Difficult decisions and self-preservation

There will be times when you have to choose between yourself and the other – and that other could be a child, a spouse, a friend, a parent, anyone – and you will face the dilemma: whose life is more important, theirs or mine?

You will curse your luck and fight with your god for putting you in this fix. You will cry bitter tears and long to be removed from the consequences of your decision whatever it may be. You will wish someone else could make the decision for you, and then you will regret it when that happens.

And at different times in your life, you will choose a different ending. When you are 20 and your parents choose a stranger to be your husband, you give in even if you don’t really like him because, after all, they are your parents and you haven’t known any other centre of authority in your life so far. You choose them over yourself.

When that man threatens your life and that of your children, you choose your children and yourself over your husband and your parents, and walk out.

When you find a partner you love but your parents and children do not agree with your desires and decision to marry him, you choose him and yourself over them.

When you get a dream job but it’s a very long distance from home and your daughter and husband are at a point when they need you around, you choose your family over yourself because you don’t want to live in conflict with the personal and professional part of your life.

And so on, and so on. You make different choices at different points of your life based on what you think is the best decision at that moment. There are no right decisions. There are no right answers. We all do what we must at any given time.

Even so, I have come to the realization that all decisions are subconsciously motivated by self-preservation. We all have the innate skill of prioritization, and even when we are not aware of it, we are constantly prioritizing one thing over another based on our subconscious telling us what is best for our self-preservation at that point in time.

Sometimes, a woman may stay on in an abusive relationship because of self-preservation, and the same woman may leave – even if she has to live in penury as a single mother – for the same reason. Sometimes, choosing a parent over a husband may be self-preservation, or a spouse over a child. Sometimes, it may be the other way around. Situations may vary, but your gut always knows which way the wind blows and where your future safety and happiness are ensured.

At first, I assumed it was more animal instinct than our intuitive higher self, but now I wonder if it is both. Maybe our instincts are given to us for a reason, maybe self-preservation is not as selfish as it’s made out to be, maybe by choosing ourselves over others we are not being ‘bad’ but ‘good’, laying the path for betterment for everyone in the future.

I don’t know how this connects with larger human decisions – such as war or looting of the environment – in the name of self-preservation or ‘civilization’. But maybe that is greed versus genuine need. Even a carnivore does not attack a second prey once its belly is full. I suspect that the more we are in touch with her inner selves, our personal gods and our humanity, the better tuned we will be to the planet’s own ‘instinct’ and, simultaneously, our own higher intuitive selves.

After years of regretting some of my difficult decisions, I am now finally learning to forgive myself for acting in self-preservation. I may have chosen my own happiness over the other’s, but my happiness is important, and it was the best decision I could have made at that point in my life. Main hi aatma, main hi paratma (The soul am I, the Supreme am I). These were the necessary hills and valleys in my journey.

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Finding truth in bliss

(I missed writing a post this Monday. My excuse is that I was following my bliss.)

I came across this definition of ‘a calling’ by Max Weber: a task set by God. It is something that is beyond you, above you and within you, something you cannot change even if you wanted to (and you don’t want to). Something that your heart would say if it could speak. In Hinduism, we call it dharma.

Then I came upon this quote by Christian theologian Frederick Buechner: ‘The kind of work God usually calls you to do is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’

And this one by David Brooks: ‘You don’t ask, What do I want from life? You ask a different set of questions: What does life want from me? What are my circumstances calling me to do?’

And this one by William Damon: ‘All individuals have their own particular callings, reflecting three realities: (1) their own God-given abilities; (2) the world’s need for the services their callings provide; and (3) their enjoyment in serving society and God in their own special ways.’

It all reminded me of the ancient Hindu philosophy of Sat-Chit-Ananda, that is truth-consciousness-bliss. My truth includes my circumstances, my dharma, my soul’s purpose. My consciousness includes that special gift only humans have, that of free will, choosing their actions and taking decisions based on awareness of past and present. And my bliss is, of course, that place of ‘deep gladness’.

The point where they all meet is your destiny. What you were born to do in this life – the point where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

It’s not easy to find one’s deeper purpose in life as long as one is caught in the maya-jaal of life, the rat-race, the meaningless actions and habits, the unnecessary attachments. Sometimes, one needs a little push, a tiny trigger, to set you off on your true path. Until then you are just groping in the dark, unsure of where you are going even though a part of you knows there’s something you need to do.

That brings me to me. I’ve just walked out of my third job in five years. The reasons for them all were different but a quieter space in my heart tells me I had outgrown my lesson in each of them, and it was time to move on. (I’m just a quick learner, I guess.) And so I have begun a new phase of my life, a new journey. There has been SO MUCH grace to help me along the way, so many blessings, an environment that is ripe for inspiration, a history and a story that is the perfect starting point for my future. I am completely content and completely fearless about what is to come, because if there is one thing, okay three things, that nature has taught me, they are (1) You are protected (2) You are deeply loved (3) Everything happens for a reason.

Oh, and here’s a fourth one: There are no coincidences. They are actually signals from the universe affirming that you are on the right path. Once you start following your bliss, finding that place of deep gladness inside you, you are suddenly swamped by coincidences – yesterday I was typing out a message to my brother when he suddenly called to say hi; I was thinking of following up on an old outstanding amount when my bank account pinged a credit transaction; I was wondering if my phone plan had been updated when the inbox beeped, it was the bill, and yes, it had been updated.

And all I had to do was follow my bliss, answer my calling – in my case, writing. Yes, I have been writing a story that needs to be told, writing close to eight hours a day.

Maybe this is the point, the space where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

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Monday tips: Starting off with imperfection

I’ve quit my job, and what I am going to miss most is the opportunity to be a mentor (not just a boss). I have cherished my ‘Monday tips’ sessions with the boys and girls at my office, and they’ve made me promise to write them down if not speak them out every week. So here’s my first of the lot, my Monday tips to my former team across the Internet, instead of real life.

  1. A good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow. – George Patton

A dear friend of mine was sharing her ideas for scaling up her enterprise, which is just a year old but has been getting great feedback from her clients. She was worried about the amateur quality of the videos and photos she has clicked, and the lack of a professional marketer to handle her social media. She said she needed lakhs of rupees to achieve that level of perfection before she could begin to scale up.

I shared this quote with her, and told her: “If you wait for perfection, you will wait forever.” Besides, I said, there’s nothing wrong with being a little imperfect in today’s fluid economy. The vendor who can give you a human touch is increasingly a rarity at a time when everything you read on your timeline appears hyped, polished, fake. Our imperfections are our strengths. Your non-Photoshopped promos will be far more appealing to genuine clients, and you don’t want the other kind anyway. Start with whatever resources you have – your internet-savvy kids, your knowledge, your skills, your friends – and just do it. The best time to begin anything is today. (Which is why even though I haven’t put much thought into how I want to structure these Monday tips, I decided to just go ahead and post whatever I had today, instead of waiting till next week.)

  1. You build a new body every eleven months. Change your body by changing your thoughts and keeping them changed. – Dr Joseph Murphy in ‘The Power of Your Subconscious Mind’

Our bodies are the matter of our minds. Ancient wisdom and modern science tell us that we become what we constantly think about. In this book, the author says our body is made up of lots of individual cells, which reproduce by passing on the knowledge, so to speak. The genetic material that is passed on includes our ‘habitual thinking patterns’. So we have a great opportunity at any given time to look, feel and become whatever we want by literally brainwashing ourselves that we are already there. Keep saying ‘I am happy and complete’ and you will be so. Keep saying ‘I am useless and sad’ and you will be so too.

And it’s not just psychological states of mind. You can even change your body with consistent thought patterns; everything moves in the direction of the intention. Some physical changes can take longer than others, but they will happen if you are firm about it, if you believe that it is true. Haven’t we heard stories of people who were healed overnight by a saint’s miracle? What is that all about? It’s about the direction of the intention, the strength of the belief and the consistent, new thought pattern. It’s not that I cannot become slim in real life – I just haven’t thought myself into it yet!

  1. Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end. – character in the film ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

John Lennon said something similar, and we also have a variation of this quote in Hindi. It’s a universal belief – that life is meant to have a happy ending, and if things aren’t looking so hot, don’t worry, a twist in the tale is around the corner and things will brighten up soon. I know we’ve all been through a lot lately and life seems to be upside down for most of us. But remember, ‘this too shall pass’. What does the heart-monitor look like when a person is alive? The graph jumps up and down. That’s life – it’s meant to go up and down, that is the beauty of it. Don’t expect every day to be consistent, for everything to look the same. The only time the monitor of our lives will be a straight line is when we’re dead!

Keep the faith and repeat this quote to yourself daily; things will begin to look up. I promise.

Picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost.

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Tire puncture

The monsoon was in full form in Delhi a month ago, and the roads were covered in filthy water and slush. In my experience, and by Murphy’s law, your car is most likely to get punctured in situations when you least want it to happen – such as during heavy rainfall while stuck on flooded streets. And so, a nagging voice at the back of my mind kept telling me for days, “Get the tires checked. Get the tires checked.”

One day, after leaving work, I gave in to my intuition, and drove into a nearby petrol pump to get the tires checked, even though the car was driving fine. It turned out I had a puncture – a three-inch nail stuck in the tire, no less. It was so tightly fit and perhaps so recent that the tire hadn’t lost any air pressure yet, so I wouldn’t have known for another few kilometres. I got it fixed instantly, sending up waves of gratitude to God for saving me in the nick of time.

For the next month, I went about convinced that I lived a bonafide charmed life.

Today, then, I got a rude shock when I noticed that the same tire was totally flat again. I was alone in the local market, it was already dark, and I had to drive myself (very) slowly to the nearby petrol station. All the way, I fought with God in my head: “You gave up on me. You let me down. You didn’t warn me this time.”

I reached the petrol pump and got out of the car to let them fix it. It was a long, thick nail again. While waiting, I noticed a ‘pollution control’ kiosk there – and it was still open despite the late hour. Since I don’t use this pump often, I had never paid attention to it before. “Hmm, now that I’m here, let me check if my pollution-under-control (PUC) certificate needs renewal,” I thought, and reached out to my dashboard to check it. To my shock, it had expired in March this year and I hadn’t realised.

As soon as the tire was fixed, I got the pollution checked and new certificate issued. While the boy was working on it, a voice in my head went, “And you thought I’d given up on you, huh?”

God gave me a tire puncture because I needed my PUC certificate renewed.

Abashed, I said sorry in my head for giving up on God.

On my drive home, I began to count all the other metaphorical tire punctures, slowdowns, hiccups, difficulties, problems and impossible challenges I have been facing lately, and said a silent ‘thank you’ for them all. Who knows what miracles are taking place underneath while I worry over surface details.

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Loving what’s within

It was a pleasant day in Antalya, Turkey. I was on holiday with my husband and children. The clouds gave us respite from the pinching Mediterranean summer sun. I’d had a sleepless night so all I wanted to do was lie down and doze off on the beach chair. My husband sat next to me, reading a book. My daughters were off somewhere, posing for selfies.

I napped and had dreams. I woke to the sound of women gossiping loudly in a language I couldn’t understand right next to me. In that half-awake state, I stared at the sky and then turned over and stared down at the sand. My happiness was complete.

And yet.

A realisation dawned. The more I loved my family, and the more I drew happiness from their presence in my life, the more I was setting myself up for boundless sorrow later. It doesn’t mean that I stop loving them or stop deriving happiness from their presence; it means I must stop depending on their presence and love in order to be happy.

More than ever, I realised — the only true love is that of the self. The only true companion is the self. The only true partner, lover, parent, guide, child is the self.

Let me put it another way. The self is divine, eternal, infinite, unchangeable, universal, right? The self is God. So the only true love is that of God.

No, no, we’re getting too esoteric. Let’s stay secular. Let’s just say the only true love is that of the self. If we can truly love ourselves, we need nothing else.

Let me just replace a word there. If we can truly love God, we need nothing else.

We need no declarations of love with a ring, no commitments around a sacred fire. We need no bells to clang when we enter a temple, we need no incense to carry our wishes to the heavens. We need have no fear of loss, or pain of separation. We need no stamp paper to prove our bond or a doctor to deliver us from ourselves. We need no ecstasy of ownership, no pride of achievement. We need nothing else, even death won’t do us part.

Lying there in that half-awake state, I realised, my happiness is complete. Not just because I have a beloved family and much abundance in my life. But because I found my true love. It was right here within me all along.

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Driving through life

I drive an average of 90 minutes every day, give or take 20 minutes. I’ve realised that driving in New Delhi is a lot like life:

A stitch in time saves nine: If I get out of the door at 8.45 am, I will be in office by 9.15 including parking and the journey up the lift. Since we do 8-hour shifts, I can then leave at 5.15 in the evening, which ensures I am home well before 6 pm. However, if I leave home even 10 minutes later in the morning, the traffic builds up on the roads both ways, and I reach home at 7 pm or much later that evening, extending my travelling time more than an hour. So being disciplined in the morning leads to a smoother, shorter work day. Isn’t that exactly what financial planning, time management, preventive health and stress management all about? Short-term effort leads to long-term gain.

Every being is important: A glance through a daily newspaper will lead you to believe Delhi roads are all about hit-and-runs and buses mowing over pedestrians. But those are the exceptions that make it to the newspapers. Ninety percent of the time, people stop, give way, make space, adjust, compromise and watch out for one another on the busy, congested, people-stuffed roads of the Indian capital. We even make way stoically for cows, dogs and other animals. I firmly believe in the innate goodness of human beings and perhaps that’s why I see such examples around me every day, revelatory moments that prove time and again that every being is important, no life is too little, and we must all make space for and respect every being out there.

There are no short cuts: Sometimes you get caught in a terrible traffic jam during rush hour on the highway and decide to take a ‘short cut’ down the alleys or smaller roads running alongside. Bad idea. In most cases, it will take you the same amount of time or even longer to reach home, and you will be far more frazzled after negotiating narrower terrain with worse jams. Lesson: Accept what has been given to you by the universe, and go with it. What you resist persists. Sink into the moment, turn on the music, and make the most of it.

Be in the moment: Driving is sometimes like meditation; you often drift into your own thoughts and lose track of vast stretches of miles or minutes you’ve covered. It’s like you go into a trance and let your subconscious do the driving. This can be dangerous. When we live our lives by default, we are prone to real and metaphorical accidents, and we miss hundreds of opportunities. Opportunities to make us better people or simply make us smile. When we are distracted, we aren’t focusing on our life’s purpose. Like meditation, the solution is to gently lead your thoughts back to the moment, on the road, on the car in front of you. Be aware of what’s going on. Pay attention. There is magic in every moment. Don’t miss it.

Driving is necessary, stress is optional: There are some things we just gotta do, driving, working, bring up our kids, making a living. We can either choose to do them stressfully, zipping between lanes, honking away, adding cortisol to our blood streams, trying to get ahead of everyone else, trying to save a few extra minutes at the traffic signal at the cost of our mental peace and health. Or we can do it calmly, sticking to one lane, chilled out, riding over bumps and turns with patience and grace. Guess what path leaves you happier and healthier in the long term?

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Kinder than necessary and other Monday tips

I’ve been a lazy girl (old woman) and have been absconding from my blog. My soul sister J reminded me to at the very least put down my Monday tips every week, even if I write nothing else. So here goes. My 5 Monday tips (a ritual I have with my team at work).

  1. Be kinder than necessary: An old saying reminds us not to speak anything unless what we are about to say fulfils these three criteria, “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” I suggest going one step further — be kinder than necessary. Kindness is a spiritual practice in itself. Go out of your way to help someone, not just physically but also with words, and most importantly, with thoughts. Every kind thought goes a long way in generating positive vibes and creating a healthier world.
  2. The biggest success is the one who is willing to try, fail and learn: In an ad for Nike, Michael Jordan once talked about the thousands of times he had failed, and the 26 times he had been entrusted with the game-winning shot and had missed. When asked why he had chosen to focus on his failures rather than his successes, he said that a strong mind and heart were more important that physical strength for winners in life. It doesn’t matter if you try and fail — as long as you get up, dust it off and learn from it. You only fail when you stop trying.
  3. External enemies are nothing when compared with your internal enemies: Every time there is an event, you have a thought about it, and that thought leads to your feelings about it. Station a bouncer in the door of your thoughts. Every time you have a negative thought about an event, let the bouncer throw it out, and only allow in the good ones. For instance, if someone does not pick up the phone when you call, instead of thinking, “They hate me,” shut the door on that thought and let in another positive thought instead: “Maybe they’re busy”. Whenever you have a thought that says something to the tune of, “I’m a loser,” don’t ask yourself whether it’s a rational or irrational thought. Ask whether it serves you. If it doesn’t, call the bouncers in.
  4. Freedom and responsibility: Everyone wants freedom — freedom to work as we please, to live life on our own terms, in our own way — and no one wants responsibility, to be accountable, to have people depend on you, to own up when you’re wrong. Well, the truth is we cannot have one without the other. The only way to have more freedom is by taking on more responsibility, and the only way to reduce responsibility off your own shoulders is to give more freedom to those you are offloading to.
  5. Don’t panic. Prioritize: When we’re bogged down with too much on our plate, when we’re close to hitting peak capacity, there’s only one way to move forward: Prioritize. Learn from the human body and the animal kingdom. Shut down all unnecessary systems and processes, keep away the distractions, be selective about what you expend energy on. Ask for help before you snap, delegate before you break, choose your battles. You can only take home the hero’s trophy if you’re still alive.
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