To feel the grace in you, around you – just soak in gratitude!
A young friend I met last evening wanted to understand how we can know that there is divine grace in our Life. “I don’t get it. There is so much suffering in us, around us; how does one even believe that there is grace,” he asked.
I remember asking this question to Swami Sathya Sai Baba some years back. I must confess that I have never met Swami personally. But I have experienced him, I have learnt from him, through a young messenger, through whom Swami speaks. So, when I asked the young messenger this question about why we should believe there is divine grace, when we are in the throes of suffering, he replied: “Swami says if you believe you are in control of your Life you will never see the grace in it. When you flow with Life, when you see the beauty of your human creation, and understand the context of your Life’s challenges, and realize how you are still able to navigate through all of it, and are grateful for what you still have, you will feel the grace in you, around you.”
I never quite understood the import of Swami’s reply and the Life lesson it contained immediately though.
But over the years, I have learnt that, indeed, the choice to experience the grace in your Life is purely a personal one. Much as it is a personal choice to be happy despite your circumstances.
When Swami answered my question, it was still the early days of our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). We were steeped in fear and insecurity. There was so much pain. I hated my Life then. Every day was a constant battle to try and control the situation. Every day I would set out thinking I was going to fix the problems we were faced with. And every evening I would come back home – beaten, deflated. And I would cry in Vaani’s arms. I was suffering a lot because I saw myself as a failure – unable to control the raging crisis.
But, thanks to Swami’s coaching, and my practice of mouna (daily period of silence), when I learnt the art of being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, I stopped suffering. The pain was intense. But I did not resist the pain. I just let it be. And the suffering stopped.
You see, you suffer only when you resist what is. But when you accept what is, and go to work on changing it, diligently, without any expectation of result or reward, you don’t suffer. You are despondent when you are only wishing that things were different and you are not doing anything or enough about changing your current reality. But when you know you have tried your best, and the results are still not adding up, you can only be calm, content, and interestingly, happy! This awakening, this ability to see Life this way, is possible only because I am soaked in grace.
To be sure, our bankruptcy still endures. The pain is still intense. We are far, far, far away from normalcy. Even our living expenses are still not completely covered. We survive each day fervently, working hard to put things back on track, praying for an opportunity that will conclusively turn around our story. But we do all of this with great equanimity, without suffering! And while we are doing this, we invest every waking hour in being useful – sharing our learnings with whoever cares to pause and reflect – Inspiring ‘Happyness’. This, we believe, is our Life’s Purpose!
When I look back at all the treacherous times that Vaani and I have been through over the last 11 years, I bow my head in gratitude for the grace in our Life, for the compassion of the countless people who have helped us along the way.
Take for instance, young Kumar, Swami’s messenger. He’s an amazingly talented musician and graphic designer. He may well have walked in the direction of his own dreams. But for over two decades now, his first priority is to be available as Swami’s messenger to help people (who are battered by Life’s upheavals and are clueless about what to do) by sharing perspectives and advice that Swami has for them. And Kumar does all this selflessly. There have been months when we have had to be with him every day, for long spells, just to understand what Swami is teaching us. In these times, I have argued with Swami, through Kumar, brazenly. I have yelled and thrown things around, unable to handle my cluelessness, my lack of control of our situation. But Kumar has been patient and available every step of the way. To me, now, that is grace – the very fact that we had a Kumar to reach out to in the first place!
And just look at the beauty of what is happening today. It is close to 6 AM in India as I write this Blogpost. It is the 23rd of November. It is Swami’s birthday. It is Thanksgiving. It is Guru Nanak Jayanti too today. And here I am sharing a Life learning. Isn’t this grace? That Vaani and I are still around to tell our story, to share our learning, that I can express myself through the written word, that you can read it and perhaps connect a dot with your Life, somewhere…isn’t this indeed grace…?
Thanks to my lived experience, I realize now that grace is like a Wi-Fi signal. It is always available, 24 x 7, to anyone who seeks it. And the password to access that signal, well, you may have guessed it by now, is gratitude!
Why is there so much suffering in, and around, us – despite so much emphasis on religion and rituals?
We were with some friends yesterday. And the conversation slowly wound its way to us sharing notes on the inscrutability of Life and the power of prayer and surrender.
A friend threw up these questions: “Is ritual an enabler for prayer? Is it necessary to be ritualistic to realize God – and happiness and equanimity? And does any ritual aid the process of surrender?”
Now, those are important questions. And I believe the answers, as I have gleaned from learnings from my lived experiences, lead us to a deeper, better, understanding of Life.
We must realize that we have all been created without our asking to be born. This is a choiceless birth for each of us. So, we must recognize that there is a Higher Energy, Creation, that has given us this human form and has given us this opportunity to experience this lifetime the way we are experiencing it presently.
I see this Higher Energy as Life itself. And I humbly submit to its intelligence, to its might and to its grace.
Some look upon this Higher Energy as ‘God’ – and their religious conditioning gives this ‘God’ a name, shape or form. But clearly, there is no disputing that there is a Higher Energy that powers this Universe, that has designed, and is administering, the cosmic Master Plan. Otherwise, why would you and I be human? We may well have been created as a less endowed species in the animal or plant world or even be an inanimate object – after all, they were all created too, without any of them asking to be!
So, to me, there are only two states to be in – eternal gratitude and total surrender. In fact, it is when these two states are maintained in unison, it is when they confluence, in us, in our view of our world, that true happiness and equanimity can be experienced and sustained.
Prayer is nothing but a way of expressing gratitude – Thank ‘you’, Thank ‘you’, Thank ‘you’! And prayer itself denotes surrender – I don’t know, I don’t understand, so I give myself up to ‘you’. The ‘you’ here is the Higher Energy, Creation.
This is all there is to Life. It is simple, easy to understand and easy to practise. The truth is you can never understand the mind of Creation. You simply cannot understand Life. At best, you can be forever grateful for who you are and what you have, and in complete surrender, flowing with Life for what it is.
We however complicate this process of flowing by resisting what is, by bringing in our logic, desire and expectations. Much of all human distress stems from our wanting our Life to be a certain way – to be different from what it is. As long as we want something, in a certain fashion, we will suffer. And that is what is happening to – and in – all of us.
The human mind, when it is suffering, is like a smoldering cauldron of myriad, uncontrolled, often wasteful and debilitating, thoughts. And religion, as a means of suggesting a method to calm the mind, to weed out debilitating thoughts and emotions, recommends rituals. The larger idea is that the rigor of ritual – in spirit and activity – will help you learn the value of gratitude and surrender. Deep at the core of all rituals, across religions, is this idea of complete, total, surrender. But what have we been conditioned to believe? Practise rituals to cleanse your sins; be ritualistic or you will be punished by ‘God’; if you want your prayers answered, your wants fulfilled, follow this ritual or that; rituals can banish your ‘bad’ phases and so on and on. Bottomline – we have been fed loads and loads of garbage in the name of religion and rituals. Which is why, despite all the rituals, despite all the religiosity in us, many of us are still unhappy, fearful, worried and are suffering endlessly!
So, my answer to my friend’s questions was this: “Do you normally need any apparatus to help you breathe? Not really. But, if your body systems are weak, well, you do need a ventilator. Similarly, do you need a method to practise gratitude and be in total surrender? Surely not. For, if you understand that being created in this human form is a blessing, you can only be grateful, you can only be in surrender. But if you don’t realize – or reflect on – this blessing, well, you then need a method, a device – a.k.a ritual and/or religion – to help you along. But, clearly, no method can help you live happily – in gratitude and surrender – unless you are willing to flow with Life’s Master Plan, for you, the way it is.”
Those are perfectly rational, logical, unavoidable questions. But do we even need to be asking them in the first place?
A reader asked me those questions the other day. And I responded saying that the question we really need to ask ourselves is this: Of what use is your faith if it can’t help you live your Life without fear, anxiety, insecurity and worry? Look around you, and perhaps even at yourself, I told the reader. Are all the religious rituals that we conduct monotonously and mindlessly, in the name of faith and prayer, of any use when we are not mindful of Life’s gifts__the grace, abundance, blessings in our lives__ and instead we continue to still worry, fear and agonize over what the (unknown) future holds for us?
Let me share here a conversation that I had with our family priest a few years ago. A self-proclaimed champion of piety, who called himself a ‘strict Brahmin’, he came to me asking for career advice for his son who was looking to join an IT services company after completing his undergraduate studies in software engineering. He explained that his son had been selected by a leading software company through campus interviews. Yet he claimed he was worried. Our conversation went somewhat like this:
Me: Why are you worried Sir?
Him: I don’t know if IT companies can offer job security the way the government can!
Me: Why would you, a faithful servant of the Lord, for years now, be insecure __ and want to seek security in a government job?
Him: Sir, how can God guarantee job security?
Me: What is God there for then if HE/SHE can’t guarantee you security?
Him: Sir, velayadathengo! Don’t pull my leg, Sir! God can’t come and tell me that my son’s future is assured!
Me: If God can’t tell you that, the one who has direct access to HIM/HER, who else can reach God? Why do you pray then?
Him: Sir, praying to God is my profession. I still need ‘something else’ to tell me that my Life is on track and that my family and I will be secure!
With due apologies, and respect, to my family priest, I must confess that this is the problem with praying mindlessly. The truth is faith and fear cannot co-exist. If you claim you have faith and you are still fearful of your Life, then, clearly, no matter how hard or long you pray, you don’t have faith. Period. Besides, that ‘something else’ which my priest was looking for__and I hope he found it in his own way subsequently__is ‘mindfulness’. When you are mindful of the present moment, and are grateful for it, that would be prayer enough to make you realize your God!
You will then find your God in everyone and everything around you. Just consider all your blessings starting with the fact that you have a computer or a smartphone, you have access to the internet and are able to read this post. There are many, many, many people out there who don’t have this privilege. Pause and reflect on your Life, and celebrate the abundance in it! Don’t you recognize your God’s presence when you feel the air in your lungs? Don’t you see your God in the sunrises and sunsets that happen outside your window every single day without fail? Don’t you see your God in a child’s smile, in leaves rustling in the night breeze, in a cow mooing and in a dew drop? When you view your Life from this angle, you will find your God in every form of creation that you connect with. You will find your God in each moment. And then you will understand and value what faith and prayer are really all about. You will realize that true prayer is living, with gratitude, in the moment and faith is believing that, no matter what the circumstances are, you will be taken care of, provided for and looked after!
Learn to be eternally grateful even for what you don’t want or for what you didn’t expect from Life.
Someone recently suggested that Vaani and I practice a method to help us “invite” money in our Life. The method involved picturing someone that we hated and seeking their forgiveness, in our mind, for hating them. If we did that with a deep sense of humility and engagement with the process, we were told, we would immediately “receive” money from unprecedented quarters. We politely declined the suggestion. For a few simple reasons: Principally, we don’t hate anyone. Second, we have forgiven ourselves and everyone around us. Third, we remain in an eternal state of gratitude to whatever has happened, is happening and will happen to us. We have understood that to resist anything is futile. So we are always in acceptance of what is. If we don’t like something, we simply go to work on trying to change it. And if we can’t change it immediately, we learn to be patient with the process of Life.
Being eternally grateful to everyone and everything, we now realize, is the best principle in Life.
Zen practitioners advise using this “mantra” in all contexts: “Thank you for everything. I have no complaints whatsoever!” This may not appeal to most people instantaneously because when you are caught in the throes of your everyday challenges, the last thing on your mind is gratitude. And this Zen practice seems almost escapist – as if you are choosing to deny what is, to deny reality! Which is why, this state of gratitude and non-complaining takes time attaining. The human mind always craves for what is not there. And rarely appreciates what is there. Don’t you bemoan scarcity all the time, rarely celebrating the abundance in your Life? Years of living like this have conditioned you to miss the opportunity in gratitude and to be ever-complaining.
To be sure, non-complaining does not mean there is nothing to complain about; it means you have chosen to be grateful for what is and not to complain about what isn’t! To break free from this self-defeating, ever-complaining attitude, do a simple exercise. Make a list of all, absolutely ALL, the things that you are grateful for in Life. And make another list of what’s not there, what you miss, in your Life. Now, do a dispassionate assessment asking yourself: Do you really think what you don’t have outweighs what you have? What you will discover through this exercise is the power in the Zen practice we discussed above. You will appreciate that there is no other way to respond to Life than with gratitude. You will then conclude that the best way to live is to simply be thankful for everything that Life’s given you. And you too will stop complaining and start living!