It’s Not Too Late If You Are Reading This…

One of my dearest friends lost his brother to Dengue this morning. It happened suddenly – he was diagnosed last Sunday and didn’t live to see the next one.

I urge you to take care.

Not just from the disease, but from the regret of not having loved and listened to those people in your lives while they were around. Take care of them while they are alive and well.

I know it feels like there will always be time tomorrow right now. And I know they sometimes ramble and tell you things you’ve heard before. And maybe they phone more often than you would like to talk. And of course, you intend to return their calls, even when you don’t.

They are annoying sometimes in interrupting your plans and life. They may not be in the right place at the right time but put them at ease anyway. Don’t continue to hold against them what they once said because it makes you a winner in some game of moral righteousness. The only way that game ends is with you losing.

You will miss them some day. Not just the sound of their voice which you will hear in your head only then. Not only the secret memories – those polaroid moments of eternity. Not just the smell of them that cannot be replicated – or the touch of their skin pulsing with Life. You will miss their annoyances someday. You will regret those times when a flickering screen was more important than a human being you loved.

Look around right now. You have something beautiful and perfect and irreplaceable – this moment. You may not be as wealthy as you would like but you have something the richest person on the planet can’t purchase a minute more of. Use this moment to say and do what is really important, not merely what seems urgent. Take care to use this moment as if it were priceless.

Use this moment to say your ‘sorrys’ and ‘thank yous’…

Because not all of us get to say our good-byes.

*

A Religion Called Kindness

Kindness

When I was young, I wanted the world to see me as intelligent. When I got older, I wanted to be recognized as successful. As the years pass, I increasingly find that the quality that matters to me is kindness.

All of my spiritual learning, if I were asked to sum up in a word, would be contained within this simple word: kindness. Not ‘love’ – it has been far too glorified and corrupted by songs and movies and clever advertising. Not even ‘compassion’ which stinks of a certain holiness for me. Compassion implies another, less fortunate, being. Kindness needs no other. Perhaps closest to it is the Buddhist term ‘metta’ – translated as ‘loving-kindness’ and described as ‘a boundless, warm-hearted feeling’.

Kindness is a subject that has been gently nudging within, asking to be written for a while now. A few months ago, on my fortieth birthday, I considered writing a blog about forty things I have learned in forty years. Pondering deeper, only this one word resonated as worth sharing. From all the meditations, mastery processes and transcendental travels – the fragrance that flowers, is this simple, sane, human kindness.

Even though my brother and mentor GD rarely speaks about it directly, I see it in action when I stay over with him. From the way he lights an incense before you arrive, to the way he makes you tea. From the way he gives you space to be confused if you choose, to the way he holds himself available as a space for healing whatever distortion is clouding your being. It’s in the way he keeps water for birds in his garden in summer and in the way he feeds a menagerie of cats, squirrels, mongooses, crows, sparrow, pigeons and coucals every day. From him, I see that liberation from the concept of self adds the highest octave of sensitivity and effortlessness to kindness.

Kindness is not sugar-coating. Sometimes kindness lies in being silent when the words would leave longtime scars. For me, sometimes kindness is even in lying when a truth is not asked for. Maybe there are others who would disagree with this – and not without reason. Kindness is also in firmly holding a ‘no’ when my son wants to play a little longer on the iPad. No human is given the power to know all the consequences of his actions, but kindness is in the source, not the outcome. Kindness is not in what you do, but in who you are being; not in what you say, but in what you silently wish within.

Kindness in business is so overlooked. It is the place where it needs to be learned and applied the most. Kindness in dealing with colleagues who struggle to be proficient in areas their body-mind mechanism is not suited for. Kindness in dealing with those who pride themselves on their shrewdness – even as they are constantly proving how they are getting the better of you. And kindness in dealing with fearful opinions masquerading as common sense and ‘reality’. How often do I come to see that the sufferings and faults I blame life for only happened after I had lost my own compass of kindness!

This oft-ignored word may stand quietly in new-age consciousness behind spiritual heavyweights like ‘meditation’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘manifestation’. But without it, no amount of learning, achievement or clarity brings joy. Being kind doesn’t even imply action – it is a state of being that wishes well. It could be a silent prayer for someone having a hard day. A smile to a doorman. A quiet glance to someone used to living invisible. Or just that boundless, warm-hearted feeling that is held like a flame within.

This weekend I finally sat down to write about kindness because I was at the receiving end of such a gracious act of kindness from a friend I met after many years that it moved me to tears. It felt in that moment as if a lifetime of mental learning is tiny compared to a kind heart. (Maybe the function of all wisdom is to hold the heart open when the whole world would advise against it.) Then that person reminded me of a small help I had given her 11 years ago. And I marveled at the power of kindness to resonate across time, even when everything else about that life has been long forgotten.

Do take some time to be kind, please.

Not because it’s going to heal the world. But because, someday, you will see that nothing else was more important for yourself.

*

Remind Me

Heart Water Drops

A timeless overcast rainy Sunday before me. White birds flap across twilight greens making their way home. It seems like this moment contains eternities. I watch as tranquil pools of water are broken by raindrops that ripple across and disappear into tranquility again. The water has no fear of being disturbed, no preference for stillness. I wonder at how afraid I am to be shaken up and agitated – how much of my life is managed to ensure it doesn’t happen. Then I remember that beneath this ever-changing persona, there is something else… It’s a reminder I need every day:

 

The water has no fear of being disturbed,

Remind me that I am water.

 

The air holds all, with no distinction:

Why do I forget I am air?

 

Why do I relinquish the solid earth I am,

For a rootless, trembling mind?

 

How do I crumple all of space,

Into a fearful ball of fight?

 

Remind me again and again

I am that Love unshakeable

 

In the midst of chaos, in the madness of life,

Just remind me I Am… just remind me I Am

*

View With A Grain Of Sand

child shell

My almost-five-year-old son is gradually leaving his magical world-without-words for our grown-up world where words obscure, and even replace, reality. A world where a dead stump of a word like ‘man’ does not change whether the body is twenty or forty or eighty. A world where every moment will feel like a previous moment because it can be described by the same words. A world where life itself feels caged within a small, four-letter-word.

It is sad to see him bit-by-bit losing his innate wonder as he excitedly journeys to become a grown-up every day. And once in a while, it is important for us grown-ups to revisit our original, virginal perception too. In which words have no place — except as musical sounds. In which we realize how many lies we must cocoon ourselves within to live our ‘normal’ life.

Here’s some excerpts from a beautiful, mind-stopping poem by Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska that does that job for me. I hope it gives you also a glimpse into the magical world-without-words that we live in once again:

We call it a grain of sand,
but it calls itself neither grain nor sand.
It does just fine, without a name,
whether general, particular,
permanent, passing,
incorrect, or apt.

The window has a wonderful view of a lake,
but the view doesn’t view itself.
It exists in this world
colorless, shapeless,
soundless, odorless, and painless.

The lake’s floor exists floorlessly,
and its shore exists shorelessly.
The water feels itself neither wet nor dry
and its waves to themselves are neither singular nor plural.
They splash deaf to their own noise
on pebbles neither large nor small.

And all this beneath a sky by nature skyless
in which the sun sets without setting at all
and hides without hiding behind an unminding cloud.
The wind ruffles it, its only reason being
that it blows.

*

The Trance of Success

success race

Many of us are currently at a point where we are questioning ‘who we really are’ and ‘what we are supposed to do’ in life. And while we glimpse shimmering new potentials, often they are tangled up in hard-to-break old energy beliefs.

The most difficult old energy belief to let go for me has been the concept of ‘success’. It is so pervasive that even in letting go of the corporate success dream, the mind begins imagining the unconventional visionary success dream which brings fame and fortune. So pervasive that even spiritual teachers who teach us to not chase it, are valued only after they have thousands of followers and a NY Times bestseller!

My brother and mentor GD almost dared me one evening over coffee to think otherwise.

“Your definition of success,” GD said, “becomes the base for your choices and actions. So if the base is wrong, your actions will not bring joy no matter what path you take in life.

“Up to now society – media, education, advertising – has defined success for us. Icons of success are glorified and awarded. The truth is that everybody is unique and everybody has his own unique place to go to. The success of the rose is not the success of the lotus – but right now almost everybody is trying to be a rose. So there is going to be stress and suffering. It takes guts to let go of the preconceived notion of success and discover what success means to you.”

I was quite resistant to hearing this. I noticed myself shifting uncomfortably in my chair.

“See, the old definition to put it simply is ‘photo in paper, money in bank, and people chasing you thinking you are God’. The new definition is this: every time you honor the inner impulse in this moment you are successful. Success is joy, it is where you are flying and you feel deeply fulfilled and happy. It has nothing to do with an end-point in the future where the world acknowledges it. It is an end in itself – an ongoing success. And you never know where it takes you…”

“It feels scary,” I said to him, “That I might wake up at 50 and regret it…”

“You can’t – if you’re honoring the impulse then every day you are happy. A happy journey cannot have an unhappy end. In fact, the opposite is more likely to be true! But for many people, more than wanting success, it is the fear of not having it that drives it. For some, it is the fear of being outraced by others. Either way, you’re still not honoring you. Within the trance of success there is no true peace, no rest. You are like a desperate beggar, a manipulative user who is trying to fulfill some image in your head. The truth shall set you free to be who you are. And then your own fragrance will start emerging, unfettered.

Success is a word like morality, which has been created to make you run in a particular direction. But the moment you run in that direction, every step of the way, you cripple yourself. Being yourself is the only beauty, the only joy.”

“I am afraid of the depression that will come if I’m not special,” I said. It was almost twilight now – the trees noisy with excitable birds chirruping end of the day stories.

“The depression which you are fearing is your own judgment if you don’t make the grade. Because you judge other people who are not successful. Are these bird successful? Are these trees successful? This here is a perfectly beautiful ordinary tree, but you say it has value only if it is the highest tree, the tallest tree, with the most flowers and fruits…then you will cripple the poor tree. There is no concept of success anywhere in Life except in human beings.”

We sat quietly for a few moments watching the joyfully chattering birds speaking all-at-once in the foliage — so unlike humans who returned from work grim and exhausted every night. None of the birds seemed depressed that birds around the world didn’t know they existed.

GD continued: “The amazing truth is that the moment you take away success, you take away failure too! You think that by giving up success, you are falling into the pit of failure but it can’t exist without a measuring mark of success. They are both stories, both polarities. Both will go.

“As a way out of this, some teachers of positive thinking teach us to feel successful every moment – but that is not what I am recommending. Does a fifteen-month-old child feel successful every moment? He’s just being himself, honoring the impulse, moving around. And how happy he is! When you are in the simple Flow, there is no success, no failure and life is happening. Simple.”

*

Voting For Joy

vote

India, the world’s largest democracy, is in the throes of a thrilling and tumultuous election. But this is NOT another post about voting wisely on election day – this post is about living wisely.

We need to be conscious that we are casting our vote not just once in five years, but every day. Every choice we make is a ballot for the world we want to live in.

Every product we buy is a vote. Companies run on profits. So if there are fewer buyers, the assembly line stops. Every television channel we watch is a vote for more such programming. Advertisers pay media networks for audiences and if we stop watching, it eventually stops being produced.

Some votes are less obvious. If we put money into a company’s shares purely for the promise of returns, regardless of its human and environmental policies, we are casting a vote. If we buy a product because it’s a little cheaper regardless of how it was produced, we cast a vote. We vote every day with our wallet.

Most importantly, what we give attention to in our own lives every moment is a vote. If we indulge in our anger, we empower that within us. If we are casual about our integrity, we contribute to a world that is corrupt and lazy. Every time we are conscious and kind, we contribute to a world that is the same.

So let’s vote consciously every day. Let’s vote for peace instead of meaningless entertainment distractions. Let’s vote for health over the call of junk-food consumerism. Let’s vote for love and blessing over isolation and anxious self-concern. Choose what you want to vote for and live it!

As we get more awake to our daily votes, we won’t need to blame government for their broken promises. We will be shaping the planet in the most powerful way possible – through our time, attention and money.

Our life is a vote for the world we want to live in.

So vote wisely.

Healing Dad

Aabid Surti

Last year, my father visited my therapist brother GD for a healing session for the first time, almost 15 years after GD began healing. The healing session had been powerful and by the end, dad had fallen into deep meditation. He looked at ease with himself, his eyes steady and chronic cough silent.

As we drove back at night to Mumbai together, expressway lights swishing past the corner of our eyes, we talked more than we had talked all year. And we talked about real things – not things to fill the silence. He remembered the incident when GD, as a toddler, had fallen from a mid-ocean pontoon — how he had miraculously survived certain death. And how, as a teenager, GD had meditated so long he damaged a nerve in his leg for years. He spoke of how he had been incensed with GD as a twenty-something who ate, slept and meditated all day while he worked. And about how my mother cried for months after GD left for Pune to live with his spiritual teacher and stopped phoning home. But most of all, he spoke about how proud he was of both of us today.

Two decades ago, in a family of modest means, a grown-up son’s decision to devote his life to spirituality had real financial implications. And while dad did not ever say a word to stop GD, some part inside had remained raw and sensitive. And until this session he had not allowed himself to fully take support from GD.

I quietly told dad that GD and I often speak of him as a rare father, who gave us freedom and yet supported us. Who did things for us he did not agree with, but maintained his integrity. Who did not shame us because we were not following what he thought was the right path.

Talking to him, I realized how little we know even about those closest to us, because we never talk beyond immediate, daily problems and information. How hurts can lie unexpressed within for years, until distances grow into long empty highways. But most of all, I realized how few words it takes to express appreciation that can be missed for decades.

As I helped dad unload his luggage at the end of our journey under a pool of halogen streetlight, I knew it was not just his healing that had happened today — a circle had been completed and a deep healing had happened for all three of us.

I share this with the hope that you take some time out to rediscover your own parents. To hear their stories, and their versions of your stories. And to thank them for the way their lives arced to make space for yours. Watch them paint images of your life that you didn’t see before. And you show them their own beauty in a new light. So often, under the inertia of mundanity, it is the important ‘I-love-you’, the ‘please-forgive-me’, the ‘sorry’ and the ‘thank you’ that remains unexpressed until it’s too late.