In this Podcast I make a case for how you are the happiness you seek.
Listen time: 3:46 minutes
My conversation with Jayendra Panchapakesan, 59, filmmaker and co-Founder, Real Image Media Technologies for my ‘The Happiness Road’ Series that appears in DT Next every Sunday. Read the conversation on the DT Next page here. ‘The Happiness Road’ is also my next Book. Photo Credit: Vinodh Velayudhan
“Happiness is staying in the present”
To Jayendra, clarity about Life, its Purpose and happiness came very early. In 1978, as a 20-year-old chemistry graduate, he pounded the pavement in Mumbai seeking a career in advertising. He ended up changing 14 jobs in the next 8 years. The reason? “None of my employers could match my idea of happiness,” he says. “I value work more than I value money. To me, work must be purposeful, it must create value, it must do good, it must benefit people. Doing such work consistently gives me happiness,” he explains.
Over the last 31 years that he has been an entrepreneur and employer himself, his key message to his team members has always been this: “Quit, if you hate coming to work. The work you do is the reward in itself. There is no other reward to be got, no destination to be reached. So, if you are not enjoying your work, quit.” He adds that if all people saw their work as an opportunity to benefit others and not just as a tool to make money or earn a living, the whole world will be enriched and will be a much happier place!
As I am speaking to him, I sense an equanimity about Jayendra. Yet, over the last 30 months, he and his wife Sudha have been weathering a huge crisis. In November 2014, Sudha was struck by aphasia – the inability to comprehend language or speak due to brain damage from a stroke. Jayendra totally immersed himself in Sudha’s care. He says he draws great inspiration from her attitude – from her “unimaginable urge to be positive, to get better and to never feel less of a person”. And, he says, he discovered an “unlimited ocean of patience” within himself to trust the process of Life. How did he manage to stay anchored through all this time? “It was interesting that I never asked ‘why’ or ‘why us’. I simply kept doing what had to get done. I realized the value of being in the moment. I believe that’s what happiness is – staying in the present and not hoping for it at the end of the road,” he avers.
So, perhaps, this is the little secret behind why Jayendra is called Mr.Unflappable by most people who know him – do only what gives you joy and stay in the present doing what you have to do!
The truth is that you can be certain about nothing in Life!
At my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk the other day, a manager asked me if we became habituated to living with uncertainty, just as Vaani and I are living now, won’t we become complacent?: “Wouldn’t being in a perennial let-go mean that we will lose our sense of aggression and then we may not go after or seek opportunities?”
That’s a very relevant and important question. But let us first understand certainty to better appreciate uncertainty.
Certainty is a human-made illusion. Before you were born, where was the certainty that you would be? When you were an infant, where was the certainty that you would be provided for, fed on time, cared and loved? As you grew older you were tricked into this illusion of certainty __ you are sure to have a home, you usually have both parents with you, siblings, education is guaranteed, and you are bound to get a job, earn wages and raise a family! How much more simpler Life would be if only it were to progress in this certain, assured, linear fashion__one thing leading to another with such predictability and precision?
But does Life really proceed in this linear order – with one thing leading eventually to another logical thing?
Just to demolish this illusion, and wake up to reality, if you live in any part of urban India, go to a busy traffic intersection closest to you. And after getting over the shock of seeing so many homeless, destitute children begging there, strike up a conversation with any or some of them. You will soon discover how uncertain their lives have been. And continue to be. Maybe some were abandoned by their parents. Maybe some were kidnapped by organized racketeers in the begging syndicate. They live on and off the streets. Abused by people like us who despise their presence and by heartless cops who extort their meagre earnings from them. When you understand their Life’s design, you will awaken to the inscrutable, uncertain ways of Life. And when you think about it, you will just be grateful that you were born to your parents and not to theirs __ and there was no way ever you could have been certain of this realization until this moment!
It is also when you are faced with uncertainty for the first time, that you will stop taking Life for granted. A first layoff, a first health crisis, a first relationship break-down, a first financial crisis – that’s really when you begin to realize that perhaps you had read Life differently. That maybe, just maybe, you cannot really be certain about some things in Life.
The truth really is that you can be certain about nothing in Life. So, the only way to deal with uncertainty is to welcome it. Don’t try to wish it away. Because it ain’t going anywhere. It is always here with you. For instance, if you have a good job, enough savings and investments to take care of your retirement, where’s the certainty that your health will be all fine or that your companion still loves you? Of if you have a health complication and have the best doctors treating you, where’s the certainty that you will still survive? Where is the certainty that your family members will live long enough to be with you till your very end? So, don’t try to crave for a Life without uncertainty. If you accept Life as being uncertain, you will find joy in each moment.
The best way to live then is to approach Life with a ‘WHAT IS’ than with a ‘WHAT IF’. ‘What is’ is a celebration of the moment you are in now and there’s nothing uncertain about that moment. It is happening. So, there can be no fear of it. ‘What if’ is loathsome, fearsome and amplifies what is not yet. It is imaginary and breeds suffering. In the end, it is so very simple: only when you embrace uncertainty you will find immense joy and beauty in this totally unpredictable, inscrutable experience called Life!
The power of now is huge – it creates unputdownable value!
Last evening was pretty interesting.
A friend had invited us to a meeting of his Rotary Club where Arundhati Subramaniam, the eminent poet and writer, was delivering a Talk. As we settled down to listen to her, my neighbor, a Rotarian who knows us fairly well, leaned closer and asked me: “How are things with you and Vaani, AVIS? I hope they have improved?” (To understand the relevance of this question, read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) I smiled at him and replied: “Things are exactly the way they have been. We live in the present, from moment to moment. As of now, I have clarity that we will be able to manage for this evening and tomorrow. What happens for the day after, I will know only tomorrow evening.” The gentleman held my hand and said, “Your equanimity is amazing. Thanks for inspiring all of us.”
I am humbled by such sentiment. I don’t think Vaani and I have achieved something phenomenal and extra-ordinary. I am quite sure anyone is capable of developing equanimity. All this requires is for you understand Life’s true nature. Everything about Life is impermanent. Whatever is yours today, including your own Life, will be taken away from you sometime surely. So, there’s absolutely no point grieving over or worrying about anything in Life. Let go of what’s over and don’t be insecure about what is to happen. Just be present in the moment – living with what is. This is what equanimity is all about. Through practice, you can make living with equanimity, from moment to moment, a fine art. Simple.
Most people don’t believe this is possible only because they don’t want to invest – their efforts and time – in learning how this is done. Living in the moment is not at all difficult – you just have to train your mind not to delve into the past or race into the future. The mind will initially resist you. It will fight you every step of the way. Because the human mind thrives only in the past or in the future. In the present moment, in the now, the mind is powerless. But with consistent training, the mind will submit to your direction. It will obey you. And when it does, and when you start living in the moment, you will see what a beautiful celebration Life really is. Where there is no grief, anger, guilt over what is past and when there is no worry, anxiety or fear of what is to come, you can only be happy. Which is why being constantly in the now is a continuous celebration.
Interestingly, as we stepped out of the Rotary Club meeting, a friend called. He is visiting Chennai from London. He was at an event to launch Tekplay, a digital business transformation company. He invited us to join the launch event at Hotel Crowne Plaza. When we arrived there, we discovered that Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the chief guest at the Tekplay launch. And as part of the event, he was in conversation with the company’s executive director, Prabhuram Ramanathan. Prabhu asked Dhoni what he thought of “Dhoni at 45”. And Dhoni replied: “I always live in the present. How can I even tell you what it will be like 9 years from now…?”
Vaani looked at me at this point. We smiled at each other. Ask us, and we’ll tell you how much value the power of now can create; it helps us live intelligently, powerfully, meaningfully. Besides, it has surely helped us postpone worrying and be happy despite our excruciating circumstances.
If we can’t understand the concept and value of just being, we will never be happy.
A manager wrote to me asking he is often steeped in negativity. “Worry, frustration, anger, disappointment, guilt, envy, regret – these are my constant companions. I am always complaining about something or someone. What must I do,” he asked. “Just be,” I replied. To be sure, millions out there are unhappier than most others and, unfortunately, they remain unhappy almost perpetually. And the reason these people are this way is because they have not understood the value of just being.
Fundamentally, happiness is a personal choice. No one – or no thing – can make you happy unless you learn to simply be – be with yourself, be with your true Self, be with what is, be yourself, be in the moment. And to be, you must understand Life. You must realize that Life does not happen because of you. It happens in spite of you, in spite of what you do or don’t do. You cannot control the Life that’s happening to you. All you can and must do is to accept the Life you have, do the best in any circumstance and again be accepting of whatever outcome or result your efforts may generate.
Per ancient Roman philosophy, the Goddess Fortuna, rotates the wheel of fortune, rota fortunae, of our lives. The wheel has the picture of a king on top and a picture of the same man as pauper at the bottom. So when the wheel of Life turns, as it surely will, you are pushed down if you are on top and you are pushed up if you are down. But we as people, as a race, we have all been conditioned to cling to the periphery of Life, holding on to the material aspects of our lives – power, wealth and assets. This basically means that as long as you are on the periphery of Life you will have to deal with the ups and downs, with the highs and lows, with gain and loss, with success and with defeat. But if you move inward, to the center of the wheel, you could be unmoved by all that happens to you in Life. In a way, at the center of the wheel is where the opportunity to move beyond mortal and material abundance transcending health, wealth, power, pleasure and fame is available. This is where you are in a state where you just accept what Life is offering you at the moment. Which is, the kahbi khushi, kabhi gham state; the K3G state – sometimes joy and sometimes sorrow state! The nub is this: when you are accepting of the Life you have, of what is, you may feel the pain, but you will not suffer. You will learn to be in this material world and yet be above all the attachments that lure you and want to hold you hostage!
There are only two ways to live Life. You can enjoy it. Or you can endure it. Enjoyment comes easily. When what you want comes your way, you enjoy it. But how can you enjoy death, separation, illness, misunderstanding, hatred, conspiracy, break-ups, loss, penury? These you simply have to endure. If you learn to just be, you can indeed be happy, even while you are enduring the Life that you never wanted, never wished or never expected.
To be happy, you simply have to be. When you are, accepting of the Life you have, no matter what the context or circumstance, you will find that all the negativity in you has evaporated. Or better still dissolved. When you are, you are in the moment, in the present. All your negativity stems from living in the past – anger, grief, guilt over what happened in a period of time that is dead, is gone – or from living in the future – worry, fear, anxiety over what may happen in a moment that no one has really known or seen. In the present moment there is no negativity. In the present, there is only one way, and that way is to simply be. When you simply are, you are happy!
Learn to celebrate the only Life you have by living in the moment!
“I don’t know where my Life is going. I am totally clueless. There seems to be no point in anything that I do. I have a cushy job, a stable ‘more-than-average’ income, a loving family but it is as if I am on a treadmill – I am running faster and faster, yet, getting nowhere!” This was a lament from a senior executive at a leading software company, when I bumped into him at a coffee shop the other day. He added, asking “Have you ever felt like this, AVIS?”
Of course, I have felt like that. Everyone feels like that at some time in their Life.
And I have realized that this feeling gnaws at you only when you want your Life to be predictable, when you want answers to all your questions. But, beyond a point, there are no answers in Life. When despite having everything material, like this gentleman who I met, if you still feel empty, listless, you must awaken to the reality that education, social status, a job, affluence, all these things cannot satiate you. I have come to understand that such emptiness must be celebrated. It must not be resisted. What this emptiness is teaching you is that while you have every ‘thing’, you are not happy. So, clearly, happiness doesn’t come from having things. Happiness is who you are when you simply are living in the moment; when you are enjoying your Life for what it is.
The human mind is the culprit here. It is always grazing in the past or in the future. Which is why this man is feeling lost. He has everything that most people will crave for, but he’s not enjoying any of those. His mind is searching, yearning, pining for something else. He must realize that there’s nothing to gain or attain or achieve in Life. The only Life we all have is the Life that is happening to us in the moment. In his case, he doesn’t even know what he is searching for. In someone else’s case, they want more of what he has. In another’s case, they are grieving over what is lost. So, simply, as long as your mind is away from the moment, you can never be happy.
I have a hairdresser friend called Ramalingam in Bangalore. He works at the salon at Vivanta by the Taj at Trinity Circle there. In the days when I had a lot of hair, I would visit him every month. On one visit, when he found me very fidgety, constantly typing out messages on my Nokia Communicator, he asked me if he could share an unsolicited perspective. I grudgingly nodded in approval. He told me this: “The greatest human quality is to simply be. If you can drop this constant urge to become, to be some place else, to be in control, and just be, then you have mastered the art of intelligent living.” I barked at him for chiding me. I told him it is fine as a hairdresser to hold such a ‘non-corporate’ point of view. In business, I championed, you have to be on the move, you have to constantly be driving – harder, stronger. You have to be on the ball all the time, else someone, somewhere will drop a catch. And catches cost matches. Ramalingam looked back at me and said, “By not learning to be, you have already dropped a big catch – you! The constant doer is not the Master. Only one who can simply be is the true Master!”
What he said to me that day made no sense to me back then. But over the years of practicing mouna (daily silence periods), whenever I think back at that conversation, I recognize that Ramalingam was, after all, right. He was actually pointing to the fact that when you are in a frenzy of activity, you are being controlled by your mind. In the name of business, you are constantly feigning ‘busyness’; to the extent that you are trapped by it. Your emptiness comes from this sense of ‘busyness’ – this feeling of running, running, running, like on a treadmill, but getting nowhere! For this emptiness to make way for fulfilment, for happiness to be flowing from within you, you must learn to control your mind. You must drop your desire to become something and simply be. Just be in the moment, living, thriving, celebrating the only Life you have! Merry Christmas!
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!