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!”
In any situation or context, you can choose not to suffer!
My Rheumatoid Arthritic condition has struck again. This time it has come with a vengeance – seizing my lower back in painful spasms. Yesterday, I was at the beach, in Mamallapuram, ahead of delivering my signature Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk there at Eli’s Kitchen. As we walked on the beach, I was in terrible pain as I took each step. But we were shooting some test shots for the cover of my next Book. So, I endured the pain and posed for the camera every time I was asked to. When climbing the stairs leading up to Eli’s Kitchen, I found the stabs of pain unbearable. I did not even sit down when I was invited to lest I am unable to spring up immediately when it is time for me to deliver my Talk. But soon, I was telling our story, sharing our learnings, answering questions from an audience, most of them expats, on happiness, love, compassion, Universal Energy, miracles and courage. In the 90-odd minutes that I shared, I did not experience any pain whatsoever. It must have been there. But my bliss overpowered it handsomely!
That experience last evening, yet again, reiterated in me the learning that immersion in the now always makes pain powerless. If you look deeply at whatever is causing you pain at the moment and stay in this moment, immersed in the now of reality, your mind will not even report the pain. This state is called Buddhahood.
Buddhahood is not an out-of-bounds state that is the prevail of an exclusive few. It is available to anyone. 24 x 7. And it is free. It is a truly liberating state. It comes with awareness of your present, of your now. So, in an extraordinary painful phase, when you are attending only to your pain, you miss, or you are absent from, the rest of the Life that is happening to you. But when you immerse yourself in the moment, like what happened with me yesterday, you are soaked in grace, in your bliss. That grace makes your pain powerless. This is not just true of physical pain, but works for emotional pain as well.
Simply, pain is powerful only when you give it the license to cause you suffering. And you suffer only when you wish your pain weren’t there in the first place. But pain is pain. It always comes uninvited, without checking, and at a time that it chooses. Which is why the Buddha famously said that suffering is optional while pain is inevitable. Osho, the Master, went a step further – he called suffering a human invention! So, don’t try to avoid or resist pain. Just don’t give it any attention. Choose not to suffer from it. Instead immerse yourself in everything else that’s happening to you, and you will make your pain powerless.
Mindfulness leads to an eternal celebration of Thanksgiving!
We were at a community dinner yesterday. It was hosted in the car park of a building that was nearing completion. As we waited in a queue to pick up our plates, a huge blob of black paint fell on me from above. I was wearing my favorite white Cottonworld linen shirt. The paint obviously stained the shirt badly, irreparably, on the shoulder and on my back. Of course I was startled. And angry too. It was a beautiful white shirt, always sitting so elegantly on me, despite being over a decade old. In a couple of minutes I could make out that the shirt was a write-off. Even as I was contemplating if I must go up the building and reprimand the painter in question for being negligent, the queue moved up. And it was my turn to pick up the plate.
I decided to focus on dinner. It was a simple, sumptuous dinner of bissibelebath and thayir sadam, pulikachal, vadam and appalam. Volunteers served us with so much warmth and joy. As I enjoyed my meal, I thought of the number of people who would have toiled to make it possible. I thanked the farmers who grew the grains, the mandi-wallahs, the cooks, the milk suppliers, the helpers who arranged the buffet and the volunteers who served us…my list was in no way complete! It can’t be. Because, in reality, so many stakeholders make each living moment possible for you. So, there’s someone, somewhere always for you to thank in any moment, in any context!
After the meal, when I was riding an Uber back home, I thought of the painter. In these times of demonetization, when daily wages are not being dispensed so easily, I celebrated the man’s willingness to work so late into the evening. He surely didn’t intend for the paint to drip down. He perhaps didn’t even know that it had or that it had stained someone’s shirt. To me, it didn’t matter – not anymore.
I simply loved the learning the entire episode and experience offered. In reality, I had lost a shirt, a beautiful white Cottonworld linen shirt – my favorite. I would have continued being livid had I clung on to that accident and to that wave of anger that had naturally arisen within me. Had I been that way, I may have eaten my dinner, but I may well have missed the beauty and magic it served. This is what being in the present can do to you, this is what mindfulness delivers to you. It helps you detach from a dead, often painful, past. It prevents you from straying into the future, where, because it is unborn and, therefore, unknown, it is always dark. When you graze in the dark, you will obviously be gripped by insecurity and fear. But when you are mindful, there is total freedom – you are neither held hostage by the past nor are you scared of the future. So, mindfulness is about being available in the present moment. It is about accepting whatever is. And when you are immersed in what is, there is only gratitude, only celebration. Just as my dinner yesterday was; a simple observation of gratitude over some bissibelebath and thayir sadam led to so much celebration in me.
Now, this isn’t about one dinner. It isn’t a one-time experience. To be sure, metaphorically, there’s always a painter dropping a blob of paint on you somewhere, somehow, and there’s always a great meal being served up with so much warmth somewhere, somehow! So, mindfulness is an opportunity that’s available in each living moment. And this can be the way you live your entire Life. Because from the moment you are born to the moment you die, your lifetime is never made up of only what you do. So many millions constantly contribute to make your Life happen. In fact, pause for a moment and think of how many people are helping you read this blogpost – think of the folks that invented the mobile phone, think of the founder of the Internet, think of me and all those people that helped me be who I am so I can share my learnings with you, think of your parents who gave birth to and have raised you, think of those that taught you the language, think of how miraculous it is that you have been born – without your asking to be created – human….again, this list too is endless…aren’t you soaked in gratitude, aren’t you recognizing the celebration that your Life really is? Even in times when you feel betrayed, beaten and defeated, by people and events, there’s an opportunity to be grateful – for such experiences teach you what not to do, they teach you forgiveness, they teach you of the impermanent nature of Life.
Being mindful is the simplest and the best way to live Life. Imagine, if we were to spend our entire lifetimes in gratitude for who we are and how we have got to where we are – then won’t Life be an endless celebration? Simply, mindfulness is the only way we can be celebrating Thanksgiving eternally…!
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When you are immersed in the moment, you are happy – irrespective of what’s happening around you!
Last evening we were at a party to mark the launch of The Art Bistro at Grand by GRT. The organizers had arranged for a casual lounge conversation, anchored by famous RJ Devasena Subramaniam, between film-makers Gautham Vasudev Menon and Venkat ‘VP’ Prabhu. It was an unplugged conversation alright, and the two famous men were talking to each other as great friends would – laughing, ribbing each other and, at times, being candid too! Those who managed to listen to the conversation felt enriched with the perspectives they heard. But few people actually did that. As celebrities kept pouring into the Bistro, people greeted each other, clamored for Seflies, some even called out aloud to each other across the room, while others scrambled at the bar. At several points during the evening, the organizers kept inviting the guests to listen to the conversation between Gautham and VP. But in vain. Seeing one of the exasperated organizers make one more valiant effort to quieten the room, Gautham piped in reassuringly. He said, “It’s okay! They are having their conversations. And VP and I are having ours.”
To me that was a deeply spiritual view of how to deal with the chaos around you and still be engaged in the moment, in its beauty and its magic.
Anyone else in Gautham’s or VP’s position may have refused to continue with the conversation – not just because they are intelligent celebrities whose views on their films and Life merit attention, but also because it is very poor etiquette to drown a show that has been got together by your hosts in mindless din, senseless shor.
But this is the way Life is. There is always a lot of stuff happening to us, around us. If we wait to sort out our Life in order to do what we want to, we possibly will never get a chance. Someone, somewhere or something, always, will remain undone, unstuck. If we really want to do something, we must go ahead and do it, inspite of the circumstances. And that’s one learning I picked up from Gautham’s Zen-soaked stance last evening. Second, there wasn’t a trace of any holier-than-thou attitude or ego among the two men. As they answered Devasena’s carefully curated questions or as they ribbed each other, it was very evident that they were enjoying the process thoroughly. It didn’t matter to them if anyone listened in or not. To them, what mattered most was that they were in conversation with each other. And I believe there’s yet another significant learning for all of us here.
In inviting the organizer to chill, Gautham, perhaps unwittingly, showcased his Zen. Had he and VP brooded over why nobody was bothered about their ‘celebrity conversation’, had they wondered what people would now think of their celebrity status, they would have missed the beautiful opportunity that was available to them – which is, engage with Deva, and each other, in an uplifting, meaningful conversation! I felt there was art not just on the walls in the room, but in that conversation too. It was indeed very, very Zen.
Zen is not a method. It is not a practice. It is a state of being. It is total immersion in whatever is happening in the moment. If there is only one quality in you that you want to hone, let it be Zen. Because only your Zen can make your mind powerless. The human mind thrives only in the dead past or in the still-to-be-born future. It loves clinging on to anger, grief and guilt from what’s over, what’s past, and it revels in magnifying anxieties, fears, insecurities through worrying about what has not happened yet. In the present moment the mind is powerless. Osho, in fact, called the present, the now, as the ‘no-mind zone’.
Simply, you don’t seek Zen. You are Zen. You just have to drop all the layers of non-Zen that you have accumulated owing to habits, social conditioning and debilitating emotions to realize your Zen. When you are Zen, you simply are, you are happy – no matter what your circumstances are and no matter who’s watching and who is not!
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When happiness is your ROI, you are living a Life that matters!
Yesterday a guest, who I was inviting to be on my Bliss Catchers show, wanted to know why I curate this Event Series.
I said it makes me happy. “I love doing it,” I added.
But he persisted and was keen to know what I got “out of it” – as in what is my material “return on investment” (ROI)?
I clarified that, to me and Vaani, just being happy was the single-most important criteria for doing anything. Happiness is the only ROI we look! Yes, money is important. We all need money. And we particularly need all the money that can come our way because we need to climb out of our financial situation – our bankruptcy – and turn debt-free. But when you can’t get money (as is evident from our experience), you can still do what you love doing for just the joy of doing it. So, we curate Events such as The Bliss Catchers , The Uncommon Leader and Heart of Matter – Happiness Conversations , I blog here daily and I deliver Talks even for organizations (NGOs and not-for-profit enterprises) that can’t afford to pay me a fee. Inspiring Happiness is now our raison d’etre, our Higher Purpose, for Vaani and me.
There are two parts to earning a living in Life as I have understood it. You can work for profits and you can work for joy. The ideal situation is when you can just work for joy. But you need to pay your bills, so the second most ideal situation is when you can work for both joy and profits – which is to make money while doing what you love doing. It is only when you forsake what you love, and go work only for profits, at the cost of your inner peace and joy, that you lose the plot. You suffer and feel miserable earning all the money that you do. So, for Vaani and me, when our business failed, we decided to retain our focus and only do what gave us joy. Therefore, even when we do not always get the opportunity to monetize what we do, we go ahead and do them, because doing them makes us very, very, in fact deliriously, happy!
I have realized that if you immerse yourself in what you love doing, you lose yourself to Life; then your entire living experience is a prayer! When you immerse yourself in what you enjoy doing then it ceases to be work. It becomes your Life. Then no loss or challenge can pin you down for too long. Then your energy, the one within you, resonates with the Universe’s energy. In that beautiful communion, an inner peace, a rare joy, takes over. And your entire Life becomes a celebration, a prayer, an offering to this Universe!