JV Bharathan reached darkness and found his way out again. He credits this to his autistic son and his undying optimism. JV is a coach, an author, and an entrepreneur. He wants people to find hope within their suffering. Hear him talk about his story, the power of helping others and what he has learned from his son.
I know that you had a moment in time where you had a couple of events all happening at once. What were those events?
JV grew up in India, moved to the US when he was 21 and found a good corporate job. Following the Indian tradition, JV’s parent arranged for him to marry a woman from Sri Lanka when he was 25. He didn’t like her but married her in order to please his Dad. The marriage didn’t work out so they divorced. There was a custody battle over their son.
How old was your son when you divorced?
He was 4 or 5 years old and it was about 6 years after the marriage.
What happened with the custody battle?
JV felt like he was treated as a 2nd class citizen by the courts and police and automatically seen as guilty. It was a challenge to prove that he was a good dad. They now share custody of their son.
How did you get through it?
JV lost everything. He was homeless, jobless and bankrupt. He only had two things left. His son and his undying optimism.
Where were you living?
He sometimes stayed with friends and sometimes slept on the street. This period didn’t last too long as he found his light pretty quickly.
What was it like sleeping on the street?
It was not easy but JV recognizes that went you go through situations like this, you become stronger. Now he can sleep anywhere.
JV found deep meaning through his son who has autism. He mostly communicates non-verbally. At 13 years old he can speak a few words but is unable to form sentences. JV realized that his life was bigger than him and that he needed to take care of his son. He needed to be a voice for his son. That is when everything changed for him.
You say everything changed, what do you mean?
He had been feeling like a victim and blaming his wife for his circumstances. But that didn’t give him any power. He knew he had to take radical responsibility. So even if something is not your fault, you take responsibility for it. That gives you the power and allows you to take actions you didn’t think were possible.
Were you reading a lot?
He was reading frequently and went on a journey to the Himalayas to stay with monks. They taught him that your life is not about you. It is all about the people in your life. Your family, friends and local community. That’s when he started to take himself less seriously and focus on what others need.
I studied Buddhist psychology. There are two parts to the root of our suffering self-grasping and self-cherishing. Cherishing yourself as the most important person on earth is one of the roots of our sufferings. It sounds like you had that insight. When we ere suffering who are we thinking about? We are thinking about ourselves. That causes a lot of suffering. That shift to thinking about others is huge and with it brings happiness. So you went and hung out with the monks. What else did you learn?
They taught JV about money. Money is a form of energy. Many people tell themselves stories about money – I can’t afford it, I don’t deserve it. JV thinks this is silly. Money is just energy exchanged for services. If you focus on how much value you give to people, the money will come. Money is a tool and doesn’t bring happiness.
So you went to the Himalayas and you meditated?
He meditated and did a lot of yoga. He lived a very simple humble life.
When you came back, how did you integrate?
He did a lot of coaching and leadership classes. He started to focus on other people starting with his son. He wanted to look beyond his sons ‘problems’ and look at how he could add value to his son’s life. He started a non-profit for autistic children.
You created a non-profit. What else?
JV wrote a book despite not learning English until he was in college. When he was in his period of darkness he started writing as a way of venting his frustration. One day a friend of his accidentally found his journal and started reading it. He told JV that he should turn it into a book. Now he is writing a second one.
What is your book about?
Undying Optimism is about JV’s journey into his darkness and how he got out of it. He wants his book to give people hope. We are all suffering in our own ways. He wants people who read his book to ask themselves questions about their own lives and find meaning in it. The book gives people hope in a world which doesn't always seem to have a lot of hope in it.
You do coaching?
JV does coaching for people going through transition and change. He went through a lot of transformation and change and wants to bring that experience to help other people.
Do you want to get married again?
It’s hard to find the right partner especially when you’re entrepreneurial. His son is a massive part of his life. He is open to the possibility of someone but isn’t focused on it.
Do you still talk to your son’s mom?
He used to call her his ex-wife and then realized he needed to give her respect. He now calls her his former wife. They don’t talk a lot and when they do it is focused on their son. But he has forgiven her.
How did you arrive at forgiveness?
It was not easy to forgive her. She put him in jail. Forgiving is one of the most selfish things you can do. When you forgive you allow a space for new things in your life.
How long did it take you? Forgiveness is a process.
It took him 3 years.
I have a question for you about sadness. I’ve had my bouts of depression. The happier I’ve become, the more I focus on others, the more I serve the more sadness I see. But when I’m sad, I don’t notice the sadness. I was curious about your viewpoint.
If you don’t experience sadness you are not going to experience happiness. If you don’t experience darkness you are not going to experience light. If you don’t experience sunset you won’t experience the sunrise. But when you realize you are sad, you need to see how you can shift that. Be with it. Ask yourself why you are sad. Try to change the situation if you can. Help someone else. Be grateful for the things in your life.
What is a question you can ask?
What can I do? Why am I suffering? What is causing me suffering today?
What is a question you ask yourself which keeps you focused?
What can I do today that’s going to make someone else’s life better?
What is next for you?
JV does have a plan but does not put timelines on things anymore. He likes to follow his intuition. He is writing his second book and has just joined a venture firm in Boston that will focus on organizations that want to solve humanitarian issues.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Be in the moment.
So you meditate?
Every day for at least 15 minutes. He does it as soon as he wakes up and has been doing that for the past 5 years. He finds meditation keeps him calm, makes him grounded and allows him to focus on the things he wants to focus on.
How do you feel that having a child with autism has shaped your view of the world?
His son is JV’s biggest teacher. He has taught him patience, to focus on the process and empathy.
How can we get in touch with you?