Be willing. Be thirsty. Your teacher too will appear!

 Anyone can be your teacher. Or, simply, you can learn from anyone in Life provided you are “willing and thirsty”.
Several years ago, when I was frustrated with the losses in my business, and was particularly agitated over a client’s refusal to pay us a large sum of money that they owed us, I sank heavily into the chair at my favorite hair dresser’s. Those were times when I had a shock of hair adorning my head that need frequent tending. Ramalingam, my hair dresser, taught me a lesson that afternoon, almost intuitively without my even asking for him. “You look disturbed. Life’s success lies not in how much money we earn. But is in being able to live in this world and yet be above it.” He went on to substantiate this lesson with profound story-telling, sharing nuggets of wisdom from the Bhagavad Gita and from some Puranic tales.
Ramalingam: My Teacher
I have become Ramalingam’s humble student over the years even as he has remained my favorite hair dresser. I don’t have much hair left on my head anymore, but I still go to Ramalingam every once in a while. He has lost his son to a hit-and-run accident and says he still remembers the boy passing away in his arms on the road. He leads a simple Life__anchored in prayer, doing great quality work and sharing his experiences enlightening others. He talks to me each time on a different dimension of Life offering a learning which no textbook can teach.
On a recent visit, I asked him what does he think when he is working. It must be a monotonous job, I reasoned, to cut people’s hair. Ramalingam replied, “I don’t think of anything else when I am cutting hair. When I cut, I cut. When I am talking to a guest, who chats me up, while cutting his hair, I am talking. When I share a philosophy, I just share. Thinking spoils the doing.” I asked him once, with his experience, didn’t he want to set up shop of his own instead of being an employee at a branded salon? He replied with astonishing wisdom: “We must not just work towards being the best in the world Sir, we must work towards being best forthe world. I believe I am best forthe world I live and work in. That gives me immense pride and joy.”
There’s a Buddhist proverb that says, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Be willing. Be thirsty. Your teacher too will appear! And hold your hand to walk alongside you to help you to be the best for your world!

People are teaching you all the time – are you a good student?

Everyone teaches you something about Life. It’s up to you though to learn from them!
It takes all kinds of people to make this world. Some of them we instantly connect with and vibe very well. Some of them we can’t understand. Others we intrinsically feel uncomfortable with. When we categorize people based on how we feel about them we miss a great opportunity to learn from them. We must learn to treat everyone, including our detractors, in Life as a teacher – that way there will be less strife between us and other people surely; besides, we will evolve into better individuals.
Some years back we worked with a client with whom we then had a decade-long relationship. We had begun working with this client when they were a start-up, less than a million dollars in revenue. And in the time that we worked with them, they had grown to be a 300 million dollar multi-national company. The company’s founder, Chairman and CEO was very close to me. When we started work with them, he and I had spent countless hours building and executing their internal experience (culture) and external visibility (brand) strategy. As the company grew, the CEO got obviously more engaged at a vision-level and a team of professionals took charge of executing the growth strategy. One of the professionals was mandated with leading the reputation strategy for the company and we had to work closely with him. He was a young, aggressive manager with a finance and investor relations background. For some reason he disliked me from the very first time we met. He made it clear to me that he had heard that I was very “close” to his CEO and that, going forward, as an external partner, I had to route all interactions – strategy, ideas, communication – only through him. Being a stickler for process and protocol myself, I complied. Over the months that followed, I interacted with the CEO only when I was called out by him. Which, of course, happened with amazing frequency, much to the young manager’s chagrin. This only made his dislike for me personally grow into outright hatred. He started to harass me and my team (which was owning and servicing the relationship). It came to a point one day, when he demanded that we ‘show cause’ why there was a “typo” in one of the research papers we had prepared for him to present to the CEO. I saw no point in arguing with him, as I knew where he was coming from on his vindictive mission, and instead wrote him a mail saying we were surrendering a month’s retainer as compensation for the “typo”, and per our contract, we were serving a month’s notice to the client to disengage with them. I had taken a high moral ground. And even though this news shocked the entire company, particularly the CEO, I refused to reconsider our decision to disengage from the client when we are asked to.
The young manager too was shaken up by my decision. He requested me to meet him for coffee on the afternoon that we were exiting from the company/relationship formally.
He asked me: “I can understand the basis for your decision. But what I fail to understand is why did you not fight me? Why did you not complain about me to your close buddy, my CEO?”
I replied: “I don’t believe in fighting unequal battles. Had I complained to the CEO, you would have been asked to move to another function for sure. But it wasn’t as if the CEO did not know of this. Of course it was evident to everyone that you were brow-beating us. Besides, I am nobody’s buddy. Your CEO is a good business leader and if he wanted to he could have always stepped in. That he chose not to, means he was okay with it. I too was okay with the relationship, despite all the pain you were inflicting on me, as long as we were able to create value at your company. The moment you stooped to being petty, I realized it was time for us to step out. No hard feelings my friend. I learnt from you. Thanks.”
He hid his discomfort while he heard me explain and asked me: “What could you have learnt from me?”
I replied: “I learned what happens when people don’t evolve despite their education, experience and intelligence. I learnt what it means to be immature. I also learnt patience and forgiveness.”
I met this gentleman some years later in New Jersey. We talked shop and wished our families well. I still wish him on his birthday each year. And Life goes on for both of us.
People teach you not just from what they know but through their behavior. Some people teach you, like this manager taught me, why you can’t get along with everyone or why some people’s behavior can never be understood. The key is not to let hatred and resentment set in. And instead let forgiveness flow. When you can’t make a relationship work – whatever it may be – because of someone in the relationship, such people teach you the power of walking away. I have learned to be grateful to people for all that they do to me – good, bad, ugly, I see every interaction as a lesson in living and an opportunity to grow and evolve.  
People are teaching you all the time – through their interactions with you. You are a bad student if you are not learning from them!

There’s a Celestine conspiracy to make you better, stronger and wiser!

Everything that’s happened to you, is happening to you and will happen to you is part of a Celestine conspiracy. A Master Plan, if you will. And it has NO flaws.

We label events as good or bad based on expectations, assumptions and conditionings we have. If someone we know dies, we believe it is a bad, a terrible, thing to have happened. If someone is born, we believe it is a good, a great, thing to happen. But in reality, nothing’s good or bad. Almost everything is going to a plan __ and that plan is to make you, make me, make all of us, stronger, better and wiser through this journey called Life.

The house where Ramana Maharishi was born in 1879
About nine years ago, even as I was grappling with finding inner peace, I started the practice of ‘mouna’. Of practicing silence periods. It was a struggle. The practice required me to be silent __ and not strive to work on making the environment around me silent. After almost eight weeks of intense trial and error, I completed my first 21-day cycle of observing an hour of silence each day. The next morning, I had to take an early flight to Madurai for making a day-trip to a place called Tiruchuli, that I had never heard of. I had no knowledge then of why Tiruchuli was significant historically nor did I have an inkling of the profound impact it would have on my Life. I arrived at Madurai and my cabbie drove me up to Tiruchuli in about an hour. I found Tiruchuli deserted at 8.30 AM in the morning and it looked every bit a one horse town. My meeting here was not due to start until 11 AM and so I asked the cabbie suggestions for ‘killing time’. I asked him this more out of making polite, aimless banter and not out of any serious intent. He, however, responded enthusiastically. He declared that Tiruchuli was the birthplace of Ramana Maharishi (1879~1950), the revered 20thCentury saint from South India. This came as a pleasant shock to me. I had heard of Ramana Maharishi. I did not worship or idolize him as many did. But I thought it only sensible to invest the couple of hours I had free, to kill, on me, to “look up” sites of historical importance. The cabbie took me to the house where Ramana grew up and to the ancient Siva temple where Ramana occasionally mediated in the years preceding his move to Tiruvannamalai where he eventually set up the famous Ramana Ashram. Like at any heritage site in India, worn out boards told the story of Ramana Maharishi and his connection with this place__of his birth and early years. My two hours were spent even without my realizing it. I even spent quality time practicing ‘mouna’ at Ramana’s house! As I got ready to leave for my meeting, and got into the car, a man rushed out from Ramana’s house. I recognized him as the caretaker. He thrust in my hand a badly produced pamphlet extolling the Life and times of Ramana Maharishi on one side. A quote on the other side read:

“Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try as you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.”
― Ramana Maharishi

I must have lost that pamphlet somewhere on the flight back to Chennai that day. But the learning from that message I continue to carry even now. I needed that lesson perhaps very badly that day. My Life was heading into a dark abyss then. I had leaned on to ‘mouna’ hoping to find solace. After some strife I had made its practice a habit. And here was a cosmic sign, through a “messenger” of one of the greatest seers the modern world had known, that I was on the right track! I didn’t immediately realize the import of the experience I had been through that day. I do realize it completely now. My problems have not been resolved as yet. I find my Life in the same abyss and it continues to be very, very dark. But I have no fear, no anxiety, no guilt. Because I have learned to live in acceptance. And have learned to remain silent__especially in times of extreme provocation and intense turmoil!

This makes me believe that there is a Celestine conspiracy that is working overtime__pushing us, nudging us, elbowing us, often to our chagrin, towards our destinies. This makes me believe too that when the student is ready, the teacher, always, does appear!

Each person in your Life is your Teacher!

Celebrate the teachers in your Life! Celebrate everyone in your Life! Because, everyone is, in some way or the other, teaching you about Life!
The conventional definition of a teacher is one who helps you qualify on the academic side. But what use are the education you receive, and the degrees you accumulate, if you don’t know how to live your Life intelligently? This is where the definition of a teacher merits expansion.
There’s the ‘guru’, of course! And that’s not always the one who is the ocher-wearing, bearded sage who mouths mantras. The word ‘guru’ is derived from Sanskrit. In simple terms, ‘gu’ means ignorance and ‘ru’ means the remover or dispeller. So, literally, a ‘guru’ is someone who removes ignorance, the darkness, in you and lets the light of knowledge into you! By this definition, anyone can be a guru. Anyone who removes the veil of ignorance and helps you soak in wisdom of any kind. Even a detractor is a guru. Or someone who lets you down. Because a detractor is teaching you how to face criticism and someone who betrays you is teaching you the value of trust.
When you don’t see people as teachers you may tend to miss the learning in each interaction, in each moment. This eventually retards your inner growth.  
Historically, in India barbers were considered a lowly class. And were looked down upon. Unfortunately, more often than not, they still are. However, in recent times, hairdressing and its practitioners have gained respect and found both professional and social standing. At a time when I had a lot of hair on my head, I would visit the salon at The Taj Residency Hotel in Bengaluru. My favorite hair stylist was a middle-aged man called Ramalingam. He is a simpleton. But very skilled and has a great service attitude.
Ramalingam: My Charioteer Guru!
One afternoon, may be 15 years ago, when I showed up at the salon and Ramalingam began working on my hair, I got a call on my phone. It was a colleague who was reporting that a client had not made a payment that was long overdue. I had given specific instructions that we needed to have that payment collected one way or the other. I was naturally upset. Without realizing where I was seated, with little respect to the others around me in the salon, I let off a lot of steam at my colleague. I may even have used a few expletives. When I hung up, I realized that Ramalingam had stopped working on my hair, and was standing some distance away. I presumed he had done so to allow me to finish my call. Impatiently, fuming, I gestured to Ramalingam to get on with it.
He moved forward, resumed working on me and with some hesitation asked me if he could be allowed to say something. I said yes. He then spoke: “Sir, who am I, but a barber? And you are an educated person. I see you as successful. Yet, unless you control your temper it will burn you.” He then chanted a verse from memory from the Bhgavad Gita which championed living in this world and yet being above it! He continued, “Sir, learn the fine art of living __ of remaining unmoved through joy and sorrow, in success and failure, in action and in acceptance! You shall then have made your Life memorable.”
Ramalingam’s extempore unsolicited sermon touched my soul. I realized my folly. It was the fondest call for awakening from a man least qualified technically for making it!. That afternoon, I believe, Ramalingam was like Krishna and I was his Arjuna. He was__and is__my guru because he dispelled, removed the ignorance in me. He introduced me, in the simplest of ways, to intelligent living! As they often say, “When the student is ready, the teacher shall appear!” Perhaps I really was ready that day!
To this day, although I don’t have much hair left on my head, whenever I am in Bengaluru, I do make the pilgrimage to meet Ramalingam. He reminds me that I am still a student of Life, learning from each of Life’s ambassadors who touch my Life in their own special, inspiring ways!
Therefore celebrate every single person in your Life. Do not have opinions. Don’t judge people. Each one you know is a teacher. And in their own ways, they are teaching you to love, to trust and to make a difference. Nobody is good or bad. Through people’s kindness you learn to appreciate the goodness and purity in all creations. People who forgive you teach you humility and how to elevate your perspective at times when you don’t need to. People who are unkind and unjust are teaching you patience and forgiveness. Thank everyone you know every single day for making you who you are today!