The real shock of loss

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

From the moment we wake to the time we lay our head to rest on the pillow at night we are constantly doing something or the other.

We are constantly seeking out some type of happiness, hiding from what we fear, numbing our pain.

Wrapped up in this same old drama, day in, day out — having never found true happiness — we fumble our way through life.

The wake-up call

Here is a story about the ever-changing nature of the world around us.

There’s a guy named Jake who lives on the streets in central London. Through an unfortunate turn of events, he lost his job and couldn’t afford to pay his rent, so was kicked out of his flat and is now homeless. He has no family nearby to help him out and his so-called friends no longer want to know him.

Jake hasn’t had a decent meal for three days, so is out begging to get some food. Many people pass him by, but no-one wants to give him any money.

The shops have just finished trading for the day and the kind-hearted local baker comes out of his shop with a paper bag of leftover chocolate chip muffins and offers it to him.

Jake thinks “hey, food is food — better than nothing.” He heads over to nearby Hyde Park, finds a quiet place to sit, places his dirty and tattered sleeping bag on the ground and has his ‘meal’.

He delves right into the muffins and they’re delicious. Absolutely scrumptious. He polishes them off. It settles his hunger but makes him a little drowsy.

As it is a mild winter evening and daylight is almost out, Jake takes his tatty bag, places it under his head, lays down and gently closes his eyes.

The drowsiness caused by the sweet muffins puts him into a deep deep sleep.

In his sleep, Jake dreams that he is a highly successful businessman. He is wearing slick suits, lives in a huge country mansion, has his own personal chef to cook him anything he wants at any time and is chauffeured around in his top-of-the-range Bentley. He attends the coolest parties, where beautiful women flock to his feet. He has attained great respect from heads of state and members of the local community.

He experiences an unusually happy dream where he has all the worldly pleasures and enjoyments he could ever desire. He is so captivated by this dream that he begins to feel that this dream is real life.

With London being London, the mild winter evening becomes not-so-mild. As the wind picks up, the trees start to rustle. A storm is about to hit London. Typical British weather!

Along with flickers of lightning emerges strong loud thunder and a heavy downpour of rain.

Upon hearing the thunder, Jake suddenly jumps awake from his beautiful dream and is immediately filled with fear. He opens his eyes, looks around and finds nothing from his dream. He is utterly dismayed.

Gone is the mansion, the Bentley and the driver. Gone are the beautifully seductive women. Gone are his staff and his tailor-made suits.

He has no-one to follow his instructions, nor does he have the pride of all that he has acquired in this world. He has lost his fame and fortune. He has lost everything that meant something to him.

Instead he finds himself with his tattered sleeping bag and the empty brown paper bag that has a few tiny crumbs of chocolate chip muffin. Sitting in the pouring rain and the puddles that are starting to form around him, he wakes up to his reality.

Thinking about the difference in his wakeful life and the dream he dreamt, he feels utterly distraught. The dream that brought him such great pleasure no longer existed.

Jake has had his wake-up call. First he did not truly enjoy the pleasures brought about by his dream, and second, all he has gained in real life is the unhappiness and sorrow of losing the pleasures from the dream. No real gain at all.

The transitory nature of the world around us

Just as Jake in the story really enjoyed all the worldly pleasures and happiness in his dream, we too seem to get all wrapped up by the lures of fame, fortune and worldly pleasures.

Then as Jake woke from his dream and realised that those pleasures were false, we too would benefit from realising that all the things we place our happiness in are far from permanent and will only lead to pain and sadness.

It turns out that everything we seek in life will rarely last very long:

  • Wealth and riches: Just as flashes of lightning briefly illuminate the sky but leave behind more darkness than before, wealth and riches may come to us but if we base our happiness on it, we will be left behind as paupers.
  • Power and status: We may at some point get high power and social status, but when it leaves us suddenly we will break down if we base our sense of success and happiness on it.
  • Health and beauty: Just as we are born, so we will die. The young inevitably grow old, or die early. No-one is ever totally free from sickness. Most things we just cannot control, so why base our happiness on what will naturally transform?

Note: The story and examples have been adapted from a book titled “Bhavna Bodha” written by self-realised Jain saint Shrimad Rajchandra in 1886 A.D. — a book (originally written in Gujarati) that I highly recommend to help with contemplation and the development of true unattachment and the clearing away of behaviours that trap us further in life. The first chapter is on anitya bhavna to aid contemplation on the transitory nature of the world around us.

Loss needn’t be shocking

"Don’t wait for inspiration to strike — you have to meet it halfway. If you want to be hit by lightning, go out in a thunderstorm with a metal rod. Scream at the thundering gods, daring them to strike you." – from Be inspired by Leo Babauta

The loss of a loved one may come as a shock, but it needn’t be shocking. One who can be born will inevitably die — that’s the fact of life, right?

The real shock around loss, the real wake-up call, is why we place so much of our happiness on that which will inevitably change.

It turns out that the real work we have to now do is seek out the real type of happiness that is uncapped, the type of happiness that lasts forever.

Allowing for silence

Written by Suraj Shah.

Music is made up of notes and pauses. In fact, in music, the notes are merely a frame for silence.

Without the gaps, all the notes would clump together and all we would hear is noise.

What is silence?

In music, silence is the gap between the notes. In conversations, silence is the space between the words. It’s in that space that wisdom develops.

In Atmasiddhi, the 142 verse masterpiece composed by self-realised poet Shrimad Rajchandra, he writes:

Kar vichaar toh paam // contemplate to realise

Such a powerful statement, yet how often do allow ourselves to get into the gaps of our mind’s constant monologue.

How often do we take time to retreat from the unending noise of the outer world?

How can we create space for contemplation, for introspection, to allow for the emergence of wisdom?

It starts in our day-to-day conversations.

Learning to listen

In our day-to-day interactions, we have so many opportunities to speak with people, to connect with others, to learn more about them, the world, and ourselves.

But in all of our interactions, how often do we really listen?

When a friend speaks, do we listen? Or are we disrespectfully constructing our reply in our heads as they speak?

How often do we take the time to pause after a friend has spoken, to truly absorb what has been said, to contemplate on it, and then to respond appropriately.

What’s the alternative?

  • Automatic robot-like reactions.
  • Thoughtless regurgitation of opinions.
  • Careless advice and ‘recommendations’.
  • Interfering and causing mayhem.

Listening to those who desperately need to be heard

All around us are people desperately waiting to be heard.

They are in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our churches and temples.

They are in the local park, in the pub, in the line at the grocery store, or sitting at the next table in the cafe.

Everywhere you look, you will find people craving the need to be heard, to be understood, to be loved.

Just open your eyes, and open your heart, and you will find someone who desperately seeks to be listened to.

How to listen

Listening is easy.

Simply shut your mouth, focus on the person you are with, and calm your own mental chatter.

Easy, right?

Not so much.

But here are some tips that may help.

You’re truly listening when…

  • You let me be me.
  • You grasp my point, even when it contradicts your own perspective.
  • You remain calm and pay attention to what I say and don’t say.
  • You hold back your well intended desire to give me good advice.
  • You give me enough space to discover by myself what is going on and what to do.
  • You grant me the dignity to make my own decisions, even if you think they may be wrong.
  • You allow me to deal with the problem in my own way, rather than trying to take it away from me.
  • You are genuine and sincere.

The next person you meet deserves to be listened to. When paths cross, make the meeting fruitful.

(Photo courtesy of Minette Layne)