A broader perspective
Shilpa Shah offers a deep insight into what it actually means to ‘see the big picture’ and how imbibing such an outlook can help us lead a joyful life
Wednesday, 9 May 2012 was a hot, sunny day like any other in the scorching Indian summer, but in my tiny world, everything simply ‘froze,’ without a glimmer of hope or sunshine, for it was the unfortunate day on which I lost my dearest mother. She happened to be bedridden for a few days, and just the night before, I was cajoling her to eat so that she could get some of her strength back. While she responded with a smile, I could see some indecipherable emotions flickering in those large eyes, as if somewhere deep down, she knew what was about to happen.
I remember rushing her to the hospital, with the ambulance siren piercing through the honking vehicles in the city traffic jam. The doctors on board tried hard to help her survive this fatality, but I guess someone up there had already decided for her, for no amount of the latest medical technology worked. Maybe it was time for divine intervention, for it seemed she had begun her onward journey.
Heartbroken and refusing to believe the shocking incident that had just occurred, I literally begged of the doctors to do ‘something.’ Even though I am known to be a strong and wise person, I had never felt this lost and confused in my entire life. I kept telling myself that it was just a bad dream, a scary nightmare that kills you with an indescribable fear, but once I wake up, things will have gone back to normal again. My mom—in her simple cotton Bandhani saree worn around her rotund frame, with pallu (loose end of a saree) thrown across her right shoulder in the typical Gujarati style, a round maroon bindi (coloured dot worn on the centre of the forehead) adorning her serene and beautiful face marked with wrinkles and laugh lines that only decades of ‘having lived and not just existed,’ could grace someone—would be right here, calling out my name, “Shilu.” And I would run straight into her arms and hug her tight, really tight, smother her with kisses and never let her disappear, even for a moment!
But alas, no such happy ending took place. The tragic reality that she was gone hit me slowly but hard. The whole world seemed to have collapsed on me; I felt crushed and broken. Nothing or nobody made any sense. To be fair, people did try to console me, hold me, hug me, but frankly, I was incapable of any response; I was inconsolable. All that I remember is calling out to my mom again and again, asking her to come back to me.
They say time is the biggest healer, and though the days passed by, the long and dark nights were difficult. The world around me was in deep slumber, but I lay wide awake in deep pain. In my mind, I kept replaying hundreds of conversations that I had had with my mummy, but nothing had ever prepared me for this—her sudden and untimely disappearance.
And then I saw the BIG PICTURE
Everybody has a different way to cope with pain and sorrow, but being a spiritual seeker, I found solace in the knowledge and wisdom (meditation and other spiritual practices) of the enlightened masters and saints that India has been immensely blessed with. They allowed me to peel the layers of existence and penetrate deeper and deeper into the meaning of life and death.
And then it happened! One day, while in deep meditation, I could hear the soothing voice of my master. In His loving and caring manner, He literally opened my eyes to the ultimate truth and showed me the big picture—“When a piece of cloth tears, you can patch it up. But when the patches too start tearing up, the cloth needs to be discarded, and so is the case with your mother’s body. It was tired and exhausted, and beyond any repair; hence it needed to be shed. She required a change of cloth, just the way one changes into a pair of fresh clothes after a bath.” And in that moment of divine clarity, I could finally come to terms of her moving on and understand the BIG PICTURE, the truth that death was no longer the scary villain which had ensnared my beloved, but, it was simply a comma in the ongoing sentence of Life. Now, I had realised that the soul is immortal, for energy can be neither created nor destroyed, and my mom, just like everyone else, would be eternally present in this vast cosmos in some form or the other.
Lessons for Life and beyond
The ability to see the wider picture helps one understand life deeply and live healthy and happily, as you are able to comprehend situations (especially the undesirable ones) and people from God’s point of view. It has been observed that when you don’t see things from the bigger perspective, your stubborn, small mind goes into denial mode, keeps complaining, and gets stuck like a broken gramophone record. In this whole process, you become miserable, feel victimised, frustrated, and unhappy, with seemingly no control over your thoughts or emotions.
However, when you align yourself completely with the Universe and are in sync with the BIG MIND, the divine consciousness, you feel empowered and responsible towards all beings. You exhibit a better grip over your feelings and actions and don’t float around like a helpless victim who gets uprooted with the overpowering storm of emotions. By becoming aware of how things actually are, you stop the bad habit of overreacting and repenting later. Instead, you now choose to respond wisely to situations beyond your control. This approach of looking at the whole picture helps you to resist the urge to blame yourself or others or even engage in any kind of falsehood or negativity.
Research says that people with a larger perspective in life are joyful. They are also found to be healthy because the mind and body operate as a combined unit, where one affects the other. Once you get into the habit of understanding things from a wider angle, you tend to feel at home with everyone, as you start becoming more open and relaxed, and are able to accommodate different or, perhaps, even contrasting viewpoints. And even when things don’t seem to go your way, you may lose your cool for a few moments but are able to bounce back to normalcy just as fast.
Also, realising our own place in the scheme of things keeps our ego in check and, thereby, humble. We also become more receptive and adaptive to newer opportunities and experiences. We open up to learning from others, working as a team, and feel much more connected, as if the whole world belongs to us, which, in turn, help us blossom into better human beings, be it spiritually, emotionally, personally, or even professionally. Let us examine these wonderful aspects in more detail.
To offer a better perspective on where you and I stand in the universe, let’s digest this amazing fact:
You are one person in the current 7.7 billion population on one planet out of eight planets, orbiting one star out of 300 billion stars, in one galaxy out of 200 billion galaxies! And yet we completely miss the whole point due to our ignorance, our monstrous ego, our selfishness, and our self-obsessions, turning completely blind towards the truth. We fail to see the obvious picture of how truly insignificant we are in this infinite universe and often end up making our lives miserable with half-baked concepts, demands, and expectations. But at the same time, to keep the balance going and to perform your karma, it is also important to acknowledge that however tiny your position may be, you still hold an important place in this universe, because the world can never be the same without you in it. You are special and unique. Never forget that.
Every soul has a divine purpose
Having lived through tough situations, I can now divulge that what death could teach me, nothing else could! And the truth of this experience was proved again when, just within the next two years, my father passed away. But this time, I knew in my heart that my father had moved on for the better. His soul had broken the cage of his sickly body and was thriving on its own, just like my mother. To be honest, I felt much relieved that they could now have a much happier existence, maybe in a new form and place. And truly, this is the most selfless I have ever felt; I simply prayed for them to be free and happy.
However, it is not that I don’t miss them anymore, but now that I have got the big picture—the right perspective that come what may, life goes on—I make it a point to celebrate their eternal presence, wherever they are. For now, I strongly believe that when you really love someone, do not try to trap or possess them or obsess over them. Instead, set them free and support them as much as you can to help them fulfil their divine purpose in life.
We are all interconnected
The attitude of seeing the big picture can be extremely helpful when we are forced to face difficult situations in life. In a way, too much mourning, self-pity, or lamenting is detrimental to our overall growth. In the journey of life, there are bound to be many ups and downs, and sometimes, what may appear to be a curse can actually be a blessing in disguise. If only people could see it, they would think of what to do in order to overcome the challenge instead of wallowing in it endlessly.
Take the case of a dear friend of mine, Kunal. Just a few years back, he happened to lose his job due to recession. Being the sole breadwinner, this came as a rude shock to him. He tried hard to bag a job, but given the prevailing market conditions, nothing really worked out for him. He soon grew despondent and suffered from depression to such an extent that he started having suicidal thoughts. But luckily for him, somewhere deep down, he was able to gauge the irreversible damage his cowardly move would cause his dear ones—his loving spouse, his tiny little tots, and his old parents. The painful thought of them suffering due to his momentary foolishness opened his eyes. It is then that he decided to seek all possible help to fight the urge to quit and come out stronger. Luckily, his family and friends too rallied around him and supported him wholeheartedly. And thank God he persevered through those adverse times, for he emerged a successful entrepreneur post this trial. The small-scale venture that he had started not only supports his family but is also instrumental in providing several other families with their livelihood. This realisation of being accountable for one’s and other people’s happiness is itself an indication of seeing the big picture. It is related to the third eye, which sees things in unison and makes one understand the truth that we are all interconnected and responsible for all beings. The realisation that our every good or bad action creates a chain reaction which eventually comes back to us is seeing the big picture in totality. We begin to take greater care of our environment. We respect nature, waterbodies, plant and animal kingdoms, as well as rules and regulations that are meant to ensure the greater good as we cannot help but see how they are essential for the happiness of the individual as well as the collective. And if we consider anyone or anything as separate or alien to us, we have to eventually face the consequences of our apathy and narrow-mindedness.
Secret to happy relationships
Have you noticed how we ruin our relationships and spoil our happiness due to ego clashes and unreasonable expectations? Sometimes, when we are stressed, we tend to lose our awareness, the sense of belongingness, and end up uttering angry and hateful words. These spoken barbs may soothe our ego and momentarily offer us false relief but can really cause long-lasting wounds. Later on, you may repent your behaviour, but by then the damage is already done. That is why a wise one once observed that anger is just one letter short of danger.
However, the one whose eyes are always on the big picture will avoid saying hurtful and demeaning things, no matter how hard the provocation to get even. In fact, we are all capable of seeing it, but we avoid doing so, simply because we are trapped in our personal drama and thus fail to rise above our narrow selves. Let me share the story of my next-door neighbour, the gracious Shivani Kapur. She is a bright working woman with stretched working hours and lives with her parents. Sadly, given their old age, they tend to suffer from age-induced severe memory lapse. This seemingly harmless habit of forgetfulness of her parents has led to many annoying episodes in Shivani’s life. At times, she has been forced to drop everything at work and rush to her parents’ help.
But full credits to Shivani, who, in spite of all the irritation, tries her best to not react harshly. Anyone in her place would have possibly lost their cool and been bitter towards their parents, but Shivani manages the whole situation with utmost maturity and kindness. She has worked on herself diligently, developed her patience levels, and has even learnt to control her short temper. She understands well enough that her parents are not doing things on purpose; they are simply helpless and are, in a way, going through their second childhood. “My unwisely spoken caustic words can cause my parents utmost grief and pain and break their gentle hearts, which is far more undesirable than a few slip-ups here and there,” she says. In spite of all the unfortunate incidents, she believes in doing her best and taking good care of her parents. It is true that when we develop sensitivity and a sense of responsibility towards others, the capacity to see the big picture comes most naturally, and this is exactly how Shivani is able to maintain the harmonious and loving environment in her home.
When you see the big picture, you can easily avoid falling in the trap of temptations. The lure of an exciting extra-marital relationship, can be successfully resisted if people could foresee its highly hazardous implications on all people connected to them. Similarly, there have been cases where many people tend to avoid seeing the truth, even when it is staring them right in their face. Say, your partner has been cheating on you, disrespects you, does everything in their capacity to hamper your esteem levels, and makes you feel unworthy and unwanted. If you are more worried about being lonely and not self-sufficient, then you will put up with the abuse and, in the bargain, miss out on the opportunity to create a new life, a new identity for yourself. However, a self-respecting big-picture person will see the futility of being in such a torturous and toxic relationship and will walk out of the living hell with head held high and pride intact.
You are a karma yogi
The capacity to see the larger perspective helps you to observe the interlocking designs of the Universe and find your place and purpose in it. I had once heard a beautiful story about three labourers who were working at a temple construction site. On being asked about the work they were doing, the first one replied that he was breaking the stones, the second one said that he was laying the wall, while the third one responded that he was actually building a glorious temple where devotees would visit and pray to God and get relieved from their worries and go back happy. Such deep insight! Worth pondering and imbibing, isn’t it? Imagine, all three workers were doing similar work, but the third one knew his real role. He never, even for a moment, felt that he was just a mason. In his head and heart he actually thought and believed that he was doing noble work by creating a divine place of worship and thus contributing towards making the world a better place! When one is able to visualise the larger picture, no matter how small or big the job is, the person doing it with complete sincerity is bound to feel good about it and also proves to be an inspiration to others, becoming a karma yogi in the truest sense.
By the way, there is no need to go far to meet such karma yogis. Just look around you; there are millions of homemakers (mothers, wives, and sisters) who toil away for hours and hours in the kitchen, doing countless chores trying to ensure that the needs and wants of each and every family member are taken care of. Even on days when they are unwell or terribly exhausted, they still continue to strive hard as they see life in the larger context and realise that their role is critical in keeping everyone in the household happy and healthy and the family glued together. And most importantly, they do all these sacrifices without any hue and cry or making any special demands. Unfortunately, in most cases, the hard work they do, consistently and selflessly, is taken for granted and goes unappreciated. It is only on days like the popular Mother’s Day or Women’s Day that the world wakes up to wish and click a picture with them, post it on social media, and then forget about it. And yet they continue to serve as they feel responsible for others.
But it is not so in the case of a woman alone. Even a man swallows his pride, takes orders, and bears hardships because he has a family to take care of. Many a time, he chooses to suffer injustice, bad bosses, colleagues, and customers, simply because he is well aware of his responsibility towards his family. Therefore, he thinks of smarter ways to adjust and cultivate the ability to calmly respond rather than react to provocations and ill treatment.
Big picture at work
One of the most desired qualities amongst leaders, shares HR manager R Kamat, is the ability to see the bigger picture and rightly so! Just like in the story of the three masons, to be successful, the leader must have a clarity of purpose, a sense of the bigger picture about what you do, and its significance. What do you think about the work you do? What is your own vision? Are you just working to make a decent living, or are you giving the best to your job and contributing to the overall growth of the organisation? Are you also building a legacy, a shared vision, a powerful example for others to follow? True leadership requires one to view the whole picture and not just its parts, to know not just the how and what needs to be done, but also to know why it is being done. Peter Senge (an American scientist and director of the Centre for Organisational Learning at MIT School of Management) aptly summarises, “Simply having the vision is not enough. The responsibility of a leader is not just to share a vision but to build a shared vision.” For example, a leader may have big growth plans for his company, but if he does not consider the everyday challenges of his employees and is unable to convince them of his vision and make them an essential part of it, then soon, everything will come to naught.
The guru guides
Even though seeing the big picture is a great attribute, overlooking essential details is not the right approach to live happily. Say, for instance, you may be planning to go on a dream vacation and might even be saving for it since long, but if you are not mindful of your impulsive shopping habits, you might have to lose heart on seeing your bank balance. Your dream vacation may just remain that—a dream. Or if you are working hard to lose weight but are unable to exercise self-control whenever a friend offers you calorie-laden savouries, or you pass by a bakery telling yourself, ‘it’s only this one time,’ you will be left wondering why you are unable to reach your goal despite going for long walks every day.
In an exclusive interview, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji—the global humanitarian and the founder of the largest NGO in the world, The Art of Living Foundation, which teaches human values and engages in many social causes worldwide, with over 370 million followers—draws our attention to a very important aspect about seeing things in the right perspective. He elucidates, “You already possess the ability to see both the small and the big picture. It is not an either/or, and if you want, you can use both simultaneously. While it is important to see life from the larger perspective, one also needs to be aware of the important details. For example, if you plan to go somewhere, you need to take the first step to cross your door. You must remember that a long journey begins with tiny steps. You need to attend to that aspect too.”
Ways to cultivate this ability
Gurudev explains further, “Usually, when things go as per our wishes and desires, naturally, we don’t have any issues. However, when certain situations are unfavourable or troublesome, we find it difficult to cope and it is here that the mind gets stuck, isn’t it?” We are unable to accept the situation and start questioning the present moment. For example, take a scenario where you have worked really hard for a particular business deal. But, for some reason, you are unable to bag the project. Of course, there may be one or many reasons for it not working out. But due to lack of awareness, you end up either blaming yourself or others for the so-called failure, get completely stressed out in the process, and lose your focus and peace of mind. So then, what do you do? Is it really possible to overcome such challenges by cultivating the ability to see the big picture?
“Yes,” affirms Gurudev. It is very much possible to do so. He provides three easy and effective ways to do imbibe this ability:
• Firstly, when a situation is unfavourable and the mind gets stuck, just look back at your own life. Know that you have handled similar situations in the past and have sailed through those challenges and have come this far. Looking back at your own experiences will give you strength to move forward in life.
• Secondly, have a strong faith that only the right things will happen to you. Believing this will also uplift your energy and provide you with the necessary will and determination to forge ahead.
• And most importantly, always remember that you are not alone; there is always a higher power with you which guides and protects you. Knowing this will help you remain centred in all circumstances, and at the same time, give you the courage to continue.
If we follow these ways, we can cope much better with any event and avoid getting swept in the highs and lows of life and stay committed towards our life’s bigger purpose.
Benefits of seeing the big picture
When you imbibe the skill to see events from a wider perspective, there are enormous benefits that you can derive from such an insight, to list a few:
• Leaders are typically viewed as having the big picture. People tend to follow those who seem to understand the direction in where they are headed and can also guide others to their goals. So, if you can see the big picture, you will find it easy to manage people and their aspirations successfully, and by creating a shared vision, you can reach great heights of success and also take others along.
• When you can see the whole picture, your vision becomes clear. You are then intrinsically motivated and can accomplish anything you set as your goal. You no longer get stuck on unimportant details which take away attention from the overall picture. You avoid procrastination or making excuses as it keeps you aligned with your target and helps you focus better.
• You find opportunities everywhere, and rather than dwelling on constraints such as why something cannot be done, you take it on as a challenge and respond by focussing all your energy, time, and other resources to come up with quick solutions to make the most of the available opportunities. Not just that. You even start creating more opportunities for yourself and others because, as intelligent beings, inherently we are all wired with the desire to feel big and powerful, not weak or insignificant.
• Seeing things from a bigger perspective infuses you with love, passion, and a zeal for life. You aim higher and bigger, and no longer settle for less. You go for that dream job, home, or destination, if that is what you want, but without being selfish about it as you now realise your responsibility towards other beings.
• The ability to visualise the big picture also increases your own capacity vis-a-vis the challenges in your life. Looking at your past and how you have overcome challenges empowers you from within. You truly become unshakeable.
• You become much more joyful as you no longer obsess about things that don’t matter. You start valuing yourself, your relationships, your time, and all other things that you took for granted. You simply stop existing and truly start living your life to the fullest.
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