A little over a year ago, I made a solo trip (my first) to Haridwar and Rishikesh, small towns and centers of Hindu pilgrimage in the foothills of the Himalayas. Maybe because I was in a certain phase of life, or maybe because I had the luxury of absolute solitude, I came back with some pretty clear ideas on what I think are the most important aspects of my life – things that I would like to focus on going forward. There were many of them, but I also managed to categorize them into buckets. I call them the FIVE PILLARS of my life. Four were things I had already known for a while (though it helped to write them down), but the one I had not realized was the fifth, and the most overarching of them all – PEACE. I realized that I was running after a lot of goals, but taking peace for granted; that I had mistaken peace for an obvious by-product of success and happiness and achievement and fulfillment. Well, here’s the deal – it is not! Peace is not a by-product, it is something we have to prioritize and strive for, it is a “default state” we have to keep bringing ourselves back to (if we care for it, that is).
While I came back with what is important to me, I did not, at that time, have a code of conduct that would help me attain peace. After all, how does one do it? I could have a strategy for my career, my relationships, my ambitions, even my bank balance. But what’s the strategy for peace? For the last year, all I have done is to remind myself to be peaceful every time I felt I was losing it. And it has worked. I recently had an experience strikingly similar to one I had had last year – and the way I dealt with both are very different. Both were difficult experiences and had considerable stake in my present and future. While last year’s incident shook me up and made me angry and bitter, this year, I stayed objective throughout the process and was able to invest the right amount of emotions and reason to it. In fact, I even treated it with a tinge of humor and guess what – I slept really well at night! At the end of the day, that’s what one needs, literally and figurativelyJ.
Looking back at the last year now, I was able to see a few things I’d done differently and constantly – and while I just did them to keep myself in the default state of peace, I am now able to codify them and put them down as “best practices”. Here I jot them down for me to always go back to these, and for anyone else who might be interested in exploring/pursuing/considering.
We humans love to think of ourselves as enigmas with a secret treasure trove of surprises kept aside somewhere only to be revealed at some unknown time in the future. That’s not true. We spend 24×7 with ourselves, and if we don’t get down to knowing the one person we are with most, how will we ever know anything outside of us? A good way of doing this is to put ourselves through a variety of new experiences, constantly. This does throw up shocking surprises at first, but gradually, we start seeing patterns of highs and lows, likes and dislikes, acceptances and rejections, successes and failures – through which we are able to slowly construct a fairly foolproof picture of who we are, what drives us, what we want and where we are heading.
Feel the love
We do not and cannot exist in our own islands. We thrive in the love and support and adoration of others. So, it is important to identify people and relationships that we unconditionally care about, that bring joy to us, that are genuinely interested in our lives and always wish us well. Once identified, take time out to nourish these relationships, to keep in touch, to share, to listen, to have similar experiences, to spend time together. Even when we are at our nadir, it is this love around us that will bring us peace, if not more.
Be in control
Always know we have a CHOICE – to do better, to get out of a situation that is making us unhappy, to start afresh. If we decide to stay on in an unhappy situation, well, that too is a choice we make for ourselves. And possessing this knowledge is powerful. To know that most things that happen in our lives is because of a choice we made gives us the ability to change things, turn things around, or even continuously tweak them for the better.
Forgive and be forgiven
The most common reason for losing peace is angst over someone else’s denial of our rights, or lack of acknowledgment of our deeds, or disappointments with someone important. Forgive, and be forgiven. And we know we have really done it NOT when we have moved on from the incident and don’t let it affect us anymore, but when we can analyze it objectively and know that there was no right or wrong but just two different people with different opinions and value systems and contexts that could not make it work. It gives peace to know that what we did was a reflection of our own selves, and what the other did was a reflection of their being.
I’ve also learned that to be forgiven, one does not always need to say “sorry” or have a difficult conversation. Most of the time, people are more than happy to not look back and analyze, but to make amends and move on. If it matters to you, be the first person to make those amends that will help you reach out and reconstruct the relationship. Forgiveness shall ensue. If nothing works, you always have the CHOICE to step out of it and co-exist without overlapping.
Do only one thing at a time
I used to wake up in the morning and check my email on my phone with one eye open. I used to make coffee while brushing my teeth AND replying to emails. I used to drink my coffee AND read the newspaper AND continue replying to emails. I used to flag a cab while on a conference call. I used to eat my food AND work on my laptop AND watch television. I used to watch a movie AND chat with friends on the phone. I used to go for a run AND think of pending work. Now, I just do one thing at a time.
Feel healthy, look good
A heart pumping well, blood circulating well, a good night’s sleep, a nutritious meal, enough calcium and vitamins, a feel of our muscles, a flatter tummy than a week ago, a splash in the waters of the swimming pool, fitting into better-looking clothes, compliments – no amount of success and achievement can come at the cost of our health and self-esteem. Keep this up, every single day!
Make peace with necessary evils
We all have “pain points” in daily life – the commute to work, the depleting bank balance, the maid not turning up, a difficult colleague, the unbearable weather and much more. Remember that this is part of a choice we’ve made, and if it’s largely aligned with where we want to be, necessary evils can be dealt with, or can even be tweaked for the better. Nothing is ever perfect!
Let small stories inspire you
We love quotes by famous people, we read autobiographies of achievers, we share stories of entrepreneurs in distant lands on Facebook – but there are inspiring stories all around us. The story of the grocer could teach you something new, a heart-to-heart with your boss could open up a new line of thinking, even looking out of the window at a child trying to fly his kite could leave you blazing with optimism. Be gullible, be believing, be observant. We don’t have to discover that the world is a beautiful place only when we’re on a holiday. Let’s not miss out on the beauty of the lives and nature around us.
Know that we are a very very minuscule part of the universe, and an even more minuscule part in the timeline of nature. There were things millions of years ago, and there will be things millions of years hence. There are forces beyond our reach, beyond scientific explanation. There are things, however painful, that happen outside of all logic. Yes, we do have a part to play in this place and time, but there are billions of others around us with their parts to play as well. We have the right to live our lives well, but with the awareness to harm others as less as possible in the process. Believe in a sense of natural justice and correctness, no matter how difficult it might seem at some points in life. Believe in good fortune for what you have, and be thankful for all the hurt and pain and humiliation you don’t have. Choose your own religion , whatever form it might take – God, science, books, music, prayer, work, family, dreams – and be true to it in everything that you do.