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!
Humility, gratitude and responsibility are integral to receivership.
My family and I are once again humbled by the generosity and compassion of the Universe. Here we are trying to fix an apparently hopeless, broken, financial situation where even living expenses are almost always unavailable. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal.) And one more time we are being helped along the way in the most incredible, miraculous manner.
I am often asked if I don’t feel guilty “accepting so many favors” from people. With no end in sight to our enduring bankruptcy, and with therefore no way to project when we will be able to repay our creditors, don’t we feel “worthless” or “ashamed” when continuing to receive help from people? The simple answer is this – I once used to feel traumatized that I was unable to provide for my family and also unable to repay our debt; but, no, I don’t feel so anymore.
I have come to see the whole Universe as compassionate. Every aspect of creation is constantly giving and receiving. There is no turmoil in the mind of Nature, there is no shame, there is no guilt. The Persian poet Hafez (1325~1389) said it so beautifully: “And still, after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, “You owe Me.” Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky.” This is what Life is all about – unconditional love, limitless compassion. Money and materialism are human inventions. So, the moment money and material wealth come into a transaction, an obligated sense of give only when you receive or you have taken so you return arises. It is only in the human world that conditions apply for every transaction, that debt exists, worse still, as a burden!
I was born in a Brahmin family. My upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony) was performed when I was 13. What I remember from that time is what the priest taught me. That the duty of a person wearing the sacred thread was to humbly seek alms for survival – bhavati bhiksham dehi. Meaning: may you give me some alms. When I look back at that indoctrination, I believe what we are being taught at that early age is to drop our ego and be humble receivers. This wasn’t about begging as much as it was about egoless receivership. When I was suffering owing to my inability to fix my business, and resultant financial situation, and I was grieving over having to be at the “mercy of Life and people around me”, during one of my daily mouna (silence) sessions some years back, I reflected on that learning. An ex-employee of my Firm, whom I had unceremoniously sacked, had given me Rs.15,000/- (which I am still to repay) the previous day to help us deal with our crisis. I was torn by guilt and shame. And then, although I had stopped being Brahmin in a communal and ritualistic sense, I thought about the meaning of bhavati bhiksham dehi. In that nanosecond clarity emerged. I decided from then on to expunge all debilitating, wasteful, emotions and to simply be a humble, grateful, responsible receiver.
So, I have learnt to trust the process of Life. To me, my Faith in Life – that since I have been created I will be taken care of – is my ATM card. I really don’t examine which ATM is dispensing the miracle – emotional, material or pure, hard cash, whatever! I am just a humble, eternally grateful, responsible receiver. And I know without a shred of doubt that, in every moment, a miracle is unfolding for me. This doesn’t mean I am reasoning my poor credit rating and decade-long history of non-repayment of legitimate dues with philosophy. Of course, I am accountable for all the money that I owe people – which I why I treat responsibility as integral to receivership. But, at the same time, I don’t treat the responsibility as a burden – else it will weigh me down and negate whatever chances remain of my financial recovery.
Not just in a material or money context, when you pause to zoom out and look at your entire Life’s design as a witness, you will discover that everything is given to you in this lifetime. The Life you have in this human form is your biggest gift. Everything else you receive after that it is inconsequential. Truly, you make nothing here and you will take nothing from here. So, give, give, give. Give unconditionally. And when it is your turn to receive, receive humbly, gratefully, unquestioningly. Then there will be no grief, no guilt, no suffering!
Live your story. Live a Life that matters.
Over the weekend, I was invited to share a transformational moment of my Life at a story-telling session. Now, I am often invited to speak at forums and events. And I almost always share my story. Even through the workshops that Vaani and I lead and anchor, we share stories – both from our own personal experiences and of what we see and learn from Life around us. We also encourage participants at our workshops to share their personal journeys so that they can bond and function better as teams. But this story-telling session that we attended on Sunday was different. It was structured, time-bound story-telling. It was a beautiful experience, hearing so many, intensely personal, stories from rank strangers.
So, there was the retired principal of a corporation school – he talked of how he learnt to live intelligently and serve selflessly from his own students, most of them coming from broken homes; they came only for the lure of the noon-meals the school offered, as it was the only meal the children got daily! There was a man who shared his story of remorse and guilt – over shamelessly demanding a dowry from his millionaire father-in-law, turning an alcoholic thereafter – and how he found love and meaning in his Life, thanks to his wife forgiving him and showing him so much compassion and understanding. Then there was this young, TamBram lady who rebelled against the institution of marriage and who was given an apartment to live separately by her conservative father – she talked of the various people she ended up living with in her apartment and what she learnt from each of them.
This experience only corroborated what I have always believed in: understanding personal stories matters a lot in relationships. I read somewhere, long, long ago, that behind every beating heart is a personal story. And, I have learnt from Life that, if you understand that story, relating to – or choosing not to relate to – the other person in a relationship becomes that much simpler.
Most relationships, across all contexts and not necessarily limited to a romantic liaison between two people, become messy because, after the initial phase of getting to know a person, there is no effort by either party to understand the other. Knowing their stories helps. Our part-time helper at home, for instance, came late to work today. Now, it is normal for us to imagine that she, like most other housemaids like her, is playing silly and truant. But when Vaani paused to hear her story, it turns out that she’s being repeatedly physically abused by her drunkard husband. I am not saying that we can solve someone’s problems by knowing their story. But knowing someone’s story surely helps us deal with them with empathy and compassion. We may or may not choose to engage with a person after hearing their story. And that’s fine. But at least we can avoid imagining and perceiving the person to be something that he or she is not.
For a person who shares a story, the experience of sharing is a therapeutic one. I can vouch for this. Over the last few years, Vaani and I have healed greatly through being open and sharing our story – through my Book, my Talks, events that we curate and through this Blog that I write daily. So contrary to popular perception that sharing our stories makes us vulnerable, I would say, sharing our stories helps us experience the warmth, compassion, love and kindness that makes up the Universe!
But, most important, your story shapes you – it refines you, makes you stronger and helps you evolve. It leads you to live a Life that matters. But for that to happen, you must embrace the experiences that come your way, without resisting them, and be prepared to go through your own adventure. So, when your story unfolds, when you path begins to appear, just offer yourself to be led by Life. You can be sure that, over time, you will arrive where you must – and where you belong!
If we make an effort, however small it may be, to touch another Life, we will live meaningfully!
Reading the news this morning of Shaktiman’s (the horse in Dehradun who lost a limb after he was brutally beaten up by a local politician over a month ago) passing saddened me. A Life so unfortunately, so heartlessly, snuffed out.
The Shaktiman episode assumed a political overtone no doubt. And people took to social media to express their angst too. Understandable. But the story also leaves us richer with the learning that every aspect of creation gives us perspective on Life’s larger design, it’s purpose. Because, among the many who shared their grief over Shaktiman’s plight, two people actually went to work on it. Jamie Vaughan, an artificial limb expert, who was treating Shaktiman after one of his legs was amputated following the incident, posted, on Facebook, the requirement of a prosthetic leg to be sourced from Virgina and shipped to India urgently. Jamie, who works for an NGO treating animals in Bhutan, was hoping that someone traveling to India would volunteer to carry the precious cargo to her for Shaktiman. But Tim Mahoney, a former Bank of America employee, decided to do something better. He traveled from Kentucky to Virginia, picked up the prosthetic limb and traveled 12,000 km to Dehradun, at his own expense, all for a “call of heart”. Both Tim and Jamie had never known or met each other. Both of them were trying to help the distressed and injured horse – obviously expecting nothing in return.
I read about Tim’s compassion in the Times of India a few days ago. Ever since, I have been thinking of how this reminds us about how much we can do to help Life around us. Truly, I believe that with all that we have, we can do a lot, lot more, within our circle of influence. We don’t have to travel 12,000 km necessarily. What Tim’s selfless, magnanimous gesture does is it inspires us to pause and to think.
All of us are created compassionate. We become self-obsessed because either we are busy fighting our own battles and insecurities or we are busy earning a living. I think if we step out of our shells and look up, there will be a lot of Tim-like opportunities and a lot of Shaktimans waiting for us out there. Make time for someone today, go make a difference!
- What would you have done in such a situation?
- How can you be more sensitive to the needs of people around you?
- Whenever you can’t help personally, do you consider mobilizing help?