Be ready and willing to go through any situation, experience everything, in Life!
“How do you console yourself when you don’t get what you want; when your Life doesn’t go the way you planned it?” This question came to me yesterday from a lady I met at the Help Yourself to Happiness Talk I delivered at a Rotary Club.
The answer I gave the lady is that you must not try to console yourself. Consolation has an air of mourning, of grief, inherent to it – that you tried for something, you did not get it, so it is ‘okay’! There is no ‘okay’ status that works in Life. The best state to be in is to be unmoved. There is no need to either exult in Life nor is there a need to brood or mourn. You must taste, you must experience, everything in Life – success and failure, victory and defeat, joy and sorrow – and eventually you will realize that they are all imposters. You will discover that neither the state when you are exulting nor the one when you are brooding is permanent. So, don’t credit yourself for creating contexts where you exult at your achievements and don’t discredit yourself just because the context is one where grief is gnawing at you, over what you lost or what you didn’t get. Just learn to be unmoved. If you can be unmoved, then everything, every event, calls for a celebration! Then every moment is a celebration!
The lady urged me to explain my point with an example. I shared this story from my Life that I had also recounted to Vaani on New Year’s eve.
I took my first flight in my Life at the age of 10, in 1977, from New Delhi to Madras. I loved the experience. And resolved that I would only fly when I grew up; also I because I find train journeys very boring, very uninspiring. To date, I prefer a flight over a train! My second flight was the one I took at the age of 23, in 1990, from Madras to Bangalore. I was flying on work for India Today magazine and was on an assignment to report on Veerappan, the dreaded sandalwood smuggler. It was a big moment for a young, ambitious lad – flying on company expense. I saved the Indian Airlines (now called Air India) boarding passes of both my onward and return journeys from that trip. I reckoned that when I became ‘very famous, very rich, very successful’ I would display these boarding passing proudly in my office or home, as a trophy of where my ‘high Life’ had truly begun. Soon, I was traveling more and most of my trips were by flight too. And I started collecting my boarding passes. I extended my idea of the saved boarding passes to reflect the number of air miles I had logged in all my active Life. For the longest time, I had this vision of me sitting in my private study and bar, smoking a cigar, and having an entire wall done up with boarding passes from all my flights in my Life. Soon the collection grew. I now have a whole mound of boarding passes saved up – I don’t really think I have lost a boarding pass or missed saving one in my Life. At one time I was taking even three or four flights a week, and traveling 21 days each month. So the boarding pass collection really swelled in good time. Within India I was loyal to Jet Airways and was their Platinum Card holder for several years – in all those years, our family of four, always took vacations on free tickets purchased with my miles! My boarding passes collection reflected the Life I led – busy and flying around! For someone who came from a middle-class background, this was exciting stuff, a sign that you had arrived, in style!
And then, as I recounted to Vaani on New Year’s eve, 2016 has turned out to be the year of no flights for me. No flights taken in an entire year. Even in the past decade, owing to our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) my flying has shrunk considerably. But I never bargained for a flightless year, that too in what should have been the 28th year of an active, professional Life!
So, that’s my example, a story from my Life, I told the lady, who asked me to explain my point about being unmoved. Surely, I am not citing that I have traveled more than anyone else in the world. In fact, my story showcases how such a personal collection of boarding passes appears so vain now in the wake of Life’s larger design and Purpose. I am not even suggesting that I will not fly again or that I will not have that wall in my private study and bar. All I am saying is that I am no longer impacted by whether I am flying or not. It has ceased to mean anything beyond a data point to me. In the last quarter of a century, I flew a lot, then I flew less and last year, I did not fly at all! Simple!
The essence of intelligent living is that you must experience everything in Life. You must be ready and willing to go through any situation. Don’t ever expect Life to only be a particular way. Recognize that what goes up comes down. And what goes around comes around. Life is always flowing and you must learn to go with Life’s flow. This is the way to be unmoved, to celebrate Life’s every moment, no matter what you are faced with or are going through! This is how I celebrated my flightless year – 2016!
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To follow your bliss, all you need is to decide what you want from your Life. Nothing else is either necessary or matters!
I curate a monthly Event Series at the Odyssey Bookstore in Chennai called The Bliss CatchersTM. Each month I invite guests who have gone on to do what they love doing. I talk to them to understand how they have followed their bliss. Last evening, as the June edition of the Series wound down, a member in the audience asked me if following your bliss was really possible when one had financial and familial responsibilities and commitments? Besides, he added, if someone’s bliss – like traveling – required money, won’t it be important for that person to first save up that amount and then follow their bliss? Which means, is following one’s bliss then the exclusive privilege of a select few?
I am often asked this question. So, I was hardly surprised when it came up again.
First let us understand what bliss really is. In recent times, American mythologist and author Joseph Campbell (1904~1987) has demystified bliss and has made it both understandable and accessible to those who are ready and willing to follow what they truly believe in and come alive with. Bliss is definitely not what you attain sitting under a tree. It is who you are. It is what makes you come alive. Which is why Campbell says follow your bliss. So to someone it may mean cooking, to someone else it may be gardening, to another it may be traveling and so on. Another way to know what your bliss is, is to ask yourself what would you like to be doing in your Life if money were no object. If you didn’t have to worry about earning money or paying your bills, what would you want to do? That which you so absolutely love doing is then your bliss.
However, in the real world, you can’t escape money or materialism. So, how then can we pursue what we love doing without upsetting our material ecosystem? There is no straightforward method or answer available here. Just as bliss is uniquely personal, so is the way to follow it. To each one their own. So, at best, we can try to follow a simple thumb rule though.
Decide what you want from your Life. First understand what your bliss is by asking what you would be doing if you didn’t have to earn money. Then, examine your current reality and ask yourself: Are you working for joy? Or are you working for joy and profit? Or are you working only for profit, only for money?
In any context and in anyone’s Life, all three scenarios are possible. You must address all three before you decide which one you prefer. Obviously, a no-brainer is that the best scenario is when we can get both joy and profit from the work we do, from the bliss we (wish to) follow. But if you are stuck in a job or business that gives you only profit and money, and if you want the money more than your inner joy, then there is no point grieving over the lack of joy in your Life! And if you are experiencing joy doing the work you are doing, and are not making enough money from it, then don’t grieve the lack of money in your Life! Either you can try and bring joy into your Life if you have only money or bring money in your Life if you have only joy! Be clear. Be decisive. If you want a different scenario from what you currently have, remember you have to change your Life! Be clear about what you want, and go for it. Please don’t complain, please don’t whine, pine or grieve. So, really, following your bliss is not a limiting philosophy or idea. You limit yourself with your thinking, with your arguments, with your logic, fear and insecurities. Period.
If you examine your Life, all your unhappiness comes from not doing what you want to do or from doing what you don’t want to do. So, to do what you love doing, you must decide what you want from Life. Like so many, many others have done. Look around you. You will discover that almost every story of world-class performance and success (in purely real-world, material terms), in any field, conforms to this philosophy. Simply then, if you want to be happy, if you want lasting inner joy, go be the best at whatever you love doing. Money will always follow.
Learn to be patient with Life. It happens at its own pace and in its own time.
A friend wrote to me after a long time and wondered if my “Life’s troubles were over”! I replied saying while we are still enduring the crisis, we are not troubled by it anymore. This doesn’t mean we are accustomed to or resigned to our “comfort zone”. To be sure, you can never be comfortable in pain. Yet you can avoid suffering if you are in a state of acceptance of your current reality and have learnt to be patient with Life.
All of us are products of the time that we go through. Initially, when I was much younger, less wiser, and more impatient, I pooh-poohed this theory. Now, when I look back, I realize that my academic education – which encouraged me to think logically, rationally – had made me arrogant. I wanted to be the master of my Life. I imagined then that I could make my own destiny. I seriously believed that success – fame and money – are all that mattered in Life. But then, when I started noticing, both through my own Life experience and through those of others around me, that having talent and integrity alone can’t make your plans work for you, I came to accept that you also need time on your side.
The time I refer to here does not mean the 24-hour construct. It means the phases of time that your lifespan goes through. I soon discovered that through the passage of time, what goes up comes down, to go back up again and to come down yet again! I recognized therefore that nothing is permanent – not even Life; that death is inevitable! So, I realized, the best way to live is to be available to, and accepting of, whatever’s happening to you, even if it is not something that you want or ordered into your Life. This way you will not suffer in Life; nothing can trouble you!
I have also understood that there is no concept of good time or bad time in Life. Time, like Life itself, is neutral. In fact, every event in your Life, happens for a reason. Even stuff that you classify as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ – events that you dislike – happen at the ‘right’ time! And whatever happens in your Life, is happening to make you humble, strong, peaceful and happy! This understanding has helped me immensely. I wake up to face each day with great enthusiasm. I put in my best efforts. And I take whatever comes my way – acceptance, rejection, compassion, hatred, praise, ridicule – without judging it and without resisting it. About 10 years ago, I was indeed troubled and unhappy with my Life. My material context and physical situation have not changed. But I have learnt now to be untroubled by what’s happening to me and to be happy despite the circumstances I am placed in!
The more you think that Life happens because of you, the less you will see of Life’s magic and beauty!
I am often asked what have I learnt from this phase – our enduring bankruptcy – of my Life. And I always reply that I have been humbled by this phase, I have seen God through the compassion of so many fellow human beings, without whose selfless, spontaneous support Vaani and I wouldn’t be around today! I have learnt that I am a nobody – just a speck on the vast cosmic plane!
There was a time when I thought I was causing everything – my success, my fame and my wealth. But post-2007, as we grappled with imponderables – the bankruptcy and the ensuing pennilessness – and people just walked into our Life to help us – financially, emotionally, materially – I realized how wrong my whole thinking had been. I want to tell you that to be receiving help, and taking it, accepting it, from people can really be traumatic. It does not sit lightly ever. Your ego will hurt, you will find it being crushed like toilet paper and thrown away. After all won’t you feel like a worm if despite all your education, your work experience and your so-called intellect, you can’t get work and you have to depend on grants from people to meet your basic living expenses – your rent, electricity, phone and grocery bills? I struggled with this a lot until I learnt that you have to go with the flow; at different times in Life you have to go through different experiences. I spent over 10 years of my entrepreneurial Life as an employer, a giver, a benefactor. And I have now already spent the next 10 years as a receiver, a beneficiary. And I think both experiences are invaluable. The first experience made me believe that I was everything. The second experience has taught me that I am nothing.
I am reminded of an Urdu couplet by an unknown poet.
mita de apni hasti ko agar hazaar martaba chahe, ke dana mitti se mil kar hi gule gulzar hota hai!
It means let go of all your attachment to worldly possessions__including your ego, your desire for power and wealth__and allow yourself to be annihilated – to be razed to the ground. For only when a seed becomes dust, and is buried, does it germinate into a new plant!
So, I am very grateful to my bankruptcy for having cut me to size, for having humbled me. My only focus – and prayer – now is that somehow Vaani and I must claw our way back and turn around the business in due course and repay every single creditor of ours – with full interest due. Every morning we wake up in gratitude to the 179 Angels that we owe money to. We do our work diligently choosing to be unfrustrated by the results – which presently never quite add up in relation to our efforts.
I believe everyone should – and will – go through such an awakening, even if humbling, experience. And it need not necessarily be a bankruptcy. Any cathartic experience can awaken you. Without my experience I would have lived in my own delusion that my Life happened because of me. Now I live each moment with so much amazement, so much gratitude, so much joy. I live in total bliss because I see my God in the hearts and actions of all those who have helped us and who continue to help us!