Be mindful: have a ‘serene encounter with reality’!

Whatever you do, do it with total immersion. Enjoy the process of doing what you are doing. That’s called mindfulness. And that’s the key to inner peace.
Doing the dishes, to me, is a meditative practice
Yesterday my daughter, a psychology graduate, caught me dusting a thin layer of dust on top of a cupboard in our kitchen. She quipped, “Dad, cleaning around the house makes you happy, doesn’t it?” I smiled at her. And confessed that indeed it does make me happy. In fact, to me, house-keeping, is a meditative practice. It is not a chore. Yes, it does become a challenge when you have to juggle with your other schedules and have to try and fit in quality time for house-keeping. But I have realized that I am very mindful when I am cleaning up around the house. I go about it calmly, methodically and, however physically strenuous it may get at times, I enjoy the process. I love doing the dishes or cleaning surfaces, I invest time to get the toilets to be squeaky clean and generally love the idea of having a dust-free home environment – something that’s so difficult in Indian conditions and so requires being at it continuously, consistently!
I have discovered that when you are mindful of whatever it is that you are doing there’s great inner peace and joy. And no work or task is menial or burdensome as long as you don’t treat it as a chore. In fact, immersion really means being completely involved in, engaged in, and mindful of whatever it is that you are doing. Of course, it is possible that you may not always like to do some things. But when you don’t have a choice – and you have to also do what you dislike doing – if you choose to be mindful, you will get through that task or activity even more efficiently than when you are resisting it.
The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, a.k.a Thay, says it so beautifully: “In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.” The essence of what he has to say is contained in the last phrase – ‘it is a serene encounter with reality’. Most of the time, almost all of us, resist our reality. We don’t like what we are going through. Or we dislike what we have to do. Or we are so engrossed in dealing with our ‘extended’ realities that we miss the magic and beauty of everyday living. Thay recommends that we must awaken to the reality in each moment. And not just to be stuck with our ‘extended’ reality. For instance, if you keep worrying about your fourth stage cancer and the fact that you will soon die, how will you enjoy a sunrise? So, in this context, your cancer is your ‘extended’ reality. But the more immediate one is the sunrise. Enjoy it, says Thay, because soon it – the moment bearing the sunrise – will be gone. Meditation is really what the art of living is all about – the ability to value each moment, cherish it, be joyful in it and move on to the next moment with undiluted enthusiasm. How can you enjoy a moment when it is painful, you may wonder? What if someone is dead? What if someone’s betrayed you? How will you cope with a moment when you are wishing it away? That’s why Thay prescribes a ‘serene encounter with reality’ – he says, don’t resist, don’t fight, instead accept, what is. Accepting what is, is the best way to gain inner peace. When you accept your reality, you begin to experience joy in the moment.
The human mind is like the human body. It can be trained. I have trained my mind by practicing both silence periods (mouna) and mindfulness – immersing myself in what I do. Over time, I have learnt to banish worry (despite the daunting circumstances my family and I are faced with owing to our grave financial state) and just be in the moment. Often time, cleaning around my house gives me that sense of equanimity. Through my own experience I know that if you immerse yourself in whatever you do, enjoying the process of doing it, being always mindful, you too can be happy, despite the circumstances!

Acceptance means not resisting Life

Make Life simple. Do not question what’s happening to you. Don’t fret or gloat over anything. Just live with complete awareness and in total acceptance.
Imagine something grave has happened to you. Maybe someone you know died. Now, it is normal for you to be in pain, agony and also in mourning. But how long are you going to live being dead every breathing moment? On the other hand if you accepted that death will follow birth, as it has done ever since creation happened, you may miss the person, but your grief will cease. Replace death with any other context and do the same thing. Someone’s nasty to you, accept it. You lost your job, accept it. You don’t get business because the markets are in the grip of a recession, accept it again! Acceptance does not mean inaction. It doesn’t mean you should not strive to make things better again. You should. You must. Acceptance means choosing not to resist whatever is happening to you at any given time.
Acceptance replaces grief with bliss while still not solving the problem you may be confronted with immediately. Problems will go away exactly the same way they have come. They are a product of your time. But bliss is not dependent on what you are going through. It is a state that you are already in; you don’t feel it because you have complicated your Life by resisting Life! Simplify Life by accepting it for what it is

With acceptance there can only be inner peace and happiness

No one can make you unhappy or disturb your inner peace unless you allow them to!    
We often end up blaming others for the way we feel about the situations we are in. For instance, you order a coffee at a café and it arrives lukewarm. You tell the waiter to replace the coffee. He refuses. And you get angry. Till you arrived at the café and ordered that coffee you were in fine spirits. But that experience leaves you fuming. A friend who sees you stomping out of the café seeks to know the reason for your lousy mood. And you blame the café and the waiter. Now, while they may have served you bad coffee, the truth is you served yourself the lousy mood. Think about it – did the coffee or the waiter cause your unhappiness and anger or was it your expectation that the coffee be hot and the waiter be polite that caused you to lose your cool? The coffee arrived the way it did. The waiter behaved the way he did. You had an expectation that was different from reality. And so you were upset. In all situations in Life, if you choose to remain unruffled, no one can make you upset or angry, and no one can make you unhappy.
Happiness is always accepting, and loving, what is. In the example above, happiness meant accepting the coffee the way it came and accepting the waiter for the idiot that he is. This does not mean that you should not object to the poor service. Of course you can and you must. But don’t lose your equilibrium, your sense of happiness and inner peace, over someone else’s behavior. In fact, on a daily basis you can use the hundreds of provocations that Life throws at you, to train yourself to accept what is, the way it is and to be peaceful and happy. Someone cutting across the road as you drive, an irksome fellow passenger on a plane, a nasty auto-rickshaw or taxi driver, a shopper who elbows past you at the check-out late in a store, your rebellious teenager at home – each of these interactions offers you an opportunity to learn to be happy despite the circumstance, despite the provocation. Currently, you are succumbing to the provocation. You are responding with anger because you are questioning why someone is behaving the way he or she is. But if you let them be and if you agree that you are not going to lose your balance, your cool, you will find that you can be both peaceful and happy – all the time!
Responding to Life peacefully is a lot more sensible than reacting to Life. Reacting comes with impulse. Responding requires reflection. When you reflect over every event in your Life, even if it’s just for a moment, and then respond, you are giving yourself the chance to first accept your reality and then frame your action. And wherever there’s acceptance, instead of resistance, there can only be inner peace and happiness.

There are no full stops in Life…

When your Life changes, do not resist that change. Realign, rebuild and learn to relate to your new reality – that is the key to being happy.
In today’s Chennai Times, Priya Gupta interviews actor Hrithik Roshan. She asks Roshan, who is going through a painful separation from his wife Sussanne, how he’s coping with this difficult time even as he has worked in his ambitious, forthcoming film, Bang Bang. Roshan replies: “There will be a point in Life when the model of your world may change and you may not be able to see the way forward. Because you have been looking at it in a way that you have been trained to look at it. You have grown up with a philosophy of work hard, gain success, have a family and that is equal to happiness. But the model breaks and you have to realize that you have to be happy first and all the other things will follow.”  
I totally agree with Roshan here. What he has understood about Life is at the same time simple and yet not-so-easy to grasp. The model he talks about is our own individual, personal, view of Life. Which means that there are as many models, as many personal views, as there are people in this world. Each of us imagines and expects that Life will be a linear progression. Life, we imagine in vain, will work like this: you study hard, get good grades, go to college, get good grades, land a job, start a family, buy an apartment, raise kids, grow in your career, save for retirement, put your kids through college, see them marry and “settle down”, while you retire and,  eventually, die. But Life does not happen this way, in a straight line, to any of us. Someone may have a hole in the heart, someone may have a career crisis, someone may have a learning disability, someone may get embroiled in a scandal, someone may just lose a close family member – something keeps happening to someone all the time. And crises happen with no apparent reason. Tragedy – and fortune – strikes irrespective of social standing or talent. The only thing you can be certain about Life is that whatever is – a tough time or a great time – will change. Your Life will change, often irrevocably. And, to be happy, you must too change with your Life.
Picture Courtesy: Times of India/Bombay Times/Internet
Getting to this level of acceptance is not easy. Initially, when your Life changes, you hate that change. For instance, in his interview to Gupta, Roshan says, “There was a point in time that I just didn’t want to go ahead with anything in my Life. I think it’s at that precipice that you decide what kind of a man you want to be and that is when I discovered myself. There was a point where I just wanted to put a full stop to my Life and I discovered a whole new world.” I am glad he found that whole new world while discovering himself, his real self! For, the truth is that there are no full stops in Life. Life simply goes on even if you are faced with what you think is a no-go situation.

My Life experiences have taught me that happiness is available and possible in any situation, in any context, in Life. Being grumpy with Life and resisting whatever’s happening to you is the only reason you are unable to be happy. Just accept, as Roshan says, the “new model of your world”, when your Life changes, and you will be the happiness that you seek! 

The power of, and in, acceptance

When you accept things and people for what they are, it does not necessarily mean you approve of them that way. Acceptance leads you to inner peace – and that, if you really want to, helps you to work on changing the way people and things are.
Let’s say you have been trying to deal with someone who has a drinking problem – a parent or partner or sibling or colleague or friend. You have tried to counsel, inspire, dictate and plead with that person to give up drinking. But all that has been in vain. Now, accepting that person for who he or she is, the way he or she is, will definitely help you be peaceful with yourself and your current reality in matters concerning this person. But will your evolved, “accepting” nature, seem like a sign of approval and invite more of such “unreasonable” behavior by the person concerned? Well, it really will not if you ensure that your acceptance of the situation – of having to deal with an alcoholic in your Life – is not seen as sign of your approval of alcoholism as an act. Your acceptance is for you to see things, and people, the way they are. When you are fighting a situation, you are hoping things will change dramatically by your mere resistance. But some situations – like reforming an alcoholic, fixing a broken relationship, turning around a failed business – take a lot of time. No situation or reality can be turned around by resisting it. It is only through accepting a situation, that you can understand its contours with total clarity. It is only by seeing a situation clearly that you can work on solving it.
Of course, sometimes acceptance can lead you to total detachment too. We had a friend who, over time, became an alcoholic and wasted himself completely. His wife loved him dearly and tried her best to wean him off the bottle. But he was unable to give up drinking. Initially, his wife grieved a lot. But then she learned to accept her reality, learned to accept her companion for the way he was, and, in fact, cared for him compassionately, as he was struck by cirrhosis of the liver and had to spend months in hospital. He eventually died, felled by his ruinous habit! When we visited her, she had this to say: “I had tried everything that I humanly could. When I realized that I could not change him anymore, I simply became accepting of him the way he was. I saw him die. But while he was in hospital, I did everything I again could to care for him. My acceptance of the situation gave me tremendous inner peace. There was no grief anymore. Just peace.”
Acceptance works in all situations and with all kinds of people. You can use acceptance to work on finding a solution to whatever you are faced with or practise detachment if a solution evades you. Importantly, acceptance is what makes you peaceful. When you are at peace with yourself and your world you can make more informed, intelligent choices. It is through such choices that you can live the Life that you truly want. When you live a Life that you love, you cannot but be happy – despite the circumstances that you find yourself in!

What I have learnt from the NaMo Wave

The biggest lesson I glean from Elections 2014 is “acceptance”.  

I am not a Narendra Modi fan. Simply, I cannot relate to someone, however brilliant he may be as an administrator, who used religion to build both his party and himself. But this is a verdict that my country’s people have given emphatically. And I can do nothing to change that. So, the best way forward, I discover through my awareness, in such a scenario, is to accept what is and simply move on.

A lot of our problems and miseries come from wanting people and situations to be different from what they are. The moment we drop the “wanting” and accept a situation for what it is or a person for who she or he is, we are instantaneously at peace with ourselves and with everyone else. We often fail to realize that in our wanting people or situations to be different, we are actually letting our ego play up. We are saying that we know better than others how they should be leading their lives or doing things.

Cartoon Courtesy: India Today/Internet
For instance, as the election results started coming in yesterday, my ego told me that the people of India were making a mistake. My issue was no longer with Modi. It was with the people of India. I was alarmed that we were handing over power to someone charged with genocidal racism. Whenever I am disturbed I have learnt to drop anchor and be silent. When I reflected on whatever was happening with the election results, I realized that I was being unduly paternalistic about the situation. Who am I to tell the people of India what to do? They are informed and responsible enough to have done what they did. My awareness again helped me conclude that there was no point in resisting the reality. The people of India had either decided to overlook Modi’s credentials on a key aspect like secularism or they had backed his very ideology that I was uncomfortable with. Every which way, they had voted for change, voted for Modi and he is now our new leader. When this reality sunk in, I simply accepted it. I even wrote on my facebook wall wishing Modi and his A-Team all the best. With that acceptance, I found myself immensely peaceful, within.

Acceptance is not resignation though. And I want to clarify this. Resignation has a quality of discomfort to it. It is really about not being able to do anything about a situation that you hate. So, you resign to it. But there’s no scope for hatred in acceptance. Acceptance is really a celebration of the way people and things are. It reasons that while Life is imperfect it is also beautiful. When you accept imperfections in you, around you, your Life can only be beautiful. Because you are not complaining anymore. Or wishing or hoping or wanting that things were different.

So, the day after the resounding mandate, I am seeing, through my acceptance of my country’s new reality, the beauty of it all. For the first time in over 30 years, someone will lead India with a complete majority. And even if half of what he has managed to get done in Gujarat (I have seen it first hand and have great admiration for what has been accomplished there in the past decade) can be implemented across India, we will be a different, and a far improved, nation. Just as I have accepted the way I am, I have accepted the way my country men and women are, the way our new reality is, and I hope, we will all enjoy, despite the imperfections that abound, the development and governance that’s been promised!

Suffering comes from arguing with reality

Whatever happens in Life, you can’t escape it. You have to face it, you have to accept it. It’s when you try to fight it or wish it away that you suffer.
As the MH 370 episode drags on inconclusively, befuddling the whole world and over 30 countries searching for the missing plane, I watched a news report on BBC last night that said that the relatives of some passengers on board the flight were “extremely distressed” and were threatening to go on a hunger strike. They demanded better “quality” of information and wanted more frequent updates. A Malaysian Airlines official, trying to calm down the agitated family members, told them: “We know as much as the world does at this stage. What do we do?” It may seem that the official was downright rude, cold and bureaucratic. But I guess he was also being brutally honest. Well, from whatever information is now available, Malaysian Defence radar officials did not report a blip on their screens that fateful night as the plane flew over the Malacca Strait because it is believed they slept while on duty. They weren’t supposed to be asleep – but apparently they were. What do you do now? Malaysia could have shown agility with the investigations – but they took a whole week to realize the seriousness of what they are dealing with. And even now there are reports that they continue to stonewall offers from the USA for help with the search and investigations. What do you do when a government does not appear to be serious enough? What do you do when 30 countries can’t find a plane? While we can empathize with the pain and the agony of the families of the passengers, the truth is that their resisting the reality – that the whole world doesn’t know where MH 370 is – is of no use. Apart from causing them suffering, their agitation is not going to help them in any manner.
Closer home, I witness the agony of an 80+-year-old couple. Both their sons live with them but don’t care for them. The mother has just been through a surgery. But neither of her sons is available to nurse her. Both the men, in their late 40s~early 50s, are “depressed” with their own lives and so are not in the “frame of mind” to look after their aged parents. Forget caring for parents. At a basic, human level, if you are living with someone who needs post-operative care, won’t you volunteer to help, to support, to care? Who can educate grown-up men on compassion and being human? The poor mother though grieves and pines for affection from her sons. But what’s the point in her grieving? She’s only causing herself to suffer. The more she pines for what is not likely to happen, the more miserable she will feel.
What causes our suffering often is our desire to see perfection around us. We expect people to understand. We crave for their attention and appreciation. But people have their own priorities, their own views, their own ways of doing things and leading their lives. Many around us are even steeped in shallow thinking – they simply don’t get it! They don’t know what empathy is or what being human means. Expecting to see perfection, where mediocrity abounds, is futile. Such an expectation will make you suffer endlessly. A simpler, more peaceful way to deal with Life is to be prepared for anything. A plane can go missing and no one in the world can find it even after 12 days! A father, who’s rated as one of the country’s most intelligent minds, can molest his daughter’s best friend. Sons can choose to not care for their mother because they are depressed. A mother can call her son a “cheat” when there’s no evidence of such misdemeanor. Parents can lose their only child because the driver of the car he was in was drunk! Well, as disturbing as all this sounds, there’s no doubt that absolutely anything can happen in Life!
Even so, if you care to pause and look around, Life is beautiful despite all these upheavals. But when you are caught in a bind and are dealing with an unforeseen challenge, you don’t notice Life’s beauty and magic. The only way then to respond to Life, when something that you don’t want happens to you, is by not resisting it. Don’t wish that it didn’t happen. Simply accept what is. And begin to work with that reality. As long as you don’t argue with reality, you will never suffer!

Acceptance: the key to being free

When you accept Life for what it is, you will be free!

But we all have a problem with acceptance – always! Your mind does not keep quiet. It keeps on reminding you that your Life ought to be different from what it is. So even if you see the stark reality in front of you, your mind insists that you don’t accept that reality and keeps encouraging you to wish that there be a different reality. But there can only be one reality. The truth does not have versions. Then it is not the truth. It is then either an opinion or a perception. So, how intelligent it is, in the face of reality, to wish for another truth? It is stupid, actually, if you examine the concept of acceptance closely.
Consider these two situations:
  1.     Your child has come back from school and is reporting the loss of her school bag that had the Nick character Dora on it. Your child’s Dora bag was a special edition bag that was launched by Nick as a promotion. Now you can’t get the same bag in the market, nor can you order it online. That edition of school bags is sold out. But your child wants exactly the same bag. Over the next few days, and weeks, you console the child. But every day the child demands that bag and is woeful about it all day. Finally, exasperated, you tell your child: “Listen, you can cry as much as you want. But you are not going to get that bag again. It’s just not possible.” Chances are very high that with such firm communication, the child will forget her old bag and learn to live with a new one that you have got her!
  2.         You have lost your spouse. And are simply not able to come to terms with that reality. Many months have passed but you find your Life meaningless and listless. Your friends and family try to cheer you up. But you seem to be wedded to your grief. Your mind keeps going back to the past and wishes your spouse was still around. What if someone came up and told you: “We understand your pain. We know we miss your spouse. You can cry as much as you want, but you are not going to get your spouse again. It’s just not possible!” Chances are you will struggle with this reality. While you understand it, you will be unwilling to accept it.

So, in essence, it’s your unwillingness to accept your current reality that is causing you grief and suffering. Never the reality itself. And that’s where perhaps we can learn from children. They have an amazing ability to accept and move on.

Non-acceptance is a serious adult problem. It creates all the strife and suffering within each of us. As long as you argue with reality, and choose not to accept it, you are not going to be free. As Byron Katie, 71, the famous American speaker and author asks: “When you argue with reality – I lose, but 100 % of the time. Would you be rather right or free?”