By Sinjini Sengupta:
This is a news byte from New York Times from 20 years back. The time was April, the year, 1996. A few of the possessions of President John F Kennedy were up for auction. His arm-chair and his coffee table, for example. One of the last items up on auction was his tape measure. And guess what price it commanded? It sold for a whopping 42,000 USD, not allowing for commission and procedural charges. Yes, 42000 USD, back in the year 1996.
Now, imagine this. Say, this man who won this tape measure is sitting on his rocking chair that evening by the fireplace. Oh sorry, did I not say this was the month of April? Nevertheless, he’s sitting, rocking, on his grandfather chair made of oakwood, holding his pipe in one hand and the tape measure in the other, and looking at ‘the thing’ with a sense of immense pride and achievement. He might even be planning in his mind to call the local goldsmith the very next day to order a box made of 24-carat gold and a Belgium mirror glass topping, in which he would then house this tape measure. And maybe – who knows – some hundred years away from that evening, his great grandchildren will look at that box and talk of him, their great grandfather, as to how he was a man of great taste.
Now imagine – just that moment, the plumber who was working to fix the tap in the kitchen enters his room and says – “Sir, did I just leave my tape measure here in this room? There, give it to me.” And then he may add: “Sir, I heard of your win. Congratulations! They say they’ll deliver it tomorrow; the papers are with your secretary!”
Now, imagine how his sentiments will change towards that object he was holding in his hand! A fall – from the cliff, maybe? From absolute pride to utter disgust?
But really, if you think of it, nothing really has changed on the outside, but for a simple piece of innocent information! And for all you know, that thing is still a tape measure. Who knows, it can even be more accurate than the one President John F Kennedy used!
What do you see here? Do you see that while nothing at all changes in the exterior, this entire upheaval of change of emotions, sentiments, feelings are happening just inside the mind of this person? And thus, that fall from pride to disgust, how it is all just a matter of the mind? That, how we feel, how elated or disappointed we feel, is really just a matter of the mind?
My enemy is a bad person. That flower is beautiful. My manager is biased, and my parents are silly. My boyfriend was good when he was my boyfriend, but not any good anymore now that he is my ex! The hailstorm is beautiful when I am in Kerala but not so beautiful when I am on my way to the office. And when I was a child, I used to float paper boats in rain. But you know what? That day I had planned a terrace party for my friends, and what a terrible luck I had. It rained!
Now, if you just stop for a while, hold your breath and think, you’ll know that the cause of your happiness, or the reason of your sorrow, they both reside in the same place. Your pride and your shame, your guilt and your hope, they all stay, just side by side, in the same place. And that place is you!
And not just you, even. It is that invisible, little bit of you, your mind, and your way of thinking that really makes all the difference. And, now that you know it, don’t you think that it might be a slightly better idea to perhaps try to control the way of thinking things, than going out to the world with a whip stick in your hand, attempting to put the things in the right order out there! There, won’t you agree?
The thing is, as it is true in most cases, I find it rather easy to describe to other people much more than I can get to learn and accept it myself. But for all you know, while it will indeed take a lot of time and a lot of effort to adapt it to your own thinking, it is not such a bad idea to teach it to the ‘external’ sources around you. Well, you see, if they become calm and more at peace, your job is half done anyway! And my guinea pig for such exercises is my daughter.
So, just that other day, I was waiting at the bus stop to pick her up back from school. The bus arrived, her highness alighted. Now, just as she got down from the school bus, she started, just like every day, with a list of complaints:
“You know Mum, Anmol said that my painting is ugly, and Rahul laughed when Simran pushed me and I fell on the ground. I will never be friends again with Arhan, who snatched away my lunch-box and ate away all my pasta.” I stop her, and ask – “Okay, so tell me, how do you feel?” She stops me and continues, “Aratrika is bad, and Hamid is jealous, and Adhyan is selfish. He ate his own Oreo biscuits even when he knows I love them.”
I hear her out patiently. Then, just as she stops to catch her breath, I interrupt – “Okay, don’t tell me what they are, okay? You tell me, what do you feel? Angry? Sad? Jealous? Come with me.”
We walk back a few steps and stand on the divider on the road. It is mid-afternoon and the traffic on the road is heavy. The vehicles are all impatiently honking their horns, and the drivers are peeking out of the windows to howl at each other some choicest of words. I ask her, “What do you see?” “Cars,” she replies. “Well, we’ll play a game, alright? We’ll start to give these cars names. Now, look at that red one, that truck.” I tell her. “Let’s call that Angry. Look how loud it sounds in horn! And see, that small green car, let us call that one Jealous. It is trying to overtake other cars and push its way through.” “But, this is just the road?” – She looks at me, confused. “Well, not really, not in our game. In our game, we will think of this road as the mind, alright? Now, look at that, a white car. We will call it Friendship, ok? Now, let us wait and see?”
In two precise minutes, the vehicles pass and few more take their place. We watch the traffic for a while, get bored, and then come back.
As we walk back home from that bus stop, I tell her that it does not matter who says or does what to her, they’re but just outside. All they can do, is make cars like those we saw. And then, inside her mind there is this road, and all these feelings are like cars that pass through it. Some of them are bad cars and they make a lot of noise and make us feel sad, and some of them are good cars who make us feel good things. However, we much know that they are just cars on the road and that, before we know, they will pass!
“But what if there’s a breakdown?” – my skeptical daughter asks, only just about half convinced. “Well, we’ll call a crane. Better still, we’ll ask all the happy cars to push it clear from the road. How about that?”
“Let’s try this out the next time we’re angry or sad, shall we?” – She asks, enthusiastically. “Sure, dear!” – I tell her.
Now, the smaller task is done. The bigger task is however left to do. To tell myself that next time I feel overwhelmed, that – ‘It is just a car on the road!’
This article was first published in the author’s personal blog.