To feel the grace in you, around you – just soak in gratitude!
A young friend I met last evening wanted to understand how we can know that there is divine grace in our Life. “I don’t get it. There is so much suffering in us, around us; how does one even believe that there is grace,” he asked.
I remember asking this question to Swami Sathya Sai Baba some years back. I must confess that I have never met Swami personally. But I have experienced him, I have learnt from him, through a young messenger, through whom Swami speaks. So, when I asked the young messenger this question about why we should believe there is divine grace, when we are in the throes of suffering, he replied: “Swami says if you believe you are in control of your Life you will never see the grace in it. When you flow with Life, when you see the beauty of your human creation, and understand the context of your Life’s challenges, and realize how you are still able to navigate through all of it, and are grateful for what you still have, you will feel the grace in you, around you.”
I never quite understood the import of Swami’s reply and the Life lesson it contained immediately though.
But over the years, I have learnt that, indeed, the choice to experience the grace in your Life is purely a personal one. Much as it is a personal choice to be happy despite your circumstances.
When Swami answered my question, it was still the early days of our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). We were steeped in fear and insecurity. There was so much pain. I hated my Life then. Every day was a constant battle to try and control the situation. Every day I would set out thinking I was going to fix the problems we were faced with. And every evening I would come back home – beaten, deflated. And I would cry in Vaani’s arms. I was suffering a lot because I saw myself as a failure – unable to control the raging crisis.
But, thanks to Swami’s coaching, and my practice of mouna (daily period of silence), when I learnt the art of being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, I stopped suffering. The pain was intense. But I did not resist the pain. I just let it be. And the suffering stopped.
You see, you suffer only when you resist what is. But when you accept what is, and go to work on changing it, diligently, without any expectation of result or reward, you don’t suffer. You are despondent when you are only wishing that things were different and you are not doing anything or enough about changing your current reality. But when you know you have tried your best, and the results are still not adding up, you can only be calm, content, and interestingly, happy! This awakening, this ability to see Life this way, is possible only because I am soaked in grace.
To be sure, our bankruptcy still endures. The pain is still intense. We are far, far, far away from normalcy. Even our living expenses are still not completely covered. We survive each day fervently, working hard to put things back on track, praying for an opportunity that will conclusively turn around our story. But we do all of this with great equanimity, without suffering! And while we are doing this, we invest every waking hour in being useful – sharing our learnings with whoever cares to pause and reflect – Inspiring ‘Happyness’. This, we believe, is our Life’s Purpose!
When I look back at all the treacherous times that Vaani and I have been through over the last 11 years, I bow my head in gratitude for the grace in our Life, for the compassion of the countless people who have helped us along the way.
Take for instance, young Kumar, Swami’s messenger. He’s an amazingly talented musician and graphic designer. He may well have walked in the direction of his own dreams. But for over two decades now, his first priority is to be available as Swami’s messenger to help people (who are battered by Life’s upheavals and are clueless about what to do) by sharing perspectives and advice that Swami has for them. And Kumar does all this selflessly. There have been months when we have had to be with him every day, for long spells, just to understand what Swami is teaching us. In these times, I have argued with Swami, through Kumar, brazenly. I have yelled and thrown things around, unable to handle my cluelessness, my lack of control of our situation. But Kumar has been patient and available every step of the way. To me, now, that is grace – the very fact that we had a Kumar to reach out to in the first place!
And just look at the beauty of what is happening today. It is close to 6 AM in India as I write this Blogpost. It is the 23rd of November. It is Swami’s birthday. It is Thanksgiving. It is Guru Nanak Jayanti too today. And here I am sharing a Life learning. Isn’t this grace? That Vaani and I are still around to tell our story, to share our learning, that I can express myself through the written word, that you can read it and perhaps connect a dot with your Life, somewhere…isn’t this indeed grace…?
Thanks to my lived experience, I realize now that grace is like a Wi-Fi signal. It is always available, 24 x 7, to anyone who seeks it. And the password to access that signal, well, you may have guessed it by now, is gratitude!
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.
Pray, pray, pray. Not in the name of religion. But in salutation and gratitude to a Higher Energy, to make the world a better place.
This story in The Hindu yesterday – Nuns’ visit to temple causes flutter – caught my attention. I found the furore over the visit of the nuns to the Srirangam temple quite unnecessary. What was appalling was the clarification offered by the Tamil Nadu government – through the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department – that the nuns were “politely asked to leave the temple as they were in their religious attire” and that the “nuns did not take out their rosaries and pray”. Reading the story, I told myself – “Gosh, when is the world going to grow up and be inclusive?”
Let me hasten to clarify that I am not against any particular religion. In fact, I am against the concept of religion itself in the first place. Also, while I do acknowledge the presence of a Higher Energy and believe wholesomely in the power of prayer, I am totally opposed to the popular idea that God is to be worshipped in a “place of worship” and only through practising religion and through being ritualistic.
To be sure, I too have visited several places of worship seeking inner peace and clarity on the meaning and purpose of Life. Initially, I did find the energies equally uplifting wherever I went. Whether it was my native shrine in Palakkad, the Mangottu Bhagavathi kaavu, or the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisty at Ajmer or the Vatican or Tirupati or Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi or Sai Baba’s samadhi at Shirdi. But these visits provided me only temporary spells of relief. Very soon the impact of a place or its energies would wear off and I would be left thirsty – seeking “something” that was at the same time undefinable and elusive. Besides, I realized that far too much effort was required to be invested in seeking and worshipping God – through practising rituals and religion. And the outcome of the effort was always inadequate – it left me incomplete and unfulfilled. So, as my quest for inner peace intensified, I found my interest in religion waning.
The problem I had was not with any religion in particular but with the idea of religion itself. I discovered that it is religion that gives certain people the power to manipulate, the license to divide and the freedom to hold followers (of the religion) as hostages. These so-called “high priests” of religion use fear to make people toe their line. I find the whole idea that you must fear God ridiculous. Why would you fear a creator who has created you as a human in the first place; all of us have been created, none of us asked to be born; so, isn’t the human form a gift, a miracle? Think about it. You may well have been created as an inanimate object or as an animal or bird or plant – why are you created human? When you understand this dimension of your creation, you will awaken – as I did – to the futility of religion. Creation, the Higher Energy that powers the Universe, just created humans. We humans, through employing our insecurities and desire to control each other, invented religion and the idea that God a) must be feared and b) is found only through ritual and in a certain place. Ever since religion was invented a large mass of humankind has remained divided – and enslaved – in the hands of a powerful few – all in the name of fearing God and practising religion! We thrust religion upon each successive generation – surely, no new-born chooses a religion, it is mostly “embraced” without choice; and the few that choose a different religion in adulthood are driven by their own quest, their own insecurities and their fears. So, the slavery to religion continues.
Just look at what religion has done to our world. It has divided humanity. It has made us intolerant of each other, it has led us to kill, plunder and spread hatred and disharmony. And that’s why I believe totally in spirituality. Now, religion and spirituality are not one and the same. Religion is mass-driven, fear-inducing, ritualistic and plain regressive. Spirituality, on the other hand, is deeply personal – to each one their own – and celebrates the idea of being human, of all of us being one. Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness – it is understanding that if you have been created, you will be looked after, provided for and cared for; that this journey in the human form is temporary; that while you are here, you must be happy, be inclusive, be loving and be giving to all around you. In spirituality, as I understand it, there is no God to “go to” or “fear” – you just surrender to a Higher Energy, you acknowledge the impermanence of every thing, including this human form, and trust the process of Life by being eternally grateful for your being human and for this human experience. Prayer, in a spiritual context, to me, is this act of total surrender in eternal gratitude.
So, pray, pray, pray. Not in the name of religion. But in salutation and gratitude to a Higher Energy, to make the world a better place. Which is why I believe the nuns must have been allowed to pray at Srirangam. Or menstruating women must be allowed to pray in Sabarimalai. Or anyone must be allowed to travel to and pray at Mecca. Not that these “places of worship” must be democratized but because religion must be done away with. What the world needs today is a lot of prayer by a lot of humanity – and clearly not religion!
When you are forgiving someone you are choosing what – and who – is important to you.
Last week, I read a story that talked about Sabrina Lal forgiving Manu Sharma, her sister Jessica Lal’s killer. Interestingly, the same day Vaani and I bumped into a former colleague of ours who had maligned us in public for issuing her a pink slip when our erstwhile Firm went bankrupt and we had to lay off several team members. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal)
After we met the lady (our former colleague), Vaani and I discussed that dark time of our Life, which took place over 12 years ago. We recalled how it was incredibly painful then. The team we had built was made up of committed, enthusiastic young people. But our Firm’s financial woes necessitated that we laid off several people – all at once. This didn’t go down well with many, including the lady. She sent out mails to all our colleagues and clients literally calling us names and saying we were “heartless and remorseless”. However, when we met this lady the other day, after all these years, we exchanged pleasantries and enquired about each other’s families. We felt no rancor towards her when we spoke to her. The former colleague’s behavior back then surely caused us a lot of anguish. But we had long forgiven her. Not just her. But anyone who has judged us, who has hurt us – including my own family – has been forgiven.
We have learnt that forgiveness sets you – the forgiver – free. It may never erase a painful memory. In fact, you may never be able to forget what happened, but you will not be bitter over it. Not after you have forgiven and moved on.
To be honest, initially, I loathed the idea of forgiving people. But being this way didn’t help me one bit. I cooked within myself – I wanted to prove to people that I was right and they were wrong in doing what they did to me or to Vaani; I wanted to avenge their actions; and I wanted to see them suffer. But the more I held on to these feelings of being wronged, of wanting revenge, I was the one who suffered. My suffering made me angry, angsty and kept me perpetually on the edge. Clearly, I was not enjoying being that way. It was through weeks and months of practicing mouna – daily silence periods – that I understood the futility of clinging on to thoughts of hatred and revenge.
One day, at a Sai satsang bhajan session, which we were attending regularly around that time, I thought of all those people I hated. Several names and faces flashed through my mind – almost as if I was flipping past images rapidly in my phone’s picture gallery. As I thought about all those people, anger gripped me. I started praying feverishly for an opportunity – just one opportunity – to get even with each of them. Then, as if a switch had been flipped within me, I realized how vain my thinking was. And, miraculously, involuntarily, I decided to forgive all of them. And even as this feeling of forgiveness swept me, I broke down. I cried inconsolably for several minutes. At the end of that cathartic outburst, I felt so much at peace, so free, and so light. I realized I had unshackled myself, I had set down a huge, huge burden. That night I slept peacefully, like a baby.
So, from my own personal experience, I can completely relate to Sabrina Lal’s choice. Did Manu Sharma deserve her forgiveness? Is he really a reformed man? Will he value her sentiment? All these are immaterial. What matters to Sabrina is that she has forgiven him and so she is free – having let go and moved on.
That’s what forgiveness does to you. It makes you get out of this trap that your mind holds you hostage in – this trap of hatred, revenge and bitterness. It is irrelevant to you what happens to the other person, when you forgive someone. Forgiveness is a deeply personal choice. It is about what is important to you and you choosing that over everything – and everyone – else.
When the world closes its doors on you, keep the faith, be patient.
A young man, who we have been coaching (through our ‘Let’s Talk Happyness’ Program), called up yesterday. He was excited. His boss had awarded him a spot bonus. And had felicitated him at a town hall with the whole team. The young chap, an engineer in his late 20s, said, “I am amazed. Just four months ago nobody wanted to even look at my resume. For months on end interviewer after interviewer kept on rejecting me. They made me feel worthless. And now, suddenly, my talent is recognized and I am being celebrated. I don’t get this. Even when I was going through a trial by fire, through that spate of rejections, I was still talented. Then why does my talent get recognized only now. Why was it not valued then, when I so badly needed a break?”
Well, such is Life. Vaani and I have learnt from own experience (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal.) that we are put through a trying phase in Life only so that we evolve through it. Clearly, Life’s experiences do not erode our talent. Even when one department, one door, in Life shuts on us, another opens. Always. The truth also is that talent and trial are totally unrelated. Being talented does not guarantee you a Life free of challenges. Talent is what you are endowed with. And trial is what you have to face, what you must go through, per your Life’s inscrutable, and unique, design. It is important to remember that just because you are being rejected by the world, just because people don’t recognize your talent, it does not mean you are worthless. This is when you must keep the faith – in yourself, your abilities and what you have to offer the world – and be patient. This is when you must trust the process of Life. Life is very compassionate, very beautiful. Every experience you go through unfailingly enriches you from within – making you stronger, wiser and happy!
When you can’t solve a problem, be patient while living with it.
A gentleman came to us asking for some perspective. He had been out of work for three years now. His only daughter was unmarried and he was getting increasingly worried because she was over 30 years old. His wife, unable to handle all these “setbacks”, had slipped into depression. “I feel very hopeless. I know complaining about Life is a waste but that’s what I am invariably ending up doing,” he confessed. He wanted to know if there was a way to break free from all the negativity in him and around him and be happy.
Acceptance and awareness, I told him, hold the key to inner peace and happiness. Complaining about Life and its upheavals demonstrates a tendency to resist what is happening. That’s why you are steeped in negativity and hopelessness.
Pretty much like what Shirdi Baba taught the world – advocating faith and patience – the Japanese champion two philosophies: ‘gaman’ and ‘shoganai’.
‘Gaman’ means patience, endurance, perseverance. And while ‘shoganai’ literally means ‘nothing can be done’ or ‘it can’t be helped’; it also denotes a calm determination to face, and eventually overcome, what cannot be controlled. The Japanese language and culture testify to how a sense of precariousness__since Japan is located in one of the most seismologically active spots on the planet; remember the tsunami of March 2011?__has shaped a national consciousness. We have a lot to learn from Japanese culture because most of us are forever complaining of what could have been and what we don’t have!
Obviously, when you don’t get what you want or when you get what you don’t want, you will experience pain. But what can be done to avoid or escape that pain? Nothing at all. The pain has to be faced. Which is why embracing the ‘shogonai’ philosophy makes a lot of sense. Then, you will realize that only ‘gaman’ will work for you. What can’t be avoided or undone has to be faced, lived through, patiently. Such is Life.
I invited the gentleman and his family to embrace ‘gaman’ and ‘shoganai’ as simple, practical philosophies to deal with even in everyday Life. You too can benefit a lot from these philosophies. You are in a traffic jam and late for your meeting. ‘Shoganai’. You get a non-reclining seat on the plane. ‘Shoganai’. There is a power outage. ‘Shoganai’. By any stretch of imagination, ‘Shoganai’ does not imply fatalism. Which is why, it must be understood and practiced with ‘gaman’. Both together encourage us to stop complaining about things that are beyond our control; instead they urge us to accept situations that leave us either foxed or clueless or numb and helpless and plod us to persevere to change those things . In the context of acts beyond our control__like a health setback or a natural calamity or the passing away of a dear one__they remind us to accept reality and go through Life patiently.
Either way, this Japanese way of Life, invites us to stop complaining. It is very similar to Shirdi Baba’s tenets of faith – trusting the process of Life – and patience. Both schools of thought converge to remind us that to complain means to live in grief. Surely, grieving over something does not change reality. Neither do acceptance or faith or patience or awareness. But acceptance of any reality at least helps the one facing it to be at peace. When there is inner peace, there is happiness.