It is only when you impose conditions on what is that unhappiness sets in.
For some strange reason, I woke up this morning with this song swimming in my head: “Aane Wala Pal Jaane Wala Hai, Hosake To Isme Zindagi Guzaar Lo, Pal Yeh Jo Jaane Wala Hai…” (Golmaal, 1979, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Gulzar, Kishore Kumar)
It is one of my favorite songs. It is also a song that holds a special meaning in my Life.
On the 5th of January 2008, when we were struggling intensely to come to terms with our bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), a friend insisted that we go with him and his wife to a live concert of R.D.Burman hits (performed by a fantastic national-level orchestra). The hall was full. And the audience was hysterical. About an hour into the concert, I suddenly realized I had not even known which songs had played until then. I was there physically. I was hearing everything. I was watching everyone clap, shout, whistle and sway to the legend’s unputdownable music. But I was not “in” the concert. I was not present there. What finally woke me up from my worry-filled reverie, was this song from Golmaal. The lyrics meant a lot to me that day: “The moment which is coming will go away, if you want to, live in this moment, for it will be gone soon too…” Not that I had not heard that song before. But that evening, that song stirred something within me.
As they often say, things happen in Life, when they must – never a moment earlier or later. The next time my thinking was provoked and I felt stirred from within was through an experience I had with Swami Sathya Sai Baba, which happened within a week of the R.D. concert. We were meeting a messenger, a medium, through whom Swami spoke. I confessed to Swami that I was very worried and anxious about the future. I told him I saw no way out of the problems that we were faced with as a family. I said, “I simply cannot go on like this.” Swami asked me what would it take for me to be happy. I replied that if someone could assure me that my problems would be taken care of, I would be happy. Swami then told me that I would never be happy if I thought this way. “To imagine, to desire, to wish that you will not or you should not have any problems is the biggest problem. As long as you have this problem, you will be unhappy. Being happy means simply being – no conditions can apply!” explained Swami.
That conversation with Swami changed my entire approach to Life. Over the next several weeks, I meditated on Swami’s perspective through my practice of mouna, my daily silence periods. It helped me discipline my mind. The human mind, I discovered, is like a dog. If you don’t train it, if you don’t discipline it, you will be led and controlled by your mind. But if you coach it and teach it to “stay still”, and to obey you, it will never stray. Swami’s inspiration and his awakening message to me, and my practice of mouna, has taught me to be happy despite the circumstances I am faced with in Life.
It is the nature of worries and anxieties to debilitate. If they are holding you hostage, it only means that you have allowed them to be that way. The human mind plays tricks on you all the time. It consistently strives to take you away from what is and gets you to attend to what once was or what may possibly be. Which is why, most of the time, you are not present in the now. And happiness is always in simply being present in the now! It is only when you impose conditions on what is that unhappiness sets in.
Embrace the suchness of Life!
I read a report in The Hindu the other day where former McKinsey CEO Rajat Gupta, charged for insider trading in the US, described his 19-month prison term as far more positive than he had imagined. The Hindu’s Vikas Dhoot carried a letter, verbatim, that Rajat had written to his friends on January 1, 2016, four days before his prison term ended. To me, the most important line came at the end of the letter when Rajat writes: “…As they say, Life is a series of experiences. None is inherently good or bad. It is what you make of it….”
This perspective is so ordinary at one level – we all have heard it so many, many, times in so many, many contexts. Perhaps, its ordinariness kills its value. Yet, nothing is more true about Life. It is a series of happenings, experiences. And whatever you have to go through, however tough a phase may be, even if it is a Life-threatening crisis, only makes you stronger, wiser and happier.
People ask me if I have any regrets about my Life. And I always say, only half in jest, yes, I wish my bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) had arrived 10 years earlier in my Life. I would have saved 10 years of living in stupor, chasing success, I would have lived 10 more years with awareness and lived them happily too.
I always tell people now, embrace your challenges. Welcome them. They are here to teach you how to live more meaningfully. The untrained mind will kick around in frustration. It will instill fear in you, it will make you believe that a crisis will kill you. But if you can get past your mind’s antics, and see the truth about your Life you will realize that all the choices of your past have brought you to your present. And what you do now will seed your future. So, you can either continue to be a victim of your crisis or you can be its student. I suffered as long as I was in victim mode. But the moment I chose to learn from my experience, my suffering stopped. To be sure, there is enormous pain. But no suffering. I am only stronger, a trifle more wiser and a lot, lot more, happier from what I am going through. This is the suchness of Life. So, embrace it for what it is, the way it is. This is what makes it magical, mystical, beautiful – and inscrutable!
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.
Are you in possession of something or is something possessing you?
Anything that you cling on to is bound to bring you grief. Because you will first be consumed by your fear that you may lose it. Second, you will eventually end up grieving over its unavoidable loss – whenever that happens. Because, everything that you cling on to today will be lost surely someday! This doesn’t mean you give up everything. It doesn’t mean you renounce. It only means stop ‘clinging on’ to whatever is making you fearful or sad or both __ memories, things, people, habits, opinions, whatever.
A friend of ours owns a 2000 square-foot apartment in the heart of Chennai. The value of the real estate is a few crore rupees. He has been wanting to rent it out but strangely there have been no takers. So, earlier this year, he decided to sell it. But for almost four months now he has not been able to find a buyer. Every deal falls through at virtually the last minute. Our friend confesses that he has been losing sleep over this property jinx for several months now. His grief: for all his financial prudence, he is unable to plug the losses he is incurring over this dead – and locked up – investment in the past year!
This is a classic example of the possessor (my friend) being possessed by his possession (the property). His grief is palpable. With due respect to his financial acumen, I hope he realizes, sooner than later, that it is simply not worth it for anyone to be ‘losing sleep’ over ‘losing money’. The solution obviously is not to let go of the investment. But to let go of the expectation that just because there is an investment, it must yield returns. My friend can end his suffering, and get over his grief, if he awakens to the fact that his investment is not wrong, but his expectation of a yield from the investment, in a time-frame he expects, is what is holding him to ransom.
Clearly, Life doesn’t work the way we want it to just because we have drawn up blueprints and excel sheets. The humbling truth is that the more we cling on to plans or expectations based on our plans, the more we will suffer and grieve.
I have learned that clinging on to something actually ends up making you feel vulnerable and the opposite of being in control when you understand the vicious game your mind plays on you! While you are physically in possession of something, and you think you are in control, the truth is that the ‘something’ is controlling you. The mind loves dependence. It needs a crutch. And in your clinging on to many things at various times the mind exults at the innumerable possibilities for dependence. So, in effect, over time, your mind controls you, leads you and directs you. It is like being in a car where the driver has been rendered powerless and the car drives itself to wherever it feels like!? Do you even think this is normal? This is what has happened to each of us because of our ruinous tendency to ‘cling on’!
What are you clinging on to? To understand this, ask yourself what’s possessing you – a thought, an opinion, a suspicion, an object, money, property, a relationship or perhaps a habit? Simply un-cling. And watch how you feel. With your feet no longer chained to the ground, un-clinging sets you free! As Mevlana Jalauddin Rumi, the 13th Century Persian poet has said: ‘You were born with wings; why prefer to crawl through Life?”
If you are tuned to your negativity, you will never experience abundance!
Recently we were told by someone, who was considering having me address her customers, that she did not want us to talk about the spiritual lessons we have learnt from our bankruptcy at her place, because she feared that the negativity “from us and our sharing” will get “absorbed” in and by her place. “The energies of a bankruptcy are very negative. I don’t want you to bring these into our place,” she said. Vaani and I looked at each other. And smiled. We didn’t say anything to clarify or to defend. We simply thanked our prospective host and left. When we got into our Uber we shared our perspectives with each other. And we concurred: “The physical dimension of a bankruptcy can and will impact anybody’s material Life – just as it has impacted Vaani’s and mine. But only those who are spiritually bankrupt will be consumed by their fears and insecurities.”
I appreciate the lady for being open with her point of view. And I believe she will learn and evolve through Life as she journeys along. Even I have learnt only this way!
This episode reminds me of an incident from 12 years ago. I was looking for an antique desk for my office, for me to work from. I finally found one at a store dealing with period furniture in T.Nagar (Chennai). Just as I was about to swipe my credit card (in those days I had one with a credit limit available on it!) and buy it, I called up my vaastu consultant to review the desk’s dimensions. When he heard that I was planning to buy it from a used-furniture store, he forbade me from doing so. He said, “Who knows what that desk has seen? Perhaps a bankruptcy? The energies of the desk will impact your decisions and your business. So, please don’t buy it.” I was heavily reliant on his advice and did not take any decisions that were not vaastu-compliant back then. So, I dropped the idea of buying that desk and instead had one custom-made by a carpenter to match my vaastu consultant’s prescribed dimensions. Yet, just three years later, my business went famously bankrupt. And, as is public knowledge by now, I am still trying to deal with its aftermath, still trying to pick up the pieces, still struggling to get our business back on track. One day, during my mouna (daily practice of observing a period of silence) session, some years back, when I reflected on the vaastu consultant’s advice and my decision to heed him, it became clear to me that we are not our circumstances. Life is just a series of events that keeps on happening to us. But we are not those events. So, simply, you are not your bankruptcy or your cancer or your divorce or your joblessness or your quadriplegia. Therefore, you have a choice and the opportunity to feel and be positive no matter what your circumstances are. And if at all there is any negativity, it is in you, in your mind, not in the circumstances or objects or things around you. Yes, some people you encounter will be feeling negative, but their negativity cannot touch you unless you let it come into your Life.
The reason why Vaani and I wear our Life on our sleeves, why we go and share our story with people, with whoever cares to pause and reflect, is because we want people to know that it is possible to be positive, peaceful and happy despite their circumstances. In all our sharing, we have only found people who have opened the doors of their hearts and homes to us. We have found compassion, love and humanity thriving all around. The odd people here and there don’t get this perspective. But we don’t judge them or grudge them. We understand that it takes spiritual evolution – a.k.a learning from Life – to appreciate this point of view.
The untrained mind will fear negativity from everything and everyone around, because it is steeped in insecurity. But the evolved mind will fear nothing – neither human nor circumstance. Because, it is willing to unconditionally, unquestioningly, flow with the present, with what is! And there is only abundance in the present moment! Bottomline: you will smell negativity only when you miss the aura of abundance in you, around you!
Unless we know we are worrying when we worry, we will never be able to quit worrying.
Yesterday a man reached out to me from Bengaluru. His problem is that he simply stares at the computer and worries. He claimed he had become unproductive at work and feels defeated. He has too many business challenges. And now his preoccupation with his business has begun to affect his relationship with his wife. He wanted to know how he could ‘get rid of his worries’.
The key to being liberated from worry is not to strive for a state when there is absence of worry. The key is to learn to be ‘non-worrying’ by being aware. Being aware requires only being. Just being. Nothing else. But there’s a perception that simply being is tough. No, it is not. Examine yourself. Most of the time you worry without even applying your mind. It is a mechanical affair going on in your head. What will happen to this? Or that? Will I get what I want? Will my child be happy? Will my spouse survive? What if something terrible happens and what I want done is not accomplished? It is an incessant chatter. A cacophony in your head. And one worry sparks off another and another. Often times, this becomes uncontrollable. And you seek remedy. Someone tells you to lean towards meditation. Someone else tells you to propitiate the Gods. Someone again tells you to meet an astrologer or soothsayer or a tantric. You try all that. But you come back frustrated. You are not getting the answers you want. You are seeking inner peace and a worry-free Life, but you are not getting there. Why? Because your mind refuses to listen to you.
Kabir, the 16th Century, weaver-poet, says this so beautifully in his couplet:
“Maala To Kar Mein Phire,
Jeebh Phire Mukh Mahin
Manua To Chahun Dish Phire,
Yeh To Simran Nahin”
The rosary rotating by the hand,
the tongue twisting in the mouth,
With the mind wandering everywhere, this isn’t meditation (counting the rosary, repeating mantras, If the mind is traveling – this is not meditation)
Control the mind, not the beads or the words.
That ability to control the mind will come only from your awareness. Awareness can be inspired in you by practising silence. Spend an hour being silent every day. Just being. Read a passage. Write your thoughts in your personal journal. Do whatever you want, but remain silent and refuse to attend to anything that calls for you to disengage from what you plan to do in that hour. Don’t sleep. Don’t speak. Your hour of silence can make you super-productive and aware during the remaining 23 hours in the day! So, it is good return on investment. This is the practice of ‘mouna’. It will not eradicate worry. Worry will arise, but your awareness will cut off that flow of thought. It will arrest the worry in its tracks. And help you come back to focusing on whatever you are doing in the moment. Practising ‘mouna’ or silence periods brings you to appreciate the power of now! Remember, there is precious little you can do about all what you worry about by simply worrying about them! You can either act on a situation and solve it, or act on a situation and if you fail to solve it, accept that outcome. Or you can just leave the situation to Life to sort things out over time. So, why worry? And then, worse, why worry about your worrying?
The bottomline: don’t worry about worrying. Focus on where that worry germinates, sprouts, takes root. Go to that point and stem the flow.