My Vlog today invites you to pause and reflect on what matters most and why! Viewing time: 3:21 minutes
My Vlog today invites you to pause and reflect on what matters most and why! Viewing time: 3:21 minutes
I am often asked how Vaani and I can live in a complete ‘let-go’ given the fact that our bankruptcy endures, now well into its 10th year. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) And I always say, “We do our best in the given circumstance and leave the rest to Life. We are always given what we need by Life.” My Book, my Talks and the conversations we curate are peppered with anecdotes of how Life continues to provide for us, how it takes care of us and how always, somehow, it arranges what we need. We may have never got what we wanted, but we have never been denied what we need. And what we need arrives in its own time, the way Life has willed it – not the way we imagined it would come, but in its own unique, often mystical, way!
Yesterday was one such serendipitous day.
Our electric coffee maker at home, a 5-year-old instrument, had conked off some weeks ago. Replacing it may appear like routine stuff – it doesn’t cost much, less that Rs.2000/- I guess. But the last several months have been very hard on us. There hasn’t been any income to speak of. So, a new coffee maker joined the bottom of a list of to-buy/to-fix items on my Excel sheet tracking home (forever in deficit) cash-flows. Even as I added it there, I knew it was going to take a while before it moved from there to the kitchen table through a physical purchase. Vaani’s coffee continued to be unaffected though by the machine’s breakdown and its prolonged absence. Ask me, and I will tell you, she’s not just the world’s greatest coffee maker (she doesn’t need brewing machines, filters, percolators – she makes the best coffee, no matter what!), she’s a true ‘happyness’ maker too – she never complains!!! And so, we adjusted, accommodated and have been ploughing on, sipping great coffee nevertheless!
Yesterday, we were visiting a friend, a renowned actor; and we got talking about each other’s coffee preferences. He told us how he would never compromise on his coffee and explained how he carried his coffee maker with him when he went for shoots. And then, suddenly, he rushed out of the room to return with a small, new, single-brew Vietnamese coffee maker. He demonstrated to us how it worked. He then thrust it in Vaani’s hands and, handing her a special Vietnamese brand of coffee powder, said, “This is for you. Please accept it. Tell me how the coffee tastes. You will love it.” Vaani and I surely understood the cosmic significance of the gift, but we didn’t get an opportunity to discuss it between us immediately. Even as we got home, a surprise awaited us. On the kitchen table sat a brand new coffee maker – a regular-sized, electric, one – a gift from our daughter Aanchal to us. She had discovered that Vaani was managing without a coffee maker and so she decided to get one!
On the face of it, these are just events. Arguably, perhaps, unrelated too. A coffee maker breaks down. A friend gifts a coffee maker. A daughter gifts a coffee maker. But Vaani and I truly believe that Life is very compassionate. And what connects the three events is a simple message – trust the process of Life and you will get whatever you need, in its own time, when you need it!
Beyond celebrating this truism in each moment, Vaani and I try to make no meanings out of Life. Living in a ‘let-go’, to us, is just what it is. Let go! So we don’t question why so many pressing needs, according to us – including a health situation – are not getting taken care of. We don’t ask when that Excel sheet and its list of to-buy/to-fix items will either turn empty or when we will have enough not to have those items waiting in a painfully endless, prioritized, queue. We don’t feel frustrated, guilty or fearful that over a million dollars in debt still remains owed to people; we believe and we know it will all be repaid in due course with interest. We have simply let Life take over and we go with the flow – doing what we can surely, but never complaining when we don’t get what we want or even when we get what we don’t want.
This is what we know and have learnt from Life. Letting go is not scary, it is not difficult. You too can live in a let-go if you can learn to trust Life. This does not mean there will be no problems. It doesn’t even mean you will get all that you want. It means you will see serendipity in every occurrence and you will learn to be grateful for all that you have and get. And, interestingly, all that you have and get always ends up being all that you need!
Newspapers this morning report that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has attached the properties and assets of a, now infamous, multi-level marketing (MLM) firm. A friend had messaged me last evening asking me if we were engaged with this firm in the past. He had noticed news breaking on the networks of the ED’s action and was connecting the development with our own story. Indeed we were engaged by this firm as consultants – as reputation managers – back in 2002~2003. That engagement changed our Life forever. I talk about, without naming the firm, this experience extensively in my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal. In a way, the primary trigger for our bankruptcy can be traced back to this engagement and our ethical decision to separate from the firm. But, as I shared with my friend over WhatsApp yesterday, “No bitter feelings! Such is Life!!”
A few years after we disengaged with this firm and when we were in the throes of our fully-blown bankruptcy, a senior official from their side reached out to me. He wanted to know if we would be willing to consult with and advise his company again. The India operations of the company had by then come under investigation by the ED and local law enforcing authorities. So, the invitation was to consult for them outside India, out of Malaysia. I politely refused the offer. The official knew how grave our financial situation was. So, he dangled many a carrot.
And when I didn’t take the baits, he sent me this SMS message (I still have it saved in a Word document; I reproduce it verbatim from there): “AVIS – Wake up and smell the coffee. The interest rates will cripple. The banks will be after you. You will drown. Something will give way. Maybe Vaani will. She may give up on you. Maybe the kids will never forgive you. I am your well wisher. I have seen Life. Sharing my learning from business and financial disasters with you. I mean well my friend. Whether or not you take our offer up, take charge of your Life. Before it is too late.”
Of course, I thanked him for his courtesy and replied: “Vaani and I are soulmates. We are in this together. I don’t need to ask her this. I know this. And you will see us rise from the ashes. Like a Phoenix.”
My friend’s message of last evening and this morning’s newspaper reports brought back memories of this experience. My biggest blessings are Vaani and our precious children Aashirwad and Aanchal. I am eternally grateful to Life, that despite what we are going through, we thrive as a foursome. Of course, we are a long, long way off from rising from the ashes. But seriously, there is no rancor, no aftertaste of what happened and where we find ourselves today. Indeed the choice I made, based on our core value of integrity that Vaani and I hold so dear, to separate from this firm, altered our Life irrevocably. But I only see all that has happened as part of a grand cosmic design.
Because we separated from this client, to whom we had a 60 % revenue exposure, we had to bring in debt to fund working capital requirements and expansion plans. Because our business income did not match our plans and projections, the debt ballooned and culminated in our bankruptcy. Because we have been bankrupt for over a decade now, our debt of Rs.5 crore remains unpaid to our 179 creditors, and our Life has been so, so, so painful and materially dysfunctional. Yet, because of all this, we learnt the value of reflection, resilience and resourcefulness. Because of all this, we learnt that it is possible to be fearless, face Life no matter how daunting it is and be happy despite the excruciating circumstances. Because of all this we have awakened to our Higher Purpose of “Inspiring Happiness” among all those who care to pause and reflect.
The singular, big learning in Life I have had is this: everything, absolutely everything, happens for a reason. Every event that occurs, every individual you meet or connect with, has a role in your Life’s screenplay. There is a not-so-apparent, but unputdownable, conspiracy for things to happen to you, and people to come into and depart from your Life, in such a manner that you are where you are in Life just now. So, roll with the punches. Don’t be bitter with anyone or anything. Nothing could have happened differently to you. Everything’s happened exactly the way it should have. Everything’s perfect, just the way it should be. And you are exactly where you ought to be in Life!
Mindfulness is the key to inner peace.
Today we spent a large part of the morning cleaning up around our home. Vaani and I simply love house-keeping. Indeed, it does make us happy.
In fact, to me, personally, house-keeping, is a meditative practice. It is not a chore. Yes, it does become a challenge when you have to juggle with your other schedules and have to try and fit in quality time for house-keeping. But I have realized that I am very mindful when I am cleaning up around the house. I go about it calmly, methodically and, however physically strenuous it may get at times, I enjoy the process. I love doing the dishes or cleaning surfaces, I invest time to get the toilets to be squeaky clean and generally love the idea of having a dust-free home environment – something that’s so difficult in Indian conditions and so requires being at it continuously, consistently!
I have discovered that when you are mindful of whatever it is that you are doing there’s great inner peace and joy. And no work or task is menial or burdensome as long as you don’t treat it as a chore. In fact, immersion really means being completely involved in, engaged in, and mindful of whatever it is that you are doing. Of course, it is possible that you may not always like to do some things. But when you don’t have a choice – and you have to also do what you dislike doing – if you choose to be mindful, you will get through that task or activity even more efficiently than when you are resisting it.
The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, a.k.a Thay, says it so beautifully: “In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.” The essence of what he has to say is contained in the last phrase – ‘it is a serene encounter with reality’.
Most of the time, almost all of us, resist our reality. We don’t like what we are going through. Or we dislike what we have to do. Or we are so engrossed in dealing with our ‘extended’ realities that we miss the magic and beauty of everyday living. Thay recommends that we must awaken to the reality in each moment. And not just to be stuck with our ‘extended’ reality. For instance, if you keep worrying about a relationship issue you have, and keep mourning the fact that you are unable to fix it, how will you enjoy a sunrise? So, in this context, your stagnant relationship is your ‘extended’ reality. But the more immediate one is the sunrise. Enjoy it, says Thay, because soon it – the moment bearing the sunrise – will be gone. Meditation is really what the art of living is all about – the ability to value each moment, cherish it, be joyful in it and move on to the next moment with undiluted enthusiasm.
How can you enjoy a moment when it is painful, you may wonder? What if someone is dead? What if someone’s betrayed you? How will you cope with a moment when you are wishing it away? That’s why Thay prescribes a ‘serene encounter with reality’ – he says, don’t resist, don’t fight, instead accept, what is. Accepting what is, is the best way to inner peace. When you accept your reality, you begin to experience joy in the moment.
The human mind is like the human body. It can be trained. I have trained my mind by practicing both silence periods (mouna) and mindfulness – immersing myself in what I do. Over time, I have learnt to banish worry (despite the daunting circumstances my family and I are faced with; read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal.) and just be in the moment. Often time, cleaning around my house gives me that sense of equanimity. Through my own experience I know that if you immerse yourself in whatever you do, you too can be happy, despite the circumstances!
Someone we know cannot somehow heal. She’s bitter, heart-broken and caught in a depressive spiral of self-pity. She had a simple question: “Why am I always unhappy?”
I replied to her that the good news is she at least knows she is unhappy. There are so many, many people out there who are unhappy, who are suffering, but they don’t even know they are unhappy. Or, a better way to state it would be to say, they are not aware that they can be happy despite their circumstances.
People are unhappy, people suffer, because they are allowing unhappiness into their lives. They are accepting conditions, situations that intrinsically make them uncomfortable. Or they are resisting realities about their Life that they can’t change. Very simply, they are fighting what they can’t change and they are not changing what they can. This lady for instance has a lousy job and a relationship problem in her personal Life. What she must be doing is to change her job, and accept that her relationship is over and she must move on. Instead she suffers in her current job and is denying that she has a relationship problem. So she is unhappy. And is suffering.
Surely, each of us has more than one situation in our Life that makes us unhappy. And the way to happiness is to get rid of anything – or anyone – that is making us unhappy. Postponing happiness is like postponing living. Just as you cannot get back a moment that you have lost in Life, you can’t go back in time and be happy. If you understand this truth about Life, you will not only want to live a fuller Life, you will want to be forever happy with a vengeance.
In Zen Buddhism, there’s this concept of living each day as if it were your last. The Buddhists imagine a little bird sitting on their shoulder to which they point an all important question each morning. “Is it today?” Meaning, is today my last day here, on this planet? This question helps them prioritize and live meaningfully every single day.
Maybe, the way to keep unhappiness at bay, the way to avoid postponing happiness, is to ask yourself this question too. Ask “Is it today” and go live your day as if it were today. What would you do if you knew today were your last day here? Would you be unhappy and lament over what you don’t have or will you be happy doing all that which made you deliriously happy, what made you come alive? If awareness of your impending, inevitable death is all that you need to drive away unhappiness, and be happy, then, please for your own sake, deploy that awareness! J
Last evening we were at a party to mark the launch of The Art Bistro at Grand by GRT. The organizers had arranged for a casual lounge conversation, anchored by famous RJ Devasena Subramaniam, between film-makers Gautham Vasudev Menon and Venkat ‘VP’ Prabhu. It was an unplugged conversation alright, and the two famous men were talking to each other as great friends would – laughing, ribbing each other and, at times, being candid too! Those who managed to listen to the conversation felt enriched with the perspectives they heard. But few people actually did that. As celebrities kept pouring into the Bistro, people greeted each other, clamored for Seflies, some even called out aloud to each other across the room, while others scrambled at the bar. At several points during the evening, the organizers kept inviting the guests to listen to the conversation between Gautham and VP. But in vain. Seeing one of the exasperated organizers make one more valiant effort to quieten the room, Gautham piped in reassuringly. He said, “It’s okay! They are having their conversations. And VP and I are having ours.”
To me that was a deeply spiritual view of how to deal with the chaos around you and still be engaged in the moment, in its beauty and its magic.
Anyone else in Gautham’s or VP’s position may have refused to continue with the conversation – not just because they are intelligent celebrities whose views on their films and Life merit attention, but also because it is very poor etiquette to drown a show that has been got together by your hosts in mindless din, senseless shor.
But this is the way Life is. There is always a lot of stuff happening to us, around us. If we wait to sort out our Life in order to do what we want to, we possibly will never get a chance. Someone, somewhere or something, always, will remain undone, unstuck. If we really want to do something, we must go ahead and do it, inspite of the circumstances. And that’s one learning I picked up from Gautham’s Zen-soaked stance last evening. Second, there wasn’t a trace of any holier-than-thou attitude or ego among the two men. As they answered Devasena’s carefully curated questions or as they ribbed each other, it was very evident that they were enjoying the process thoroughly. It didn’t matter to them if anyone listened in or not. To them, what mattered most was that they were in conversation with each other. And I believe there’s yet another significant learning for all of us here.
In inviting the organizer to chill, Gautham, perhaps unwittingly, showcased his Zen. Had he and VP brooded over why nobody was bothered about their ‘celebrity conversation’, had they wondered what people would now think of their celebrity status, they would have missed the beautiful opportunity that was available to them – which is, engage with Deva, and each other, in an uplifting, meaningful conversation! I felt there was art not just on the walls in the room, but in that conversation too. It was indeed very, very Zen.
Zen is not a method. It is not a practice. It is a state of being. It is total immersion in whatever is happening in the moment. If there is only one quality in you that you want to hone, let it be Zen. Because only your Zen can make your mind powerless. The human mind thrives only in the dead past or in the still-to-be-born future. It loves clinging on to anger, grief and guilt from what’s over, what’s past, and it revels in magnifying anxieties, fears, insecurities through worrying about what has not happened yet. In the present moment the mind is powerless. Osho, in fact, called the present, the now, as the ‘no-mind zone’.
Simply, you don’t seek Zen. You are Zen. You just have to drop all the layers of non-Zen that you have accumulated owing to habits, social conditioning and debilitating emotions to realize your Zen. When you are Zen, you simply are, you are happy – no matter what your circumstances are and no matter who’s watching and who is not!
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At a grocery store the other day a friend tapped me from behind. We exchanged greetings and generally caught up. He then went on to say that while he found my daily blogposts “interesting” he “seriously doubted if it was indeed possible to live the way Vaani and I are living”. “How can you live in a let-go, when you have a problem to solve, a situation to fix, responsibilities to discharge and especially when you know you are intelligent, capable and driven,” he asked.
This is not a new question. I used to ask myself this question until some years ago. And people often ask me this question at my Talks or workshops.
The simplest way to live in a let-go is to understand that Life does not happen because of us. It happens inspite of us. Just because we have got ourselves an academic education, we are skilled, we are ethical and sincere, and we are earning an income, we imagine that we are in control. No we are not. We never were. Life has been and will always be in control. So, let-go really means to go with the flow of Life.
Now, when Life happens to a plan that you have conceived you think you are in control. Fair enough. But ever so often Life will change, in such a manner that you will be reminded of and made to realize that you are not in control. You can fight it and resist it, but unless you accept the Life you have and unless you flow with it, you will feel miserable.
I talk from personal experience. For almost close to a decade now, we are trying to fix our business situation with no progress. I have a health condition that requires surgery but we don’t have the means just yet. Every material aspect of our Life requires mending in some form or the other – human beings can survive a bankruptcy, we realize, things cannot! So when we examine our Life closely, Vaani and I see so many, many, many dimensions that are beyond our control. And yet Life just goes on – whatever we need always finds its way to us. Incredibly, miraculously! The best way to live, therefore, we have learnt, is to live in a perpetual let-go.
Yet living in a let-go is not inaction. It means living in total acceptance, living in faith that you will be taken care of and provided for no matter what the circumstances are, living in gratitude, and living fully, making a sincere effort even when the results are not adding up. Now, that’s a lot of action!
Living in a let-go does not require any practice or preparation. To be sure, anyone can live this way. It just requires an understanding and acceptance of the impermanence of Life. It requires living with humility, acknowledging that Life is more intelligent and more powerful than you. Think deeply. Your frustrations come only from your subconscious desire to be in control of everything you have and of everyone you know. In a way, you don’t want your things or your people to be taken away from you. Technology has only made you seek more of instant gratification. If something is broken, it needs a fix immediately. If something is not working out, you agonize over getting it to work instantly. If you lose something, or someone, you grieve over that loss endlessly. But there are times in Life when fixes won’t work, won’t be available and when you will have to wait endlessly till they arrive! In such situations you will end up being unhappy. Happiness, on the other hand, really is about getting rid of – letting go – whatever you don’t have, isn’t there, can’t fix or have not got. You are unhappy only as long as you cling on to something.
This is as true about our material assets as it is about our relationships and our emotions. When we get rid of the thought, the expectation, that something, or someone for that matter, should always be with us, we will be free. And happy. So being in a let-go is really about celebrating impermanence. Life’s most well-kept secret is this – as long as you are not clinging on to anyone or anything, you will not suffer!
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