7 years, 7 lessons

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

Today marks seven years since mum died. I’ll share with you seven lessons that I have learnt since that time that help me to lead a calmer and more purposeful life.

Currently I write from a small village in the heart of Gujarat in India. I am a third of way into a ten week stay at the Raj Saubhag Ashram and am about to retreat into a week of solitude in silence.

As it is the first anniversary of mum’s death since 2006 where I am without family around me, I write with the understanding that you, my dear readers, my friends, are sitting right here next to me.

The past seven years

Since mum passed away in September 2006, there have been many ups and downs in my life, with a whole array of emotions and occasional moments of clarity.

  • Love: I met a wonderfully compassionate yet feisty woman, fell in love with her and got married. We’ve been through an emotional rollercoaster, just like every other couple, but now we’re closer than ever.

  • Family: As mum got more ill and when she passed away, I found myself increasing the distance with the family. But now I’ve allowed myself to get closer to them and have realised how important family really is. There have been many family events in the past seven years, weddings in particular, where mum has been sorely missed.

  • Work: I’ve been through various types of jobs and temporary roles in the past seven years, from supporting small businesses to go digital, through to sales, to stacking DVDs on shelves and most recently digital training. In all this work, nomatter how outwardly mundane or challenging the task may have been, I’ve learnt some great skills and met some incredibly smart and good natured people along the way. Yes, and equally important, I’ve brought in an income.

  • Spirituality: As mum’s health was quickly declining, I had come across twelve reflections to cultivate detachment, the first of which helped me to tell apart the permanent from the impermanent in life. This led to further exploration and introspection, and I found myself surrounded by an incredibly humble group of friends who understand who they are at their core, yet lead simple pragmatic lives grounded in spiritual values.

I share this so you can see what can happen after a significant loss, and how life takes many twists and turns. But somehow, you find a way through it.

Lesson learnt

While my mum’s health was deteriorating and in the months and years after she died, I started to question why events occur the way they do for us and what the point of it all is.

As I started to ask myself these questions, I navigated towards people who could sincerely help answer them, or help me find out for myself. This is still work in progress, but here’s where I am so far.

From all the ups and downs and changes in all areas of my life over the past seven years, let me share with you lessons I now try to embrace that help me lead a calm and purposeful life.

Lesson 1 – Everything changes

Everything you hold in your hands, everything you can touch, see, hear, taste or smell, will one day change or will go. What was once formed by bringing together various elements will one day fall apart or transform into something else.

Change is inevitable.

Witness the changes. Be an observer and let the change take place as it needs to. Just don’t let it bring you up or pull you down.

People and items will come and go in your life. Make the most of the time with them when they are there, but don’t grip on so tightly that it tears you up when you separate. Because it WILL come apart… and that’s ok.

Lesson 2 – Know the priorities of your relationships

Figure out the key people in your life and focus most of your energy on them. For most people it will be:

1. Your parents: Those who gave birth to you, who nurtured you, who gave you the foundations to lead the life you live now.

2. Your siblings: Those you grew up with and may have fought with, but who you now laugh with, who will be your immediate support and who will need your support during difficult times. This also includes any brother-in-laws or sister-in-laws.

3. Your spouse: The one you share your life with. The first one you say “good morning” to and the last one you say “goodnight” to each day. The one you trust with your heart, share all your secrets with, and hold each other firmly enough through life’s ups and downs.

4. Your children: The ones you brought into this world, who you nurture, who you are there for whenever they need you. The ones who get your love and your guidance and your approval, always.

It sounds obvious, but how many of us truly spend quality time fulfilling our duty towards those who are most important to us and those who depend on us?

When I realised that I was spending far too much time trying to prove myself and make myself look good in front of a large group of casual acquaintances at the expense of serving my closest relationships, I ditched those channels. I got rid of my smartphone, I deactivated my Facebook account, and I jumped off WhatsApp.

I may start to use all these again, but only when I can use them responsibly and can first take care of my responsibilities towards those who are closest to me.

Lesson 3 – Every situation is optimal

“Jeh thaay, ee saara maate thaay chhe (Whatever happens, happens for the best)” – Laxmiben Harakhchand Dodhia (my grandma)

Every single thing you face in life, no matter how demanding it may be, is actually conducive to you leading a calm and purposeful life.

You may not see the good in it yet, and it may not go the way you want, but the situation that has arisen is perfect for your ultimate happiness. You just have to respond to it appropriately.

Be optimistic and stay positive, nomatter what life throws at you.

Further reading: Lead an optimal way of life

Lesson 4 – Seek out eveyone’s qualities

When your loved one dies, it may crush your heart to think that you’ll never be able to see them again, to hold them, to hear them laugh or to wipe their tears. You may have keepsakes – perhaps an item of clothing or a book or a gift you received from them or gave to them – but it’s never the same. These all fall apart and eventually leave you with emptiness.

But there is something that you can always keep hold of firmly in your heart – something that can never leave you, nomatter the outside forces.

It’s their qualities. These shine through, long after they’ve gone. These you can hold up in the air and be proud of. Qualities are everlasting.

In a similar way, with all those people you come into contact with in your day-to-day life, seek out their qualities and imbibe them in your presence.

When you focus on the qualities of those you admire, you become that yourself. It grows within you and you may not even realise it.

It may be that your view of how someone should be may not align with how they’re behaving. So accept them for who they are, notice what is wonderful about them, and appreciate that. Just accept, notice and appreciate.

Be grateful for the greatness that makes up your world.

Lesson 5 – Speak up, but remain calm

For the longest time I would be passive in the way I engaged with the world. If something didn’t go the way I expected, I would just sit to the side and not want to rock the boat. But within me was a different story. I would be quietly frustrated, at times furious, and let this bubble up within me. Then I would be horrible to the people who love me. I believe the psychologists call this “passive-aggressive”.

Now I’ve learnt to speak up where appropriate. It doesn’t mean make a big drama over every little thing, but it does mean observing how the people in your life are behaving towards you and then speaking with them about it if required.

But most importantly, remain calm, or don’t say a word. Anything said with frustration or anger will bite you a hundred times in return.

Lesson 6 – Log your inner gremlins

Yes, we all have them. Our inner gremlins make us horrible people at times, but with awareness we can overcome them.

These gremlins are grouped into four main categories:

  • anger: Anytime something doesn’t go our way, we become angry, or mildly frustrated. This hurts those we love and it hurts us.
  • greed: Anytime we are not content with what we have, we become greedy for more. This greed builds on itself and before long it destroys everything we hold dear in our lives.

  • ego: Anytime we think we have done something great, our ego inflates and we become smug and annoying to others. Anytime we are criticised and can’t calmly learn from it, our ego deflates, we get upset and we hurt the ones we love.

  • deceit: We lie when we want something and the truthful approach takes more work. Lies hurt those we love and lying hurts us.

Every evening, before going to bed, take a little time out to log these gremlins in your notebook. Think about (i) the situation that caused it, (ii) how you reacted to the situation, (iii) how you felt about that and (iv) what you resolve to do next time.

Over time, you’ll notice these gremlins start to reduce in intensity and lighten the load you carry. With awareness comes lightness.

Lesson 7 – Life is unpredictable

We typically take life for granted, but none of us know how long we each have to live. We may live another 60 years, or we may take our last breath this very evening.

Life can be short and extremely unpredictable. You probably know that better than anyone else.

Ask yourself what this life is all about, for you. What’s the purpose with which you wish to lead your life?

Further reading: Last day living

Moving forward

My experiences over the past seven years and the people who have been a part of my life have shaped how I now see the world and how best to live within it.

These lessons are ones I’m trying to apply to my life every day – I have yet to master them fully, but it’s work in progress with the view that they’ll make me a better man.

I hope some of these may be useful in your life as you navigate your way forward following the loss of a loved one.

Adventure following loss

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

Following a significant loss, some people are consumed by a state of depression, while others find a way to get beyond their suffering and lead a life of adventure.

My dad had just returned from a last-minute two-week adventure in Florida and the Bahamas. Now in his late 50s but living with the spirit of a man in his 30s, he was enthusiastically telling me about all the watersport activities he took part in.

While jet-skiing, he went super fast, with no worries about falling off – he was wearing a life jacket and there were coast guards all around in case of emergency.

When snorkelling, he jumped off a platform over two storeys high to get into the water – just to beat a 20 minute wait going down the normal route – again with life guards around in case he needed help.

As he was telling me all this and more with eyes lit up, I knew he’d had a whale of a time.

In essence, living by example, here’s what he was telling me:

  • It’s ok to take risks: Do a little planning, take the necessary precautions, step a little outside your comfort zone, but surely take a leap.

  • Have fun: This life is hard enough as it is – don’t weigh yourself down further with stresses or worries. Enjoy what you do, whatever you do.

  • Life is for living: This life is rare. This moment is precious. Who knows what will happen later in life. Live with zeal. Live with adventure.

This September it will be 7 years since mum died, but for my dad, he seems to have really embraced life. I have noticed as he has transitioned over the last few years, from frustration and sadness, through to zeal and adventure. Most of all, he’s taken life by the reins, rather than letting it rule him. I’m proud of him for leading by example.

Dad, on this special day, I wish you a very happy birthday. You’re awesome. Enjoy your celebratory weekend ahead filled with fun and adventure.

Love,
Suraj

Dissolving the resistance to doing what you want

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

Have you wanted to do something that was so important to you, yet felt that the world around you was conspiring to stop you from doing it? Lets look at how to patiently dissolve this resistance so you can do what matters most to you.

When you have faced a significant loss in your life and have reached a point where you are ready to move on, not everyone around you will be ready to accept that, and you will inevitably face some resistance.

  • Perhaps you lost your wife and are now ready to start dating and may even consider marrying again, but your children are insecure about a new ‘mother’ figure in their life.

  • Perhaps you want to move to a smaller house or another town but your elderly parents want you to stay close by.

  • Perhaps you want to change careers to do something more fulfilling with your life, but your wife fears having enough money to maintain the lavish lifestyle you’ve had so far.

These are of course all valid concerns and if your duty means supporting these people who depend on you, then you certainly need to fulfil that.

But what about when it goes beyond duty and when others’ greed, insecurity and concerns hold you back from moving on?

Noticing the fractures in your relationship

The trouble is that when we are fixed on doing something and then others stop us from doing it, we get upset and maybe throw a tantrum.

When others expect us to behave in a certain way and we don’t adhere to it, then they may get upset too.

Ultimately what happens is that it creates fractures in the relationship.

When this happens during a difficult emotional time following a loss, these fractures can quickly turn into deep wounds and broken relationships.

How to dissolve the resistance

So how do you dissolve that resistance from others so that you can do what you need to do while minimising harm to those around you?

This past weekend, my wife and I stayed at a wonderful vegan guest house in the English woodlands – it was an opportunity to celebrate my birthday in a place we love, enjoying great vegan feasts, taking long walks in the forest and doing the things that are most important to us such as meditating, contemplating on spiritual texts, getting plenty of rest and spending quality time together.

For me, that list also included writing a post here at Live with loss – something that I find hugely fulfilling. However, with it being fairly late one evening, Heena was tired and insisted that we both rest so we would be refreshed for the next day’s activities.

Knowing that Heena and I both get a little cranky when we’re tired, I knew that if I became stubborn that I HAVE to write, then she would also stand her ground and we’d both end up broken and miserable. I needed to find another way.

Here’s what I did and what I recommend you do to dissolve the resistance to do what you want while keeping the peace in your relationships.

1. List out your priorities: Think through what’s really important to you and in what order. For me, it was important that during the weekend I (i) meditate and read the spiritual texts with full focus; (ii) have a relaxing weekend with Heena; (iii) write and publish a post at Live with loss.

2. Explain the situation: If you can, sit with the person who is stopping you and explain how you feel about what is important to you and why. For me, I explained to Heena the order and that I wouldn’t insist on doing any writing if it only caused friction between us, troubled my mind and affected my meditation and our weekend.

3. Let go: Realise that at this point, you have laid your cards on the table and it could go either way. Let go of the need to have your own way. I had to be prepared for the fact that Heena may still not see how important the writing part was to me, or that her tiredness may be clouding her judgement. I had to ask myself “Am I prepared to let go of the writing if it means I can still have an enjoyable relaxing weekend with Heena, continuing with our progress together?”

It turned out that Heena listened with an open heart and went to sleep while I went ahead and drafted this post. However, you’ll notice that the post didn’t get completed and published till today. This is because I was typing away noisily which I could see was disturbing her sleep, so I decided to put the laptop away and rest up for the night.

This is of course a tiny example in comparison to wanting to move homes or change jobs or some other major lifestyle shift, but I hope it serves as a useful example of the steps you can take to combat resistance in your life.

Sometimes you’ll want to go ahead and do what you think is important to you, regardless of anything else. Other times, you may see how it sits alongside other priorities in your life.

I hope, in the days ahead, you get to calmly proceed with what is important to you, while being true to the relationships in your life that you hold so dear.