In today’s Vlog, I share from personal experience how Life has cut me down to size and has humbled me. Clinging on to things, opinions and even ego, I have realized, is a sure cause for misery.
View time: 3:19 minutes
My Vlog today says receiving help and support from people around you is an integral part of the process of Life! There is no shame in receiving. It is a humbling experience.
Viewing time: 2:28 minutes
Humility, gratitude and responsibility are integral to receivership.
My family and I are once again humbled by the generosity and compassion of the Universe. Here we are trying to fix an apparently hopeless, broken, financial situation where even living expenses are almost always unavailable. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal.) And one more time we are being helped along the way in the most incredible, miraculous manner.
I am often asked if I don’t feel guilty “accepting so many favors” from people. With no end in sight to our enduring bankruptcy, and with therefore no way to project when we will be able to repay our creditors, don’t we feel “worthless” or “ashamed” when continuing to receive help from people? The simple answer is this – I once used to feel traumatized that I was unable to provide for my family and also unable to repay our debt; but, no, I don’t feel so anymore.
I have come to see the whole Universe as compassionate. Every aspect of creation is constantly giving and receiving. There is no turmoil in the mind of Nature, there is no shame, there is no guilt. The Persian poet Hafez (1325~1389) said it so beautifully: “And still, after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, “You owe Me.” Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky.” This is what Life is all about – unconditional love, limitless compassion. Money and materialism are human inventions. So, the moment money and material wealth come into a transaction, an obligated sense of give only when you receive or you have taken so you return arises. It is only in the human world that conditions apply for every transaction, that debt exists, worse still, as a burden!
I was born in a Brahmin family. My upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony) was performed when I was 13. What I remember from that time is what the priest taught me. That the duty of a person wearing the sacred thread was to humbly seek alms for survival – bhavati bhiksham dehi. Meaning: may you give me some alms. When I look back at that indoctrination, I believe what we are being taught at that early age is to drop our ego and be humble receivers. This wasn’t about begging as much as it was about egoless receivership. When I was suffering owing to my inability to fix my business, and resultant financial situation, and I was grieving over having to be at the “mercy of Life and people around me”, during one of my daily mouna (silence) sessions some years back, I reflected on that learning. An ex-employee of my Firm, whom I had unceremoniously sacked, had given me Rs.15,000/- (which I am still to repay) the previous day to help us deal with our crisis. I was torn by guilt and shame. And then, although I had stopped being Brahmin in a communal and ritualistic sense, I thought about the meaning of bhavati bhiksham dehi. In that nanosecond clarity emerged. I decided from then on to expunge all debilitating, wasteful, emotions and to simply be a humble, grateful, responsible receiver.
So, I have learnt to trust the process of Life. To me, my Faith in Life – that since I have been created I will be taken care of – is my ATM card. I really don’t examine which ATM is dispensing the miracle – emotional, material or pure, hard cash, whatever! I am just a humble, eternally grateful, responsible receiver. And I know without a shred of doubt that, in every moment, a miracle is unfolding for me. This doesn’t mean I am reasoning my poor credit rating and decade-long history of non-repayment of legitimate dues with philosophy. Of course, I am accountable for all the money that I owe people – which I why I treat responsibility as integral to receivership. But, at the same time, I don’t treat the responsibility as a burden – else it will weigh me down and negate whatever chances remain of my financial recovery.
Not just in a material or money context, when you pause to zoom out and look at your entire Life’s design as a witness, you will discover that everything is given to you in this lifetime. The Life you have in this human form is your biggest gift. Everything else you receive after that it is inconsequential. Truly, you make nothing here and you will take nothing from here. So, give, give, give. Give unconditionally. And when it is your turn to receive, receive humbly, gratefully, unquestioningly. Then there will be no grief, no guilt, no suffering!
Only those who change from within when Life changes live a full Life!
A young business leader who I know for some time now connected with me on Facebook. He had been in several of my workshops in the past. I used to then, as a champion of organizational culture and high-performance, lead sessions on Jim Collins’ and Jerry Porras’ Built To Last model. I would exhort my audiences to think beyond goals if they wanted to make their organizations great and build them well enough to last long after they themselves were gone! While introducing Collins’ and Porras’ concept of BHAGs (pronounced bee-hags) – meaning Big Hairy Audacious Goals – I urged teams to draw up their own BHAGs. So, my manager friend, asked me this on FB Messenger: “AVIS, do you still talk about BHAGs?” I smiled at his question. I thought for a moment. And I replied: “I do. Except BHAG now, to me, stands for this – Be. Humble. Accepting. & Grateful.!”
Indeed. For me now, the biggest, most audacious goal anyone can and must have in Life is to just be. To be humble. To be accepting. And to be ever, perpetually, grateful. So, the punctuations in my version of the expansion of the BHAG acronym are not accidental. It is not ‘Be Humble, Accepting & Grateful!’. It is ‘Be. Humble. Accepting. & Grateful.’ (In the strictest sense to just be can never be a goal and it is simple to just be; however, since most beginners, for lack of proper hand-holding struggle with the idea, and to draw a parallel with the material world of BHAGs, I have taken the liberty to suggest that it is an audacious goal! Seek the understanding of all of you who know the value of just being, and are evolved, who are reading this!)
Post my FB Messenger conversation with the manager I reflected on how much I had changed over the years. There I was, some 15 years ago, ambitious, aggressive, sometimes abrasive, hungry for material success; and always impatient and angry with the world. And here I am totally anchored, extremely at peace with, and in, my completely battered and devastated material world – not bitter, not angry and no longer impatient! The way I look at BHAG as a concept now personifies the change in me.
And when I look around me, I see everyone changing. Some of them change, of course, because the wind is blowing in a different direction. But others change because they genuinely feel differently about Life. I always believe that the second category of people are the ones who change from within. Tamil film Super Star Rajnikanth, in his eulogy, the other day, to Jayalalithaa acknowledged that he had made a mistake in the way he had judged her and opined about her. That kind of genuine transformation, honest appraisal, can only come from within. And it is this change, seeing it, seizing it and being it, that is the real wealth in Life.
I guess anyone can have all the fame, all the money and all the power – and yet may not have the ability to just be: to sleep under the stars, to be humble and to acknowledge that Life happens through you and never because of you or for you. But only those who can, in any circumstance, just be – be immersed in the moment, who realize that they don’t control Life and who can accept whatever comes their way with open arms and immense gratitude – only such people really live a full Life.
The manager’s question, my seemingly witty one-liner, and my deep reflection on it reminded me that I have miles to go. But I am happy and grateful that I am on the right road, and am headed in the right direction!
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In prayer, be grateful and offer yourself to the Universe.
I know someone who is never available for any conversation or meetings. Every time we try to connect with him he’s either at work (which is for about 5 hours a day) or he is performing poojas, worshipping. He runs a small business and by his own admission, performs 8 prayer rituals a day, in three spells, over 12 hours. “Are you happy,” I asked him one day. “Hardly. Business is tough. A lot of money is stuck with debtors. I am continuously in prayer trying to seek a way out,” he said.
This man’s confession substantiates the case I am making – merely being ritualistic is never going to solve any problem for you. Yet, to each, his or her own way. Especially in matters concerning faith and prayer. But Zen offers a beautiful perspective on prayer. And it is worth thinking about and understanding.
Zen Buddhism says that true prayer is when no petition, no wish, is made, when no assistance is sought, but when mindfulness is practiced. Through such practice, you offer whatever you have, a flower, an incense stick, or maybe even yourself, to something higher than yourself. What can be and is greater than you? Creation. Creation is the Higher Energy. So, offering yourself to Creation, makes you be one with the Universe. When you offer yourself you are expressing your gratitude for your creation and everything that you have. You are saying – “You created me. Thanks. I am offering everything I have, mindfully, consciously, with all my being, to you.” That’s when you truly unite with the Universal energy and are soaked in its brilliance and abundance.
The popular notion that prayer is an appeal to an “external, invisible” God is a by-product of how religion has come to be practiced over many centuries. Maharishi Patanjali had demystified this in one of his works, perhaps at the beginning of the Common Era, where he equated God to be a mere clothes peg. Just as you would hang a coat on a clothes peg on the wall, we have been taught to pray looking to a “non-existent” God. He says, God is an invention, because, if God isn’t there, who will you pray to? But just as you would have learnt to hang your coat elsewhere if there were no clothes peg, you must learn the value of prayer, and develop the ability to pray, in the purest, truest sense. When you pray, as a means of complete surrender to Creation, then you don’t need a God, you are the prayer and you are one with who you pray to. God, he says, is for beginners. Like when you are learning cycling, you need the small wheels on either side of the bicycle’s rear wheel to help you balance. But once you have mastered cycling, you don’t need those two small wheels jutting out – you discard them and that helps you ride freely. So, it is with prayer. The more you learn to pray, unconditionally, humbly, as a thanksgiving, the more peaceful you become.
True prayer is totally non-ritualistic and non-demanding. It imposes no conditions. It asks for nothing from you – not your time, not your offerings. You don’t need to fast nor do you need to give up or abstain from anything! It is not what you do out of fear (that God will punish you if you don’t pray) or out of greed (I want this or that – grant me my wish!). It is always about being in the moment. The moment that you choose to offer your gratitude to Creation for all that you have and are endowed with – that moment itself is your prayer. You can be anywhere in that moment – you could even be seated on the potty! Also, there is no price to be paid in prayer and there are no rewards to be claimed. When you pray, you pray. And that prayerful moment, when gone through with all humility and gratitude, is itself the reward, the treasure, the fortune!
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Can we learn to be unmoved by both success and failure? MSD’s Life tells us, of course, we can!
Yesterday, we watched M.S.Dhoni – The Untold Story (Neeraj Pandey, Sushant Singh Rajput). The film, of course, tells a very powerful, inspirational, story. Of a currently relevant and thriving Indian icon. It could have been much better made, in some parts, but I am not going to complain. I love MSD – who doesn’t? And I love Neeraj Pandey and Rajput! 🙂
The story focuses on the hitherto unknown part of MSD’s Life; of how he gave up being a ticket collector with the Indian Railways to go be the man he is now – cricketer par excellence and Captain Cool! Go watch the movie, mainly for the conversation on Platform 8 of Kharagpur Junction between MSD and his Railways boss A.K.Ganguly – it is almost as if Joseph Campbell (American mythologist and author, 1904~1987) scripted that part because it talks about how MSD really ended up ‘following his bliss’!
But I had a few other, more significant, takeaways. And I am sharing them here.
One, the hero of MSD – the film, is, to me, Paan Singh Dhoni (brilliantly played by Anupam Kher). When Dhoni the son calls from Lahore to validate his success with his father, and asks him if he is happy, Papa Dhoni replies: ‘Haan, mujhe khushi hai…apne galat hone pe mujhe khushi hai’; ‘Yes, I am happy…I am happy to have been proven wrong!’ He concludes the conversation, telling his son to be grounded and to never let the success go to his head. If this is what transpired between father and son in reality, my heart goes out to Paan Singh. One of the greatest qualities a human being can have is the humility to acknowledge a mistake and to be happy accepting it. I think most of the time we struggle with this opportunity to be happy with ourselves. When our intuition or assumptions are proven wrong by Life, and by people around us, we struggle with the new reality. We choose to cling on to an opinion we have had and therefore often suffer. Some see this as a manifestation of ego. I see it as lack of humility. Well, both are actually the same thing. To have an opinion or a sense of something and how it should be is not wrong. But when you are proven wrong, accept the new reality and be happy with it. This makes Life simpler and easier to deal with. Paan Singh, who did not ever wholeheartedly back his son MSD’s choice of a career in cricket, leads the way in acknowledging that he is happy being proven wrong! I clearly take that lesson away from the movie.
My second takeaway is something that is not stated but is evident enough, throughout the movie, to be sensed. Which is the fact that an entire ecosystem toiled to make MSD’s career successful. The coach who urges him to play cricket instead of football, his sister, his mother, his friends – the Sardar who owns a sports shop, Chittu, Santhosh who teaches him the famous ‘helicopter’ shot, his ticket collector friend Satyaprakash, his other friend who goes on to marry his sister Jayanti – and so, so, many more people! I personally felt a huge sense of gratitude to all these people. Without them India would not just have lost a great cricketer, but Indians would have lost an inspiration. And Indian children, particularly those from non-metro, non-urban backgrounds, need that inspiration to dream big and to follow their bliss. Rajesh Sharma, who plays Dhoni’s first coach, steals your heart away in the end, when he gestures, overwhelmed with joy, pride and a sense of accomplishment, after MSD hits the winning six at the Wankhede in the 2011 ICC World Cup, that it was he who had spotted this talent, this national treasure! My takeaway there was that there are so many, often nameless, faceless, people who have selflessly contributed to where we are in Life. You and I may not enjoy the iconic status that Dhoni has. We need not necessarily have it either. But there’s great value in pausing, reflecting and thanking all those who have, in whatever way, contributed to where we are today. Dhoni – the movie, reminded me of this important Life lesson.
Finally, how MSD gathers himself after the tragic death of his girlfriend Priyanka is a revelation. It is hard to imagine now that the early aggression and brilliance of MSD, that catapulted him to cult status with the 2007 T-20 World Cup win, was achieved despite the personal trauma that he was dealing with! So, the unflappability, the Captain-Coolness, that MSD is famous for…that will continue to be my inspiration. The movie only helped reinforce and reiterate this learning in me – to develop, and constantly hone, the ability to be unmoved by either success or failure, after all, both are mere imposters – and are, well, impermanent!
PS: What rankles me about MSD – the movie is that all through the film Sushant Singh Rajput, while showcasing Dhoni’s love for motorbikes, does not wear a helmet! I understand that Dhoni, in real Life, always wears one. The only time Rajput wears a helmet is when he, as Dhoni, is trying to disguise and save himself from fans!
This is irresponsible film-making. Dhoni is an icon. And impressionable kids are going to come away thinking it is ‘cool’ to ride motorbikes without wearing a helmet; just as they think it is ‘cool’ to not wear a seatbelt while driving a car – because most scenes in Indian films involving leading protagonists driving cars show them without seatbelts strapped on!
Our film-makers must play a bigger role in influencing behavioral change in society. They must utilize the opportunity they have! Seriously!
Vaani and I are incredibly blessed that Mother Teresa touched our lives in the most serendipitous and miraculous manner.
In today’s blogpost, I reproduce an extract from Chapter 10 (‘Follow Your Bliss’) of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Westland). The extract (in purple text below) recounts an anecdote from our Life on how Mother Teresa’s blessing reached us – and how it continues to guide us with our Life’s Purpose.
On Saturday, April 11, 2009, I got a call from Philip Sir, a client and dear friend from Kochi, Kerala. Philip Sir had last visited Chennai in January 2008 to look me up when he had come to know of our situation. He had given me ₹1000 ($20) and said, given his own circumstances and priorities, he couldn’t afford to help us more. He requested me to accept the money as his humble Vishu Kani nettam. He is a big man, Philip Sir, about 15 years older than I am and in his kind eyes, I saw a graceful energy drench me with a blessing, as I accepted the money. That money helped us last a week as a family!
He had also given us a Life-saving engagement by paying for my airfare and inviting me to conduct a day-long workshop with his team at a small processed-foods company in Thrissur, Kerala, in February 2008. He said his company could afford only ₹10,000 ($200) as fee to us but agreed to pay it in cash at the end of the session. We were so cashless that I didn’t think. I just grabbed that opportunity. That money, when I brought it back from the trip, helped us buy groceries and last the rest of that month! He was also generous enough to offer me a chauffeur-driven car to visit Guruvayoor and our native family deity in Athipotta in Palakkad district, Kerala, while on that trip. Although I have evolved, thanks to this experience, and do not see great value anymore in pilgrimages and temple-hopping in times of distress or otherwise; at that time, those visits were important: to believe, to know that a Higher Energy would take care of all that it has created! Of course now, I do know that the Higher Energy resides within us.
Within you. Within me.
For those reasons and others, when Philip Sir called that Easter weekend, I was happy. He said he had been, minutes before calling me, in front of Mother Teresa’s tomb, at Mother House, the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, in Kolkata. He had been serving as a volunteer at homes run by the Missionaries of Charity, during Lent that year. That Saturday was his last day in Kolkata. He was returning to Kochi transiting via Chennai. He wondered if he could drop in at home for breakfast on Easter Sunday. I told him that he was most welcome!
I picked up Philip Sir from the airport. At home, we had a sumptuous breakfast of hot idlis, sambar, coconut chutney and molagapodi with yennai. His flight to Kochi was not until later that afternoon. So, we moved into our study. Philip Sir wanted to know how we hoped to fix the business and our lives. I told him that the 14 months since we had met had been a great learning experience. I said my daily practice of mouna gave me clarity and we now knew why we had been created on this planet. We now knew what our Core Purpose was.
Philip Sir smiled and asked what that Core Purpose was.
I got up and went to the white board and wrote the following words in blue marker ink: “To awaken people to the new way of thinking, living, working and winning.”
Even as I explained what the ‘new way’ was, which is spiritual empowerment, serving, right thinking and growing intelligently through Life, Philip Sir rose from his chair. He took a red marker pen from the holder and walked up to the white board. He placed a big huge ‘X’, on the word ‘new’ and wrote the word ‘right’ above it. The statement now read: “To awaken people to the right way of thinking, living, working and winning.”
As Mom and I looked on, obviously perplexed, Philip Sir went on to deliver an impromptu sermon: “When you say ‘new way’, AVIS, you are saying you invented it. Did you? Of course you did not. Spirituality is as old as mankind. Or older. You are merely sharing a way that you found and which has worked for you. AVIS, be humble. No matter what happens in your Life, stay grounded. You or I or Vaani create nothing. We cause nothing. Neither our successes nor our failures. We are merely executors of a cosmic will. You have been put through this experience to learn from it and you want to share this ‘right way’ with others. By all means, do so. You are an amazing speaker. I have heard you. You have the ability to transform how people think. I have experienced it myself. My only wish for you is, no matter how successful you become, never claim any of that success as your own. You are only an instrument.”
So saying, he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled up a very small re-sealable zipper storage pouch that had a rose petal in it. The petal had not dried completely and I could see its purple-pink hue as Philip Sir held it up.
He said, “Yesterday, when I said my last prayers at Mother Teresa’s tomb and bowed to take her blessings, I was reminded of you suddenly. I don’t know why. So when I took a petal for my wife and family, I decided to take one for you and Vaani as well. Here it is. I am not sure I understand what I am doing. I am not sure you understand either. Maybe the reason will manifest much later. For now, accept this petal as a blessing from an apostle of service. May you both overcome your problems and may you too serve humanity, touching lives and making a difference.”
Mom and I were in tears as we received the petal. We hugged Philip Sir as he bid us goodbye. I dropped him off at the airport and haven’t met him since that Easter Sunday of 2009. The petal still sits on my desk, safe in the tiny re-sealable zipper storage pouch. Both are inside an old plastic film roll can.
What I learnt from him, through him, is now a prayer that I say to myself each time I am leading a workshop: “I am but an instrument. Whatever the audience must learn today from my experiences, let that learning happen. The message is not mine, the stage is not mine. I am a mere microphone. And no microphone can take credit for the message!” That my bliss has the blessings of one of the noblest of all creations in the history of humankind – Mother Teresa; overwhelms and sobers me, each time I am in front of an audience.
Note: My Book is written in the form of letters to my two children Aashirwad and Aanchal; so in this extract, I am actually sharing this anecdote and learnings with them. Mom is Vaani; I call her Mom!
This morning as I read about Mother Teresa’s canonization coming up at the Vatican, my thoughts went back to this anecdote. I cannot but marvel at how the Universe always sends you a message, long, long before something has happened. We received a ‘rose petal’ years before we had even thought of sharing our Life lessons in a Book. And when it eventually came about, my Book, interestingly, is named Fall Like A Rose Petal – the title is inspired by a Sufi story that Osho used to say! Reflecting on all this, I feel humbled, I feel blessed and I feel grateful for the miracle of this lifetime that I have had so far…