I was 11 years old and traveling in a train with my father. We couldn’t get seats next to each other but we were happy that we at least got the reservation. I sat near the window and opposite to me sat a man who was in his late thirties. He was casually dressed wearing a red tee, jeans, and a sporty watch. We were going to be together for several hours (more than 24). So, he struck up a conversation with me. I say he did because, being an introvert, I rarely break the ice.

“Do you play any sports?” he asked me.
“Cricket, sometimes,” I replied.
“Anything else?”
“Chess.”
“Is that a sport?”
“It comes under indoor sports.”
“Do you?” I asked.
“Yes, I actually play for a living,” he said with a smile lurking behind his curling lips.
“Oh really!” I was surprised because he didn’t really look all that athletic to me. “What do you play?”
“I play with hearts.” He threw his head back and laughed loudly. I didn’t get the joke (Okay, I wasn’t as smart as the 11-year-olds of the present age).
“I’m a cardiologist,” he said.

We both laughed as I finally understood what he meant. A few hours later, it began raining. We both were looking outside with our elbows sticking out of the window. I quickly pulled my arm back in.

“What happened?” he asked me.
“It’s raining!”
“So what? Be strong.” And he put his hand out and let it drench under the fat raindrops. “How will you become strong if you are going to run away?”
I stuck my elbow out again.
“That’s the way to go!” he said rejoicing. “Be strong! Rain is not going to erode you.”

Be Strong. (Yeah, right.)

It’s the type of advice each one of us is given numerous times in our lives. If a child falls down, before he or she can even cry, we tell the child that nothing happened, that they are too strong to cry. We don’t want them to cry. We whiff aside their pain in a manner so they may absorb it rather than express it. While growing up, when grown up, when old, someone or the other will advise you to be strong. They will tell you that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. No doubt that their advice comes from their noble intentions. But, it’s not always the right suggestion.

It’s okay to be strong sometimes but most other times we must find a way to express ourselves. Being strong does not mean that you keep on putting up with everything. Strength is not the same as endurance. Strength is how much you can pull along whereas endurance is how much you can put up with. To be strong is to face something with courage but it certainly does not imply that you do so silently. It’s not resilience but ignorance if you ask me. It’s okay to cry and express your pain. Yes, even if you are a boy or a man, it’s alright to not hold back your tears. Any day, we should encourage expression over suppression. It’s more important to be natural, be human than be strong. People want you to wear a permanent smile. Our society puts too much pressure on getting along with the world and brushing your real feelings under the carpet. No one wants a cry baby.

To please others we start ignoring ourselves, we start acting as if our feelings, our needs don’t matter to us as much. We are strong. We can handle it. This is a big mistake.

Being strong has a terrible downside. Strong people continue to bear the brunt. You will never get to enjoy a meal at the restaurant because you’ll be busy ordering for everyone, let me tell you. You will find yourself worrying about every little thing because those around you have resigned and left it on you because you are strong.

If you keep being strong, you’ll continue to become sadder. A melancholy will set in. You will feel very lonely one day because there’ll be nobody around to share your pain. Why? Because you are strong. They will ask you what’s wrong with you? It is paramount, in my view, to express yourself and put your hands up before you reach your limit. Don’t push yourself so hard that you break one day.

And that’s what a display of undue strength does. It breaks you. On the outside, everything feels normal and real. It all looks damn good to those around you. But inside, you wonder if you’ll ever be able to have a glimpse of happiness again. You seriously ask yourself if you will ever be able to pick yourself again. Don’t do that to yourself. Feel free to acknowledge and say, “I’m tired… I need a break and some care too.”

It’s a very short life and if you are not going to live your life, you’ll find yourself living someone else’s. Every moment of such a life is smeared in intense sadness and resignation. Being strong all the time breaks you bit by bit, it crushes you gradually until you turn into dust.

Don’t bother being strong. Instead, be human, be real. You will understand life better. Fears and conflicts disappear in understanding. True strength doesn’t always come from affirmations or sticking your neck out. It comes from inner conviction and peace. If you are at peace within, you will be strong naturally. Such strength won’t bog you down. And, inner peace, may I add, cannot come by ignoring yourself or what you care about. You can curb the voice of the soul, you can drown the melody of your heart. But only for so long. One day it’s going to burst like a volcano hurling you on the crossroads of life, forcing you to think about your happiness, about the meaning and purpose of your life.

A religious man told a woman who had an accident that if she had real faith, this wouldn’t have happened to her. She was devastated to know that her faith wasn’t pure or strong enough. She asked her guru how to purify herself.

“You should have hit the man with your cane,” the master replied, “and told him that if he had faith it wouldn’t hurt.”

Being strong doesn’t mean that you don’t feel the pain. And if you do feel it, why act any differently? At least, not all the time.

Next time someone tells you to be strong, thank them for the advice but follow your own voice. Don’t be strong if it’s actually making you weak. Take it easy. Don’t the tender blades of grass outlive the giant firm trees that fall in the face of severe storms?

It’s okay to pull back your elbow if you don’t feel like getting soaked. Life is not a boot camp that you can only learn by harsh and rigorous training. Maybe it’s a splendid work of art and some colors, a few gentle strokes, an eye for beauty is all it takes to give it a purpose, to appreciate and enjoy it. Let’s paint it softly, elegantly, not necessarily strongly.

Peace.
Swami

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