It’s a big, beautiful world full of kind, compassionate people!
At my Uncommon Leader event yesterday, a member of the audience walked up to me and said, “It must be pretty tough on you and Vaani to be so vulnerable in this big, bad, cruel world. I don’t know if I would have survived the crisis you are faced with.” (To know more about the crisis and why this remark was made, please follow this link: Fall Like A Rose Petal.)
Vaani and I understand where this perspective is coming from. It appears that much of the world is cold, cruel, judgmental and self-obsessed. It also appears that wearing your Life on your sleeve, being transparent, being vulnerable, is an absurd, almost foolish, thing to do. But our experience has just been the opposite. In all the time that Vaani and I have been dealing with this bankruptcy, for about a decade now, we have never come across someone who has exploited our vulnerability. To be sure, we have always been very open about our enduring situation. But this hasn’t made us a target or victim of social prejudices or attitudes. Of course, there have been those who have proceeded against us legally to protect their rights (on account of having to recover from us the monies we owe them); we totally understand their need to have done what they have done. Yes, there have been those who have been judgmental and there are those who have distanced themselves from us only because we are no longer in a certain “league”. But such people have been few. A large majority of people in our circle of influence and who we have come across in the past decade have been, in reference to their specific contexts, forgiving, compassionate, sensitive, loving, understanding and important, in general, all of them have been trusting.
Just yesterday, someone we know came forward to make a generous offer to us. He noticed that we are struggling to earn an income. He said we could market his services as ours, he would deliver on the mandates that came by and we could take the fees that accrued as our own. We need not necessarily pay him any fees, he suggested. What a wonderful gesture! Except that his services don’t fall in our line, zone, of work. Even so, at what point will people offer themselves pro-bono just so that another set of professionals like them, who are going through a tough phase, stand to benefit? Vaani and I are moved beyond words.
This is not an isolated case. Last week at least two people reached out offering to help with any bills that we may have trouble paying. My Book and my several of my blogposts are peppered with examples of how people have come in, some of them rank strangers, unexpectedly into our Life and have helped us onward on our journey.
This experience has taught me and Vaani that God exists – but only through the godliness in the people around us. We have seen this God again and again and again, repeatedly, in the actions and hearts of those people who we have known or who have come into our Life. I believe if we drop our ego, abandon all judgment, and simply, humbly, accept the warmth, love and compassion of people around us, we will only see a beautiful, caring, loving world. This world doesn’t exploit your vulnerability, it does not take; it only gives – and gives unconditionally! Look around you – perhaps you live in this same world!
Perceptions can derail you only if you allow them to.
My friend called me from Canada the other day. He shared notes with me on “how perceptions of people around you can pin you down”. He said in the time when he lived in Kerala, and when he owed money to family and friends, he would always be ridiculed for being a mudhalaly, an estate owner, who “lived it up” while claiming to be insolvent. “Even if I wore a shirt that was well laundered and ironed, they would demand that if I had money to “buy a new shirt”, I must find ways to repay my loans. I found social sentiments crippling…they made me very fearful, I was even scared of my shadow. I am still haunted by all those remarks and how I felt back then,” he told me.
I can empathize with my friend’s experience. Given our situation, (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), Vaani and I are consistently prone to public perception, scrutiny and judgment. But we don’t fear perceptions. We respect them as sentiments of people that we are answerable to; we remain true to ourselves and these people. Even so, we have realized that if we live in fear of anything, or anyone, we will not live, we will merely exist. So we deal with perceptions as they come along – head on, in the face!
What we have learnt is that a perception is always the viewer’s, observer’s, seer’s view of reality. So, it is totally relative to the point of view that someone, who’s looking at a situation or person, is holding. In most cases, perception is not reality. When someone has a perception of you, if they are merely misinformed or misguided by their imagination, they will accept a clarification and change their point of view. Such people are intrinsically honest and worth clarifying to. Others are not just holding a perception of you, but are also judgmental. Such people are best left alone. If you must, clarify, but don’t expect any understanding from them. And then there is the third category – people who are totally unconnected to you, but who will pass judgment in social circles, social media and even write your epithet. Such people and their opinions are best ignored. So, you see, in any of these cases, there is no point in fearing perceptions. Clarify to the best of your ability, and if you fail to convince someone, don’t let that affect you. Just move on.
In any situation, particularly when you are answerable to people circumstantially or emotionally, remember that you cannot prove your integrity to anyone – unless they see it or realize it themselves. In fact, there is no point in trying to prove yourself. Those who trust you will not be led by perceptions of you. And those who don’t trust you – or don’t want to trust you – will not let go of their perceptions of you, no matter what evidence you bring up in your favor. This is the way Life is. No one is to be blamed here. And there’s no need to grieve and sweat over your inability to erase ill-informed perceptions of you. However, always ensure that none of what you do disregards the integrity of your relationship with the stakeholder you are answerable to or are responsible for.
Bottom-line: Perceptions can derail you only if you allow them to. The only person you need to be true to, in the whole world, is you. If you are that, then perceptions won’t matter; they won’t haunt you.
Empathy and compassion are key to heal the world.
The other day I bumped into a friend to whom I owe money. I have kept him in the loop, sending regular updates, on our situation (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). But I was meeting him after a few years. I told him that I was very sorry for the continued delay from my end in keeping up my commitment. I thanked him for his patience and understanding. He replied, “How can I hold it against you for what you are going through AVIS? I won’t say I don’t need the money back. But I don’t feel short-changed either – by you or by your situation.”
I sat that evening and replayed his perspective in my mind. It was practical. And at the same time it was deeply spiritual; very simple, yet profound. Most of the time, we look only at our situations, our needs, our wants when we demand or expect something from someone. We rarely consider what their story is, what they are going through. My friend’s attitude reminded me of the value of compassion and empathy in relationships. Even in a complicated one where I owe him the money, where I am answerable to him, he had the compassion to not hold it against me, to not judge me for what he thought of my prolonged situation. I sent him a text message that night: “Thank you for being truly human.”
Talking of this incident reminds me of an experience we have been having with someone eminent. We know this person for the past year. The first time we met we spent a good amount of time chatting with him. We exchanged business cards and promised to stay in touch. But whenever we met him after that first meeting, he behaved as if he didn’t know us. This happened again two days ago when he came to a conversation I was curating and hosting – in response to my invitation! When I walked up to him and said hello, he was dismissive and moved on. I was perplexed. So I asked a common friend if this gentleman had poor social skills. The common friend clarified to me that this person had a problem remembering names and faces – it was form of amnesia! Imagine, if we were to judge this person as someone who had poor social skills or someone who was a snob – how tragic would that have been?
Simply, if we can all reach my friend’s state of being non-judgmental, I believe we will have a more beautiful world to live in. Think about it. It’s doable. Surely!
Life is no bed of roses for anyone. So suspend all judgment and live free.
Yesterday, at the Hindu Lit for Life 2017, we had the opportunity to listen to veteran Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor talk about his Life and times. He was speaking in the context of the launch of his freshly-minted autobiography, Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored (Harper Collins), which has been co-authored by noted film journalist Meena Iyer.
I came away with a reiteration of two key perspectives that I have always held close to my heart: 1. Life is all about learning to get better and better about living and 2. Candor is the best policy. Rishi talked openly about losing his way in Life after the heady success of Bobby (1973), he talked about having been naïve enough to purchase an award once, he talked about his father Raj Kapoor’s affairs with his (Raj’s) leading ladies. In the breezy hour that Rishi regaled the audience at the packed Sir Mutha Venkata Subba Rao auditorium with anecdote after anecdote from his Life, candor was the only word that kept popping in my mind to describe the experience of listening to him. To one question, on whether nepotism is graciously accepted in the film world, compared to other industries, Rishi snapped back: “I am not Rishi Kapoor because I am Raj Kapoor’s son. I am who I am because of my struggles, my hard work, my sweat, my tears. Yes, I am proud that Raj Kapoor is my father. But I disagree that star children have it easy.”
There was not a word from his conversation that did not ring true. There was no starry tantrum he threw. It left me, and I am sure almost everyone, in awe of the way that Life deals with all of us. As Rishi confessed, he didn’t have to struggle for basic living comforts, he said he doesn’t know what it means to be hungry, but he also pointed out that he has struggled in his own way, uniquely, with his lows and learning from them.
That’s brings me to an all-important perspective. Life is no bed of roses for anyone. Each of us has to bear our own crosses. There are no right or wrong ways to live Life. You do what you have to do, or feel like doing, in some contexts. And you learn from each of your choices. Over time, when you look back, maybe through an autobiography, maybe while nursing a drink on the beachside, maybe while on a hospital bed, whenever you look back, you will only realize that you can never claim you knew then – or know now – one hundred percent how to live your Life. You can only say that you are better off living it today than you were yesterday. Simply, you just get better and better with living your Life. This is what experience does to you. This is what Life teaches you.
So, why feel shy or apprehensive about Life? Be open. Wear your Life on your sleeve. Jio, as Rishi is doing, as Vaani and I have been doing (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), Khullam Khulla! If you did something you ought not to have done, take it easy. After all, s**t happens! Just learn from the experience than brood endlessly over it. This attitude serves to not only help you with moving on but it also works well in reminding you not to judge others. When you see someone doing something that you would not either do or approve of doing, don’t be dismissive of them. Don’t ridicule and write them off. Remember they too have a story and they too have a need to evolve through their learning curve. Simply, suspend all judgment. It will save you a lot of energy and also spare you heartburn and negativity!
I often believe that everyone, like Rishi Kapoor, should write a Khullam Khulla autobiography. Not necessarily for others to read. But also for the individual to heal. Sharing, I know from experience, is very therapeutic. When you examine what has happened in your Life dispassionately, treating every experience as a teacher, and learn from it, you let go of all emotional baggage and set yourself free. You are then eternally grateful to Life for this human experience – no matter what kind of seasons and flavors have dominated that experience! This is what Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century Persian poet, meant when he wrote in the Guest House, “…The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
Each experience has a place in your Life. Go through everything and keep moving on!
Last evening we watched a movie called Nasha on TV. It was released in 2013 and stars Poonam Pandey. It is a very strangely made film – the story’s visual representation lacks aesthetic and, in fact, borders on soft porn. That treatment, I felt, was quite unnecessary to tell the story. But the story itself contains a very powerful spiritual message. A young lady school teacher, under various convoluted circumstances, falls in love with her young, high school male student. When she realizes that she has crossed the threshold of the time-honored guru-shishya relationship, she leaves the school and her young beau. She leaves a parting note for him though, from which we can glean a deep spiritual takeaway: “There is no way in which we can define our relationship. And I don’t want to define it. It just happened. And it was beautiful. And I want it to remain so in our memory…There is no guarantee to what can happen in Life. Go through every experience. And treasure its uniqueness, its beauty. Living in the moment is the way to live fully….” (I have captured the essence of the takeaway here and not the exact voice-over/dialogue from the film.)
Indeed. In reality, there is no good or bad, no right or wrong, in Life. What may appear right to you may appear wrong to someone else. And what may appear wrong to you may be something someone else believes is totally right. So, it is best we don’t bring in morality or judgement to events and experiences that are unique. This, while understanding and appreciating a universal, overarching principle, that nothing ever, at any time, must be pursued that goes against humanity and the grain of compassion.
I personally didn’t believe Nasha’s story needed to be told in that soft-porn tone by its director Amit Saxena. But that was his choice. Even so, my disagreement with the film’s treatment does not mean that a teacher and student cannot or must not fall in love with each other. I guess it happens all over, all the time. So the film’s message does offer a learning opportunity for anyone who is willing to pause and reflect. The truth is Life itself is a series of unique experiences. Not all experiences need to conform to predictable and established social frameworks. We must learn to value each experience for what it is. Not in comparison with another. Not out of fear of what people will say. Not feeling guilty either. But seeing everything you go through as a true celebration of who you are and what makes you come alive.
Osho, the Master, always encouraged people to come alive and live free. And he warned that the moment you feel inhibited, constrained, by social strictures or your own emotions, it was time for you to move on. Without regret. But with a sense of joy and liberation. And that’s exactly what the teacher in Nasha did.
I believe there’s a big learning here for all us. We stop wanting to come alive only because we want to look good in the eyes of others, of society. Instead if we choose and do only what makes us come alive, even if it is through experiences that are unique to us, we will lead fuller and happier lives.