The mind is the most volatile part of the human anatomy. It is more susceptible to influence than even the wind and water. But, it also happens to be the most powerful organ of a human being – in terms of its ability to understand, discriminate, respond, invent and so on. Humans have been able to dominate this planet because of their brains.
They may not be as strong as an elephant or as ferocious as a tiger, but they are intellectually superior to them. The intelligent creation of humans – the world’s nuclear arsenal – can now destroy all forms of life, including their own, over and over again.
Thus, it is the mind again which can be abused or misused to cause rampant destruction. And it can happen, simply because we haven’t disciplined it.
It had been a while since I had last stretched myself to change what I believed in, strongly. Everything I had been working on – addressing human trafficking, applying the Impulse Model, leading my team and stakeholders – had become a routine. A lot of things had started happening, both professionally and personally. I had graduated from being a newbie to becoming a social entrepreneur and a changemaker.
I was unconsciously getting sucked into the whirlpool, which was slowing down my tempo and was leaving me breathless. I felt like I had to get away from this busy schedule and introspect.
Around this time, Supriya Sankaran, from the Ashoka Innovators For The Public India Office, called a few other Fellows and me to take feedback on what an Ashoka alumnus wanted in their pursuit of being a changemaker. The goal was to engage in an exploration of the visual, kinaesthetic and collective wisdom to crystallise our insights on ‘shifting the social field’ to address everyday and big problems. Most Ashoka Fellows were facing similar challenges in their lives and their work – and we were too spent on planning and executing to think about how it was taking a toll on our mind and body.
After getting our feedback, Supriya and her team designed a retreat for the Ashoka alumni of the previous decade at the Marari Beach Resort, Kochi, from August 23-26, 2016, as a yearly initiative to support Ashoka Fellows who were getting burned out. While the team effort was definitely an emotional boost, it also gave us the collective comfort to empty our minds.
I asked myself:
“What would I like my future as a changemaker to be?”
“What would balance me personally as well?”
This is what I realised. The practice of mindfulness is like a scalpel that uncovers layers of habit, ingrained prejudice, denial, self-doubt, fear, anxiety and unwanted reactions at personal and professional spaces. It is often difficult to empty your mind of the thoughts that have accumulated for so long.
I had meditated many times before, especially while making decisions – but nothing quite like this. I had to practise very hard. For someone who’s always on a roll, it was difficult to let go. Because of its enormous simplicity, it was unlike any other challenge I have faced.
Bringing my attention to what was happening in the present and preventing my mind from wandering was stressful. Thinking about people I cared for and reactions to things I don’t like, played on my mind – pretending to decrease stress, but actually worsening it. I was afraid of it. It even felt like something weirdos would do.
But, I convinced myself that it’s never too late to begin this journey – that it is a life skill, which would make me a better person and help me go to the next level. That once I brought these states of mind to the surface, mindfulness would become a powerful tool.
Unlike the sense of accomplishment on conquering great obstacles, the rewards of sitting quietly are quite subtle. The effects began showing. I started working with complete focus, patience, energy and determination. By the time it ended, I came back with a positive mind – ready to move ahead of all the challenges with more strength and courage.
The miseries of humans are often the creations of their own minds. Macbeth is a prime example of this. Under the evil spell of ambition, his mind behaved mysteriously. To cover up one murder, he committed some more.
We may not be as devious as Macbeth was, but most of us do suffer from anticipation – or rather, apprehension. The more sensitive the mind, the more fragile its disposition! Our feeble power of reasoning does advise us against getting carried away, but most often, it fails.
A wailing mother once went to seek Buddha’s advice to cure her sorrow at her son’s death. Buddha told her to fetch some mustard seeds from a family that has not known death. She went around and found none. That is when she realised that death is, after all, universal. It was her mind, which was letting the sorrow of her son’s passing destroy her.
The Bhagvad Gita says that we must remain unaffected in both happiness and misery. But the human mind easily gives way and becomes restless. Hence, it does not know what peace is. It appreciates rest and philosophises about it, but it does not experience it. That is why it is mandatory to discipline it by letting go.
If we can let the mind off the hook, and get it to concentrate on things outside itself – we’d be at a much happier place. Poets, painters, sculptors, intellectuals, etc. generally lead a more restful life, because their minds meditate over things outside themselves. This is the most difficult, but important, way of disciplining the mind. Once achieved, you can pull the shutters down on the devil’s workshop, and concentrate on experiencing sheer bliss through your creative work.
So, gear your mind towards a goal, work hard for it, and watch out for the result. You will be surprised how productive a simple, mindful act can be. It is what can recharge your soul and render you the focus that can make you one of the most noted people of your generation.
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Featured image used for representative purposes only.