Let Go and Allow Life to Happen

by | Oct 15, 2022

Confusing the temporary with the permanent, happiness with pleasure, continuing to search for vague things rather than appreciating what has already been given, and trying to change conditions instead of changing oneself, almost always lead to suffering. There are always signs and signals provided by the higher intelligence of the world to avoid this confusion. Sometimes such cues are received but mostly ignored, and when reality bites, it hurts. Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, under whose tutelage I matured, was very sensitive to such signals, and promptly adjusted his life to the rise and fall of fortunes. In hindsight, I feel that he was even aware of his departure from this world when he wrote in our book, Transcendence, released a month prior to his death, “No maneuvers are required any more, as I am placed in my final position in eternity.” 

It was a sacred moment, when I met the “founding father of the Republic of Zambia” and “Gandhi of Africa,” Dr. Kenneth Kaunda (1924 –2021) on November 30, 2018, in his house on the outskirts of Lusaka. A heavily built man but frail in his mid-nineties, Dr. Kaunda stood up from his seat, raised his hand, carrying his signature white handkerchief, to my head, and murmured a prayer of blessing. I instantly knew that it was one of those times, when a phase ends and another starts, like the summer solstice, when sun moves farthest to the north in the sky and then start returning from the very next day, or the point of contraflexure, when the bending moment changes direction in a beam, or allotropic transformations in metallurgy, when a metal changes from one of these crystalline structures to another while remaining solid.

Besides Zambia, this tour of Africa included Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda, and turned out to be my last international travel. I had a cardiac complication in February 2019 and after that, stopped traveling altogether. I adjusted myself to a home-confined life with structured reading and diving deep into books that I would not have dared to earlier, like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and the ultimate novel ever written by anyone, Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Excellent English translations are available for all these books and can be accessed on the Internet even without buying the books. And then I realized the truth that we all are basically minds, mistaking ourselves as bodies. And at the mental level, we can connect to even those who have lived before us in faraway lands. 

Recently, I enjoyed reading a short, beautiful book, Search Inside Yourself by Chade Meng-Tan (b. 1971) and his talks on YouTube. Meng, as he is normally called, is a software engineer, born and educated in Singapore, and worked at the Google campus in Mountain View, California (2000-2015), spending the first eight years in Engineering and later starting “mindfulness training” courses at the company. After quitting Google, Meng started the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, and a movement called One Billion Acts of Peace. There is nothing new Meng is presenting, but his take on the traditional Buddhist technique of mindfulness is scientific, and the way he blended it with the famous concept of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (b. 1946) is both, brilliant and practically useful. 

Meng defines “mindfulness” as paying attention to the basic fact that you are alive by feeling your breath – the air going in and coming out. This is not as simple as it sounds. Thoughts arise in the mind, the body distracts us by itches, muscular twists, and even the sensation of pain here and there. Meng tells us to return to keep feeling the breath, ignoring these interruptions, and keep expanding these “mindful of breathing” spells by practice. Meng writes in the aforementioned book, “The good news is that mindfulness is embarrassingly easy… the hard part in mindful practice is deepening, strengthening, and sustaining it, especially in times of difficulty… All you have to do is sit without an agenda for two minutes. Life really cannot get much simpler than that. The idea here is to shift from “doing” to “being,” whatever that means to you, for just two minutes. Just be.”

Meng kept the book simple – no complicated terms, or jargons – but included simple examples that anyone could relate to. Meng compares meditation with exercise. “When you are weight training, every time you flex your biceps in resistance to the weight of dumbbells, your bicep muscles grow a little bit stronger. The same process happens during meditation. Every time your attention wanders away from your breath, and you bring it back, it is like flexing your biceps—your “muscle” of attention grows a bit stronger.”

After enhancing the attention on our breath, or rather, bringing it back to our breath when it wanders, Meng asks us to extend it into every part of our life. Meng quotes William James, the father of modern psychology, “And the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgement, character, and will.  No one is compos sui if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”

Meng now integrates the emotional competency concept of Daniel Goleman. Once you start living in mindfulness, you become more aware of yourself. Three emotional competencies are cited – to be aware of your emotions, knowing your strengths and limits, and a sense of your self-worth and capabilities. Meng writes, “Eventually, we reach a point where we are comfortable in our skins. There are no skeletons in our closets we do not already know about. There is nothing about ourselves we cannot deal with. This is the basis of self-confidence.” 

Meng compares mind and mindfulness with a pole and the flag hoisted upon it. Meng writes, “In the presence of strong emotions, the mind may be turbulent like a flag fluttering in the wind. The flagpole represents mindfulness — it keeps the mind steady and grounded despite all that emotional movement. This stability is what allows us to view ourselves with third-person objectivity.” 

My favorite part in the book is where Meng writes, “Thoughts and emotions are like clouds — some beautiful, some dark — while our core being is like the sky. Clouds are not the sky; they are phenomena in the sky that come and go. Similarly, thoughts and emotions are not who we are; they are simply phenomena in the mind and body that come and go. Possessing this insight, one creates the possibility of change within oneself.”  

And what is that change? Allow life to live through you, instated of trying to waste your life in trying to manipulate it. Meng closes the book with a poem.

With deep inner peace,
And great compassion,
Aspire daily to save the world,
But do not strive to achieve it.
Just do whatever comes naturally.
Because when aspiration is strong
And compassion blossoms,
Whatever comes most naturally,
Is also the right thing to do.

I traveled when opportunities presented themselves, taking me to distant places and meeting great human beings. When my cardiac situation halted it, I replaced traveling with reading books, not disturbing my meeting with great minds. In addition to traveling to faraway places, through books, I can even visit the past and dive into the future.  

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10 Comments

  1. Enlightening concept of mindfulness, Prof Tiwariji !

    Your perception of allowing life to live through is splendid !!

  2. Arunji, the way you have transformed your life from physical travel to spiritual, emotional and intellectual travel is amazing. Not many can do this so mindfully and seamlessly while continuing to make the best out of every opportunity. And the way you are able to connect with seekers, leaders, authors and intellectuals across the globe with open mind is something not easy for personalities like me. Truly lots to learn.

    Thanks so much for taking time out to continue to pen these blogs and keep inspiring us to make the best of our own lives.

  3. Sir, this is one of the toughest things to do. Tough, not because of what needs to be done, but more because you should have two virtues I believe to achieve this. One is is to be magnanimous in the mind (I deliberately say mind because I believe the heart is in general magnanimous but it is the mind that plays on you all the time) and the other is to learn to accept things that happen in life with a positive outlook.

    Meng has brought in the comparison between mind and mindfulness beautifully. We all do know that the mind is the one that analyzes/manipulates emotions that arise out of any situation and when this is coupled with one’s ego, it leads to actions by individuals which may always not be right for the situation concerned and more so for the self. So the natural question would be how do we get to be mindful of ourselves. I believe that is where it is important for us to realize the fundamental virtues that we need to possess which allows us to be grounded firmly and not give in to all the instructions of the mind impulsively.

    Sir you have ended the article with a beautiful poem by Meng which gives us the insight of how we can conduct ourselves to allow life to happen to us and let go of things especially the ones which are induced by negative emotions.

  4. Sir, a beautiful article.
    Most of us, all we do is follow a routine, a trend, constantly compare ourselves, and not be grateful.
    A timely reminder, “Allow life to live through you, instead of trying to waste your life in trying to manipulate it.”
    To just be!

  5. If one is able to visit past and dive into the future – it’s divine. Be it by physical travel to get enlightened by meeting the learned, gain experience by mere travel itself or by reading books of the great minds for enlightenment and experience while confined to one place – result remains the same … knowledge enhancement, contentment, satisfaction of mind and soul.

    It’s very unfortunate, probably more for us that your health doesn’t permit travel but I see in you the spirit, the zeal, the keenness and the passion to learn and polish your already knowledgeable mind. You acquire information online, understand and summarize what you go through and club it with the thoughts emanating from your experienced and fertile mind, what churns out is a blog every fortnight on varied subjects – a gospel for us the readers, an unparalleled boon.

    Hats off to you.

    Your one to one interaction with Dr. Kennath Kaunda of Zambia and analyzing in detail certain excerpts of author Meng-Tan from his writings made an interesting read.

  6. Thank you, sir, for yet another profound masterclass with one distinction–it is more poetic than other writeups I have read. Ideas flow as effortlessly as a poem in your prose.

    Shifting from doing to being even for two minutes is difficult. But it may be possible through your insights and some practising efforts for most of us – the lesser mortals.

    Understanding that we are minds and not our bodies is a liberating concept. Kindly keep it going allowing it to happen for others.

  7. Dear Sir, Thanks for writing this excellent blog and sharing your views. Your article reminds us the lessons from Srimad Bhagavad Gita- The Key to happiness is the Reduction of desires. In this materialistic world, we all have been running to be on the top with the assumption that we will have happiness there, but as Gita says, that if we would like to have happiness, we need to reduce “unnecessary” desires. You have cited example from the book of Chade Meng-Tan very appropriately. Very well summarised Sir – Let Go and Allow Life to Happen. Keep on sharing such thoughts and keep educating us. Thank you.

  8. Mindfullness is an interesting stage. A stage when we tend to see that others can not see. A stage which calm us and makes us more mindfull. Thank you Prof Tiwari ji for this awakening Blog.

  9. Dear Sir, this excellent post on mindfulness reminded me your one of the lecture on body-mind & intellect, which has a great impact on my thought process, since then I always try to observe nature and its signs and symptoms. I have seen people always ignore ad follow the way of Eblis by saying Kucch Nahi hota.

    I have seen People are searching for vague things rather than appreciating what has already been given, and trying to change conditions instead of changing oneself, and always bale to others. The solution is be mindful of your act and appreciate your blessings, simple.

  10. Dear Prof, Excellent and enlightening!

    I completely share in the fundamental message of ‘mindfulness’ and aspiring to be a better person for the good of the planet we inhabit.

    Let me agree with Meng…
    “ With deep inner peace,
    And great compassion,
    Aspire daily to save the world,..”

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