To appreciate the magic and beauty of Life, you need to be mindful.
Someone pinged me the other day and asked me if I know anyone who practises “hygge”. I replied saying while I don’t really know anyone who practises “hygge”, I do know of the concept. It is an integral part of Danish and Norwegian culture and philosophy.
“Hygge” (pronounced ‘hue-guh’) can mean anything from coziness to well-being. Some say the word originates from the word hug, which itself comes from the 1560s Norse word ‘hugga’ or ‘hugge’, which means ‘to embrace’. So “hygge” is about embracing your situation or circumstances and to live in the moment. But the best way to understand the concept is to appreciate it as a feeling – it is the ability to recognize and enjoy the present moment, in its fullness, without judging it, without resenting it, by just being, just celebrating the moment for what it is, as it is.
So, in essence, “hygge” is total mindfulness.
Vaani and I practise this all the time. To be sure, mindfulness didn’t come to me naturally. When we went out for walks together, Vaani would often notice and celebrate Life around us. She would hear a cuckoo even amidst the noise and bustle of a crowded street. Or she would point to a flower in a someone’s garden and reminisce about how her father had introduced the botanical species to her and her twin sister. Vaani has this innate ability to pause and, metaphorically, smell the roses. I never ever did that – until a decade ago. I obsessed instead over my to-do lists, my inbox stuff, my business, my targets, my worries and my insecurities. And then, despite all our years of toil to build our consulting Firm and all our valiant efforts to prevent its eventual downfall, we went bankrupt! That’s when I woke up – and awakened! I realized the folly of leading Life the way I was living it. The bankruptcy, which we are still enduring – for over a decade now – has changed my Life completely. Most importantly, it has taught me why being in the moment and celebrating it is very valuable.
I recall an anecdote here, from the early days of our bankruptcy, that I have also shared in my Book, ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’. It forms the opening of the first chapter – Of Living In the Moment – in the Book.
On the morning of March 17th, 2008, I woke up to realize that we had just ₹1000 with us. This was all the money we had left as a family. No assets, no savings in the bank, nothing. Just ₹1000. We were bankrupt as a Firm and insolvent as a family. Survival seemed impossible. Yet, Vaani gave me ₹500 of the cash left with us as I pulled on my jacket to leave for Mumbai at 4 AM to meet a potential client.
The client, a well-meaning and professional CEO, had arranged for my tickets, though he need not have. As I boarded the flight to Mumbai and fastened my seat belt, I was informed by the flight attendant that I had been upgraded to Business Class – perks of being the frequent-flier that I was, until business slowed down! The irony hit me hard as we got airborne. 50% of our net worth as a family was sitting in my wallet. The remaining 50 % was with Vaani! And I was sure, at that moment, that Vaani would have been as nervous as I was about the fate of the client meeting. The only reason I clung on to hope was, as I asked myself – why would a client fly me out, at his cost, if he was not serious about the engagement? Yet, even as my mind raced to worry, I tried to hold it still to attend to the beautiful morning sky. It was a magnificent sunrise over Chennai that day, one of the most humbling sights you can be blessed with if you have a East-facing window seat when the flight takes off. It made me realize how small I was – and how insignificant my problems were – on the scale of the grand, cosmic, design that powers the Universe. I drank in the beauty of that sunrise – a feeling that is still fresh inside me. In some time, my worries dissolved and I had become peaceful. It was in that equanimous frame of mind that I arrived in Mumbai…(To know what happened next and how the client meeting went, please read my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal.)
That feeling of equanimity I experienced on the flight, despite all my worries, fears and my challenged circumstances, that feeling is “hygge” – and it comes from mindfulness!
This is what I have learnt from Life. I have learnt that Life happens to us at its own pace, of its own accord and design, despite our best intentions, plans and efforts. So, it is always what it is. And what will be, will be. You can’t solve your problems overnight. So, don’t postpone happiness. Postpone worrying instead. And embrace the moment. Learn to live with what it is. Through my daily practice of mouna – silence periods – I have trained my mind to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. This, Vaani and I know, from our own experience, is the secret of being happy despite the circumstances.
Now, you may wonder, how can you embrace a moment that you dislike; one that you never invited into your Life, but which has arrived? This is why being non-judgmental is critical to practise mindfulness. Think about it. What is the point in resenting what is – what has already happened, what has already arrived? It is only your resenting that causes all your suffering. Instead, accept your Life for what it is. No matter how hopeless a situation may be, how dark the road ahead may be, each day brings with it a fresh flavor of magic, beauty, hope and positivity. But to appreciate this beauty of Life, you need to be mindful.
As I see it, mindfulness is the ability to drink in each moment, without judging it, without questioning it, without hating it but simply savor it for what it is. No one could have said this better than Rumi: “Be aware of the pure wine being poured, don’t complain that you have been given a dirty cup!” This is what “hygge”, as a concept, reminds us to do – in every living moment of ours!
When confronted with no-go situations in Life, learn to live in the moment, with whatever is.
Rani Mukerji’s Hichki (directed by Sidharth P Malhotra) touched me deeply. It’s a simple film. It is an adaptation of Brad Cohen’s autobiography – Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me The Teacher I Never Had. And Rani’s portrayal of Naina Mathur, a teacher affected by Tourette Syndrome , is brilliant.
I could relate to the powerful scene in the film where Naina sinks to the ground in the school’s balcony – feeling completely hopeless, clueless and defeated – and cries inconsolably. She is felled not just by her the fatigue of having to endlessly endure her peculiar physical condition, her spirit is punctured and she is truly, truly, deflated. I undoubtedly saw Rani on screen, but I empathized with Naina – because I know what it means to feel that way when you don’t know what to do. What do you do when you don’t know what to do in Life?
Hichki left me with an important message – each of us has our own metaphorical version of the Tourette Syndrome. And like Naina Mathur we have to learn to accept it, live with it and keep going on. Sometimes, even people in your close circle of influence – like Naina’s father (played by Sachin) in the film – will refuse to understand you. There will be times when it may appear that the world is conspiring to pin you down and annihilate you. But you must go on. When you don’t know what to do in Life, you just learn to live in the moment. Don’t think too far ahead. Don’t brood over what once was, what is over, on what is past. Don’t sweat over what is not in your control – what is the use of worrying about what you can’t solve? Just learn to last one moment at a time. This may initially seem impossible to do. But the human mind can be trained to obey you – to focus on what is, on the moment. And the human spirit is intrinsically resilient. So, when you take one step at a time, you often end up enduring journeys that you never thought you would even survive.
I have learnt that every Life situation is a teacher. It arrives in your Life with a specific purpose – to humble you, to remind you that it is not you, but it is Life which is in control. Some situations have shorter tenures. And some are permanent. In either case, accepting the situation – than resisting it – helps you to be non-suffering while dealing with all the pain that the situation is causing. Acceptance does not make a problem go away. But it surely gives you a lot of strength to face it, to deal with it.
Vaani and I have lasted this past decade – despite our enduring bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal.) – only because we accepted our own Tourette Syndrome. We know what it means to be hung by Life at the edge of a precipice, we know how cluelessness and hopelessness can suffocate you. And we also know, from our own personal experience, that no matter what your context is, what your own Tourette Syndrome is, Life can and must be faced. Just take one moment at a time, one small step each time.