You cannot rewind Life

If you want to understand the value of Life, spend an hour outside the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a hospital. You will get it!
My father-in-law went into ICU a couple of days ago. Standing outside the ICU, waiting for our turn to visit him, my thoughts went to the other families who, like us, had gathered there to visit their dear ones. Everyone was prayerful, hopeful, worried and anxious – all at the same time. Once inside, when I saw my father-in-law, I once again realized how Life, over time, changes everything – and everyone. My father-in-law is the simplest soul you will find on the planet. A scholar, a teacher, an embodiment of ethics and discipline, a nature lover and a rock climber in his younger days. He had been “fit as a fiddle” (as he would often joke) until just a few years back. But yesterday, he was looking so frail and completely at the mercy of Life – he had suffered a mild stroke that has impaired his speech totally; so he was struggling to even communicate with us. When I came out of the ICU, I couldn’t miss the significance of my realization: “The human body cannot go on forever. Whoever you are, you will be physically felled one day. So, the best way to live is to live each day fully and humbly, doing what you believe in and while being compassionate to everyone around you.” My father-in-law has lived Life this way for all of his 84 years.
Most of us, unfortunately, miss this learning and so, fail to awaken to this realization. We go on wanting to control our lives and those of others around us. We are so full of ourselves – our opinions, our successes and our wants. Earlier this past week, I had a participant at a change-management workshop I was leading who was constantly disrupting the proceedings trying to flaunt her opinions and knowledge. She was continuously choosing to differ with my choice of words or with the examples I was using to explain concepts and ideas. For instance, when I was explaining Purpose (of creation) in the context of people and organizations, she kept arguing that the word ‘calling’ was better suited for individuals. “People have a calling, organizations have a Purpose,” she insisted. I told her that she had a point but since Purpose was universally accepted and chosen as a more powerful and “deeper” word to explain “reason for creation/existence – raison d’etre), we will stay with it. But the lady kept on harping on her point. Finally, in an attempt to invite the lady to have an “open” mind, I had to demonstrate the famous “tea cup” story from Zen Buddhism. Nan-in, a Japanese Master during the Meiji era (1868 ~ 1912), received a university professor who came to “learn” more about Zen – “I want to educate myself. I want to know more about this philosophy. Teach me what it is all about as quickly as you can, so that I can go back and demonstrate my new-found knowledge to all those who look up to me.” Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept on pouring the tea. The professor watched the cup overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “The cup, dear Master, is overfull. No more tea will go in!” Nan-in smiled. “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions. How can I teach you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Most of us are like the lady at my workshop and the professor in Nan-in’s story. The lady and the professor represent how full we can sometimes be; how our view of our inflated self-worth blinds us and how we fail to understand that be pompous about anything – wealth, health, knowledge, relationships, the body – is so much in vain. Ultimately, this most powerful vehicle that makes our human existence experience a lifetime – the body – will be felled with wear and tear. And without the vehicle being able, our journey here, on the planet, begins to sputter.
Some day soon, each of us will have to realize that Life is a limited period offer. That you cannot undo what you have done. You cannot go back to relive your Life. That you cannot rewind Life. So, if you really can’t control the withering away of your body, if you cannot control the progress of Life from birth to death, why are you imagining that you are in control? Why kid yourself that you call the shots in your Life? Why this ego, why this vanity, why this high-drama that you are superior to the others around you?

I walked back home from the hospital last evening deep in thought. I realized, yet again, that we did not ever control anything, we control nothing and can never hope to control anything in the future either. Everything that is, everything that we vainly believe is ours, will soon be felled, will wither away and will end – including this body and this lifetime. The only time you and I have to live is now. Live each moment, therefore, fully and happily. For the Life and the moment that has once been lived can never be rewound! 

Carry your Zen every minute

Whenever you are completely aware of whatever is happening to you, you are on the road to self-realization, to inner peace. Your awareness need not be only about what you are doing – cooking, walking, breathing, washing, whatever – it is also about how you are feeling – be it pain, sorrow, anger, jealousy or anxiety. Just be fully aware. When you are aware, and immerse yourself in that awareness, you will feel peaceful.
This may sound paradoxical. How can anyone be peaceful while in pain for instance? Or when in grief? Or when angry? Indeed, as long are you have not realized your true self, chances are you will associate your present human form with your circumstances. So, when your body  has a back pain, you think that you are in pain. When the human form of someone whom you loved is dead, you think you have lost that someone. So you grieve. When you are angry, you see the person at whom the anger is directed as different, as separate from you, hence the anger. But awareness changes everything. You understand the true nature of creation. You realize that you are not what you think you are. You are not this human body. You are not your car, your job, your designation, your bank balance, your relationship, your social position. The real you is detached. Is indestructible. The real you cannot be touched by any worldly event or sentiment. When this awareness dawns upon you, it leads you to peace.
Awareness is not an abstract concept. It simply requires diligent practice and training of the mind. What is otherwise called spirituality – the flowering of inner awareness!  The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hahn (lovingly called Thay by his followers) recommends developing awareness even in our busy lives. He does not advocate any special hour for this practice or training. He simply says – Focus wholesomely on your everyday tasks without getting distracted. Be mindful.
Thay says mindfulness is the way to peace. He often shares a Zen story to illustrate this point. Zen students are with their Masters for at least ten years before they are certified to teach others. Nan-in, a great Zen Master, was visited by Tenno, who, having passed his apprenticeship in record time, had just become a teacher. The day happened to be rainy, so Tenno wore wooden clogs and carried an umbrella. After greeting him, Nan-in remarked: “I suppose you left your wooden clogs by the door, outside. I want to know if your umbrella is on the right or left side of the clogs.” Tenno, caught unawares and confused, had no instant answer. He realized he was unable to carry his Zen every minute. He became Nan-in’s pupil, and studied six more years to accomplish his every-minute Zen.
So, be mindful when having your morning cup of tea – take in its aroma and let the flavor impregnate every pore of your body. Be mindful when walking – take each step with awareness and love. Be mindful while in the shower – feel the water soothe your body and lift your spirits. Be mindful while crossing the road or while being in business meetings. The key is to not let your mind wander. To be sure, the mind will resist. It will want to slip back into a painful past event or rush into the future with worry. Every time you sense that the mind is not mindful in the moment, call it back to focus on whatever you are doing. Over time, the mind will be trained not to go astray.
Each step, each moment lived mindfully is one lived in peace and joy! Through consistently living this way, through carrying your Zen every minute, become the bliss that you seek!

Immerse yourself in whatever you do to find bliss!

When you do something from your inner core, for yourself, for your joy, you don’t have to work at all! Then work become a prayer, an offering of yourself to the Universe. Then what you do always delivers bliss unto you!

Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan: Abhimaan
Last night I was watching Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1973 classic ‘Abhimaan’ starring Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan. Both play singers and in the early stages of their romance Uma (Jaya) asks Subir (Amitabh) about his singing. He says he sings for a living. She is quite startled with that answer and says: “So, you don’t sing for your own joy? My dad who is also my guru always says true music is created only when it comes from your inner joy!”

(Here’s a brilliant song from the film:! Enjoy!)

So it is. Only what you do for yourself, and that which arises from within you, from your inner core, leads you to bliss.

This is not the same as concentration. When you concentrate you are still employing a thought of getting something done. When you are simply doing, without employing any thought, but are becoming one with the doing, with the action, then work becomes worship and you experience bliss.

One of the Emperors of Japan had gone to see a great Zen Master, Nanin. He asked Nanin, ”What have you learned that makes you a great Master, known all over the country?”

Nanin said, ”Very simple: when I chop wood, I simply chop wood; and when I carry the water from the well, I simply carry the water from the well.”

The Emperor said, ”I had come to listen to something spiritual. What nonsense are you talking? Chopping wood, you simply chop wood? Everybody does it; what is special in it? Carrying water from the well, you carry the water from the well? I have come a long distance, and I am your country’s Emperor. You should at least give me some spiritual advice.”

Nan-in said, ”That was my spiritual advice, and I want to make it clear to you that everybody is not doing that. It took me years to chop wood without any thoughts: to just be there, chopping.” And it is tremendously beautiful: the sound in the valley, the chips of the wood flying all over, the wind blowing through the trees, their song, their music. And I am utterly silent, just chopping wood. Carrying water from the well is the same. ”My whole day is the same. I have given you, in short, my basic approach of Life. Be where you are. Don’t let mind go away.”

This is the key. Not letting the mind to get dragged away in different directions. The human mind, on an average, thinks 60,000 thoughts daily. None of those thoughts often, on most days, pertain to what you are doing. Many of them are focused on the past__on remorse, guilt, anger, grief__and many, many more are steeped in worry, anxiety and fear of a future that is yet to arrive. This happens all the time. When you are drinking your morning coffee, when you are driving to work, when you are in meetings or even when you are talking to someone on the phone. Which is why most days have become dull, drab, monotonous, listless and boring! Which is why bliss seems so unattainable. Why, even happiness plays truant and you imagine you have to pursue it to find it!

Make a simple shift this Sunday. Choose one activity. Maybe it is reading. Maybe it is spring cleaning your home. Or maybe it is gardening. Immerse yourself in it like Nanin says, being silent, and simply doing that one thing. Don’t focus on getting it done. Just do it! Do it for 15 minutes. If you like it, extend it for another 15 minutes. Examine how you feel after this immersion session. That inexplicable feeling of peace, calm and happiness, is called bliss.

Live a blissful Sunday today!


Empty Yourself of You – All the Time!

Only when you empty yourself of your ego will you understand the essence of intelligent living!

Unknown to us we__you, me, everyone__carry a rather unnecessary sense of self-importance than we normally should or even need. Self-importance is different from self-respect or self-esteem. Self-importance means you think your Life is being controlled by you! The more self-importance you perceive of yourself, the lesser you will be closer to realizing your true Self and the angrier you will be with Life and with people around you!

Several years ago, things were going horribly wrong for me at work. My team was playing truant. People were quitting. They were sharing information with competitors. And there was a whole deal of negative energy flying around. The final nail in the coffin was when one member of my team, an office assistant, filed a police compliant against me for non-payment of a statutory due. It was an ignominious moment. We had, as a Firm, picked up that kid literally from the street. We had supported his education helping him acquire a degree in Commerce and an MBA in Marketing through distant learning programs. I was heart-broken when he did what he did. For one there was no truth in his complaint. Second, HE had done that to ME! Over a drink, I shared my grief with a very dear friend, whom I will call Guruji!

“You know how much I have done for this boy,” I lamented. And continued: “I have helped him financially when his mother was in hospital and later when she died. I have bought him clothes every quarter. I have paid for his exam fees and his tuitions. I have enrolled him to a computer training Program and helped him become tech savvy. And he still did this to me?”

Guruji smiled back at me calmly and asked, “Are you finished with your tale of woe, AVIS?”

“Are you finding something funny with my plight,” I shot back, quizzically.

“Indeed. I find it funny that you think your team is the problem. To me you are the problem!”, said Guruji, in a tone which was both peaceful and rude-sounding to me!

“What are you saying? I have been a good employer. I have led with care and compassion. I have uplifted the lot of my team. I have provided them with rewards, recognition and opportunity. And you say I am the problem?” I roared.

“Just count the number of times you have used ‘I’ in this conversation AVIS. You are so full of yourself. Empty yourself of the ‘I’ in you. Be humble and you will grow and glow!” said Guruji.

It was like a ton of bricks had fallen on me. I was devastated. But over several days and weeks of introspection and rumination I understood what Guruji meant. This old Zen story, which he sent me on the mail, further helped me.

A Cup of Tea 

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Having understood the essence of and discovered the power of intelligent living, I went on to empty my cup. But the interesting thing is, when you empty it, doesn’t stay empty. You have to keep on emptying it. It is a continuous process.

Each time someone slights you, each time someone rubs you the wrong way, you mind will tell you “How dare he or she?”. Immediately, remember Guruji, remember Nan-in and empty your cup. When things are not going according to your plan, and you are getting angry, irritable, disturbed and your inner peace is destroyed, empty your cup.

The more you stay empty, the more grace it will attract. Because Life can only fill an empty cup with abundance. How can a cup that is full attract any grace or abundance?

The simplest way to live is to know that your cup must be empty and to remember that Life goes on, in spite of you and not because of you!