habit and drank daily. And then in end-2007, early-2008, my whole world fell apart. My Firm went bankrupt and I became insolvent. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) In the past decade, my family and I have been through some indescribable times – often penniless; no work, no clients, no staff, no offices, no business, no money!
I remember an incident from 2013 when I was talking to my friend about the experience I was undergoing as a parent when I could not buy my dear daughter a new set of clothes as her old ones were worn out. My friend, quoting (I think so; disclaimer: I am not an expert in Tamil literature, I can’t read or write the language.) from the Tamil epic Kamba Ramayanam said, “Kandan Petrar Nenjam Pola” – denoting the ache in the heart of a man in debt.
I know my pain pales in significance in front of someone who has lost a child or who is dying of a rare cancer or who is convicted for a crime that they did not commit (like the Talwar couple). But trauma is trauma. Pain is pain. Whatever be the reason, whoever causes it, whichever way it happens, the way pain takes over our lives and drives us to dead-ends and tests our every sinew – that experience is the same for everyone. I have realized that pain cannot be avoided. It is inevitable. But you can avoid the suffering if you stop asking why there is pain – and stop asking why you have to encounter pain.
My problems are far from over. But because I have learnt be non-suffering, I have discovered that the trauma, the pain, doesn’t affect me anymore. Yes, it is difficult, at times excruciatingly difficult, to get through some situations. But because I don’t suffer, I am at peace with the way my Life is. There is still complete chaos around me, in my world. But I have learnt to anchor within and maintain and preserve my inner equilibrium. I face Life every day with renewed vigor and pour my heart into whatever I am doing to get the business and our lives back on track. Important, I am no longer angry – with myself or my circumstances. I am a firm believer that this too shall pass.
This transformation in me has happened only because of the experience of abject penury that I have been through. In a material sense my family and I have lost everything. And we have a mountain of debt to repay. But I am grateful for all the trauma that came along with the Life-changing crisis that I am going through. I have now come to realize that extra-ordinary pain teaches you to be non-suffering if you are willing to accept the pain and go with the flow of Life!