Seek and let seek

indianflagWhile wishing everyone a Happy 70th Indian Independence Day, I request everyone to pause and think about what being Indian is to us.

India and Being Indian to me has always been all about accepting and understanding all the cultures this land has been home to.

We have been home to many saints and philosophers and have never stopped learning spiritual lessons all the time.

seekingApart from established religions, India has always honoured the mystic, the seeker, people who wants to have nothing but God in their lives.

In India, spirituality and religion are part of everyday life. In no other country, perhaps, will you see a sadhu (a renounced ascetic or a practitioner of yoga) walking on the street with just a blanket and his rosary as his possessions without attracting any attention. India is home to all the major religions of the world, thriving in harmony since centuries.

It is perhaps only here that one can see people making the symbol of a cross while going across a church, giving a chadar (blanket) to a mosque and then proceeding to a temple to pay obeisance at a temple while singing the gurbani (hymn) of the Sikhs and/or a Buddhist chant to complete the process of reaching out to the Divine.

Why just organised religion? Even minstrels of all kinds are always honoured in this land. In fact, even became insane for the love of God is considered a valid path like those shown for instance by the Bauls.  The word Baul comes from the Sanskrit “Batul,” which means mad, or “afflicted by the wind disease.”  The Bauls are India’s wandering minstrels of West Bengal, whose song and dance reflect the joy, love and longing for mystical union with the Divine.

This is true Indian freedom. Freedom to pursue the path you wish to while respecting all who follow their path. For in India, it is the act of worship is the thing that matters not the names and symbols.

This is indeed the true strength of India. It is not just ‘live and let live’ but ‘seek and let seek’.

 

The three sieves

There are many oft repeated tales that we all need to keep telling ourselves to lead a life that does not harm others and our own selves also.

socratesIn the times of social media and exchange of excessive information exchange, this is indeed what is happening to most of us all around. The three sieves of Socrates indeed guide us to understand the principles we ought to apply. .

Socrates had many students. One day, he took his students to go outside. When they were passing a village, there was a man running near Socrates, almost out of his breath, : “Socrates I have to tell you something about your friend who…”

Socrates : “Hold on”,

“About the story you’re about to tell me, did you put it through the three sieves?”

The man asked : “What are three sieves?”

“First sieve, did you examine what you were about to tell me if it is true?”

The man scratched his head and replied : “Well… I just overheard about it from others”.

“Oh, then there comes the second sieves, sieves of good. Is it something good what you’re about to tell me?”

“Ehm… maybe it’s the contrary?”

“The third sieves, is it necessary to tell me what you’re so excited about?”

“Well, Socrates…I don’t think it is necessary”.

Socrates smiled, “Well, if the story you’re about to tell me isn’t true, good and necessary, just forget it and don’t bother me with it”.

This is perhaps why people like Socrates rose to the highest level of humanity as he could focus his energies on only those things that mattered and just ignore those things that either had no relevance or substance to move further on the right path.

Let us try and apply these very principles in these days of TRPs and trying to prove ourselves right in each and every area of life. This would be good for us and by extension for the world.

Reprogram and deaddict yourself

livingfreeMany of us may think addiction is only about substance abuse either smoking, drinking or using drugs. This is actually not true and complete at all. Addiction could be about anything. One may be addicted to sweets, situations or even people. Now, there is nothing wrong with either the people or things we are addicted to. It is our attitude that needs to change.

How do we do this? One thing we could explore is to see how the addiction makes us act mechanically like a robot. I know a friend of mine who would blindly keep eating sweets although she had been diagnosed with diabetes. This of course created problems but she could just not stop. To change the pattern of tests and retests, she had to reprogram herself. Slowly she did begin changing her behaviour and life did begin to change.

The same is true even of emotional needs. Many of us are addicted to other people’s opinion of us. This is surely not necessary and logical. We could be happy when compliments are given but not make it an addiction. To change the old programming, choose one or two short, pithy reprogramming phrases that counteract specific demands.  Thus to counteract the demand for approval and /or compliments, the phrase “I don’t need approval/compliments” would be appropriate.

Similarly for a situation when one is addicted to never making mistakes, we could say, “I don’t have to reject myself if I make mistakes” would help. We could reprogram by replaying the scene and re-experiencing our emotions.  We could get in touch with the suffering your addictions have caused us and with a determination to get free.

Some simple steps we could use are

  1. Close your eyes. Take ten deep, rapid breaths. Tense the  muscles. Build up all the emotional energy we can.
  2. Reprogram with intensity and power.
  3. Repeat your reprogramming phrases with gut-level determination until we feel that they have become part of us.
  4. Put yourself back in the same scene — this time with the new programming in operation.
  5. Reaffirm the new programming by visualizing yourself responding to the situation with new positive responses and feelings based on your new programming. Reaffirm that you can be free of old programming — free to be how you really want to be in order to enjoy all of your life.

With this, let our energy build for a drive toward freedom.

The two wings of enlightenment

togetherness2Though there is hatred ruling the world all over now, I firmly believe this time will indeed pass as mankind has shown us time and again that it is sharing and caring that can save us and the world.

All masters have taught us that in order to realize enlightenment, we must work on developing two qualities, wisdom and compassion. These two qualities are sometimes compared to two wings that must work together to achieve flight, or two eyes that work together to be able to experience depth perception.

What does being nice to others have to do with personal enlightenment?  Actually, it has everything to do with it. Wisdom teaches us we all are interconnected and therefore, interdependent. With this thought process, we begin to understand that the idea of “others” vs “self” itself is mistaken. Everything is interconnected. When we see someone suffering and feel their pain as if it were our own, we strive to lessen or heal that pain, we are experiencing compassion.

To truly understand the pain and suffering of others, we must understand pain and suffering ourselves. When we finally understand that others suffer in the very same way that we suffer, we can start to develop true compassion. This is not pity but genuine empathy. From this we manifest sharing, comfort, sympathy, concern, and caring, which are all manifestations of compassion.

When we begin thinking in this manner, we do indeed move on the path of enlightenment for it is never ‘us’ versus ‘them’ but all of us together that can save us and the world. This is the primary lesson we all need to learn in our lives if we wish to move on the path of enlightenment and not just speak of it using jargon that may sound fancy but no one really understands, let alone follows.

 

 

 

 

 

Victim to victor

There are many things we just ignore and push under the carpet. One of them is that of social evils like child abuse. This is an issue all of us usually ignore as we somehow think it happens to others and never in homes that seem to be educated. There are some like Harrish Iyer, however, who have moved from being a victim to a victor.

harishiyer“My uncle was giving me a bath when I was 7 years old, and that’s when it first happened. At 12, I began to get gang-raped by his friends, and I would bleed but keep quiet as I felt I would not be considered ‘man enough’ to not bear pain?”, he says. As it was his own relative, he did not know what to make out of this seemingly regular event.

Harrish decided to make the motto of his life to be the protection of other children from sexual abuse. He has become a mentor to many and is guiding them on how to take care of themselves.

Throwing off all poisons

Carrie Fisher, the late actress and writer said. “Resentment is the poison you swallow hoping the other person will die.”

This did not mean he wanted to punish and take revenge on anyone. “Though I have been through 11 years of hell I don’t think the world is a bad place. I thank my bullies, because they got me to a place where I have the opportunity to touch other’s lives. I believe that hate only destroys the person who indulges in hating, not the person being hated so I don’t wish to spend my energy in hating my uncle.” Thinking about life and its ramifications in general, he continues “If I could, I would send a therapist to help my uncle. He also needs to be helped, after all”.

We can see that he has indeed grown as a person in all areas, always focussing on what he can do and NOT making his life that of victimhood.

 

No justifications, only harmony

One of my favourite stories is that of a Zen master who had a beautiful young lady as his pupil. She became pregnant and falsely named her teacher as the father of her child. When the child was born, her family indignantly brought the child to the Zen master and accused him of taking advantage of his beautiful young pupil. His only reply was, “Is that so?” They left the child with the Zen master, who enjoyed caring for it and had many beautiful hours playing with the child. After about a year the young lady was very ill, and not wanting to die with this false accusation on her conscience, she told her family that the real father was a young man who lived in a nearby town. Her mother and father immediately went to the teacher and profoundly bowed and apologized and asked for the baby back. The Zen master gave them the baby back with grace.

When they first accused him, the rational mind of the Zen master did not get caught up in a big chain of ego based arguments indignantly denying that he was the father, protesting that he was unjustly accused, threatening to tell people about the lie that was being perpetrated upon him, etc. He realized
that a mother and father are not likely to believe the word of a man against the word of their pregnant daughter. He simply saw that they were not open and did not want to hear his side of it. They did not ask him whether he had done it , they accusingly told him he had done it. So the Zen master simply flowed with the drama being enacted and did not agree or disagree.

He stayed in a peaceful state and simply enjoyed what was going on and  was able to have the fun of living with the child for a while. When they came back and apologized for their false accusations, his rational mind did not say, “I could have told you, but you wouldn’t have listened.” He simply peacefully saw that they now understood and there was nothing to be said. He could continue to enjoy the new act in the drama.

This story does not tell us that we must never give our side of things in any situation. It simply says that when you are conscious, you have a choice as to whether to get in a discussion when you know in advance whether the argument will bring you and the other person into a closer state of love and oneness or whether it will separate you. Under the circumstances, the Zen Master’s reply, “Is that so?” was the best reply to produce the closest harmony that could be obtained in that situation. Later he willingly and lovingly gavethe child up without recriminations.

We think we do not face such situations in our life but the fact is, most of us do. Most of our lives are spent in justifying ourselves who are anyhow not be ready to listen. Whatever our response may be, let us know that we can create harmony only by remaining at inner peace ourselves.

 

Connect with understanding

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive,” says the Dalai Lama

connectwitheveryoneThis is indeed true for humanity and all human beings in general. The fact is all positive emotions are interlinked and hence when we connect, love increases and therefore our world seems a much better to live in. This is a fundamental truth of life itself.

We do need to know here what to take seriously and what not to. Most of the problems in life itself is because we do not work on understand all kinds of people in the world. The world does indeed consist of different types of people but it is entirely in our control to see how we handle each kind. This is indeed one of the primary tests of life. One of the stories that I still remember in this context is that of a heap of skulls.

A Sufi mystic was passing through a cemetery and he came upon a heap of skulls. Out of curiosity he took one skull. He had always been of the thought that all skulls are almost the same, but they were not the same. There were a few skulls whose ears were joined together; there was a passage. There were a few skulls whose ears were not joined together; there was a barrier between the two. There were a few skulls both of whose ears were joined to the heart but not joined together; there was a passage running to the heart. He was very surprised. He prayed and asked God, “What is the matter? What are you trying to reveal to me?” And it is said that he heard a voice. God said, “There are three types of people: one, who hear through one ear; it never reaches anywhere — in fact they don’t hear, just the sound vibrates and disappears. There is another type, who hear, but only momentarily — they hear through one ear, and through the other ear it is lost into the world again. There are a few souls, of course, who hear through the ears and it reaches to the heart.”

And God said, “I have brought you to this heap of skulls just to help you remember it when you are talking to people. Talk only to those who take whatsoever you say to their hearts — otherwise don’t waste your energy, and don’t waste your time. Your life is precious: you have a message to deliver.”

This tale shows us that though there are different kinds, we need to know how to handle each one of them. Essentially, it is our attitude we need to try to improve. After all, we all have messages to deliver and this is exactly what we need to focus on.

Say goodbye to worry

As long as we are alive, we have two options, either to live in fear or live fearlessly. To live fearlessly, we need to work on driving it away, thinking there is no other option. In fact, long ago, the when success and failure were the only options, the leaders of ancient Greek armies burnt the boats upon landing on shore so there was no going back. With no way to make it home besides victory, the resolve of the soldiers was strengthened. Similarly in our case, as the only option is to live, let us follow through and face our fear.

I used to be worried about falling down and hurting myself after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  then slowly began climbing starts one floor at a time and was soon able to combat this terrible fear of falling and moved on in life. It then felt like no big deal at all. After overcoming my fear, I suggest the following steps to everyone –

  1. Start facing the fear daily – Once we have awareness of the fear the most effective way to knock it out of your life is to face it. Start off with small steps and build up your confidence until the fear is more manageable and you are ready for the big action. As you work with the fear more, you’ll also gain more and more awareness of how you can tackle it.
  2. Repeat – Don’t stop taking bold actions until the fear is minimized. The more the action is repeated, the more negligible it becomes. The fact is when we handle fear, whatever it may be, and later realise we actually survived it, many things in life you may have feared previously seems to shrink. Those fears become smaller. They might even disappear. We start thinking that what we thought was a fear before wasn’t that much to be afraid of at all. Everything is relative. And every triumph, problem, fear and experience becomes bigger or smaller depending to what you compare it to. The fact is to gain a wider perspective of human experience and grow we really have to step up and face our fear. In this context, facing our fear can be surprisingly anticlimactic. From a distance and in our mind things may seem very difficult and frightening. Most of the time, it is not true at all..
  3. Take action and get busy -‘Worry gives a small thing a big shadow’ says a Swedish proverb. We can’t sit around think and waiting for courage and confidence to come knocking on the door. If we do, you may just experience the opposite effect. The more you think, the more fear we build within.The reality is that 80-90 percent of what we worry about never really comes into reality. If we combat fear, then more than half the battle is won.

If fear is the enemy, who or what can combat it? The answer is surprisingly simple. Fear can be combated only by its arch enemy, love. Love of all that is wonderful in the world and love for every little event we come across in the world and indeed love of all that is present in life,

Ultimately, the one and only thing that can improve our chances of becoming better is actually in our control, as fear can never be cured by anyone else but our own self.

 

Power of positivity

In most areas of life, all positive traits are interlinked just like negative traits are. For instance, we can never feel sorry for ourselves if we accept reality, focus on gratitude and most of all focus on love.

Some techniques that I suggest everyone as it has helped me are

Accept your Feelings

Don’t question whether your problems are fair, or convince yourself if you have suffered more than those around them. The best way to deal with any feeling of discomfort is to just get through it.

Be active

The combination of negative thinking and inactivity fuel feelings of self-pity. We need to recognize when in  a trauma that we are at a risk of becoming caught in this downward spiral and  take action to prevent ourselves from living a pitiful life. The control as always is with us.

Question what we perceive as luck

We need to ask ourselves questions like, “Is my luck always bad?” or “Is my entire life really ruined?” Asking ourselves these types of questions allows us to recognize when their outlook isn’t realistic. This allows us to create a more realistic perception of the situation.

View all experiences as experiments in life

Do not allow their negative thinking to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, when if in a challenging situation, let us deal with it in the best possible manner.

Reserve energy for productive activities

Instead of leading life in a self-pity mode, devote your time to productive activities that may perhaps improve the situation.

Be grateful

Gratitude is a common factor in all positive emotions. It’s impossible to feel self-pity and gratitude at the same time. While self-pity is about thinking, “I deserve better,” gratitude is about thinking, “I have more than I need.” Mentally strong people recognize all that they have to be grateful for in life – right down to the fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink.

Reach out

It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re helping those who are less fortunate. Rather than ruminate on our own inconveniences, let us strive to improve the lives of others.

Never Complain

Venting to other people about the magnitude of our problems fuels feelings of self-pity.  We may think we are being listened to but this is only a myth. Most people either ignore the complaint or begin to avoid you after a while.

 Remain optimistic

 Focus on a positive outlook is the only thing that can make our own life better.

Some of life’s problems can’t be prevented or solved. The loss of loved ones, natural disasters, and certain health conditions are problems that most people will face at one time or another. Mentally strong people keep an optimistic outlook about their ability to handle whatever life throws their way.

Make friends with yourself

Learn to make friends with the person you are with all the time.  This is you. We often take the trouble to be nice to others but not to our own selves. This is one thing we should never do.

Give yourself a pep talk

Everyday learn to give yourself a pep talk saying the day would be wonderful and most often, it would turn to be so.

Convince yourself that you can overcome anything

Even if you are not perfect, you have overcome many more things than others have. You need to keep telling yourself you shall indeed be able to overcome everything.

Essentially, all of the above is about developing mental strength that is similar to building physical strength. If we wanted to become physically strong we would need good habits – like lifting weights. However, we would also need to get rid of bad habits, like eating too many sweets. Similarly, developing mental strength requires good habits – and it also requires you to give up destructive habits, like self-pity, jealousy and its cousin envy.

Everyone has the ability to build mental strength. By developing an increased ability to regulate our thoughts, manage our emotions and behave productively despite whatever cards life gives us, we all can  grow stronger and become better.

Last but not the least, pray. Whether we believe in a higher power or not, prayer is very helpful to us. We could call it prayer or anything else that resonates with us. In my case, One of the best prayers that I resonate with is The Serenity Prayer  written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). It says,

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

In a nutshell, it teaches us how to lead a complete life by understanding ourselves and the life around us.

A Thousand Rupees

 

There is enough in this world to meet every man’s need

But not even one man’s greed – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

‘Could you give me a letter allowing a friend to stay for a month’, my maid, Heera, asked.  She looked uncharacteristically anxious.

thousandrupeesWe lived in a defence colony which had strict security guidelines for allowing outsiders to stay.  Heera was a verified member and lived in a small room close to our home.  She had worked with us from the time we had arrived in Mumbai, and I knew we would miss her a great deal when we moved to another city, something that could happen anytime.  Transfers were a part and parcel of an Indian defence officer’s family after all.

This was the first time Heera had asked us to give her this kind of letter.  It must be important to her, I thought, and completed the necessary formalities.

Her friend, Sona Bai, arrived soon after. I realized in a couple of days that she was partially blind.  Yet, I could see her doing her best to be helpful by cleaning Heera’s room.  The month passed and Heera asked for Sona Bai’s stay to be extended.  This was a little difficult, but we managed to get the required permission.

It was then that I found out more about her.  Sona Bai’s eyesight had gradually failed and she had been supported by her daughter, her only living relative, for a few years.  A few months back, her daughter had developed high fever and suddenly died.  Sona Bai now had no one to call her own.

It was then that Heera had met her.  Even with her limited means, Heera had not hesitated to immediately bring her home, though she was just a casual acquaintance.

Would I have been so large hearted ? I wondered.  So called ‘educated’ people like us tend to think too much about long term implications:  ‘How long can I keep her’, ‘What will I do later ?’ and so on, and stop ourselves from a natural, human response; simple folk like Heera have much stronger values and courage.

Soon after getting Sona Bai’s permission extended, I realized we needed to try and help Sona Bai settle down in a more permanent manner because of the colony’s restrictions, and also because, once we moved, Heera might not be able to ask her next employer for permission.

However, this was easier said than done.  Options were limited as blind homes in Mumbai could not take her in; they were already fully occupied and, besides, her case was weak as she was only partially blind.  She was not old enough for an old age home.  And her blindness did not allow her to take on the kind of job she could do earlier.

As I was pondering on what could be done, I got a call from one of the blind homes that I had approached in Mumbai. ‘We understand the difficulty of the lady and have just got information that there is an ashram for the blind in Surendranagar in Gujarat, which has room for Sona Bai.  Would you like to send her there ? the director asked.

This seemed suitable, but I wondered whether Sona Bai would want to move so far from her friends, and to a place where she did not understand the language.  I spoke to her hesitantly and was amazed at her equanimity. ‘God has opened yet another door for me’, she said calmly, ‘yes, I shall go’.

We completed the formalities.  Just before the social worker from the blind home came to take Sona Bai to Surendranagar, I gave Sona Bai a thousand rupees – a small amount, but enough to see her through for a couple of months at least.

When we got a call after three days from Sona Bai saying she had reached and was comfortable, I felt at ease and was happy that I could play a small role in making it possible for her to have a home.

There was one more surprise in store for me.  The social worked called me in a few days saying she wished to meet me.  Wondering what the matter could be, I went to meet her and was handed an envelope with a thousand rupees.

‘Sona Bai asked me to give this to you’, the social worker said. ‘And she asked me to write a letter to you on her behalf’. She opened up a sheet of paper, and read out:

‘I am very happy here.  We spend our time weaving and knitting.  Thank you for finding this place for me.  Please don’t feel bad that I have returned your money.  I took it thinking I might need it for travel or for some expense I might have in the ashram.  But I spent nothing on travel.  The social worker told me you had already paid for my ticket.  When I reached here, I found I am given food and two sarees every year.  What more do I need ? The money is probably more useful to you.  So, please take it back’.

The sheer courage of the woman and her perception of ‘need’ astounded me.

This remains the most precious thousand rupees I have ever received.

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This was one of the first stories I wrote and it got published in Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul. It remains one of my favourite stories and  I feel truly proud to have shared it.

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