Taking Responsibility for Our Lives

Taking responsibility for our lives simply means that we do not look at external things as a source of happiness and joy. This of course does not mean that we withdraw from life. On the contrary, we understand that nothing in itself can fulfill us. Rather, it is our relationship with it that brings joy and fulfillment. Let’s look at this.

We often think that things, events, and relationships bring us joy. We actively seek these out, by making friendships, by being with someone, by consuming tangible things (expensive clothes) and intangible things (subscriptions to online services). This is partially true. Having wonderful people around us does make our life better. Having beautiful things makes our lives pleasant. However, another important end of this dipole is ‘us’. Think of those times when we are upset or sad or depressed. During those times, despite having the best of things, the best of friends, and even perhaps a loving and understanding partner, we are not cheered up. This suggests, that somewhere, we must allow for things to trigger happiness in us.

The natural question at this point is, can we be happy without pleasant things, without relationships, and so on? This is harder but not impossible. Across history, and especially in Indian Yoga traditions, many monks, Yogis, and Fakirs led perfectly contented lives with very little. Even some of our contemporary minimalists echo the same sentiment. In fact, simplicity appears to bring more joy.

This is a deep realization. Nothing can bring us joy from the external. Rather, it is the attitude we adopt when engaging with the external world that produces joy. Think of it this way. When we expect the world to fulfill us, the energy is from outside to in. When we engage actively with the objects to produce this elevated state of being, the direction of energy is from the inside to out. This is a crucial difference. When we begin to reverse this direction of our mental energy, we begin to take responsibility for our state of being. We don’t demand that life be fair to us, or that God bestow something wonderful unto us. We simply consider the current circumstances and see how best we can bring our energies, our mental, intellectual and emotional capacities to the situation.

But how do we go about making this reversal?

Many of us flee from our own minds and emotions. This leads us to naturally seek out external things – friends, events, relationships, and objects to bring the fulfillment that we so desperately seek. Unfortunately, they cannot fulfill us. Because the internal “YES” or the “bringing of oneself to the activity, object or person” is completely absent. This leaves us feeling woefully empty. And we start becoming even more restless – packing our calendars with activities, calls, meetings, dates, overworking ourselves. This gives us a momentary sense of relief. But the minute we have nothing to do, a sense of emptiness creeps in. To escape this we need to put in more and more. Exotic holidays to remote islands. A trek to the Himalayas. Yoga workshops in Tibet. Devotion to Gurus and Godmen. However, nothing will ever bring us the joy we so desperately seek. Soon, despair and meaninglessness creep in as we age.

All we need to do is turn around. Look squarely at ourselves – our emotions, our thoughts. Feel them. Don’t think about them, but feel them – without a sense of shame, a sense of fear. This requires immense courage to accept our feelings – no matter how dark they are. Understand that you are the one that can witness or know these thoughts. This indicates that you must be some distance away from them. By establishing ourselves as this witness-er, we can obtain the courage to face them. It isn’t easy. And it takes time to come close to something we have been avoiding all our lives. But over time, we accept ourselves fully. We come to realize that while we feel fear, jealousy, lust, and the whole gamut of emotions, we aren’t really affected by it. This is the beginning of self-comfort. The ability to be okay with oneself.

Having recognized this, we begin to turn the direction of energy outward. We have nothing that can upset us, nor fulfill us. But we can express our uniqueness through the objects. This is the beginning of a life that is characterized by the active expression of oneself and not by the active acquisition of others. Such a life is beautiful. We needn’t expect anybody to do anything to us. We are free. We bring our best to the person and we leave it at that. Since we don’t expect things from people, they begin to sense freedom around us. It’s deeply liberating – for us and them.

But does this mean that we put up with all sorts of nonsense from people? No. We retain our sense of discretion. If we experience unkind behavior from our partners, from our colleagues or friends. We politely walk away. This does not come from us being threatened in any way. We simply say, “This is not aligned with my values, my being” and we say goodbye. We retain our likes and dislikes. We retain the ability to choose as we prefer. But we lose the egoic, emotional, “I, me, mine” reactive personality.

This is when we take responsibility for our being, for our life. And when we do that, as discussed earlier, we begin to support people. People who come in contact with us, feel liberated. The seed of awakening is sowed into the other, unknowingly. People experience peace and freedom. Then, we begin to take responsibility for others too. Not knowingly. Not with a sense of “I am taking responsibility for you now”. But gently, naturally, effortlessly.

The saline flats of the Little Rann of Kutch. 2018.

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