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.”
On his birthday today, I recall an unforgettable experience and an unputdownable lesson that Swami taught me!
Today is Swami Sathya Sai Baba’s birthday. I have never met him. Or seen him.
But in the last decade his ‘presence’ has filled my Life. Vaani and I have been personally ‘coached’ by him, through his medium – a young man through whom Swami speaks to us. And what I have learnt from Swami is this: Live immersed in the moment, live in gratitude!
I remember some years ago, one evening, I sat at the Chamiers Café in Chennai brooding over my Life. Everything was so dark, so hopeless. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) And both Vaani and I were clueless. My laptop was open in front of me. But I was staring blankly at the screen – I had no idea of what I must do, where I must begin and how I must proceed. Vaani was at home attending to her father who was ailing at that time. So, I was alone. Without her by my side, there was no one to talk to. My thoughts were steeped in worry; I was feeling insecure, anxious and fearful.
That’s when the phone rang and I snapped out of my reverie.
It was Kumar, a supremely talented music composer and sound engineer in his own right. He is my dear young friend, who is just a shade older than my own son Aashirwad. Kumar is Swami’s messenger, he’s the medium through whom Swami communicates to seekers.
Kumar asked me: “AVIS, Swami wants to know what would you be doing at the moment, if you had nothing to worry about!”
I laughed and quickly replied, “Well, I would be enjoying a drink.”
Pat came Swami’s reply, through Kumar: “Then, go have it and then call back to report!”
I don’t know why. But I didn’t protest. I didn’t argue. I didn’t analyze. I just packed my laptop bag and trudged back home. I fixed myself a drink, played my favorite R.D.Burman tracks and enjoyed myself. Three drinks down, I called Kumar.
I said: “Well Kumar, please tell Swami that I had three drinks and I am feeling good.”
Kumar asked: “Swami wants to know how much did you worry while having the drink?”
I replied: “I didn’t worry at all. I was so immersed in the joy of having a drink and listening to R.D.Burman’s immortal music. I felt grateful that I could at least have a drink in peace when there’s so much turmoil and trauma in my Life. And I was grateful for R.D.Burman’s genius – how uplifting his music is!”
Kumar then said: “Swami says, immersion in the moment is the key to being non-worrying. You didn’t immerse yourself in your drink, you immersed yourself in the moment. Your faith in Swami made you just immerse – without questions, without analysis. Now that you have known how to do this, why do you need a drink, why do you need Swami? The next time your mind races to the future or is stuck in the past, bring it to attend to the present moment. And learn to be grateful for what is. Whatever you have, be grateful for it. The circumstances are not relevant to inner peace and happiness. Your immersion in the moment is important. Your gratitude is.”
That was a very beautiful, unforgettable, one-on-one ‘coaching’ session, if you like, that I had with Swami. There have been countless such sessions. And even many, many night-long conversations, debates, arguments on the meaning of Life, on why Life is inscrutable, on keeping the faith and on how to cultivate patience. Through each of these interactions with Swami, through Kumar acting as a self-less medium, I have learnt to anchor, to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, to be happy – despite my excruciating circumstances.
To me Swami is no Godman, as the term is popularly, loosely, used. He’s a dear, dear friend. On his birthday today, all I can say, humbly, to my Coach, my Teacher, my friend, is, “Thank you, Swami!”
Value the opportunity in (and of) this lifetime. There may not be another as far as we know it!
I met someone recently who said that while he valued being an Indian, he valued owning an American passport more. He said, “With an American passport you can travel to most places in the world. With an Indian passport, you have to keep seeking visas to enter many countries.”
I don’t disagree with his logic. Of course, he has a point.
But I guess to be born human is the biggest opportunity that we often fail to recognize, let alone value or feel grateful for. This human Life is the most valuable passport we can ever ask for. Think about this deeply. We have all been created, we are born, without our asking. For all we care, we may well have been created as the swine that gives the flu than be created as the human that gets the flu from the swine.
So, to be human, to be alive and to be able to read this post means a lot. It means that you are more blessed than several million other people on the planet – who are vision-impaired, who don’t have an education, literacy, a computer or access to internet. Your lifetime is a limited period offer. Value it, avail of it, use it, live it fully, gratefully, happily, while it lasts.
Mindfulness leads to an eternal celebration of Thanksgiving!
We were at a community dinner yesterday. It was hosted in the car park of a building that was nearing completion. As we waited in a queue to pick up our plates, a huge blob of black paint fell on me from above. I was wearing my favorite white Cottonworld linen shirt. The paint obviously stained the shirt badly, irreparably, on the shoulder and on my back. Of course I was startled. And angry too. It was a beautiful white shirt, always sitting so elegantly on me, despite being over a decade old. In a couple of minutes I could make out that the shirt was a write-off. Even as I was contemplating if I must go up the building and reprimand the painter in question for being negligent, the queue moved up. And it was my turn to pick up the plate.
I decided to focus on dinner. It was a simple, sumptuous dinner of bissibelebath and thayir sadam, pulikachal, vadam and appalam. Volunteers served us with so much warmth and joy. As I enjoyed my meal, I thought of the number of people who would have toiled to make it possible. I thanked the farmers who grew the grains, the mandi-wallahs, the cooks, the milk suppliers, the helpers who arranged the buffet and the volunteers who served us…my list was in no way complete! It can’t be. Because, in reality, so many stakeholders make each living moment possible for you. So, there’s someone, somewhere always for you to thank in any moment, in any context!
After the meal, when I was riding an Uber back home, I thought of the painter. In these times of demonetization, when daily wages are not being dispensed so easily, I celebrated the man’s willingness to work so late into the evening. He surely didn’t intend for the paint to drip down. He perhaps didn’t even know that it had or that it had stained someone’s shirt. To me, it didn’t matter – not anymore.
I simply loved the learning the entire episode and experience offered. In reality, I had lost a shirt, a beautiful white Cottonworld linen shirt – my favorite. I would have continued being livid had I clung on to that accident and to that wave of anger that had naturally arisen within me. Had I been that way, I may have eaten my dinner, but I may well have missed the beauty and magic it served. This is what being in the present can do to you, this is what mindfulness delivers to you. It helps you detach from a dead, often painful, past. It prevents you from straying into the future, where, because it is unborn and, therefore, unknown, it is always dark. When you graze in the dark, you will obviously be gripped by insecurity and fear. But when you are mindful, there is total freedom – you are neither held hostage by the past nor are you scared of the future. So, mindfulness is about being available in the present moment. It is about accepting whatever is. And when you are immersed in what is, there is only gratitude, only celebration. Just as my dinner yesterday was; a simple observation of gratitude over some bissibelebath and thayir sadam led to so much celebration in me.
Now, this isn’t about one dinner. It isn’t a one-time experience. To be sure, metaphorically, there’s always a painter dropping a blob of paint on you somewhere, somehow, and there’s always a great meal being served up with so much warmth somewhere, somehow! So, mindfulness is an opportunity that’s available in each living moment. And this can be the way you live your entire Life. Because from the moment you are born to the moment you die, your lifetime is never made up of only what you do. So many millions constantly contribute to make your Life happen. In fact, pause for a moment and think of how many people are helping you read this blogpost – think of the folks that invented the mobile phone, think of the founder of the Internet, think of me and all those people that helped me be who I am so I can share my learnings with you, think of your parents who gave birth to and have raised you, think of those that taught you the language, think of how miraculous it is that you have been born – without your asking to be created – human….again, this list too is endless…aren’t you soaked in gratitude, aren’t you recognizing the celebration that your Life really is? Even in times when you feel betrayed, beaten and defeated, by people and events, there’s an opportunity to be grateful – for such experiences teach you what not to do, they teach you forgiveness, they teach you of the impermanent nature of Life.
Being mindful is the simplest and the best way to live Life. Imagine, if we were to spend our entire lifetimes in gratitude for who we are and how we have got to where we are – then won’t Life be an endless celebration? Simply, mindfulness is the only way we can be celebrating Thanksgiving eternally…!
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In prayer, be grateful and offer yourself to the Universe.
I know someone who is never available for any conversation or meetings. Every time we try to connect with him he’s either at work (which is for about 5 hours a day) or he is performing poojas, worshipping. He runs a small business and by his own admission, performs 8 prayer rituals a day, in three spells, over 12 hours. “Are you happy,” I asked him one day. “Hardly. Business is tough. A lot of money is stuck with debtors. I am continuously in prayer trying to seek a way out,” he said.
This man’s confession substantiates the case I am making – merely being ritualistic is never going to solve any problem for you. Yet, to each, his or her own way. Especially in matters concerning faith and prayer. But Zen offers a beautiful perspective on prayer. And it is worth thinking about and understanding.
Zen Buddhism says that true prayer is when no petition, no wish, is made, when no assistance is sought, but when mindfulness is practiced. Through such practice, you offer whatever you have, a flower, an incense stick, or maybe even yourself, to something higher than yourself. What can be and is greater than you? Creation. Creation is the Higher Energy. So, offering yourself to Creation, makes you be one with the Universe. When you offer yourself you are expressing your gratitude for your creation and everything that you have. You are saying – “You created me. Thanks. I am offering everything I have, mindfully, consciously, with all my being, to you.” That’s when you truly unite with the Universal energy and are soaked in its brilliance and abundance.
The popular notion that prayer is an appeal to an “external, invisible” God is a by-product of how religion has come to be practiced over many centuries. Maharishi Patanjali had demystified this in one of his works, perhaps at the beginning of the Common Era, where he equated God to be a mere clothes peg. Just as you would hang a coat on a clothes peg on the wall, we have been taught to pray looking to a “non-existent” God. He says, God is an invention, because, if God isn’t there, who will you pray to? But just as you would have learnt to hang your coat elsewhere if there were no clothes peg, you must learn the value of prayer, and develop the ability to pray, in the purest, truest sense. When you pray, as a means of complete surrender to Creation, then you don’t need a God, you are the prayer and you are one with who you pray to. God, he says, is for beginners. Like when you are learning cycling, you need the small wheels on either side of the bicycle’s rear wheel to help you balance. But once you have mastered cycling, you don’t need those two small wheels jutting out – you discard them and that helps you ride freely. So, it is with prayer. The more you learn to pray, unconditionally, humbly, as a thanksgiving, the more peaceful you become.
True prayer is totally non-ritualistic and non-demanding. It imposes no conditions. It asks for nothing from you – not your time, not your offerings. You don’t need to fast nor do you need to give up or abstain from anything! It is not what you do out of fear (that God will punish you if you don’t pray) or out of greed (I want this or that – grant me my wish!). It is always about being in the moment. The moment that you choose to offer your gratitude to Creation for all that you have and are endowed with – that moment itself is your prayer. You can be anywhere in that moment – you could even be seated on the potty! Also, there is no price to be paid in prayer and there are no rewards to be claimed. When you pray, you pray. And that prayerful moment, when gone through with all humility and gratitude, is itself the reward, the treasure, the fortune!
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