Life is never easy and mostly this is because there are too many choices to make. For every decision you take there are a thousand that 'could have been' or 'would have been' or 'if only'.
Personally, I have always faced a problem has been saying 'No'. I have always been scared of making someone unhappy by saying no when they want me to say, 'Yes'.
It had made my life thoroughly complicated and difficult for many years. The idea that I will hurt someone by saying 'No' always ended up by me being miserable for a long time for saying, 'Yes'.
The heart always knows what is right and the wise always go with their heart. I finally learnt to say 'No' from my young niece. When she was just learning to communicate at around the age two years, she would very clearly let us know if she did not want something. She'd simply say, 'no' and stick to her decision. Whether it was on food, time to be put to sleep, who she would want to be carried around by - for every decision, she'd look at what is on display and give her emphatic decision.
I learnt from her. By closely following her whims, I realized that she was exercising her right to choice without any outward influence. It did not matter whose heart she was breaking by saying no. What mattered was whether she was comfortable with the final decision - I observed that she always was. Once she decided, she stuck to the decision and stayed happy. She actually is a happy human being who is able to light up a dark day with her laughter.
Most of us are like her when while growing up. But, adulthood and society takes care of us soon and we become slaves to what is supposedly 'expected behavior.'
But, each time we say 'yes' to something that we wanted to say 'no' to, we kill a bit of ourselves by putting our happiness on hold.
Since Dussehra just passed us by, another story struck me and made me believe that what I learnt from the baby in the last couple of years was absolutely correct. It is the story of Ratnakar bandit who later became the great sage, Valmiki.
Ratnakar confessed to a monk he had captured that he became a dreaded criminal and highway robber to feed his family. The monk very calmly asked him to go back to his family and ask them if they were ready to take his sins on their heads because he was 'killing and looting innocents to feed them'.
Ratnakar without hesitating for a moment said, "of course they do. They are my mother, father, wife and children. They have always known what I do and how I bring home food. They are partners in my life of crime because they are benefiting from it."
The monk who was tied-up to a huge tree and had the fierce Ratnakar staring at him in the eye with a scimitar ready to behead him said, "Nothing is involuntary in the universe. Go and ask your family and if they say that they are ready to take your sins on their heads, I will be happy to die by your hands."
Ratnakar somehow could not say, 'No'. Perhaps this was his biggest character flaw as he was soon to realize.
He went back to his family in the jungle and asked each one of them separately and then, together but, everyone unanimously refused to take on his sins including his mother and beloved children. They all said, 'it was your duty to take care of us and you did it the way you decided to. We never influenced or asked you to take on a life of crime and murder to feed us. It was your decision to do so and therefore, the sins that you have incurred are also yours.'
No amount of begging or crying would change their minds. Finally, the truth hit the dreaded bandit that we are alone are responsible for taking our own decisions and therefore to suffer or reap the rewards of the Karma we make from them.
He thought he was making his family happy but, in taking care of their happiness he refused to take a road that might have been less paying thinking it would make his family happy. Probably they were too but, Ratnakar himself was not. He was miserable and constantly afraid of death that he meted out to others all the time. Probably it was his inability to overcome his fear of death that made him listen to the monk who had nothing to lose.
In saying 'Yes' to a path of crime, Ratnakar had permanently written-off his choice to be free of the ghosts of his own making. He was successful but, not happy.
He went back to the monk, let him off and took up a vow to cleanse his sins by praying on an ant hill for many years.
How that worked out and how he became the revered saint Valmiki, the author of Ramayana is another story and perhaps his reward for accumulating good Karma post renunciation of the material world.
That day however, was an eye-opener for Ratnakar because, he realized the hard way like most of us that we alone have to suffer our choices. No one will take up the responsibility of our mistakes or bad choices even if we have taken it to make them happy.
What matters is to listen to your heart and follow what your gut tells you.
Choose wisely to live happily because we are the protagonists of our stories and each story deserves a happy ending.