Life is fast. So fast that we don’t even notice the roses, let alone stopping to smell them.
But every now and then, an event forces life to slow down or come to a grinding halt. We question where we’re headed. And we don’t like the answers.
Life was meant to be fun, not something we forced ourselves through in order to make a living. There have to be better ways. Unfortunately, we struggle to figure out what they are.
Reality does little to help. If anything, it reinforces that we should do more of what we’re doing, that this nagging dissatisfaction will pay off handsomely in a distant future that’s changing faster than our mood.
So we resign to a lifestyle that everyone follows. At least if things go wrong, we won’t be alone. We hope that what they say about a happy future will come true someday, although each event that brings uncertainty sets off alarm bells.
You don’t have to wait for those alarm bells to turn into tornado sirens. You can forget reality for a bit. Instead, turn to beautiful short fables that give you the most powerful feeling — hope. Let them help you build a life that you control, that feels meaningful, and that doesn’t get derailed by sudden changes.
The Ramayan That Nobody Read
Valmiki, the sage who wrote the epic Ramayan, heard that Hanuman, Lord Ram’s biggest disciple, had also written a version of the epic.
Curious, he set out in search of the forest where Hanuman lived.
There, he found the banana leaf on which Hanuman had written His version.
The grammar, vocabulary, and melody were perfect. Reading it, Valmiki began to cry, “After reading this, nobody will read Valmiki’s Ramayan.”
Immediately, Hanuman crushed the leaf, popped it into his mouth, and swallowed it.
“Why did you do that?” Valmiki asked.
“You need your Ramayan more than I need mine,” Hanuman replied. “You wrote it because you want people to remember you. I wrote it because I want to remember Ram.”
Our work often functions as a means to tangible benefits — recognition, money, designation. But such “benefits” turn into a curse if they don’t add value to others and uplift them.
We keep feeling that someone wants to steal what we have. We’re afraid of the consequences if we lose what we’ve got. We keep trying to one-up anyone we see as a threat.
In the process, the only thing that grows is unhappiness.
When we focus purely on material goals, conflict and misery make it impossible to sustain our personal economic growth. But when focus on mental and emotional growth by creating value for others, economic growth always follows.
You can step back today to remind yourself why you work. Let others spend sleepless nights thinking about how they can snatch more. Protect your interests, but use your work as a means for uddhaar (upliftment) of others and yourself.
The Blind Man and The Lamp
A blind man spent a few days at his friend’s house. Then one night, he started out for his hometown.
When his friend handed him a lantern, the blind man asked, “Of what use is a lamp to me?”
The friend said, “This lamp is not for you. It’s so that the person in front doesn’t bump into you.”
The blind man agreed, took the lantern, and set out on his journey.
Down the road, someone collided with him and caused him to fall. Angry, the blind man asked, “Can’t you watch where you’re going? I have a lamp. Why did you bump into me?”
“What lamp?” the man who bumped into him asked. He looked around. Then he found it and said, “Oh yes! This lamp here. But the flame went out a long ago.”
The blind man held the lamp for the light it emitted. But holding it after the flame went out became a meaningless ritual.
Many of us fill our daily lives with activities because we’ve either done them for a long time or because they keep us busy. But when we don’t understand their purpose, they turn into meaningless rituals.
(image source: author)
In fact, upon reflection, we’ll find that most of our activities just waste our time and energy. They stop us from noticing how the world is evolving and from keeping up with it. Then, when an unexpected event strikes, our future gets messed up.
The blind man couldn’t tell when the flame went out. But you can.
If you reduce or stop doing meaningless tasks, your life will become simpler and results will improve vastly. You can find your true North and turn it into a guiding lamp. Or you can create new tools that guide you towards your destination.
Practice Makes Perfect
One day, Lord Indra got upset with farmers and declared a 12-year drought. There would be no rain and farmers would not be able to reap crops.
Farmers begged Lord Indra for mercy, who said it would rain if Lord Shiva played his damru (his tiny hand drum). Secretly, he requested Shiva to not give in to the farmers’ pleas.
When the farmers approached Lord Shiva, He stated that he wouldn’t play the damru for the next twelve years. The farmers had no choice except to wait.
One farmer, however, kept digging, treating the soil, and sowing seeds. Other farmers laughed at him.
After three years, they asked him, “Why do you waste your time and energy when you know it won’t rain for the next nine years?”
“I know we cannot harvest crops,” the farmer said. “But if I sit around, I’ll forget the process of growing crops. I must keep practicing so I’m fit to produce crops the moment it rains.”
When Goddess Parvati heard this, She was pleased. She shared it with Her husband, Lord Shiva, and said, “You might also forget playing the damru after twelve years.”
The innocent Lord Shiva tried to play the damru to check whether he still remembered it. The result was immediate rain. The farmer who regularly tilled his field got rewarded with a bounty of crops, while the others scampered to dig their fields and search for seeds to sow.
Lack of practice makes our physical and mental muscles atrophy, according to research. We also become oblivious to change or end up too slow in our response.
Any crisis — a recession, a lockdown, or a break — is similar to the time when the rain didn’t fall. Rather than drowning in anxiety, you can use it to sharpen your skills and upgrade your knowledge.
Outrageous goals are often not a result of massive action but of a thousand tiny steps one after the other. The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.
The Priest and the Pot of Gold
A poor priest was tired of the constant quarrels between his unhappy wife, hungry children, and helpless parents.
He begged the deity for help, who gave him a pot of gold.
The priest was delighted. He used it to repay his debts, buy luxurious things, and even secure his family’s future.
But soon quarrels restarted: between his greedy wife, ambitious children, and neglected parents.
The priest returned to the deity and demanded a solution. The deity handed him another pot of gold.
“No, no! I don’t want another pot of gold!” the priest cried.
“Pot of gold!” the deity exclaimed. “I gave you the nectar of wisdom. Did you not drink it? Or were you too distracted by the container?”
The pot of gold is something we aspire to get: money, designation, love, and so on.
But the gold often blinds us from the nectar. It stifles our mental growth. This leads to क्लेश (conflict) and unhappiness. What we get, as a result, disappears as quickly as it arrives.
Consume the nectar of wisdom. Keep adding value to your family, friends, managers, peers, partners, etc.
You won’t just uplift them, you’ll also create value for yourself. You’ll become wiser, get more returns in the long term, and become worthy to generate and sustain wealth.
You cannot choose what happens in life. But you can choose how you frame them as memories. You can choose to make yourself better rather than bitter.
The power lies in your mind. Master it before it masters you.