Stay engaged with the present when facing Life’s storms

A great way to face any challenge in your Life is to find your center and drop anchor! In other words, it simply means, do not allow the mind to wander into the future with worry or go back to the past in grief or with guilt.
Sometime ago I found myself in a courtroom. I was in the dock, accused of cheating someone. The judge was a very fine man, very methodical, very disciplined. He had a great sense of humor too. His one-liners had everyone in splits – even rival parties presenting their cases in court enjoyed a good laugh. My situation was hardly laughable though. I had no money to repay the creditor who had filed the complaint against me. And it had become apparent that I had to face the consequences of what the law prescribed in such matters. If my petition was dismissed, I was likely to be arrested. And I had nobody in that city who could stand guarantee for my bail application. Even so, I remain engaged with the court proceedings – and heartily enjoyed the laughs that the judge’s comments generated! I sat by the window. It was raining heavily and it was windy too. The rain sprayed on my face and my shoulder, driven by the winds, after landing on the court’s balcony railing. Interestingly, I felt very peaceful as I sat there in that courtroom. The rain peppering my face, the judge’s humorous one-liners, the method to the madness of one judge having to deal with hundreds of cases in a day – all of this left me feeling remarkable and inspired – even if it was ironical I was feeling so, given my predicament!
Metaphorically, and in reality, a storm raged outside of me. But deep within, I felt good, at peace with myself, and engaged in the moment. In that moment, in the now, there was no fear, no anxiety, no worry and no guilt or grief. It was surreal. It was magical.
That’s when I understood the meaning of the phrase, “It is always peaceful in the eye of the storm.” The storms that ravage our lives – a debilitating health condition, a torturous relationship break-up, a business going bust, losing a reputation that’s painstakingly built, the sudden death of someone you love deeply – fill us with worry, grief and suffering. It may seem almost impossible not to worry or to grieve or to suffer. But there lies the best kept secret about intelligent living. In the now, when you are present, and engaged in the moment, there can be no worry. There is no cause for grief. And there isn’t any suffering.
You may wonder how this works. And if this really is true. Let me explain.
The way Life operates is that none of us can control what is happening to us. Life goes on happening. And all we can do is to respond to Life as it happens. Some of the happenings in your Life may shock you and sock you. You can find a million people to blame for your situation or you can even berate yourself for your plight. You can argue with reality – asking why things have happened to you! But be sure that all your fighting, all your resisting, will be completely futile. What I have learned is that Life’s crises are there only to help us find strength from within. That is the only place which is untouched by what goes on outside and that’s where you will be in total peace and feel infinitely secure! The human mind is like a large ship in the ocean of Life. When a storm hits the high seas, an ordinary vessel will be tossed around and may even drown. But modern day ships have stabilizers. They help the ship navigate deftly through rough waters. Similarly, the human mind too can be stabilized by training it to be present in the moment. When it is present in the now, the mind is powerless. The mind works and thrives only in a yet-to-be-born future or in a dead-and-gone past! That’s why worry, grief and suffering don’t affect you in the present moment! And that’s how you, your true Self, can be peaceful, despite the circumstances that you are placed in and despite the storms that will often rip apart your material Life! Finding strength in a crisis situation in Life really means letting go of the past and not worrying about the future – while being aware that everything in Life is impermanent – including Life’s storms!

Attain Buddhahood – by witnessing Life

Treat everything that’s happening in Life as not happening “to” you, but around you, and you will always be at peace! This is the witness state – Buddhahood, if you like. This way you will be in a perpetual state of equanimity within you, despite whatever turmoil that is going on in your external world. Just like the way it is at the eye of a storm. The storm is raging with all fury, all around, but at its eye, in the center, there is no turmoil. Through your witness-state you too can attain this level of inner peace.

Consider this: someone insults you. And you get drawn into that drama. This leads to an ego-play. He says something. You retaliate. He hits back. And you attack again. This goes on. And on. But what if you had let that insult pass? What if, like a lotus flower, you had not let the water (the insult) stick to you? What if you had continued to live in the muck (the dirty pond in which the lotus blooms, metaphorically, the turmoil-ridden world) but chosen to rise above it, untouched, unblemished?

This is true of, and possible, in every situation. Be it a conflict or a temptation or just a Life event__like a lay-off or a death or a break-up__happening to you! This does not mean that Life is to be resisted. But  means, in fact, that it has to be experienced dispassionately. Without getting embroiled or entangled in it.

Here’s a story from Buddhism. A bunch of drunk people picked up a prostitute and stripped her naked. They wanted to rape her. But they were so drunk they fell asleep – tired and exhausted by the high alcohol content in their blood. The woman escaped from their clutches by the time they woke up. Shocked at their loss, the men began to search for her. There was only one way out of the place they were in and on that way they found the venerable Buddha meditating. They did not know who this man was, but decided to ask him about the naked woman because from where the Buddha was sitting, there’s no way anyone could have gone past without him seeing her.

“Did you see a naked woman pass by sometime ago,” asked one of the men roughly.

“You are late. You should have come 10 years ago,” replied the Buddha, smiling, calmly.

The men looked at each other. Totally shocked. Is this man mad, they wondered? One of them even asked the Buddha to explain his “weird” reply.

The Buddha explained patiently: “Well, 10 years ago, I would have been distracted by someone walking in front of me. But now I have learned not to get involved. I surely saw someone go past here. But whether it was a man or a woman, whether naked or clothed, I did not notice, because I was looking for nothing.”

Buddhahood is not something sacred or the exclusive prevail of those who get to sit under a Bodhi tree. Buddhahood awaits you and me too. If only we can learn, through continuous practice, the art of choosing to simply witness Life, without getting embroiled in it, of learning to distinguish that events happen “around” us and not “to” us!

Finding strength in a storm

How do you find strength in a storm? How do you survive the onslaught of Life when everything that you thought was yours is taken away from you? Where do you re-start Life from when you are left in the cold – helpless, hapless, battered, and bruised by Life’s blows? What do you do when you have nothing material left anymore with you other than perhaps the clothes you are wearing? Some people have the support of their families and some don’t at such times. Either way, sometimes Life’s situations may be so numbing that there as only questions and no answers!

You may at various times in your Life have braved many a storm or perhaps may be going through one just now. When you sit back and think about the Life you have, you will realize that there is no other way to live Life than to accept what is, no matter what it is.

Here are simple tips based on lessons I have learned in my rather eventful Life so far:

  1. Accept the reality that you are in the throes of a crisis. Don’t resist the situation. Don’t wish that it didn’t exist. Simply accept it.
  2. Focus not on the strength of the storm but on your true self. Know that the storm will always be strong. It will be menacing. It will threaten to destroy you. By even thinking of its ferocity, you are only going to feel debilitated. So, focus on your inner self. Just mindfully watching your breathing can help. When you are mindful, always, you will find calm and inner peace. From that calm, you will gain strength.
  3. Always ask this simple question which can often lead you to profound answers: “Given the situation I am faced with, what is the best thing I can do to make things better for everyone concerned?” Employ key criteria for choosing what action you can take out of many possible options that may follow the question. Your action must always be positive, constructive and ethical.
  4. In particularly complex Life situations which can often dog you for months and years, it is worthwhile to revisit Tip # 3 on a daily basis and choose your daily actions only basis those criteria.
  5. No matter how intense it is, no storm lasts forever. All storms have to pass. So, this one too shall pass. Just remember that.

This may seem too simplistic for you to even believe it works. But this is the only way it works __ no matter what you are faced with! Life’s challenges come in different shapes and sizes, in the form of storms of varying intensities. We cannot stop the storms because we don’t have the controls to Life’s mechanisms in our hand. But our facing each of them with humility, with faith and patience, can convert any ordeal into an opportunity to evolve and awaken!