It helps you to be unmoved when the wheel of Life inevitably turns.
The other day we bumped into a close friend of our family, Swami Suddhananda. We were meeting him after over a decade. So, I gave him a quick overview of our Life situation and presented him with a copy of my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal. Suddhananda held my Book in his hand and said, “Isn’t it beautiful how Life works? Without your bankruptcy, there will be no learning, no evolution, and without that, there would be no Book. So, everything in Life, every experience, is a way of making you better and better!”
Indeed. Through the experience of our bankruptcy and from being penniless in Life, I have learnt the value of finding my own center. I realized that I am not my bankruptcy; I just happen to be in a bankrupt state. This does not mean that I am poor just because I have no money. I reasoned that I am rich with my experience, with my expertise and with my learnings from Life. It just so happens, that for an extended period of time now, we have not had money. This clarity emerged in my mind when I understood the value of finding my center. I found my center thanks to a quote I read that is attributed to Swami Vivekananda (1863~1902): “Live in the midst of the battle of Life. Anyone can keep calm in a cave or when asleep. Stand in the whirl and madness of action and reach the center. If you have found the center, you cannot be moved.” Until I read this quote, I would be consumed by anxiety and worry, I would snap at every provocation and break down for the smallest of reasons. But Vivekananda inspired me. I took to the practice of mouna (observing daily silence periods). And through that practice, over a few months, I found my center.
In medieval culture, there’s the metaphor of the wheel of fortune, rota fortunae, which explains how 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; and 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. Per ancient Roman philosophy, the Goddess Fortuna, rotates the wheel which has the picture of a king on top and a picture of the same man as pauper at the bottom. 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. That center is also the focal point of faith, where you understand the value of trusting the process of Life, of its roller-coaster nature. Then you go beyond the ephemeral and the peripheral – money, power, position, relationships – and are drawn to understand what matters most and why.
If you are at the periphery of the wheel you will continuously be changing position. But if you choose to move to the center and learn be detached, if you choose to let go or reach the state of willingness to let go, you will be unmoved by everything and anything that happens to you. Whether you are up or down, whether you are gaining or losing, whether you are on a high or a low, nothing will matter. Because at the center, you are untouched, and, therefore, are unmoved.
Vaani and I still live in the throes of our very challenging financial condition. But I must report that we have learnt to be at the center of our Life’s wheel. And, let me add, it’s a blessing to be at the center. Living at the periphery always has this feeling of inherent insecurity – what if you are blown away? But living at the center means you know you will be provided for, taken care of, and will be given all that you need. Being at the center also means, therefore, keeping the faith.
So, if you are struggling with an imponderable – a health, money, career or relationship situation – try finding and moving to your center. That’s the only way you can soldier on in peace!
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.
It is your mandatory daily recharge, revive and repair time.
My daughter and I spoke over a WhatsApp call this morning. She shared notes with me from her grad school orientation program. As part of the schedule, she had an hour’s introduction to meditation as a concept and as a practice. I feel it is a fascinating idea to introduce meditation to young people. If you learn the art of stilling your mind, if you can be unmoved when standing in the middle of the whirl of Life, then you are living intelligently.
I remember as a young teenager, when I was studying in 10th grade at Nutan Vidyalaya in Gulbarga, Karnataka, my entire class went through an orientation program on Transcendental Meditation – a form of meditation propagated by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918~2008). I can’t remember now whether I liked my first experience of meditation or not, but what I do remember is that my mother admonished me for “embracing wayward practices” and, worse, she accused my school of “thrusting the occult” on students. I realize now how wrong and ill-informed my mother was (and surely still is).
Meditation is an absolute must to still the mind and anchor it. The mind thinks up 60,000 thoughts on an average daily. And the mind thrives only in the dead past or in the unborn, yet-to-arrive, future. Which is why we often are feeling angry, guilty or grieving about the past or we are feeling anxious, stressed out, worried or fearful about the future. Meditation is simply about mindfulness – about bringing your mind’s fullest attention to the now, to the present moment.
However, as I discovered through my own evolution, most forms of meditation insist that you first silence the environment around you. That didn’t work for me. Because I was then (for the past decade) and I am even now living in a state of total chaos. The daily pulls and pressures on me (and on Vaani) are intense. So, I could never find “that place” outside of me that was calm and quiet. Which is why I embraced mouna – or the practice of observing daily silence periods – the moment I found it. Mouna, I discovered, is like spirituality – it places no unreasonable demands on you. You just have to be silent for a full hour every day. Let whatever is happening around you happen – you be silent! And this practice has helped me immensely. I learnt not to respond to stimuli around me. I just remained silent – no matter what – for an hour daily. Over time, I trained my mind to be still and focused only on the present moment. This has taught me how to be fully aware only of what is. It has been a truly liberating, awakening experience.
Any form of meditation is sure to work when practiced with diligence and with full immersion. Please choose what works for you. But please don’t think it is about religion or about a God. It is about the godliness in you. It is your holy communion with the Higher Energy. Just like your mobile phone needs recharging to function, meditation is your way of recharging, reviving and repairing yourself, by connecting with the Universal source!
PS: You may like to look up other posts on this Blog where I talk about mouna and detail its practice and benefits.
Find your center, so you can be unmoved by the turns, tumbles and upheavals of Life.
Someone who listened to my Podcast on Monday asked me how I avoid identifying myself with my problem situation – my bankruptcy. “Don’t you feel deprived and incomplete living the way you are for the past decade,” he asked.
That’s an interesting question. My response is that, yes, there was a time, early on in the bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), when I felt there was a conspiracy to “pin me down” and “finish me off”. As long as I believed in this conspiracy theory I felt like a victim, I felt like I was hounded. I suffered. This was in the period 2003~2005.
But through daily reflection, in my mouna (silence) sessions, over the next three to four years, I realized that my suffering was self-inflicted. I understood that, undoubtedly, I had a huge problem to deal with. And I had to face it, I had to deal with it. There was no way it was going away merely because I wished it weren’t there. This quality of acceptance helped me to stop suffering. This is how I stopped feeling like a victim.
So, to be sure, our bankruptcy is where it is. There is a lot of pain, it is often intense, but we don’t suffer from it. We make our efforts to claw our way out of our situation but we remain non-frustrated when the results don’t simply add up. Important, we are non-judgmental about our efforts. Just as we are not bitter that things have not worked out for us.
Vaani and I have learnt that there is no conspiracy out there to fix any of us. Life is a cycle. What goes up comes down. And what’s down goes back up again. When we are down in the cycle, we may feel like Life is being unfair. But the way to avoid feeling like a victim is to find our center. As long as we are in the periphery of the cycle, we will be subjected to the up and down movements, to the turns, tumbles and upheavals. But if we are at the center, we will be unmoved.
Finding your center means understanding the true nature of Life. Which is essentially to celebrate its impermanence. Everything, absolutely everything, including Life itself is transient. Everything will change. Everyone will change. And everyone and everything will be taken away. Know that your suffering comes only because you cling on to people and things and expect them to be there forever. When you understand this irrefutable truth about Life, you will be free. You too will then stop identifying yourself with your problems – because you now know that they will, over time, go away. You will stop thinking that you are being victimized. This is how you too can learn to be happy despite your circumstances!
Life’s darn simple. Don’t complicate it with theories, methods and mantras.
I chanced upon a Facebook Live video yesterday. A gentleman made three points before I turned off the video:
- How much money you make in Life is directly proportional to your leadership (potential)
- If your leadership (potential) is low, you make less money; if your leadership (potential) is high, you make more money
- Your leadership (potential) is directly proportional to your karma
I turned off the video at this time because that’s not the way I see Life. Interestingly, however, if I were to go by the theory put out by the gentleman in the video, Vaani and I lack leadership, and that is why perhaps we don’t have any money! (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) Or perhaps it is that we lack leadership because of our karma. Interesting. Very interesting.
From what I have experienced, know and understand, Life is very, very simple. I feel people make Life unnecessarily complex by bringing in religion, karma, money and, now, as I see it, leadership! I wonder why?
The only definition of leadership that works for me is management thinker Noel Tichy’s. He says, “Leadership is the ability to see reality and mobilize the appropriate response.” Tichy defined leadership in a management context; to remind organizations and managers that anyone, irrespective of where they are in the hierarchy, can be a leader. I have always been captivated by the profundity of Tichy’s definition. It is so simple, so beautiful, and if you think about it, this definition is applicable to leadership in Life too. Consider these:
- The most important, evident, reality about Life is that it is a soon-to-expire, limited-period offer.
- And the most appropriate response is to live it fully, happily, doing what you love doing.
So, anyone who can internalize this definition of leadership, and live by it, is a great leader! Now, this is how Vaani and I have learnt to live our Life to the fullest – despite our circumstances. I believe we are facing Life stoically, looking it squarely in the eye! Yes, we don’t have money; but that does not make us lousy leaders. And, to be sure, there are so many, many, many people out there who face Life courageously, who live dangerously, without money. Clearly they are great leaders. I simply don’t understand how anyone’s fiscal circumstances can be used as a denominator to determine their ability to lead in Life.
The truth about our lives is that it is inscrutable. Period. Therefore, let us not try to make sense of it. Life happens through us. Not because of us. So, in some situations, if you can get what you want, if you can make money, celebrate that phase of your Life. But never imagine it happened only because of you. And when you don’t get what you want or get what you don’t want, when you can’t make money despite your best efforts (like what Vaani and I are faced with), celebrate that phase – with faith and patience – of your Life too. And don’t blame yourself for that phase. This is how Vaani and I are living our Life. We have learnt that no amount of religion, no rituals, no karma theory, no method, no mantra, can prevent you from going through what you are going through or what you have to face, and endure, in Life. You have to go through what’s in store for you in Life.
So, does prayer help, you may ask. And my answer is yes, prayer, helps not so much to resolve a problem situation immediately, but to help you cope with it. Faith in your creation – that if you have been created without your asking to be created, you will be looked after, cared for and provided for – and prayer are great coping devices. When I pray, I offer myself to Life as a student and ask for being handheld daily. I wrote this prayer some years back and use it to anchor myself in my mouna (silence period) sessions every day. It helps me renew, repair and revive myself daily. It helps me keep my faith.
That’s all there is to Life, I believe. Do what you can in any given context – that’s what true leadership is all about. Then, pray, let go, eat, sleep…repeat. All else, including money, always follows.