By Suma Varughese
Life is nothing but a series of problems, posed by the great examiner above. often, it is the vexing little issues of everyday life that stymie us. here are a few spiritual and practical ways to handle your hassles
Life has a way of pressing our buttons and visiting upon us the very things we find hard to take. Hate traffic jams? You may be sure that each time you hit the road, a lockjam will confront you. Bad at saying no? You will thronged by opportunists. Does irresponsible behaviour get your goat? No wonder you are swamped with it.
So what to do? Small stuff is really the stuff of our lives and wise heads have wrestled with the dilemmas and problems you are currently in the throes of. There’s nothing that can’t be licked if we know how to tackle it. Here below are a few scenarios with a few suggestions on how to handle them.
Meet the Sathes
The Sathe family lived in Mumbai and was remarkable for the fact that three generations lived together more or less happily. There was Aji and Ajoba, the senior Sathes. Mr Sathe was a retired college professor who now taught Vedanta to a few students. His refined, scholarly face shone with good will. Aji was the quintessential granny, loving, giving, and wise. Sathe junior was a workshop facilitator and counselor and fairly buzzed with enthusiasm and dynamism. Mrs Abha Sathe was a writer of children’s books and a very practical down-to-earth woman with a fund of common sense and intelligence. The younger generation was represented by Avijit, a young engineering student who was at heart a social activist. He was forever chasing a cause – welfare of stray dogs, friend of the earth, doing something for street children and so on.
Nisha, the middle child, was in her second year of college and was a gentle girl who loved poetry and whose generous heart was always prompting her to shower gifts on people. Unfortunately, people took advantage of her generosity. Alka brought up the rear, a happy-go-lucky girl in class 10, prone to stumbling into trouble.
The family had a tradition. If anyone had a problem, they would bring it up at the dining table.
Fobbing off the freeloaders
It was Sunday night dinner. The family had a tradition to be present for Sunday dinner no matter what. Saturdays the children could hang out with their own crowd. The conversation was boisterous as Mom passed around delicious bissi bhele bhat (a spicy rice-dal dish from Karnataka). Nisha, Mom saw, had a shadow on her face. As everyone quietened down to appreciate the steaming hot rice, Mom looked across at Nisha. “How did your birthday lunch treat for your friends go? Did you enjoy yourself?” The shadow increased. “It was okay,” she mumbled.
“What happened?” asked Dad.
“I had invited just a few good friends but Rohit called me and asked me if he could bring a couple of his friends.” “What did you say?”
“I said okay because I felt awkward to say no, but I was upset about it. And they ate so much. The bill was humongous.”
There was silence as everyone chewed over the problem along with their food.
“I would have said no,” Avijit said very decidedly. “That Rohit had no business to bring his friends when you were footing the bill. He needs a good kick,” he added indignantly.
“Yes, but Nisha finds it hard to say no,” interjected Mom soothingly. “There are ways to handle this, sweetie, without being rude. You could have told Rohit that the event was by invitation only, or that it was for good friends only. ”
“A good way to handle these sudden requests is to buy some time. Just tell the person you will get back to him in a while. That will give you time to think about what you really want to say,” added Dad.
Nisha’s face brightened. “I think that is a good idea, Dad. I can see myself doing this.”
Dad hesitated then added, “The long-term solution to your problem lies in becoming more assertive, you know. Why not come for my next workshop on the subject?”
“There is an even longer term and surer way to achieve self-esteem,” said Ajoba with a gleam in his eye. “Vedanta tells us that we are divine, a part of the Creator, because the Universe is One. So therefore we can feel really good about ourselves. It is the perfect recipe for self-esteem.” “Really?,” asked Nisha, “I’m divine?”
“Yes,” Ajoba said solemnly. “And so is everyone else.” “Man, I just can’t wrap my head around this – we are like God?” asked Avijit.
“It might take some time for the thought to take root in you, but consider thinking about it. It’s just about making sense to me now and it’s changing my life drastically,” Dad said.
“Pass me the salad, Avijit,” rapped Alka from the other side of the table.
“Avijit, no longer. Your divinity is the proper way to address me,” he answered with a lordly air Dad winked at Nisha. “See, it’s working on Avijit already.” “A little too well,” grumbled Alka.
Never be a messenger
“I had a rough day myself,” said Dad, looking rueful. Everyone looked at him expectantly. “You remember Rajesh, my former colleague? Well, he’s been having some trouble with his marriage and I’ve been trying to help, but no go. They want to split.”
“How sad,” said Aji, a look of concern on her kind face. “Yes, they are both gems but they are simply not able to resolve their issues,” said Dad. “Anyway, things got really sticky because instead of speaking directly to each other they would ask me to pass on messages. Today, Ranjana called me to pass on the message that she wants half his salary as alimony as well as the house and car. I got a earful from Rajesh when I told him so.”
Ajoba held out his hand. “Never be a messenger, son. Ever. This is a manipulative game people play when they don’t want to face the person directly. You will unnecessarily get into something that is not your business and you will have earned the ire of the person you pass the message to.” “Oh, my God,” said Alka. “That is exactly what happened to me. My friend Anjali wanted to break up with her boy friend, Arun, and she sent me to tell him. Arun has not spoken to me since.”
“You see?” said Ajoba. “We see,” echoed the family. “”Dad,” interjected Avijit slyly, “Next time you want to pass messages to Mom about coming late etc, you will have to do it yourself. No more messengers here.”
Dad grimaced as the others burst out laughing.
“Good to see you laughing, beta,” said Dad. “I’ve barely seen you around and when I have, you have been looking like a bear with a sore head.”
“Dad,” protested Avijit, “do you know how busy I am? I have to submit a couple of projects in a fortnight, my finals are in less than a month, and I have also promised time to a couple of NGOs. I feel so pressured that I just don’t know what to do. And the worst is that my mind is just not working!” His voice had risen to a high pitch and there was a frisson of alarm across the table.
“You know,” said Mom. “I went through this phase myself about six months back. I had promised my publisher my book in a month, but it was nowhere ready, Life Positive had asked me to contribute a cover story which was due in a week and I had to look after the house and all of you too. I went through hell,” she reminisced.
“What did you do?” asked Nisha curiously, sensing a happily-ever-after in her voice.
Mom smiled impishly in recollection. “I simply took a day off. I told Aji that I was leaving the house in her care and went to the beach and walked for a long time. Then I had lunch at my favourite restaurant, Swati’s, and after that I went and saw a film. I didn’t think about my work at all. Just came home, spent the evening with all of you and had an early night. The next day, believe it or not, I woke up with an understanding on how I could sort out my time in order to meet all these deadlines and yet not lose my cool. And I did it, with a day to spare,” she ended smugly.
“That’s crazy, Mom. I don’t even have a minute to spare and you tell me to take a day off!” roared Avijit.
“Try it. It works,” Mom smiled.
“Oh, okay, why not? Mom, I presume you are going to bankroll my little expedition to the theater and to Swati?”
“What have I got myself into?” grumbled Mom as she pulled out her wallet. “Oh, and one more thing. Next time you take on a project, calculate how long it will take you and then double the time and that should be the deadline you state to whoever is supervising your project. That is what I do now.”
“Wise woman,” said Dad. “I could use your remedy myself.” “Just as long as you pay your own way,” said Mom acidly. The children sniggered.
Compete with yourself
Alka now opened her mouth. “I have a problem too,” she said. “My classmates are so competitive. The atmosphere has become pretty unhealthy. No one shares notes anymore and no one will help you with answers. Everyone is focused on how to score more. It’s just not fun anymore. Even Sangeeta, my best friend, is acting all sly these days. I don’t want to be like them. But I don’t want to be left behind either. Everyone’s worried about getting admission into college next year. That’s the real reason.”
“There is absolutely no need to compete with anyone, ever,” said Ajoba, sternly, ready to launch into one of his favourite lectures about the Evils of the Present-Day Culture, among which competitiveness was right up there with consumerism and corruption. “What should I do, then?” said Alka, quickly cutting him short before he took off.
“Compete with yourself, of course,” said Ajoba impatiently. “If you have got 80 per cent in your last test, strive for 85. If you have finished your homework in one hour, strive to finish it in 55 minutes. If you have achieved this level of excellence, aim for the next level.”
“Wow,” said Alka, her imagination captivated. “I never thought about it like that. It’s almost like a game, isn’t it?”
“Exactly,” beamed Ajoba. “And just watch as your marks soar. You won’t have to worry about your classmates and you certainly don’t have to hide your notes from your friends or refuse to help them with their work. You simply focus on getting better all the time.”
Dad turned to her with a serious look, “I just want to add one more thing, sweetheart. Nothing is ever worth becoming less than you are. I would rather you score less marks than lose your innocence or sweetness. Who should know better than me?”
The family was silent as it thought back on those days, thankfully long past, when Dad worked in a corporate firm and came home everyday looking more and more haggard. Even worse, there was a kind of deadness about him, as if he didn’t like the person he had become. Then came the day he chucked up the job. Ajoba was still working then, and Mom’s career as a children’s book writer was booming, so the family had sailed through the period of financial instability. In a couple of years, Dad had become a successful trainer and counselor. Best of all, his smile and resounding laughter had wandered their way back to him.”I’ll keep that in mind, Dad,” said Alka respectfully. “And now, folks, am going to see if I can eat my second gulab jamun even faster than I did the first one. Do I love a challenge or what?”
Thank you, God
Another time, same place.
The Sathes were once again having their weekly dinner, which they all agreed supported their minds and souls just as much as it did their bodies. The menu was adventurous. Mrs Sathe was trying her hand at deep South food and her appam and stew were emanating enticing flavours. Everyone was already at the table and sniffing hungrily. All but Alka. Where was she? Nisha buzzed her on her mobile and was answered by an irritated scream, “Coming! Coming!!”
Everyone was eating the food in a reverential silence when she burst in, suppressed irritation oozing out of her. Her mother flipped a couple of appams on her plate, and soaked them in stew. She flashed a grateful glance at her and sat down to eat. After a couple of morsels, she had got back her composure sufficiently to utter with deep frustration, “These buses and trains! Do you know, Dad, the train was late by 15 minutes because it got stuck in Andheri station and when I finally reached Malad, I simply could not get an auto to bring me home. Forty five minutes! That’s how much time I had to wait.”
Nisha gave her hand a comforting squeeze while Avijit wrinked his nose in sympathy from across the table. “There’s something you can do about it,” Mom interjected. “Do you mean I should buy a moped or something,” Alka asked, her eyes lighting up.
“Not at all,” replied Mom decidedly. “There are ways to control this kind of thing.”
“Way out, Mom, you sound like Merlin the magician or something. How can you possibly control the flow of traffic?”
“There’s a law out there called the Law of Attraction. This says that you get what you think. Most of the time we are thinking of what we don’t want, like illness and poor marks or someone not liking us, so that is what we get. But if we can control our thoughts and in a focused manner articulate what we want, we get what we want quite frequently. All you have to do is to use the present tense, and express your intention positively instead of negatively. Gratitude is a powerful state to be in so what I do is to simply thank God for whatever I want as if I have already got it. For instance, in your place I would have said, “Thank you, God, for getting me into an auto just now.”
“Most of the time. Sometimes you are not karmically entitled to what you want so you just have to grin and bear it.”
“Wow,” said Alka, “Can this be used in other situations too?”
“In anything,” said Mom. “You can use it to get good grades, to realise your dreams and goals, to achieve whatever quality you want within yourself. And you can do it when you want things to go your way, to have the internet work, to get the mechanic to repair your car soon and so on.”
“I would add another twist to make it even more effective,’ added Dad. “After thanking God for whatever I want, I would then surrender to His will and allow it to be the way He wants it to be. This enables me to let go.” He laughed reminiscingly, “I have never won at Housie, but when I did this I got the full house once.”
“Wow,” said Nisha. “This is so cool. It’s like being in a Harry Potter book or something.”
‘We do live in a magical universe,” said Mom.
Focus on what works, not on what does not
“I’ve got a grouse today,” said Mom, a little hesitantly. She rarely brought her issues out into the open this way, preferring to deal one-on-one with whoever she had an issue with. The children shifted uneasily in their chairs and even Dad looked a little wary.
“What is it?” he asked just a little too hastily. “I am getting a little tired of being the responsible one. I want your support,” she said looking at her kids and children. Everyone flinched.
“What now?,” asked her husband defensively.
“When is the last time you have paid the bills or had your vehicle serviced without getting a reminder from me? You don’t even get up in the morning until I shake you awake. As for you children, not one of you helps in the kitchen although I have specifically assigned each of you some duties like setting the table, and taking things back to the kitchen. I have to nag at you to study, to put off the TV after midnight, to take your lunch to college, to get up and so on. I am becoming a nag and I don’t like it. I really also want to help you all get more responsible. How can I ensure that I am taken seriously? How can I help you hear me better?” asked Mom, desperately. Dad and the kids were decimated. They had nothing to say. The atmosphere at the table had never been so uncomfortable.
Ajoba moved in, and like oil over water, he took on the task of soothing troubled feelings. “Abha, I appreciate where you are coming from. So here is a suggestion. Instead of bringing to their attention the times when they don’t do something, bring to their attention the times when they do. Energy flows where attention goes, you know, so the more they think about their irresponsible behaviour, the worse it gets. Ignore the times they get it wrong and celebrate the times they get it right. Slowly, they will get it right.”
Mom looked almost awed. “Papa, you are so right! And I have been doing the exact opposite thing.”
“All of us do. It is human nature. We take what works for granted and resist when things do not. Instead, if we were to look at what works and not at what does not, we would be in a state of happiness and gratitude no matter what the situation surrounding us.”
“Yes, Papa,” said Mom thoughtfully.
“You see, Mom,” said Avijit teasingly. “It’s all your fault that we are irresponsible. If this were America we could have sued you for this.”
“Hey, don’t push your luck, kiddo,” snapped Mom, even as everyone else grinned with relief around the table.
Make ‘em laugh!
“Today, something really funny happened at college,” said Nisha, sensing that everyone could do with some light relief. “There are these two really huge guys in the senior year who were having a slugfest in the canteen. None of us knew what to do. Some of the boys were trying to separate them but they were too far gone. Just then Miss Pinto came into the canteen. She’s really tiny, Mom, not more than 5’1’’. But she did something amazing. She walked up to them without hesitation, and started tickling the nearest boy. You should have seen it. It was really funny. He kept dodging but his expression became more and more sheepish, and then the other fellow actually burst out laughing. They simply could not fight after that. I thought it was awesome.”
“Wow, a real Gandhi,” enthused Alka, who was a Gandhi freak.
“The power of laughter is an amazing thing,” mused Ajoba.
“It can defuse the strongest charge and bring it down to zero level. It’s one of the most effective ways of converting negativity to positivity.”
“That sounds like alchemy,” said Dad. “So the humorist is really an alchemist?”
“When the humour is used wisely. History resonates with the wise fools of all cultures who used their wit to keep the king’s ego under check.
“Like Birbal and Tenali Ram,” said Avijit, adding thoughtfully, “You know, Dad, I can see that as a career option.”
“Great,” said Dad sardonically, “Now all you need to find is a king and you’re set.”
Be a long-distance runner
“How’s the story going?” Mom suddenly asked Nisha. About a month back, Nisha had started writing a short story. Her first. Mom had been most encouraging, seeing in her a chip of the old block. There had been many discussions but nothing had been heard about it for the last couple of weeks.
Nisha looked down and fidgeted. “Not so good,” she mumbled.
“I got scared,” admitted Nisha frankly. “What if I am no good? What if I can’t write for toffee? It would break my heart. I think I would rather not know and keep hoping.”
“There is nothing more terrifying than facing a blank computer screen,” agreed Mom, “but there is nothing more gratifying, either.”
She added, “I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s blog recently (you know, the lady who wrote Eat, Love, Pray which is an amazing best-seller) and she said something valuable. She said something about not letting self-doubt come in the way. If you are no good, editors will tell you, but why should you condemn yourself without even a trial?”
“True,” Nisha agreed reluctantly.
“Everyone is scared of falling flat on their faces when they try something new,” said Dad. “It’s human nature. I was no different when I left that MNC and started as a trainer. There was so much at stake. The family needed to be taken care of. Would I succeed, I used to worry. And then suddenly something hit me. So what if I did fail a few times? Did that make me a failure? As long as I picked myself up and walked on and hopefully learnt something from it, I was not a failure. Success, I realised, was a process; it consisted of a lot of knocks and tumbles but as long as you never give up, you will reach your goal. People call me successful today, but it’s been a long journey, Nish.”
“That’s beautiful, Dad,” she enthused. “It does not matter if I fail with this story as long as I never stop trying to become a good writer, right?” “Right!” said both Dad and Mom in unison.
“I get it. I am a long-distance runner, not a 100-meter sprinter,” said Nisha.
“Exactly,” agreed Dad.
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