This year hasn’t been great to me. In fact, I think the downward spiral started a little close to last year. Without getting into details let’s just say, things did not at all work out as I wanted them to, either physically or emotionally, personally or professionally. I fell sick time and again, I was always in emotional doldrums with some or the other concern on my mind. This year, has been a year of learning, a year of recognising limitations, a year of acceptance of fate, a year of being humbled. Sometimes, the feeling of failure was so crushing that life ran on autopilot for days. I did not want answers. Every situation taught me something new. I wanted peace. I just wanted the noise in my head to stop. This lead me to some interesting places.
Silence: One weekend while browsing my local book shop I stumbled upon this book ‘Silence – the power of quiet in a noisy world’ by Thich Nhat Hanh. Not being a religious person, I almost put it back. But, the cover of the book attracted me. It was of a wooden chair in a park whose surroundings were covered in snow, overlooking a city far off. A chair I wanted to sit on, a silence I could hear. Something spoke. I purchased it. It turned out to be the best purchase I made in a very long time putting me on a journey to learn more about Buddhism and especially of teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. I was not interested either in god, or in after life or in Karmic laws. I just wanted peace, here and now. The teachings of this Vietnamese monk resonated with me. Perhaps it was the need of the moment. But, what I took away from that book and a couple of others of his, made a mark:
Be mindful: Be aware of the present. Bring your mind to the present. Sorrow is caused because the mind either dwells in the past that cannot be changed or the future that is not sure. As Eckhart Tolle asks, “Are you unhappy now?”; generally we aren’t. It is the hurt caused by an incident in the past or the anxiety of future that causes sorrow, in which we wallow.
Meditate: For a long time, in fact till the time I read that book, I felt meditation was mumbo jumbo. Why would you meditate on god? Meditation after all turned out to be simpler and reasonable than that. It is just concentrating on your breath and only on your breath. Mind, as they say, is a drunken monkey jumping around all the time. It cannot sit silent. It cannot be calm. Via meditation you try to bring back your mind to concentrate on the in flow and out flow of breath and nothing else. Your mind would after sometime again think of something else. Once you are aware of that, you bring it back to focus on your breath. You fail after sometime, you bring it back, you fail, you bring it back, again and again. This cycle goes on, till you are able to concentrate on only your breath. This concentration on one thing rooting out all else, will bring us peace, since we at this moment are concerned only on that one thing and nothing else.
Right things: Buddha laid of an eight fold path to attain nirvana. Not sure if all that is something I can practice as of now, but, one thing caught my attention — ‘Do the right thing’. Why? ‘Cause the right thing is the best course of action you can take in any specific instance. It is when we shy away from taking the best possible correct action that we end up in sorrow. But, neither does doing the right thing guarantee happiness. No, but knowing there was nothing better you could do and you did your best, leaves you in peace.
While I was reading about Buddhism, I stumbled upon one another book, whose title immediately impressed me. Seemed I had let ego to my head. So I immediately purchased it. ‘Ego is the enemy’. I cannot say enough, if you haven’t read it already, do yourself a favour and get a copy of it. The entire book is memorable. But, two points stood out:
Work is enough: “In life there is a roll call”, Ryan says, “to be or to do”. Do you want to be ‘known’ for the work? Or, do you want to ‘do’ the work? Which is important? Getting the recognition or the satisfaction of doing the work you set out to do? As an introvert, it has always been difficult to me to ‘sell’, to be ‘known’. Perhaps out of this nature, I always gravitated towards doing the best job I could do and leave the recognition part to the gods of fate. I’m glad in one way, that this strategy has been validated. But, what we choose will determine the kind of career we’ll have. If we want glory, we’ll choose every instance to put ourselves out there before everyone taking credit. If we want to do the work, we’ll almost be invisible. But, ask yourself, why are you here? For recognition or for doing the job?
Don’t believe in your own legend: We all tell ourselves stories. Some view themselves as victims, some as survivors. Some as heroes, some as losers. We might’ve seen stories such as this in our workplaces — “I’m the best in the team, the only person who actually knows the work compared to all the other quacks. If I step out the team will collapse. I cannot make any errors, and that if something escaped my sight, it was not probably worth considering.” Slowly, this story will get to our head and we’ll believe it till it becomes our ruin. All it takes is a pin prick to burst the bubble in which we live. All jobs are replaceable, everyone is replaceable. All the illusions that we are a legend are just that, illusions.
The School of Life:
While reading all these books, I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called ‘The School of Life’ a place trying to answer ‘the great questions of life’, dedicated to brining philosophy to the masses. They have some wonderful videos which do a great job explaining us various schools of thought in philosophy and how philosophy can be and should be applied to our day-to-day lives. I’ve benefitted greatly by these videos and you should check them out too, if you haven’t already. Though I learnt a great deal from them, one lesson stood out absolutely:
Failure: Is independent of merit or station in life. Failure will come to all whether we are deserving or not, good or bad. It is independent of our position, knowledge or wealth. Just because we could not succeed in a particular endeavour does not mean we are a loser. There is lot that happens in life that we do not have control of. Gods of fate are reckless on the good and the bad. That is why we see quacks succeeding, genuine knowledgeable folks slogging in obscurity. So, next time we fail at something, let’s consider this — ‘have I given my best effort? If yes, then don’t feel sad, ‘cause there is nothing else you could’ve done. Just work on building fortitude’.
The year is not over yet. I don’t know what else is in store for me. But, I’ve learnt a great deal. And, with that knowledge I hope to navigate better.