Even as my 100th Conversation comes up on Saturday, April 13th, I am marveling at the magic and beauty of Life.
- all of them have been non-commercial
- they represent the most consistent effort in Chennai to curate and host live, reflective, Conversations on Life and Happiness
- they have featured a whopping 164 guests in 4+ years and
- they have been curated and hosted through the darkest time of our Life – for Vaani and me!
To be sure, our 11-year-old bankruptcy endures; a phase that has often been marked by long spells of worklessness and pennilessness. Yet, each of these 100 Conversations has been therapeutic; each has helped us to learn, unlearn and share Life lessons.
So, as we host this 100th Conversation, Vaani and I are soaked in gratitude – we will remain eternally grateful to Life for this transformational experience; without the bankruptcy, we would not have understood that Happiness is really being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, we would not have set out to share this learning with our immediate circle of influence: through my Blog, my book ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’ and through our Conversation Series’.
Remember: you can’t fight Life. It is your fighting, your resisting what is, that is causing all your suffering.
A reader wrote to me after reading my Blogpost, ‘Why blame your God, who is a human invention anyway, for Life’s upheavals?’, a few days ago. His point: “Our culture, our religions, our elders, constantly remind us that if rituals are not performed, something terrible will happen to us. I practice all the rituals out of fear.” Another reader enquired on WhatApp: “How can we keep the faith when going through a grave time in Life? For instance, what is there to look forward to about when a loved one is dead, when you are struck by a terminal illness or when you have lost your job and are in the throes of worry and uncertainty?”
Both sets of questions are relevant and are open for exploration.
You see, we must understand the true nature of Life. It is what it is; no matter what you do, or don’t do, Life will happen to you the way it must and wants to. For instance, no ritual, no amount of piety, no prayer, can always get you what you want or always help you avoid what you don’t want. You have to go through what you have to go through in Life. So, doing a ritual out of fear or praying with an expectation that your wish must be granted are both sure ways of inviting misery into your Life.
This human form, your creation as a human, is a gift, is a blessing. You are squandering this gift if you are cowering in fear in every moment that you are alive. It is okay to be ritualistic if you are doing something without an expectation and are enjoying the process of doing it. But what is the point in doing anything when you are hating every moment of doing it, when you are deeply unhappy doing it, and are doing it only out of fear?
Similarly, why resist death or a debilitating health challenge or a job loss? Each of them is an event, a happening in Life, which has happened only because you could not control it. Think about it. If you could have controlled it, wouldn’t you have ensured that your loved ones did not die? Or that you were cured of your terminal health condition? Or that you did not lose your job? Clearly, contrary to what your conditioning – scientific, religious and social – has led you to believe, you do not control your Life. Just because you earn an income, and know that 2+2 adds up to 4, and are in good health, right now, it does not mean that you are controlling your Life. The truth is that if you are getting what you want then Life is willing it so – for now. There may be another time in Life when you may not get what you want, when things will not add up – no matter how hard you work or pray. So, simply be grateful for, and enjoy, what is. And when you get what you don’t want or don’t get what you want, again be grateful for, and accept, what is. Because fighting Life, resisting what is, will only make you miserable and unhappy.
What I am sharing here is what I have learned from Life, from Shirdi Sai Baba’s teaching. He has always championed that Faith and Patience are crucial to going through this journey called Life.
Here, Faith does not refer to an external God or to a religion or a prayer – Faith truly means trusting the process of Life. Trust, believe, keep the Faith that the Higher Energy that created you as a human, that has brought you to this point in Life, just as it has done all this while, will take you onward too, will take care of you, will provide for you and will look after you. Your not getting what you want, or your getting what you don’t want, does not ever mean that you will not be given what you need. At every stage in Life you will be given, you will get, exactly what you need. Believing in this truth is what Faith is all about. And you don’t have to look outside of you for evidence of this: haven’t you, all through the Life you have lived so far, at every stage, through every crisis of yours, always received whatever you needed? You know what your answer is, so please stop worrying, and keep the Faith. And until such time that your Life situation changes – and it eventually will, no matter what you are going through – to give you all that you want, be Patient. Remember: you can’t fight Life. It is your fighting, your resisting what is, that is causing all your suffering. So, accept what is, embrace your current reality, however dark it is, and move one step at a time, one day at a time, in Faith, with Patience.
To be sure, Vaani and I have been enduring our bankruptcy for almost 11 years now by staying anchored in Faith and Patience. Let me share here an anecdote, from some years ago, from a particularly numbing time in our Life. We had no money and our mobile phone connections were due to be disconnected the next day – for non-payment of the monthly bills. There was no money to buy groceries too and the next day was also Krishna Janmasthami – a time when Vaani would normally make special sweets and savories as part of the celebrations!
To have a change of scenery and to surrender in prayer, we decided to visit a young man, who is a messenger of Swami Sathya Sai Baba, through whom Swami speaks to seekers. When we reached this young man’s place, in Nungambakkam (in Chennai), a weekly Sai Bhajan was in progress. When the Bhajan got over, the young man met us.
He asked us, in English, “Swami wants to know if you have any questions for him?”
Vaani replied: “Please tell Swami that we don’t have money even for basics like paying our phone bills and for buying groceries…”
The young man cut Vaani short. He said, “Swami is asking, ‘Isn’t Faith basic…?’ If you have Faith…anything can happen!”
We didn’t have anything more to ask. What do you ask when you are the answer? As we went to sleep that night, both of us surrendered to the process of Life…I remember telling Vaani: “If this is what it is, we will live through it…”
The next day a friend called me, out of the blue, on his own. He knew our situation well and offered me Rs.5,000/- with which I managed to save our mobile phone connections and bought some groceries that were urgently needed. And that evening, another friend walked into our home, unannounced, with a hamper of Krishna Janmashtami bakhshanam (sweets and savories) – cheedai, appam and such. She told Vaani, “I was passing by and wanted to share with you what I had picked up for my family.”
How do you explain this?
Vaani and I have seen this happen to us, again, and again, and again. We have always got what we need; and at the right time. Nothing has ever come a moment early or a moment late. I talk about several such experiences in my Book ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’, in the documentary on us, ‘Rise In Love’, and here on this Blog. For both of us, Life has come to mean to live this learning – work hard, do whatever you must do in the given situation and then let go, trust Life and be patient. This is how we pray – eternally grateful for whatever we have and completely surrendering to the Higher Energy to take care of us, to look after us and to provide for us. And, believe me, it always has. Repeatedly, unfailingly.
This is how – and why – we are happy – being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering – despite our circumstances.
To appreciate the magic and beauty of Life, you need to be mindful.
Someone pinged me the other day and asked me if I know anyone who practises “hygge”. I replied saying while I don’t really know anyone who practises “hygge”, I do know of the concept. It is an integral part of Danish and Norwegian culture and philosophy.
“Hygge” (pronounced ‘hue-guh’) can mean anything from coziness to well-being. Some say the word originates from the word hug, which itself comes from the 1560s Norse word ‘hugga’ or ‘hugge’, which means ‘to embrace’. So “hygge” is about embracing your situation or circumstances and to live in the moment. But the best way to understand the concept is to appreciate it as a feeling – it is the ability to recognize and enjoy the present moment, in its fullness, without judging it, without resenting it, by just being, just celebrating the moment for what it is, as it is.
So, in essence, “hygge” is total mindfulness.
Vaani and I practise this all the time. To be sure, mindfulness didn’t come to me naturally. When we went out for walks together, Vaani would often notice and celebrate Life around us. She would hear a cuckoo even amidst the noise and bustle of a crowded street. Or she would point to a flower in a someone’s garden and reminisce about how her father had introduced the botanical species to her and her twin sister. Vaani has this innate ability to pause and, metaphorically, smell the roses. I never ever did that – until a decade ago. I obsessed instead over my to-do lists, my inbox stuff, my business, my targets, my worries and my insecurities. And then, despite all our years of toil to build our consulting Firm and all our valiant efforts to prevent its eventual downfall, we went bankrupt! That’s when I woke up – and awakened! I realized the folly of leading Life the way I was living it. The bankruptcy, which we are still enduring – for over a decade now – has changed my Life completely. Most importantly, it has taught me why being in the moment and celebrating it is very valuable.
I recall an anecdote here, from the early days of our bankruptcy, that I have also shared in my Book, ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’. It forms the opening of the first chapter – Of Living In the Moment – in the Book.
On the morning of March 17th, 2008, I woke up to realize that we had just ₹1000 with us. This was all the money we had left as a family. No assets, no savings in the bank, nothing. Just ₹1000. We were bankrupt as a Firm and insolvent as a family. Survival seemed impossible. Yet, Vaani gave me ₹500 of the cash left with us as I pulled on my jacket to leave for Mumbai at 4 AM to meet a potential client.
The client, a well-meaning and professional CEO, had arranged for my tickets, though he need not have. As I boarded the flight to Mumbai and fastened my seat belt, I was informed by the flight attendant that I had been upgraded to Business Class – perks of being the frequent-flier that I was, until business slowed down! The irony hit me hard as we got airborne. 50% of our net worth as a family was sitting in my wallet. The remaining 50 % was with Vaani! And I was sure, at that moment, that Vaani would have been as nervous as I was about the fate of the client meeting. The only reason I clung on to hope was, as I asked myself – why would a client fly me out, at his cost, if he was not serious about the engagement? Yet, even as my mind raced to worry, I tried to hold it still to attend to the beautiful morning sky. It was a magnificent sunrise over Chennai that day, one of the most humbling sights you can be blessed with if you have a East-facing window seat when the flight takes off. It made me realize how small I was – and how insignificant my problems were – on the scale of the grand, cosmic, design that powers the Universe. I drank in the beauty of that sunrise – a feeling that is still fresh inside me. In some time, my worries dissolved and I had become peaceful. It was in that equanimous frame of mind that I arrived in Mumbai…(To know what happened next and how the client meeting went, please read my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal.)
That feeling of equanimity I experienced on the flight, despite all my worries, fears and my challenged circumstances, that feeling is “hygge” – and it comes from mindfulness!
This is what I have learnt from Life. I have learnt that Life happens to us at its own pace, of its own accord and design, despite our best intentions, plans and efforts. So, it is always what it is. And what will be, will be. You can’t solve your problems overnight. So, don’t postpone happiness. Postpone worrying instead. And embrace the moment. Learn to live with what it is. Through my daily practice of mouna – silence periods – I have trained my mind to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. This, Vaani and I know, from our own experience, is the secret of being happy despite the circumstances.
Now, you may wonder, how can you embrace a moment that you dislike; one that you never invited into your Life, but which has arrived? This is why being non-judgmental is critical to practise mindfulness. Think about it. What is the point in resenting what is – what has already happened, what has already arrived? It is only your resenting that causes all your suffering. Instead, accept your Life for what it is. No matter how hopeless a situation may be, how dark the road ahead may be, each day brings with it a fresh flavor of magic, beauty, hope and positivity. But to appreciate this beauty of Life, you need to be mindful.
As I see it, mindfulness is the ability to drink in each moment, without judging it, without questioning it, without hating it but simply savor it for what it is. No one could have said this better than Rumi: “Be aware of the pure wine being poured, don’t complain that you have been given a dirty cup!” This is what “hygge”, as a concept, reminds us to do – in every living moment of ours!
No one can win fighting against Life.
A young man we had coached a few years ago pinged us saying he was in town and wanted to meet us. We caught up for coffee.
When he first met us in 2012 he had an alcohol problem, his wife had left him and he was out of job. He looked every bit the way he was feeling then – beaten by Life – and he was low on both confidence and self-esteem. But when we met him last week he was looking very different – he was glowing, it appeared as if he had grown younger and, important, he radiated happiness.
As we got our coffees, he said, “I am still struggling to land a job. I still have not found a companion. But I have stopped drinking, I have stopped pitying myself or blaming others. I have made peace with my imperfect Life. I have learnt to be happy despite whatever is happening in my Life!”
This young man has unlocked Life’s secret to happiness. He’s discovered that Life can be spectacular even during a crisis. In the Life coaching conversations we had had with him, six years ago, we had shared our learnings, from our own crisis (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). We told him that he must not fight Life; he can’t hope to win fighting against Life. No one can. So, acceptance is the key. Accept your current reality, go to work on changing it, but work without any expectations. Only then can you be really, truly happy.
Vaani and I have seen this from our own experience. Of course, like everyone else, we too began by setting conditions on our Life. We said that we will be happy if we get this or that, if our problems are solved or if we get all that we want. But we soon realized that Life has a mind of is own. It just keeps on happening – in its own inscrutable way. So, we reckoned, as long as you keep insisting that Life listens to you and gives you all that you want, you will be unhappy. We looked around us and found that it is in this state that some people feel depressed or some lean on crutches like drugs or cigarettes or alcohol. And others turn angry and violent. But Life is not bothered about how you are feeling or what you are doing to yourself. So, in effect, you are fighting alone and are fighting a battle that you will never win. So, we concluded, why fight? We simply accepted our Life for the way it is and surrendered to its Masterplan. To be sure, our problems have not vanished. But our ability to deal with them has improved greatly. Important, we have learnt to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering.
We have learnt that all of Life’s problems fall under two categories. One category is those that you can solve with your intelligence and initiative. So, why worry or fight those problems? But there are other problems that will solve only in their own space and time – no matter how hard you wish, work or pray. So, why worry or fight those problems again? Just accept them for the way they are. Acceptance is the key to happiness. Acceptance does not mean inaction. Acceptance means dropping a wasteful fight. It means trusting the process of Life.
Our young friend, like Vaani and me, has understood this truth about Life. And that’s why he’s glowing, he looks younger, he’s quit a ruinous habit and he’s happy despite his circumstances. You may want to consider this perspective we share here – simply accept your Life for what it is, no matter what you are going through. Then, you too will discover that Life can be spectacular through a crisis!