Don’t try to escape your reality. You simply can’t.
I read a story on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, in TIME magazine recently. I liked the way TIME’s presented her story, of how Sheryl’s coped with her husband Dave Goldberg’s sudden death in May 2015. I haven’t read Sheryl’s book yet but I love its title and its focus. Basically, I understand that her book is an attempt to encourage people out there to talk about grief and to “change the conversation about adversity”.
This is what Vaani and I have done too over the last 10 years.
When we were first struck by the horrific reality of our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) in end-2007, there was so much guilt, grief and shame in me. I would go into the bathroom, so that Vaani couldn’t see me, and cry. I would look into the mirror and insanely ask myself “Why?”, “Why me?” Over time, I realized asking the “Why?” question was futile; Life had to be faced. No matter what your situation is, it is always what it is. You cannot escape your realities in Life. Whether you are bankrupt, like me and Vaani, or whether you have lost a dear one, like Sheryl has, or whether you have a debilitating health challenge, like a cancer or depression, or whether your career has plateaued or whether you are having a relationship issue – whatever it is that you are dealing with, you have no choice but to face Life. And the only, practical, way to face Life is to accept and embrace your reality. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily change your reality. Your problem doesn’t go away. But your ability to deal with your situation is enhanced immeasurably. Look at our story – for Vaani and me, our bankruptcy – read prolonged spells of worklessness and moneylessness – endures. It’s been a decade already. But we have only grown stronger through the crisis, from our experience.
And that’s something very true about us human beings – the more we deal with any problem situation, the stronger we emerge from it. To be sure, we are all endowed with inner strength. But like the Bluetooth feature on your smartphone, you must activate the resilience in you first for you to deploy it. For me personally, the activation and deployment happened when I simply told myself this: “This is it. We are bankrupt. We have a mountain of debt to settle. We have no work. We have no money. We have two teenagers to support. We have Vaani’s dad to look after. Now, what must we do to face this situation and survive it?” That’s really what resilience is all about. Asking yourself the now-what-must-I-do-to-face-this-situation-and-survive-it question activates the resilience feature in you; in anybody.
In our case, over the past decade, we have often times, hit situations when we don’t know what to do. But each time we faced a no-go, we did the next best thing. Which is to live in the moment. That’s how we trained ourselves to be in the present and, over time, we understood happiness as being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. Someone recently asked me, whether I am bitter about Life – especially after “being a failure and being unsuccessful for the longest time”. The truth is I am not bitter at all. Why will I be bitter about a phase that has taught me so much about living – about living purposefully, about being happy and about knowing how strong I really am?
For Vaani and me, like it is for Sheryl, our raison d’etre now is to encourage people to face Life and not to be snowed under the weight of their problems. We are, every waking moment, Inspiring Happiness among whoever cares to pause and reflect. Our crisis has given our Life a Purpose. If you can relate to and internalize what I have shared here, your Life situation can help you discover your Purpose too.
And that brings me to a very powerful, unputdownable, insight I have gained about Life. All our Life stories are unique but the learnings we pick up are often similar. So, each of us will come to our Option B points in Life and each of us will embark on our own Fall Like A Rose Petal journey. Adversity always brings in its wake shock, grief, guilt, fear, insecurity, anxiety and a whole host of debilitating emotions. But they will torment you and hold you hostage only as long as you resist adversity, as long as you run away from it. Once you turn around and face your Life situation, when you look Life squarely in the eye, you only emerge stronger, wiser and – believe me – happier than ever before!
When you ask yourself why you are doing something, you may well end up not doing it!
Wonder if you have thought of this. Why do people speak on the mobile phone while driving – especially when riding a two-wheeler in India, where they hold their phone between their shoulder and ear, even as they navigate through busy roads? Is it that these people don’t know that what they are doing is inherently dangerous – not only for them but for other road users? Or is it that these people are mindlessly doing it?
Of course, it is a cultural issue in India that if there is a law, the average Indian citizen will violate it. But beyond the general tendency to not be law-abiding, there’s a reason why people behave this way. That reason is best explained by understanding how the human mind works.
Most of the time, you are just doing stuff without realizing what you are doing. Because if you realize, if you evaluate, for instance, the safety hazards in speaking on the phone while driving, you possibly won’t drive when on the phone or you will stop to speak and then proceed. It is not as if you don’t know it is both legally wrong or unsafe, yet you go on doing this – speaking on the phone and driving. All the time. You don’t realize that you are not even present in the moment when you are on a call! Either you can be engaged in the conversation or you can be engaged in the moment. You can’t be doing two things at once. Which is why, speaking on the phone and driving is discouraged and disallowed. Let me quickly clarify that the issue here is not just about speaking on the phone and driving. In most contexts we are absent from the now, from the present moment, because we are either clinging on to the dead past or we are anxious about the unborn future. This is why, while we know many things are ruinous, we go on doing them. We know overeating is ruinous, but we overeat. We know worrying is futile, but we go on worrying. We know waking up late will kill the exercise regimen, but we go on snoozing the alarm. We know surely what is integral to our inner peace but we go on doing stuff that vitiates it only because we don’t immerse ourselves in the moment. So, pretty much, most of the time, we end up not being aware of what we are doing!
If you carefully observe yourself and your thoughts through a full day first, and then over a week, you will see a pattern. You will recognize that you know that you should not be doing several things that you are doing currently. But you will also realize that despite knowing it, you go on committing hara-kiri with your Life.
The rider on the two-wheeler, often not even wearing a helmet, with a phone clutched between shoulder and ear, with the head tilted awkwardly to prevent the phone from falling off, is but a metaphor. Of living stupidly – of knowing what must not be done and of going on doing it; simply because you are not aware, you are not living in the moment.
Living intelligently – knowing what you are doing and staying immersed in the now – can be achieved by consciously, and continuously, training the mind. Ask yourself why you are doing what you are about to do – maybe eat an extra helping of dessert, maybe drink and drive, maybe lose your temper on someone, whatever! When you ask yourself why, you often end up not doing what you were setting out to do! Training your mind means to learn to invite it to pause, soak in the moment and only then act – every single time! This pause is what makes the crucial difference between living intelligently and living stupidly!
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There’s no point asking why things happen to you. Truth is, there are no answers!
Early this morning, I was on the weekly Southern Spice radio show (on Radio Zindagi 1600 AM), that’s popular in the Tristate area on USA’s East Coast, with RJs Subha, Venky and Sridhar. I was talking about how it is possible to ‘Help Yourself To Happiness’ despite your circumstances. Subha wanted to know how we can try to reason why things happen to us.
I often get asked this question. I have asked myself this question too for a long, long time. The truth is, among all the questions that you ask in Life, ‘why’ and ‘why me’ are the most wasted, pointless questions. There are no reasons for why things happen to us. Life is just a series of events, happenings.
Ideally, we must not approach anything with logic in Life. I firmly believe that there’s no logic to Life – for you can’t ask questions of Life and expect to get answers! Yet, look around you, isn’t Life sheer magic? But because logic is so ingrained in us, as part of our educational conditioning and knowledge-fabric, we ask ‘why’, we ask ‘why me’, we want to know the cause and effect of everything and we reason with Life’s happenings by trying to connect the dots. Even if we can’t say for sure why something is happening to us, our human, logical, analytical, mind, goes back and tries to connect the dots backwards. And we gloat over and glorify the fact that we have found the reasons for why Life happened to us the way it did. But, if we pause to reflect, we will see how pointless such analysis is. Isn’t it enough you know you have a problem and have to deal with it? How can you solve any problem by asking ‘why’ and ‘why me’? Isn’t ‘How’ a better question to ask when you seek resolution to a problem?
What comes between you and your happiness is all this avoidable, wasteful analysis. There is no Life for each of us, at any time, before the present and beyond the present. Your Life is always happening in the now. Yet you allow your mind to drag you into the past and hold you hostage there or you allow yourself to be terrorized by worries of a future which is yet to be born. Interestingly, if you drop the ‘why’ and ‘why me’ questions, dealing with Life becomes instantaneously simpler. Because when you don’t question, when you don’t resist whatever’s happening, you can only engage with it. Engagement means being available to, being accepting of, just being with whatever is. When you just are, you may be shaken, but not stirred, you may be under pressure, but not beaten, and you can be happy no matter what is happening to you!
From wanting your Life to be different, just learn to love what is.
Last evening we met a friend who opened up to us about his Life. He said he had been out of circulation for the last three years because he was dealing with his own challenges – his business was not doing too well, his wife had separated from him, his children had gone away on their own Life journeys and he was literally coming back to an empty house every night. He said he didn’t know what to do. He was not sure if he must have an affair or hit the bottle or take up a sport or simply sulk. He said that as long as he kept asking ‘why’, ‘why me’ and ‘why me now’, he kept feeling miserable. But his quest for answers led him to inspirations – Osho, J.Krishnamurti, Thich Nhat Hanh – and those in turn led him to reflect on the true nature of Life. He says, “I soon found that happiness is a choice. I realized that I can’t always get what I want. So, I decided to live with and love what I have – my loneliness.” Once he accepted his current reality, our friend told us, he felt great peace within and soon he ended up finding more focus in whatever he was doing. His business is now picking up and he’s happy the way he is and with the world around him.
Our friend’s experience there is a beautiful example, a reminder of sorts, of how each of us has through our own unique Life paths. You have to feel lost in Life first before you go on to find yourself, find inner peace and happiness. Nobody can escape this aspect of Life. You have to bear your own cross, you have to face your demons and you have to go through what you have to go through.
It sure is possible to love what you want in Life. But how can you love what you don’t want? How can you love death? How can you love a grave illness? How can you love betrayal in a relationship or a financial loss? How can you love sorrow, fear and anxiety?
To at least accept, even if you can’t love, what you get in Life, you have to understand Life deeply. Actually, Life is pretty simple – it’s just not in your control! You have been created without your knowledge. Without your asking to be born. Your creation has been a magical event. But you have not known it. You have been created as an embodiment of the Universal Energy. But you hardly see yourself as that because the labels of your name, your religion, your education, your economic strata in society, your profession, your income, and many more such labels, have been stuck on you. These labels are the cause of all your desires. Each of your wants is a consequence of your having to live up to the reputation of the label that dominates your Life at a particular time or moment. For example, in reality, you don’t need many of the things that you buy and possess in Life – like a swanky car, a large apartment in a premium neighborhood, expensive jewellery, a club membership and such. But you have them around or desire them because you have a social standing to maintain. Society has packaged you in such a manner that you are acceptable to them. Who you truly are has been buried deep below several layers of those labels or masks. Beneath all of them is the non-wanting, non-desirous, accepting you. So, to be happy, you must just peel off the masks and labels that you wear for society’s sake, and get to the real you.
Wanting your Life to be one way or the other is what causes unhappiness. The truth is that you never caused your Life. And you can never control it. When you internalize this truth, you will discover that it changes the way you look at Life – from wanting Life to be different to loving what is! You will then realize that you can live fully and be happy despite your circumstances!