Be eternally grateful for what you have.
Someone I met yesterday asked me this question: “What is the simplest way to be in peace?”
And the simplest answer is this: be eternally grateful for what you have.
But an elaborate answer requires that we examine why we are not able to practice gratitude daily, consistently. The fundamental problem is that our minds are not nurtured by us. We almost continuously keep hurting ourselves by thinking negative thoughts, by pining for what isn’t there, by worrying. We are all badly bruised, battered in fact, within us. When you are injured within, you must first heal yourself for you to see the value in being grateful.
See, it is like this. When we injure ourselves physically, say with a nick while shaving or a cut while chopping vegetables, the body heals itself. If there is a deeper injury, with some care, we are back on the road. The truth is when the body is affected, it receives attention. The truth also is we injure our minds all the time but we don’t give it the care it needs to heal. Every angry thought, every remorseful thought, in fact every thought that is not centered around love, peace and gratitude, is injurious. Now, ask yourself, how many such thoughts on love, peace and gratitude, do you think out of the 60,000 thoughts that occur to you each day? Unlikely that we even think loving, peaceful, grateful thoughts for weeks on end!! Consider therefore how battered the mind must be and how much healing needs to happen for it to be ‘normal’ again. Unless we heal from within we cannot feel grateful.
‘Mouna’, the practice of silence periods daily, is the best way to heal our minds, to help it anchor in faith and patience. The 13th Century Persian poet Rumi couldn’t have said it better: “In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”
Stop weaving here means to stop worrying, to stop wanting to control your Life, to stop the continuous chatter in your head; it means to pause and reflect. When you are this way, you can only be grateful, you can only be peaceful. So, to be peaceful, stop battering your mind; heal it by anchoring in silence, love and gratitude!
Is it even possible – this intelligent living business?
A young man walked up to me after one of my workshops recently and asked, “Is spirituality the key to living intelligently?” He confessed that he did certainly see value in embracing the spiritual path but felt that he was unable to stay on it. “How does one motivate oneself to stay focused – consistently,” he enquired.
Let’s understand spirituality first. It is not to be confused with religion. Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. It is an awakening, a realization that everything is transient, impermanent, including your Life. When you realize that Life is a limited-period offer, you are gripped by this sense of urgency to want to live a full Life, instead of squandering it in merely existing. Embracing the spiritual path is intelligent living.
Interestingly, spirituality demands nothing from you. It just invites you to be – living with what is, living with the way your Life is, living being happy despite your circumstances. So, at a conceptual level, everyone appreciates the spiritual path. But they struggle with everyday living issues. How can you break-free when worry holds you hostage? How can you overcome fear, insecurity, anxiety and stress? What do you do when Life socks you, numbs you with a crisis? How do you stay calm in the face of a storm? Is it even possible – this intelligent living business?
This is where training the mind comes in. The human mind thinks up 60,000 thoughts a day. And it behaves pretty much like a dog. If it is trained, it obeys the master – which is you. If it is untrained, it runs amuck, it pulls at the leash and it leads the master. You can train your mind by practicing meditation. I employ a simple ritual – mouna – which involves being silent for spells of time daily. With mouna I have been able to organize and direct my 60,000 thoughts daily. I no longer allow my mind to lead me astray or hold me to ransom with debilitating emotions. My 60,000 thoughts are invested in staying immersed in the moment. To be sure, like you, I too have a zillion problems that I am dealing with. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) But in the throes of my challenging Life situation, I am calm. As they say, in the center of a storm, there is always calm. I have found my center – I have learnt to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. So, I now am truly happy despite my circumstances.
As I told the young man at my workshop, you too can learn this art. You can stay on the path too. You just have to learn to train and tame your mind. It requires effort, diligence and discipline. Most people are unable to embrace spirituality – and intelligent living – because they don’t want to invest in this process of training the mind.
The spiritual path is free. It is not complicated. It is not rocket science. And it is available to all. There are no tolls to be paid on this path. You just have to make an important choice – which is to stop being enslaved by your mind, and instead be the master yourself. Herein lies the secret to intelligent living, to happiness and inner peace.
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.