Death and the lessons it teaches us..

The week saw a dear colleague suffer a loss – a sibling passed away suddenly. Disbelief, grief, anger – all the reactions that death triggers were on display.

As always, when you meet Death, you have to pause. This is true every single time. And this post arises out of that pause. For Death makes you reflect on life and ponder on larger aspects. It teaches us important things – to be humble for life is so much bigger,to reassess our life’s priorities and successes, it teaches us to appreciate our relationships and not take them for granted. Truly, everything is fleeting – including oneself – and while we live, we can make the choice to celebrate every moment – or live for a tomorrow that is uncertain. Most of us choose the former – atleast until the effect lasts!.

Death can also help put a spotlight on greatness. No matter where it happens, there is always a story or two of humanity and heroism that would not have been known but for the event.

When the person who has just died is an accomplished individual, the world invariably devotes itself to some constructive dialogue on his specialness. Think Prince or Micheal Jackson or Whitney Houston – their untimely death led to active conversations on their achievements and their album sales skyrocketed. We seem to have less time to celebrate the living and hence make up for it on their death.

Sometimes, “death” places a spotlight on a relative or a friend who has been of exceptional support to the deceased. We see the hero in them for the first time – indeed it can be considered the parting gift of the deceased to turn the lights on a person who has helped him/ her enormously during an important part of their life. Hitherto, unremembered acts of kindness and heroism are brought to the forefront.

Our language also becomes a little gentler and we treat the survivors a little more kindly – in a way, death brings home the fact that life is special and yet fragile. That dosen’t mean you despair, it does mean you need to “handle life with care”.

We begin to remember prayers from our childhood and remember others who were once close to us but have gone beyond the veil. Indeed, all encounters with death take you on a memory trip. Often, a smile arises on the lips as we remember fond times from the past and any minor faults of those no longer with us are forgotten. For defects belong on earth; once people cross over they leave behind their blemishes and take after the gods – a reason why they are offered garlands and a place in worship rooms.

Its important to understand that grieving is natural – indeed important. We grieve for the piece of us that disappeared with the death, and the grieving opens out a hollow space within us. Into this alter steps in a sense of peace (or God or understanding – whatever we may call it) if we allow it to. But this needs time and it needs purging of our emotions and grief – a reason why grieving is such an individual, personal pursuit for most.

A lot of reflections these – not quite enough for helping a person cope with the big mystery called death. It’s sting is real and hard, often though, it does offer some benediction and understanding over time – it is this that I wish for all readers who are in need for solace. Shanthi * 3 (peace, peace, peace).

Leading – the Tao Te Ching way!

It’s always beneficial to have our own personal, trusted coach to advice us on our performance anyday. How nice it would be if that trusted leader helped us understand how good a leader we are?

Here’s the Tao Te Ching doing just that – the following two paragraphs are reproduced from Guy Leekley’s lovely translation with just one change – have replaced “Teachers” with “Masters” in the first line:

Our greatest Masters
Are not publicly known;
The next best often
Become famous.

Some with much influence
Become feared and scorned.
If they do not trust,
They are not trusted.

So how does the Master work? Here’s the last paragraph from Steven Mitchell’s very popular and endearing translation:

The Master dosen’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
The people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

So which leader are you – are you a Master, the good and famous – or the one who is feared (but influential)? And would you like to stay that way?!!

The Guest House

The master needs no preamble. Let’s partake of Rumi’s illuminating poem “The Guest House”

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be cleaning you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each one has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

– Rumi

My Meditations on metaphors for life – is it a race track, a battleground or a walk in the wild?

Its a New Year today – the Tamil New Year – so let me begin with wishes to everyone.

New Years are always beginnings, and often us perspectives with which to see the world – and here are three that I have come to understand are popular:

1. Life is a race track and we are running the race: The focus is obviously on winning the race – and everyone running with us is a competitor. Only the coaches (or anyone who helps out) are well wishers – and as you can see, all relationships are strictly transactional. We don’t stop to see the beauty around us since our eyes are on the next milestone all the time – we are really never where we are – life is lived in the mindscape of the future.

And the future never comes – because no matter where we go – the winning post is always the next milestone – always! And then when we do win milestones, we often continue to feel unfulfilled – for the milestone isn’t what we imagined it to be. Its not as enduring, its not an momentous – we realise we have sold ourselves a dream into the future forgetting that dreams are never factual. The terrain has changed too – our assumption that the track (and ourselves) would be the same in the future and only our performance mattered is but weak when looked through the mirror of life.

Everything changes. Everytime.

Looked at as a race track, life offers direction but not fulfilment. Is it worth it?

2. Life as a battlefield: This is actually a variant of the above – albeit a more negative one. Everyone is not just a competitor, but an enemy – no one has your welfare in their heart and is actively working to bring you down! And so, we look to cut corners, imbibe cynicism into our daily lives, justify our rudeness to others as “just” treats. We discard values and when someone does us a good, we wonder what hidden intentions they have – our life is completely lived in the mind, and a very nervous mind at that.

Looked at as a battlefield, life hones our survival instincts and we are always on the lookout for a kill – the flip side is that we are always alone and never at peace with anyone – including ourselves.

3. Life as just another stroll in the wild: This one’s different – the focus is not on you but on the scenery – and just for that – for being out of the spotlight for once – you feel lighter. Life isn’t serious, nor for that matter do you take yourself so seriously – you become an active participant in a wonderful playground called life.

You don’t determine the scenery (and more importantly, you don’t have to – that’s someone else’s job – god/ nature whatever!) but you do enjoy the scene. No scene is more important than the other, and neither you nor the scene is judged – not on how well you appreciate, nor on any other matter. You can even ignore the scenery and no one would care!

Life becomes a purveyor of surprises now and you trade a sense of being “in control” for a state of “enchantment”. A flower here this moment blooming in the wild, may not be there in the next one – and remember since you cant hoard it – all you can do is enjoy it. A person passing by may no longer be there tomorrow – so there’s not point in pleasing him for a reward tomorrow – there is though in enjoying his company today. You realise that there is no milestone other than what you set for yourself. No rewards other than what you recognize for yourself either. Life becomes truer, simpler, easier.

Today, it is possible to pick any of these three perspectives and make them your own – and they aren’t limited by profession – its not like you need a businessman for the first, a politician for the second and a sage for the third for instance. Take these examples:

a. Larry Ellison decided to spend his time at the America boat race cancelling his keynote at his massive customer conference. This wasn’t about arrogance (at least the way I see it!), it was about living a life he cared about – the boat race just was more appealing for him that day!

b. Thimmaka, a labourer by profession and her husband remained childless 25 years into their marriage. Instead of brooding on life as a “losing” battlefield that throws bad things at them, they decided to plant banyan saplings on the highway instead – to date close to 300 saplings have been planted and blossomed under their tender care. Accolades and awards have followed – and they have been taken in the right spirit by this wonderful lady – she continues to do what she loves – planting saplings and taking good care of them.

c. James Blunt, an international singer of repute has become super popular on twitter for the way he handles folks who troll him. His tweets (if they are representative of his attitude to life) are very refreshing comebacks (he even makes digs at himself) and I’d daresay have brought him in a new set of friends. Here’s a sample:

Sample 1:
@JamesBlunt: They’re not. They’re running me out of town. RT @Amykiiins: Why are people following James Blunt?

Sample 2:
@JamesBlunt: Nope, you’re on your own. RT @chickenoriental: I must be 1 of only 2 who genuinely likes every @jamesblunt song. The other person being him.

And on that note, happy new year everybody and enjoy life!