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.”

*

Paralysed by Greatness

frozen-man

A few days ago, my brother and mentor GD was talking on the phone about his recent workshop on ‘stuckness’ in life. He felt it was relevant for me to hear about a participant who had topped his class in school and college, and excelled at work. Everyone told him he was destined for greatness. And now, since he had quit his job a year ago, he could not bring himself to start anything new – because it didn’t feel like it was matching his vision of greatness.

I was startled because this was so close to my situation. My school motto was Natus Ad Maiora – Born for Greater Things –and perhaps it had set the tone for my life. I got my name in the top ranks through college and got double-promoted multiple times at my media job. For most of my corporate life, I tried to use every waking minute to live up to my full potential for greatness.

The question GD had asked the participant (and me) was: “Is it possible that your desperation for greatness is your biggest obstacle?”

I was initially taken aback. Without this promise of greatness, I feared wallowing in depression and mediocrity. This conviction gave me hope that all suffering and hard work would be ultimately worthwhile. It inspired me to be patient, to work hard, to stay focused.

But then I remembered that the pressure of this destiny had also become a weapon in the hands of my inner critic who put it to my head every time I tried to begin something new.

Sensing my train of thought, GD continued: “You reject too many things when you ask: is this the great thing I am meant to do? Is this great enough, amazing enough, perfect enough for me? More often than not – the answer seems to be ‘no’. Even if you do push yourself to begin, you work from stress, fear and proving. In life, you don’t always know what is going to turn out great.”

I could sense the deadly seriousness this ironclad demand for ‘greatness’ brings to exploring new ideas. But I still found myself resisting letting go of this belief, which had been my wishing star on many a lonely night.

“Yes, this desire for greatness generates a pleasurable fantasy,” GD said, “but is it really helping you get there? Or is it actually diminishing your real greatness?

“You are already an Awesome Divine Being. But when you try to prove your greatness, you have actually lost sight of it.

“When you operate from the desperation of greatness, you lose sight of whether you are truly enjoying what you are doing. You lose your natural light-heartedness and freedom. You lose contact with spontaneity, with life in the here-now. Often, just doing what feels sensible or fun in this moment can be the beginning of something great!

It reminded me of my father, the national-award winning author and painter Aabid Surti, who has found such unexpected greatness recently with his little idea of fixing taps in his community for free (Read the story here). He didn’t start off trying to become famous or even change the world. It just began with repairing one leaky tap, he says, because it seemed like a good idea. For months afterwards, he didn’t tell anyone he was spending his Sundays fixing leaks in the neighborhood. Five years later, he was invited to accept an award by the President of India. What were the chances that he would find significance in doing something tiny that made him happy rather than waiting and planning for that giant sunburst of glory to appear?

GD concluded: “Instead of being desperate for greatness, choose Presence and Playfulness. Being Present… being Conscious and Aware will guide you effortlessly to your next move. And being playful will ensure that the ego does not take over and corrupt everything.”

Wanted: A Life Purpose (*conditions apply)

Waiting for A DirectionSince I let go of my full-time corporate job, every few months, I used to feel dejected that life/god/existence was not showing me my calling, the grand and glorious purpose in life that I had heard and read so much about.

On one such gloomy, rainy day, my mentor GD sat me down and asked me: “What will it look like when you find your calling?” Despite my past experience with his seemingly innocent-sounding questions, I answered that one.

I replied it should be something worthy, inspiring and larger-than-life. “What you are seeking is not your calling,” GD pointed out, “but a new path of ego-gratification.”

Wow. I hadn’t seen that coming.

With just one sentence, my new age/light-worker/eco-warrior ego was crushed like a recycled coca-cola can. So my oh-so-righteous rants to God were just an employee haranguing his boss for a promotion? As I recovered my composure, I asked GD if there was such a thing as a calling or life purpose then?

The way I see it, he said, one’s calling is something that feels simple, natural and spontaneous in this moment. It is not that Existence doesn’t show you your calling, but the mind rejects it insisting that it should look a certain way — that it should be spectacular right from the start. So you are asking God to show you your purpose, but you have a huge asterisk with “CONDITIONS APPLY” below it. And even if tomorrow morning it happened in the spectacular, sudden way you imagine it, it would only create stress and pressure, because it is not a natural flowering.

In every moment, I realized, our calling comes to us like a gentle birdcall, while we wait for the fanfare of a Republic Day Parade.

“We dismiss that little voice because we don’t know where it is leading,” GD added. “Otherwise, this process is already silently in motion. All we need to do is to trust the Universal Flow. Our calling is simply to honor the impulse that is ‘calling’ in this moment.”

*

The Great Pretenders

One of the recurring feelings I had during my corporate career was the sense of being a fraud who was going to be exposed at any time. It was not because I was stealing money or clients from the company, it was far more subtle – a sense of having overstated one’s talents and clout, promising more than one could deliver and living with a fear of being found out.

Looking around, I realized that this is as common in the world of work as stapler pins. Politicians are constantly overstating their influence, businessmen are overstating their business acumen, celebrities are overstating their stardom. Even spiritual seekers and therapists sometimes pretend to be beyond their evolution. Almost everyone feels pressured to paint and then uphold a false picture of themselves. We don’t join the dots but the inevitable result is a sense of fear that follows us around like a shadow.

The funny thing is that I remember spending many months trying to get rid of this fear using spiritual tools and processes, but nothing seemed to clear it for good. A few hours or days and the fear would creep back into the system in a new guise.

My brother and mentor GD reminded me of this phase of my life on the phone today as he joked: “If we don’t stop creating false impressions, not even God can make our fear go away. Whenever we lie or pretend, there is bound to be fear. The simple way out is to BE and SAY exactly where you stand in this moment. But the ego, which has spent a lifetime trying to cultivate the perfect image and appearance, finds this terrifying. For some of us, being ‘exposed’ is worse than death. Because the false image has slowly become real… it has become ‘me’.”

“Most of us are not even aware of all the places in our life where we are hiding, role-playing, or pretending to be something we really aren’t. But one thing is certain: where there is deception, there will be some kind of anxiety or uneasiness. At those times, this simple question may change the game altogether: What is the truth in this moment that I am not acknowledging?”

As I heard GD speaking, I remembered the old adage: ‘The truth shall set you free’. But I wondered if I have the courage to speak it.

Illustration © Aalif Surti 2012

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

Superaalifragilistic Celebration!

Here’s a prime example of how little the mind knows. When my mentor GD suggested I write a blog in early 2012, I rejected the idea completely. Amongst my many ‘reasons’ was the fact that no one would be interested. When he brought up the subject again in June, I stopped talking to him for a few days. Fortunately, his inspiration prevailed over my resistance and I posted my first blog on June 30th.

And here we are three months later… Last evening,  superaalifragilistic crossed 10,000 views! Beyond the numbers, I have encountered some amazing new people and re-encountered old friends in a new light. I made a lot of mistakes along the way and continue to learn about clarity, integrity and creativity through the excuse of this blog.

Another piece of ‘woohoo!’ news: one of my favorite early blog posts “10 Mind Strategies for Avoiding Change” has been reproduced as a full-fledged article in the October 2012 issue of Life Positive Magazine! Do check out the magazine if you are in India – or you can subscribe online even if you are not. It is one of the most sincere and widely-read magazines from India dedicated to spirituality and wellness.

In case you would like to revisit the original blog post, you can click here. This post contained superb insights from my mentor GD on how the mind tries to avoid the change we need in our life. It was the most viewed & shared piece on my blog and can be a real life-saver for anyone feeling stuck or at a crossroads in their life…

For all the new friends who have joined us recently along this journey, here’s a recap of some of the most liked and commented articles from the early days.

  1. The Fixer of Polarities – A radical and reassuring take by GD on the ego and its constant preoccupation with fixing everything in Life. I loved the line: “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.” This remains the most commented article till date.
  2. Living is Optional – A simple poem about the choices we have in Life resonated with many many people.
  3. Six Things I Have Learnt From a Three-Year-Old – A lovely piece about the life lessons I have learnt from my son, Nirvaan.
  4. Do You Want Another Band Aid? – A strong post on how we use things like jobs and relationships to cover our deep-rooted wounds.
  5. The Numbers Game – A much-loved poem about our obsession with numbers.

Thank you all for being with me on this journey without a destination. For taking the time to read, comment, and share. I don’t know what lies ahead but as GD says: “Let’s see how it unfolds…”

Image courtesy of ddpavumba / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Numbers Game

So many rich people are just
poor people with lots of money.

So many successful people are simply
failures at higher levels than me.

So many spiritually-evolved are just
too vain to be ordinary
and too frightened to be simple.

Still I follow the roads where many walk:
I seek my solace in crowds
and count my success in numbers.

Image Used Under Creative
Commons via James @ NZ