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.