In today’s Podcast, I talk about why families must bond and come together in times of crisis. I share from my own experience, while relating to a Malayalam film “#JSR” I watched recently. If there ever is a “Kingdom of Heaven”, then your family holds the key to it!
Watching the inauguration of the US President on Friday last, I could not but help reflect on the beauty of the American democratic system. Every 4~8 years it promotes the effective practice of detachment – not just for those administratively connected with the Presidency but for all American people. As Michelle and Barack Obama’s Executive One helicopter took off from Capitol Hill, I felt, the moment was poignant. “That’s it. The Barack Obama Presidency can never be back. America has to let him go. No choice,” I remarked to Vaani. I felt a lump in my throat, as did Vaani, as did perhaps so many millions of people across the world. But such is Life when it comes to the American Presidency. Which is why I feel it holds out a great lesson in detachment to all of us.
We often think of detachment as something which is beyond the reach of common folks like us. We think of it as the exclusive prevail of more evolved, spiritually-inclined people. But I think different. Each of us is capable of understanding and practicing detachment. All we need to do is to celebrate the impermanence of Life itself. If you are born, death is certain. So, when Life is impermanent, transient, why cling on to anything? In a way, one of the most powerful positions in the world – purely going by the worldly definition of power – has a limited-period tenure, between 4~8 years. So, why suffer wanting to hold on to anything – least of all material?
I believe that the key to happiness is to be detached – from what you possess, from what you want, from what haunts you, from what possesses you, from what worries you and from all who you love or dislike. If you can immerse yourself in whatever you love doing – painting, cooking, gardening, reading, singing, cleaning, whatever – without regard to either space or time, then you can call yourself detached. Then you can only be happy!
In a way, I guess guided detachment helps. Like in the case of the US Presidency. During the early months of our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), I found it very difficult to stop worrying. It seemed such a natural, normal, thing to do. When you don’t know what to do, you end up first worrying that you are clueless. Then you start being fearful. And you are soon pinned down and held hostage by your fears and your worries. It’s an ugly state to be in. I hated being that way. Then through my daily practice of mouna (silence periods), I learnt to postpone worrying. The more engaged I was in the beauty of the present moment – however imperfect it was, it was always beautiful – the more I was able to detach myself from my worries and fears. I told myself that we were waging a war. And to fight that war, Vaani and I needed to be in top gear – physically, emotionally, spiritually. So, every evening we came home battle-scarred, but we refused to let the pressure get to us once we sat down for dinner. This is how I trained myself in the art of detachment.
Detachment doesn’t mean you are irresponsible. Nor does it mean inaction. It simply means you are smart enough, intelligent enough, not to take Life so seriously that you stop enjoying the journey because you are obsessed with the reward – a reward that you cannot anyway take with you!
Your Life’s Purpose is not to earn a living alone and to keep thinking you deserve more!
A FB post by a friend raises this very interesting, fundamental question: “Do uncertain times call for a certainty of Purpose?”
My answer: “Of course it does!”
Though we don’t normally see it, recognize it or realize it, all creation has a Purpose. If you look around you, every aspect of Nature serves a Purpose. The sun, the trees, the animals, the birds, the insects, the rivers, the oceans – each of these forms of creation is there with a reason. The human species too has been created with and for a reason. But somewhere along the way, we humans have forgotten a. that we have been created b. that the Purpose of our creation is not to merely earn a living or to plunder the planet and cannibalize other species that we co-habit this space with.
Let us first appreciate that the human form is a blessing we receive from creation. Think about it: we could have been created in any other form – why are we created human? Therefore, we must then understand that if we have been created human, there must a reason for it. And that reason cannot be to amass wealth, to stress over material accumulations and to suffer when our wants are unfulfilled. Very simply, the Purpose of being created human is to serve, and through serving other forms of creation, being happy. But what do we do instead? We are continuously seeking deservance, and when we don’t get what we want, we are ending up being unhappy! Isn’t this a complete waste of our being human?
Now, to go back to my friend’s FB post, we all know, without a doubt, that all Life is uncertain. And inscrutable. When you have clarity on why you are here, why you are going through this human experience, you can live Life better. It is when you are confused that you are confounded. That’s how you end up suffering. Let me explain. When you think of your Life’s Purpose as only making money or as being successful or famous, and when these things don’t happen or if they happen but also don’t stay with you permanently, then you are unhappy, then you suffer. But if you realize that, despite your having money or not, despite being successful or not, despite being famous or not, your Life’s Purpose is only to serve, only to make this world a better place, then you can only be happy. Simple.
So, clarity of Purpose is crucial to help us along the journey of Life. When there is an awareness of the why of your creation, when there is Purpose, your Life matters. And only the presence of what matters to you can make you happy!
A very good friend of ours is enjoying time with his infant grandchildren. When I connected with him earlier this week, after many months, I remarked, “Wow! Isn’t it wonderful to be a grandparent? We are still getting ready to be empty nesters. But you have already been there, done that, and now, your Life has come a full circle as the family is together again with the next generation coming in as well!” My friend laughed. He then said, “AVIS bhai, one small correction. No one’s been there. No one’s done anything! Life just happens to you.”
Indeed. This has been my belief too. I may have said “been there, done that” to my friend more as a manner of speaking, but I totally, completely, resonate with the “Life happens to you” perspective.
I have another friend who is a famous CEO. He went into a depression for a few years when he lost his entire business empire and he went bankrupt. He subsequently bounced back and is a thriving business leader today. When my own business and financial challenges began (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), in early 2008, I visited him in Hyderabad for getting his perspective on dealing with a bankruptcy. At the end of our conversation, as I got up to leave, he pointed to a plaque on his desk. It contained a quote from Yogavasishta Ramayana which read: “Whatever (is) to be done, I do. But in reality I do not do anything.” He told me: “Just follow this principle. You can never escape pain in Life, but, with this principle, you can avoid the suffering.”
The quote and my CEO friend’s advice did not make much sense to me then. But almost a decade down the line, I am wiser. I have come to realize that the truth of our lives is that we have to do what we have to do, and yet Life will keep happening to us; ultimately, Life’s Master Plan is what prevails and so we must learn to be unfrustrated with Life, with what we get, with the outcomes of our efforts. Or simply, Life’s Master Plan keeps happening to us, irrespective of what we do or don’t do, and this Master Plan has no flaws!
This learning is now ingrained in my spiritual DNA, if I can call it so. Even this morning, in a state of absolute cluelessness over a very urgent situation, that demands immediate hands-on leadership, which we can’t provide just now owing to lack of money, I meditated on this learning. I let go. And I surrendered. I am not just feeling a lot better, I am convinced that Life will take care of us – just as we have been taken care of all this time.
All our suffering, I have realized, is because of this misplaced notion that our Life happens because of us. I am reminded of what music maestro Ilayaraaja said once in an interview to Radio Mirchi: “Thaan sapitta unavai thaane jeernika sakthi ulla manithanai yen munnal niruthungal!” It means, “Show me a human who has the ability to digest their food through their own ability.” The import is that if you believe that Life happens through you, and not because of you, and that Life happens to you no matter what you do or don’t do, then, and only then, can you live in peace and be happy!
Focus only on the issue on hand, not on the people involved or on past dramas.
A reader reached out in response to my blogpost of yesterday. He wanted to know how we can be honest with someone that we are obligated to. “What if we are obligated by way of a favor we have taken from someone or if we are connected through a strong familial relationship? How can we be in-the-face in such situations,” he asked.
I am glad this reader seeks clarity. This allows me the opportunity to share a related instance and the learning it offers.
A few of us ex-colleagues got together for a reunion at a visiting friend’s hotel room some years ago. It was an impromptu meeting. As we started partying we called up some more friends and summoned them to join us at short notice. The friend who was hosting us in his room, Rajiv, called up one of our other former colleagues, John, and asked him to come over. John tried crying out saying he was attending it to his bed-ridden father. Besides, it was already 8 pm. But Rajiv persisted. And by about 9.30 pm, John joined us. As he walked in, Rajiv got up to receive him. He shouted out to John, “Dei macha, see, you dare not say no to me. It is only because of me that you have a job!” We were all startled by the cold welcome and this totally avoidable declaration. It turns out that when John was struggling to get a job some years ago, Rajiv had connected him to a friend of his, who in turn helped John get placed at the company he works in now. Anyway, men being men, everyone got back to drinking. John, who is normally very cheerful and boisterous, surprisingly, was sober all through the evening. He did not drink. He in fact offered to drive me back home. Once in the car, John asked me if Rajiv did the right thing in demanding “subservience” in an unrelated context. “Yes, he helped me get a job. But does that give him the right to use that information in unrelated contexts such as this one or for him to keep reminding me of this? This is not the first time he has done this. He always keeps rubbing it into me that I have a job because of his referral,” said John.
I told John not to bother about Rajiv’s actions or analyze them. I told him if he didn’t like the way Rajiv behaved with him, he must tell him so. “But won’t that mean I am ungrateful,” protested John. Of course not! What Rajiv did by way of referring John to a job is done and dusted. It is over. What Rajiv is doing now is the question – and if it is unacceptable, it must be checked, questioned, stopped. As long as John keeps giving Rajiv the room, the space, on the confused pretext of being grateful, Rajiv will continue taking John for granted. For Rajiv, it may not even be an ego trip. It may just be that it is his nature to rib his friends, a tad awkwardly though. But unless he is told to stop, how will Rajiv even know he has to stop?
There are Rajivs in our lives too. We often confuse gratitude for a past action, an obligation, as a reason to postpone telling people what we dislike in the way they treat us. It may not even be dislike. You may just not want to experience that person in that way in a certain context. Or you may not appreciate someone’s sense of humor. Or it may be that you don’t like being bullied. Whatever it is that discomforts you about someone, you must speak up. Honestly. In-the-face. Now, if you bring a past obligation into play, out of context, and postpone sharing how you feel, then you will suffer.
Always separate the issues from the people who cause the issues or the situations related to them. Never link two issues and confuse them. And don’t look at the personalities involved either. Just stay focused on what discomforts you. If it is bullying that you dislike, if it is gender-biased humor that you dislike, if it is being communal that you dislike, then how does it matter who it is or what past equation you have had with that person? Just speak up honestly and move on. Again, as I said yesterday, if the person can’t handle your honesty, and breaks off, so be it. You have one redoubtable stakeholder less to deal with!
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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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Complete surrender to Life is not inaction, it is deploying great intelligence!
A young reader told me, in response to my blogpost of yesterday, that the idea of letting go and trusting the process of Life, of living dangerously, in complete surrender, conflicted with free will. He suggested that the very fact that you are endowed with the ability to think is evidence of the need to employ your free will in all circumstances. I don’t believe the young man is wrong with his reasoning or understanding. The truth is, in any situation, you have both the choice and the right to use your discretion, your judgment, to do what you want to do. But the truth also is that not always will your efforts deliver the results that you deserve or you want. So, complete surrender, really does not mean inaction; it does not mean you must not do what you can and must do. It only means that you must leave, surrender, the outcome, the results, to a Higher Energy, to Life, while you choose to remain unfrustrated with the outcomes.
I received an email from a reader of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal yesterday. He said he had run up a sizeable debt in his business and was ‘suffering with the way Life was treating him’. He has three children and his parents are totally bed-ridden – struck by Parkinson’s and dementia. He wrote: “I do everything diligently. I work hard. I pray. I am dutiful to my parents and family. But my business just isn’t picking up. I don’t know what to do. Day in, day out, I am suffering.” Now, in this reader’s case, his free will is in full deployment – he’s doing everything possible as a business owner, parent, son and spouse to deal with his Life. But he’s suffering only because he expects his ‘righteous’ actions to turn around his business fortunes. To end his suffering, all the man must do is to drop all expectations that his efforts must add up to a reversal of his business fortunes in the timeframe that he is defining; while simply continuing to peg away daily on doing all that he can, he must and he is doing.
Simply, Life does not operate on a ‘Quality Effort = Quality Result’ paradigm. Life does not also operate on a time scale we humans practice. Life has a mind of its own and operates at its own pace. Things happen only when they happen. Period.
Therefore, what we must all understand is that employing free will, righteousness, sincerity, talent, integrity of Purpose, none of these can guarantee us the results we expect. In fact, there are no guarantees in Life. Surrendering to this reality is the only way to journey through Life without suffering. When what you expect doesn’t come your way, despite your best efforts, then don’t think something is wrong with you. It only means that you must learn to surrender your expectations. Internalizing this learning is also about employing free will – where you are recognizing that sometimes the most intelligent thing to do, to be unfrustrated with Life, is to do your best and leave the rest to Life!
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