Teach your children how to keep the faith and to be grateful

Faith, not religion, and being grateful, not ritualistic, are the keys to facing Life’s upheavals.

When I was raised, there was an effort, naturally, to mold me in the classic TamBram culture of being God-fearing and ritualistic. I first resisted that attempt – not entirely to challenge the existence of a Higher Energy but more to rebel against my parents – but soon, as I graduated to adulthood and began a family with Vaani, I developed my own method for communion with divinity. I retained my secular and pragmatic, non-ritualistic, outlook to Life even as I visited places of worship seeking inner peace, answers to existential questions and often to simply recharge myself. Over time, I came to the understanding that religion is completely avoidable – in fact, it is my personal opinion that it must be treated like a narcotic, it should be never tried and must possibly be banned on the planet! I also understood that the real God is the one that is within, your Life source that keeps you alive and going. It is the same Higher Energy that powers the Universe that is in you, in me. So, in effect, you are the God you seek. So the right way to be is to not be God-fearing but God-loving! Which is why, as I have realized, it is very, very important to keep the faith in yourself. Swami Vivekananda sums this up so beautifully: “He is an atheist who does not believe in himself.”

I believe it is the responsibility of all parents to raise their children with this understanding of Life and champion the relevance of faith in today’s times. Faith is not what you have in an external agent or resource. Faith is what you fundamentally have in yourself. It is the awareness that if you have been created you will be looked after and cared for. It is this awareness that can help anyone get through Life’s upheavals and crises. Surely no one’s Life is going to be free of problems and challenges. No one is going to get through Life without facing at least one situation that defies logic and human problem-solving skills. It is to deal with such a situation that we must teach our children the value of keeping the faith in themselves – which is, really, in the Higher Energy that has created all of us! Indeed, the presence of a teacher – someone, who can lead and coach without bringing in religion or rituals – will be highly valuable here. But the absence of such a person is never going to stall one’s inner evolution and awakening. Faith is so unique and intensely personal that when there is faith anything – a.k.a miracles per the world – is possible!

We must remember, however, that faith works miracles only when you develop and retain an attitude of gratitude. Even in the gravest of situations, if you are grateful for the Life you have – at the most elementary-yet-profound level for simply being alive; remember, you are having this experience only because you are alive! – you will find that Life will always open doors. You may not often find all the solutions you are looking for, but you will discover newer ways and means for experiencing Life, for facing your situation and for lasting yet another day.

hqdefaultAs parents we have to teach our children the right values no doubt. We must give them the freedom of choice to live their lives their way surely. But, in addition, we must also teach them how to keep the faith and how to express their gratitude for this free, unsolicited (none of us have asked to be born!), limited-period gift called Life. Protecting our children from going through their upheavals and learning curves in Life will never work. Each one of us has to bear our own cross. So it is for our children too. We can be there for our children, we can be with them, we can walk with them every step of the way, but we can’t live their Life for them or instead of them. The only way our children too can evolve and grow up to be better human beings, more resilient and compassionate, is by learning to keep the faith that all is well and to be grateful for whatever is, the way it is!   

Find your center … keep the faith … soldier on in peace!

The faster you find your center and anchor in it the more peaceful and happy you will be.  
Yesterday, I read a beautiful op-ed piece that was carried by The New York Timeslast week. Titled “Abundance Without Attachment”, the piece, written by author and President of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur C Brooks, encourages us to move away from materialism and find happiness, abundance and inner peace through detachment. Brooks uses the metaphor of the wheel of fortune, rota fortunae, to explain how as people, as a race, we have all been conditioned to cling to the periphery of Life, holding on to the material aspects of our lives – power, wealth and assets; and so when the wheel of Life turns, as it surely will, you are pushed down if you are on top and you are pushed up if you are down. Per ancient Roman philosophy, the Goddess Fortuna, rotates the wheel which has the picture of a king on top and a picture of the same man as pauper at the bottom. This basically means that as long as you are on the periphery of Life you will have to deal with the ups and downs, with the highs and lows, with gain and loss, with success and with defeat. But, says Brooks, if you move inward, to the center of the wheel, you could be unmoved by all that happens to you in Life: “Fixed at the center was the focal point of faith, the lodestar for transcending health, wealth, power, pleasure and fame — for moving beyond mortal abundance.”
I completely relate to Brooks’ perspective. You can too. Just look around you. You will not find one human being who is not touched by this wheel’s movement. Around you and me are millions of stories of people who were once blessed with health, wealth and reputation who are now struggling with none of these. And you will find millions more, who were unknown, unheard of, making it to the limelight, gain wealth and living an abundant Life. The only thing constant about Life is this change of position if you are at the periphery. But if you choose to be detached, if you choose to let go or reach the state of willingness to let go, you will be unmoved by everything and anything that happens to you. Whether you are up or down, whether you are gaining or losing, whether you are on a high or a low, nothing will matter. Because at the center, you are untouched, and, therefore, unmoved.
Through the experience of our bankruptcy and from being penniless in Life, I have learnt the value of finding my own center. I realized that I am not my bankruptcy; I just happen to be in a bankrupt state. This does not mean that I am poor. I reasoned that I am rich with my experience, with my expertise and with my learnings from Life. It became clear to me that it just so happens, that for an extended period of time now, I don’t have money. This clarity emerged in my mind when I understood the power of finding my center. I found my center thanks to a quote I read that is attributed to Swami Vivekananda (1863~1902): “Live in the midst of the battle of Life. Anyone can keep calm in a cave or when asleep. Stand in the whirl and madness of action and reach the center. If you have found the center, you cannot be moved.”  Until I read this quote, I would be consumed by anxiety and worry, I would snap at every provocation and break down for the smallest of reasons. But Vivekananda inspired me. I took to the practice of mouna (observing daily silence periods). And through that practice, over a few months, I found my center.
I still live, with my family, in the throes of our abject and challenging financial condition. But I must report that I have learnt to be at the center of my Life’s wheel. And, let me add, it’s a blessing to be at the center. Living at the periphery always has this feeling of inbuilt insecurity – what if you are blown away? But living at the center means you know you will be provided for, taken care of, and will be given all that you need. Being at the center also means, therefore, keeping the faith.
If you are struggling with an imponderable – a health, money or relationship situation – try finding and moving to your center. That’s the only way you can soldier on in peace!

You are an ‘avatar’ too … created with a specific Purpose!

The key to intelligent living is to look within and find your Life’s Purpose manifest itself in front of you!
Here, take a break. And think about this calmly. There obviously is a reason why you and I have been created as human beings. Else, we could have been created as the swine that spreads the flu. Why be created as the human who gets that dreaded flu? So, let’s stop cribbing and instead celebrate being human. 
The problem with most of humankind is that we lament being human. We say, justifying our limitations and frailties, ‘After all, I am human’. When we look at our creation from that perspective, we miss seeing the limitless power and potential within us. We are so overwhelmed by stories from history that we fail to see our true Self. We have grown up imagining that we are lesser mortals. For instance, when Krishna was born, so we are told, the prison gates opened and the serpent sheltered the baby as the father crossed the overflowing river in pouring rain. When Jesus was born, again as we have been told, the three Kings were guided by a star in the sky. When Nanak was born, I remember reading this in an Amar Chitra Katha edition, those visiting the child found a halo around the baby’s head. But who recorded what they saw when you and I were born? Who tells the stories of our birth? Therein lies the reason as to why we don’t recognize who we are and what we are truly capable of.
Know that if Mother Teresa’s Life had a Purpose, if Swami Vivekananda’s Life had a Purpose, if the Prophet’s Life had a Purpose, so do our lives__your’s and mine. Swami Sathya Sai Baba says it beautifully,”The difference between you and me is that I know that I am God. And you don’t know, or you refuse to accept, that you are God!” We will start living intelligently when we know that each of us has been created as a human with a specific Purpose. We are ‘avatars‘ too….or ‘messiahs’, if you like.

Simply put, your Life’s Purpose will manifest itself in front of you when you stop searching for God outside of you. Being human is to know that the Godlight is within you. When you find it within, you too will ‘awaken’ to a lifetime of loving, serving and living!

Your attitude to Life is a decision you must take

 Allow Life to work on you. Life’s endeavor is to make you better, stronger, useful and a work of art.
So, as you are put through Life’s phases, you will be beaten, pushed down, defeated and discarded. When this happens your mind forces you to imagine that you have been created to suffer. That there’s a cosmic conspiracy to make your Life miserable. That everyone__and everything__is coming at you. To get you. To finish you. Hardly! Every knock, every fall, every unanswered prayer is Life’s way of testing you, challenging you and making you stronger. Swami Vivekananda could not have said it more simply: “The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong.”
So, allow Life the freedom to sculpt you. Not that you__or I__can resist it. Because even if you did, Life will still have its way. However, when you resist Life, you suffer. When you let go, when you permit free access, you are in pain, but you don’t suffer. Also, when you are not resisting, Life works faster. It sees your willingness as an opportunity to mold you freely. When you are willing you are like clay. When you resist you are hard, like stone. Breaking down stone, as you pretty well know, takes a lot more effort than molding clay.

But what’s the purpose of all this? Why do I need to be stronger or better? Can’t I not be this way__the way I am? Rational, logical questions, you may ask. But remember this: since you were given this lifetime without your asking for it, you must, with the same rationale and logic, conclude that you don’t have a choice but to allow Life to work on you the way it wants, demands and does. This acceptance is intelligent living. When you live with this acceptance__of everything that’s happening to you and around you__you will find Life meaningful, beautiful, even without it being the way you originally imagined it to be.  Your attitude to Life is a decision you must take. As an old African proverb reminds us: “You can’t direct the wind. But you can always adjust your sails!”

Don’t flee from Life, face it!

Have the audacity to face Life. Look your most difficult moments in the eye.
Last evening, we were visited by a family which has got mired in a web of circumstances. The father, who is a Director in a firm, had signed several personal guarantees for financial transactions on behalf the firm. The promoters of the firm embezzled the money and vanished. This gentleman now is having to face the consequences of the firm’s transactions and is accountable to the firm’s creditors for monies owed to them. His wife and two daughters brought him to us – so that he can get some direction on how to deal with creditors in a situation like this. The gentleman, with his limited wisdom and experience, and also fearful of the ire of his firm’s creditors, asked me if he too must “vanish” from the scene. I told him that I wouldn’t advise that he takes such a step. I said that he cannot disrupt the lives and education of his daughters and make them pay for his wrong choice of associating with that firm and for the firm’s questionable dealings. I advised him to seek legal opinion and figure out a way where he could disassociate physically from the firm. In the meantime, I advised him to meet all the creditors, individually, and explain to them why he too is a victim of the circumstances and why he doesn’t have the means to pay any of their dues.
“But taking that route means I will have to face the anger of the creditors. They won’t believe me. They will deal with me very harshly,” feared the gentleman.
“You don’t have a choice Sir. While they will be belligerent at first, they will also appreciate your proactive and responsible behavior. You will have to convince them of your sincerity and genuineness. This is your singular option right now and the only way you can, over time, get out of this mess,” I explained.
The gentleman and his family went away promising to act on my advice. Whether they do that or not is entirely up to them. I hope they will. Because running away from a problem does not make the problem go away. Facing a problem too does not make the problem go away. But when you face a problem, there’s no chasing, there’s no expending of precious energy wastefully. That energy can be employed in solving the problem instead.
But the normal tendency we all have is to run __ from challenges, responsibilities and consequences __ away from Life. Instead stand up and face it. Look at tough situations and say that you are going nowhere and you intend lasting the journey. When you do that, you will find no peak difficult to scale, no challenge impossible to overcome and no trouble that obstructs your path forward.
How do you get this quality called courage in you? By knowing that what you are going through is a test and that the lesson will appear only when you face the test and survive it. By knowing also that nothing is permanent __ not money, not Life, not troubles, not opportunities. When you face Life with such clarity and equanimity, you will be unshakeable. You will have what the world calls courage. And with courage you can last any journey, however impossible and treacherous it may be. Swami Vivekananda couldn’t have said it more appropriately: “Face the brutes. That is a lesson for all Life—face the terrible, face it boldly. Like the monkeys, the hardships of Life fall back when we cease to flee before them.”

When you are fully aware, you need not suffer anyone, anymore

There are some people in whose presence we feel extremely uncomfortable. Something in the way they conduct themselves puts you off. And at another level you do recognize that you are made very differently and there can be no chemistry at all between both of you. So, every time you have to meet this person, you go into a agonizing dilemma. You are thinking of ways and means to avoid the encounter. You make excuses. And when you can’t avoid anymore, you suffer deeply in this person’s presence. Your physical discomfort morphs into awkwardness and eventually into unhappiness.

I have been through such experiences too. And at many times I have had the urge to tell the person, whom I loathed meeting, what I felt deeply about her or him. But social niceties, the intricacies of the relationship between us, would force me to not express myself frankly. Even so, suppressing what your true feelings are always leads you to more unhappiness and grief.

I used to have a neighbor who is very, very wealthy. He simply loved to talk about his wealth. He talked about his cars. His yachts. His vacation homes. His businesses and how much profits he had made from recent projects __ giving details brazenly of which politician or bureaucrat he had bribed. And he talked endlessly. He would accost me in the elevator, in the parking lot or even, at times, invite himself over into my living room to launch off into his completely unwelcome self-expositions. There was no way I could escape his tyranny because he simply had no sensitivity. He didn’t bother about another’s time, space or privacy. For several months I suffered. It came to a point when I would dread bumping into this neighbor and so I would be very wary of even stepping out of my apartment. I would rush out or in so that he did not see me. It was a stupid way of living in my own house. But there seemed no other way! I could have perhaps told him off. Or had a showdown with him and put him in his place but then he was a neighbor and nobody wants to spar with a neighbor. So, I simply kept suffering.

That’s when I read this story about Swami Vivekananda. Just before his famous trip to the USA and his iconic speech in Chicago, Vivekananda visited Jaipur on the Maharaja’s invitation. The Maharaja gave Vivekananda a grand reception that was worthy of a king. There was a public procession…flowers, lights and the royal works. In the main court, the durbar, of the King, an elaborate dance performance by the leading courtesan, a devadaasi, of the King was organized. When the performance was about to begin, and Vivekananda came to know that the dancer was a prostitute, he rushed up to his room and locked himself up. He refused to come out. He was afraid the prostitute’s presence would corrupt his moral pledge to be celibate. He was even angry with the King for having the audacity to invite a prostitute in a Swami’s presence. The King came up to the room and profusely apologized. But declined to send the prostitute away because his value systems prevented him from sending anyone away from his court. He said he could not insult or humiliate a guest in his court, even if she was a prostitute. The prostitute, when she heard of what was going on and delaying the start of her performance, was very hurt initially. She had heard a lot about Swami Vivekananda’s brilliance and had considered it her privilege to be dancing in his presence. She then took a momentous decision to begin her performance without either the King or his important guest being in the Court. She sang as she danced. The song is very beautiful. The song goes – “I know that I am not worthy of you, but you could have been a little more compassionate. I am dirt on the road – that I know. But you need not be so antagonistic to me. I am a nobody – ignorant, a sinner. But you are a saint – why are you afraid of me?” As the song wafted through the palace corridors and reached the young Swami Vivekananda’s ears, something happened to him. He confessed later that he was defeated by the prostitute. He came out of his room. And he watched the whole performance in the court. That night, he wrote in his diary: “A new revelation has been given to me by the divine. I was afraid… must have been some lust within me. That’s why I was afraid. But the woman defeated me completely, and I have never seen such a pure soul. Her tears were so innocent and the singing and the dancing were so holy…. Sitting near her, for the first time, I became aware that it is not a question who is there outside, it is a question of what is.” Surely, with that experience Vivekananda transcended to a new level of consciousness. He became fully aware.

Reading this story, I awakened too. I realized that in the context of either my bombastic neighbor or in some other key relationships, where there was a complete absence of chemistry, wherever I was struggling, I needed to look deeper. I needed to look at what isthan who is there outside. What is behind the exterior, behind the packaging is the same beautiful cosmic energy that powers each of the Universe’s creations. The diversity is in the packaging. The shapes, the sizes, the colors, the bells, the whistles, the bows and ribbons, mislead us. We develop a distaste for and suffer people, or even start hating their very presence, without focusing on what is in them. My awakening led me to learn to tell people, like my neighbor, politely that such intrusions and self-expositions were not welcome anymore. I did this with complete equanimity__no agitation, no hesitation, no fear, no pride__and honesty. And ever since I told him that, he stopped behaving in that manner with me. In another relationship, I simply told the person that the chemistry between us doesn’t work. Period. Even so, I have learned to appreciate people just as I appreciate myself. I still struggle sometimes missing ‘what is’ for the packaging, but my awareness does a great job playing the role of a reminder service. It quickly reminds me to go beyond the outside, the exterior, the packaging, every single time. With this awareness there is no more suffering, no more unhappiness, in anybody’s presence!