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!
It makes Life meaningful – no matter how grave the circumstances are.
“I feel thankful only when I am feeling good. I am not always able to sustain my state of gratitude. Why is that so,” asked a young lady, with whom we had dinner the other day.
That’s an interesting question. Before I proceed to share my learnings from Life, I would just tweak her expression there slightly though – you don’t necessarily feel grateful when you feel good, yet you always feel good when you are feeling grateful!
Almost everyone is blessed with enough intelligence to know the value of being grateful for all that we have. But we miss celebrating the beauty and miracle of our creation because we are trapped in a web of debilitating emotions and because we are constantly on this earning-a-living treadmill.
I have learnt that living in the moment and gratitude go hand-in-hand. When your mind is stuck in the past, the dead past, or has raced into the unborn future, you are simply not present in the moment. When you are not immersed in the now, how will you see its magic, how will you celebrate its beauty? So, it all boils down to training the mind. You must direct your mind to not go astray and train it to stay in the present. Only then will you be able to feel grateful – and sustain that state!
No matter how grave the circumstances are, there is always something you can feel grateful for. Whenever I feel the need to invoke gratitude in me, I feel the air in my lungs. I concentrate on my breathing for a brief while. And I am quickly reassured that as long as there is Life, jab tak hai jaan, anything is possible. The other clarity I have developed is that Life happens through us, for us – and never because of us. This understanding makes me eternally grateful for this Life, for my human form and all that I have experienced and am experiencing.
People all around are searching for meaning in their Life. They are seeking happiness. And they are praying hard for grace, to be blessed and to be granted their wishes. I believe that all of this – meaning, happiness, grace – can come into anyone’s Life, the moment they learn to be grateful for what is, for what they have, instead of complaining about or pining for what isn’t.
The most profound prayer – and the only one, according to me – is to keep saying “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” to Life. This prayer has surely turned me away from religion, rituals and the popular notion of God. Yet it has granted me something precious; it has blessed me with equanimity – the ability to be centered and happy despite the circumstances.
It connects you to the source of your creation.
A friend remarked that he found me to be in the ‘zone of happiness’ all the time. Indeed. I choose that zone because it gives me an opportunity to ‘just be’ – be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. This, to me, is happiness.
‘Just being’ is an opportunity available to everyone. All the time. But many of us see ‘just being’ as inaction. And so we imagine that it will breed inertia and make us vegetables; we feel that staying busy is important. You can be running on a treadmill and you could still be in the same place. Staying busy is just that. It doesn’t get you anywhere. Vietnamese Buddhist guru Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) teaches this so well. He calls ‘just being’ non-action, not inaction. “Sometimes if we don’t do anything, we can help more than if we do a lot. We call that non-action. It is like the calm person on a small boat in a storm. That person does not have to do much, just to be himself, and the situation can change,” he says.
I lean on Thay’s teaching for my everyday living. I practice ‘just being’, as follows:
- Being in the moment, engaged, mindful. Thoroughly involved. Which is a lot of action.
- Being involved with also doing what is possible, what is right and doing it well, in that moment, and yet being detached from the outcome.
When 1 and 2 are happening simultaneously, where’s the question of passivity or inertia or remaining grounded? You are soaring. Despite the storm, despite the chaos, you are soaked in grace, energy and momentum!
‘Just being’ is mindfulness. In fact, the Chinese character for mindfulness, nian, reveals its meaning. The upper part of the character means ‘now’ and the lower part means ‘heart’. Literally, the combined character means the act of experiencing the present moment with your heart or ‘just being’. ‘Just being’ connects you to the source of your creation, it helps you drop anchor and find peace in whatever you do, wherever you are!