In today’s Podcast, I reflect on the fact that we are all in a queue, waiting for our impending, inevitable death. We have two options here. Exist cowering in fear and miss the opportunity to live a full Life despite your circumstances. Or accept your reality and choose to live fully – no matter what! I draw perspectives from Anu Menon’s 2016 film ‘Waiting’! Listen time: 5:17 minutes
You must examine your choices if you are not happy with the quality of your Life!
We bumped into a friend who has been wanting to meet us for several months now. Every time he receives an invite for any of our public events, he will promptly message me saying he’s going to try and make it. Then on the day of the event, he will cry out citing a business schedule. Most of our events are on weekends and almost all weekends he is traveling. When we met him yesterday, he was apologetic. “My Life’s not in my hands. I am just a slave of the work I do. I am always rushing, from meeting to meeting, from city to city, from crisis to crisis,” he confessed.
I have been in that place. I have run for over 20 years of my Life like a maniac. I have been so rushed for years on end that I did not even know how my children were growing up. Until Life brought everything, all my busy-ness, to a grinding halt and helped me value slowing down. So, what I am sharing here comes from personal experience. Do take some time off to calmly evaluate your Life.
And you may like to begin by employing a weekend, perhaps this one, to reflect on how your week has gone by! Meetings. Deadlines. Delays. Stress. Anxiety. And before you knew it, the week’s over. Where did it disappear? And how much quality time did you get for yourself – to focus on what matters most and why?
If you found those questions uncomfortable, you must ask yourself another one – why are you rushing through Life, chasing your tail most of the time, and not savoring any moment?
You have a choice though to slow down. And to go through Life slowly, soaking in each moment, is a skill that can be learned just as any other.
But begin with a re-examination of yourself and almost everyone around you. From the time we wake up, to the time we sleep, we are rushed. The way we read our morning papers, the way we bathe, the way we eat, the way we drive, the way we walk, all of it is gripped by a sense of busy-ness that ultimately will lead us to the same point that everyone will arrive at: death! Why will you want to hurry towards an appointment with death? Well, that’s what we are doing precisely – by being rushed all the time!!!
Ask anyone who’s rushing why he or she is in a hurry and you will hear them say: “Well, I am saving time!” Saving time? The irony is, at the end of the day, everyone who’s rushing always complains that there isn’t enough time! Your rushing may help you cover the distance faster but will not enable you to enjoy the scenery. At the end of all the rush, when it is time to depart, you will regret never having lived, never having arrived where you intended to, never having smelled the flowers in Life’s garden!
Here are 10 simple changes you can make to your routine so that you can live and savor this experience of living – and not just rush to earn-a-living!
Reduce the number of meetings that you have to have in a day: one big or two small ones is all you can take
Arrive at the airport with 2 hours to spare before a flight
Eat you meals slower than you normally do relishing each morsel
Spend 15 additional minutes with your family each day; when you kiss your spouse and children goodbye, look at them just a wee bit longer.
Take an additional few minutes in the bath thinking not of the day’s schedules but of how rejuvenating bathing is
Read one inspiring passage over 30 minutes daily
Read it at least once more before you retire for the day
When you see Nature in full bloom__a sunrise, sunset or trees swaying in the breeze or birds chirping__pause, admire, soak in, before you proceed
Spend 15 minutes daily on Facebook connecting or chatting with childhood friends
Be silent for 20 minutes daily.
Spiritual thinker Eknath Easwaran says, “Where hurry prevails, there can be no satisfaction for the doer.” So, stop rushing, stop the hurrying…simply flow with Life. And, well, if you are not happy with the quality of your Life, you now know who is responsible and where to start!
I don’t know if the world is fake. I am authentic. Period.
A well-meaning friend called up this morning. He advised me and Vaani not to share in public the fact that we had not repaid even a rupee of our debt in 10 years. He was referring to my signature Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk and my curations in public spaces where I share learnings from our Life’s journey. His point: “Your credibility will be affected if people see you as strutting around when you owe so much money to so many people and you have not even started to repay them back.”
I thanked him for his concern. But I clarified to him that we can only be authentic, true, as we are, to ourselves.
The truth is for 10 years now, we have not made enough money to even be able to cover our living expenses. Business has at best been coming in fits and jerks – interspersed with long spells of incomelessness. We live in a rent-free apartment given to us by Vaani’s sister and brother-in-law. Unless we recoup ourselves financially to earn over and above our ability to cover our living expenses, including our rent, we cannot start to repay anyone. Yet, we don’t sit idle; either ruing our fate or succumbing to complacency just because we have a roof over our head. We are periodically communicating with, and available to, all our 179 creditors, humbly seeking time and understanding from them – and in cases where they have proceeded legally against us, we are cooperating with the relevant process. We work hard every day to put our business back on track and remain unfrustrated when we don’t get the results we expect. But, we also work with a Higher Purpose – of Inspiring Happiness – and this is why I wrote my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal, this is why I deliver Talks or why I write this Blog daily and why we curate non-commercial public events. So, if people see us smiling, cheerful and being happy with making others happy, and they want to judge us as lacking credibility, because of what they perceive us to be, well, too bad for us, too bad for them. If the import is that we are strutting around irresponsibly, while trying to Inspire Happiness, or that, as my own mother and siblings believe, we are faking a bankruptcy, well, again, too bad for us, too bad for them. If the question is how is it that our children have grown up to graduate from premium educational institutions, while we continue to struggle for living expenses, well, I don’t know why we deserve so much kindness and compassion from the Universe! The truth simply is that while we are broke, in every material aspect, we are also soaked in grace, perhaps because we have implicit faith that the Universe will take care of us; perhaps because we trust the process of Life.
Bottomline: just as I don’t know why we are being subjected to this enduring bankruptcy, I have no explanation to offer for the miracle called our Life. To be sure, we believe there’s a lot of compassion in the whole world, for all of us! Now, because we are witnessing this abundance in our Life, we have been stepping out and sharing our learnings with all those who care to pause and reflect – we are telling people that if you let go, the Universe will take care, Life will provide all that you need; and that it is indeed possible to be happy despite your circumstances. Being happy is not inaction. Happiness really means being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering – no matter what you are dealing with. Vaani and I have learnt this art through our catharsis. To share this learning with the world, to Inspire Happiness, this has become our Purpose, of raison d’etre, our ikigai, our reason for being.
As we live our Life’s Purpose, it doesn’t matter to me or Vaani what people think of us. We are not going to stop being authentic because some people are judging us. The truth is only this – we are enduring a numbing bankruptcy, our material Life is really, perpetually, on the edge of a precipice, but Life miraculously continues to provide for us, and we will only do what gives us joy, which is live by our Higher Purpose of Inspiring Happiness.
Having said all of this in the context of my Life, I invite you to look at your own Life. Perceptions that people carry about us are really the villains in all our stories. So, it is very possible that you too are being judged by people in your circle of influence. It is possible you live inhibited by your sense of insecurity over being judged. It is possible you are not living the Life you want to be living. But instead of living in fear of what people are saying about you and thinking of you, ask yourself, are you really happy? And ask yourself, what will make you happy? The answer invariably will be that you are happy only when you are true to yourself. Authenticity, my dear friends, trumps perception management – any day! That’s what makes the crucial difference between living and existing.
I, for one, clearly refuse to merely exist – as much as I refuse to be anything but authentic!
The key operative word in the ‘Follow Your Bliss’ philosophy is ‘your’.
I lead a monthly conversation series called The Bliss Catchers at Odyssey Bookstore in Chennai. The series is inspired by American mythologist and author Joseph Campbell’s (1904~1987) philosophy of Follow Your Bliss. Vaani and I bring in people into the conversation each month who have dared to give up predictable paths and go do what they love doing in Life.
So, I am often asked these questions. What if everyone in the world follows their bliss? Won’t society collapse because there may be no one to do those jobs that are a drudgery or are menial? Someone who visited us last week too asked me these questions again. And this person insisted that ‘following your bliss’ is detrimental to our social structure. This is what I shared with him.
First, let’s focus on what ails our society and what can possibly be the fix. There’s so much emphasis right from birth, through the growing up years, that by the time a person turns an adult, she or he is obsessed with earning a living. Our social conditioning has forced people to look for material wealth – money and things – all the time. But materialism leaves people incomplete, there’s a lack of fulfilment all around. Which is why people across the world are hugely unhappy. Folks like Campbell and British philosopher Alan Watts (195~1973) have stood up to remind us, again and again, that our lifetime is limited. So, they have championed that it is more important to be happy doing what we love doing than just earning money. They encouraged us, in their own ways, to follow our bliss, to live as if money were not an object, and watch how Life always, unfailingly, helps us to be happy doing what we love the most. Vaani and I have personally experienced the ‘opening of doors, where only walls existed’, when we have stayed rooted to our bliss. Campbell, in fact, said, ‘follow your bliss’. He didn’t say ‘follow bliss’. The ‘your’ is very significant. It means focus only on what gives you joy. The emphasis is on the individual. Not on society. The point here is that if each one follows her or his bliss, we will find our world to be a happier place than it is now.
Second, too much logic, too much analysis, constant comparison of the individual with peers, with social trends, is what has wrecked inner peace and happiness. Life is meant to be lived in the moment and enjoyed from moment to moment. If you can do what you love doing, for all your Life, then you are alive, you are living, and not merely existing. That’s how you live in the moment – immersed, in bliss. So, drop all your analyses, stop looking at others, follow your bliss first. See how you feel, see how your Life unfolds magically in the direction of your bliss and then see who else you can inject this spirit of discovery and inner joy with.
Third, even if, hypothetically speaking, all the 7.5 billion+ people in the world follow their bliss, it’s a cause for celebration not worry. The world will be so much more happier! Everyone on the planet will be thriving. Not existing. And in branding a job as drudgery you are being judgmental. Cleaning toilets may seem like drudgery to you, but may surely be someone else’s bliss. I am sure for almost every vocation out there, champions exist. And through following their bliss, of doing what they love doing, they will not only do things, that you may loathe, better, they will also do them happily!
Bottomline: just focus on your bliss. Nothing else. As they say on a plane, place the oxygen mask on you, before you help another get it on. So, you be happy first. When you are following your bliss, your happiness becomes infectious and your immediate world becomes happier. This is the way we can make our world blissful – one person at a time!
Being present when Life is happening to us is an opportunity we seem to consistently squander.
As I set out on my evening walk with Vaani on Sunday, a couple of physical conditions, a blister on my right foot and a fresh episode of my rheumatoid arthritis of my back, were nagging me. There were stabs of pain for several minutes. But in a while, I lost myself to my walk. The chatter of the birds as they got together at dusk, the warm evening breeze, the half-moon up in the sky and the prayer bells tolling at the large bungalow that lay on our walking route – all these elements fascinatingly conspired to push my pain away. How I was feeling was now entirely connected to the joy I was deriving from my walk. Important, I was not drawing from my physical condition; it was only about how I was feeling, how I was being!
When I reflect on Sunday’s walk and think of how my pain dissolved I can only relate to what I have learnt reading and listening to Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He’s always championed mindfulness. Initially I used to think that mindfulness is difficult. I have now come to believe that mindfulness is living. If you are not mindful, you are not living, you are merely existing.
Mindfulness is the ability to soak in every aspect of Life that you are experiencing. And, surely, our experiences are beyond what we think is important. Our experiences include whatever is happening to us, around us. Take my Sunday experience. Yes, I was in physical pain. But I had also made a choice to step out on a walk. And the walk offered me a therapeutic opportunity to heal – through soaking in the magic and beauty of the evening. Because I immersed myself in whatever else the evening was offering, and did not just cling on to my pain, the pain dissolved. It was there. But it receded into the background. Each moment of my walk held me in a rapturous state. This is what mindfulness does to you. It makes you live each moment fully.
Consider your own context now. What aspects of your Life are you focused on? If you are obsessing over some form of physical or emotional pain, step back a little bit. Zoom out. Feel what else is available in you, around you, to celebrate Life. Don’t say there’s nothing to celebrate! Each breath you take is a cause for celebration because it confirms that you are alive! So you can focus on your breathing. Or on a flower. Or you can look at your child’s face, perhaps at the picture in your wallet, and smile. This is called living. This is what mindfulness brings to you – the opportunity to live in each moment, ecstatically, without wasting it.
Most of us however are squandering – with alarming consistency – this opportunity to live fully! Because we are like ostriches – our heads are buried deep in our problems. That’s why most of the time, we are merely existing. That’s also why, almost always, we are searching for happiness, instead of being happy!
It is always what it is. And you have to go through whatever you have to go through.
A friend had booked for us to watch Anu Menon’s beautiful, beautiful film Waiting last evening. Everything about the movie is so endearing and uplifting – the story, the script, the screenplay, the dialogues, the music and, above all, the brilliant performances by Naseerudin Shah and Kalki Koechlin. I don’t want to talk about the film’s plot so as not to spoil the viewing experience for readers who have not yet watched the film. But instead I want to share what we can learn about Life from Waiting, the movie, and how we can live our Life better while waiting…!
Actually, if you pause to reflect on Life, isn’t it all about waiting; from the time you are born, for your impending, inevitable death? As you wait, you are so consumed by the material pursuits that you indulge in – driven by your wants and social conditioning – that you have missed this point that Life – and living – is nothing but waiting for death. So, when Life gives you a zor ka jhatka that brings a twist to your fairy tale – a relationship issue, a career or business challenge, an irreparable health condition, someone’s death – you begin to want to understand the most inscrutable – Life itself! But because you are so used to having lived Life your way, and are so accustomed to everything being reasoned so logically, you begin with denial, resisting any disruptive – often irrational, illogical – change that comes your way. Your denying the existence of a problem doesn’t make it go away though. The problem persists. So, you ask, partly in anger, partly in grief, partly in helplessness, why, why me? But the problem still persists. You rage on angrily, thinking your aggression can drive your problem away. When this approach doesn’t work, insecurity and fear creep in. Because that which you can’t make sense of always scares you. But fear only cripples you and holds you hostage – and if you are not aware, it can push you into a dark abyss called depression. When after repeatedly banging your head against a wall, when after desperately seeking answers, after trying to rationally, logically analyze your situation, when you find yourself in a no-go, you grudgingly begin to appreciate that between you and Life, you are less powerful. That’s when acceptance comes in. While accepting a problem – your Life for what it is – does not either solve the problem or get rid of it, it sure does help you deal with it better. It is only through facing Life can you live it more meaningfully. So, Waiting, the movie, really helps you understand that you too can be Zen – attaining that seemingly elusive state of equanimity – by accepting your Life for what it is. It teaches you that, while Life is a wait, from birth, for death, there are two possible dimensions to that wait – waiting for you to awaken to your Zen and waiting for death in that awakened, transcendental, Zen state!
Yet, as Ankur Tewari’s lyrics in Waiting’s ‘Zara Zara’ song, sung so soulfully by Kavita Seth and Vishal Dadlani to Mikey McCleary’s music, remind us, it is a slow process. This awakening. This evolution, this arriving at your state of Zen. It happens with the passage of time. It happens slowly through each experience that you encounter, endure and overcome in Life. It happens as an integral process of the journey of Life. But it happens for sure – for each of us, in our own unique ways. In this time you do realize, one way or the other, that only you have to bear your cross in Life, going through what you have to go through, for no one else can or will do it for you! Finally, when you arrive at your personal, individual state of Zen, you realize that the waiting is what makes Life beautiful and meaningful. That’s when you stop waiting for the inevitable end. Instead, you start living, than merely existing, while waiting!
Zen is not an abstract concept. It is all about cultivating and practicing awareness – and that simply requires diligent practice and training of the mind.
“Is it possible to be in acute pain and not suffer,” someone asked me the other day. Surely suffering is avoidable. You suffer only when you wish that your Life is different from what it is. But whenever you are completely aware of whatever is happening to you, you will be peaceful. Your awareness need not be only about what you are doing – cooking, walking, breathing, washing, whatever – it is also about how you are feeling – be it pain, sorrow, anger, fear or anxiety. Just be fully aware.
This may sound paradoxical. How can anyone be peaceful while in pain for instance? Or when in grief? Or when angry? As long are you have not realized your true Self, chances are you will associate your present human form with your circumstances. So, when your body has a back pain, you think that you are in pain. When the human form of someone whom you loved is dead, you think you have lost that someone. So you grieve. When you are angry, you see the person at whom the anger is directed as different, as separate from you, hence the anger. But awareness changes everything. With awareness, you understand the true nature of creation. You realize that you are not what you think you are. You are not this human body. You are not your car, your job, your designation, your bank balance, your relationship, your social position. The real you is indestructible. The real you cannot be touched by any worldly event or sentiment. When this awareness dawns upon you, it leads you to peace.
This is what is Zen – the flowering of inner awareness! The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (lovingly called Thay by his followers) recommends practicing awareness in our busy lives. He does not advocate any special hour for this practice or training. He simply says: “Carry your Zen every minute. Focus wholesomely on your everyday tasks without getting distracted. Be mindful.” Thay says this is the way to anchor in peace.
I have known this to work beautifully. For instance, this morning, I had some exotic Kashmiri kahwah tea that a friend had gifted us. I did have reason to stress over a development from last night. But I chose to be mindful instead as I sipped the tea – I took in its aroma and let the flavor impregnate every pore of my body. And, magically, my stress dissolved in no time. You too can try this. Just be mindful, be aware, of whatever you are doing. Be mindful when walking – take each step with awareness. Be mindful while in the shower – feel the water soothe your body and lift your spirits. Be mindful while crossing the road or while being in business meetings. The key is to not let your mind wander. Without doubt, the mind will resist. It will want to slip back into a painful past event or rush into the future with worry. Every time you sense that the mind is not mindful in the moment, call it back to focus on whatever you are doing and how you are feeling. Over time, the mind will be trained not to go astray.
My morning’s Zen came from each sip of my kahwah tea. Of course, it is not the tea that caused my Zen, my awareness of sipping the tea did! So, surely, it is possible to experience Zen in each moment and all day long. Provided you are living in the moment – and not merely existing!