Suffering is Only Optional!
Producing results with ease, grace and joy

By Smita Joshi

(A Kavita Media Presentation. Please email comments here.)

“Enjoy through renunciation.” Isha Upanishad

For most of us, we know that there is wisdom in the Bhagavad Gita but bringing it alive so that it can be useful and relevant to our daily lives in a practical way is a huge challenge. In this article, I will take one of the Gita’s key tenets and explore how you can apply its value to make life more fulfilling.

Producing results is an integral part of life today but if you are not careful, it can also become a source of suffering. You can be passionate about creating results but remain unattached to them. Lord Krishna refers to being committed to taking action towards achieving the result while being unattached to it as “nishkama karma”, giving your all for the sake of it without selfish desire.

In order to understand how, as a human being, you can be passionately committed to achieving something but not attached to the result and not stressed by the outcome, it is important to understand the seen and unseen layers of our consciousness. The Gita explains that there are three main layers of our consciousness. It gives us excellent insights into the workings of the ego, the lowest layer that is our identity and what we call the human being. It explains the nature of our higher Self, the Atman. In each lifetime, the Atman connects to the human body and its ego by sending down a spark of itself, which we call the jiva atman or the soul. The ultimate consciousness resides in Brahman, the Cosmic Self which is infinite, encompassing all that is, ever was and ever will be.

The erudite scholar Eknath Easwaran says in his translation of The Bhagavad Gita that the essence of the Gita can be given in one word: renunciation. The Gitaji actually promises “freedom through renunciation”. It is the pathway to moksha, the liberation of our soul, from the cycles of birth and rebirth, freeing us from the karmic treadmill.

Though valuable, the notion of renunciation is somewhat distant and even removed from any practical relevance in everyday, modern life. It is easy to associate renunciation with the ancient Vedic era and as being applicable to the lifestyle of bygone days. Today, it would seem, the only people to whom it applies are monks, swamis and ascetics. And yet, the context of renunciation is as relevant to you and me today as it was when Vyasa cited the Mahabharata. If understood clearly, it can have massive benefits for us today in making life more fulfilling. The key, however, is to unlock the mystery of how renunciation applies to contemporary life and work in daily situations.

We live in a results-driven world and we are deeply engaged in the activity of producing results. Society demands that you are successful at school, at university, at work; that you are financially successful; indeed it’s your duty to provide for the family and pay taxes. In our culture, there is also the pressure of being better than others and on being the “best”. We are expected to do so and when it works we feel good about the results.

It’s not just good because you can be proud of your achievements. It’s actually a privilege because it enables you to directly engage in the dance of the cosmic interplay between the unmanifest field of Brahman and you the human, the doer. That is, when you have an idea about what you want to create, you start with just a thought. Then somehow, the thought that came out of nothing is turned into a tangible something that you can see, feel and touch in the physical world around you. This is an amazing act of creation.

And yet, it is when producing results that you can become the most entangled in the net of expectation. The way the ego works is that when it does something, it expects something in return. So then you start focusing on the outcome and what having this result means for you rather than on the process of doing. This is what it means to be attached to your results.

This is the point when stress and anxiety start because you’re not sure that you’ll achieve what you desire, which by now has intensified. Moreover, the ego becomes fearful of the consequence of not having the desired outcome. Underlying this is that your actions become muddied with the emotion and intensity of wanting and therefore your effort loses its effectiveness. Trying harder kicks in and you feel you have to force outcomes rather than being playful and enjoying the process. The point at which you become attached is also the point when your effort begins to feel like hard work, as if you are swimming against the flow. You get in the way of yourself. When you get in the way of yourself, there is a disconnection between the ego and higher Self. You can no longer listen to its wise counsel. This gives rise to the experience of suffering.

In the case of creating results, renunciation means letting go of your attachment to the results that you want to produce. When you let go, you are free to focus fully, give your all and do your most committed work. You can trust then that your higher Self, in flow with Brahman, the infinite organising intelligence, will take care of the rest.

How do you become unattached from your results when every ounce of you is busy with taking committed action? It’s surprisingly simple! Becoming unattached is a conscious choice. You are free to choose to do what needs to be done to achieve your result and keep your focus on the doing and not the having.

This is your option to choose not to suffer.

To take committed, unattached action with a clear, focused result in mind, think of what it is you want to achieve. Say it’s good grades at school or buy a house. Be clear about exactly what you need to do to produce that result. In our first example that would be to do all your homework, understand well all the course material, make a plan for learning everything you need on time and make sure to ask for help from the best people around you. Or to buy a house, determine your price range and how much you need to save to afford it. Then choose your location, the size of house and its attributes, find good estate agents and websites that can help you to find the right properties and then go and visit them with an open mind.

Once you know what you need to do, then focus just on taking these actions, committed to but detached from the outcome. Then let go and trust that your results will take care of themselves. In the process, you will find yourself flooded with enthusiasm, energy, insights and exhilaration that come from being carried fast in the flow of the river that connects you, your higher Self and Brahman in co-creative harmony. It is in this sacred flow that Grace is invoked.

Suffering truly is only optional!

Smita Joshi is writer and entrepreneur, with a keen focus on social entrepreneurship. She played a pioneering role in promoting India’s IT skills and services in UK & Europe through large scale programmes to senior executives of global financial institutions and other blue chip corporations. She has been a leader of personal transformation programmes and coached at one of the largest organisations in this field. She is currently writing a book about the power inherent within human beings.

Smita is married and lives in London, UK.

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