The art of unclinging
There are no two ways to be happy
When you make choices based on what makes you happy, you can never go wrong.
I was waiting the other day to record my Podcast at a studio. One of the visitors there got talking to me about Life and relationships. She asked me if it is okay to be “blunt” with people, especially with those in “close relationships”.
I told her that it’s a personal choice. Now, there’s nothing wrong in being nice, being accommodative, adjusting and understanding. But if you try to do all of that at the cost of your inner peace, you will end up feeling miserable. So, it really is a decision you have to take – do you want to be happy and peaceful or do you want to feel unhappy and suffer trying to please others?
I shared with the lady an experience I had had earlier in the day. My cousin had called Vaani and me. She was inviting us to play godparents at her son’s engagement ceremony coming up later in the month. She is a single parent and her own father is no more. Her brother is not likely to attend the ceremony and so my name, as a male member of the family, was proposed. While I was humbled by her invitation, I was very clear, even as she proposed the idea, that I was not going to sit through any rituals. Besides, I had issues with any ritual or tradition that accorded men special privileges. All her Life, she had raised her two children, but just because she is a woman and she is single, “tradition and culture demand” that she could not be leading the engagement ceremony? I found this idea both regressive and lacking empathy. I told my cousin that I was not going to accept her invitation and instead advised her to lead the ceremony herself.
In taking this decision, I employed my time-tested principle of asking myself the following questions: 1. Do I believe in what I am being asked to do? 2. Will I be happy doing this for myself? I have noticed that whenever I weigh any option based on what gives me joy or makes me happy, I am a lot clearer with what I want to do. Or I am sure about what I don’t want to do. So, appraising any situation on the happiness question is an important and efficient way to make choices.
Over the past few years, I have become very distant from rituals – and religion. I have also stopped seeing marriage as necessary for people who want to live together. So, I was clear that I was not going to play godparent to my nephew to “simply perform some rituals that are meant exclusively for men”. I told my cousin exactly that. She respected me for my forthrightness and left the matter at that. I appreciate her understanding.
So, as is evident from my experience, conversations must be honest – you need not necessarily bother whether you are being “blunt” or “rude”. Being honest is more important. Your being honest may make the other person uncomfortable but it will always leave you peaceful. As I said earlier, it is always, finally, your call, a personal choice.
Whenever in doubt, whenever you are unconvinced about doing something for someone or even for yourself, ask yourself – will doing this make me happy? If the answer is no, simply don’t do it. There are no two ways to be happy. Choosing to be happy is the only way. And you can never go wrong with being happy!
How ‘carlessness’ taught me to be ‘un-clinging’
In today’s Vlog, I share from personal experience how Life has cut me down to size and has humbled me. Clinging on to things, opinions and even ego, I have realized, is a sure cause for misery.
View time: 3:19 minutes
To end your suffering: face Life, see the reality
Denying a problem does not make it go away!
All your suffering comes from what you deny. Facing Life and taking a problem head on is what can make you solve it and live in peace.
But we invariably don’t like to exorcise our demons. We somehow have become comfortable suffering, feeling tormented, preferring to stay debilitated than feeling liberated. Because continuing to be miserable seems far easier than having to work hard to rid ourselves of what makes us miserable!
I met someone recently after a couple of years. He, in his own opinion, was financially ‘very well off’. Yet he found his Life ‘incomplete’. He spent entire days, daily, in a prominent five-star hotel’s bar, literally being there from the time it opened to when it closed! He lamented to me that his wife no longer loved him and all she wanted was ‘his credit card and a certain sum of cash monthly for her shopping sprees’. His 26-year-old son, though married, was not exactly doing anything significant and ‘lived off’ the family wealth. His daughter was the only one who understood him but their relationship too in recent years had come under stress. She wanted to go overseas for higher studies but he got her married instead because that was the norm in his ‘community’. He said to me, in a tone reflective of a defeated man, “I have lost it in Life. I have done no wrong. Yet everyone around me has let me down. I am suffering. I wish I could die.”
We have had this conversation many times before. So, I told him one more time: “My friend, you are the problem. For, as far as I know you, you have been drinking entire days for years now. You have a drinking problem – spurred by a lack of Purpose in your Life. You have enough and more money. So, because you don’t know how to be useful and productive, you are indulging in something that has already ruined your family Life and is on the verge of consuming you.”
My friend suddenly got up. He ended our meeting and drove away drunk in his car, despite my request and protests to leave his car behind and engage an Ola or Uber.
I wish he understood that unless he faced the brutal reality of his Life, he may really be unable to make it any better.
Many people, like my friend, live in denial. Either they don’t see reality. Or they refuse to see reality. They deny whatever is their problem__whatever it may be, from a relationship to a lousy job to a ruinous habit__hoping that denying a problem will lead to it sorting itself out, eventually! This is one area where no one can help you. You have to face your Life situation, accept it and then work on solving it – yourself!
But facing the truth is scary. How does one see the reality?
Simple, there are no two ways to can change your current realities or end your suffering! So, if you are feeling miserable about anything__or anyone__in Life, sit down and introspect. Diligently make a list of actions that you must take to end your misery. Resolve to do it. And just get down to doing it. Don’t give yourself the license to make excuses. The only way to solve a problem is to first accept that it exists.
“Letting Go” may not be easy, but it is simple!
When you must un-cling, well, you certainly must!
A reader wrote to me saying “letting go” is never easy: “If only letting go were as easy as closing a book! We are expected to play some roles, perform some duties, irrespective of what we feel, and everything becomes just one big pretend.”
I agree with his perspective. This has been my experience too. But the truth is that “letting go” is sometimes not an option any of us has; in certain situations it is perhaps the only way. It is therefore important that we understand clearly what “letting go” means and what it certainly is not.
“Letting go” means the ability to detach yourself from a situation, person, event or opinion; it simply means un-clinging from whatever you are clinging on to. It certainly does not mean abdicating responsibility or running away. It is clearly not recommended as a way to avoid performing a duty or dropping ownership of a situation.
When you don’t let go of something, or someone, you suffer. This is a plain and simple truth about Life. Clinging on brings misery. So, “letting go” means making a conscious choice that despite all the pain, despite all the trappings of attachment, despite the emotional burden on you, you choose not to suffer. “Letting go” is a gift of freedom that you award yourself.
Let me explain this with an example. My friend’s parents are ailing; they are both bed-ridden. My friend is going through a separation with his wife because the lady refused to partner with him on his responsibilities as a son. The parents are conservative folks, very ritualistic and demand a lot of attention. My friend has taken the separation from his wife in his stride. He says the “burden of guilt” – for having let the marriage break-up owing to his “sense of duty” towards his parents – is enormous. But he says he has forgiven himself for it. He says he realized he cannot please everyone. So, he forgave his wife for her choice, forgave himself for his choice, forgave his parents for being who they are, the way they are, and he’s at peace with his reality. This is “letting go”. He says he practically does not have a social Life because apart from keeping his day-job, all his waking hours are consumed by tending to his parents or fulfilling religious rituals on their behalf. So, he makes his peace with his personal Life by staying up late every night and watching a movie on his laptop while having a couple of drinks. This is “letting go” again!
Of course, “letting go”, in my friend’s case could have also been admitting his parents to a senior citizens’ home and choosing to be with his wife. Had he made that choice, I would have still not called it dereliction of duty. I, for instance, have made a similar choice with regard to my own relationship with my parents.
There is no right or wrong way to “letting go”. In some situations in Life, “letting go” is the only way to inner peace. Clearly, “letting go” comes from accepting your current reality, and from knowing which parts of your Life you can control and which parts you cannot, from knowing what you want from Life, in a given situation, and what you don’t want – and, important, knowing the difference! So, while “letting go” may not exactly be easy, it is simple, it can be done. You decide when you want to un-cling and, well, just do it!
Why trust is perhaps over-rated!
Honest conversations are critical to make relationships thrive.
A business leader confessed to me the other day that his biggest learning from 2016 was not to trust his direct reports implicitly. He cited the case of his CEO not living up to the values of the organization. “I think I sold my trust cheap. I have learnt now that my people must earn my trust,” he declared.
Team leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs often lament this situation. Almost everyone in the corporate sector has at least one story of misplaced trust. When I led a team, I too have felt let down, when some of my team members took me for “granted” and “misused” my trust. But over the years of learning from Life I have realized that trust is over-rated. And I have come to believe that if you feel let down by someone, it is because you have failed at setting, or establishing, the contours of the relationship.
Let me explain my point of view. If you think about it deeply, trust is nothing but an expectation that you place on someone. You are saying to yourself, without even expressing to the other person(s) explicitly, that because you are well-intentioned, compassionate and objective, you expect them too to be the same way to you. Since this expectation is often unexpressed, it remains within you. And when it is met or exceeded, you feel your trust has paid off. And when it is not met, you feel your trust has been betrayed. Now, where is the question of your trust coming up when you have not even stated your position, your expectation upfront? Which is why I feel that, in most contexts, this ‘betrayal of trust’ lament is a bogey. And which is also why, in any relationship, corporate or otherwise, work or personal, the contours must be drawn up clearly. What works, what does not, what excites you, what does not, what you expect and what is expected of you, it is better these aspects, and more, are spoken about clearly. Upfront. Not so much in a cookie-cutter, Standard Operating Procedure format. But as honest conversations. Then the relationship starts off on a clear note. As you can see, this is not about work-related relationships alone. Even between spouses and companions, among parents and children, among siblings and among neighbors, these conversations help in fostering harmony and avoiding heartburn.
Raising this argument to a spiritual plane, can you have such contours drawn up with Life? Can you claim to Life that since you are hardworking and ethical, you must be given a fair deal? Will your submission even be considered by Life which operates with a mind of its own? Yet, in this lifetime, is there a choice you have with trusting Life? You have to. Period! You have to accept that since you have been created you will be provided for and looked after. Your lamenting that your expectations from Life have been betrayed will cut no ice. Life will simply go on. So, then, when you can’t really do anything but accept Life’s ways, why are you getting so keyed up about the way people treat you?
Take a chill pill. Stop setting expectations on anyone. Instead, set the contours in any relationship upfront. Say how you like to live or work with people. If they respect your choices or invite you to visit common ground, fine. If not, move on and be happy without such people in your Life – whoever they may be!
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Keep trying, but stop pining and lamenting
Wanting to control Life is like trying to hold on to water in your fist. You never can.
I met a friend who said he was perhaps facing a mid-Life crisis. He had started off on his own some years back. Then, when that venture didn’t do well, he took up employment again. He had changed a few jobs in the last five years, he wasn’t earning enough money, his kids were growing up and he was clearly insecure about his future. He lamented, “I have this feeling that I am being led. I am no longer in control of my career and Life. I don’t think I will be able to put my kids through college at this rate.”
I explained to him that there is nothing called a mid-Life crisis. “You feel crisis-ridden because there’s a turmoil within you. Your wants are in conflict with your reality,” I said. My friend wants a more challenging and well-paying job. He wants to save money for his kids’ higher education. And the reality is that he is having a mediocre job, that pays him just so much that he can make ends meet. Which means the reality is that he is unable to save any money. His insecurity, his gripped-by-crisis-like feeling comes from his wants. His reality is perfect as it is. His wants are what are disturbing him. I said that the only way he could change his reality was to work on it instead of worrying about it.
This is so true for each of us in our own Life situations. Your current reality hardly troubles you. It is perfect as it is. Your wanting your reality to be different from what it is disturbs your inner peace. It is what causes your misery.
Actually, your upbringing and education make you believe that you are in control of your Life. To a large extent it just appears to be so. You study hard, you graduate, you get an employment, you start earning and saving. When this pattern of progression is uninterrupted, it soon becomes predictable and also makes you believe that you have caused and controlled your Life and career. But ask those who have seen a series of interruptions early on in their lives and they will tell you a different story. Someone’s been dyslexic or someone’s been orphaned or someone’s had an accident leading to a disruption in academics or someone’s just not found a job despite good grades! Ask these folks and they will tell you that nothing is really in our control – that we are merely being led by Life. So, there’s really no crisis and definitely no such thing as early-Life or mid-Life or late-Life crisis. There’s just Life happening in its own unique way for you – all the while. Whatever’s happening is your current reality. Period. As long as you are focused on that reality and acting from that point of view, you will be fine. The moment desire steps in, the moment you start wanting the reality to be different or start thinking of a future reality, misery will set it. You could feel anything – from anxiety to suffering – and all of them will be debilitating.
Accepting reality, accepting your Life for what is, does not mean inaction at all. I am not advising my friend to live with his mediocre, low-paying job forever. All I am telling him is this – please look for a better opportunity, but don’t pine for it. Keep trying, but please stop lamenting. Keep the focus on what you must do, just don’t concentrate on what you don’t have. Accept the Life that you have rather than trying to control it.
Life has been going on, is going on and will go on – no matter what! This is the truth. When you awaken to, and understand, this reality, you too will learn to be peaceful and to go with the flow of Life!
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Place your inner joy over profits, make your living experience a prayer!
When happiness is your ROI, you are living a Life that matters!
Yesterday a guest, who I was inviting to be on my Bliss Catchers show, wanted to know why I curate this Event Series.
I said it makes me happy. “I love doing it,” I added.
But he persisted and was keen to know what I got “out of it” – as in what is my material “return on investment” (ROI)?
I clarified that, to me and Vaani, just being happy was the single-most important criteria for doing anything. Happiness is the only ROI we look! Yes, money is important. We all need money. And we particularly need all the money that can come our way because we need to climb out of our financial situation – our bankruptcy – and turn debt-free. But when you can’t get money (as is evident from our experience), you can still do what you love doing for just the joy of doing it. So, we curate Events such as The Bliss Catchers , The Uncommon Leader and Heart of Matter – Happiness Conversations , I blog here daily and I deliver Talks even for organizations (NGOs and not-for-profit enterprises) that can’t afford to pay me a fee. Inspiring Happiness is now our raison d’etre, our Higher Purpose, for Vaani and me.
There are two parts to earning a living in Life as I have understood it. You can work for profits and you can work for joy. The ideal situation is when you can just work for joy. But you need to pay your bills, so the second most ideal situation is when you can work for both joy and profits – which is to make money while doing what you love doing. It is only when you forsake what you love, and go work only for profits, at the cost of your inner peace and joy, that you lose the plot. You suffer and feel miserable earning all the money that you do. So, for Vaani and me, when our business failed, we decided to retain our focus and only do what gave us joy. Therefore, even when we do not always get the opportunity to monetize what we do, we go ahead and do them, because doing them makes us very, very, in fact deliriously, happy!
I have realized that if you immerse yourself in what you love doing, you lose yourself to Life; then your entire living experience is a prayer! When you immerse yourself in what you enjoy doing then it ceases to be work. It becomes your Life. Then no loss or challenge can pin you down for too long. Then your energy, the one within you, resonates with the Universe’s energy. In that beautiful communion, an inner peace, a rare joy, takes over. And your entire Life becomes a celebration, a prayer, an offering to this Universe!
Please don’t say ‘yes’, when you really want to say ‘no’!
Happiness cannot be faked. You are either happy or unhappy – you cannot pretend to be happy without suffering deep within you!
A reader wrote to me asking what must people, who ‘have to put on a mask of being happy’, do to be really happy.
There is actually a related question here – why do you put on a mask? If you are unhappy, be so, tell the world you are unhappy. Why hide your unhappiness? When you hide how you are feeling, you are actually not enjoying yourself. Inside you, you are suffering, you are feeling miserable. So, faking happiness, trying to please people so that you make them feel good and important, when you feel like a piece of sh*t, is a huge disservice you are doing to yourself.
Being genuinely compassionate about another person, and working to enrich their Life, at the cost of what you want to do, is a different thing. There, an inner joy is driving you to serve someone. You want to do that. Faking happiness is a situation when you don’t want to do what you are doing, but you end up doing something imagining you don’t have a choice.
People who are caught in such situations think that ‘gritting their teeth and pleasing others’ is part of everyday living. I too have done that only to discover that each time I suffered a lot. Then I asked myself why I should be serving someone’s interests when I am suffering? So, over time, I have learnt to be very clear about my priorities. I will not do something just because someone wants me to be nice to them or please them, no matter who they are.
Let me clarify here that we are not talking about having to make short-term adjustments or accommodations so that we can help someone who deserves that space or our understanding. I am referring to situations where, because you were not clear about it upfront, that it was a short-term or a one-time accommodation, the other person starts taking you for granted. And each time the person demands your understanding, your time, your support – at the cost of your inner peace and happiness. That’s how you lose the plot, that’s how you start suffering within and put on the ‘mask of happiness’.
Let me tell you this – it is simply not worth doing anything in Life – even if it is pleasing someone – if you are not happy doing it. Also, let’s understand this better – pleasing someone is very different from being compassionate with someone. When you are pleasing someone, you are unnecessarily choosing to be a martyr. You are suffering within, feeling wounded and miserable. When you are compassionate, you are being human, you are not just offering to serve of your own will, you are actually offering yourself. There is great joy and there is oneness between you, the one you are serving and the Universe’s energy.
So, to answer the reader’s question, to be really happy, simply learn to say no when you have to say no. Please don’t say ‘yes’, when you really want to say ‘no’!