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!
Be eternally grateful for what you have.
Someone I met yesterday asked me this question: “What is the simplest way to be in peace?”
And the simplest answer is this: be eternally grateful for what you have.
But an elaborate answer requires that we examine why we are not able to practice gratitude daily, consistently. The fundamental problem is that our minds are not nurtured by us. We almost continuously keep hurting ourselves by thinking negative thoughts, by pining for what isn’t there, by worrying. We are all badly bruised, battered in fact, within us. When you are injured within, you must first heal yourself for you to see the value in being grateful.
See, it is like this. When we injure ourselves physically, say with a nick while shaving or a cut while chopping vegetables, the body heals itself. If there is a deeper injury, with some care, we are back on the road. The truth is when the body is affected, it receives attention. The truth also is we injure our minds all the time but we don’t give it the care it needs to heal. Every angry thought, every remorseful thought, in fact every thought that is not centered around love, peace and gratitude, is injurious. Now, ask yourself, how many such thoughts on love, peace and gratitude, do you think out of the 60,000 thoughts that occur to you each day? Unlikely that we even think loving, peaceful, grateful thoughts for weeks on end!! Consider therefore how battered the mind must be and how much healing needs to happen for it to be ‘normal’ again. Unless we heal from within we cannot feel grateful.
‘Mouna’, the practice of silence periods daily, is the best way to heal our minds, to help it anchor in faith and patience. The 13th Century Persian poet Rumi couldn’t have said it better: “In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”
Stop weaving here means to stop worrying, to stop wanting to control your Life, to stop the continuous chatter in your head; it means to pause and reflect. When you are this way, you can only be grateful, you can only be peaceful. So, to be peaceful, stop battering your mind; heal it by anchoring in silence, love and gratitude!
On his birthday today, I recall an unforgettable experience and an unputdownable lesson that Swami taught me!
Today is Swami Sathya Sai Baba’s birthday. I have never met him. Or seen him.
But in the last decade his ‘presence’ has filled my Life. Vaani and I have been personally ‘coached’ by him, through his medium – a young man through whom Swami speaks to us. And what I have learnt from Swami is this: Live immersed in the moment, live in gratitude!
I remember some years ago, one evening, I sat at the Chamiers Café in Chennai brooding over my Life. Everything was so dark, so hopeless. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) And both Vaani and I were clueless. My laptop was open in front of me. But I was staring blankly at the screen – I had no idea of what I must do, where I must begin and how I must proceed. Vaani was at home attending to her father who was ailing at that time. So, I was alone. Without her by my side, there was no one to talk to. My thoughts were steeped in worry; I was feeling insecure, anxious and fearful.
That’s when the phone rang and I snapped out of my reverie.
It was Kumar, a supremely talented music composer and sound engineer in his own right. He is my dear young friend, who is just a shade older than my own son Aashirwad. Kumar is Swami’s messenger, he’s the medium through whom Swami communicates to seekers.
Kumar asked me: “AVIS, Swami wants to know what would you be doing at the moment, if you had nothing to worry about!”
I laughed and quickly replied, “Well, I would be enjoying a drink.”
Pat came Swami’s reply, through Kumar: “Then, go have it and then call back to report!”
I don’t know why. But I didn’t protest. I didn’t argue. I didn’t analyze. I just packed my laptop bag and trudged back home. I fixed myself a drink, played my favorite R.D.Burman tracks and enjoyed myself. Three drinks down, I called Kumar.
I said: “Well Kumar, please tell Swami that I had three drinks and I am feeling good.”
Kumar asked: “Swami wants to know how much did you worry while having the drink?”
I replied: “I didn’t worry at all. I was so immersed in the joy of having a drink and listening to R.D.Burman’s immortal music. I felt grateful that I could at least have a drink in peace when there’s so much turmoil and trauma in my Life. And I was grateful for R.D.Burman’s genius – how uplifting his music is!”
Kumar then said: “Swami says, immersion in the moment is the key to being non-worrying. You didn’t immerse yourself in your drink, you immersed yourself in the moment. Your faith in Swami made you just immerse – without questions, without analysis. Now that you have known how to do this, why do you need a drink, why do you need Swami? The next time your mind races to the future or is stuck in the past, bring it to attend to the present moment. And learn to be grateful for what is. Whatever you have, be grateful for it. The circumstances are not relevant to inner peace and happiness. Your immersion in the moment is important. Your gratitude is.”
That was a very beautiful, unforgettable, one-on-one ‘coaching’ session, if you like, that I had with Swami. There have been countless such sessions. And even many, many night-long conversations, debates, arguments on the meaning of Life, on why Life is inscrutable, on keeping the faith and on how to cultivate patience. Through each of these interactions with Swami, through Kumar acting as a self-less medium, I have learnt to anchor, to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, to be happy – despite my excruciating circumstances.
To me Swami is no Godman, as the term is popularly, loosely, used. He’s a dear, dear friend. On his birthday today, all I can say, humbly, to my Coach, my Teacher, my friend, is, “Thank you, Swami!”
Everything happens in Life to humble you, to make you stronger and happier.
Yesterday, after listening to my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk a gentleman in the audience spoke up. He was almost in tears, his voice was choked with emotion. He said that he was contemplating committing suicide but hearing our story – Vaani’s and mine – he was inspired now to “turn around and face Life than run away from it”.
Both Vaani and I are humbled that our Life’s journey and the lessons we picked up through it – which we share with audiences that care to pause and reflect – are useful. To be sure, ours has been a tumultuous ride over the past decade, numbing in many respects. I must confess that in the early stages of our bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) I would often cry hoarse asking “Why?”, “Why Me?”. There have even been times during my Talks or conversations centered around my Book or on Life and Happiness, when there have been fewer people in the audience than we would have expected. But almost every single time, someone has always walked up to us and said that our sharing helped them relate to their Life situation better. The gentleman yesterday elaborated, “Hearing you I realized that Life is not a curse but that this human form is a blessing. I have now resolved to learn to be happy despite my circumstances.”
Life by no means is easy. Sometimes you may be pushed to a corner or hung by a thin thread at the edge of a precipice. But in every challenging situation, through experiencing the pain, the trauma, you can learn to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. When you learn to be this way, you can only be happy.
Long back, when our crisis blew up on our face, a friend of ours, Philip, visited us from Kochi. He wanted to personally be with us and share his solidarity with us. He took me to the Woodlands Drive-In restaurant (in Chennai; which was later, sadly, closed down), bought me coffee, and told me this: “AVIS, the only reason why things happen to us in Life is for us to learn to be stronger and happier. Just accept your Life for what it is. Surrender to Life. Let Life take over. You don’t come in its way.” When he said this, it made no sense to me. But, over time, I have come to believe in what he said. I completely relate to, and agree with, that perspective. I have realized that everything happens for a reason. And I have not only emerged stronger and happier from our experience, I have been humbled by it.
When the gentleman spoke yesterday, I felt a lump in my throat. I held myself back from breaking down. Quietly, I prayed to Life, my Teacher, expressing my eternal gratitude for this awakening experience that we are going through. Without it, there will be no Book, no sharing, no Talks and, most importantly, I personally would have never learnt to ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’!