Here one moment, gone the next

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

How weird is this life? I could be sitting with you having a coffee and enjoying a laugh together, and then moments later I could be dead. Just like that.

A sudden collapse

My sister-in-law was on the phone with me this evening — she explained how earlier today her uncle in India was attending a wedding reception, greeting the family, enjoying being around everyone. Then within moments he had collapsed with a heart attack. Soon after that, he was dead.

At the age of 51, his life had suddenly ended. His warm, wonderful personality was no more.

It was only a few weeks ago that she had seen him and was hanging out with him. Little did she realise how final her last goodbye to him would really be.

How is it that someone you adore and expect to have around you forever will one day drop out of your life at the beat of a heart?

When she got the news, my sister-in-law was clearly in shock. She wouldn’t be seeing her uncle in this life ever again. When she visits India next, he won’t be there. When she goes to his house, he won’t be there. When she picks up the phone to give him a call, he won’t be there.

Coming together, falling apart

In the timeless Jain tradition, we understand that when two people come together and fall apart, it is not just for this life. Even a death doesn’t mean the absolute end of that relationship.

The act of coming together and falling apart has been happening for many lifetimes in the past and will likely happen for many more in the future. So logically, it should not bring us any suffering when someone close to us dies.

The loss is inevitable so there’s no point in crying, right?

But the academic understanding of that relationship between any two of us over multiple lifetimes, doesn’t take away the shock, or the pain, of losing someone dear to us.

Loosening the shackles

Our strong attachment to them while they were here doesn’t just disappear overnight when they are no longer with us. It takes a while for the shackles of that attachment to loosen, for that grief to lessen.

Over time, this contemplation on the ever-changing nature of the world around us and the inevitability of loss will gradually help reduce the ups and downs that we face in our day-to-day lives.

But while that work is taking place, anytime we lose something or someone we hold so dear, it will naturally bring pain and sadness. Don’t let yourself get sucked into that sadness, nor that pain. Witness it. See it for what it is and let is pass.

Only then will you able to lead a calm and purposeful life.

Wash away the pain

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

When the pain of loss feels too much to bear, wash it away by getting in touch with water.

Life’s overwhelming emotions

With any kind of loss in life, the emotions that arise can become overwhelming. You may feel lost and confused. Or angry and resentful. Or guilty and distressed.

Perhaps all you want to do is hide under the sheets or run down the street shouting and screaming.

This is understandable and will pull your mind in one direction and your heart in another. It will feel like you’re being torn apart, right down the middle.

But there is something simple that will settle the inner turbulence, just when you need it the most.

One thing that has always brought me great calm is getting in touch with the calming force of water.

Water washes away the pain

Last year I was running a business with a very close friend. The business wasn’t working out and we mututally decided to end it and focus on other things.

At the end of one of our closing business meetings, I was hit with a variety of powerfully negative emotions such as guilt, frustration, lack of self-respect and lack of self-acceptance. As I cowered back to where my car was parked, tears of shame gradually rolled down my face.

Suddenly, without warning, the heavens opened up and heavy rain poured down. As the rain got heavier and heavier, visibility reduced more and more. I paused, stood tall, closed my eyes and let the water fall on my hair, my face, my clothes and what felt like every last inch of my body.

I could hear the heavy raindrops crashing on the tarmac. I could feel the coolness of each drop of water that landed on my skin. I could smell the green grass as it allowed the rain to quench it’s thirst. I could see the rain create a film between me and the world, almost as if it was protecting me from the worldly suffering.

As the drops of rain water gushed across my face, they merged with the tears streaming from my eyes. As each raindrop fell on my face, I gradually felt lighter and lighter. Each drop that fell on me slowly and surely cleared away every last bit of my pain.

I stood there, on the pavement at the end of the road, totally drenched, but more alive than ever before.

This is the cleansing power of water.

Getting close to water

Whenever you feel the overwhelm of emotions, you don’t have to wait for the thundering gods to unleash the heavy rain. Consider some of the following ways to get in touch with water to bring calm into your life.

  • Sit by a lake or stream: Just sit by a calm gentle lake and let your mind settle on that peaceful setting, or allow your feelings and thoughts to flow along with the stream.

  • Water the flowers in your garden: Get a bucket or turn on the spinkler and treat your garden to some much deserved water. Quench it’s thirst. Give water to help another life live with less suffering. Through that, heal your own.

  • Take a hot shower: Perfect for waking up to commence a new day or wash away the distressing emotions you are carrying with you.

  • Have a warm bath: Run a bath, add your favourite scented bubbles, perhaps a yellow rubber duck and immerse yourself into the cosy gentle sensation of a warming bubble bath. As you settle in the warmth, let your troubles lift away.

  • Wash the dishes: This one never fails me. It gives me a clear task to focus on, lets me play with water, and each dish I scrub, rinses away another troubling emotion.

  • Install a water feature at home: You can buy a small electrical powered water feature to have within the home, or have one built in your garden outdoors, creating your own mini-haven at home.

  • Imagine a waterfall: Close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting near or under and flowing waterfall. Let each drop quench your inner thirst for peace, love and happiness.

  • Listen to the flowing water: Download the sound of flowing water and play it on your computer or music device. Better still, lay on your bed, gently close your eyes, and play the sound, while drifting to another land where your troubles have faded away.

I hope each of these watery ideas help you find greater calm just when you need it the most in your life.

When dropping your phone is not the end of the world

Written by Suraj Shah.

We consider possessions to be extentions of our own bodies – when cherished items get damaged, we foolishly feel the pain.

How did you feel when you last dropped your phone?

Yesterday I’d just parked up, got out of the car to head into a friend’s place, and was rummaging around for my phone. At first I couldn’t feel my phone in my pocket, so I thought I’d left it in the car.  Turns out that it was in amongst a pile of books that were in my arms.  Immediately I heard something hit the ground.

I looked down, and thought: “Shit.”

Possessiveness plagues the mind

The phone had hit the filthy hard tarmac head-on – and the phone was now in three pieces.

I stopped, picked up the three pieces (main phone, back cover, and battery), decided I wasn’t going to let it ruin my evening, put the phone back together again, inspected it for damage, put it in my pocket and then walked into my friend’s house.  In fact, I felt quite proud of myself for being so calm about it.

But whilst I was with my friends, I still had worries run through my mind:

  • What if the phone doesn’t work properly anymore?
  • How could I be so clumsy?
  • I still have 10 months left on the contract before I can get an upgrade – can I afford another phone?
  • I depend on my phone for web access to work while I am out and about – will this now confine me only to where there is web access at fixed locations?
  • How will clients perceive me if I am using a dented phone in front of them?
  • My phone’s not insured – should I get insurance now and claim the damage on it?

Manifestation of anger, greed, ego and deceit

When we drop something that we are attached to, a number of feelings naturally arise.  We feel annoyed at ourselves for dropping it.  We feel like we NEED to have a replacement immediately .  Our ego is dented, by seeing ourselves as clumsy, and by what we think other people will think of us when we walk around with a damaged item.  We may even consider telling a lie to blame someone else for the damage and try to wangle a new item through insurance.

The nature of the phone is to change

The fact is that the phone was never going to stay in pristine condition forever.  It’s nature is to change.  It is made of matter that will inevitably change form and colour when external forces are applied to it.

So why do we place our happiness on something that, by nature, will not stay the same?

It’s because we consider it an extension of our own bodies.  We have so much love for it, and what it can do, and how it can make us feel.  When it’s damaged, it’s as though we ourselves are damaged – we feel the pain.  When cherished items get damaged, we foolishly feel the pain.

Cultivating trusteeship to tame the pain of loss

So how do we resolve this pain we feel when we lose our cherished possessions?

The Jain concept of aparigraha is about non-possession.  Broken down to a-pari-graha, it translates to:

  • a = not / negate
  • pari = outer / external
  • graha = hold firmly

From the perspective of who we are at our core, our soul, aparigraha is about not having a firm hold on anything outside ourselves – this includes our possessions, our relationships, and even our own bodies.

Taking the example of the phone, it means simply being a trustee of the phone, rather than assuming full ownership.  It is about looking after it, using it appropriately, and taking care to maintain it, but knowing that it will not stay with us forever, or that we may not be able to use it at all times that we may want to.

Extending trusteeship beyond the phone

What else can we become trustees of and how would that work for us?  Can we become trustees of our cars, our houses, our jobs, our countries, our relationships and our bodies?  What would life be like if we fully lived out non-possession?

(Photo courtesy of Pat Castaldo)