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Saturday, January 4, 2014

When you don’t know what to do, do nothing

Sometimes not knowing what to do is a good thing. Just surrender to Life and do nothing.

Some years ago, everything that I had created and had tried to protect was taken away from me through our bankruptcy – my business, the trademarks we owned, the assets we had built up, the team I led, the client we had, the cars we drove…Everything that conceivably had a monetary, material value was gone! And we had no money. No work. No clients. Irate creditors were hounding me asking for their money back. I had tried for weeks on end to raise cash. But in vain. Nobody wanted to trust our business or plans anymore. Our balance sheet and bank statements had no value in the financial market.

A banker I met on a Friday was brutally frank. He told me in as many words: “Sir, your balance sheet and bank statements are not even worth as much as toilet paper is. I am sorry we can’t consider your application for a loan from us.” I remember coming out of that meeting devastated, beaten, broke. Just as stepped out the bank, my phone rang. It was Philip Sir, my good friend from Kerala who is 20 years older to me. He said he was in town. And wanted to meet me. We agreed to meet at the Woodlands Drive In restaurant which was still around then. When we met later that evening, Philip Sir, who had some background to my Life’s challenges, asked for an update. I filled him in.

As I finished, I broke down saying, “I simply don’t know what to do! Where do I start? How do I start? Every door we know of has shut on us!”

Philip Sir beamed a big smile and said, “Fantastic! Just surrender and do nothing!!”

“What?” I remember exclaiming.

Philip Sir leaned across the table, placed his hand on mine, squeezed it tight and said: “AVIS I have known you for many years. I have admired the ambitious streak in you. You have achieved many things. You grew and rose very fast. But I hope you know what goes up must come down. So, when things come crashing, sit back and let Life take over. Do nothing. Surrender to Life.”

That conversation with Philip Sir did not make much sense to me immediately. But that Sunday, when I was in my ‘mouna’ (daily silence period) session, I read a passage by Osho, the Master. Osho talked about the philosophy that Rinzai, the Zen mystic, taught the world with his famous saying: “Sitting silently, doing nothing, and the grass grows by itself.” What I understood that day was that we humans have this phenomenal urge to keep on doing something or the other. The whole endeavor appears to be to control Life. To treat it like our hand maiden. We strive to ensure that “only the outcomes we desire happen for us. Now that never really happens all the time. So we get angry, frustrated, depressed and cynical about Life when things don’t go our way. That, as I have come to realize, is an immature response to Life. The truth is, Life was always in control. You – and I – were never controlling anything. You were only imagining that you were in the driver’s seat. When the chips are down, when whatever you do doesn’t seem to work for you, when you are clueless about what’s next in your Life, when you don’t know what you must do, simply surrender. When you do this of your own accord, through a deep acceptance of your current reality and your inability to find ways to resolve it, an awakening will happen within you. That awakening will help you understand the larger cosmic design.

My awakening, in a way, happened over the weekend following that coffee conversation with Philip Sir at Woodlands Drive In. But it took several months of “mouna”,  of reflecting upon Rinzai’s saying to actually see the “grass growing by itself”. I discovered that I had been rushing through Life – missing the whole aspect of living, while wanting to be rich, famous and successful. My personal cashless situation, compounded by my cluelessness and helplessness, forced me to reflect on Life. I have learned, through my experience, that more than material wealth, inner peace makes one richer. And that peace comes from soaking in the silence that engulfs you, from doing nothing – especially when you don’t know what to do – and letting Life take over!

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