Feeling grateful for what you have helps you to bounce back from no-go situations!
People have often asked me if there have been times when I have felt like I can’t go on anymore; when I have felt beaten and deflated. Of course, I have. I am no less human. I live in the same world as everyone else and I have similar issues that many are grappling with.
Just two days ago, looking at our Life’s design – how every department is ravaged – I was recollecting an old Tamizh song to Vaani: Sothanai Mel Sothanai, Podhum Ada Saami. It is from the 1974 super-hit film Thanga Padhakam that stars Sivaji Ganesan (P.Madhavan, M.S.Viswanathan, Kannadasan, T.M.Soundararajan). The song is a cry in despair of a heart-broken man, an appeal to a Higher Energy, saying, “Test after test, challenge after challenge, oh, can’t take it any more…!” Each line of the lyrics by Kannadasan carries so much depth and meaning – anyone who is clueless about what lies next and feels numbed by an inscrutable Life challenge can relate to every word.
So, when I recollected a memory associated with the song to Vaani, I too was feeling the way the lyrics describe Life to be. (Read more of our story here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). I had heard of this song first as an 7-year-old when my father’s oldest brother passed away suddenly. We were living in Delhi back then. When we arrived in Madras and visited our grieving grandparents and the rest of the family at their home in George Town’s Rasappa Chetty Street, I heard someone mention to my parents that my uncle had last heard this song on the radio late in the evening and told his wife that he could relate to it totally. If my memory serves me right, I think he died in his sleep. It wasn’t until a few years later that I watched the movie itself on TV and then for several decades I never thought about the song. Until, of course, two days ago.
I am not even trying to suggest any parallels here! I am just confessing that we are all vulnerable in the wake of Life’s onslaughts. I have read an interview of Amitabh Bachchan, which he gave sometime in 1998 or 1999, when he was in the throes of ABCL’s bankruptcy, where he recounts telling his God, his version of the Higher Energy that we all look up to, this: “Bahut Ho Gaya, Ab Bas!” It means, “I have had enough, please, please spare me…” So, each of us is vulnerable in our own unique ways. We cannot be immune from fear, grief, insecurity or worry. No one is.
But there’s something each of us can do when we are plagued by debilitating emotions. You can zoom out and look at your own Life as a witness – dispassionately. The moment you do that, self-pity, self-doubt, fear, anxiety, all these wasteful emotions will dissolve. I did just that, yet again, a couple of days ago. When I recounted this song, and I was beginning to tell Vaani that it’s been so, so many years since our crisis broke, I realized that I still had her by my side. And she still had me. And together there’s a lot more we can do. I was immediately soaked in immense gratitude. So, let us keep ploughing on, one day at a time, was what I told myself. That’s how I bounced back. I told her: “Varattum, Pathukalam!” It means: “Let it come, whatever it is, we’ll face it!”
What I have learnt from dealing with cluelessness in an inscrutable situation is that you must never hide from, or fight shy of, your vulnerability. Know that, not just you, all forms of creation are vulnerable. Know also that there is a Higher Energy that’s more intelligent and more compassionate than us humans!! So when you recognize that there are some problems that you cannot solve, just trust the process of Life and let go! This means that you must accept your situation, accept your vulnerability and only focus on whatever you can do. Feel the way you do, but don’t cling on to that feeling. If you feel you can’t go on, explore that feeling. Ask yourself, isn’t that just a way of pitying yourself; does it serve any purpose? When you see how futile your self-pity is, and all the negativity is, zoom out. Look at your Life like a third party, like a witness. And you will always find, no matter what the context is, that there’s so much still to be grateful for, so much to celebrate. The moment gratitude comes in, it drowns self-pity, self-doubt and all the negativity!
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Don’t resist Life – be ready and willing to flow with it!
Gauri Shinde’s new film Dear Zindagi (Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan) has suddenly revived interest in the Ilayaraaja classic “Aye Zindagi, Gale Laga Le” from Sadma (1983, Suresh Wadkar; Balu Mahendra, Kamal Haasan, Sri Devi). I am yet to see Shinde’s film, but I spent much of the weekend listening to the original song by Wadkar (the new version is sung by Arijit Singh); I simply love Gulzar saab’s lyrics…the opening line means…“Come, embrace me Life; don’t I embrace all the pain that you send my way…?”
As I write this blogpost, I remain immersed in the spiritual essence of this song…it teaches us to accept the Life we have. But unfortunately, because of our social conditioning, we don’t learn this simple lesson early enough. We live much of our Life steeped in insecurity, resisting pain, asking why, why me, and so we suffer!
I can relate to this conditioning from my own experience. To be sure, I too felt insecure when I first came face to face, nine years ago, with the reality that we were insolvent and our Firm was bankrupt (read more in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal ). Of course, I was devastated by the gravity of our crisis and was very, very scared of where we would end up in Life. But resisting the insecurity, wishing that things were different, only made me suffer. And in my suffering I could not focus. I was always unhappy. When you don’t focus or are unhappy, how can you function? How can you think of even attempting to solve your problems? While I could make sense of the futility of my suffering, I didn’t know where to start or what to do. What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
My daily practice of mouna (silence periods) helped me understand that all Life is impermanent, that pain is inevitable, and if we choose to embrace the Life we have, then we can completely avoid the suffering. I came to realize that Life really is an “adventure”, a “deep dive”, a “bunjee jump” into the unknown. Insecurity, pain and impermanence, I discovered, are the very weaves that make up the fabric of Life. Over time, I awakened to the truth that you can’t ever “fix” your Life, you can only flow with it, and allow Life to repair and reinvent on its own.
When I started seeing Life from this new perspective, I saw that each day threw up a fresh episode of “adventure” – a legal twist here, an irate creditor who had lost patience with our situation there, bills to be paid for essential services like electricity and telephones when there was no money to even buy groceries, a health situation to be urgently addressed; yet each time we thought it was all over, help, a.k.a miracles, arrived from unexpected quarters. No day, as Vaani and I have experienced, has been the same. Honestly, not all the stuff that comes our way on a daily basis, however new or fresh it is, is appetizing. But however much we feel spent at the end of each day, we wake up revived the next day. And take that day’s “adventure” head-on. This is how we have been living, in fact thriving, this past decade. In this time, it has become clear to me that Life has all along been, and will continue to be incredible, inscrutable and, therefore, insecure. Clearly, Vaani and I don’t have that sense of security that a steady income can provide, yet when we stopped feeling insecure about it, and let go, and let Life take over, things have happened on their own. We have learnt that our duty is to make our daily efforts and let the results take care of themselves. Even so, we don’t deserve, nor do we claim, any credit for the way we have learnt to live our Life. Why would anyone want a crisis, and as in our case, a prolonged state of cashlessness and worklessness? We simply chose to accept the Life we got and we have.
This numbing phase of our Life has taught us to live with insecurity. There are days, several times in a month, when we really don’t know what will happen from an income or business point of view. But we know fully well that we will be taken care of. Maybe this is what they call faith. Not in an external God. But in Life itself – that if you have been created and you are in whatever situation you are placed in, you will be cared for, provided for and looked after. Maybe this is what Gulzar saab’s lyrics, with the song’s revival, are trying to remind us; that always be ready and willing to flow with Life! So, Aye Zindagi, Gale Lagaa Le…!
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The truth is that Life has always been flowing on its own.
I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day. She said that whenever she felt she could not solve a problem or deal with a Life situation, she felt frustrated, defeated and depressed. She knew she must let go, but her big question was – “If we are bestowed with intelligence, why should we let go? Isn’t human intelligence there, in the first place, to solve all the problems that we confront?”
This lady is merely articulating what many of us don’t – but we all experience similar situations.
Let me give you an elementary example. Some months ago, I was trying to make a film on Windows Movie Maker, trying to stitch together various video clips. I just couldn’t understand, on my own, how the clips could be made to play seamlessly. Somehow the self-help videos on YouTube or online support links were not very clear with the way to resolve the specific glitch I was facing. I was frustrated with my efforts. I had a problem. And I was insistent that I find the solution. Finally, I called a young friend who uses Windows Movie Maker often. And he gave me the lead to the solution in a nano-second.
So it is with Life. There are many Life situations when a human, logical approach will not work. I don’t want to go all over the place citing examples of such a situation – think MH 370 and think about why all the human powers – and intelligence – in the world have been incapable of locating this plane. So, I rest my case. You may have experienced this or may be faced with one just now. In all such cases, that you cannot solve, despite your best efforts, learn to let go.
Clearly, there are times in Life when nothing will go your way. There will be so much unsaid, so much unresolved. And it may just seem like everything is wrong about your Life. Every effort you make, each step you take, you will be stonewalled, tripped or pushed to a corner. The mind will invite you to despair. Decline that invitation artfully and let Life lead you. You get out of your own way!
Relax. Get yourself a cup of tea or grab a drink if you can. The mind is like a tennis-ball practice machine. It keeps spewing out worries and fears endlessly. These debilitating thoughts will tell you that you can and must solve the problems that face you just now. But what if you have already tried all that you can think up of. And failed. And the problems persist. The very thought that there’s no way forward may force you to allow your fears to take hold of you. Please don’t let them. Your fearing something is not going to take that something away. Life is to be faced. Not feared. So, let Life happen as it has been happening and as it is happening. These are times when accepting that there’s no choice is an intelligent choice in itself. Exercise it.
When we try to solve some of our problems and don’t meet with much success, intelligence lies in letting go, letting Life take over, and getting out of our own way. The truth is that Life has always been flowing on its own. You and I have done precious little to make our lives happen. Getting out of your own way is not inaction. In fact, it is a more sensible action than to be perpetually frustrated and fearful! When you get out of your own way, you can see the way that Life has laid out for you clearly! And that way, always, takes you to where you must eventually arrive!
You don’t have to know everything or have all the answers. It is fine to be clueless. In fact, it is great to just be.
I am in a familiar zone this morning. I have no idea of what’s going to happen. (Now, I know, the truth is none of us can ever know what’s going to happen!) But I am referring to all our efforts at putting our business back on track, the way we want it to be, that have come unstuck. Yet again. It surely is unsettling at a practical, material, everyday level. But this is not something that we don’t have experience dealing with. Vaani and I have seen this time and again, that whenever we don’t seem to know what is happening or why it is happening and what we must do, Life has always shown us the way. That way may not be something we would have known of or liked to take, but we implicitly trust Life and allow ourselves to be led by it. This is perhaps why we don’t suffer despite our often excruciating circumstances.
The human desire to know why something is happening to you is what causes your suffering. The simplest way to avoid suffering is to stop asking why or why me. Stop wanting to know all the answers to questions that fox you. Stop wanting to solve all your problems at the same time. In fact, there will be times in your Life, when you can’t solve even one of your problems – let alone all. You will just be pushed to a corner by Life, button-holed and made irrelevant. Of course, you will be irritated, you will feel helpless and totally, completely, lost. This is when suffering will arrive in your Life. But it will lay siege only if you want answers, only when you seek solutions, only if you ask why. Instead if you just accept that being clueless, being helpless, being solution-less is fine, you will not suffer, despite the pain.
So, when I am in that zone, where I am this morning, I don’t ask why. I simply surrender to Life and say, be my light, show me the way and give me the strength, the stamina, to further endure the journey. I have learnt, that it is best, when you don’t know what to do, to simply play along with Life – as in this immortal song from Dev Anand’s Hum Dono (1961, Amarjeet/Vijay Anand, Mohd. Rafi, Jaidev, Sahir Ludhianvi)!
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!
When everything falls apart, when you feel pushed to a corner, when you don’t know what to do, the best thing to do is to do nothing and let Life pilot you!
Recently someone who is going through a grueling time in Life called me. He described how he felt ‘check-mated’ from all quarters. He exclaimed: “I don’t know what to do.” I told him, “That’s fantastic. If you don’t know what to do, just surrender to Life. Go with the flow, let Life take over!”
I liken such situations to flying through turbulent weather. What do they tell you when you are flying in a plane? When there is turbulence, the pilot’s voice crackles over the p.a. system and tells you to just fasten your seat belts and sit tight. And you follow that instruction diligently. You don’t try to go take over the plane, do you? If you are nervous and fearful, you just immerse yourself in prayer or you surrender to your anxieties and insecurities, while hoping that the turbulence passes. So it must be in Life too. When there is turbulence, when you are passing through a dark, directionless, clueless phase, and you don’t know what to do, you must just let go and let Life pilot you!
I learnt this technique from Osho, the Master. Osho often talked about the philosophy that Rinzai, the Zen mystic, taught the world with his famous saying: “Sitting silently, doing nothing, and the grass grows by itself.” What I have understood is that we humans have this phenomenal urge to keep on doing something or the other. The whole endeavor appears to be to control Life. To treat it like our hand maiden. We strive to ensure that only the outcomes we desire happen for us. Now that’s not the way Life works. What you want never really happens all the time. So we get angry, frustrated, depressed and cynical about Life when things don’t go our way. That, as I have come to realize, is an immature response to Life. The truth is, Life was always in control. You – and I – were never controlling anything. You were only imagining that you were in the pilot’s seat. When the chips are down, when whatever you do doesn’t seem to work for you, when you are clueless about what’s next in your Life, when you don’t know what you must do, simply surrender to Life. When you do this of your own accord, through a deep acceptance of your current reality and your inability to find ways to resolve it, an awakening will happen within you. That awakening will help you to trust the larger cosmic design. It will lead you to understand that doing nothing and letting Life take over is an intelligent choice – especially when you don’t know what to do!