It helps you to be unmoved when the wheel of Life inevitably turns.
The other day we bumped into a close friend of our family, Swami Suddhananda. We were meeting him after over a decade. So, I gave him a quick overview of our Life situation and presented him with a copy of my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal. Suddhananda held my Book in his hand and said, “Isn’t it beautiful how Life works? Without your bankruptcy, there will be no learning, no evolution, and without that, there would be no Book. So, everything in Life, every experience, is a way of making you better and better!”
Indeed. 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 just because I have no money. I reasoned that I am rich with my experience, with my expertise and with my learnings from Life. It just so happens, that for an extended period of time now, we have not had money. This clarity emerged in my mind when I understood the value 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.
In medieval culture, there’s the metaphor of the wheel of fortune, rota fortunae, which explains 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 if you move inward, to the center of the wheel, you could be unmoved by all that happens to you in Life. That center is also the focal point of faith, where you understand the value of trusting the process of Life, of its roller-coaster nature. Then you go beyond the ephemeral and the peripheral – money, power, position, relationships – and are drawn to understand what matters most and why.
If you are at the periphery of the wheel you will continuously be changing position. But if you choose to move to the center and learn 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, are unmoved.
Vaani and I still live in the throes of our very challenging financial condition. But I must report that we have learnt to be at the center of our 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 inherent 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.
So, if you are struggling with an imponderable – a health, money, career or relationship situation – try finding and moving to your center. That’s the only way you can soldier on in peace!
Going numb with a Life situation is a natural response; but it pins you down and makes you unhappy!
A reader’s comment on my Blogpost yesterday invites me to clarify between two different states that we can possibly be in when dealing with Life. One is when we are unmoved. And the other is when we are numb. The two are distinctly different states of being.
Let me share what I have learnt from Life about these two states.
Being numb is an inactive state. It signifies a resignation. There is a detachment here, a let-go too, perhaps. But all of it is passive, inanimate, almost as if you are feeling dead and are just going through the motions.
But being unmoved is a very alive state. Here you are conscious of everything that’s happening to you, but you are choosing not to respond. You can feel pain, you can feel the weight of whatever is being thrust on you, but you are choosing not to get snowed down by any of it. Being unmoved is a spiritually evolved state. Here too there is detachment, there is a let-go, but you are letting go while fully trusting the process of Life.
In our case, Vaani and I going through this decade-long bankruptcy. In a physical sense it is numbing. It has incapacitated us materially. It has slammed us to the ground and pinned us down. Yet, we are unmoved by the situation. We soldier on unmoved by the gravity of our problem or by the debilitating nature of our circumstances. We awaken each morning to live a Life of Purpose – of Inspiring Happiness among all those who care to pause and reflect – but we are unmoved about whether we are successful or not, we are unmoved about what people think of us and we are unmoved about how much longer we have to go through this phase of our Life.
Going numb with a Life situation is a natural response to a shock, when Life deals you a crushing blow. When you are numb, you are unhappy. But choosing to be unmoved is a lot of work. You have to, over time, train your mind to be alive to the moment. You have to make an important, intelligent, choice to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. And only by being unmoved can you be happy!
When you are clueless, let go and flow with Life.
I woke up this morning not knowing what to do about a situation that we are dealing with as a family. We had sat up late last night thinking through and brainstorming. But a solution continues to evade us.
Vaani and I are not new to either such no-go situations or to cluelessness. Over time, we have learnt to deal with them with equanimity than with panic or by worrying. So, I sat at my desk and surrendered to Life. I said, “Look here, I don’t know who you are or what you are. But I know you are a Higher Energy. I know you are more intelligent than I am. So, I will be led by you, I will be guided by you. I surrender.” I have always experienced that such a private conversation within myself, with creation, with a Higher Energy, has helped me. It helps me anchor and move to my center. And when I am anchored to my center, I am unmoved, no matter how furious the storm around me is.
In the eye of the storm, the epicenter of a cyclone, there is no destruction. Because there is no chaos. There’s only peace. And the strength of a storm emanates from its core. The epicenter of the storm is also its power center. This is science. I have learnt to apply the same logic to Life’s storms also. And it works big time, for us – for Vaani and me.
So, when I don’t know what to do, I let go and flow with Life. I know this flowing to be my Faith. I know that we will be looked after, taken care of, provided for and shown the way. I don’t know where the path is taking us but I always believe that it will eventually take us to where we must arrive. Taking that path and trusting it implicitly, to me, is putting my Faith to work. And that’s what I am doing, yet again, today…
When you tell people ‘look at me’, you must also be prepared to hear what they think of how you look!
A celebrity performer, who is also a close friend, asked me the other day if I had downloaded the Sarahah App and tried it. I told him that I was not interested in the Sarahah experience. (If you are uninitiated, Sarahah is an App through which people can give each other anonymous feedback.) But he quickly added that people are already depressed using Sarahah because they are unable to “digest the feedback” they receive. I told my friend that one reason why people are likely to feel depressed is that while they are asking for feedback, they are actually seeking validation. They are expecting glowing tributes and fan mail and when they are not getting it all the time, they are feeling depressed. I am not against using a tool like Sarahah – but if you are using it, then you must be prepared to receive all the feedback that comes your way. Simply, when you tell people ‘look at me’, you must also be prepared to hear what they think of how you look!
Hearing my perspectives, my celebrity friend confessed that he found Sarahah very “unnerving” He said, “I know public opinion is fleeting. But I am constantly driven by this urge that people must appreciate me. When they don’t offer an opinion, I feel sad and when they criticize my performances, I feel miserable. So, essentially, I am always seeking validation of who I am from someone or the other. I thought Sarahah will help me but it has only made things worse.” He wanted to know how he can let go of his desire for validation.
I told the gentleman that the very fact that he believes he must rid himself of his desire to seek validation is very positive, very progressive. In order to reach a state of total detachment from people’s opinions of you, the futility of seeking validation must be first understood.
So, I asked him: “Do you perform for your inner joy or do you perform for public approval and acclaim?”
He replied: “I love performing. So, I do perform for my inner joy. But I also feel incomplete without public approval and acclaim.”
“When you perform and you seek public approval and acclaim and you get it, you think you deserve it, don’t you?” I asked.
He said he believes that he deserves it.
“Then why do you think you don’t deserve critique or criticism for your performances?” I further asked.
The man thought for a moment. And then he said, excitedly, “I get it. If I like being appreciated, I must be prepared to accept criticism too!”
I commended him on quickly grasping the learning there.
And that really is the point. If you are doing something that is visible to others, and you like hearing good things about what you are doing, then be prepared to receive the brickbats too. You can’t choose and claim to be deserving of one and undeserving of the other. To be detached from both the accolades and the criticism, you must learn to do whatever you do as an offering to the Universe, as a prayer to a Higher Energy. Then you are doing what you are doing only for your inner joy. Then who says what about you, what others think of you, none of this really matters.
I have learnt from Life’s experiences that seeking validation is a zero-sum game. Instead, if someone praises me, I am grateful – for their kindness. If someone ridicules me, I am again grateful – for their honesty, which is, they are being honest about how they feel about me.
Even so, no Sarahah for me please, thank you! I just do what I love doing and take any feedback that comes my way as constructive critique and move on. I have learnt that not seeking validation and choosing to be unmoved by what others think of you is a way to evolve spiritually. It takes time to attain this state of detachment. But once there, you will love the inner peace and equanimity that it offers.