My conversation with champion of Indian art, culture and Gandhianism V.R.Devika for my ‘The Happiness Road’ Series that appears in DT Next every Sunday. Read the conversation on the DT Next page here. ‘The Happiness Road’ is also my next Book. Photo Credit: Vinodh Velayudhan
“Happiness is a decision”
Mention Devika’s name and people will relate her to Gandhi, to the charkha and to Indian art and culture. Yet, to me, Devika is a champion of intelligent living – she lives by tenets that protect her inner peace and happiness. “When I was younger, I did wallow in self-pity and succumb to worry. But some years ago, when I had to go through a biopsy to rule out cancer, I told myself that I would face whatever came my way. My condition was not malignant – thankfully. But the experience taught me to overcome uncertainty and insecurity. I made a conscious choice then to be happy no matter what the doctors were to report. Therefore, happiness is a decision you take and it is not dependent on your circumstances,” says Devika.
She firmly believes that her entire Life has been serendipitous. She lives in an apartment that has been gifted – ‘with no strings attached’ – to her by a good friend. She has travelled to many countries to deliver talks and presentations – all of them on invitation. And every time she has needed work, someone has come along and given her a project that’s cut out just right for her. “How can you be unhappy when you have so much grace, so much abundance in your Life? I know I am one of the luckiest people in the world,” she confesses. She reveals that over the past several years she has created her own way to deal with debilitating emotions like worry, anger and anxiety, whenever they come calling: “I look into the mirror and tell myself that I am not going to let such feelings linger. I shift my attention to what I have instead of focusing on what I don’t have. I constantly remind myself to be grateful and content. That’s how I sustain my happiness.”
Devika reiterates that to be happy you have to be decisive. “When I was young, I was sexually abused by a powerful member of my family, my brother-in-law (who is no more). For years I pitied myself and lived in fear. But when I was in my 40s, I came out and told my family about it. Almost immediately, I stopped pitying myself. The secret to happiness lies in stepping out of whatever makes you unhappy,” she explains.
“Be decisive, be happy!” – that’s my key takeaway from the conversation. Surely, it’s yours too!
Trusting Life means you will always get what you need the way Life wills it!
I am often asked how Vaani and I can live in a complete ‘let-go’ given the fact that our bankruptcy endures, now well into its 10th year. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) And I always say, “We do our best in the given circumstance and leave the rest to Life. We are always given what we need by Life.” My Book, my Talks and the conversations we curate are peppered with anecdotes of how Life continues to provide for us, how it takes care of us and how always, somehow, it arranges what we need. We may have never got what we wanted, but we have never been denied what we need. And what we need arrives in its own time, the way Life has willed it – not the way we imagined it would come, but in its own unique, often mystical, way!
Yesterday was one such serendipitous day.
Our electric coffee maker at home, a 5-year-old instrument, had conked off some weeks ago. Replacing it may appear like routine stuff – it doesn’t cost much, less that Rs.2000/- I guess. But the last several months have been very hard on us. There hasn’t been any income to speak of. So, a new coffee maker joined the bottom of a list of to-buy/to-fix items on my Excel sheet tracking home (forever in deficit) cash-flows. Even as I added it there, I knew it was going to take a while before it moved from there to the kitchen table through a physical purchase. Vaani’s coffee continued to be unaffected though by the machine’s breakdown and its prolonged absence. Ask me, and I will tell you, she’s not just the world’s greatest coffee maker (she doesn’t need brewing machines, filters, percolators – she makes the best coffee, no matter what!), she’s a true ‘happyness’ maker too – she never complains!!! And so, we adjusted, accommodated and have been ploughing on, sipping great coffee nevertheless!
Yesterday, we were visiting a friend, a renowned actor; and we got talking about each other’s coffee preferences. He told us how he would never compromise on his coffee and explained how he carried his coffee maker with him when he went for shoots. And then, suddenly, he rushed out of the room to return with a small, new, single-brew Vietnamese coffee maker. He demonstrated to us how it worked. He then thrust it in Vaani’s hands and, handing her a special Vietnamese brand of coffee powder, said, “This is for you. Please accept it. Tell me how the coffee tastes. You will love it.” Vaani and I surely understood the cosmic significance of the gift, but we didn’t get an opportunity to discuss it between us immediately. Even as we got home, a surprise awaited us. On the kitchen table sat a brand new coffee maker – a regular-sized, electric, one – a gift from our daughter Aanchal to us. She had discovered that Vaani was managing without a coffee maker and so she decided to get one!
On the face of it, these are just events. Arguably, perhaps, unrelated too. A coffee maker breaks down. A friend gifts a coffee maker. A daughter gifts a coffee maker. But Vaani and I truly believe that Life is very compassionate. And what connects the three events is a simple message – trust the process of Life and you will get whatever you need, in its own time, when you need it!
Beyond celebrating this truism in each moment, Vaani and I try to make no meanings out of Life. Living in a ‘let-go’, to us, is just what it is. Let go! So we don’t question why so many pressing needs, according to us – including a health situation – are not getting taken care of. We don’t ask when that Excel sheet and its list of to-buy/to-fix items will either turn empty or when we will have enough not to have those items waiting in a painfully endless, prioritized, queue. We don’t feel frustrated, guilty or fearful that over a million dollars in debt still remains owed to people; we believe and we know it will all be repaid in due course with interest. We have simply let Life take over and we go with the flow – doing what we can surely, but never complaining when we don’t get what we want or even when we get what we don’t want.
This is what we know and have learnt from Life. Letting go is not scary, it is not difficult. You too can live in a let-go if you can learn to trust Life. This does not mean there will be no problems. It doesn’t even mean you will get all that you want. It means you will see serendipity in every occurrence and you will learn to be grateful for all that you have and get. And, interestingly, all that you have and get always ends up being all that you need!
Vaani and I are incredibly blessed that Mother Teresa touched our lives in the most serendipitous and miraculous manner.
In today’s blogpost, I reproduce an extract from Chapter 10 (‘Follow Your Bliss’) of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Westland). The extract (in purple text below) recounts an anecdote from our Life on how Mother Teresa’s blessing reached us – and how it continues to guide us with our Life’s Purpose.
On Saturday, April 11, 2009, I got a call from Philip Sir, a client and dear friend from Kochi, Kerala. Philip Sir had last visited Chennai in January 2008 to look me up when he had come to know of our situation. He had given me ₹1000 ($20) and said, given his own circumstances and priorities, he couldn’t afford to help us more. He requested me to accept the money as his humble Vishu Kani nettam. He is a big man, Philip Sir, about 15 years older than I am and in his kind eyes, I saw a graceful energy drench me with a blessing, as I accepted the money. That money helped us last a week as a family!
He had also given us a Life-saving engagement by paying for my airfare and inviting me to conduct a day-long workshop with his team at a small processed-foods company in Thrissur, Kerala, in February 2008. He said his company could afford only ₹10,000 ($200) as fee to us but agreed to pay it in cash at the end of the session. We were so cashless that I didn’t think. I just grabbed that opportunity. That money, when I brought it back from the trip, helped us buy groceries and last the rest of that month! He was also generous enough to offer me a chauffeur-driven car to visit Guruvayoor and our native family deity in Athipotta in Palakkad district, Kerala, while on that trip. Although I have evolved, thanks to this experience, and do not see great value anymore in pilgrimages and temple-hopping in times of distress or otherwise; at that time, those visits were important: to believe, to know that a Higher Energy would take care of all that it has created! Of course now, I do know that the Higher Energy resides within us.
Within you. Within me.
For those reasons and others, when Philip Sir called that Easter weekend, I was happy. He said he had been, minutes before calling me, in front of Mother Teresa’s tomb, at Mother House, the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, in Kolkata. He had been serving as a volunteer at homes run by the Missionaries of Charity, during Lent that year. That Saturday was his last day in Kolkata. He was returning to Kochi transiting via Chennai. He wondered if he could drop in at home for breakfast on Easter Sunday. I told him that he was most welcome!
I picked up Philip Sir from the airport. At home, we had a sumptuous breakfast of hot idlis, sambar, coconut chutney and molagapodi with yennai. His flight to Kochi was not until later that afternoon. So, we moved into our study. Philip Sir wanted to know how we hoped to fix the business and our lives. I told him that the 14 months since we had met had been a great learning experience. I said my daily practice of mouna gave me clarity and we now knew why we had been created on this planet. We now knew what our Core Purpose was.
Philip Sir smiled and asked what that Core Purpose was.
I got up and went to the white board and wrote the following words in blue marker ink: “To awaken people to the new way of thinking, living, working and winning.”
Even as I explained what the ‘new way’ was, which is spiritual empowerment, serving, right thinking and growing intelligently through Life, Philip Sir rose from his chair. He took a red marker pen from the holder and walked up to the white board. He placed a big huge ‘X’, on the word ‘new’ and wrote the word ‘right’ above it. The statement now read: “To awaken people to the right way of thinking, living, working and winning.”
As Mom and I looked on, obviously perplexed, Philip Sir went on to deliver an impromptu sermon: “When you say ‘new way’, AVIS, you are saying you invented it. Did you? Of course you did not. Spirituality is as old as mankind. Or older. You are merely sharing a way that you found and which has worked for you. AVIS, be humble. No matter what happens in your Life, stay grounded. You or I or Vaani create nothing. We cause nothing. Neither our successes nor our failures. We are merely executors of a cosmic will. You have been put through this experience to learn from it and you want to share this ‘right way’ with others. By all means, do so. You are an amazing speaker. I have heard you. You have the ability to transform how people think. I have experienced it myself. My only wish for you is, no matter how successful you become, never claim any of that success as your own. You are only an instrument.”
So saying, he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled up a very small re-sealable zipper storage pouch that had a rose petal in it. The petal had not dried completely and I could see its purple-pink hue as Philip Sir held it up.
He said, “Yesterday, when I said my last prayers at Mother Teresa’s tomb and bowed to take her blessings, I was reminded of you suddenly. I don’t know why. So when I took a petal for my wife and family, I decided to take one for you and Vaani as well. Here it is. I am not sure I understand what I am doing. I am not sure you understand either. Maybe the reason will manifest much later. For now, accept this petal as a blessing from an apostle of service. May you both overcome your problems and may you too serve humanity, touching lives and making a difference.”
Mom and I were in tears as we received the petal. We hugged Philip Sir as he bid us goodbye. I dropped him off at the airport and haven’t met him since that Easter Sunday of 2009. The petal still sits on my desk, safe in the tiny re-sealable zipper storage pouch. Both are inside an old plastic film roll can.
What I learnt from him, through him, is now a prayer that I say to myself each time I am leading a workshop: “I am but an instrument. Whatever the audience must learn today from my experiences, let that learning happen. The message is not mine, the stage is not mine. I am a mere microphone. And no microphone can take credit for the message!” That my bliss has the blessings of one of the noblest of all creations in the history of humankind – Mother Teresa; overwhelms and sobers me, each time I am in front of an audience.
Note: My Book is written in the form of letters to my two children Aashirwad and Aanchal; so in this extract, I am actually sharing this anecdote and learnings with them. Mom is Vaani; I call her Mom!
This morning as I read about Mother Teresa’s canonization coming up at the Vatican, my thoughts went back to this anecdote. I cannot but marvel at how the Universe always sends you a message, long, long before something has happened. We received a ‘rose petal’ years before we had even thought of sharing our Life lessons in a Book. And when it eventually came about, my Book, interestingly, is named Fall Like A Rose Petal – the title is inspired by a Sufi story that Osho used to say! Reflecting on all this, I feel humbled, I feel blessed and I feel grateful for the miracle of this lifetime that I have had so far…