Choose happiness over worry or sorrow in each moment

Don’t try to make meaning out of Life. Make your Life meaningful.

Don’t dismiss Life as a game of Snakes and Ladders where you will always be getting the Snakes. Nor is it a game of Chess where you are a mere pawn. Life is such an inscrutable experience that it has a mind of its own, an agenda of its own and has a pace of its own. So, you will find it dealing you a hard blow when you least expect it or it will give you a bounty when you have completely lost all hope. When we label Life as “terrible, a pain, agonizing” in the first instance, or, when we call it, “benevolent, fortunate, gracious” in the second one, we are trying to make meaning out of it. Either meaning will disappoint.

Life is like water in your palm. It is not going to be there forever, and definitely not in the same way that it once was. So, the only way to make Life meaningful is to do something that makes you happy each day. Choose happiness over worry or sorrow in each moment. In the toughest of situations, you will find a reason to smile. Choose that moment to cling on and claw your way back. Once you have learnt this method, you can then start making Life meaningful in more ways__by touching other lives. Be there for people. Offer your time, your shoulder and your helping hand. Know that only you can make your Life meaningful. Because it’s your Life. If you don’t find any meaning in your Life, to your Life, it’s only because you have not exercised the option to be happy or you have not reached out to touch another Life. Think about it. It will make a lot of sense!

You and your mind – BFFs!!!

Your mind can be your best friend. So, don’t try to conquer it. Instead befriend it. Have conversations with it. Reason with it. Laugh with it! This is the only way you can get along with your mind, without it controlling you!

There’s an interesting story I remember reading. A sage was offering his prayers, when a very pretty lady walked past. He got distracted and kept thinking about her all day. The next morning he resolved that he would not get distracted by the beautiful woman. So, he closed his eyes tight. But when the lady walked past him, he was able to smell the jasmine flowers she wore in her hair and so he got distracted again. He was now angry with himself and vowed to close his eyes and nose the next morning. Yet, when the lady went past him, he was able to ‘feel’ her presence because he heard the sound of her anklets pass him by. Angry and completely lost, the sage vowed now to close his ears as well. But despite his intention being right and his making a valiant effort, he could still ‘feel’ her presence the next day, even when his eyes, nose and ears were closed. That’s when the sage concluded that it was ‘all in the mind’.

Indeed. It always was, is and will be so! But however hard you try, you can never control the mind. The mind is like a tennis-ball spewing machine that players use to perfect their strokes. The mind spews thoughts endlessly, like the machine spews tennis balls. On an average, a human mind spews 60,000 thoughts daily. These thoughts range from the bizarre to the fearful to the practical to the anxious to fantasy stuff, all at the same time. Which is, in most unevolved and untrained human beings, the mind is never in the present. It is clinging on to a past memory or dwelling in a future worry! The Buddha describes the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys __ who never sit still and keep jumping from tree to tree, from banana to mango to orange, screeching and screaming all the time! And, says the Buddha, the only way to calm your drunken monkeys down is to have conversations with them. Which is, to talk to your own mind.

When you speak to your own mind, you can be very sure that you will not be interpreted but will be understood. That you can be candid, you can choose to disagree and still be on ‘talking terms’! Wouldn’t you say the same thing of speaking your heart (or mind!) to and sharing with a friend?

Los Angeles-based sociologist and author, BJ Gallagher, shares her secret for making your mind your best friend on her blog:

I’ve found that engaging the monkeys in gentle conversation can sometimes calm them down. I’ll give you an example: Fear seems to be an especially noisy monkey for people like me who own their own business. As the years go by, Fear Monkey shows up less often, but when he does, he’s always very intense. So I take a little time out to talk to him.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” I ask him.

“You’ll go broke,” Fear Monkey replies.

“OK, what will happen if I go broke?” I ask.

“You’ll lose your home,” the monkey answers.

“OK, will anybody die if I lose my home?”

“Hmmm, no, I guess not.”

“Oh, well, it’s just a house. I suppose there are other places to live, right?”

“Uh, yes, I guess so.”

“OK then, can we live with it if we lose the house?”

“Yes, we can live with it,” he concludes.

“And that usually does it. By the end of the conversation, Fear Monkey is still there, but he’s calmed down. And I can get back to work, running my business and living my Life,” says Gallagher.

So, stop obsessing over your mind. There are NO mind-control methods. You can at best make your mind your best friend. Talk to your mind, to your drunken monkeys – to the Fear Monkey, the Anxiety Monkey, the Sorrow Monkey, the Jealous Monkey and any other, as the situation may demand. And calm them down. Once you have achieved that, you and your mind, the two of you, can be Best Friends Forever! 

Grief and guilt are worthless, not you!

Grief and guilt cripple you. When they arise, face them. And they will melt away.
Last evening I was talking to a young friend who quit her job a few months ago and has been struggling to find another one. She quit her job because her boss used to bully her a lot. And she can’t fathom why she’s unable to land another one, especially when she’s exceptionally talented. There are times, she confessed, when she’s overcome by guilt – over having chucked her job and grief – over her inability to find another one!
I told her that grief and guilt are very normal emotions. We mustn’t resist either of them. Instead watch them arise, feel them, cry if you must, but also consider their futile nature. How can grieving help? How can being guilty help? When you examine these questions closely you will realize that what’s over is over. The more you live in the past, clinging on a wretched memory, the more you will suffer. Any suffering is depressive. You will start feeling worthless. So, when grief and guilt arise, face them with absolute clarity. These emotions are worthless. Not you. And through this awareness begin to look at what actions can you take to make the situation that you are grieving over, or feeling guilty about, better.
You end up making a lot of decisions in Life. Not all decisions may work out the way you want them to. You will, at times, even feel stupid that you took such a regrettable, lousy call. Don’t let that feeling of remorse pin you down. Learn from that decision, from the experience. In my young friend’s case, perhaps the learning is that she could have been more prudent about how she wanted to deal with a bullying boss. She must have now learnt that quitting her job was not the only option she had. She could have, well, reported him – especially since her employer was a MNC with some great workplace practices. Anything that happens in Life, if it hasn’t killed you yet, makes you stronger and wiser. As you grow and evolve in Life, you will see how wasteful grief and guilt are. Through your awareness you will learn to let them go. And you will then just be!

Enjoy, Experience and Learn from the Journey of Life

This whole lifetime is, at one level, meaningless. There’s no success. And no failure. When you die, you take nothing, not even memories of your experiences.  
You may wonder what’s the point in living – earning, creating, saving – when you can’t take anything or anyone with you when you die? But this is the truth. This is the way it is. None of us knows what’s after death. So, we can only ensure that we live this one Life that we have well. This means we treat everything that comes our way – sadness, joy, love, anger, fear, passion and peace – with respect, with acceptance and with gratitude. In his immortal poem “The Guest House”, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century Persian poet says, receive both Life’s sorrows and joys with respect, greeting them at the door “laughing” and “invite them in”, for each has been sent as a “guide from beyond”. There’s only one reason that I believe there is to describe why we go through so many experiences in our Life – and that reason is to teach us to be humble. What education, success, fame and money do to us is that they all make us, even if subconsciously, arrogant. We start gloating over how well we have planned out lives, how much we are in control and how well we have crafted our own tiny worlds. And then, in one fell swoop, Life changes everything. It’s like a wave that comes and sweeps away a sandcastle that a child has built on the beach. For some of us, these waves come multiple times and with each blow, with each upheaval, we become more and more humble.
Ustad Zakir Hussain
Picture Source: Internet
Those who have understood Life and the way it works, will have learnt also to be unswayed by whatever is happening to them. Neither grief nor glory can move them. I recently read an interview that Tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain gave ‘Times Life’. He was asked how he dealt with being a celebrity and how he would deal with losing all his fame. His reply is so beautiful, so awakening: “I am a figment of everyone’s imagination. That’s what I am. And I know that I’m the dog today and I’m having my day. And there’ll be someone else to take over and really, there’s no problem in that. I’m not going to be the famous number one Tabla player all my Life. I took over from someone, did I not? And someone else is going to take over from me. And there’s no problem at all, as far as I’m concerned. Because, I am not the best. There is no best. You know, someone once told a maestro after a show ‘You were perfect today’ and the maestro replied ‘I haven’t played good enough to quit’. You know, that’s a very profound statement. In other words, if I had done what I think is the best I can do, I might as well hang up my boots. There’s nowhere else to go. So, there’s no perfect. You will never reach the horizon but that doesn’t stop you from enjoying and experiencing the journey, learning from it.” 
That’s all there is to Life. Keep enjoying and experiencing the journey, learning from it, every step of the way. Don’t cling on to anything. Neither your sorrows nor your joys. Take everything as it comes. If possible, during the time that you have here, on the planet, touch another Life, make a difference. That’s the only way to create meaning in an otherwise meaningless Life! Because, when it ends, when death comes, your lifetime will be a memory for those who knew you, and for you…it may, well, just mean nothing.

Drink Life, “Bottoms Up”!!!

There’s no point being half-hearted about Life. You can’t afford to be tentative. Because Life’s passing you by – every moment. You miss it and it is gone! So, take the plunge, live Life fully, intensely, totally! 
There’s an ancient Zen story. It must be true. For Lao Tzu (601~531 BC), Buddha (563~483 BC) and Confucius (551~479 BC) lived around the same time. It is said that the three of them met in paradise, in a café. The waiter came by with three glasses of a drink called “Life”.
Buddha refuses the drink saying: “Life is misery!”
Confucius has a more moderate view to Life. He insists that he cannot decide how “Life” is until he takes a sip of it. Confucius had a scientific bent of mind, he theorized logically. His point was that you must experience everything and then decide for yourself. So, he takes a sip of the drink from the glass and concludes: “Buddha is right. Life is misery!”
It is Lao Tzu’s turn now. He looks at all three glasses. He takes each of them, one after the other, empties all the three glasses and starts dancing.
Buddha and Confucius look at Lao Tzu. “Are you not going to say anything about Life?”, they ask him.
Lao Tzu replies: “What is there to say? My dancing is enough to tell you what Life is all about. And even if there is anything to say about Life, words may not be adequate to describe it. Which is why I am dancing!”
The message of the story is unputdownable. Lao Tzu drank from all three glasses. And started dancing ecstatically. His point was: “Unless you drink totally, you can’t say. And even if you drink totally and can say, words cannot express what Life is all about!”
If you can internalize that message, Life is so simple. Life is just a wondrous series of experiences. One after the other. All we have to do is go through each of them in total acceptance. Because we don’t have a choice. Really! There’s no way you or I can alter what Life has planned for us. So, if Life’s really that simple, what’s holding us back? Why are we not, like Lao Tzu, able to drink “Life” totally? Why are we tentative? One evident reason can be that we are conditioned to think of Life as complex. We confuse Life’s inscrutability with complexity. We imagine that because we don’t know what will happen next, the next event could be something awful, painful, sorrowful. The other reason could be that we don’t want pain. Naturally, if pain can be avoided, who will want it? But pain cannot be avoided. If it comes, and it will, so be it. When sadness follows pain, know that happiness will follow sadness. That’s the way of Life! So, whatever happens, whatever comes, accept it, take it in your stride and keep drinking from the cup of Life!
Drink Life, bottom’s up! Live each moment fully – because this is the only Life you have!! As someone wise has said: “Every man dies. But not every man really lives!”

From sadness to happiness

When you are consumed by sorrow and suffering, choose to do something that makes you happy!

Sorrow is a very natural, real human feeling. Someone dies. You lose something. You are misunderstood. You break-up in a relationship. You suffer a crippling health setback. Each of these situations can apply to any of us – at any time. And when something like that happens, chances are that you will be grief-stricken. You will wish your Life was different. This wishing will make you feel miserable and cause all your suffering. You will go down a depressive spiral and will continue to remain stuck in that cesspool of grief for a long, long time. Over time, you will not even know what you are sad about. Sadness would have become embedded in your subconscious.

The way to haul yourself up in a situation like this is to focus on whatever gives you joy. Could be music, art, watching a movie or being alone with nature. Whatever makes you forget that you are sad, in a natural manner, do it. Drinking or smoking do not fall in this category because they are artificial and you impose them on you. Look for an immersive experience – where you can lose yourself, without count of time or without thinking about your grief! 

Sadness and happiness are the same energy – expressed differently. Look around you. There are so many happy people. Why are you not happy in their midst? The reason is that when you look at them, you feel you can never be like them. You have conditioned yourself to thinking that way. Because the truth is, if you can be sad, you can be happy too! Not by replacing the factors that have caused your sadness. But by accepting the fact that you have reasons to be sad, and that, despite those reasons, you can chose to be happy doing what gives you joy!
Sorrow and suffering must not be resisted. Or controlled. Or repressed. They must be transcended. You can go past that – in fact, any – feeling if you are aware. Awareness will always lead you to happiness!

Get Better from Life, not Bitter

You can either be bitter from Life or better from it.
A key reason why many of us turn bitter, over time, with Life is because we are not able to treat events as events. We hold on to them, analyze them, and regret them, refusing to let go. Let’s say someone says something harsh to you. In reality, it’s just an event. But if you keep mulling over it, wondering why it was said, and what will others – who heard this person say this of you – think of you, then you are surely going to end up feeling miserable. Chewing endlessly on by gone events, holding on to past grudges and painful memories, is a sure way to invite suffering into your Life.
I am reminded of the Zen story of the two monks who were walking in the Himalayas.  
A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross the river. The young woman asked them if they could help her cross to the other side.
The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows at their monastery not to touch a woman.
Then, without a word, the younger monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on with his journey.
The older monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. He simply stood there staring as his young colleague briskly walked up the hill. After re-joining his companion, he was still speechless, but seething with rage nevertheless.
An hour passed without a word between them. Two more hours passed. Then three. Finally the older monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out: “As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The younger monk looked at him, startled at first, and then, comprehending the full import of his senior’s question, replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”
Unfortunately, many of us, even if we have grown older, like the senior monk, have not grown up. We still carry baggage from our past with us – principally, hurt, regret, resentment and grief. And so we stumble along through Life. Our painful memories enslave us to the past and ensure we stay bitter. And this way we remain unhappy – unable to enjoy the present moment, the now! This is true of a lot of people, a lot of the times.
Siddharth Varadarajan: No Bitterness
Therefore, it was indeed refreshing this morning, to read Siddharth Varadarajan’s (the former editor of The Hindu) views on his unceremonious exit from the paper, following some Boardroom intrigue at Kasturi & Sons Ltd. (KSL – the company that owns The Hindu) earlier this week. An online portal asked him if he was feeling betrayed. And Varadarajan replied: There is no question of feeling betrayed. I came to this job with my eyes wide open. I had a great run as Editor of The Hindu, which is India’s finest paper, and am grateful to the KSL Board for appointing me to the post.
Clearly, whatever be the event that you end up having to face in Life, you have two options. You can be bitter or better from it. If you choose to be bitter, you will miss the opportunity to live fully and to experience the magic and beauty of Life in each moment. If you choose to be better from the experience, you will find yourself soaked in abundance and inner joy!

Happiness is where awareness is

Is it really possible to be happy despiteyour circumstances?

Some years back, a factory hand in Pune, who was attending a workshop on “Taking the elevator to Happiness” that I was leading, made a profound remark. He said: Bhaashan se Raashan nahin bharta, Sahib!” (Sir, ‘philosophical’ speeches can’t help us buy groceries/rations to run the household.” Indeed, he is right. Understanding Life better cannot solve your problems. You still have to work hard, and consistently, on them. But what a better understanding can do is help you deal with Life’s vagaries better. More important, help you deal with them peacefully, happily!
Surely, there is no set way to live Life – so no way can be called right or wrong. Living Life completely – facing, accepting and dealing with what you are given – is the way! This is what I have learned from Zen teachings. Zen is not a philosophy. Because philosophy still operates at a mind level. And Zen goes beyond the mind. Zen draws you out of the mind, further, higher. So, when confronted with Life’s inscrutable challenges, you are invited to experience them fully, while learning to transcend them over a period of time – by training the mind – to be able to reach a ‘witness’ stage, to be merely an observer of your own Life. This does not mean inaction. This is a lot of action, a lot of hard work. Obviously, when you try to address a challenge you are facing, you work on finding a solution. If the solution works, great. When the solution doesn’t work, what do you do? You get angry, frustrated, sad, fearful – Zen teaches you to get past these debilitating emotions, understand that these, like Life itself, are transient, and experience the true nature of your creation.
Zen is awareness. Of just the present moment. Being aware does not mean a past hurt, guilt or memory will not rise in the mind. It does not also mean that a worry, of something that is likely to happen in the future, will not arise in the mind. The nature of the mind is that it can only live in the past or the future. The mind knows no present. And Zen teaches you to transcend the mind, go past its treacherous ways, and anchor yourself in the present. In the now.
This is what happens to us when we are in nature’s lap. Each of us must have experienced that rare moment of completely losing ourselves to an ocean’s vastness or a mountains majestic beauty. Or sometimes losing ourselves to an art form that we cherish – like painting, cooking, music or writing. In those rare moments, you have lost your identity as so-and-so, with such-and-such problems, and have united with the Universal energy. Zen teaches you that this is possible in everyday Life too! Which is why, when a Zen Master was asked, “What is Zen?”, he replied: “Chopping Wood, Carrying Water”. These were everyday chores, even for a Master, in those days. And the import is that you have to be “immersed” in whatever you are doing in that moment without letting your mind wander into the past or the future. So, irrespective of what you are doing – or going through – be in it fully.
My experience is that you can be in the throes of a challenge and still be happy if you choose to be. Owing to our bankruptcy, and an inexplicable set of professional challenges, we have a lot of debt on us as a family, and absolute cashless-ness at most times. It is not that I don’t feel responsible or that I don’t recognize the enormity of the task ahead – of rebuilding our business and repaying our creditors – of us. It is not that fear and insecurity – or even the guilt of having caused this financial mess – do not arise in my mind. But my awareness helps me gets past those thoughts, and helps me take actions that I must take every single moment, each day. When my actions don’t bear fruit – as they haven’t over several months – my awareness again helps me stay anchored and get past the grief that failure often brings with it. I sleep well each night and wake up the next day to do another round of ‘chopping wood and carrying water’.
I am not sure I am “successful” with Life, but surely, I am peaceful living it! This may not be the only way to live. This may not even be the best way – may well be contestable, arguable and even admonishable. But it has helped me__and my wife__stay anchored and peaceful through tumultuous times and has taught us to be happy despiteour circumstances.

Strive for harmony within

Don’t avoid conflict__whenever you strongly disagree__for the sake of feigning courtesy or harmony. At the same time, never make the conflict personal. Focus on the issue. Never on the person.
There are often times, when you will not want to accept what is being said or proposed or done. Yet you will not want to wave a red flag or raise an objection or even make a point because you fear that the “harmony” in the relationship or environment will be lost. And that you will be accused of disturbing it. So, you will choose to swallow your sentiments, submit to being popular than being authentic, and simply go on. Now, clearly, whenever you allow something to happen, with which you don’t agree principally, remember you are maintaining decorum externally but within you there is a violent churn. You are grieving, for, within you, there is chaos, turbulence, sorrow. And therefore your justification that you are choosing to ‘give in’ or remain ‘mum’ for the sake of ‘harmony’ falls flat on its face. This is not an intelligent way to live!
But this is the way we ‘adjust’, ‘accommodate’ and claim we ‘adapt’ in Life – all the time. This is true in all our relationships: boss-subordinate, parent-child, husband-wife, between lovers, neighbors and siblings. Every time we choose not to disagree, in order to prevent a debate for whatever reason, we are allowing a part of us, in the context of that given relationship, at that point in time, to die.
I am not saying that you take up cudgels on every issue, with everyone under the sun, and become combative. It is totally pointless to keep fighting people all the time. In fact, I am not even saying fight over an issue. All I am saying is please express yourself. Allow your sentiments to flow – in the context of the issue, irrespective of who you are dealing with. It is unlikely that the other person may agree with your sentiments. But at least the other person will know what__and how__you are thinking. When you express yourself, you are in harmony, you are free, you are traveling light! On the other hand, when you keep things bottled up, within you, you are simmering within, under the pretext of maintaining dignity and decorum outside.
An intelligent conflict, an intellectual debate, is far more harmonious than a pretentious peace when your insides are boiling over. Now, there will be times when your effort to debate is received immaturely. And you are dealt with a personal, often below-the-belt, response. When that happens, your awareness should help you not to get provoked, not to retaliate, but to stay with the issue – without getting personal. If you find that any effort is not worth it in this context, simply move on. Just don’t grieve. And, at all times, please don’t try to be a martyr. Self-martyrdom is very bad for your self-esteem and inner peace.
This is the way of the Tao that champions ‘effortless action’. The import here is that as long as you do what comes naturally to you, without having to make an effort, you will be at peace with yourself. So, if you must disagree while expressing yourself, please do so, even if it means being in an issue-based conflict. Except that such expression must be effortless. On the other hand, if refraining from expressing your sentiments requires a huge effort – which, in turn, affects your inner peace – drop that effort. Harmony begins with you. Unless you are at peace with yourself, in any context, you cannot live fully. And if you are not living fully, you may well be alive, but you were dead long, long ago!

Forgiveness is liberating

Forgiveness opens the gateway to inner peace. Always.
Ever so often, people hurt us. With their words or actions or both. We end up hating the presence of such people in our lives and are seething with anger at their mere mention. While such a response may appear logical and justified, in reality, it does affect the quality of our own lives. We end up carrying the baggage of that past experience and grieve every single time we reflect upon it. Anything that we carry as a burden will hurt us. Try this exercise: take a full glass of water and hold it up with your arm extended fully. Keep holding. How long is it since your arm starts aching and your shoulder starts hurting? How long can you go on holding this glass of water this way? At some point, you will be compelled to set it down. The sense of ‘aha’, the relief, you will experience when you put down that glass is the same when you forgive someone for what she or he has done to you. Forgiveness, however, must be unconditional. That’s when your inner peace will also be total.
I had the opportunity recently to deal with someone who has caused enormous pain and hardship to me. I hurted badly each time this person’s machinations got the better of me. Then, after much resisting, suffering and learning, when I realized there was no point in laboring over getting this person to see reason, I chose to simply forgive. I did not judge. I did not see who was right and who was wrong in the bargain. I simply chose to let go of all my hatred and ill-will for this person. For a long, long time, there was no contact between us. But because of the choice I had made, I discovered that I was not hurting anymore. That there was no anger in me towards this person anymore. When we finally were to meet recently, I was apprehensive how I would respond. I was hoping all the pain of the past will not surface again. I need not have been so concerned. Because when we met, while I discovered that this person had not changed one bit, my inner peace was untouched. My forgiving this person had helped me immensely.
A key ingredient of forgiveness, I have learnt, is to be non-judgmental. To say you are forgiving someone because she or he has done something wrong is bringing judgment into play. Such forgiving is suppressing your real emotions – your anger, your hurt, your pain. When you are not alert, these emotions can come back and explode on the surface like a volcano. True forgiveness is when you don’t judge, when you let go of your anger, your hurt and your ego. You simply decide that irrespective of what this person did to you, you are simply moving on. Because you don’t want to analyze. You don’t want to dissect what has happened. You simply want freedom from the past. And to be free of whatever you are holding on to or whatever is holding you in its clutches, you have to first let go. Then the forgiveness is complete. And liberating.