Complete surrender to Life is not inaction, it is deploying great intelligence!
A young reader told me, in response to my blogpost of yesterday, that the idea of letting go and trusting the process of Life, of living dangerously, in complete surrender, conflicted with free will. He suggested that the very fact that you are endowed with the ability to think is evidence of the need to employ your free will in all circumstances. I don’t believe the young man is wrong with his reasoning or understanding. The truth is, in any situation, you have both the choice and the right to use your discretion, your judgment, to do what you want to do. But the truth also is that not always will your efforts deliver the results that you deserve or you want. So, complete surrender, really does not mean inaction; it does not mean you must not do what you can and must do. It only means that you must leave, surrender, the outcome, the results, to a Higher Energy, to Life, while you choose to remain unfrustrated with the outcomes.
I received an email from a reader of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal yesterday. He said he had run up a sizeable debt in his business and was ‘suffering with the way Life was treating him’. He has three children and his parents are totally bed-ridden – struck by Parkinson’s and dementia. He wrote: “I do everything diligently. I work hard. I pray. I am dutiful to my parents and family. But my business just isn’t picking up. I don’t know what to do. Day in, day out, I am suffering.” Now, in this reader’s case, his free will is in full deployment – he’s doing everything possible as a business owner, parent, son and spouse to deal with his Life. But he’s suffering only because he expects his ‘righteous’ actions to turn around his business fortunes. To end his suffering, all the man must do is to drop all expectations that his efforts must add up to a reversal of his business fortunes in the timeframe that he is defining; while simply continuing to peg away daily on doing all that he can, he must and he is doing.
Simply, Life does not operate on a ‘Quality Effort = Quality Result’ paradigm. Life does not also operate on a time scale we humans practice. Life has a mind of its own and operates at its own pace. Things happen only when they happen. Period.
Therefore, what we must all understand is that employing free will, righteousness, sincerity, talent, integrity of Purpose, none of these can guarantee us the results we expect. In fact, there are no guarantees in Life. Surrendering to this reality is the only way to journey through Life without suffering. When what you expect doesn’t come your way, despite your best efforts, then don’t think something is wrong with you. It only means that you must learn to surrender your expectations. Internalizing this learning is also about employing free will – where you are recognizing that sometimes the most intelligent thing to do, to be unfrustrated with Life, is to do your best and leave the rest to Life!
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True devotion is when you offer yourself to Life – in total surrender, willing to be led.
What is the best way to profit from prayer? I was recently asked this question. I have often thought about this too. Since we all talk of Return On Investment (ROI) on almost everything else that we invest ourselves, materially, in, why not talk of the ROI on prayer?
To be sure, I have tried several forms of prayer in my Life. Over time I concluded that chanting or performing a religious ritual was not something that gave me an immersive experience. Not to impugn those that find value in praying that way. It just didn’t work for me. Instead I found great value in conversations, that too in English, with a Higher Energy. So, when I would find some ‘me time’, I would pray to the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, the stars, Nature…and to any vision I held in my mind’s eye of this vast inscrutable cosmos. I know and believe that this Universe is powered by a Higher Energy that is far more intelligent and compassionate than all of us. So I always found myself at peace when I appealed to that Higher Energy.
Initially, as instilled in me by my father, as a way of praying at our native Bhagavathi shrine in Athipotta, in the Palakkad district of Kerala, I would simply say, “Show me the right way.” My father always used to say: “Don’t ask for anything material…just ask to be shown the right way.” As I evolved in understanding and awareness of the Higher Energy as not being something in a form, in a place, and instead learned that this Energy is a presence in each of us, around us, I simply added, “Show me the right way…you lead…I will follow.” So, I don’t necessarily go to a place of worship anymore to pray. I don’t follow rituals. And I believe religion, as it is preached and practiced today, interferes with simple, peaceful, intelligent living. I have learnt to pray to the Higher Energy I feel in me, around me, from wherever I am at a given moment.
Over the last several years when we have not known what to do in several contexts and situations, I have found this state of let go, this way of letting Life take over, incredibly peaceful. I have found that every time I surrendered to Life, I have been taken care of, provided for and hoisted up even as I have been stripped of everything material and may actually have been plunging into a dark abyss.
That’s really how, from my own personal experience, I have understood that prayer is not about a language. Nor is it about a ritual. Or about a religion. So it doesn’t matter if you recite Vishnu Sahasranamam or say namaaz five times daily or show up at a Sunday Mass or on the banks of the Ganges or at a Gurdwara. It is not about writing down Sri Rama Jayam or Sairam a million times alone. It is not about angapradakshinams (whole body, rolling-on-the-ground, perambulations of a place of worship) and observing fasts alone. It is not also about landing up to meditate for weeks at a Buddhist monastery up in the hills. Yes, you may do all of these, but if you are not immersed in your actions, if you are not emptying yourself, if you are not having an attitude of total surrender, of letting go, you will not feel peaceful within.
Devotion is what you feel when you are thirsting to learn, are humble enough to surrender, are willing to let go and are allowing yourself to be led. And, to me, true devotion is to be devoted to Life – who is the biggest teacher of them all – and therefore to living fully! I say so because I have found that Life always gives the test first and the lesson later. So every moment of this lifetime is a learning experience. When you are devoted to Life, to the experience of living fully, from moment to moment, you will find that all questions cease, and inner peace prevails. This is when you are soaked in abundance because you are in a total let go, and are nothing but grateful (which is why they say that ‘Thank You’ is the best prayer ever!) for whatever is! This is the most profitable, if you like, prayerful state ever! And the ROI, which is actually a Return On Immersion too, on this state – well, that’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?
You need to be peaceful to face Life and to last the journey. Inner peace comes from letting go.
A couple came to me to talk about their child. He’s 17 and has been on drugs for over a couple of years now. They have tried counselling him. They have tried changing his school. They have sent him to rehab. But the boy simply finds a way back into the circle that got him hooked on in the first place. In yet another attempt to wean him off the habit, they have moved him to a residential school in another city. They looked beaten and battered to me. Naturally. They wanted to understand if they had failed as parents or if there was anything more they needed to do. I could feel their pain and anguish. They have been exceptional parents: they have been understanding, they have been proactive and they have been decisive at every step. So, I advised them to stop feeling guilty. Honestly, there’s nothing more they can do for their child. They have done everything that’s practical and possible. So I said, “Just let go and let Life take over. If you believe in prayer, pray. If you don’t want to or don’t believe in prayer, just let Life happen…you go with the flow.”
The father of the boy asked: “Doesn’t letting go mean we are ‘washing our hands off him’?”
I totally understood where the man was coming from. People often think letting go means abdicating. So I clarified that letting go does not mean getting rid of a problem or situation or person. It is surely not inaction. Letting go is about practicing detachment, so that you preserve your inner peace, when you have tried your best and have been unable to solve a Life situation. Letting go is about surrendering to Life. It is about you telling Life that you acknowledge that Life is the Higher Energy. It is about confessing that you are clueless and powerless. And it is about offering yourself to be led by Life.
Seriously, consider the couple’s situation. If you had been in their shoes, you too would have done all that they have done. And then what else would you have done? What else can you do when all that you have done is not producing results? The boy has to turn around. Or, he will just stay trapped in the ruinous habit. When he refuses to see reason, what else can you do other than trusting Life?
You must understand that there are only two kinds of problem situations in Life. Those that you can solve and those that, no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot solve. These are problems that Life solves, on its own, at its own pace, over time. Now, for those situations or problems that you can solve, you don’t need to worry. While logically you don’t need to worry about situations that you can’t solve either, your mind will force you to worry about them. So, instead of letting go and surrendering to Life, you keep fighting the situations imagining that you are trying to solve them! This is how you create suffering and invite misery into your Life!
Intelligent living is not about applying your intellect to Life. It is about being intelligent enough to know that you must let go when you can’t solve a problem situation! All our scriptures talk of the concept of surrender. In Hinduism it is called saranagati. It basically means being in a let-go! But because the wisdom of the scriptures are often expressed through religion, which currently is practised very divisively and needlessly ritualistically, it ends up alienating even those people who may be willing to give the concept of total surrender, of let go, a chance.
Surrendering to Life involves letting go of your ego. It is the state when you realize that you can’t solve a problem or crisis! You are then willing to go with the flow of Life. Even then your Life’s problems may not get solved immediately. But, importantly, you are not fighting them anymore. And when you are not fighting, when you are not resisting, you are always peaceful. It is only through inner peace that you develop the resilience to face Life and to last any long, crisis-ridden, journey!
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 only the 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!
You don’t have to always have the solutions to all your problems in Life!
I visited a temple – Sai Baba’s – after a long time yesterday. I tagged along with Vaani because it was the first anniversary of my father-in-law Venks’ passing – he loved visiting Sai Baba temples, wherever they were. It was a usual Sunday at the temple. The priests were busy with the early morning aarthi service, the crowds were beginning to file in queues and the public address system played ‘om sai namo namah…’ setting the tone for devotees to enter into their personal communions with ‘their’ Baba. One lady did not join the queue. She did not even stand in front of Baba’s white marble idol. She stood in front of his portrait, in an ante-room, and wept inconsolably. It was a cathartic moment for her surely – and for us as we watched her briefly before we moved on.
I could relate to the way the lady was expressing herself. I have done that many times: I have cried at Baba temples, or at other places of worship, or when I have found myself in a private, intimate moment with nature. I have cried whenever I have felt lost, helpless and clueless about how to deal with some situations in Life. My belief that there is a Higher Energy, an inscrutable divinity that shapes our lives, led me to places of worship back then. And while there my form of prayer was to surrender to this Higher Energy. I would acknowledge my “smallness” and accept that I didn’t know what to do and offer myself to be led – by time and by my faith that if I have been created I will be looked after and cared for. The Hindu scriptures talk of this concept too and call it saranagati – total surrender. I have intuitively learnt to surrender myself. This has not always helped me find solutions to my problems but has always helped me find and retain my inner peace. I don’t visit places of worship necessarily to pray – or to surrender – anymore, because I have learnt to live – celebrate, pray, surrender – in the moment! The guiding principles of my Life are the two words that Sai Baba taught the world: Shraddha/Faith – keep the faith that you will be provided for and shown the way; and Saburi/Patience – trust the process of Life.
I have come to believe that when you don’t know what to do in Life you must do what you can do. And one thing you can always do is to allow yourself to be shown the way, to be guided and led, by Life. It is perfectly okay if you don’t have solutions to some of the problems you are faced with. Just trust that Life will, over time, solve your problems for you or point you in the direction of solutions. As you let go, surrender to Life’s compassion. Indeed given the tough situations and contexts that Life may place you in, you may think that Life is harsh and cruel. But no, Life’s really very compassionate. Because you have always got and you will always get what you need even if you get it from unexpected quarters or through unconventional, unpredictable means. To let go and surrender, choose your own way to express yourself. If you feel like praying, pray. If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel like stepping away from whatever is making you frustrated and unhappy, step away. Basically, when you feel overwhelmed by a Life situation, let Life take over and you simply go with the flow.
Just surrender to the Universe’s energy, to Life, don’t fight it!
I love the Punjabi phrase – “Thand Rakh”! It means “Stay Cool”! Not just in situations when anxiety grips you, or when you are provoked by someone, but stay cool, at all times! This is not a state that is beyond your reach. If you just understand how Life works, and how it is working for you, you will learn the art of dropping anchor and staying unflustered despite Life’s upheavals!
Consider this: don’t you agree that if there indeed is a Master of the Universe, who was controlling, coordinating, delivering, granting, blessing and driving whatever is happening in the world, in your Life and mine, then this person is mighty intelligent? So intelligent that zebras have stripes while horses don’t, that when the East has daylight, the West has stars in the sky, that there are four seasons that keep switching as if someone is operating the switches in a Master Control Room, that mangoes are different from oranges and the Himalayas are different from the Rockies! None of these have been or can be controlled by you or me. Yet they happen! And so, we have to admit that the Universe’s energy, which, in my humble opinion, powers our lives, is far more intelligent than all of us put together. Yet why don’t we trust this energy?
Think about it. When things go per your expectation, you don’t have an issue. When they go against what you wish, you immediately start fighting Life. Why? For instance, let’s say, your DVD player doesn’t work when you sit down to watch a movie. You feel frustrated. Even so, it is a small thing, you will eventually get over that setback! You will fight your DVD player for a while, then chuck it out the window and move on. Now, take a more serious situation. Let’s say you are out of work and out of cash. What do you do? You begin, of course, by fighting, by hating, by resisting the Life which you currently have to endure. You sulk, you brood! But does that change anything? Or what if your liver malfunctions or your heart suffers an attack? That’s a situation you can’t even mentally fight! When you realize that you are dealing with situations beyond your control, you learn the art of surrendering to Life. Now, think, if we could consider surrendering to Life in all contexts, how much more simpler and easier to live will our lives be?
In Hindu scriptures, they talk of surrender as ‘saranagati’ to a physical God, an idol. I am suggesting that we learn to surrender to Life, the energy that keeps you – and me – alive! The truth about Life is, no matter what you do, what is to happen (alone) will happen! What I have also learnt from Life is that the Master Plan no flaws. Whatever is happening to you just now is what is ordained to happen. Therefore, intelligence demands that you and I don’t fight Life. Fighting and resisting Life is what causes all your suffering! So, simply, “Thand Rakh” and surrender to Life!