Is it even possible – this intelligent living business?
A young man walked up to me after one of my workshops recently and asked, “Is spirituality the key to living intelligently?” He confessed that he did certainly see value in embracing the spiritual path but felt that he was unable to stay on it. “How does one motivate oneself to stay focused – consistently,” he enquired.
Let’s understand spirituality first. It is not to be confused with religion. Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. It is an awakening, a realization that everything is transient, impermanent, including your Life. When you realize that Life is a limited-period offer, you are gripped by this sense of urgency to want to live a full Life, instead of squandering it in merely existing. Embracing the spiritual path is intelligent living.
Interestingly, spirituality demands nothing from you. It just invites you to be – living with what is, living with the way your Life is, living being happy despite your circumstances. So, at a conceptual level, everyone appreciates the spiritual path. But they struggle with everyday living issues. How can you break-free when worry holds you hostage? How can you overcome fear, insecurity, anxiety and stress? What do you do when Life socks you, numbs you with a crisis? How do you stay calm in the face of a storm? Is it even possible – this intelligent living business?
This is where training the mind comes in. The human mind thinks up 60,000 thoughts a day. And it behaves pretty much like a dog. If it is trained, it obeys the master – which is you. If it is untrained, it runs amuck, it pulls at the leash and it leads the master. You can train your mind by practicing meditation. I employ a simple ritual – mouna – which involves being silent for spells of time daily. With mouna I have been able to organize and direct my 60,000 thoughts daily. I no longer allow my mind to lead me astray or hold me to ransom with debilitating emotions. My 60,000 thoughts are invested in staying immersed in the moment. To be sure, like you, I too have a zillion problems that I am dealing with. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) But in the throes of my challenging Life situation, I am calm. As they say, in the center of a storm, there is always calm. I have found my center – I have learnt to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. So, I now am truly happy despite my circumstances.
As I told the young man at my workshop, you too can learn this art. You can stay on the path too. You just have to learn to train and tame your mind. It requires effort, diligence and discipline. Most people are unable to embrace spirituality – and intelligent living – because they don’t want to invest in this process of training the mind.
The spiritual path is free. It is not complicated. It is not rocket science. And it is available to all. There are no tolls to be paid on this path. You just have to make an important choice – which is to stop being enslaved by your mind, and instead be the master yourself. Herein lies the secret to intelligent living, to happiness and inner peace.
If you can still your stormy mind, you can face any situation in Life – any time!
Of course there’s the obvious lesson that we must all pick up – that we are powerless in front of Nature’s might and fury. But over my morning coffee, as the birds chirped outside my balcony, signifying that they have moved on, embracing a new day at the office for them, I reflected on Cyclone Vardah. And I gleaned a couple of additional, significant, learnings.
It is not often that we get to experience being in the eye of a physical storm. Yes, we have all heard of the adage that it is always calm at the center of a storm, in its eye. But yesterday, Chennai experienced it. Between two bouts of being ravaged by Vardah, the city experienced total calmness for about an hour. Eerie alright. But calm nevertheless. This is what Swami Vivekananda meant when he said these words: “Live in the midst of the battle of Life. Anyone can keep calm in a cave or when asleep. Stand in the whirl and madness of action and reach the Centre. If you have found the Centre, you cannot be moved.” I found his perspective both unputdownable and inspiring when I read it first in 2004. My Life was in utter chaos (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) then, when I set out to find my center through the daily practice of mouna. Even now, a storm endures in our professional and material world, but Vaani and I continue to be calm. This is why we believe that the biggest lesson from Vardah’s crossing of Chennai yesterday is that we can – and we must – find our center. So that no matter what the circumstances be that we are placed in, we remain unmoved. This is the key to inner peace and happiness.
The other lesson I pick up is from a scene I witnessed in my backyard. A tall, huge tree was felled by Vardah as it resisted the storm’s fury. The tree snapped at its trunk. Around our building, and across the city, several trees were uprooted. But the blades of grass everywhere remained intact. Look at the size and might of a tree and the meekness of a blade of grass. Yet the grass survives and the trees fall in a storm? There’s a Life lesson here: when faced with the onslaught of a situation that you cannot comprehend or solve, yield, don’t resist. The grass yielded, so they survived. The trees resisted so, despite their size and strength, they were felled. In Life, therefore, it is important to yield when you don’t know what to do or when you can’t understand what’s going on. Yielding to Life is not abdication, it is not inaction, it is not being irresponsible. It is, in fact, the most sensible action you can take, the more responsible choice you can make, so that you survive, you last another day – so that you can start afresh to solve the problem that confronts you.
All day yesterday, as Vardah impatiently savaged Chennai, I could only think of it as a metaphor for the stormy human mind. We cannot really do anything about the storms that ravage our outer, material world. But if we can learn to still the mind, we can learn the power of equanimity; then we will learn to yield when we don’t know what to do, and we will learn to be happy despite our circumstances!
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You have greater inner strength than you imagine you have.
A CEO we know survived fourth stage colon cancer and is now leading a global corporation. When addressing his team recently he advised them to look within, not outside, for strength: “When the doctors first told me that I have only 3 months to live, I looked at my daughters who were in high school then, and told myself that I must stay on till they were young adults. So I meditated on my resolve to fight my disease. Of course I had the best of treatment and my family’s love and support. But I kept reminding myself to go on. It’s been 12 years since I was told I had only 3 months…”
This quality to demonstrate great inner strength is called Resilience. I am intentionally spelling it with a capital ‘R’ for emphasis. Each of us is endowed with this quality. We just need to activate it. Many people ask me and Vaani how we manage to survive this bizarre, prolonged phase of intense pain (Read more in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal ) that we are going through. And I always say, never in jest though, that we have activated our Resilience mode. To Vaani and me, Resilience is like the Bluetooth feature on our smartphones – it must be activated to be used, to be deployed!
Being resilient means to know that no matter what the circumstances are, you must face Life. It means that you don’t have the choice to cop out or run away from a challenging situation. It is your lack of awareness that makes you imagine that you are not resilient. All of us are equally strong – that’s the way we are created and engineered. To let your resilience – your inner strength – surface, you need to be more aware of your true Self.
What we have learnt from experience is that our circumstances can constrain us physically but nothing – except our attitude to Life – can cripple our spirit. Think about a wild adult elephant. This elephant can easily uproot trees that have been standing for years and that weigh tons. That’s how much strength an elephant is ordained with. Yet a temple elephant, through its conditioning from the time it is a calf, thinks it is incapable of breaking free from the iron shackles that a mahout has imposed on it. So it is with us humans. We are all hostages of our own perceived limitations. We are who we think we are. If we think our circumstances are so challenging that they are insurmountable, we will forever suffer from them. But if we decide to face our challenges and rise above them, whatever be the context, a way will emerge, a solution will be born.
So, when you are faced with a crisis for the first time, and you think you can’t survive it, just turn on your Resilience mode. If we can do it, you too can! Surely, your problems will not vanish, but your ability to deal with them will be enhanced substantially!
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The inscrutability of Life makes it magical, beautiful and worth living.
Yesterday, we attended a satsang, a communion, where a few people had gathered to share their Life stories and explore the possibility of learning from each other’s experiences.
There was a man, in his thirties, who had implants in his spine following an accident. Physically, medically, he was deemed to have perfectly healed – but practically, everyday living-wise he was immobilized. There was a brand and positioning expert who had launched several memorable brands in his 30 years in advertising, but was struggling with getting his never-before, never-again, disruptive product off the ground. There was a surgeon, who was an expert in his space for 20 years in UK and Australia, but who had hit a career low – no patients – ever since he shifted to India six months ago with the idea of serving the needy here. There was a brilliant vocalist and voice coach who trains thousands of people each year but had not quite been able to launch his own career as a musician. And then there was Vaani and me.
There was a common thread that connected all stories – none of the people in the group knew what to do about their situations. So, the sharing and the conversation that followed explored what faith and hope meant to each of us; it was a beautiful, uplifting and left all of us energized.
As I went to bed last night, I thought about the satsang – it offered me an important perspective on Life. If we knew all the answers to all the questions that confront us, if we have solutions to all the problems we are faced with, won’t Life cease to be challenging? Without a seeking, without the quest, how can there be any progress? Education empowers us with knowledge, but Life empowers us with experience. And experiences where you are clueless about how to deal with certain Life situations teach you humility and help you discover your inner strength, your resilience. It is only through catharsis that you grow up, that you evolve spiritually.
I have understood that you don’t have to have all the answers to live your Life well. You don’t even have to stop asking questions just because you don’t have the answers. Just learn to accept that when you don’t know what to do, when you don’t find the answer you are looking for, it doesn’t mean that your Life – the one that you desire for yourself – is eluding you. It only means that the Life you have is the one that you are meant to have. So, simply accept it as it is and live it well! Then, despite being unable to make sense of your Life, you will find it interesting enough to live!
A great way to face any challenge in your Life is to find your center and drop anchor!
Last evening we had yet another edition of our popular by-invitation-only public event, The Bliss Catchers. I curate and lead this event series, which is hosted by the Odyssey Bookstore in Adyar, where I am in conversation with people who have gone on to do what they love doing in Life. Minutes before the event began, I discovered, I was not “feeling good about myself”. The past couple of weeks have been difficult for us as a family. We are huddling together to deal with a cathartic situation – which is, well, apart from, and in addition to, our enduring bankruptcy. Just before the event began, even as the guests arrived, my mind wandered into the ‘catharsis zone’. I suddenly felt overpowered with thoughts of what was going on in our Life. I even told a friend, who enquired why I had not called him as promised, that “behind the strong sense of positivity that Vaani and I genuinely experience and exude, a tsunami rages on.” As we closed in on 7 pm, I stepped aside from the crowd that had gathered for the event, and dropped anchor – practicing mouna. Quickly, in a matter of minutes (given that I practise mouna daily), I found my ‘center’. Metaphorically, and in reality, a storm raged outside of me. But deep within, I felt good, at peace with myself, and engaged in the moment. To be sure, in the moment, in the now, there is no fear, no anxiety, no worry and no guilt or grief. Once anchored, I went on to lead the event and had a lot of fun doing it. The 90 minutes of the event had a therapeutic effect on me. This is the learning that I would like to share here: when you are engaged in the present moment, you can face – and survive – any storm.
The storms that ravage our lives – a debilitating health condition, a torturous relationship break-up, a business going bust, losing a reputation that’s painstakingly built, the sudden death of someone you love deeply – fill us with worry, grief, frustration and make us miserable. It may seem almost impossible not to worry or to grieve or to suffer. But there lies the best kept secret about intelligent living. In the now, when you are present, and engaged in the moment, there can be no worry. There is no cause for grief. And there isn’t any suffering.
You may wonder how this works. And if this really is true. Let me explain.
The way Life operates is that none of us can control what is happening to us. Life goes on happening. And all we can do is to respond to Life as it happens. Some of the happenings in your Life may shock you and sock you. You can find a million people to blame for your situation or you can even berate yourself for your plight. You can argue with reality – asking why things have happened to you! But be sure that all your fighting, all your resisting, will be completely futile. What I have learned is that Life’s crises are there only to help us find strength from within. That is the only place which is untouched by what goes on outside and that’s where you will be in total peace and feel infinitely secure!
The human mind is like a large ship in the ocean of Life. When a storm hits the high seas, an ordinary vessel will be tossed around and may even drown. But modern day ships have stabilizers. They help the ship navigate deftly through rough waters. Similarly, the human mind too can be stabilized by training it to be present in the moment. When it is present in the now, the mind is powerless. The mind works and thrives only in a yet-to-be-born future or in a dead-and-gone past! That’s why worry, grief and suffering don’t affect you in the present moment! And that’s how you, your true Self, can be peaceful, despite the circumstances that you are placed in and despite the storms that will often rip apart your material Life! Finding strength in a crisis situation in Life really means letting go of the past and not worrying about the future – while being aware that everything in Life is impermanent – including Life’s storms!