Happiness cannot be pursued. Because you may not always get what you want. But understanding, appreciating and accepting, what you get can make you happy.
Consider this: despite all your hard work, you may not graduate. You may not get the car of your choice. Or an apartment in the neighborhood that your preferred. Or someone else may get the lucrative job that you wanted! Or a quirk of circumstance may deny you the family fortune. The ability to be happy despite not getting whatever you want and despite your circumstance is true happiness. And that ability is resident in each of us: in you, in me, in everyone!
So, the research done some years ago by a study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on happiness, of which a French-Nepalese Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, is a volunteer subject, intrigues me. Ricard has been dubbed the world’s happiest person, scoring significantly higher than most other volunteers tested. Without questioning the study findings, which undoubtedly may well be scientific, I would like to humbly submit that each of us has equal opportunity to be the world’s happiest person. Simply, the truth is that the world is full of happy people. But we allow our circumstances to suppress any expression of how happy we really are! That’s how we invite unhappiness into our lives.
Let’s say you are walking on the pavement on a rainy day, whistling ‘Raindrops are falling on my head….’, and an irreverent motorist splashes a dirty puddle of water on your work clothes. You stop whistling. And now you are angry. Does being angry mean that you have ceased to have the ability to be happy? Not at all. Your attention has shifted from whistling the memorable tune to hurling abuses at and showing a finger to that motorist. The moment you bring your attention to what you are feeling you will find your anger disappearing. And you will be happy again! Because being angry or being filled with negativity is not human nature. It makes us feel miserable.
Think about it. Don’t you feel miserable when you have been sad or jealous or angry or guilty? But have you ever, ever, felt miserable about feeling happy? I rest my case.
So, you don’t have to work hard at being happy. You are the happiness you seek.You must stop being anything else and just go back to being happy!
Honest conversations are often painful, but they are better than no conversations at all.
Someone eminent recently asked for my time. And he didn’t keep it. Literally, he didn’t show up for the meeting. He’s someone I know well and I respect him for all that he has achieved in his field. Yet, his not respecting my time and not caring to update me until I reached out to him asking why he didn’t show up, I thought, was case enough for me to tell him not to take me for granted. Our conversation happened over WhatsApp. I communicated my displeasure. And I believe he got the message. Truly, that’s all there is to such conversations – state what you must, say how you feel and move on. There is no need for any drama at all!
Yet, sometimes in Life you may not want to have such brutally honest conversations. You may want to run away from them. But don’t. It is through simple, honest, conversations, however difficult they may be, that you can attempt to resolve tricky situations or at least get things off your chest, leading you to inner peace. The reason why you want to avoid talking to some people is because you experience them differently. You are not sure they will understand you. Or that you will understand them. But remember this: just as you are entitled to your opinion others too are entitled to their opinion. And if their opinion does not match yours, so be it. There is nothing tragic about a difference of opinion or perspective. Don’t dramatize the way you feel about it.
Instead of conjuring up a non-existent emotional scenario in your mind, go out there and speak your mind. And if you don’t want to take the initiative, please join if the other party starts a conversation. Don’t react. Just state what you feel. Don’t intellectualize, don’t sermonize. Speak from the heart sincerely, without fearing how you will be perceived. Give the situation and the person you speak to dignity. Know that you may not be able to generate a resolution all the time but you would have moved in the right direction. You will feel better. Conversations are never difficult to have. You make situations difficult by not having honest conversations!
Don’t hide yourself when faced with a problem. Accept it and be open about it!
At a recent event where I addressed a gathering of 150 managers and entrepreneurs, a businessman came up to me and wondered if by “being so open about my Life, by writing a Book (Fall Like A Rose Petal; Westland Books – 2014), was I not being too vulnerable”?
I told him that I don’t see anything wrong in sharing what I am going through – and what I am learning from the experience. I see no vulnerability here. In fact, I have been blessed with meeting only compassionate and kind people all my Life.
All of us have this tendency to go into hibernation when we have a problem situation. Actually, there is no problem with (anything that’s going on in) your Life. The problem is with you. And the way you are responding to Life. You can either resist or you can accept your Life for what it is. If you resist and don’t accept what is, you will feel the pain and suffer. If you accept, on the other hand, while the pain may still be there it will not cause you any suffering!
Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century Persian Mystic, says, “The wound is where the light enters you.” Look back at your own Life. You have evolved, and emerged stronger, only because of your wounds, your problems, your setbacks. You learn very little from success. It is failure that teaches you how to live amidst challenges, surmount them and achieve results. So, live being daring, being vulnerable, sharing and open …. You will then notice that you are soaked in abundance….This is not heart-warming philosophy. This is what Life is all about. If you have to avoid suffering and live with a sustained awareness, the only way is to accept what is, without resistance. So, be vulnerable. Let the world know that you have a problem.
There is an urgent need for you – and me – to deliver compassion and spread harmony in the world.
The tragic bomb blasts in Brussels earlier this month shocked the whole world. I have been particularly numbed by the story of Raghavendran Ganeshan, a software engineer with Infosys, who was on the Brussels Metro when a suicide bomber blew himself – and the train – up. After over a week of harrowing anxiety – and hope – for the family, Raghavendran’s body finally arrived in Chennai a couple of days ago. The papers here reported his tragic story. I don’t know what to say or how to react. Who would have thought that a simple man, a young father, on his way to work to dutifully fulfil a client mandate in one of the most peaceful parts of the world, would meet such a horrific end?
Even so, I feel, the more distressed the world appears to be, the more hopeful we must all remain. As I await dawn on this promising Thursday, I remember an old Jewish story on when does dawn really happen? An old rabbi once asked his pupils how to tell when night ended and the morning began (which is the time for prayer). “Is it when you see an animal in the distance and know whether it’s a sheep or a dog,’’ asked one pupil. “No,” answered the rabbi. “Is it when you can look at a tree and tell whether it is a fig tree or a pear tree,” asked another. “No,” answered the rabbi. After a few more tries the pupils gave up. And they requested the rabbi to enlighten them. “It is dawn when you can look at the face of any man or woman and know that they are your sister or brother. Until then, it is still night,” explained the rabbi.
With so much strife in the world today, within families, communities, businesses, sporting teams, countries and even within ourselves, now is the time for each of us to make a personal effort to love creation and our fellow human beings. All Life is equal. Let’s each of us practice compassion and treat everyone we know, meet or pass by in Life with love, dignity and respect.
You do something only because you think it is the right thing to do in the first place!
Almost all of us are taking decisions all the time. Right from choosing whether you want your coffee cold or hot at a café, to deciding whether or not to end a relationship, we are always in decision-making mode. Big or small, if you examine your Life closely, each moment is decisive. The truth is also that while some decisions work well, some don’t. When a decision backfires distill the learnings from the experience and move on. If you don’t and instead choose to brood over your decision, you will surely grieve and suffer.
Yesterday, a gentleman called me saying his business was in dire straits. He said he had made some strategic decisions five years ago which had not worked well for him. He wanted to know how to get rid of the guilt that he was carrying in him. I told him what I often tell myself: “Guilt is a wasted emotion. It serves no purpose. You did what you thought was right. That’s why you did it in the first place. Now, in hindsight, if the decision has backfired, is there any point in grieving over it?” “Instead”, I advised the gentleman, “look at what the experience taught you and what you can learn from it.”
Now even when a decision works in your favor, it is important you see the learnings there. If you find it difficult to focus on the learnings, the reason is simply this: your ego comes in the way. If the decision you made worked, you feel that “I did it!” and if it didn’t work you say “I blew it all up!” Either way, the “I” comes in between you and the learnings. So, drop the “I”. That’s when you will learn from each of your experiences.
It is that simple. That elementary. A decision once taken is history. Your learning from it can however help you along the way in Life!
If it is due to you it will come to you no matter what – or who – comes in the way!
Our close friend Sruti Harihara Subramanian’s feature documentary, A Far Afternoon – A Painted Saga by Krishen Khanna, (watch the trailer here), won the National Award in two categories yesterday – for Best Arts/Cultural Film and Best Music for a Non-Feature Film (for the composer-sound designer duo Aravind-Shankar)! A Far Afternoon, to me, is a masterly effort that showcases on film how the Life and craft of celebrated artist Krishen Khanna are intertwined. My wife Vaani and I saw the film when it was privately screened in Chennai – even before the rest of the world got to see it! I must confess that I showed up cold for the screening – I have never understood art the way connoisseurs do, I didn’t know anything about Krishen Khanna up until then (quite shameful, I admit) and I don’t generally watch documentaries; so I went literally for ‘Sruti’s sake’! Yet, the film left me in awe of the subject (art), of the protagonist (Krishen Khanna) and of the film-maker’s mind. There’s an endearing simplicity to the film-making and story-telling process that makes the viewer believe that he or she is with Krishen at the moment, in his studio, hearing his heavy breathing, hearing the clock tick and witnessing his genius mind at work. I told Vaani – and Sruti – when the film got over: “This is truly a world-class film!” While I am delighted surely for Sruti, I am not at all surprised that she got a National Award for this one.
Yet, to be sure, A Far Afternoon was a film that almost never got made the way it finally did. First, Sruti always wanted to make a feature film and never a documentary. Then when she began working on this film, she had a vision for a short 10-minute documentary. The final film is 73 minutes long! Important, when she began shooting Krishen, he was 89 years old (he will be 91 this July)! So working with him, during the shooting of the film, involved factoring in – and overcoming – several imponderables given his advanced age. Then, when the film was canned, a quirk of technology led to a substantial part of the footage ‘going missing’ from digital storage. In this time Krishen broke his arm, which meant re-shooting that part of the film, was never an option. Following several anxious weeks – and nerdy efforts – the missing footage was retrieved, again, interestingly, owing to a quirk of technology! I have seen Sruti hang in there through that difficult period. If she often felt lost, defeated, devastated, she didn’t show it. Yes, she was anxious. Yes, we knew the ‘poor thing’ had lost ‘some data’. But no, we didn’t fathom then that she had lost the footage of A Far Afternoon; the enormity of what she may have gone through while making the film – working on retrieving the missing footage and thinking of the possibility of her film remaining ‘unmade’ – struck us only after we watched it. When the National Award came her way yesterday, I realized that one of Sruti’s strengths is that she’s a ‘quiet pusher’ – someone who deals with her everyday issues of anxiety and stress, but quietly keeps pushing at her vision, going after what she’s thought through. She blushed when I made this assessment of her this morning and said, “A Far Afternoon, I discovered through making it, has a Life of its own. It was meant to be the way it turned out to be.”
And there lies the big learning for all of us in Life. What is meant to be will always be. No matter how far it is, how far-fetched it is and no matter what – or who – comes in the way. So, the best way to live Life is to go after what you believe in, your vision, and be that ‘quiet pusher’ – teeing away every single day, chipping away at every obstacle on the way. If you can, learn to drop your anxieties and let the path forward unfold, allowing Life to take over. If you must worry, go ahead and worry, but keep ploughing on without giving up. Actually, when you give yourself up to Life, you don’t have to do anything other than do what makes you come alive. If you are feeling alive doing what you are doing, then Life leads you on. And if it is meant for you, it will come to you!
Everything happens through you and never because of you!
Like his captain M.S.Dhoni said in the post-match presentation ceremony, I too am loving the “evolution” of Virat Kohli – not just as a cricketer but as a human being. There was a time, not too long ago, when he was considered brash, arrogant, foul-mouthed and tempestuous. But the Virat we have seen through this World Cup T20 is a different person altogether.
First, after scoring a steely 50 against Pakistan at Kolkata on March 19th, he bowed to Sachin Tendular in the stands, dedicating his innings to the Master – “It is because of Sachin that I started playing cricket,” he later explained on TV. Next, last evening, when Dhoni hit the winning four against Australia, Virat, at the non-striker’s end, sank to the ground. On his knees, he bowed down in reverence, overwhelmed by the moment. Had it not been for his pyrotechnics in the previous two overs, India would not have made it past the line and into the semis of the WCT20 2016 – he knew that; yet, he felt humbled by his own brilliance. Then, he stood up, removed his helmet and raised his finger, pointing it at the skies and looked up with complete certainty that he was but an instrument; he was genuinely grateful for being the ‘chosen one’ for last night!
To me this quality in Virat will continue to take him onward. And higher! I am sure Dhoni’s sagacity and equanimity have had a huge influence on Virat’s temperament. Yet I want to credit this 27-year-old with coming forth and being willing to be humble. Bravo Son! Soldier on!
If there’s one quality that we all need to nurture in us as we go – and grow – through Life, it is humility. We must realize that success and failure are mere labels. Virat, for instance, who is the toast of 1.2 billion cricket-crazy fans in India this morning may well be rubbished even before the season is out if he fails to deliver the goods. In India, especially with respect to cricket, every fan is a better analyst and judge of your potential and playing conditions than you are. So, it is very, very important to understand that everything happens through you and not because of you. This is not just applicable to a game, as in to cricket, but to Life itself. We are mere messengers, instruments for a higher energy (some call this energy, God; I am comfortable just recognizing the presence of an inscrutable, magical energy that is beyond my understanding!) to work through us. Each event, happening in our Life, is a learning. If we do something miraculous, be amazed, be humbled, like Virat was last night. If you do something stupid and botch it all up, again be amazed, be humbled, and learn from it. Don’t gloat, don’t exult! And don’t despair or give in to depression either. Victory or defeat, success or failure – all are mere imposters. Treat them with dignity. Let them come. Let them go. And you simply journey on, letting your music play – through you!
PS: All pictures are courtesy Internet and copyright/ownership rests with original creators.
‘The Happiness Road’ is a Series on this Blog that appears on Sundays where I share my conversations with people while exploring their idea of happiness!
This Sunday I feature the very inspiring, reflective, Jayshree Raveendran of the Ability Foundation.
We are reconnecting with and meeting Jayshree Raveendran after 12 years. But we discover that she hasn’t changed at all. She, as always, exudes warmth and provides very sharp perspective – that makes you pause and think – on the work she leads at the Ability Foundation.
But the conversation that Vaani and I had with her one morning, earlier this month, was on a subject that made Jayshree very reflective. We spoke about happiness.
Listening to her speak, you can’t but marvel at how miraculous Life is, even as it is so inscrutable. Jayshree can’t hear. A childhood accident left her hearing impaired. But she can read your lips and responds with amazing diction and simplicity – she’s very articulate and very, very, inspiring.
As I laid out the context for our meeting and thanked her for her time, she responded: “We are complicating the word happiness. Nothing makes you happy or unhappy in the true sense. It is a feeling. For example, when faced with a tragedy, when you find the inner strength to cope with the situation, when you get up, dust yourself and move on, that feeling is happiness. And so, your view of happiness can be very different from another’s. What happens when you don’t move on with your Life? You slip into depression. So either you move on or you stay depressed. Happiness is the feeling when you move on and unhappiness is what you feel when you stay depressed.”
I never managed to ask Jayshree if she has read Osho. But her thoughts pretty much mirror what Osho has always said about Life – and happiness. There’s a poetic quality to her perspectives even as they are very direct and crystal clear. She says, for instance, that she does have those times when she tears up, when she feels lost and is in pain. The last five years have been particularly challenging for Jayshree. In 2011, she lost her mother who was, apart from being a remarkable human being, a “friend, philosopher and guide”. Then she lost her husband, another huge pillar of strength, in December 2013. There was obviously, she confesses, a lot of heartache: “The pain is intense. It is like somebody is cutting you up. So I feel happiness is so abstract. I can deal with happiness only as how I am feeling at a particular time. I have learnt that you must be happy when you are happy. And when you are unhappy, be unhappy. Don’t ever ask why? I believe a lot in karma and destiny. And if you treat everything as a prasad from God, then you can cope with any situation. But yes, when there is enormous pain inflicted on you by Life, it is difficult to be accepting of what Life is serving you. It is very difficult to see Life then as God’s prasad in such times.”
There’s something subliminal about being in conversation with Jayshree. You can sense the equanimity about her. And that perhaps comes from learning to live without something basic – that we all take for granted, our hearing – for all your Life. Just consider her inspiring perspective here: “It is okay if you can’t do somethings in Life. Some can hear. Some can’t hear. I have learnt to focus on what I can than focusing on what I can’t. This is what Life and living is all about. And the lifetime we have, in the larger cosmic design, is only the tip of the iceberg. Someday, I hope to be able to understand the meaning of Life…and death. Until then, I live by the twin principles my husband has taught me – don’t complain, don’t expect sympathy!”
These principles are what must have led Jayshree to take her seeking spirit and anchor it with the cause behind her Ability Foundation – an organization that works with specially-abled people. Growing up in Chennai, every time she visited the beach, she said she was always irked when she saw the tin roof of an organization – with the name ‘Madras Association of the Deaf’ emblazoned on the roof – in Santhome. She questioned why society was labeling people as disabled. Why a special place for the deaf, for the blind, for spastics? She argued that people with disabilities were people first – they needed understanding and opportunity, not reservation, not pity. So Ability Foundation was born in 1995; and has today evolved into an institution that is built to last. Jayshree serves us all a gentle reminder of the transient nature of Life when she says, “Every human being is temporarily able-bodied! Everyone, if you live long enough, will be disabled soon.”
How simple. How thought-provoking. As I internalized this awakening point of view, and we got into our Uber cab to ride back home, I replayed what Jayshree had to say as our conversation wound down: “Happiness is an understanding. It is what you feel when you know how you are feeling.”
Just surrender to the Universe’s energy, to Life, don’t fight it!
I love the Punjabi phrase – “Thand Rakh”! It means “Stay Cool”! Not just in situations when anxiety grips you, or when you are provoked by someone, but stay cool, at all times! This is not a state that is beyond your reach. If you just understand how Life works, and how it is working for you, you will learn the art of dropping anchor and staying unflustered despite Life’s upheavals!
Consider this: don’t you agree that if there indeed is a Master of the Universe, who was controlling, coordinating, delivering, granting, blessing and driving whatever is happening in the world, in your Life and mine, then this person is mighty intelligent? So intelligent that zebras have stripes while horses don’t, that when the East has daylight, the West has stars in the sky, that there are four seasons that keep switching as if someone is operating the switches in a Master Control Room, that mangoes are different from oranges and the Himalayas are different from the Rockies! None of these have been or can be controlled by you or me. Yet they happen! And so, we have to admit that the Universe’s energy, which, in my humble opinion, powers our lives, is far more intelligent than all of us put together. Yet why don’t we trust this energy?
Think about it. When things go per your expectation, you don’t have an issue. When they go against what you wish, you immediately start fighting Life. Why? For instance, let’s say, your DVD player doesn’t work when you sit down to watch a movie. You feel frustrated. Even so, it is a small thing, you will eventually get over that setback! You will fight your DVD player for a while, then chuck it out the window and move on. Now, take a more serious situation. Let’s say you are out of work and out of cash. What do you do? You begin, of course, by fighting, by hating, by resisting the Life which you currently have to endure. You sulk, you brood! But does that change anything? Or what if your liver malfunctions or your heart suffers an attack? That’s a situation you can’t even mentally fight! When you realize that you are dealing with situations beyond your control, you learn the art of surrendering to Life. Now, think, if we could consider surrendering to Life in all contexts, how much more simpler and easier to live will our lives be?
In Hindu scriptures, they talk of surrender as ‘saranagati’ to a physical God, an idol. I am suggesting that we learn to surrender to Life, the energy that keeps you – and me – alive! The truth about Life is, no matter what you do, what is to happen (alone) will happen! What I have also learnt from Life is that the Master Plan no flaws. Whatever is happening to you just now is what is ordained to happen. Therefore, intelligence demands that you and I don’t fight Life. Fighting and resisting Life is what causes all your suffering! So, simply, “Thand Rakh” and surrender to Life!
Make your entire Life an offering to the Universe, and you will be the prayer yourself.
Last evening I was caught in the middle of an artificial traffic jam caused by motorists thronging a Shirdi Baba shrine. The mess was artificial because it was time for the arathi and everyone inside and outside the temple was shoving, elbowing, honking and pausing to catch a glimpse of the deity. Chaos is a mild word to describe the situation, it was complete mayhem!
And I caught myself thinking – do we really need to be so demonstrative with prayer and worship?
To be sure, my perspective on the subject too has evolved over the years. There was a time when I wore rings on my fingers and visited temple after temple seeking solutions to my problems and answers to my questions. I visited Tirupathi on the trot for 17 quarters, on the first day of each quarter – Lord Venkateswara was the corporate deity, as I had understood, and paying obeisance to Him at the beginning of each earnings cycle was mandatory. I visited Tiruchendur and Sabari Malai once every year. I even went with Vaani to Tirucherai, to offer special prayers to the Runa Vimochana Lingam (the Shiva shrine dedicated to debt relief). I have also visited Ajmer and gone to the dargah of the Garib Nawaz, Khwaja Moinudeen Chisty, there. I have been to the Vatican and to Velankanni, to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi and to almost all the churches and temples in Kerala and Goa. I have visited Shirdi several times and, at one point, I even used to fast on Thursdays – considered to be Sai Baba’s special day. While I did feel energized at each of these ‘pit-stops’, I still found something missing within me. I was still restless and disturbed. Worry, anger, grief and guilt haunted me despite my best efforts to be pious and prayerful. And I always wondered, ‘Why was I not finding inner peace’?
It was my practice of mouna – daily silence periods – that led me to understand that peace came from within and not from any external source – however holy and haloed the source is hailed to be. I realized that our conditioning has led us to look outside of us than within us. There is a popular notion that we have, thanks to our upbringing, that prayer is an action that requires a time, a place and certain necessary and sufficient conditions. Each religion preaches worship through prayer differently. Therefore, while all of us have become adept at praying, we have become completely incapable of living! Even when in prayer, the mind is distracted, often anxious, fearful and disturbed!
How can merely, mechanically, by rote, chanting a mantra or reciting a hymn, compensate for intelligent living? This is my humble, personal view – born out of my own evolutionary experience. Over the years, I have learned that your entire Life, the way you live, think and work, can be prayer if you understand that this lifetime is a gift and that you must forever be grateful to Life for this experience! Choosing forgiveness over angst, love over hatred, postponing worrying than postponing happiness, serving over seeking deservance, gratitude over expectation and making each moment count are all ways in which you live your Life prayerfully. When you do this, repeatedly, over days and months and years, you become the peace that you seek.
This doesn’t mean that Life will not serve you any more problems. There will be problems; perhaps even more than you would imagine! But you will be able to deal with each of them effectively, efficiently, because you are now anchored in peace. It is only because you relegate peace and prayer to a specific time, and do it with a ritualistic obsession and not with deep fervor – immersion in the moment – that you don’t escape fear, worry, anxiety, guilt, grief and suffering. But if you make your Life your prayer, being grateful for all that you have, you will be always soaked in peace!