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.

The Fixer Of Polarities

Over the last few weeks, GD and I have been revisiting some of the early posts of this blog and marvelling at their crispness and insight. There were only a handful of readers then, today there are over 700 followers. So from time to time, I will repost some of these timeless posts for you to enjoy. Here’s one of my favorites…

fixing_myself

A few weeks ago, I had an amazing phone call with my brother where he gave me his radical take on the ego. After the call, I wrote it down so that I could remember it. Every time I read it, a sense of silence blooms within.

FIXER OF POLARITIES

All our lives, we are trying to fix our bodies, thinking or circumstances. Some people spend their time trying to fix others. Not a day, an hour, a minute goes by when we are not involved in this activity in some form.

We get a jolt when we see that the fixer within us is itself the suffering – the desire to fix is itself the suffering.

The attempt is to fix ourselves at one polarity, and eliminate the other forever. Given the nature of polarities, this can never happen! The most powerful will be powerless in some situation, and the most intelligent person will be stupid in some situation; and the depth of the valley will be exactly proportionate to the height of the mountain.

Polarities always coexist in time and space. One may be very successful in work, and be unsuccessful at home. One may be successful now, and feel unsuccessful in the next moment. In fact, all successful people continue to feel at times like failures, just at the higher level of the success game.

Happiness/Sadness, Love/Hate, Insecurity/Security, Knowledge/Stupidity, Peace/Chaos, Anger/Compassion, Success/Failure, Balanced/Lopsided Life always maintain equilibrium. When we try to strengthen one pole, the other side is simultaneously gaining power – and waiting to emerge.

We give all our power to one polarity, and think we can destroy the other if this side becomes strong enough. So when the opposite polarity emerges, it is extremely uncomfortable and painful.

The nature of the mind is to believe that salvation is always in the other polarity. The superstar at his peak dreams of times when life is simple and ordinary, but when he feels he is losing his stardom, he fights to get it back.

When all attempts to fix fail, the fixer experiences a shift in the final polarity: “I can fix my life/it’s useless” and goes into a depression because nothing works. But in time, this polarity too changes and one goes back into fixing. That is how the game continues.

The fixer is the ego.

While reality here-now is always simple, kind and perfect, the ego perpetuates itself through crisis.

Ego not only creates the crisis, it is itself the crisis! In the absence of ego, there is no crisis.

Ego is the creator, the problem solver and the satisfied one at the end of the crisis. It plays all the roles.

Ego has a brilliant mechanism: “I and the cause of suffering are separate; and I will solve suffering permanently one day.” This keeps us from seeing the ego’s real nature as the crisis-creator.

Crisis gives a false sense of importance to a useless piece of equipment: the ego.

The ego is not a bad, evil thing. It is like a beautiful, faithful dog who has gone neurotic and is now barking at butterflies, the postman, and lamp-post. It is itself exhausted and is happy to dissolve.

The whole point of Surrender is to let go of trying to fix the polarities. The whole journey of Meditation is to transcend the polarities. The whole path of Wisdom is seeing the falseness of the one experiencing polarities.

Without awakening, one is always buffeted between desire and fear. We think we make choices in life, but actually our desires and fears choose.

Exploring this sense of “I” – the one who is experiencing the polarity – is a good place to begin. Where is this I? Is there a real miniature ‘you’ inside who gets angry or scared? Or is it just a picture and a sensation? Stay with it and it will reveal its secrets to you.

Are you listening to YOU?

InspirationHeaderPier

Last week, someone asked my mentor GD: “If there was just one thing you could teach me in this session, what would it be?”
“I would connect you to your inner navigation system… your in-built GPS,” GD replied.
The person was perplexed: “Does it even exist?
“Yes. And once you are connected, you never have to struggle with where to go or what to do with your life.”
“Wow! Sounds cool. So do you always know the next step… the larger plan?
“No, I don’t,” GD replied.But I have learned to ‘listen’… to be open and available. At the perfect moment, the next step is effortlessly revealed.

I was intrigued by this conversation.

So often in life we are busy stuffing our minds with information, facts and figures and pre-judgments that we don’t leave any space for something new to land. Especially in my job as a movie studio creative executive, there is a tendency to compulsively fill hours with books, movies and meetings – with the hope that, after all the friction, the spark of knowing will come. What GD was talking about was the opposite: emptying yourself – and allowing the film that wants to be made to reveal itself. He was talking about ‘listening to the person’ before you listen to the words coming out of his mouth. And about being ‘tuned into Life’ to receive the highest possible option in each moment.

“True Listening,” GD explained, “is a simple state of openness and transparency. It creates a space in which you receive constant guidance and insight from the totality of YOU. LISTENING is not to a person– it is tuning in to this alive-emptiness all around us… to this awake -presence that we are. It is being tuned to the Source, to Existence itself. Just like ‘Google’ needs to be connected to the internet to search, you need to be ‘connected’ to Source to receive your answers.”

When I look back at my life, most of the work done in that speedy space of non-listening and desperate panic has proved later to have been useless. The most successful work I have worked done has happened effortlessly in a flow – moving with an energy far more graceful than my efforts at controlling and manipulating outcomes. And yet the old habit recurs. This conversation could not have come at a better time for me, after a self-imposed 28-hour workday.

“When you are ‘connected’, life is an effortless flow,” GD continued. “There is no sense of doership or struggle… or even of choice for that matter. Everything just happens. So our primary task is to be connected… to be one with this amazing Oneness. Once this faculty is tuned, it automatically resolves all the other issues one is struggling with.”

A few days after we spoke, I came across this anecdote from Mother Teresa’s life. Dan Rather, the CBS anchor, asked Mother Theresa: “When you pray, what do you say to God?”
Mother Teresa replied, “I don’t talk, I simply listen.”
“Ah,” Dan Rather countered, “then what is it that God says to you when you pray?”
Mother Teresa replied, “He doesn’t. He also simply listens.”

When GD heard this, he added:
This is such a beautiful way to describe meditation…
You simply listen to God…
God simply listens to you…
then you and God both disappear…
and only pure listening remains.
That is the perfect meditation…
being the alive-awake-listening in which everything happens
.”