What Death Teaches Us About Life..

Sometimes, witnessing death teaches you about life that life itself cannot.

This week, I encountered two deaths – one of a relative and one of a neighbor but it was the stark contrast of how they passed away that taught me something important.

Our relative passed away on the stage at the age of 70 years pursuing his passion for singing and music. He was performing at a religious gathering when he collapsed of a sudden cardiac arrest resulting from a rather long history of cardio-vascular disease. He was a parent of a special child and life wasn’t really easy for him. But he would always wear a smile as gentle as his nature and radiate joy whenever he met others. Music was his passion and to pursue it full time, he opted for a premature retirement from his banking profession.Music was also his defense against the trials of life – whenever he found himself tangled in vagaries of life, he would lose himself in songs that he wrote, composed and sung. He often mentioned that he would like to pass away gently while singing in devotion of the higher power. Universe granted his wish.

On the other hand, I heard the news of one of our neighbors who committed suicide at the age of 40 leaving behind wife and two boys aged 5 and 8! Though no one knows the reason why he chose to run away from life, everyone thought what he did was horrible. Escaping life to avoid being confronted with problems leaves those left behind with much bigger problems for rest of their lives!

Events like these makes you think hard about life and how to live it well. We often get too caught up with our problems whether it is financial, relational, physical or emotional. Problems are there for a reason. We evolve as we go through those experiences, face the challenges and solve our problems. We cannot let the dark clouds of despair take us over.

We all face problems and challenges in our unique contexts. A few things really help in dealing with them.

Having a strong support system in form of family and friends with whom you can share and communicate your feelings, emotions and concerns is important buffer we have. More important is to actually choose to communicate with our loved ones regularly. Having exposure to right kind of reading and thinking can help in dealing with problems wisely. Having at least one passion that you can lose yourself into completely can be a savior. Doing something to serve others can help in taking away focus from the self even if for short time. Having a spiritual hook in any form can help too. Living in the current moment and doing whatever you are doing with full focus can keep you away from anxiety of the future.

The life we have been bestowed with is precious. We got to use life energy as a tool to overcome challenges, to create meaning for ourselves, to serve others, to tread gently on this earth, lose ourselves in something bigger than ourselves and be open to learn along the way.

Voltaire said it right:

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living it well.

Silence Heals

Words can wound, but they seldom heal; it’s silence that more often heals or restores us.

The people who radiate a permanent joy have given themselves over to lives of deep and loving commitment. Giving has become their nature, and little by little they have made their souls incandescent. There’s always something flowing out of the interiority of our spirit. For some people it’s mostly fear or insecurity. For the people we call joyful, it’s mostly gratitude, delight, and kindness.

-David Brooks, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life

(Hat Tip: Anderson Layman)

Nothing Fails Like Success

Nothing fails like success. We gain success by doing what works for us. We do more of what works for us, until it doesn’t.

And then, the very thing that contributed to our success becomes the reason of our failure.

This happens because to often, we become prisoners of our own experiences. Because we find it difficult to step out of our limited viewpoints formed through finite experiences.

To avoid this, we need an ability to think critically, map our lessons to the context in which we currently exist and learn in an iterative way.

We need to belong to a community of people who can challenge our thinking. We need to contribute to this community. We need a mindset of an explorer who is ready to uncover and deal with the uncertain next.

Then we can build on our success rather than being imprisoned by it.

– – – –

And here is another perspective to consider.

We stand a chance to fail only when we have succeeded. So, if you are successful by external metrics (title, position, authority, material success etc) then do know that you may fail at some point. What goes up invariably will see a downfall.

How do we deal with a downfall after we have succeeded in the eyes of other people?

First and foremost, it is best not to be driven by or attached with external measures of success. Money, titles, authority are merely by-products of being who you truly are. When your doing stems from your being and feeds your joy, you will associate success with inner well-being rather than external measures.

Second is to work in your inner calm. We get too excited when we taste success and too dejected when we experience set backs. But most wise people I know have worked at building their inner state where they handle life situations with equanimity.

If we do this, we won’t really fail when we fail, but instead use it as an opportunity to step up further.

Nothing fails like success.

Happiness: The Goal or a By-Product?

Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase, and is never attained. Follow some other object, and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness, without dreaming of it; but likely enough it is gone the moment we say to ourselves, “Here it is!” like the chest of gold that treasure-seekers find.

– Nathaniel Hawthorne



The Empty Boat

He who rules men lives in confusion;
He who is ruled by men lives in sorrow.
Yao therefore desired
Neither to influence others
Nor to be influenced by them.
The way to get clear of confusion
And free of sorrow
Is to live with Tao
In the land of the great Void.

If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
And yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty.
He would not be shouting, and not angry.

If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you.

The straight tree is the first to be cut down,
The spring of clear water is the first to be drained dry.
If you wish to improve your wisdom
And shame the ignorant,
To cultivate your character
And outshine others;
A light will shine around you
As if you had swallowed the sun and the moon:
You will not avoid calamity.

A wise man has said:
“He who is content with himself
Has done a worthless work.
Achievement is the beginning of failure.
Fame is beginning of disgrace.”

Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame, descend and be lost
Amid the masses of men?
He will flow like Tao, unseen,
He will go about like Life itself
With no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace. He has no power.
He achieves nothing, has no reputation.
Since he judges no one
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.

 – Chuang Tzu

Came across this wonderful philosophy of life by Chuang Tzu

(Hat Tip: Charlie Amber at Heart of the Art blog)

A Thing Called Life!

A thing,

until it is everything,

is noise,

And once it is everything,

is silence.

– Antonio Porchia

I found this beautiful interpretation of life from Antonio Porchia. Such a profound thought shared so beautifully.

A similar sentiment is expressed by Khalil Gibran in the following lines:

“When God threw me, a pebble

into this wondrous lake,

I disturbed the surface with countless circles.

But when I reached the depths,

I became very still.”


Leisurely Doing!

The Simple Pleasure of Doing!

” The promise of our civilization, the point of all our labor and technological progress, is to free us from the struggle for survival and to make room for higher pursuits. But demanding excellence in all that we do can undermine that; it can threaten and even destroy freedom. It steals from us one of life’s greatest rewards — the simple pleasure of doing something you merely, but truly, enjoy. ”

– In Praise of Mediocrity- NY Times

Choosing our Pursuits

Does your work make you a better human being?

The work we do and the stuff we accumulate are much like adding more zeros to life. There is no end to it and the sum total of all you accumulate is still zero.

Haven’t we all seen miserable millionaires and poor people (materially) who are blessed with contentment?

In a world where you can do almost anything you want to, our choice becomes ever more important. And it is the choice of doing the work that not only makes a bigger difference to the outer world but also enriches your inner world as a human being.

We see people doing menial mundane jobs with great joy and we see people in meaningful and deep work doing it with a feeling of drudgery.

Work itself means little, unless we assign a meaning to it. It is pretty much like a stone cutter who thinks he is busy building a cathedral. Stone cutting is mundane, building a cathedral is not.

It is this kind of work, and the meaning we assign to it, that adds a one before all the zeros. That which makes all the other zeros meaningful and valuable.

That is how we create value in life. Not by simply accumulating stuff and external validations. But by also doing the work that makes us a better human being.