Waking up each day to be useful to someone, somewhere, is happiness!
A manager wrote to me saying he found our story (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) irrelevant. He said, “If you have repaid your debt then there is something to learn from you. But you say you have not even started repaying anyone. And it has been 10 years. After a decade of trying, you are still a failure. I don’t find anything I can learn from you.”
I smiled at his perspective. Vaani and I are often asked this question – on how we carry the “burden of our failure”. We are also asked why we believe we what has not happened in 10 years will happen now. People wonder, only half in amazement, but mostly in a veiled cynicism perhaps, how can we still be hopeful.
I told the manager that while he has the luxury of choosing not to see a learning from our experience, we do not have that option. We only have this experience to live through. And what this experience has taught us is that it is never over until the last ball is bowled. Also, we can’t afford to lose faith in the process of Life. We can’t hide behind history and say that if a turnaround has not happened in 10 years, it will not happen in future too. That would be being irresponsible towards the people that we owe money to. And third, what we have learned is that it is possible to be non-worrying in our state; it is possible to be non-frustrated when your efforts don’t deliver the results; it is possible to be non-suffering when you don’t get what you want and are saddled with what you don’t want. We have learnt these lessons. We have learnt to live this way, happily, despite our excruciating circumstances. So we can tell you it is possible to live this way. We have deployed the power of reflection, resilience and resourcefulness in our Life. Now, if you don’t see a learning here which may be useful for you, so be it. But your choosing not to see it, doesn’t either dilute the experience or take away the learning! Most managers, because of their intense – often erroneous – conditioning see high-performance as only something relating to their KPIs and KRAs at work. But to us, as we see it, high-performance is the ability to face Life no matter what you are going through, what you are dealing with!
In a society where success is measured by what you have, than what you have learned, what you have faced, just because you don’t have material evidence to show, it is likely that you will be billed a failure. But any label that society pins on you need not stay stuck. You have a right to discard it. In fact, you must discard it. Clinging on to a label that society has stuck on you is a sure way to invite suffering and plunge yourself into depression. Understand that just because you have failed at something, you are not useless. In any context in Life, however difficult or hopeless the circumstances may be, you can be useful. Your worth is not determined necessarily by how much assets you own alone. It is also a measure of how useful you are, how many lives you have touched and how much value you have created for other people.
This is the paradigm shift Vaani and I made. We did not stop with trying to be only successful in Life; we worked on being useful too. This shift is what awoke us to a Higher Purpose of Inspiring Happiness. This is what helps us wake up each morning and keeps us going day after day after day – however hard our material Life gets. So, we have learnt that success and failure are both impermanent and are imposters, in fact. And no matter how much of a failure you are in worldly terms, it doesn’t mean you are useless. There’s always something that you can do that can benefit someone, somewhere. Doing this consistently, which is being useful, regardless of what we gain, to us, is happiness!
Blending spiritual awareness with everyday action is intelligent living.
The other morning Vaani and I sat in our balcony reading the newspapers. Suddenly Vaani pointed out that her favorite cuckoo, that normally sat on a specific branch on the tree in the neighbor’s backyard, was missing. Then, in a few seconds, she heaved a sigh of relief and declared: “There’s the cuckoo…seems to have shifted from one branch to another!” I love Vaani for this ability of hers to pause and drink in Life from around her. She manages to see magic and beauty in small things, in unexpected places – a bird here, a flower there, in a puddle of rain water, in a cloud formation… When Vaani was at Rishi Valley, where her parents taught for 25 years, she had the privilege to learn the art of just being from J.Krishnamurti (JK), who founded the school. JK would take the children in the school for long walks and teach them to observe Life. ““See Life as it happens, observe keenly, there’s great value in stopping the doing and simply watching….” JK would tell us,” said Vaani, even the other day, after she found her friendly neighborhood cuckoo.
This morning a manager told me that when I am addressing her team, I must not talk about spirituality. I found this request rather strange. And I asked her why the embargo. Pat came her reply: “Oh, spirituality champions doing nothing! I don’t want my people to turn non-performers!”
I laughed heartily. I know people often get confused between spirituality and religion. But this is the first time I was hearing someone say that spirituality was anti-performance. Let me clarify and reiterate that all Life is spiritual. And if there is one way to make your Life deeply meaningful and valuable, it is to embrace spirituality and learn the art of high-performance by just being.
Is it possible to do nothing? Doesn’t doing nothing amount to inaction? So, when you don’t act, when you don’t do what you must, aren’t you failing in your duty? And if there’s nothing to do, nothing to achieve, what’s the purpose of Life?
Any seeker will encounter these questions. They are perfectly normal, logical questions. The answers to these have to be understood at two levels: at the spiritual, inner awareness, level and at the everyday action, practical, level.
First, let’s view it from an inner awareness angle. Rinzai, the famous Chinese mystic, considered a Master in Zen Buddhism, has said famously: “Sit silently, doing nothing, and the grass grows by itself.” By this Rinzai does not mean you should do nothing forever. He calls for a deeper level of observation, of just being – every day; the level of observation that Vaani learnt from JK, that forced her to look up from the newspaper and search for her cuckoo friend. Everyone’s in a tearing hurry to get things done. There are the dishes to be done, groceries to be fetched, the kids to be dropped and picked up, meetings to go to, deadlines to be met, targets to be achieved, bills to be paid, mortgage dues to be settled….and on and on…you go. From one commitment to another. From one small crisis to another. Hours, days, weeks and often months have gone by rushing until you realize that you need a break. Phew! But a break has come to remind you again you must accomplish a set of things you always wanted done. Go to the spa, change the upholstery, get the air-conditioners serviced or have the whole house re-painted! And just in case you managed a vacation, it is always about “seeing” whatever you can in the “limited” time that you have. Again it’s a rushing of a different kind. Rinzai says, drop everything, and sit silently. Just observe. See how Life goes on. Be silent. Thoughts will come and go. Let them. Bring your attention back to your present – to the now. You can sit in your balcony and see the crowded street below or the clear blue sky above or you can go to the park or you can go to the beach or even to the mall. Go somewhere. But you be silent. You be only a witness. You just be. Then, says Rinzai, you will see the beauty of how nature, how Life, works on its own.
This is what just being and doing nothing can help you with. It will help you experience the magic and beauty of Life. It is through being silent that you realize what inner peace is. It is through inner peace that you become aware of the true nature of Life. That Life goes on not because of you, but in spite of you. When you have realized this, then everyday living becomes stress-free and, in fact, meaningful!
Next, at a practical level, you must never abdicate your responsibilities. You have to continue doing what you are doing. You may have a job, you may have a business, you may just be a home-maker, you may be a student – whoever you are and whatever you have to do, keep doing it. If you don’t like what you are doing, change it. Do something else. Philosophy and spirituality surely cannot pay your bills. You have to earn an income. But don’t earn to pay your bills. Earn from what gives you joy. Then you won’t think of your Life as a drudgery. And if someone’s earning for you, do something with your time that makes you joyful. Don’t sit and complain about Life and say you are bored. So, from an everyday action point of view, keep doing whatever you must do. Just don’t complain. Don’t hanker for results. This is what sitting silently, observing Life, for a while each day can help you understand.
When you combine spiritual awareness and everyday action, you learn to live intelligently. Completely at peace with yourself and your immediate world. Because your rhythm’s in harmony with the Universe’s, whatever you need, the Universe always provides you with. In this zone, you become the most productive and whatever you do works out just great. This is how you become a high-performer by just being!
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