Reaching the 50th milestone: Reflections on the past and the present, and what really matters in life

Tagore had echoed what most of us feel at some point in life; not satisfied with what we have, we long for the unattainable! These moments of wistfulness are when I reflect on life & its meaning

Representational image
Representational image

Rahul Gul

When the clock struck midnight and the date on my glow clock turned to October 13, I was half-awake, after a particularly long and tiring day; but my mind registered that I had now dwelt half a century on planet Earth, spinning as a tiny speck of stardust around a small star in the Milky Way.

There were no midnight greetings, with the rest of the family long asleep, as were perhaps all my close friends, though I did steal a glance at my smart phone expectantly. Once you are beyond 40, each birthday is like another leaf floating off a tree that’s getting a bit more frail with every passing year, I admonished myself as I wafted back to sleep.

The morning did bring in birthday greetings from people I care for, especially my beloved wife, and even more importantly, blessings from my parents. My mother, in particular, remembers every single moment of that day in 1971 when I was born. I was not even two months old when the Indo-Pak war broke out leading to blackouts in Punjab and adjoining areas. I was consequently given the nickname ‘Jugnu’ – after the firefly – being the ‘only light in our lives’, as my mother recounts.

Another special birthday moment this year was when my son, who is due to turn three in March next year, with a little encouragement from his -ever-doting mom, uttered the words, “Happy birthday, papa!’ In the evening, my mom baked a cake as she has done forever and we had a little celebration. We then proceeded for dinner in which we were joined by a couple of close friends.

A week or so after the event, I found myself reflecting on existential questions, on what really matters in life, cutting through the clutter of everyday worries – about the health of my parents, my brother and my own, and those revolving around my son’s upbringing considering my age and my options. Worries are never too far when you are 50 with a three-year-old son.

It does feel special, I reflected, to walk with my son outside in the sun, now that autumn is here, with his little hand tightly gripping mine. We live in an isolated place, bang in the middle of forest land and the road outside has no traffic, being a cul-de-sac. I marvel at the toddler’s intelligence, his innocent questions – he’s always curious and eager to learn – often make me smile. Yes, that is true happiness.

It also feels special when I am able to spend some quiet time with my wife, whom I must credit and thank for more things than I could possibly list here.

Spending a little time with my parents, in the morning or just before turning in for the night, is special beyond words, with my mother sometime -- when she's in that frame of mind -- taking us down the memory lane about my childhood, and the years when we were growing up. I never fail to thank them and the Lord for the very happy childhood we were so fortunate to have, in an era when there was no internet, no mobile phones – indeed, only a select few had even landlines – and very few ‘modern’ luxuries.

We were content riding a new bicycle, flying kites and playing cricket in large, grassy lawns in leafy neighbourhoods in whichever mufassil town my father would be serving in. And we were absolutely ecstatic when every once in a while, we would go out to watch a film in the local cinema theatre, or dine out; or when we listened to old hits on the record player that was built into this huge radio set that our grandfather had gifted to our mother at the time of her wedding, unless the electricity was playing truant, as it invariably did on those exceptionally hot afternoons.

We were also fortunate to have picked up the habit of devouring books and travelling a lot, with our father being particular about touring the towns under his jurisdiction, besides the trips all over the country during the summer vacations when he would claim his LTC. All this exposure helped develop a worldview about a whole lot of things that really matter.

My mom, a national hockey player in her youth, eventually took to creative writing and painting, having several exhibitions to her credit and authoring 20 books so far, with a new one always on the anvil. She was also awarded a national award by the Government of India for one such book.

When my father superannuated after serving the nation with diligence and honesty as a top bureaucrat for almost 35 years, there wasn’t much to show for it in material terms besides a modest house he had built in a NCR suburb in the 1970s on a concessional piece of land with the help of a departmental loan. But we were happy, and continue to be so, thanks in large extent to the fact that he continues to be in good health.

It doesn't matter that we are now living in an era in which possessing an obnoxious amount of wealth is what earns you social 'respect', no matter how it was earned. And it's a given that such people would've indulged in all sorts of illegalities and resorted to unfair means to get rich -- often at the cost of those who still believe in living simple and honest lives -- which they are then not ashamed to flaunt by living in huge mansions teeming with uniformed servants and driving around in cars costing crores.

On the personal front, I have had more than my fair share of trials and tribulations, ill health and losses the details of which are no longer important. There are days though when I find myself wishing I had opted for the civil services, instead of being disdainful of a nine to-five ‘boring’ life while opting for journalism. I do sometimes feel envious of some of my friends and compatriots who are at the pinnacle of their careers in the IAS and IPS. And even a special college friend who lives among his apple orchards in Kullu!

These are the times when I scroll through some of my favourite daily meditations to try and regain peace, balance and harmony, which is all that really matters at the end of the day. It is indeed a blessing to see another day break. Make the most of it is what my ‘prayers’ tell me, giving me the strength and tranquility required to overcome the odds. Peace.

Some of my favourite daily meditations (from CoDA, a 12-step programme)

These are some of the meditations that I read to find peace, balance and harmony. They might help some of you as well.

Valuing this Moment

Detachment involves present moment living - living in the here and now. We allow life to happen instead of forcing and trying to control it. We relinquish regrets over the past and fears about the future. We make the most of each day.

This moment, we are right where we need to be, right where we are meant to be.

How often we waste our time and energy wishing we were someone else, were doing something else, or were someplace else. We may wish our present circumstances were different.

We needlessly confuse ourselves and divert our energy by thinking that our present moment is a mistake. But we are right where we need to be for now. Our feelings, thoughts, circumstances, challenges, and tasks - all of it is on schedule.

We spoil the beauty of the present moment by wishing for something else.

Come back home to yourself. Come back home to the present moment. We will not change things by escaping or leaving the moment. We will change things by surrendering to and accepting the moment.

Some moments are easier to accept than others.

To trust the process, to trust all of it, without hanging on to the past or peering too far into the future, requires a great deal of faith. Surrender to the moment. If you're feeling angry, get mad. If you're setting a boundary, dive into that. If you're grieving, grieve. Get into it. Step where instinct leads. If you're waiting, wait. If you have a task, throw yourself into the work. Get into the moment; the moment is right.

We are where we are, and it is okay. It is right where we're meant to be to get where we're going tomorrow. And that place will be good.

It has been planned in love for us.

God, help me let go of my need to be someone other than who I am today. Help me dive fully into the present moment. I will accept and surrender to my present moments - the difficult ones and the easy ones, trusting the whole process. I will stop trying to control the process; instead, I will relax and let myself experience it.

Being Honest with Ourselves

Our relationship with ourselves is the most important relationship we need to maintain. The quality of that relationship will determine the quality of our other relationships.

When we can tell ourselves how we feel, and accept our feelings, we can tell others.

When we can accept what we want and need, we will be ready to have our wants and needs met.

When we can accept what we think and believe, and accept what's important to us, we can relay this to others.

When we learn to take ourselves seriously, others will too.

When we learn to chuckle at ourselves, we will be ready to laugh with others.

When we have learned to trust ourselves, we will be trustworthy and ready to trust.

When we can be grateful for who we are, we will have achieved self-love.

When we have achieved self-love and accepting our wants and needs, we will be ready to give and receive love.

When we've learned to stand on our own two feet, we're ready to stand next to someone.

Today, I will focus on having a good relationship with myself

Letting Go of Chaos

No good work comes from unrest.

Unrest, fear, anger, or sadness may motivate us. These feelings are sometimes intended to compel action. But our best work emerges after these feelings have been replaced by peace.

We will not accomplish our task any sooner, or any better, by performing it out of a sense of urgency, fear, anger, or sadness.

Let go of unrest. Let peace fill the void. We do not have to forfeit our power, our God given personal power - or our peace - to do the work as we are called upon to do today. We will be given all the power we need to do what we are meant to do, when it is time.

Let peace come first. Then proceed. The task will get done, naturally and on time.

Today, I will get peaceful first, and let my work and life emerge from that base.


Too often, we try to gain a clear perspective before it is time.

That will make us crazy.

We do not always know why things are happening the way they are. We do not always know how a particular relationship will work out. We do not always understand the source of our feelings, why we've been led down a particular path, what is being worked out in us, what we are learning, why we needed to recycle, why we had to wait, why we needed to go through a time of discipline, or why a door closed. How our present circumstances will work into the larger scheme of events is not always clear to us. That is how it needs to be.

Perspective will come in retrospect.

We could strain for hours today for the meaning of something that may come in an instant next year.

Let it go. We can let go of our need to figure things out, to feel in control.

Now is the time to be. To feel. To go through it. To allow things to happen. To learn. To let whatever is being worked out in us take its course.

In hindsight, we will know. It will become clear. For today, being is enough. We have been told that all things shall work out for good in our life. We can trust that to happen, even if we cannot see the place today's events will hold in the larger picture.

Today, I will let things happen without trying to figure everything out. If clarity is not available to me today, I will trust it to come later, in retrospect. I will put simple trust in the truth that all is well, events are unfolding as they should, and all will work out for good in my life - better than I can imagine.

Accepting Our Best

We don't have to do it any better than we can - ever.

Do our best for the moment, and then let it go. If we have to redo it, we can do our best in another moment, later.

We can never do more or better than we are able to do at the moment. We punish ourselves and make ourselves feel crazy by expecting more than our reasonable best for now.

Striving for excellence is a positive quality.

Striving for perfection is self-defeating.

Did someone tell us or expect us to do or give or be more? Did someone always withhold approval?

There comes a time when we feel we have done our best. When that time comes, let it go.

There are days when our best is less than we hoped for. Let those times go too. Start over tomorrow. Work things through, until our best becomes better.

Empowering and complimenting ourselves will not make us lazy. It will nurture us and enable us to give, do, and be our best.

Today, I will do my best, and then let it go. God, help me stop criticizing myself so I can start appreciating how far I've come.

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Published: 02 Nov 2021, 7:01 PM