Death of an Entrepreneur: Part 2: “Grandiosity and Shame”

Café Coffee Day founder #VGSiddhartha death revealed the debt crisis in India. It also revealed an empathy crisis of the world we live in. 

Frozen TV Screen in a Cafe Coffee Day

When a self-made, socially-committed entrepreneur commits suicide, we are left with an unexplainable void. In my last blog (Death of an Entrepreneur: Our collective Blindspot), I explored how we all are becoming the part of the invisible forces, within our social ecosystem, that makes and breaks an entrepreneur.

I received many responses from other entrepreneurs, bankers, tax officers, psychologists and artist. They resonated with the blog and shared how they feel stuck and helpless in the ecosystem that accounts for the death of talented and conscious entrepreneurs like Siddharth. Some of the readers knew Siddharth personally. They shared stories of his commitment to uplift underprivileged communities, educating youth and his diligence to pay off all his debts. Yet, he ended up seeing himself a failure and killed himself.

Interestingly, some readers saw it differently. They hold Siddharth as a defaulter who took the system for granted and killed himself when questioned. They wonder how can one have empathy for those who default the system and fail their dependents. This contrast in viewpoints made me wonder why do we fail to see and feel the ecosystem that we are part of. How do we get obsessed with the struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor, while, the script and the scriptwriters go unnoticed?

Perhaps, how we see the world depends upon what lenses we wear. Do we tend to look narrowly at immediate parts or we look at the whole? Do we look mechanically at structural/ logical elements and externalise responsibility? Or we also look empathically at emotional/cultural dimension and take collective ownership of what happened?

This made me draw a matrix to map all response. There seem to be four distinct viewpoints:

Narrow mechanistic view (Fault-finding): Holding the entrepreneur accountable for his or her wrong decisions and lack of responsibility. From this viewpoint death of entrepreneurs like Siddharth is a result of their own mistakes and failure. They misuse the system and fail to deal with when questioned. This is similar to the patriarchal, alpha male paradigm that blames the entrepreneurs (the masculine provider) for defaulting the system and shames him for making his family or tribe suffer.

Systems mechanistic view (System-analysis): Holding the system accountable that’s victimising the entrepreneur. This viewpoint shifts attention from the individual to the whole system and analyses the structural and policy dimensions. Many business leaders and politicians have been speaking from this viewpoint, when they refer to tax-terrorism and insensitive policies by the current government.

Both the above viewpoints on left side of the matrix, are logical and persuasive. But they lack empathy. They look at the issue and try to quickly fix it by holding either the entrepreneur or the system accountable. They don’t put themselves in the situation. To understand the right side of the matrix, we need to step into shoes of the entrepreneurs like Siddharth. Something we were able to do when we created a Social Presencing Theatre based systems map (refer last blog)

Narrow empathetic view (Mental-wellbeing): Reflecting on the mental and emotional stress an entrepreneur undergoes that makes him take such drastic step. Those holding this viewpoint empathise with Siddharth and call upon other entrepreneurs to take care of their mental well-being. They advocate that entrepreneurs must have close friends and professional support to help them through these situations. 

Holistic empathic view (Co-sensing and transforming the ecosystem): Reflecting not only on the emotional struggles of the entrepreneur but the larger field that co-creating the suffering. Those holding this perspective are like gardeners who go beyond sympathising with the dying plant and attend to the whole ecosystem. They feel the collective pain and reflect on their own role in co-creating the mess.

The holistic empathic view reminds of something my teacher and systems thinking guru Peter Senge told me ten years back.

“You cannot change a system unless you see your thumbprint (role) in creating it”.

This quote changed my perspective in life. Unless we see how we are creating the current state of suffering, we will only remain helpless victims of the same. And victims have no power to change the system anyways. From a holistic systemic viewpoint, we all are interconnected. We can see how we are co-creators of the capitalist economy that creates, exploits and kills entrepreneurs like Siddharth.

As investors, we are only invested in higher returns on the capital we invest in. We create pressure on enterprises to take the risk and return higher dividends. We don’t care anything about sustainable practices of the enterprise or well-being of the entrepreneur. Together with banking system, we have co-created a short-term, individualistic growth culture cares little for people or planet.

As the government, we want to control and claim higher taxes. We citizen elect governments and become part of the impersonal machinery that puts undue pressure on entrepreneurs. I recall how voters celebrated the demonetisation and GST policies while so many small scale entrepreneurs struggled to survive. It was painful to see an entrepreneur friend of mine breaking down financially and emotionally during that period. 

As employees of these enterprises and banks, we want job stability, salary raise and secure lifestyle. We don’t know the risks and burden an entrepreneur takes to feed his enterprise. As family and friends, we often want the status quo of lifestyle to continue. Praising the patriarch and never letting him off the hook. As a community, we shame and blame if they fail their role as providers. Makes it difficult for entrepreneurs like Siddharth to retreat, surrender or restart.

As a society, media and consumers, we have co-created a narrative of “grandiosity and shame”. We feed on rag-to-riches, alpha, hero stories. We inspire our youth to think big, dream big, and leap beyond their own bearings. We have created systems that seduce them do so through low-risk loans, venture capital and so on. 

We first feed them to the “grandiose” narrative. A few may succeed, temporarily. Sooner or later they fail. Then we trigger the “shame” narrative. Shaming them for failing the system, the family, the community, their own image. Some sneak away unceremoniously out of the limelight. Some bear it all and commit suicide.

 

Something in this story reminds me of the 2017 biopic “The Mercy“. It is a real-life story of a  businessman, Donald Crowhurst, from the United Kingdom. He had a beautiful family and a decent lifestyle inspite of his struggling business. He got seduced by the grandiosity narrative and, in spite of being an amateur sailor, he applied for the Golden Globe Race to sail solo around the world without any stop. Media made him an instant hero. Investors put their money to help him build a new boat. Rest of us projected our unlived hero dream on his frail shoulders. A few weeks before his journey he realised that he has bitten more than he could chew. As a technologist, he was certain that his new boat would fail. Yet the media refused to listen, investors got hold of his house mortgage, everyone put pressure on him, and he, himself, could not fail his family. And so he went on the expedition. Though he sailed half way around the world, impressive for an amateur, he could not return as a failure and face the shame. He jumped in the sea and committed suicide. When the news of his suicide reached his wife and children, media surrounded their house, hurling insults and demeaning him. At one point his wife opened the door and said

“I don’t know if my husband slipped and fell, or if he jumped… as you’re now saying. But I would like you to rest assured, that if he did jump, he was pushed. And each and every one of you here had a grubby hand on his back. Every photographer, every sponsor, every reporter, every sad little man who stands at a newsstand to feast on the scraps of another’s undoing. And once he was in the water, you all held him under with your judgement.

Last week you were selling hope, now you’re selling blame. Next week you’ll be selling something else.

But tomorrow and every day after, my children will still need their father. And I will still need my husband.”

 

Manish Srivastava

http://www.sacredwell.in

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Gratitude & Dedication:

I was inspired to write Part 2 of this blog by Shamnad Basheer. A spirited soul, a legal academician, social entrepreneur and innovator. I had met him and fourteen other inspiring legal professionals at a gathering in Kerela organised by Agami last month (some of work is reflect in Part 1 of this blog). 3 weeks back, Shamnad was travelling in the region where V.G.Siddhartha came from and shared inspiring stories encouraging me and others to “step beyond atomistic thinking and reconnect with the whole we are part of”. Unfortunately, Shamnad died in an accident on way back from Chikamangaluru on 8th Aug 2019. In a short span of few weeks, he inspired me to keep activating the ecosystem of goodness. Unfortunately, he is not here to read this piece. 

~Manish

 

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Death of an Entrepreneur: Part 1: “Our Collective Blindspot”

When a plant dies, the gardener does not blame the plant. He checks the soil, water, sunlight, in short, the ecosystem that helps a plant nourish or perish.

VG Siddhartha, the founder of Cafe Coffee Day (CCD), committed suicide. He has been known as role-model, self-made, successful business entrepreneur. Industry leaders remember him for his sincerity, dedication, and commitment to social upliftment. CCD grew rapidly and became a brand known as Starbucks of India. Newspapers say that he was under heavy debt and broke down from continuous harassment from government and banks. Three days back, he went missing and left a letter on social media. The letter reflects his good intention and his breakdown to the institutional pressures.

Maybe there is more to the business story that we will know in days to come. Right now, as a social witness, I am saddened to see a life gone. Like many entrepreneurs of the capitalist economic system, he took too many risks, grew too fast and collapsed.  We can blame him for impractical decisions and being too aspirational. He blamed himself for the same and took away his life. I wonder why he did not use his political connections and flee the country like many others. Maybe he was too thin-skinned to not take responsibility for his actions. But wait a minute. Is he the only one to be blamed for what happened? Is he the only one failed in this story? 

Coincidently, two weeks back, I was working with a group of social entrepreneurs and innovators from the legal field. They were convened by Agami to reflect on how we could transform the current legal system in India. One of the cases we worked with was about “how Alternative Dispute Resolution could help financial institutions resolve disputes with loan defaulters?”. 

We used Social Presencing Theatre (SPT), a contemplative social art practice, that helps in making visible the hidden dimensions of our current systems challenges. After understanding the complexity of our challenge we identified key stakeholders and co-created a social sculpture (a systems map) representing how these stakeholders are stuck in the current reality.

Our systems map had two main players— “the bank” and “defaulters”, who were influenced by other stakeholders including lawyers, the justice system, financial institutions, family etc. While we mapped the inter-relational dimensions of the legal system around the bank and defaulters, the map also illuminated the systems blindspot— the powerful financial system that produces and promotes capitalist web and punishes when one falls out of it. Somehow the players representing “finance system”, including government & investors, remained almost invisible to other players. They were powerful and kept controlling others indirectly, while the rest of the system struggled to work with the stuck between demanding bank and struggling defaulter. This made us wonder— who creates the defaulter in the first place? 

In the case of CCD, VG Siddhartha was the good-hearted “defaulter”. He was created and destroyed by the crony capitalist systems that we are part of. Unfortunately, we have co-created a capitalist economic system that thrives on rapid growth and risk-taking of individuals like Siddharth. And when they struggle, we call them as “defaulters” and suck every ounce of spirit till they drop dead.

We all are part of this system. We don’t think twice before demanding high dividends from our shares invested in these corporations. We want our coffees and products cheap and of high quality. We, just like those impersonal banks and demanding tax authorities, are least invested in the success or failure of the one who is creating value for us.

No loan-seeker goes to banks intending to become a defaulter one day. No bank professional wakes up intending to harass an entrepreneur. We all are equally stuck in same system. We need to ask— what are the deeper systems that are promoting the values of unchecked growth that leads an entrepreneur to a point where they have no option but to fail or flee? A change at that level would ask us to step beyond our current sectoral role into larger systems transformation role. Something that is much more complex, collaborative and necessary.

Afterthought: (added on Aug 3, 2019, after a conversation with few friends): While entrepreneurs and bankers are obvious stuck players in this situation, there are powerful, impersonal Invisibles. This includes demanding investors, regulating government and mindless consumers. All demanding higher returns, seeking higher control and extracting higher value. None of them cares for the well-being of the entrepreneur. They need “more” and are “happy” as long as the business entrepreneur serves their demands. Together they promote and control the ego-driven, limit-less growth paradigm that seduces, creates, exploits and kills an entrepreneur.

We weave the carpet for our heroes to rise
We set up the guillotine for them to be sacrificed
While the higher throne remains unchallenged and smiles
Who needs a warrior once the kingdom survives!

Manish Srivastava

http://www.sacredwell.in

 

Gratitude:

I am grateful to the Agami team including Supriya, Keerthana, Artika and my co-conspirator, Sonali Ojha.  In these moments of sadness, Agami brings hope by gathering 15 path-breaking young social innovators who are committed to transforming legal ecosystem in India. The pictures above show them in action— mapping the ecosystem by activating the wisdom of the social field. 

Indian Leadership Crisis- a compromise of conscience!

This election is a political manthan (churning) that has surfaced a deep leadership crisis in India.

In their race for power the current political leaders have shown their worst— ego-centric, manipulative, self-obsessed leadership that exploits emotions, religion, defence and public institutions on name of stability and victory. They hide development failures behind war, religion or caste rhetoric. Is this the leadership we want, to govern our country? 

When questioned, all the logical supporters come with only one consistent argument— “we don’t have any other option!” 

It’s like saying— let’s keep feeding on slow poison cause we don’t have any other healthy option. Or keep burning fossil fuels and poisoning our air cause we don’t have any viable option.

Fair enough, the only other strong political opponents come with their share of corrupt history. They lack credibility or gravity demanded by a large democracy like ours. Then there are those who are neither corrupt nor inefficient. They have demonstrated development results in their constituency but they are small players and relatively inexperienced to manage complex national politics. 

Where does this lead us to?

A compromise. 

Not just for a political leader but a compromise of our own voice, values and conscience. 

“We don’t have another option”— is not a narrative of choice. It’s a narrative of a victim. It’s a narrative carefully created by those in power by ridiculing the opposition to hide their exploitation. 

“We don’t have another option” is a political game and it not true for those who design it. A political party has a choice about whom they give tickets to contest elections. The party chief endorses that choice. He gives sanction to that kind of leadership. Now think of all morally-corrupt, hate-promoting, criminal choices that the party chiefs have sanctioned. It’s the kind of leadership he stands for. He could have said “no” and stood his ground. It’s a choice he has made and it’s the choice we are making if we don’t see the game we are being fed to. 

If you discover that the class teacher and other staff in your kid’s school are corrupt, incompetent and abusive, what would you do? Will you hold the Principal and Management accountable or keep singing Principal’s praise and ignore the mess that he is creating? Will a good speech by the celebrated Principal, about how the school won lost pride in last football tournament, and, how they are better than previous management, cover up for their lack of focus on what matters— quality education for your child? What if you raised the issue and the Principal and staff called you anti-education, anti-national and hinderance to their leadership? If all this happened to our own kids in a school, wouldn’t we hold the school leader accountable for results and for those they give power to? Will telling our kids that “we don’t have better option” be enough? 

 

Seeing the binary game of compromise

We are forced to choose between corruption of resources and corruption of character. One threatens our development by exploiting public resources. Other threatens our democracy by dividing us on basis of religion, caste and nationalism. At one end we argue against re-distributing wealth to the poor as freebies. While on the other, we don’t mind the politician-capitalist-nexus that gives free access to a few capitalists to exploit our resources and control our lives.

Stuck in this binary narrative we end up choosing political leaders half-hearted (conscious compromise) or devoted (unconscious compromise). “This leader is our best option” (devotion/ bhakt narrative) is another way of saying “we don’t have any other option” (adjustment narrative). Either way it’s a compromise. It only serves the power-accumulator, weakens opposition, shuts the dissent, kills creativity, threatens democracy and divides a community into a binary of staunch-supporters-vs-anti-nationals. 

Why do we get stuck in this game of limited choice? Why we loose the capacity to see the grey? And courage to be vulnerable about our limitations? Why do we end up giving all our power to a few leaders and feel helpless about our own destiny? 

We are in middle of deep leadership crisis. And we can’t overcome it unless we learn to see thru the game and call out the corruption of either kind. We may have limited choice about political parties but we do have choice about what political narrative we buy. We can choose our own leadership as citizens and hold our political leaders accountable. 

 

We need a new leadership narrative 

I recall the community leadership development work I was doing in tribal villages of Melghat. We were inviting community leaders to step forward. When I translated “leader” to “neta” in Hindi, everyone in the room stepped back. I learnt that we see “neta” as someone who is corrupt, ego-centered, exploiting and even criminal. When I tried give examples of Gandhi or Bose, they appeared too idealistic for our current times. The current examples of political leaders only inspired youth to accumulate power, show might and eradicate other religions and nations. There was no way people could relate “public leaders” to community based service. This is worrisome. This leaves a void for corrupts to exploit. This is the way current leaders make corruption, power-hoarding and communalism a new normal. 

Our country needs a new leadership narrative. A narrative where political leadership honours humanity beyond communal or caste divides, pursues development before nationalist politics, and, puts community service ahead of their political aspirations. We need leaders who are honest about their limitations and collaborate with people across societal divides or ideologies to create policies that benefit all. We need leaders who are vulnerable enough to admits their mistakes, courageous enough to invite and listen to opposition and critics, and humble enough to give credit to people who make change happen. 

We need leadership that stands on moral grounds and can say No to their own party when greed or power overtakes; who can take full accountability of their position including the ones they select to lead and the mishaps that take place in their command. 

We as citizens need to redefine what kind of leaders we want. We need to start now. Name the leadership qualities or practices that we want and what we are not okay with. Voting is only a beginning. Naming, developing and holding self and other accountable is a long-term daily work. 

We Indian are natives of one of the richest, wisest and oldest society. We have capacity to hold diversity and dissent as part of our pluralist, wise tradition. We are way more than the reduced, binary, either-or narrative that our leaders are dividing us into.  This election is a manthan of a new kind. Along with its poisonous painful patterns, its has also surfaced some divine amrut (elixir). Perhaps, it’s a call for seeing active citizenship as powerful as the leaders we choose. We need to role-model the public leadership we seek in at the centre.

 

~ Manish Srivastava

PS: My intent here is not just to notice the deeper games we play (irrespective of our side) but also to turn this crisis into an opportunity. What if we could co-create a new leadership narrative? What if we start role-modelling and holding our leaders accountable for the same? If you feel the frustration, compromise or apathy like many others, I invite you to name the shift in political leadership qualities you want to see & live with #callfornewleadership in comment. A journey of thousand steps starts with first.

(from the Sacred Well)

 

Related earlier articles:

 

Decolonizing the Collective Wisdom of our Bodies

Decolonizing the Collective Wisdom of our Bodies

Noticing the power game of knowledge that disempowers our embodied wisdom.

Around 2600 years back, Buddha differentiated between knowledge that’s downloaded from external authority and real knowledge that emerges from felt-experience of the body (Pragya or Pratyaksh Gyan). He urged us to go for latter. And yet, we did just the opposite. 

If we pay attention to the relationship between our mind and body, we will see that most of the time, our mind controls, exploits and uses our body to meet its ego needs. We get so obsessed with ideals of progress that we disempower the innate wisdom and needs of our body. All our life-style diseases, depression and anxiety are result of years of slavery that our mind subjected our bodies to. 

This is the way our mind colonises the body. 

And this is how powerful social actors (intellectual authority) colonise the free agency and wisdom of the collectives (social body). 

Those located on the top of economic pyramid, colonise knowledge to dictate and control our experiences & identity. It’s true not just for profit-seeking corporations and media houses, but also altruistic policy makers, development agencies or academic institutions. They often come from historically powerful countries and privileged contexts, proclaim their intellectual or moral authority, intervene in less-privileged worlds, dictate their frameworks (often sourced from native wisdom), sell their knowledge products, protect their copyrights, ignore the wisdom of natives and walk back with their royalties or righteousness. 

As an Indian working in western context, I have been aware of the knowledge-colonisation of west and pained to see their entitled arrogance. However, what shocked me most was how I ended up playing this game. 

Five years back, SSP India, a leading social enterprise working on women empowerment, invited me to design a leadership development program for their grassroots women leaders. Some of their enterprise staff were fascinated by my experience with societal transformation leadership frameworks developed at MIT & Harvard and its application across business and development sectors. I felt excited to bring the new global transformation processes to grassroots in India. Some of my colleagues even envisioned a new case-study coming from this project to demonstrate the power of our work. 

However, every time we tried to work together something was missing. I realised that the western frameworks that I was bringing were not resonating with the felt experience of grassroots women’s empowerment journey. I was touched to see them struggling to fit their narratives in the lens I was providing, while I was busy proving them lesser and preparing their development plans. Their love and faith broke my heart. It made me aware of my privileges and blindspots as a western-trained-Indian-man. 

At one stage, I surrendered, admitting that, I really don’t have anything that truly honours their journey. That’s when few women offered to help me. They shared their story about how they gathered as a collective, negotiated power with village men and local government, co-created innovative prototypes and transformed their village cropping pattern. They not only reversed the water table but brought farmer suicides to zero in a draught-hit region. 

This experience revealed to me, the power and embodied wisdom hidden in the grassroots. I was able to access it only when my concepts, ideas and frameworks failed. And when, I accessed the helplessness and brokenness within my own body.

As my role transformed from teacher/ facilitator to a witness/ celebrator of their native wisdom, I felt ease and aliveness in my own body.

Later, while practicing Social Presencing Theater, a contemplative embodiment practice, I started seeing deeper connections between how we disempower our bodies and how social elite or think-tanks disempower the wisdom of collectives. 

It felt like a vicious circle that works both ways. When our mind is disconnected from felt-experience of our body, we have little sensitivity to what others feel. This lack of empathy, disconnects us from the social body. We feel lonely and vulnerable to the institutional narratives of hatred, greed, fear and helplessness.

On the other hand, when those in power, assume that they have better solutions than the native wisdom of communities, they end up promoting their thought leadership (ego-power) inspite of their altruistic persona. Their framework becomes their only lens and creates ego-reinforcing bubble. Making them disconnected from their own and the collective body wisdom. 

However, when we start honouring the felt-experience of our body, as Buddha invited us to, we stay closer to truth. We are not seduced by ego and fear based narratives. We develop courage to call the colony over and return to the fields where we belong. 

Decolonizing is a courageous act to give power back to where it belongs. At personal level it is our own body and at societal level it is collectives of natives and grassroots. It requires us to let-go our agendas, concepts, frameworks, even save-the-world narratives. It’s an invitation to feel vulnerable, helpless and look into our inner power-game. It calls for developing deeper capacities of mindfulness, acceptance & honouring.

Imagine if we could truly listen and honour the wisdom of our personal, social and earth body, what a beautiful world would that be? 

Manish Srivastava

from the Sacred Well
(17.04.2019)

I am grateful to:

  • Anil Kulkarni for graciously offering his picture from “Stuck” exercise during Future Field Studio
  • Arawana Hayashi for introducing me to contemplative and movement based practices and SPT community for creating such deep reflection spaces.
  • Sonali Gera for reading and advising on first draft of this blog

 

Subtle violence of new year resolutions

And an invitation to experiment another approach!

New years often begin with setting goals & revisiting visions. Sometimes it is like repainting the walls to hide cracks of an old building. New goals help in overcoming guilt of the unmet old lot. New visions create temporary high necessary to forget the unrealistic pain created in pursuit of last year’s rhetoric.

Corporate culture has taught us to set stretch targets that would lead to creative tension and push us to achieve more.

Now read the last sentence again. Do you feel the pain and subtle violence in that?

Often goal-setting and visioning starts with discontent with our current reality. Be it an increasing waist line or declining profit margin. In some cases it’s reframed as love. Like “this year I will spend more time with family”. Every “more” has an unacceptable “less” that sets us up on a war against self. An illusory new self will wake up at 4 am, run a marathon, save every nickel and so on… to liberate the not-so-good old self.

That’s the story of most new year resolutions. Most wars fade away as we exhaust our resources. Only a few survive the first month.

What if there is another way to pursue what we most long for?

What if, we could start our new year with full acceptance of our current reality. We could say to ourselves… “Well, right now I am here and that’s great!”. Even in most gruesome life conditions there is something to celebrate. There is breath and there is hope.

We could end the old year with gratitude for the many gifts that life has given us— failures with lessons, relapses with messages, successes with struggles and so on.

And we stay in the space of acceptance & gratitude for a while… without planning a different reality. We stay in the richness of now. We see it fully— the hidden beauty. We witness our struggle, pain, regrets and we embrace them as part of being human.

Radical acceptance of the now is not a passive surrender to an old pattern. It is a deep acknowledgement of the whole being. It’s courage of a warrior to see life as it turned out to be, without judgements. It’s confidence of a sailor to stand and witness the massive tide in silence before adjusting the sail and riding the next wave. It takes wisdom and humour of a sage to chuckle and accept the mess. A child could do it with ease.

How do we overcome our current patterns and strive for a better future?

We can’t stay in the current reality even if we want to. Striving is a problem though. It’s a recent human construct. Nature never strives. It only evolves towards holistic wellbeing. Human striving is driven by our ego-need and messes up with nature.

I am therefore proposing to myself and my readers an alternate way to evolve. Like nature does. And children too.

Practicing radical acceptance of current reality gives way to a new future.

By following our evolutionary impulse we learn to ride the wave to our next stage of well-being. I have learnt this from contemplative movement practice called Social Presencing Theatre. Let’s try it now.

If you stay in your chair (or whatever posture you are in while reading this blog) and drop all agendas for a while, your body will first come to rest. As you tune in your awareness to your resting body, after a while, something, some part of your body, would move. Slowly taking you to next stage of wellbeing. Be it stretching, contracting, standing, walking, dancing… it’s all beautiful and you don’t have to plan or strive for that.

Let’s take this embodied wisdom to all aspects of life. Here’s the experiment I propose:

Step 1, drop all agendas and fully accept the current reality of where you are with the particular life context— health, relationship, profession, spiritual. Feel the joys and struggles in your body. Let all judgements and ambitions drop away. Be a witness to your own drama of life. Appreciate it’s beauty and ordinariness. Stay with it as long as you would.

Step 2, pay attention to the micro movements. Somewhere in your body or consciousness or life context, you may feel an impulse. Something that would tell you to move, take a baby step, toward the emerging future. It could be an urge to wear dusty running shoes, make an unplanned call, cook a healthier meal, take a walk in an unknown street, confess it all in an open journal or whatever. Follow it. Just do it fully and without any expectations. Feel your body as you do so.

Step 3, go back to Step 1. Before mind seduces you into planning next thing, take a short break. Be still again. Be the witness to this new reality of yours. Having followed your first natural impulse, how does it feel now? Accept this moment fully. Appreciate it’s beauty. And wait… till you get the next impulse.

Sometimes you nudge a little to let it happen. Like a trekker taking baby steps, aware but detached to the mighty cliff. Or a painter making brush strokes in oblivious anticipation of what may come.

This approach may sound counterintuitive to some. Instead of big goals and painful schedules, what-if, we follow the next natural impulse. And then the next and next… with stillness, acceptance and appreciation of wherever we are in-between.

Let your body, your relationships, your work, find its own rhythm. With no promises to keep except a deep commitment to love self and naturally evolve every moment!

Wish you a beautiful new year!

Manish Srivastava

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PS: Re-starting this blog this year, to reflect on what’s evolving within me and my social context, is my evolutionary impulse. Let’s see where it goes. Please keep tuned in by entering your email address in the follow tab on http://www.sacredwell.in

You can also like my Facebook page for regular updates https://m.facebook.com/sacredwell.in/?ref=bookmarks

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Gratitude:

I am grateful to Sonali Gera for being first reader and editor to this post. Also to http://www.futurefieldatudio.com for inspiring the artwork.

Why is it hard to forgive? (Part 2)

WIP (Manish)Four self-protective mechanisms that never let us heal !

My last blog on the above topic resonated with many readers. Some of you shared deep insights on “forgiveness” from your life experiences. From your comments, I have summarised four main themes about what keeps us stuck in our emotional wounds.

 

Illusion of forgetting
Forgetting is not forgiving. It’s only a quick fix that keeps us way from real healing 

Imagine a thorn pierced your bare foot. It’s so painful that you didn’t want to touch it. You stopped walking that path and swore to never see that thorny bush again. That’s forgetting. However, a part of the thorn still lives in you and every time you walk, it hurts.

Forgiving, on the otherhand, is coming to terms with the reality. Developing courage to look at the wound directly.  Pulling out the part of the thorn that does not belong to you. Healing what’s yours. Keeping the lesson. And, developing courage to walk the path again if you chose to.

When in pain our first reaction is to protect ourselves and so we tend to cut-off the relationship or situation that we associate pain with. Forgetting is like taking a painkiller to survive the night. Suppressing pain makes sense when it’s unbearable. However, our attempts to cut off or forget makes pain unpredictable and chronic. The real root cause never gets addressed. And the pain surfaces again and again in other life situations and relationships.

Novelist Paulo Coelho captures this difference while saying “Forgive but do not forget, or you will be hurt again. Forgiving changes the perspectives. Forgetting loses the lesson.”

Prison of stories
We are hurt not cause of what happened but the stories that we tell ourselves about the same.

Lets look at our most unforgivable wounds. What hurts us now is not the incident itself. It’s the memory of what happened. When we feel violated or wronged, we weave a story. We tell this story of our own pain, shame, blame & victimhood to ourselves again and again. Its like rubbling salt to keep the wound fresh. Why do we do that? 

Transactional Analysis defines such behaviour as “rackets” we get stuck in. If we examine deeply, we are stuck cause there is an illusionary pay-off and a hidden cost to our persistent stories of pain. We often repeat these stories cause we believe that it may help us feel justified or righteous about our victimhood. Or it may protect us from future insults. Whatever our payoff is, it’s illusionary. It would never heal us. The cost of living in pain is way too high as compared to justification about that pain 

What happened is as unpredictable as what would happen. Each actor in our play had his or her own story. Any attempt to figure out who is right or wrong is a zero-sum game. Forgiveness is letting go the story we tell ourself about our suffering.

After 27 years of unjust imprisonment, Nelson Mandela exemplified the act of forgiveness in his quote— “As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

Myth of resolution 
We can wait for life-time to seek resolution for our hurts or find another way to unleash their creative purpose  

As we heal our wounds thru forgiveness, deeper ones may surface. Some go back to childhood. Some pre-verbal. Some come from the collective suffering, from many lifetimes of disrespect and violence. When such a deep void opens what do we do? How do we forgive when the perpetrators are long gone or incapable of any confrontation or reconciliation? And what do we do with those arrows that have become part of your tissue? 

My friend Rie Gilsdorf made a great suggestion on Facebook post referring to the book, My Grandmother’s Hands, by Resmaa Menakim. She said “when the arrow is so deeply embedded and enmeshed in scar tissue, there’s no way to pull it out any more. But perhaps we can digest it, dissolve or catabolize it with an accompanying release of stored energy”

I feel she pointed out to what I now call “radical acceptance”. Radical acceptance is as simple as innocence of a child and as sophisticated as spiritual mastery. It may take us lifetime to embody it or it may happen in an instant without any training whatsoever. Forgiveness, true forgiveness, could be that simple and easy. It is the act of  gathering all our courage and saying “Whatever happened, happened. I know I can’t change the past. However I choose to influence the future. I fully embrace the current reality, with its incompletions, pain and hope. My past alongwith it’s joys and sufferings is my gift. It’s a part of who I am. I embrace it with gratitude and I step forward with confidence.” 

Sometimes resolution is not an apt solution. We seek deeper resolution and integration within. Psychologist Carl Jung reflected on the importance of integrating for our own development. “Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries”. 

Hidden purpose of wounds
Wound are an invitation to step into higher spiritual realm and unlock our creative energy  

Imagine that the jewel you were looking for all your life was delivered as a dagger pierced in your heart. What would you do now? Walk with pain and curse the messenger or thank them for the dagger and heal your wound?

In Sita Ramayana, Devdutt Patnayak writes about a lesser told story from the famous epic Ramayana. Royal maid servant, Manthara had influenced Queen Kaikeyi’s to ask King Dashrath (Ram’s father) to send Ram on exile. Everyone hated Manthara for corrupting Kaikeyi and bringing grave misfortune to Ram. When Ram discovered that what did he do? He met Manthara and forgave her. Ram could see the divine purpose for which he was born. He could see that Mathara had only done a divine error to enable his path. He accepted that and moved on.

Now that’s mythology not our daily life. However, we do have little Ram and little Manthara living within us. We do have deep power to forgive and wisdom to see the divine path we are born for.  It’s important to understand that emotional pain is a doorway to our spiritual growth. The unforgivable “other” has showed up in our life in a particular way to help us deal with some aspects of our own mess. In a mystical way they hold a piece of the puzzle that we long for our own liberation.

Forgiving requires courage– to look within our wound, to reframe our pain as our teacher, to rise beyond transactional field of right or wrong and embrace that grand play that we are all part of. 800 years back Rumi noticed that field— “Out beyond our ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.. I will meet you there”

….

I am grateful to my readers and their contributions. It’s helping me (and hopefully all of us) in deepening our practice of forgiveness. 

Wishing you a wonderful new year 2019

Cheers 

Manish Srivastava 
(Artwork by Manish Srivastava)
http://www.sacredwell.in

Why is it so hard to forgive? (Part 1)

There are hurts that could rob us from our deepest power!

I started this year with a blog on forgiveness. It initiated me into an inner journey that made me confront some deeply frozen parts of my heart. I could not publish much through the year. As we reach the end of 2018, “forgiveness” has become a recurring theme again with reminders coming from the universe at an alarming consistency. The two recent ones — a video by holocaust survivor Eva Moses Kor and an insightful summary of Anne Lamont writings by Maria Popova, made me contemplate deeply on “Why is it so hard to forgive?”

There are hurts that are hard to comprehend. The sharp arrows that enter our castle before the defences were given a chance to stand for their honour. Those sophisticated insults wrapped in culture of neo-elites or seasoned patriarchs. The games played with our innocence. Those are hardest to forgive.

How shall we confront? It’s too old. Context has transformed to the extent that the oppressor looks more fragile than the oppressed. Inspite of re-building years of confidence and power that old arrow still lies frozen in some unhealed part of our heart. Why did we not let it go with other scrap sold at the end of each year?

Why do we keep these hurts alive? For logically we know that it serves none. Except, perhaps, a part of us that cries — “it was not right!”.

A big part of our anger is towards self for not being able to stand against that wrong. And somewhere we fear that if we let-go of that arrow we may make them appear right for all they did.

So the arrow persists with its wound and pain. Wish there was a way to let-go the old arrow. May be, turn it into an artefact, return it to the shooter as a gift or make it a part of wind chime hanging on the neem tree next to the village well…

Wonder, what would the world be if that unhealed part of us discovers, that neither the oppressor nor the oppressed was right or wrong. May be, the arrow went both ways. The shooter bled way more than the wounded all these years. Though knowing that won’t heal or change anything either.

May be, it was all part of a grand design weaved for our own liberation. And while redeeming that wrong seem to be the only right choice, there may be another purpose this pain was born for. To help us reclaim our deepest power — — power to forgive!

As Eva says in her video “I have the power to forgive. No one could give me that power. No one could take it away. It was all mine to use in anyway I want”.

As we reach end of the year, I hope we make a humble beginning by letting-go old, deep arrows and healing our wounds. For “forgiveness” also comes from the same origin as ‘give’ or ‘gift’. This Christmas and coming new year, why not we gift ourselves, our dear-ones & our shooters, a gift of forgiveness!

Wish you a free and happy 2019!

Manish Srivastava
http://www.sacredwell.in
(Artwork by Manish Srivastava)