Life is molding us continuously to fulfill a larger cosmic design.
Many times in Life, you encounter situations when you feel you cannot go on. You think you would much rather die than undergo this ordeal called Life. You want to give up. When every door seems to shut on you, when darkness engulfs you, when you see no way out and you are in the throes of despair and fear, check your pulse. Listen to your heart beat. Hear yourself breathing. If you are alive, it means it is not over yet. Stop looking for external signals for hope and revival. Look within. Feel Life’s energy thriving in you. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” said Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th Century German philosopher and poet. Know that this is true. This is what Life is all about – indeed, there is a lot of Life after a crisis!
Life isn’t about winning or losing. It isn’t about acquiring and owning material assets. Life is an opportunity to experience uncertainty in each moment, it is an adventure. Don’t look for a pot of gold at the end of the journey. The journey itself is the reward. Every experience in Life teaches you something. Focus on the experience, focus on the learning from it, and don’t really bother too much about the result! If, at the end of the day, you have had a million experiences in your lifetime and have learnt from each of them, you are the biggest millionaire around! It is through the experiences that we are put through that Life keeps on molding us to fulfill a larger cosmic design, a Masterplan. And remember, Life’s Masterplan for each of us has no flaws!
So, when you are enduring a difficult phase, focus on the experience and what you can learn from it. Embrace the uncertainty, don’t hate it. Only when you do this will you see how perfectly you and your Life – the way you are, the way it is – fit into the Masterplan!
When everything falls apart, when you feel pushed to a corner, when you don’t know what to do, the best thing to do is to do nothing and let Life pilot you!
Recently someone who is going through a grueling time in Life called me. He described how he felt ‘check-mated’ from all quarters. He exclaimed: “I don’t know what to do.” I told him, “That’s fantastic. If you don’t know what to do, just surrender to Life. Go with the flow, let Life take over!”
I liken such situations to flying through turbulent weather. What do they tell you when you are flying in a plane? When there is turbulence, the pilot’s voice crackles over the p.a. system and tells you to just fasten your seat belts and sit tight. And you follow that instruction diligently. You don’t try to go take over the plane, do you? If you are nervous and fearful, you just immerse yourself in prayer or you surrender to your anxieties and insecurities, while hoping that the turbulence passes. So it must be in Life too. When there is turbulence, when you are passing through a dark, directionless, clueless phase, and you don’t know what to do, you must just let go and let Life pilot you!
I learnt this technique from Osho, the Master. Osho often talked about the philosophy that Rinzai, the Zen mystic, taught the world with his famous saying: “Sitting silently, doing nothing, and the grass grows by itself.” What I have understood is that we humans have this phenomenal urge to keep on doing something or the other. The whole endeavor appears to be to control Life. To treat it like our hand maiden. We strive to ensure that onlythe outcomes we desire happen for us. Now that’s not the way Life works. What you want never really happens all the time. So we get angry, frustrated, depressed and cynical about Life when things don’t go our way. That, as I have come to realize, is an immature response to Life. The truth is, Life was always in control. You – and I – were never controlling anything. You were only imagining that you were in the pilot’s seat. When the chips are down, when whatever you do doesn’t seem to work for you, when you are clueless about what’s next in your Life, when you don’t know what you must do, simply surrender to Life. When you do this of your own accord, through a deep acceptance of your current reality and your inability to find ways to resolve it, an awakening will happen within you. That awakening will help you to trust the larger cosmic design. It will lead you to understand that doing nothing and letting Life take over is an intelligent choice – especially when you don’t know what to do!
Keep enjoying and experiencing the journey of Life, learning from it, every step of the way.
This whole lifetime is, at one level, meaningless. There’s no success. And no failure. When you die, you take nothing, not even memories of your experiences. You may wonder what’s the point then in living – earning, creating, saving – when you can’t take anything or anyone with you when you die? But this is the truth. This is the way it is. None of us knows what’s after death. So, we can only ensure that we live this one Life that we have well. This means we treat everything that comes our way – sadness, joy, love, anger, fear, passion and peace – with respect, with acceptance and with gratitude.
In his immortal poem “The Guest House”, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century Persian poet says, receive both Life’s sorrows and joys with respect, greeting them at the door “laughing” and “invite them in”, for each has been sent as a “guide from beyond”. There’s only one reason that I believe there is to describe why we go through so many experiences in our Life – and that reason is to teach us to be humble. What education, success, fame and money do to us is that they all make us, even if subconsciously, arrogant. We start gloating over how well we have planned out lives, how much we are in control and how well we have crafted our own tiny worlds. And then, in one fell swoop, Life changes everything. It’s like a wave that comes and sweeps away a sandcastle that a child has built on the beach. For some of us, these waves come multiple times and with each blow, with each upheaval, we become more and more humble – and yet, we become more and more resilient!
That’s all there is to Life. Don’t cling on to anything. Neither your sorrows nor your joys. Take everything as it comes. If possible, during the time that you have here, on the planet, touch another Life, make a difference. That’s the only way to create meaning in an otherwise meaningless Life! Because, when it ends, when death comes, your lifetime will be a memory for those who knew you, and for you…it may, well, just mean nothing.
Unless we know we are worrying when we worry, we will never be able to quit worrying.
Yesterday a man reached out to me from Bengaluru. His problem is that he simply stares at the computer and worries. He claimed he had become unproductive at work and feels defeated. He has too many business challenges. And now his preoccupation with his business has begun to affect his relationship with his wife. He wanted to know how he could ‘get rid of his worries’.
The key to being liberated from worry is not to strive for a state when there is absence of worry. The key is to learn to be ‘non-worrying’ by being aware. Being aware requires only being. Just being. Nothing else. But there’s a perception that simply being is tough. No, it is not. Examine yourself. Most of the time you worry without even applying your mind. It is a mechanical affair going on in your head. What will happen to this? Or that? Will I get what I want? Will my child be happy? Will my spouse survive? What if something terrible happens and what I want done is not accomplished? It is an incessant chatter. A cacophony in your head. And one worry sparks off another and another. Often times, this becomes uncontrollable. And you seek remedy. Someone tells you to lean towards meditation. Someone else tells you to propitiate the Gods. Someone again tells you to meet an astrologer or soothsayer or a tantric. You try all that. But you come back frustrated. You are not getting the answers you want. You are seeking inner peace and a worry-free Life, but you are not getting there. Why? Because your mind refuses to listen to you.
Kabir, the 16th Century, weaver-poet, says this so beautifully in his couplet:
“Maala To Kar Mein Phire,
Jeebh Phire Mukh Mahin
Manua To Chahun Dish Phire,
Yeh To Simran Nahin”
The rosary rotating by the hand,
the tongue twisting in the mouth,
With the mind wandering everywhere, this isn’t meditation (counting the rosary, repeating mantras, If the mind is traveling – this is not meditation)
Control the mind, not the beads or the words.
That ability to control the mind will come only from your awareness. Awareness can be inspired in you by practising silence. Spend an hour being silent every day. Just being. Read a passage. Write your thoughts in your personal journal. Do whatever you want, but remain silent and refuse to attend to anything that calls for you to disengage from what you plan to do in that hour. Don’t sleep. Don’t speak. Your hour of silence can make you super-productive and aware during the remaining 23 hours in the day! So, it is good return on investment. This is the practice of ‘mouna’. It will not eradicate worry. Worry will arise, but your awareness will cut off that flow of thought. It will arrest the worry in its tracks. And help you come back to focusing on whatever you are doing in the moment. Practising ‘mouna’ or silence periods brings you to appreciate the power of now! Remember, there is precious little you can do about all what you worry about by simply worrying about them! You can either act on a situation and solve it, or act on a situation and if you fail to solve it, accept that outcome. Or you can just leave the situation to Life to sort things out over time. So, why worry? And then, worse, why worry about your worrying?
The bottomline: don’t worry about worrying. Focus on where that worry germinates, sprouts, takes root. Go to that point and stem the flow.
Don’t attach any importance to any thing or any individual. Because when they are gone, as is sure to happen some day, you will be miserable.
Yesterday, we attended a Cinema Rendezvous screening of the documentary ‘A Life in Metaphors’ made on noted film-maker Girish Kasaravalli. After the film was over, people were in conversation with Girish. He talked about how it is important for a film-maker to express through images how a character is feeling. And he said the feeling of being alienated by one’s own family or community or society was the most painful one to endure; it is intensely personal and, therefore, very difficult to portray on screen. Someone then asked Girish if not being appreciated on social media or not appearing in Page 3 coverage in papers was a sign or way of being alienated in our times and in urban society? Very deftly, Girish avoided answering the question. And spoke only about the feeling of alienation his protagonists’ have felt and depicted in his films. I think Girish made a significant point by not answering the question directly. Which is this: looking for social media acceptance or approval and recognition among the Page 3 community is a sign of shallowness, of lack of evolution and maturity.
Alienation that happens to an individual by an act of abuse or social excommunication is never controllable by the individual. So, maturity demands that you remain detached and don’t attach importance to what others do to you. Now, in urban society where social media and Page 3 culture have become necessary platforms for expression and visibility, the same principle of detachment must be practiced. Just as it does not matter what caste or creed you are – and so being excommunicated by a society that is stooping below the humane shouldn’t matter – it doesn’t matter whether you are ‘liked’ on social media or whether you are included or excluded in the Page 3 circuit.
There are two points to bear in mind to keep Life simple – first, what others think of you is of no significance to what you can do; and second, everything, including you, will perish over time, so stay detached and never grieve over losing anything. Surely, you cannot control or avoid being alienated but you can always choose not to feel sad for being alienated.
Celebrate being clueless and not knowing where your Life is going!
There may be times in Life when you will begin to question why you made the choices that you made. There may be anger and grief in you for what has happened. And there may even be guilt over what you have done that led to what has happened. As you wallow in self-pity and self-doubt, everything about your Life will appear listless, uninteresting and meaningless. You just begin to hate the Life you have and don’t know where to begin. Or how to snap out of such a state.
Relax. You are perfectly normal if you feel that way about your Life just now. It is only from feeling lost in Life can you find yourself, find focus and learn to appreciate the value of being happy despite your circumstances. I too have been there and felt exactly that way. So whatever I tell you now, I share from personal experience.
We must first understand that Life by itself has no meaning. You came with nothing. And you will go, when your time is up, with nothing. So all this drama of achieving, possessing, losing, reclaiming, all this is just a waste of an entire lifetime, really. But this doesn’t mean that there’s no point in living. Obviously a Higher, Intelligent (that’s certainly more intelligent that everyone around here) Energy has created you and given you the gift of this lifetime. Now if you are spending this lifetime brooding, grieving and feeling miserable, then you are clearly squandering this opportunity, this gift. Recognize that the opportunity to utilize the gift of this lifetime is with you. Nobody but you can live your Life for you. No matter who you are with, you have to act, you have to take charge, you have to get moving to create the Life that you will enjoy living. Simply, you must get down to work to bring meaning to your Life by doing all – and only – that which makes you happy.
Now, it’s quite possible that you are feeling lost in Life because you are where you are because of the choices you have made so far. It is always your past that creates your present. And it is your present that seeds the future. Since no one can undo the past, the only way you can move into the future is by living in the now. When you are clinging to the dead past, you are missing the now. Your brooding over what was is not going to change it for you. As you go along in Life you will discover that no experience is ever a waste – clearly, as Steve Jobs said, you can only connect the dots backward. So, let go of the past but learn from your past choices. Understand which of those choices made you happy. And which are the choices that you would never want to make again? Then ask yourself what is it that will make you happy? And begin to work in that direction. You must remember here that from where you are you may not be able to immediately transition to where you want to be. But unless you start making choices relating to your happiness, you will not move in the direction of where you want to be. Also know that sometimes the future you want to create for yourself may seem hopelessly distant. Or that you may struggle with getting started on the journey. This is when you must be patient and start learning to live in the now. Trust the process of Life. Things happen in their own time and at their own pace. Your job is to keep working on being happy celebrating and savoring each moment.
Knowing your ikigai helps here. Ikigai in Japanese means reason for being. But, colloquially, it also means what do you wake up for each morning? What gets you excited to get out of bed and going? Find your ikigai. And this takes some time and effort. So, you begin with a long list of things you like doing. And keep doing most of them. Soon you will realize that you love doing somethings more than the others. The list now gets shortened. And soon again you will discover that when doing a thing, or a couple of things, you just feel blissful. That then is your ikigai. Start focusing on it. Do it again, and again, and again. Become a master at your ikigai. When you become world-class and attain mastery at it, you not only are happy doing it, you are also profiting from your happiness because the world likes to pay a premium to engage with masters!
So, stop ruing the fact that you are lost. Instead celebrate being clueless. And get down to working on your Life. An exciting journey awaits you that will help you understand who you really are and what makes you really come alive and be happy.
Separate as a couple if you must, but stay together as parents.
I saw an interesting – and valid – observation made by Justice Kurian Joseph of the Supreme Court in today’s Hindu. He advises estranged couples to put their children first, ahead of even themselves, while working out divorce settlements. This way, he believes, the parents may be able to agree on all their differences and set up a workable, practical, compassionate, parental relationship with their children. I agree with this point of view completely.
Some years ago, this is what I advised a dear friend too. He has a drinking problem which had led him to being out of work. He was often fighting with his wife because she, naturally, hated him being drunk most of the time. One day the poor lady gave my friend an ultimatum that if he wanted to live with her, he must give up his habit. That very evening this friend invited me to a bar for a drink. Two pegs down, he said he was going to divorce his wife for “ruining his peace” and for “giving him an ultimatum”. I asked him if he had thought of his teenage daughter. And he replied he would fight for her custody in court. That’s when I held him a mirror and told him that if he loved his daughter, he must learn to respect his wife’s point of view too. Especially when she had a valid point. I dropped him home that night. To his credit, my friend sat down with his wife and worked out an arrangement where they started to live separately in the same apartment – but with no rancor between them, sharing parental responsibilities, splitting the bills and the chores between them. Their daughter has gone on to college now and the couple look forward to being more independent with their individual choices and outlooks in the years ahead.
I think this couple have implemented a very fair and workable arrangement. And this can be made to work in most cases if a couple can understand that a.) it is perfectly fine to fall out of love, just as they had once fallen in love (irrespective of whether it was before or after marriage!); or b.) it is okay to realize and concede that there was never any love lost between each other at all! The simplest way to clear up all the confusion over a soured or souring relationship is to ask yourself – would I want to (continue to) live with this person if there was so social stigma attached, if there were no financial claims involved and if there were no parental responsibilities towards the children? If you answer yes, then you are no longer relating to your partner in the relationship. Which means, the relationship is dead and you must separate. Now, when the decision to separate is made, think of the children and make them your first priority. Don’t think of social stigma or financial claims, they are surely less relevant that the children. And the way to look at your roles as parents is to be able to give your children the best of both parents and an environment of love and care. This can happen only when the parents are not fighting. So, stop fighting! Period.
Understandably the point when a couple come to separate is fraught with myriad differences. Of opinions, of attitudes, of claims and of just the way they are experiencing each other. It is also possible that while one partner may be willing to see the larger picture – involving the welfare of the children – the other may not. This is where a spiritual perspective comes in handy. If you consider the futility of any fight that saps all your energy and fills you with anger and negativity, you will want to clearly abandon it. A good fight, if at all, is when you don’t suffer while going through the process of fighting. There is a lot of endurance which is tested but you believe in the cause you are fighting for. Often most fights stop being worth it because they are not cause-led, they are ego-driven. Which is why they turn bitter. And divorce proceedings are no exception. However, when you bring in this understanding that you will first work for your children to get a compassionate environment, that allows both parental influences to thrive, you will see value in dropping all differences and moving on! Bottomline: it is totally unnecessary that divorcing couples fight with each other at the cost of their children. This is the way to go through a divorce without side-effects!
‘The Happiness Road’ is a Series on this Blog that appears on Sundays where I share my conversations with people while exploring their idea of happiness!
This Sunday I feature the very inspiring, reflective, Jayshree Raveendran of the Ability Foundation.
We are reconnecting with and meeting Jayshree Raveendran after 12 years. But we discover that she hasn’t changed at all. She, as always, exudes warmth and provides very sharp perspective – that makes you pause and think – on the work she leads at the Ability Foundation.
But the conversation that Vaani and I had with her one morning, earlier this month, was on a subject that made Jayshree very reflective. We spoke about happiness.
Listening to her speak, you can’t but marvel at how miraculous Life is, even as it is so inscrutable. Jayshree can’t hear. A childhood accident left her hearing impaired. But she can read your lips and responds with amazing diction and simplicity – she’s very articulate and very, very, inspiring.
As I laid out the context for our meeting and thanked her for her time, she responded: “We are complicating the word happiness. Nothing makes you happy or unhappy in the true sense. It is a feeling. For example, when faced with a tragedy, when you find the inner strength to cope with the situation, when you get up, dust yourself and move on, that feeling is happiness. And so, your view of happiness can be very different from another’s. What happens when you don’t move on with your Life? You slip into depression. So either you move on or you stay depressed. Happiness is the feeling when you move on and unhappiness is what you feel when you stay depressed.”
I never managed to ask Jayshree if she has read Osho. But her thoughts pretty much mirror what Osho has always said about Life – and happiness. There’s a poetic quality to her perspectives even as they are very direct and crystal clear. She says, for instance, that she does have those times when she tears up, when she feels lost and is in pain. The last five years have been particularly challenging for Jayshree. In 2011, she lost her mother who was, apart from being a remarkable human being, a “friend, philosopher and guide”. Then she lost her husband, another huge pillar of strength, in December 2013. There was obviously, she confesses, a lot of heartache: “The pain is intense. It is like somebody is cutting you up. So I feel happiness is so abstract. I can deal with happiness only as how I am feeling at a particular time. I have learnt that you must be happy when you are happy. And when you are unhappy, be unhappy. Don’t ever ask why? I believe a lot in karma and destiny. And if you treat everything as a prasad from God, then you can cope with any situation. But yes, when there is enormous pain inflicted on you by Life, it is difficult to be accepting of what Life is serving you. It is very difficult to see Life then as God’s prasad in such times.”
There’s something subliminal about being in conversation with Jayshree. You can sense the equanimity about her. And that perhaps comes from learning to live without something basic – that we all take for granted, our hearing – for all your Life. Just consider her inspiring perspective here: “It is okay if you can’t do somethings in Life. Some can hear. Some can’t hear. I have learnt to focus on what I can than focusing on what I can’t. This is what Life and living is all about. And the lifetime we have, in the larger cosmic design, is only the tip of the iceberg. Someday, I hope to be able to understand the meaning of Life…and death. Until then, I live by the twin principles my husband has taught me – don’t complain, don’t expect sympathy!”
These principles are what must have led Jayshree to take her seeking spirit and anchor it with the cause behind her Ability Foundation – an organization that works with specially-abled people. Growing up in Chennai, every time she visited the beach, she said she was always irked when she saw the tin roof of an organization – with the name ‘Madras Association of the Deaf’ emblazoned on the roof – in Santhome. She questioned why society was labeling people as disabled. Why a special place for the deaf, for the blind, for spastics? She argued that people with disabilities were people first – they needed understanding and opportunity, not reservation, not pity. So Ability Foundation was born in 1995; and has today evolved into an institution that is built to last. Jayshree serves us all a gentle reminder of the transient nature of Life when she says, “Every human being is temporarily able-bodied! Everyone, if you live long enough, will be disabled soon.”
How simple. How thought-provoking. As I internalized this awakening point of view, and we got into our Uber cab to ride back home, I replayed what Jayshree had to say as our conversation wound down: “Happiness is an understanding. It is what you feel when you know how you are feeling.”
Patience with Life is a key ingredient for inner peace.
We met a gentleman yesterday who has made a significant career shift. He’s moved out of Information Technology to pursue Art. He wanted a dispassionate, outside-in perspective on how he was doing ‘on the path’. We shared with him what we – Vaani and I – felt. I added one more point as we saw him off: “Don’t be in a hurry. Life happens in its own way, in its own time.”
I reflected on what I had to say for a long, long while after I had said it. Just 20 years ago, I was sounding so different – I was a champion of raw aggression and I believed that everything – and everyone – must be bulldozed if you must want your way. Well, there’s nothing wrong with that thinking or theory. To be sure, it works; for much of my youth it worked! But there will be times, as I have discovered in the past decade or so, when all your kicking, all your bulldozing, all your raving, ranting and your wanting, doesn’t yield results. Life’s doors don’t always open when you want them to – and definitely not the way you want them or expect them to open.
Yet, the magic and beauty of Life is that everything happens in its own time, at its own pace. And sometimes some things that you want may well not happen – however hard you try – because they are not meant to be!
Osho, the Master, defines patience as “the fragrance of trust”. Which is, if something is not happening when you want it to happen, the way you want it to happen, trust the process of Life. Just because you are going through self-doubt and are feeling hopeless over whatever you want to achieve, it doesn’t mean that Life is not at work. “Nothing’s working out” is a common lament you will hear coming from within you in such times. Ignore that sentiment. Let it arise and in due course it will fade away. You focus on trying the doors. The key is to keep at the doors without feeling frustrated, without giving up. Patience really means not giving up, but giving in – giving in to the way of Life; if this approach is not working out, try another route and another and another. And when nothing is working out – as Vaani and I have learnt from the already-8-year-long, enduring bankruptcy in our Life – keep trusting the process of Life.
Patience is not a quality that you must develop for others’ sake. Nurture it in you for yourself. It is only when you are patient with your own aspirations that you will feel peaceful within. If you don’t have inner peace, then the entire journey of Life becomes miserable, it becomes pointless.