By Suma Varughese
How can we maximize our life, realize our highest potential and achieve all that we are capable of? How can we live with zest and power? In short, how can we learn to seize the day, asks Suma Varughese
A former editor of mine once told me that as a youngster she was high-spirited and full of fun; and her parents often tried to curb her spirits. Once, she and her friends planned on going for a picnic. Her father imposed a condition. First, she had to stitch a certain number of pyjama sets before setting off. Nothing daunted, she sat up all night, made those pyjama sets, and next morning was off for the picnic.
That, for me, is a small example of what it means to seize the day. It means to be in control. To not allow circumstances and situations to deflect you from your chosen goals and objectives. To steam ahead regardless. To triumph, conquer and succeed. To be able to do this and that. To leave one’s imprint on the day, and on life itself.
We are talking of a dynamic mindset here. A mind that has both confidence and capability; a mind that is imbued with a burning sense of purpose, and is gifted with an invincible will and determination. High achievers seize the day. And in doing so they often write history, and steer the progress of humanity. At the least, those who seize the day lead successful lives; they execute their duties and responsibilities impeccably, have enough and more time for their own personal interests and joys, and to follow their dreams; have plenty of time for their loved ones and friends, and are at peace with themselves and life. While the rest of us struggle futilely with tyrannical time, they seem to live in a timeless void – where everything gets done with minimal effort and struggle.
What stops us
What is it that stops most of us from seizing the day? Truth be told, we are unable to rise above the ordinary. Most of us get dragged down by the inexorable forces of daily life – get up, bathe, cook, go to work, come back home, take the children’s homework, spend time with family, and watch TV. Routine has us so firmly in its grip that we can’t go beyond it. In the process we cease to feed ourselves with the important things of life – the things that matter – staying in touch with friends and family; doing things that nourish and nurture us, taking steps to achieve the goal that matters to us, or realizing our dreams – learning to salsa, going for a yoga retreat, learning scuba diving, travelling the world and so on. Life passes us by, and we are left languishing. Rabindranath Tagore poignantly expresses this experience when he says, “The song that I came to sing remains unsung. I have spent my days in stringing and un-stringing my instrument.”
In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, Stephen Covey echoes this thought, “We’re busy – incredibly busy. We’re going through the motions. But we never seem to reach the level of life where the music happens.”
All too often, we do not even know what we want or who we are. We get so overwhelmed by the rigours of handling our everyday routine that we often forget to look at the big picture. We plug away dutifully at work for many a weary year before it occurs to us to question if this is really what we want to do. We follow parental ambitions, and settle for that engineering or MBA degree, until one fine day it dawns upon us that what we really love is history or philosophy.
Even more fundamental is low self-esteem. As long as we are riddled with doubts and fears about ourselves or our capabilities, we will not be able to focus on the tasks on hand. Our energies will be too bridled, too dissipated. Self-doubt and diffidence will pour water on our personal power and effectiveness. Only when these clear up, will our sense of competence and capability increase. Our energies will then be released and we can move into action mode. In a sense then, seizing the day entails moving from the deadweight of tamas to the more energetic rajas, though as you will see, satva plays a huge part in it too.
If these are the forces that hold us back, there are other forces we need to employ to move triumphantly into our centre of power.
The first, I believe, is passion. We must want to maximize our lives – we must want to achieve the things that lie just outside our comfort zone. We must feel zestful about the process of growing. While I am far from being in seize-the-day mode, I am getting glimpses of that state of mind which shows me that sometime in the future, I will get there. And what I did experience during those brief moments was a powerful sense of joyful purpose which invested me with a determination to make what I wanted happen. There was a zest that drove me to do whatever it took. When we are thus motivated, achievement is easy and almost effortless, because the driving force of determination gets us safely through.
Jamuna Rangachari, the head of our Life Positive website, testifies that it is determination that enables her to achieve her goals. These include writing articles for Life Positive and elsewhere, writing a number of books, running a house, bringing up two children, and also doing social work. All this despite the fact that for the last seven years, she has also been waging a battle against multiple sclerosis.
Vedanta explains this by saying that whatever our desire, we will also be given the energy to fulfill it. As our desires become more purified, and move into the area of achievement rather than merely sensual satisfaction, the energy at our command is greater, and therefore our capacity to execute our goals increases.
Covey says, “Until that deep priority connection is there – and a commitment is made to it that is stronger than all the other forces that play on our everyday lives – we will not have what it takes to prioritise (what we want to achieve).” He further adds, “The place to start is with the recognition that (achieving the goal) is non-negotiable.”
I recognized the importance of this quality while participating in one of the workshops at the recent Mumbai Life Positive Expo, Thought Yoga by Krishna Iyer. The facilitator was talking about how to achieve our goals, and he mentioned a few factors, which included passion. He asked each of us to take on a goal using each of the factors he had taught us. At that time, I was having difficulty remembering to take my homeopathic medicines three times a day. I recognized vividly that the reason I was not remembering was that I simply did not care enough to do so. Reminding myself of the crucial importance of taking my medicines, I put into place some strategies to achieve them, and am happy to say that I have hardly missed a dose since.
Without this driving passion, almost nothing will be achieved. Would Alexander have conquered the world, or the Buddha become enlightened, or Mahatma Gandhi won the Freedom Struggle if they had not been driven by an overwhelming passion and commitment that sublimated everything that stood in its way? It is passion that will cause us to overcome the million lower desires and needs that stop us from achieving what we want. Watching a movie on TV seems so much more enjoyable and effortless than completing that project. Who would not want to go through Facebook, rather than cleaning up the cupboard or writing a book? It is passion that gives us the momentum we need to power through the initial inertia that locks us into status quo. Passion breeds commitment and determination, which is what we need to achieve what we want.
|Megha Bajaj: Action driven by love is the key |
to her dynamism
Megha Bajaj, Life Positive’s popular columnist, has been an achiever since a very young age. At 30, she has written four books, including Thank You, Cancer, a book on how to cope with cancer which has motivated thousands of people. It was nominated for the best book in the non fiction category for Crosswords Book Award, been translated into two languages, and has sold over 10,000 copies nationally. Her company Wonder of Words has developed several exciting books and teaching aids which has benefited over 25,000 children.
Recently, she established a holistic growth center called Miraaya which has managed to get around 350 members in less than a year. For her, investing love into all her activities is what makes it happen. She says, “I somehow see everything I do as an act of love. When it is not possible to see it as an act of love, I see it as an act of bliss. If even that is not possible, I either don’t do it – or if it is unavoidable – I tell myself, in any case I have to do it – I may as well do it happily.”
Almost all the ones interviewed said that they woke up with a sense of purpose and a willingness to plunge into the tasks of the day. No wonder they are high achievers. Unlike the rest of us, their engines are purring and ready to go, while we still have to warm up ours.
So how do we achieve the passion and commitment we need? For many on the path, passion comes as a natural corollary to the inner work we put in. As we shed our conditioning, as we become more aware of the laws of life and how to lead it, as we become more aware of our infinite potential, as we work on our self-esteem, as we discover our life purpose, we become invested with more and more inner power that converts into passion and commitment. Says Chitra Jha, “My turning point was the realization that we create our own reality.”
Says Megha, “For me it is very clear. B.G and A.G. Before Guru and After Guru. I was a lost teenager with no sense of confidence, purpose or direction in my life. Much like wet clay just lying around. It is in my guru’s expert hands that I have begun to feel some form, some structure, some indication as to where I have come from, where I am, and where I am going.”
For others, the reason may be more extrinsic. Says Jamuna Rangachari, “When I observed that women who are not employed outside were never taken seriously, I made a clear resolution to carve an identity of my own. I did not want my identity to be that of the wife of so-and-so.”
Confidence and capability
These qualities are the by-products of living our lives well, and facing its challenges successfully. The more challenges we meet and triumph over, the greater the confidence and capability released. The truth is that we are all invested with an infinite amount of all these qualities. But to release them, we need to take charge of our lives. If we withdraw from life, or refuse to engage with the challenges of life, we will find that we have less and less capability available to us. If, on the contrary, we grasp challenges with alacrity and execute them with good will, we will find that we grow in confidence and capability, strength and inner power.
Says Swati Prakash, a Wiccan presently based in England, “The more duties and responsibility you handle, the more success you get. That’s what I have understood, so I look forward to responsibility. Power and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. Responsibility is exciting and brings power and energy to you at the same time.” At 22, Swati was heading a PR agency and training professionals. At 28, she retired from that in order to focus on her spiritual goals. She has also started India’s first Wiccan tradition which is now progressing even without her active participation.
Kalpana Iyer, an elegant 60-plus Mumbai housewife, is always in control of her day, despite maintaining an impeccable house, hosting or mentoring innumerable relations, children and grandchildren, and pursuing her own interests and activities. She attributes it to the strict training she received from her aunt who lived with them ever since her husband passed away early, and who instilled the virtues of efficiency and organisation into her and her siblings. She says, “We used to think of her as a terror, but as we grew, we realized how capable it made us.”
She says, “I plan well in advance. In fact, days in advance, I have the week’s menus planned, so I shop in advance, and make sure I have everything at hand. I am never stressed about all this. I have it all in my mind. When I wake, I am all set for the day. No confusion, no last minute glitches. I am calm, and any upsets do not affect me as I always have Plan B! Even when I travel, I start putting away things into the suitcase almost 10 days ahead, and in the last two days, put them in order into the bag.”
This moment is all
|Stephen Covey: A messiah of effective living|
I have personally found that an increasing awareness that the present moment is all, helps you to sharpen your focus and concentration, as well as strengthen your determination. You are filled with a commitment to making the most of the present time and its opportunities, instead of desultorily putting off life for another time. Many of us stumble upon this awareness in the process of walking on the spiritual path. As we clear up the conditioning that pulls the mind into the past and the future, as the mind becomes clearer and sharper, we are filled with an ever increasing clarity and awareness of the vital importance of Now. Life, and as a consequence, time, become of ever greater value, and we strive to achieve everything that we can.
Another factor that can propel us into an appreciation of the moment is a brush with mortality – either ours or a loved one’s. There is nothing like the presence of death to enable us to appreciate life. I have, of late, been having a few encounters with this dreaded force myself. A cousin passed away a year ago. A very dear mentor and friend died unexpectedly a few months back. My neighbor passed away last month. With each encounter, the reminder is more pressing and urgent. There is no time to be lost. We only have the present moment. Everything else is forfeit. So enjoy every relationship, make up with estranged friends, make use of every opportunity, and live to the hilt. I find my life force is increasing these days, and I want to experience more, do more, enjoy more. I know that I am not going to be around forever; or that my health may not last forever, so if an opportunity to enjoy comes along, I plan to seize it!
Procrastination is the very opposite of the mindset that seizes the day. As we cozily curl up in our beds and put off living for another day, nothing much gets done. On the contrary, the quicker we bat out all that lands on our plate, the more we accomplish. The procrastinator can never handle the present challenges because he is still handling the issues of the previous day or the day before that. As tasks and duties pile up, he gets more and more overwhelmed and finds it easier and easier to put it all off. Interestingly all but one of the persons I sent my questionnaire too, answered immediately, which proved that they indeed were the right candidates for this article.
Says Kalpana Iyer, “I feel that it is so much easier to be organised, efficient and managing one’s time well. I am more relaxed, I still find time to read, do crosswords, for most of the time everything runs smoothly, and I am well prepared for the unexpected.”
My colleague Jamuna Rangachari is unusually prompt. No sooner do you assign an article to her than it lands on your desk. Plans for our anniversary issue in April were initiated about three weeks ago, but already two articles have landed in my inbox. I have noticed that she rarely takes on tasks ad hoc. If you ask her to do something, she will think about it, and let you know if and when she can do it. And if the answer is yes, the work is delivered quickly.
The same can be said of Chitra and Megha, both of who write regularly for Life Positive. It is, in fact, a standard joke between Chitra and me that when I assign her an article, no matter what the deadline, it will arrive in my inbox the very next day. Their promptitude itself seems to give them the energy and will to move on to the next task, while procrastinators writhe in the coils of tasks undone.
Get a headstart
A quick start to a day is essential if you want to seize it. It’s unlikely that there will be much seizing to do if you saunter out of your bedroom at noon! An early rise gives you a head start to the day, and consequently to life itself. I have an aunt who wakes up at 5 am and by 10 am all the cooking for the day is accomplished, even if it includes elaborate and complicated non veg items. This is one practice I too have adopted. Whether it is a weekday or a weekend, I finish my cooking for the day by the time my maid comes over at 9 am and by 10 am, my kitchen is sparkling clean, and my fridge comfortably stocked with food. It is a huge relief to feel that I do not have to come home and start cooking. During weekends, this practice means that I have the rest of the day at my disposal, without the burden of meal preparation resting heavily upon me.
The quicker you start, the faster you finish. When I decided to have my house renovated a couple of years back, my contractor, Francis, told me that the secret to his timely execution is a quick beginning. Sure enough, within one week of taking on my contract, the plaster of the walls and floor of my house were demolished, and within a couple of months, my gleaming new house had been restored to me. Friends tell me that most contractors rarely complete their tasks before five or six months.
Most successful professionals follow this practice. They make it a point to come to work before they have to. The quiet time at their disposal is then used to chalk out a plan for the day, and attend to some important tasks before the rush of the day descends upon them. My friend, Usha Menon, a general manager at Central Bank, follows this practice scrupulously. and it explains why she has climbed further up the ladder than any other woman in Central Bank.
Prioritize the important over the urgent
A good amount of our time is spent in putting out fires. Running to the telephone company to pay up your bills because they have cut off your phone. Working overnight to complete a project which was due days back. Spending a week in bed battling flu because you did not nip your cold in the bud. Because of unawareness or laziness, we do not tend to our lives as diligently as we are meant to, until what was a routine chore becomes an emergency. The solution to this is to ensure that we prioritize what is important over what is urgent. If we spend all our time in crisis management, when do we have the time to go beyond, to seize the day? We need therefore to cultivate clarity as to what is important for us. Is it family? Health? Profession? Community outreach? Or all of the above? And if these are important to us, how can we ensure that we devote time to them? Proper planning will help free up time that was earlier spent in doing what was urgent. The more time we spend on what is important, the less time we will need to spend on what is urgent. Stephen Covey offers a way to do this. He asks us to create a plan for the week, rather than just the day, and in that week set aside time for all the areas of our lives – health, relationships, work, personal issues, service and so on. That will ensure that we do not find ourselves bobbing aimlessly on the sea of life, because we have a rudder by which to steer.
This and that
|Swati Prakash: Living life full tilt|
Those who seize the day know that the secret of a successful and happy life is to do this and that. It is never about sacrificing the personal for the professional; or fun for the sake of duty. It is about stretching yourself and your capabilities in order to encompass both. Just as my former editor did, it is about making the pyjama sets and going out for the picnic. Those who were interviewed for the most part, did not even draw a distinction between these aspects of life. For them, all of life is a flow and work and pleasure, fun and duty, are all equally enjoyable.
Says Chitra Jha, whose commitment to her personal growth helped her move from being a housewife to a published author who has written three books, and is a popular healer, facilitator and life coach. “Since I am a freelancer, who completely loves her work, I do not feel that I have to sacrifice anything. I am a very conscientious worker, who values commitment more than anything else. I usually achieve most of the tasks I set out to do during a day.”
Says Megha, “I somehow don’t create so many differentiation in my mind. I see work as a fun holiday – and even on a holiday I keep doing what I love which also happens to be my work – like say writing. Life is a flow – I don’t compartmentalize my hours into work hours – fun hours – I just do what I have to and I do it with love.”
Swati Prakash says the same thing, “I do not create a difference between work vs personal enjoyment. My work is my personal enjoyment as well, and I give as much importance to family outings or adventures as to work, as they all are my treats after all.”
There are others who will ensure that no matter which part of their life has suffered, they will put in a few hours of work to bring back the balance. Says Jamuna Rangachari, “When I feel I have not done the tasks that I needed to, I try to make up for it by working extra hours soon.”
Says Kalpana Iyer, “I plan my relaxation like movies or outing with my friends, into my day, so there is no feeling of being overwhelmed with household chores. Yes, sometimes I have to sacrifice one for the other, but I don’t feel stressed about it as I have learned to prioritize.”
As I said earlier, self-esteem is fundamental. Only that will give you the space to dream dreams and the confidence and courage to realize them. Self-esteem will give you the resilience to bounce back from setbacks and try harder and better. Self-esteem will make you feel worthy of the best things in life, including success and achievements and shield you from self-sabotage. Yes, there are high achievers who try and substitute achievement and success for self-love, but that is never a permanent state. Sooner or later, they realize that no amount of external achievement will make up for a poor self-image, and they skydive.
Self-esteem is best attained in childhood, but if we have not been fortunate enough to instill this within ourselves then, it is never too late to do so. Learn to forgive yourself, to accept yourself, to have faith in yourself. To not give up on yourself. Practice positive self-talk rather than the caustic put-me-downs we routinely practice. Stand in front of the mirror and tell yourself how much you love yourself. In short, sign up for the greatest love story of your life.
Says Megha, “I love myself. Heartily. Completely. I don’t think of myself as Megha Bajaj. I view myself as a part of that majestic divinity… I see myself as a manifestation of the deepest love that there is.”
Says Swati, “The higher self and the lower self have a deeply intimate love relationship. I try to be good to my lower self, realizing that it is helping me fulfill the purpose of the higher self while on earth.”
Says housewife Lipa Banerjee, “I love myself. Nobody can force me.”
When all these factors fall into place, we will move effortlessly into mastery. We stride into the day like a veritable Colossus, and not just seize it, but harness, bridle and ride it in any direction we choose. Our life then becomes what it is meant to be – a panorama of realized possibilities.
Says Swati Prakash, “There is nothing better than the feeling of living your life purpose with maximum efficiency and effectiveness. It brings peace to the soul.”
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