Why is there so much suffering in, and around, us – despite so much emphasis on religion and rituals?
We were with some friends yesterday. And the conversation slowly wound its way to us sharing notes on the inscrutability of Life and the power of prayer and surrender.
A friend threw up these questions: “Is ritual an enabler for prayer? Is it necessary to be ritualistic to realize God – and happiness and equanimity? And does any ritual aid the process of surrender?”
Now, those are important questions. And I believe the answers, as I have gleaned from learnings from my lived experiences, lead us to a deeper, better, understanding of Life.
We must realize that we have all been created without our asking to be born. This is a choiceless birth for each of us. So, we must recognize that there is a Higher Energy, Creation, that has given us this human form and has given us this opportunity to experience this lifetime the way we are experiencing it presently.
I see this Higher Energy as Life itself. And I humbly submit to its intelligence, to its might and to its grace.
Some look upon this Higher Energy as ‘God’ – and their religious conditioning gives this ‘God’ a name, shape or form. But clearly, there is no disputing that there is a Higher Energy that powers this Universe, that has designed, and is administering, the cosmic Master Plan. Otherwise, why would you and I be human? We may well have been created as a less endowed species in the animal or plant world or even be an inanimate object – after all, they were all created too, without any of them asking to be!
So, to me, there are only two states to be in – eternal gratitude and total surrender. In fact, it is when these two states are maintained in unison, it is when they confluence, in us, in our view of our world, that true happiness and equanimity can be experienced and sustained.
Prayer is nothing but a way of expressing gratitude – Thank ‘you’, Thank ‘you’, Thank ‘you’! And prayer itself denotes surrender – I don’t know, I don’t understand, so I give myself up to ‘you’. The ‘you’ here is the Higher Energy, Creation.
This is all there is to Life. It is simple, easy to understand and easy to practise. The truth is you can never understand the mind of Creation. You simply cannot understand Life. At best, you can be forever grateful for who you are and what you have, and in complete surrender, flowing with Life for what it is.
We however complicate this process of flowing by resisting what is, by bringing in our logic, desire and expectations. Much of all human distress stems from our wanting our Life to be a certain way – to be different from what it is. As long as we want something, in a certain fashion, we will suffer. And that is what is happening to – and in – all of us.
The human mind, when it is suffering, is like a smoldering cauldron of myriad, uncontrolled, often wasteful and debilitating, thoughts. And religion, as a means of suggesting a method to calm the mind, to weed out debilitating thoughts and emotions, recommends rituals. The larger idea is that the rigor of ritual – in spirit and activity – will help you learn the value of gratitude and surrender. Deep at the core of all rituals, across religions, is this idea of complete, total, surrender. But what have we been conditioned to believe? Practise rituals to cleanse your sins; be ritualistic or you will be punished by ‘God’; if you want your prayers answered, your wants fulfilled, follow this ritual or that; rituals can banish your ‘bad’ phases and so on and on. Bottomline – we have been fed loads and loads of garbage in the name of religion and rituals. Which is why, despite all the rituals, despite all the religiosity in us, many of us are still unhappy, fearful, worried and are suffering endlessly!
So, my answer to my friend’s questions was this: “Do you normally need any apparatus to help you breathe? Not really. But, if your body systems are weak, well, you do need a ventilator. Similarly, do you need a method to practise gratitude and be in total surrender? Surely not. For, if you understand that being created in this human form is a blessing, you can only be grateful, you can only be in surrender. But if you don’t realize – or reflect on – this blessing, well, you then need a method, a device – a.k.a ritual and/or religion – to help you along. But, clearly, no method can help you live happily – in gratitude and surrender – unless you are willing to flow with Life’s Master Plan, for you, the way it is.”
No one can win fighting against Life.
A young man we had coached a few years ago pinged us saying he was in town and wanted to meet us. We caught up for coffee.
When he first met us in 2012 he had an alcohol problem, his wife had left him and he was out of job. He looked every bit the way he was feeling then – beaten by Life – and he was low on both confidence and self-esteem. But when we met him last week he was looking very different – he was glowing, it appeared as if he had grown younger and, important, he radiated happiness.
As we got our coffees, he said, “I am still struggling to land a job. I still have not found a companion. But I have stopped drinking, I have stopped pitying myself or blaming others. I have made peace with my imperfect Life. I have learnt to be happy despite whatever is happening in my Life!”
This young man has unlocked Life’s secret to happiness. He’s discovered that Life can be spectacular even during a crisis. In the Life coaching conversations we had had with him, six years ago, we had shared our learnings, from our own crisis (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). We told him that he must not fight Life; he can’t hope to win fighting against Life. No one can. So, acceptance is the key. Accept your current reality, go to work on changing it, but work without any expectations. Only then can you be really, truly happy.
Vaani and I have seen this from our own experience. Of course, like everyone else, we too began by setting conditions on our Life. We said that we will be happy if we get this or that, if our problems are solved or if we get all that we want. But we soon realized that Life has a mind of is own. It just keeps on happening – in its own inscrutable way. So, we reckoned, as long as you keep insisting that Life listens to you and gives you all that you want, you will be unhappy. We looked around us and found that it is in this state that some people feel depressed or some lean on crutches like drugs or cigarettes or alcohol. And others turn angry and violent. But Life is not bothered about how you are feeling or what you are doing to yourself. So, in effect, you are fighting alone and are fighting a battle that you will never win. So, we concluded, why fight? We simply accepted our Life for the way it is and surrendered to its Masterplan. To be sure, our problems have not vanished. But our ability to deal with them has improved greatly. Important, we have learnt to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering.
We have learnt that all of Life’s problems fall under two categories. One category is those that you can solve with your intelligence and initiative. So, why worry or fight those problems? But there are other problems that will solve only in their own space and time – no matter how hard you wish, work or pray. So, why worry or fight those problems again? Just accept them for the way they are. Acceptance is the key to happiness. Acceptance does not mean inaction. Acceptance means dropping a wasteful fight. It means trusting the process of Life.
Our young friend, like Vaani and me, has understood this truth about Life. And that’s why he’s glowing, he looks younger, he’s quit a ruinous habit and he’s happy despite his circumstances. You may want to consider this perspective we share here – simply accept your Life for what it is, no matter what you are going through. Then, you too will discover that Life can be spectacular through a crisis!
What do you do when you don’t know what to do in Life?
A young lady reached out to Vaani and me recently. She said her 2-year-old marriage was breaking up. Her parents were both diagnosed with cancer. Their family property, which had been under litigation for years, was decreed in favor of her uncles. And she had been laid off at her job. “Where do I begin to fix my problems? I have nowhere to go with my ailing parents and my one-year-old child. I don’t know what to do,” she confessed, breaking down inconsolably.
Vaani and I have been in her situation. We too have felt clueless and lost. What do you do when you don’t know what to do in Life?
I remember Thursday, April 29th 2014 vividly. On that day, we went ‘zero-cash’. We spent the last eighty rupees with us on an auto ride and lived in Chennai, in spells of pennilessness, for months on end after that. Our bankruptcy had blown up into an incomprehensible phase of prolonged worklessness and pennilessness. At one time, we endured 30 months, between 2012 and 2014 when we had no work, no income. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal and watch this Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk.) This, despite, our best efforts to work our network of contacts, pound the pavement, restructure our delivery model, and put our business back on track. It’s a phase that we are still enduring at varied levels of intensity and challenge from time to time.
It is through this darkest phase of our Life that Vaani and I have understood the true meaning of faith.
We have understood that faith is not quite about trusting an external resource or agency, also popularly known as God. Faith truly means trusting the process of Life – and being happy despite the circumstances; which means, being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. We realized that despite our excruciating circumstances, Life was providing us all that we needed. Nothing went according to our plans. Nothing still does. But we have survived a decade of bankruptcy and its attendant, often imponderable, challenges. In this time, our children graduated – our son from an overseas University in 2012. Our daughter too is doing her Master’s abroad. Miraculously, every time we came to the brink, a helping hand appeared from nowhere and hoisted us up or ‘someone’ opened our wings and taught us to fly. That’s what faith has come to mean to us – to know that since you have been created without your asking for it, you will also be, unfailingly, looked after, provided for and cared for. We have learnt that just because we find the going tough, we must not conclude that Life is cruel. In fact, as we have discovered from our experience, Life is most compassionate – always giving you a situation only so that you grow better from dealing with it.
This is what we told the young lady too who sought us out through our Let’s Talk Happyness Program. When you don’t know what to do in Life, you simply let go and you let Life take over. To be sure, you never were in control of anything. Life was always, Life is, and Life will always be in control. Or simply, the Master Plan has no flaws. All that you have to do when you are clueless is to trust the process of Life, keep the faith, and take each day as it comes.
If you wish to seek our perspectives on a Life challenge you are faced with, please reach out here – Let’s Talk Happyness! If you have a personal story of faith, please share. Or tag someone for whom this Post is likely to be useful.
My Vlog today says receiving help and support from people around you is an integral part of the process of Life! There is no shame in receiving. It is a humbling experience.
Viewing time: 2:28 minutes
…And it has no flaws!
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!
Life is molding us continuously to fulfill a larger cosmic design.
Many times in Life, you encounter situations when you feel you cannot go on. You think you would much rather die than undergo this ordeal called Life. You want to give up. When every door seems to shut on you, when darkness engulfs you, when you see no way out and you are in the throes of despair and fear, check your pulse. Listen to your heart beat. Hear yourself breathing. If you are alive, it means it is not over yet. Stop looking for external signals for hope and revival. Look within. Feel Life’s energy thriving in you. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” said Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th Century German philosopher and poet. Know that this is true. This is what Life is all about – indeed, there is a lot of Life after a crisis!
Life isn’t about winning or losing. It isn’t about acquiring and owning material assets. Life is an opportunity to experience uncertainty in each moment, it is an adventure. Don’t look for a pot of gold at the end of the journey. The journey itself is the reward. Every experience in Life teaches you something. Focus on the experience, focus on the learning from it, and don’t really bother too much about the result! If, at the end of the day, you have had a million experiences in your lifetime and have learnt from each of them, you are the biggest millionaire around! It is through the experiences that we are put through that Life keeps on molding us to fulfill a larger cosmic design, a Masterplan. And remember, Life’s Masterplan for each of us has no flaws!
So, when you are enduring a difficult phase, focus on the experience and what you can learn from it. Embrace the uncertainty, don’t hate it. Only when you do this will you see how perfectly you and your Life – the way you are, the way it is – fit into the Masterplan!
|Marco on the left, in white, and Tash at the extreme right
Picture Courtesy: MasterChef Australia Season 6 website