Life lesson from a ‘Glorious’ Barista

Every once in a while it’s probably a great idea to sit back and count your blessings, feel grateful, for what you have and stop complaining about what you don’t!

Yesterday, at a crowded coffee kiosk, I first thought that the lone barista at the counter was struggling with the orders. Each customer in line would first seem irritated and then would immediately calm down and order her or his drink with utmost courtesy. In a bit, it struck me that the 20-something barista, Yashwant, was specially-abled – he could neither hear nor speak. He read your lips or you gestured. But he was full of beans! Cheerful and patient. He made me an excellent Americano and served it with the most confident, lively smile I have seen in some time now.

I sat at a table closer to the counter and, over my coffee, I observed Yashwant. He went about his work cheerfully. More customers swamped his kiosk as the hour went by. Kids, hurried shoppers, and young adults on a date. All of them would first shout out their order. And Yashwant would gesture to them, charming them with his endearing smile, that he can’t hear or speak. And then magic happened. The customers piped down, started feeling good and left the counter with their drink or meal __ happy, smiling, carrying back also Yashwant’s spirit and smile with them. I am sure each of them was infected, just as I was, by Yashwant’s inner joy! Yashwant is an Indian name that means ‘glorious’. This barista truly is! It didn’t matter to him that he was not able to hear or speak. It didn’t matter to him that his employer had not cared to put up a tent card at the counter that could have read: “Specially-abled Barista at work here. Makes the world’s best coffee though. Seek your patience and understanding!” What he didn’t have clearly did not matter to him! He was alive and having fun! (PS – my picture here of Yashwant is not the best because he was too shy and did not want me to photograph him. But hope you catch his spirit this morning!)

Yashwant: Truly Glorious!
Yashwant’s brew may have been the most awakening cup of coffee I have ever had. I re-learned a lesson that we all need to remember: “Lamenting over what you don’t have can make Life miserable. Living fully with what you have can, on the other hand, makes Life memorable!” And this lesson, every specially-abled person will teach you. In fact, in my entire Life, I haven’t met a specially-abled who is frustrated. On the other hand, fully endowed folks like us are the one who are complaining about Life, worrying, suffering and lamenting about what isn’t instead of loving what is! In reality, we are the disabled: we are handicapped, we are crippled __ because we have nailed our feet to the ground, we have clipped our own wings, with our imagined miseries.

Maybe we need a Yashwant moment every day! Just to remind us that Life’s worth living despite its inscrutability and its inadequacies. Hope you get inspired by my sharing. Hope you have a beautiful Friday and choose to live, to love and to celebrate what is and what you have today!

Uncertain Times? Celebrate ‘What IS’ than Worry about ‘What IF’!

Embrace uncertainty and you will thrive. Fear it and you will suffer.

Certainty is a man-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?

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 meager 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 however is that you can be certain about nothing in Life. Because time is uncertain. Each moment is different from the previous one. It is one aspect of Life which is changing continuously. So, when time is changing, when there is no certainty with time, the measure with which you estimate your lifetime, where is the question of anything else being certain? Events keep happening to you over the course of an ever-changing time and each event changes you. People, therefore, too change with time. Much of how you responded to Life is obsolete, the same way as some of the technology you used in the past. As you grow older ideally your ability to deal with uncertainties gets better and better, provided, of course, if you have learned from earlier such episodes.

The 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 imagine Life without uncertainty. If you accept Life as being uncertain, you will find joy in each moment.

The second principle for dealing with uncertainty is to know that your worrying about anything, especially about a future that no one has seen, is not going to change the course of your Life. It is a common tendency, with you as well as with other people, to get into a hyperactive mode, working out various what if scenarios in your head, preparing for the best and planning for the worst. In the end, none of your worrying or planning is going to alter what is to come. As Eckhart Tolle says, “Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.”  So, when you finally recognize uncertainty__though it has always been there__stress not your mind, instead calm it. 
Your mind is the villain in such situations. It will fight hard to demand security, to insist on a structure to your Life’s situation. If you succumb to your mind you will become fearful. And your fears will create, will aid and abet, your suffering.

So, approach any uncertainty 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: when you embrace uncertainty you will find immense joy and beauty in this totally unpredictable, inscrutable experience called Life!   

Don’t resist Life! Embrace it, for what it is!!

When grave things happen to you in Life allow them to. Don’t resist them. Just deal with them.
There’s a big difference between dealing with Life and resisting Life. Resistance always brings grief along with it. Because what happened to was always ordained to. And what is to happen will. This has been my key learning from Life: that Life’s Master Plan has no flaws. So, resistance to any situation is stupidity.
I know it will be frightfully difficult to “allow things to happen to you and merely deal with them”. Because it is intrinsic human nature to question, to demand justice, to want to control a situation that is happening without your wanting it or allowing it to happen. But recognize the futility in resistance by looking at all your Life’s upsets, crises and tragedies, up until so far. Despite your kicking around, didn’t those things, events, situations just happen to you? Your resistance only brought you agony. Untold misery and suffering too, depending on the gravity of your own situation. Instead ask yourself if it would not have been different if you had dealt with the situation __ calmly, purposefully?
Dealing with Life doesn’t mean inaction. Acceptance doesn’t mean sitting back and doing nothing. In this context, dealing with Life means doing what you must, to the best of your ability without being  agitated, desperate or sorrowful. Channelize your distaste for your situation to trying to change it with focus, purpose and astute action. Know also fully well that some situations in Life may not be changeable after all!
Conceptually, you may be in agreement with this approach. But should you try it, you may come back and report that it’s still a struggle. And that struggle, my dear friend, will come because of another innate human trait that will surface, which is our tendency to cling on to the past. Most often our progress, our moving on, is affected because we still have one foot in the past and we refuse to extricate ourselves from that which is over. The past is dead. In Tamizh, the past is referred to as the ‘erantha kalam’ __ which means ‘time that is dead’! The past is gone. And is over with. The more you dwell in it, the more removed you will be from the opportunity to live freely.
Sonali with Lara Dutta-Bhupathi and Amitabh Bachchan
Let me share with you Sonali Mukherjee’s story. In 2003, when she was just 18, Sonali, who lives in Dhanbad, in the north Indian state of Jharkhand, turned down a marriage proposal from a certain Tapas Mitra. A month-and-a-half after she spurned his offer, Mitra, aided and abetted by two of his friends, attacked Sonali and poured acid on her face, disfiguring her gruesomely, permanently. Now, 26, Sonali has gone through 22 surgeries to graft skin and restore, to whatever limited extent possible, her face. She has lost her eyesight in the incident and is due for nine more restorative surgeries. Her family has spent their entire resources on her treatment. And they live in abject penury while her assailants roam scot free, having been granted bail by a higher court (after a lower court sentenced them to nine years imprisonment). Sonali’s complaint/appeal in the higher court is pending trial. Those who understand India will know that this trial could take several more years to complete. Just consider the poor girl’s plight: she has lost her identity, justice is being both delayed and denied to her and all this, for no fault of hers! On Sunday’s Kaun Banega Crorepati show (Indian version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’), the host, the Indian super star, Amitabh Bachchan asked Sonali, who won Rs.25 Lakh (about USD 50,000) prize money that evening, what was her thinking on the incident and towards her assailants. Stoic and with deep conviction, Sonali replied: “I don’t want to look back. I just want to focus on what I can do now. I will continue to seek justice from the courts. But importantly, I want to be available to other victims of violence and abuse and help them on their lives’ journeys.”
That’s really how you deal with Life. Stay stoic. Stay resolute.
Contrast your own situations with Sonali’s. What she has lost can’t even be recovered. Some of our stories may be similar too. Sonali then is an inspiration. She teaches us the value in accepting, and moving on, with conviction and calm. Some other stories may not be as gruesome. What is lost, for instance money or property, may still be, over time, be regained. In such situations, Sonali’s story should remind us of our blessings. Either way let us remember we don’t have a right to grieve. Because grief and bliss cannot co-exist.

So, if you want to be in peace, in bliss, give up resisting Life, give up grieving and embrace Life for what it is, the way it is. Loving ‘what is’ is intelligent living!