Complaining or grieving don’t help – they are the root cause of suffering!
A friend lost her father a few months ago in a tragic road accident. And she’s not been able to come out of the shock. She wrote to me asking if there a way to cope with the loss of a “dear, dear one”?
Well, any instance of death, particularly of someone who you have been close to, is irreparable. You will always miss that someone. But grieving continuously is definitely going to cause – and accentuate – your suffering.
I shared with our friend what I know of the two traits that the Japanese possess as a people: ‘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 overcome what cannot be controlled. We must appreciate that Life and death are two sides of the same coin; if you are born, you will die. So, death naturally follows birth and Life. But the Japanese way of Life teaches us how to accept this non-negotiable reality and cope.
The Japanese language testifies 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 this Japanese philosophy because most of us are forever complaining of or grieving over what could have been and what we don’t have! Obviously, my friend is going through a lot of pain and trauma over her father’s sudden passing. But ‘shogonai’ – what can be done to undo that pain? Nothing at all. So, only ‘gaman’ will work for her. Only time can heal her. I encouraged her to celebrate her father’s Life – do everything that he loved doing to engage with his ‘presence’ instead of mourning and grieving his absence!
In any context when you are confronted with the uncontrollable, we must embrace ‘gaman’ and ‘shoganai’ as simple, practical philosophies. They are effective to deal with even in everyday Life situations. You are in a traffic jam and late for your meeting. ‘Shoganai’. You get a non-reclining seat on a packed flight. ‘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, or grieving over, things that are beyond our control; instead they urge us to accept situations that leave us numb and helpless. 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 endure Life patiently.
Personally, I believe the Japanese way of Life invites us to stop complaining and grieving. Complaining or grieving does not change reality. Neither does acceptance. But acceptance of any reality at least helps the one facing it to be in peace.
My conversation with writer Sivasankari 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
“Only acceptance can lead you to happiness”
For someone who has a body of work that spans almost half a century, who has been feted and celebrated all through her career, who was close to two Prime Ministers and whose perspectives are constantly sought and respected by both intelligentsia and common-folk, Sivasankari is very grounded and anchored. She attributes her equanimity to her favorite shloka, from Adi Sankara’s Bhaja Govindam. Roughly translated, it means, “Never be proud of your youth, your money and the people around you; at the blink of an eye, they will all be gone!” Sivasankari says that her awareness is imbued by the spirit of this shloka’s message. “This awareness helps me in being detached from everything that happens to me, around me. It keeps me happy, content and at peace with myself,” she adds.
Sivasankari believes that the key to happiness lies in understanding the true nature of Life. “Loss and grief have to be faced in Life. You can’t escape it,” she says. Her father died in 1970, when she was just 28. Soon after, her aunt, who had been through 13 miscarriages, died tragically, leaving behind a 7-year-old son. Sivasankari was distraught. A close friend told her to ‘make use of her grief’. She wrote her first novel, Etharkaga? (Why?). In 1984, when she was 42, she lost her husband. Her mother encouraged her to make her grief irrelevant by embracing the sufferings of others. That’s when, moved by the plight of a 9-year-old drug addict, she researched on the social evil and wrote Avan (He), which was later made as Subah (Morning) for television. And when her mother died recently, Sivasankari decided to liquidate her assets and donate most proceeds to charity. “Grief is a natural response in some Life situations. But my awareness has helped me to accept my grief and channelize it usefully. Over time, I have learnt that Life is all about letting go and moving on. That’s how you can be truly happy and peaceful,” explains Sivasankari.
How do you develop acceptance, I ask her. “Do you have a choice in the face of Life? Whatever it is, you have to accept the reality of your Life. Else you will suffer. Suffering comes only from resisting Life. I have learnt to never contradict reality. Only acceptance can lead you to happiness,” replies Sivasankari.
Now, that’s a valuable Life lesson which each of us may want to take away.
In today’s Vlog, I share how we can deal with a Life where we won’t always get what we want!
View time: 2:13 minutes
My conversation with fashion designer Rehane 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
“This Life is just a pinprick. Bear it!”
She’s revered as the high priestess of fashion from Chennai. Her work showcases and sells globally and she’s been a regular at India Fashion Week shows. She’s styled many celebrities over the past two decades, fusing modern Indian sensibilities with European trends. But when we start talking about happiness, what’s strikes me most about her is a rare inner glow, her spirituality: “I am not one who pursues happiness. When I am happy, I am happy. When I am sad, I am sad. When I am in pain, I taste from the fountain of pain, I savor it. I don’t resist it. I become one with whatever I am experiencing.”
Although she has seen a lot of success, glitz and glamor in the fashion circuit, Rehane has also been through a lot of pain growing up. Her parents separated when she was in her teens. And her mother died under tragic circumstances a few years later. “I decided to go with my father to Rome when my parents divorced. And Rome embraced me like a mother would – she taught me about Life, she taught me Italian. The food, the people, the history, all of that made me feel warm and wanted. I never missed not having a mother. That’s how I realized that the Universe is very compassionate – you are always given what you need,” says Rehane.
Doesn’t she ever wish that her Life could have been different, without all that pain? Her reply is quick and profound: “This Life is just a pinprick. So, bear it. In the larger scheme of the Universe, your whole lifetime means nothing in the end. You never know when you have to depart. So, don’t ever fight Life. Flow with it. There’s no point moping and wishing things were different.”
Rehane advises that the key to equanimity is to accept whatever happens to you in Life as if you are the chosen one. “I feel I am blessed to have gone through terrible things. Something good has always come out of every traumatic phase. You can’t have a Life that is only about being happy, happier and happiest. This is the only Life you have. So you have to be ready and willing to experience everything,” she adds.
Embracing pain, I have known, makes you stronger. From the conversation I had with Rehane, I now know it can also make you glow from within!
There is a lot of Life after a crisis. A lot of Life.
Someone who we met recently talked about struggling to pick up the threads of her Life after her husband suddenly passed away. He was only in his late 40s. “I know that everyone who proposes I move on means well. But I simply am unable to do it,” she confessed, her eyes welling up.
Many a time, Life deals with you in the most brutal ways. And before you know it you have been socked and have been left devastated with the turn of events. How do you pick yourself up when you have been felled by Life? Well, there are no easy ways in such a situation. You have to take Life as it comes, one day at a time, one step at a time.
When a tragedy or a crisis strikes you – death of a loved one, loss of business or money, a serious health challenge, a heart-wrenching break-up – you feel numbed by the event. All you are asking repeatedly is “why” and “why me”? But there are no answers to any questions in Life. So, you can spend time mourning and grieving – and feeling miserable – or you can move on. Now, there is no problem really with grief. It is after all a normal emotion that follows a loss or a setback. In fact, when you encounter grief, don’t try to suppress it. Allow it to rise within you. Feel the grief, hold it, let it hang around and watch it as it first rises and then recedes. When you suppress it, when you resist it, it will persist. But if you let it be, it will fade away. In the aftermath of a crisis, when the grief begins to subside, be aware and pick yourself up again. It will appear to be difficult initially. But when you choose, when you decide, to move on, it will happen more seamlessly than you can imagine.
For instance, just to cheer you up, when someone asks you out for a coffee or suggests a book or watching a movie, don’t say no. In the beginning it may appear that you are “indulging in being happy” while you need to be “clinging on to grief”. But allow yourself that indulgence. Don’t feel guilty. The truth is that your feeling sad is not going to undo your Life. In fact, nothing in Life can be undone. So, to move on, after you have been dealt a Life-changing blow, you must first be ready and willing, and then you must actually, physically, move. Moving on is not feel-good philosophy, it involves a lot of practical, doable, must-do, actions.
But it all begins with believing that there is a lot of Life after a crisis. What you think is the end of the road, almost always, is the beginning of a new journey. When you move on, when the scenery changes, as Life goes on, you will find that there is much more to Life than just clinging on to the dead past.
Awareness holds the key to intelligent living.
A reader wanted to know how to deal with suppressed desires and emotions. He cited his experience of being brought up in a conservative fashion and him not having touched alcohol all his Life. He agreed that he was old enough to be making his choices, but he felt his family would not approve of them. “So how does one deal with an urge to experience something without feeling guilty or fearing about being judged,” he asked.
I am of the view that everything in Life has to be experienced. But you must never let yourself be controlled by anything. You must be aware of what you are doing. So, drinking socially is okay. But being controlled by your drinking or drinking and driving is not okay surely. You must train yourself to make this intelligent distinction, every single time, with everything that you choose to do.
And please don’t suppress any emotions. The more you suppress something, the more it will want to break free and express itself. So, if you have an urge to try out something new – whatever – go do it. But do it being fully aware of the consequences of it controlling you. I practice a simple process of holding on to each debilitating emotion I experience, examining it, and setting it down. Anger, fear, sorrow, guilt, jealousy – whatever comes my way, I look at it closely and then I let it go. This way, nothing controls me. And since there is no resistance, there is no suffering.
Finally, please don’t make decisions wanting to please others. If there is something you want to do, you want to experience, you have to go do it. Or if you choose not to do it, for whatever reasons, don’t think about your choice again. Don’t try to keep flaunting your martyrdom – “Oh! But for my family, I would have been this way or that way!” It is simply not worth it. That way, you will feel depressed and will end up wallowing in self-pity.
That brings me back to the point about awareness. The key to intelligent living is awareness. If you train your mind to be aware, nothing can entice you, nothing will torment you or control you. Awareness makes Life simpler. It liberates you. Nothing is wrong and nothing is right, in a moral sense, in Life. So, do whatever you feel like doing. But do it with complete awareness of what you are doing, why you are doing it and what consequences are likely to follow. As Osho, the Master, says, “There is only one sin and that is unawareness, and only one virtue and that is awareness.”
You have a choice of being happy irrespective of your circumstances.
A friend called me this morning. She said she was grieving over her inability to convince her mother-in-law that she (my friend) is a dutiful daughter-in-law. My friend has been married into the family for over two decades now. She rues the fact that her husband too has been unable to talk “some sense” into his mother. “I feel worthless, stupid and wasted,” lamented my friend.
My friend’s case is yet another classic example of people trying to desperately control everything in Life that’s beyond their control. 20 years is a long time for someone to be married into a family. If she has not been accepted by her mother-in-law as a worthy daughter-in-law, why must she waste time trying to prove her goodness out there? Why crave for something that is not coming to her in the natural, normal, course?
This is the tragedy of our lives. We try, all the time, in vain, to control Life. We try to control people, events, relationships, careers…everything…and, quite simply, all these are beyond our control. And so we grieve. That’s why we suffer.
To be sure, you agonize in myriad ways over why you can’t get things under your control. Your child’s in her teens. And she has a mind of her own. You are unable to control why she’s on the phone, on Facebook, and aloof from all the household chores she used to help you with. You grieve. The person who you once loved deeply, married, and thought will be your companion for Life, is now estranged. You want to control him. But he’s moving further away. You are now wallowing in self-pity. You are just not able to understand why you are not finding a job. You are qualified, experienced, talented and intelligent. You have double degrees, but no job. So, you desperately try to control the situation. Offering to work for even half the salary you were drawing. But no. It just isn’t happening. You are devastated. You have always had a strict health regimen. And you now have an arthritic condition. You are unable to run your marathons. You want to, you try to…but you land up in a bigger mess with your back and knees. You are depressed.
You may resonate with some of these situations. Or you may have some other. The point is that each such instance reminds us that we can’t control Life. We can’t really control what’s happening to us in Life. Life is about phases. When your Life’s going through a particular phase that you dislike, it is not tormenting you, as you often imagine. It is inviting you to challenge yourself, to endure and to overcome the phase. Unemployment is as much a phase as romance is. Bankruptcy is as much a phase as parenthood is. When we allow ourselves to be consumed by grief, when we are being tested by Life, we miss the opportunity to live fully, to live happily! So we suffer endlessly – ending up becoming depressive and morose.
Remember that the way you respond to Life is (the only thing) in your control. When you respond with grief and sorrow, imagining your Life to be a tragedy, you miss the opportunity to be happy. Instead if you respond saying you will live through any phase, no matter what, you may go through enormous pain, but you will not suffer. To be happy, irrespective of what circumstance you find yourself in, is a personal choice you can exercise.
Be ready and willing to go through any situation, experience everything, in Life!
“How do you console yourself when you don’t get what you want; when your Life doesn’t go the way you planned it?” This question came to me yesterday from a lady I met at the Help Yourself to Happiness Talk I delivered at a Rotary Club.
The answer I gave the lady is that you must not try to console yourself. Consolation has an air of mourning, of grief, inherent to it – that you tried for something, you did not get it, so it is ‘okay’! There is no ‘okay’ status that works in Life. The best state to be in is to be unmoved. There is no need to either exult in Life nor is there a need to brood or mourn. You must taste, you must experience, everything in Life – success and failure, victory and defeat, joy and sorrow – and eventually you will realize that they are all imposters. You will discover that neither the state when you are exulting nor the one when you are brooding is permanent. So, don’t credit yourself for creating contexts where you exult at your achievements and don’t discredit yourself just because the context is one where grief is gnawing at you, over what you lost or what you didn’t get. Just learn to be unmoved. If you can be unmoved, then everything, every event, calls for a celebration! Then every moment is a celebration!
The lady urged me to explain my point with an example. I shared this story from my Life that I had also recounted to Vaani on New Year’s eve.
I took my first flight in my Life at the age of 10, in 1977, from New Delhi to Madras. I loved the experience. And resolved that I would only fly when I grew up; also I because I find train journeys very boring, very uninspiring. To date, I prefer a flight over a train! My second flight was the one I took at the age of 23, in 1990, from Madras to Bangalore. I was flying on work for India Today magazine and was on an assignment to report on Veerappan, the dreaded sandalwood smuggler. It was a big moment for a young, ambitious lad – flying on company expense. I saved the Indian Airlines (now called Air India) boarding passes of both my onward and return journeys from that trip. I reckoned that when I became ‘very famous, very rich, very successful’ I would display these boarding passing proudly in my office or home, as a trophy of where my ‘high Life’ had truly begun. Soon, I was traveling more and most of my trips were by flight too. And I started collecting my boarding passes. I extended my idea of the saved boarding passes to reflect the number of air miles I had logged in all my active Life. For the longest time, I had this vision of me sitting in my private study and bar, smoking a cigar, and having an entire wall done up with boarding passes from all my flights in my Life. Soon the collection grew. I now have a whole mound of boarding passes saved up – I don’t really think I have lost a boarding pass or missed saving one in my Life. At one time I was taking even three or four flights a week, and traveling 21 days each month. So the boarding pass collection really swelled in good time. Within India I was loyal to Jet Airways and was their Platinum Card holder for several years – in all those years, our family of four, always took vacations on free tickets purchased with my miles! My boarding passes collection reflected the Life I led – busy and flying around! For someone who came from a middle-class background, this was exciting stuff, a sign that you had arrived, in style!
And then, as I recounted to Vaani on New Year’s eve, 2016 has turned out to be the year of no flights for me. No flights taken in an entire year. Even in the past decade, owing to our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) my flying has shrunk considerably. But I never bargained for a flightless year, that too in what should have been the 28th year of an active, professional Life!
So, that’s my example, a story from my Life, I told the lady, who asked me to explain my point about being unmoved. Surely, I am not citing that I have traveled more than anyone else in the world. In fact, my story showcases how such a personal collection of boarding passes appears so vain now in the wake of Life’s larger design and Purpose. I am not even suggesting that I will not fly again or that I will not have that wall in my private study and bar. All I am saying is that I am no longer impacted by whether I am flying or not. It has ceased to mean anything beyond a data point to me. In the last quarter of a century, I flew a lot, then I flew less and last year, I did not fly at all! Simple!
The essence of intelligent living is that you must experience everything in Life. You must be ready and willing to go through any situation. Don’t ever expect Life to only be a particular way. Recognize that what goes up comes down. And what goes around comes around. Life is always flowing and you must learn to go with Life’s flow. This is the way to be unmoved, to celebrate Life’s every moment, no matter what you are faced with or are going through! This is how I celebrated my flightless year – 2016!
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