Making ‘Attitude’, the ‘Mantra’

Our two proud Eagles, Nikhil & Kiran

     Life has come a long way, just by living it. As I muse over my journey, it is quite amusing to contemplate on the mutation; the inevitable physical and the interesting emotional metamorphosis. I have broken cuckoo clocks and television antennas out of frustration, failing to fix them. Now I accept defeats with a solemn smile and get on with life. Almost all humans are endowed with one trait, which influences their lives more than anything else. Many are not aware of it and those who are, are incapable of controlling it or experience difficulty in modifying it. We don’t realize that a little adjustment can pay high dividends. ‘Attitude’ is that attribute, which is on the table for our analysis.
     Life is not an accident to be taken for granted. It is a gift given to us; a grant renewed every single day, every living minute. We are tiny, insignificant pieces of a ‘divine design’, a mammoth puzzle, creating patterns destined to us and controlled by ‘some genius’. Living is often a challenge and we are given choices as to how we can handle each situation we face. But we usually tend to overlook the available options and fall prey to our prejudices and emotions of our training. Essentially, attitude is the cause and effect that prints out the cumulative emotional balance sheet of humans.
     We are genetically programmed to respond with certain instinctual patterns of behavior, which enable us to survive. Our outlook towards routine, mundane things shapes our attitude towards life. But these reactions need not be static or irrevocable. That raging driver cutting in front of you with the violent look and flashing finger need not raise your blood pressure; the problem is his, not yours. By modifying our sensitivity and practicing new ways of thought, we can reshape our attitude and find a renewed sense of serenity and contentment.
     As much as we would like to believe, boast and act as if we are in control, it is essentially, a false notion. We are shackled to the illusion of having wrought success, thanks to a sense of self-importance. In the mid-eighties, my wife, my children and I packed all our belongings and left for India, to settle down in Madras and work at Apollo hospital. It was great until the collapsing real estate in Houston and the looming tax situation dragged me back from instant success and fame. We have to educate ourselves that the effect of our influence is often insignificant and the results are eventually immaterial. The sooner we realize that things are bound to happen the way they were ordained to happen, the calmer we can spend the remaining days of our lives
      We also must dispel the fallacy that all humans are created equal. They are not. Even the same person does not stay the same all the time. Put the blame on genetics or karma, the fact remains that we are all different. There is little one can do to change another person held in thrall to his DNA and his destiny, who behaves in ways totally immune to any purposeful manipulation by others. Ironically, our frame of mind, our feelings of elation or depression, rage or rapture, depends mostly on the behavior or deeds of other people. Almost always, we react to what someone said or what someone failed to do. It is a hard truth to accept and even harder to change. Yet, if we can digest that possibility and move along, shifting the burden from others to us, our entire life can be viewed from a rosier perspective. It is easier and more practical to change our own attitude than trying to change others. Almost any situation can be won with compassion and a smile rather than a condescending approach.
     Life generously supplies us with aggravating offenders on a daily basis- a demanding patient, a capricious employee, a crazy motorist or an arrogant waiter. Yet they may all have their personal reasons for their bizarre behavior. It is like the story I once read. An affluent couple enjoying a quiet, romantic recess in a park, was annoyed by some noisy, unruly kids playing nearby. The father of the kids was ignoring the clamor. The couple approached the father and admonished him for not disciplining his children. The young man mentioned that the family had just returned from the hospital where his wife, the mother of the children, had just died. He apologized for not being strict with the children. Often, our conclusions about people may be light years away, unless we are curious enough to find out.
     The purpose of our life is happiness. What we need most to attain and sustain happiness is a healthy mind, properly tuned. As the Dalai Lama says in his book “The Art of Happiness,” ‘right now, at this very moment, we have a mind, which is all the basic equipment we need to achieve complete happiness.’ We have to cultivate a spontaneous willingness to savor pleasant and positive thoughts and expel damaging ones. We tend to dwell on negative notions far too long, speculating endlessly on disastrous consequences. If only we can steer all that energy and emotional resources along pleasant avenues, we stand to reap rich rewards. The sensible way to enhance the meaning of life is by devoting ourselves to loving others and by striving for righteous, humane pursuits.
     We are bestowed with an array of emotions, from sublime to sinister, to be used as we choose. We can thus utilize the lofty virtues like love, compassion, care and humility as assets to build our personality and our relationship with others. It is our assertion of self-importance that makes it hard to identify the splendor in others. There is a profound statement in the best seller ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ by Mitch Albom- “Death ends only life, not a relationship,” meaning that, perhaps relationships count more than life itself.
     Unconditional love and explicit acceptance of those we care about is often the only means of salvaging relationships and saving our peace of mind. The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love and to let it come in. As per Levine, “love is the only rational act.” Our own Changampuzha extols the virtue of love in life. “If death claims the sole copyright of life, it will be so desirable to immortalize it as a melody of love.” There is enough inner beauty in everyone, which, if we can identify and appreciate, will be to our advantage. If we are willing to forgive others without feeling any sense of remorse or failure, the reward is worth many times more than the false sense of pride we earn when we withhold forgiveness. And realistically, we end up the eventual winners.
     All these philosophical words of wisdom may only dawn on us as we reach the twilight years of our existence, as we live and endure a variety of experiences. Nevertheless, it is never too late at any stage in life to realize and embrace the mode of passive adaptation in a positive, noble fashion. Like the treadmill or yoga we practice faithfully for physical reasons, we also need to invest in time and willingness to exercise our ‘attitude’ to mold it towards a harmonious acquiescence and approval of others. A better ‘attitude’ may be the panacea for all our problems – physical, mental, and spiritual – a covenant toward refining the aesthetics of our lives.

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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