Surrender to the Cosmic Design

It is important to let Life’s design take care of you instead of you trying to control that design.
This does not mean inaction. This means insightful action. This means acting with a deep awareness of the nature of Life. That everything is transient. That you must live flowing with Life. This is what living intelligently really means. It means to be live spiritually. To be spiritual does not mean you must not live well. Spirituality, in fact, makes no demands on you. There is no need to abstain from anything, no need to propitiate any Gods, no need to observe any rituals and no need to give up anything compulsorily. Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. An awakening that teaches you how to live in this world and yet be above it.
When we are merely acting on Life, we are actually reacting. When we are acting with insight, we are actually meaningfully, purposefully responding to Life’s every move, every hue. That’s the only way to live in this world, face all its challenges, and still be above the world, and unmoved by those very same challenges. Only if you can prevent death, can you control Life, can you attempt to change its design for you. Without the ability to control death, controlling Life is like trying to grab and hold water in your fist__it is, well, improbable, impractical and impossible! The truth also is that, when you look back at your Life so far, you can’t but agree with the way your design has evolved. Every success, every tragedy, every opportunity, every loss, while it didn’t make sense as it unfolded or happened, appears to have so perfectly fallen in place, so sweetly timed.
So, surrender yourself to the cosmic design and flow with Life! Only then can you wear the Life it weaves for you on your sleeve!

Drink from the Cup of Life, one sip at a time!

Learn to be aware of what you are doing. It is through awareness that you become peaceful.
There are two ways of doing anything. You can do something mechanically. Or you can do it mindfully, with total involvement, with awareness. Try building awareness into your Life with simple things. Don’t eat, for instance, without being aware of what you are eating. We normally just eat – thinking of something else or we are checking our phones or we are swapping channels on TV or we are flipping through a book. We are eating alright, but we are not mindful of our eating. It is a listless, mechanical, to-do item on our checklist – you can’t avoid eating, so you eat! The way to eat with awareness is to eat with gratitude – for those several thousands of people, some of them nameless and faceless, who have toiled to make your meal arrive at your table – and to eat relishing every morsel. Enjoying food is a very spiritual experience. When you eat like this, mindfully, you train your mind to be in the present and not wander away. This is the way you can build awareness in everything – while walking, while drinking your tea or even  beer, while bathing, while gardening….in fact, while doing anything!
Now, be sure, the mind will protest when you order it to be present in the moment, to be mindful and aware. The mind doesn’t like to be in the now. Because when you are immersed in the moment, the mind cannot worry or grieve. And the human mind loves worrying and grieving! Think about this. When you relish each sip of your green tea – or any of your favorite beverage – in that moment of relishing, you will not be worrying about the future or be remorseful about the past. In that moment, there’s only the green tea, there’s only freshness, there’s pure, unadulterated joy! You will have the same experience if you were to take a cold bottle of water on a hot summer afternoon and drink from it. For those few moments that you quench your thirst, nothing will really matter. But this is where the mind will play dirty. It will draw you into the future – filling you with anxiety over something that is yet to happen. Or it will drag you into the past and make you feel guilty or sad about what has happened. So, for instance, how can you enjoy your meal or relish your green tea when someone’s dying in hospital (anxiety over a future event) or when you have had a massive argument with your companion (grief and guilt over the past)? Your mind will tell you that what’s more important than being in the now, is feeling anxious and/or feeling remorseful. And you will capitulate. This is what has been happening to you, to me, all this while. This is also why we don’t experience inner peace. But if you learn to tell your mind to back off, to allow you to experience the now, your mind will heed you. Surprisingly, with little or no protest. The mind though aggressive is very obedient. With consistent effort it can be trained. When you reach that state when you can learn to be fully aware and mindful, of whatever you are doing, you are actually free from the clutches of your mind. Then you are neither brooding nor imagining worst-case, yet-to-happen, scenarios. Then you are the peace that you seek!
Mindfulness is about being aware of whatever you are doing, by immersing yourself totally in that activity, consciously. It is through awareness that you can drink from the cup of Life, one sip at a time, one moment at a time.

Know where your horse is taking you

Whatever you do, do it with total awareness. When you are aware, when you are mindful of what’s going on, you live more intelligently – and peacefully!
I read a Zen story that the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hahn (a.k.a Thay) shares in a discourse. A man is riding a horse that is galloping very quickly. Another man, his friend, standing by the roadside, yells at him: “Hey you, where are you going in such a hurry?” The man shouts in reply, without looking back, “I don’t know. Ask the horse.” Thay says this is the situation most of us are in – especially those who are running crazy, from one meeting to another, chasing their tails and deadlines, in today’s rushed world. Some of us are even riding more than one horse at the same time. Our lives have become so busy, we don’t know where the horses we ride are going. Worse, we don’t even have time to think, to understand, why we are on those horses or where we may end up going.  
I can relate to Thay’s metaphor of the horse and rushing away not knowing where it is taking you. There was a time, when I ran a reasonably spread out organization. We had operations in six cities in India. And I had 40 people reporting to me. We had institutionalized, what we believed was a best practice, a process of my direct reports writing to me each weekend sharing their experiences, learnings and concerns from the past week. I spent Sundays poring over these reports at length. Even when my children, who were at that time young and needed my time the most, asked for me to take them out to a restaurant or to the beach, I carried these CEO reports with me. Some of these reports had bad news in them – a client was unhappy or a team member accused another of politicking or someone wanted to put in her papers. I was always a man in a hurry. So, when I finished reading these reports, I would be impatient for the weekend to get over. Come Monday and I was keen to address and resolve each of those issues that were escalated to me over the weekend. I don’t think having team members share with you weekly is a bad idea. But the way I followed that process was naïve. I ruined each of my weekends – resultantly, I was always on the edge, irritable and unhappy with things in my Firm and my Life! I simply did not have any time for the family – I don’t remember any meals I had with them or goofing off with my kids. I made no effort myself and whatever time I spent with them was only when my wife insisted or pleaded with me. So, for almost a decade of my Life, the only memory I have of weekends is of dealing with those CEO reports and fighting crisis after crisis during the week. I was just on this horse called work and I did not even know where it was taking me then.
My wake-up call came when my son, then 18, took off to study at the University of Chicago in Fall 2008. When we saw him off at the Chennai airport at midnight, I remember coming home and being unable to catch sleep. My wife and daughter were exhausted but I decided to wait for a text message from my son confirming that he had boarded. I fixed myself a drink and was walking aimlessly around the house. I stopped by a picture of his on one of the shelves and broke into tears. I recall asking his picture: “When did you grow up son? And so fast? I wish I had spent more time with you!”
Thay says each day, each moment gives us the opportunity to live intelligently. That opportunity can be seized only by being totally aware of what we are doing. If we look at our lives, a lot of it, our lifestyles, our way of consuming things, everything is steeped in mindlessness. We are just being driven crazy by the horses we have chosen to ride.

Only with total awareness can you understand the consequences of each of your choices and actions! Monday is a good day, as any, to take a deep breath and, even if you can’t get off a horse immediately, at least know where it’s taking you – and, if required and if you can, rein it in!