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.”


Shh! Don’t Tell Anyone I’m Happy…

Fear of Happiness

“We really have a good life,” my wife says to me on a Monday afternoon as she snuggles into bed in her favorite pajamas and snug old t-shirt. As a healer, she doesn’t have fixed work hours, and now, as a consultant, neither do I. So we spend some happy daytime hours with our three-year-old son. But I feel a familiar twinge inside me: Don’t say it, it might go away.

“I sometimes use you as an example of someone who has a good marriage, a great job and is a great father,” my brother and mentor GD says to me on the phone. Even before I can feel the compliment, something contracts in my chest: Don’t celebrate it or something bad will happen!

You see, I have an irrational superstition about acknowledging the goodness in my life. Like I need to hide my little happiness from some nasty Ogre of Destiny who walked past little ole me – and blowing the party whistle may just make him look down: Hmmm…. How did I miss YOU?

In the past, my paranoia went so far that I was terrified of taking an action to assert confidence of continuation or (gasp…!) permanence. As if the very act would tempt Fate. An example: when I was dating my current wife, at one point I was living in at her apartment. But I never kept my toothbrush in her bathroom stand, preferring to carry it in my bag every day: Don’t claim to know the future! It sounds funny now, but in my head, the placement of that toothbrush decided the fate of our future offspring.

So I have lived with an inner certainty that it can and will all come crumbling down anytime now. And that every smiling picture I take will someday be used with a caption: ‘In Happier Times’. I try to convince myself that things aren’t as wonderful as they seem – no matter how it looks to others – so I don’t get ‘carried away’. The mind advises that it’s the best way of protecting myself from the shock of tragedy, when it does happen. (“Because Life is meant to be a painful struggle, and every sane, sensible person knows that happiness is fleeting, temporary and delusional” – the Mind)

But unfortunately, this is also the best way to keep joy and ecstasy outside the door. Focusing only on what needs to be fixed makes life an endless To-Do List. Acknowledging your happiness may make you a target of jealousy, but it’s also likely to make you a source of inspiration. And that’s worth it. For just a little while, I can relax the resistance against fully feeling joy and let go of the radar that’s constantly scanning for trouble.

And I can re-examine this ancient fear that if I celebrate my life, the happiness will go away. Maybe if I celebrate my life, then the happiness will definitely stay for at least for one more moment – this moment! And the next moment will be born out of this moment. And moment by moment, a virtuous circle of celebration will be created. A rolling snowball of joy that resonates with others who also celebrate their lives. And someday, even if a shock of tragedy comes, it will be cushioned within this soft expansive love for Life; and staying numb is a dumb solution anyway.

Because all said and done – I can say it now – I do have an amazing life. What about you?

When Life Falls Apart

When Your Life Crashes Down

“Those powerful moments of true knowledge that we paper over with daily life… But every so often something shatters like ice and we are in the river of our own existence. We are Aware.” – Louise Erdrich

Have you ever had that experience in a movie theatre, when you are watching a good movie – flowing with the emotions, leaning forward to know what happens next – and the reel snaps. The screen goes blank. Maybe a collective groan rises. The lights come on and you blink and look around with an awareness of yourself sitting in a row of seats in a movie hall.

Sometimes, my brother and mentor GD reminded everyone in a recent Sunday session talk, Consciousness appears to pulls the plug on our life-movie too. It feels painful and heart-breaking. But is it really so?

When Consciousness wants to awaken to itself, GD said, it often starts dismantling your life. When Consciousness wants to be fully present, fully embodied in your system, it will not let anything work. Work starts failing, relationships start failing, health starts failing. The mind panics and starts putting all kinds of band-aids to fix the cracks. But if you’re lucky, nothing will work…

I remembered the time in GD’s own life when, despite his undeniable creative talent, nothing seemed to work out. Everything he tried ended in failure, and he was literally forced to explore meditation and the deepest aspects of his psyche. Most friends told him he was wasting his youth in spiritual pursuits. And it was truly a difficult period, complete with a sense of depression and lost-ness.

It took many years for the ‘dismantling’ and ‘reassembling’ to settle down completely. But today, as a result of that, he has that quiet glow which attracts people to him for healing and clarity. Had he continued down the career path he so much wanted, he would probably have been a successful advertising executive today. But something even more precious than that would never have emerged.

“This is important to know,” GD says in hindsight, “because we all resist the dismantling of our life. We keep asking and praying for something new – but when the old is being taken away, we fight, scream, therapeutize, we hate ourselves and God, and we judge our spiritual path also. But what if this dismantling is the exact answer to your prayers?”

Disappointments and failures, in these days of DIY abundance & affirmations, are seen as signs of inadequate spiritual practice or faulty manifestation. But I remember that three years ago, it was a slip disc that finally pushed me to make the painful decision to quit the only life I knew, that of a highly paid full-time corporate executive.

When I told GD I was writing a blog on this subject, he showed it to me through a different lens: “Consciousness – your true nature – is inherently Freedom. So when the time comes, it will start breaking down all the situations, relationships and beliefs that limit Itself. It will make the job dissatisfying… it will make the marriage dissatisfying. That is Consciousness wanting to break out, wanting to be fully Itself, completely unfettered by the mind.

“So this simple process of Consciousness coming into its own feels like a breakdown of your life. But actually it’s an expansion of you, it’s the process of becoming more fully You. A time comes when Consciousness wants to break out of every box created by the mind. It will break every self-definition and limitation you have created – so you can be something much bigger and vaster.”

I wanted to put this out for all those who may be going through this phase or feel the pain of a loved one going through it. As a reminder that when the movie-reel stops, heart-wrenching as it feels, it is also the wake-up call you had set for yourself: to remember that you were never the movie.

Image used under creative commons via fiddle oak

The Kid in the Candy Store

kidincandystoreThere’s a very good reason I have been posting infrequently of late: I was stuck in a groove, cut off from life and, as it tends to happen, cut off from my empath brother and mentor GD too.

When GD senses such an energetic wall around a person, ‘his system withdraws’ and he appears to suddenly become unavailable to you. When seen through the cloudy eyes of anger, his silence can be misunderstood in many ways. But in hindsight, giving space is a kind and sane response to another’s subconscious rebellion. And for more than a week, I had been energetically rebelling and pushing him away.

“I don’t have any judgment about that,” GD said to me lightheartedly when I spoke to him after almost a week . “But if you are closed to me, chances are that you are closed to receiving from other parts of life too.”

I agreed glumly.

“The picture I get of you is that of a kid in a candy store,” he continued. “But the kid has his arms crossed angrily and is telling himself some stories that is making everything inaccessible. And then this kid is also wondering why he feels so sad.”

On the phone, he helped me to identify the stories I was using and suggested I try the Focus Wheel Process. As ‘homework’, he gave a few lines to explore and ramble with EFT, each of which, he said, would help me release different variations of the same energy…

  • I need to sulk because…
  • I don’t want to receive because…
  • I need to remain shut down because…
  • I am pissed off at…
  • I am angry because…
  • No one really understands me…
  • I need to suffer because…
  • There is no way out because…
  • I need to stick to my guns because…
  • I need to punish myself because…

Clearing the charge around each story, the world literally looked like a lighter, brighter place after many days. I wanted to share this for all of you who may be feeling temporarily down and disconnected, with one very important message: open your arms; the candy is waiting.


My Unlikely Hero

I look for heroes amongst celebrity or spiritual teachers – but the inspiration I need comes from the most unlikely places sometimes. Here’s one of them. And here’s why:

After a decade of being too afraid to step out of the house, my 71-year-old mother spontaneously decided last month she wanted to travel alone to an ashram in Rishikesh – a six-hour flight away. We were initially hesitant: she had barely ever travelled to her sister’s house an hour away alone and she was sometimes seized by panic in crowded places. But her energy was so clear and undivided about it, we booked her tickets and stay. On the day of her flight, I wrote a ‘Boarding A Flight in 3 Easy Steps’ note for her (she had never traveled alone in an airplane before).

During her time at the ashram, she sounded happier than she has ever been. She called us daily. Her depression, a lifelong companion, had lifted. She went for walks, meditated and sat on the Ganges riverbank every evening. One evening, she told us she had shaved off her head – and that she thought the look suited her!

Ten days into her stay, she was supposed to move to a Nature Cure Centre. Despite confirming a booking twice telephonically, they did not have a room for her when she arrived. When we phoned the owner, he slammed down the phone saying he was too busy in a meeting and didn’t have time for this. We felt angry and helpless, being thousands of miles away. Mum, on the other hand, took matters in her own hands – she had made friends with two American women at the ashram and moved into a guesthouse with them. While we made alternative arrangements, she called us to say don’t worry. She joked that she had decided she wanted to have her all her long-pending adventures on this trip.

Two weeks later, she returned home with a sunny smile and gifts for everyone. But the biggest gift she gave us was the lesson that you are never too old to step out of your comfort zone.

The Glorification of Busyness

The glorification of busynessConfession: These days, I sometimes feel guilty about not being busy. After a decade in corporate life, I occasionally lie when someone asks for time to meet – and I tell them we can meet next week, even when all of today lies before me like a blank canvas waiting to be painted.

I seem to be still holding on to the story that busyness equals importance. A ‘crazy busy’ person is in demand. A stressed person is handling important things. A person whose body is crying for attention is actually a martyr for a greater cause of financial profit. And all their ‘complaints’ about busyness are actually membership cards for the elite club of valuable people.

Recently, I met a friend in a beautiful café. While we spoke she was typing e-mails on her laptop and BBMing on her blackberry. I was amused and stopped speaking and watched her. It was almost a minute before she looked up and squinted, trying to recall what we were talking about: “…so you were saying?” I smiled, remembering the days I too pretended to be indispensible.

For some busyness appears to be a way to avoid dealing with the real issues – it doesn’t matter what they are busy with, as long as the mind is occupied till it’s too tired to think at night. Others live scared that if they stop, they will prove their uselessness. So it is glorified as ambition or drive when it is actually terror of facing oneself.

In essence, GD says, busyness is a way to avoid the Black Hole at the center of one’s being. That space which is the exact opposite of everything I try to project when I am trying to be the dynamic, ecstatic, efficient busy person. It is the repository of our sense of loneliness, meaninglessness, uselessness, depression and abandonment. It feels like death to face it because the mind says that once one lets go into it, one can never come out.  So we all spend our lives controlling it, keeping it at bay or running from it.

The beauty is that once you face it, you come to see that it doesn’t exist. The story of failure you were scared about was fuelled by the story of success you are chasing. When you give up one, the other falls away simultaneously. And in the absence of both, there is peace already waiting for you.

Picture used under Creative Commons License via Sean Dreilinger