Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Chipping Away (Appeared in the October 2013 issue of 'Life Positive' , a wellness magazine)

We've all heard of the tortoise and hare story and so did I when I was a kid. While it is not possible for such a story to have a particularly profound impact on a 5 yr old, it is still a story among those that none of us can forget. It is now almost decades later and now the powerful wisdom behind this story is beginning to unravel itself to me.

 I was quite lazy as a kid. Never liked school, hated homework, loved to play and had loads of friends. I always studied for my exams just days before and managed a decent percentage, that's all. Never had a fascination for ranks and grades. My report card every year had the same comment... 'intelligent but disorganised. Needs to learn to be consistent and work hard'. I could never relate to students who could put in disciplined work every single day just to make that 1st rank or to top a particular subject. My days seemed blissful when I kept myself innured from tension, worry and the hard work that achievement required.

It was not until years later that a sudden sadness started to creep in. I couldn't explain it. It would hit me every morning in the wee hours and would either keep me awake or spoil the quality of my sleep. The reason I would tell myself was something mundane like the stress of a meeting coming up or fear that my boss would yell at something. But over time I began to realise it might be to do with something specific and something deep. The sadness and heaviness,  I came to realise , had a lot more to it. One of the facets of the sadness I came to understand, was a lurking feeling of guilt along with a feeling of envy at others who managed to achieve things I knew I was capable of but didn't care enough to strive towards in my younger years.

 Guilt is a devilish thing you know, especially if it concerns something you've done to yourself. It eats away like acid , burning and devouring all that feels good. Over time, it pervades everything inside and turns like undigested food into a feeling of queasiness, unease and anxiety. It simultaneously turns outward becoming jealousy, anger, unhealthy  introvertedness. worst of all, to protect our ego and falling self concept, we create within ourselves, an illusion of ourselves as perfect human beings and take it upon ourselves to judge and belittle others and trivialize success and achievements of people we envy inside. I am thankful that I caught myself well before things deteriorated so much but it is important to know how bad things can get.

 The moment of realisation came to me thanks to a simple incident that happened years ago. Music was a part of my life from my age of five. It runs in my family and I was spotted quite young by my school as a child who had talent. My parents and my school gave me immense encouragement. I won many prizes and scholarships through my early years. But as with studies and most other things at that time, the same lackadaisical attitude pervaded music too.I would sit for riyaz very reluctantly and after much coercing by my mother. While I never ever abandoned music learning, there were long periods of disconnect with my classes. I would be put off for months before I could muster up the will to resume. Since, music, as  I have come to believe, is so deeply entrenched in me, I couldn't ever abandon it fully, and I thank providence for that. Anyway, years passed and I kept chugging along with my classes and concerts and competitions but never really achieving what I could've by that age. I would always look at achievements as huge mountains to climb and somehow all that seemed too much of an effort. I felt I didn't have it in me to climb that high or that steep. I felt defeated far before even trying.

A turning point came  when I moved cities after marriage. I had the good fortune of meeting my guru. It was one of those classes to which I had gone in with the same reluctance to learn. Within minutes of starting the session, I got talking heart to heart with her. I knew i couldn't disguise my mood for too long. During the course of the conversation my guru began to understand that I had not given music what I ought to have and I was far from where I could be. After the class, I went back home and continued with my day's routine. Not long after, I received a message from my guru, a message that was to change my life. It said 'Nithya, remember this, if you don't do what you have to do with your music, there will be a day when you will feel a sharp dagger in your heart!'

 Something about that message both scared me and made me thankful at the same time. It scared me because somewhere deep inside I knew the truth behind that message. I was thankful because it seemed to have come at the right time. Any earlier, it wouldn't have had an impact, any later would've been too late.

 It is then, that I embarked on a self realisation and improvement journey. One by one, I began to undo old bad habits. I would challenge every lazy bone inside me. I would drag myself to classes and enforced strict disciple on myself with Riyaz. I chipped away at every aspect of my personality that held me back, that threatened to destroy me, to make me incompetent and mediocre. Every fear, every anxiety that held me back was not allowed to have its way without a war inside, which I eventually started winning more often than losing. Slowly and surely my Riyaz started getting more disciplined and more focussed, I started treating myself and others more gently, becoming less critical and more compassionate. I kept small targets and taught myself to celebrate small successes. I started taking every big task just by the day and sometimes by the hour.

 Over time, I realised it actually just takes small bits and chips done every day with commitment and discipline to build anything big.  When i think about this even on hindsight, it seems to prove true. Even though i had done it unknowingly, the fact that I had kept music going despite not giving it active attention has over the years made a huge difference to my musical ability and I feel reflects in my music today. Big things actually start small. Things like career, marriage, a home, a life seem like huge tasks But, it is chipping away with active persistence, diligence at the small things every day, along with an ability to be patient and compassionate that can take us miles and help us climb very high.

 I started realising that I was beginning to have what people will define today as a successful life. And it all seemed to happen relatively effortlessly.  A career that I am passionate about, a happy marriage, a wonderful relationship with my parents and in laws to name a few. The funny thing is that I realise. is that things seem to happen when you're busy not focussing on the outcome.....it's quite amazing how deeply powerful the words in bhagavat gita are 'karmanye vadhika raste ma phaleshu kadachana' translating to' one has right only over one's efforts not over its fruits'.

When one understands this fully and from the heart one begins to shift focus from desire for a particular type of outcome. He or she learns to just live in the present, live by the day. He learns that fruits will come effortlessly if the focus is on what has to be done.

I've learnt an invaluable lesson thanks to that life changing message. For that I'll be ever grateful to my guru. Making something out of one's life doesn't have to be painful. It will certainly be effortful. But the trick in making it as effortless as possible is to learn the art of doing small things little by little , day by day and learning the art of celebrating.

 Great things I realised happen when...

 You're busy chipping away!


  1. Gosh, I love this so very much <3 Every sentence resonates with me! I have come to realize the exact same things you have mentioned. What a lovely, articulate, hopeful piece <3