As I begin to write this piece after much contemplation and meditation and, of course, personal experience, I wonder: Am I carrying coal to Newcastle? Rotary is renowned for its wonderful social work of bettering lives, providing facilities, bringing smiles to weary faces. On the other hand, it’s great to re-affirm goodness, get new insights and evolve continually.…
Heart over head. And what I have learnt is this: whenever you feel helpless, be helpful to others. The heart is the home of helpfulness. The mind feels helpless, not the heart. The mind says, “Oh no!” The heart offers: “How may I help?”
Helplessness is the precursor of depression. That’s why depression too is of the mind, not the heart. So, if you feel depressed, fearful or sorrowful, remember, it is only in the mind and can be dealt with only by the heart.
Karen’s compassion: Let the heart reach out. I remember reading this wonderful little anecdote that made a deep impression on me: When her mother was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Karen sat in the visitor’s area in tears. She’d never seen her energetic mother look so pale, so inert. It was unsettling. Just then, an attendant wheeled a senior woman into the area. Her hands were tightly closed into fists and her nails were so long, they dug into the palms.
Without thinking, Karen rose and sat next to the lady. She gently massaged her hands until they opened and placed wads of tissue between the nails and palms as protection. Then, impulsively, Karen rummaged in her own overnight bag and found a manicure set. Quietly, she snipped the nails and applied on the cuts some medicated cream which her friend had thoughtfully slipped into her bag as she rushed her mother to the hospital. She was so engrossed in her task that she’d stopped worrying. When the patient gave her a grateful, radiant smile, Karen suddenly felt light-hearted and optimistic about her mother.
Helpful to hopeful: Helpfulness transports you from darkness to light, from sickness to health. Helpfulness keeps you hardy. There is supreme value in helping others; it enriches the giver and receiver, it enriches the fabric of humanity, it enhances life. By helping, you bring order to disorder, relief to pain, love to fear … it’s like scouring the black clouds, scrubbing and wiping the sky clean off these smudges and … aah allowing the bright light of the sun to shine out in all its golden, healing splendour. “Right action is action that is appropriate to the whole,” says Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher. And when the right action — in this context, the helpful action — is accomplished, you feel more hopeful because you’ve contributed something positive to the situation, to the whole.
The negative slant: Interestingly, neurological research suggests that our brain is hardwired to focus on negative things more than on positive ones. This slant helps in an emergency — say, we spot black smoke and rising flames in our building and run to save ourselves. Even the brain’s encoding process tilts towards the negative — memory sheaths of horrifying experiences are stronger than ecstatic ones. Perhaps, it’s designed so in order to avoid similar dangers in the future. However, it is this negative slant that makes us remember one insult over several thoughtful gestures in a relationship. And it’s also the reason why we can talk repeatedly about ‘bad’ things and hardly mention the good and, hence, spiral into helplessness, despair and depression.
The higher path: Being helpful sets us on a higher path. When we help another, we bond with her. Bonding is balming. The core principle of helping is that we are all here for one another. As an Akan proverb goes: “It is because one antelope will blow the dust from the other’s eye that two antelopes walk together.” Moreover, in helping somebody in trouble, you are like the fireman dousing the flames of pain. It gives you the confidence that things can be better and that you have what it takes to make things better.
Of positive affirmations: Researchers of the brain have also found evidence that suggests that the brain needs strong and consistent positive inputs on a ratio of 5:1 to negative inputs to truly transform our mind. Yes, we need to be five times more positive over the negative to keep our equilibrium, to feel all’s-right-with-the-world, to heal. A psychiatrist says, repeating positive affirmations for 20 minutes, twice a day, have a positive effect on the brain’s neural structure. One of my favourite affirmations is Helen Steiner Rice’s poem:
- The more you love, the more you’ll find
- That life is good and friends are kind,
- For only what we give away
- Enriches us from day to day
It never fails to lift the spirit with its catchy rhythm and rhyme. I suggest collecting positive affirmations that resonate with you in a little book. Dip into it daily and rise refreshed. I have gifted several such hand-written books to friends. It inspires and motivates them and keeps my joy flowing too.
Helping yourself: It is also important to interpret the world in a happy way. This great ability helps you help yourself and others. I’ve learnt that the more you consciously purge yourself of irritations, dislikes, guilt and the urge to complain and criticise, the more you are able to put things in perspective and allow contentment and peace to reign in your mind. This is where meditation helps.
Meditation is a hospitable self-invitation to enjoy daily a few luxurious moments where you drop all defenses, tensions, analysis and for 30–45 minutes relax as you dwell in a timeless space free from the assaults of inner conflicts. As your relaxation deepens, you experience what it is to live in a lit-up place called peace. You experience healing.
In meditation, healing is the order of the day. It’s simply a matter of staying awake and feeling the joyous surge of well-being as everything falls into place.
(The writers are authors of the book ‘Fitness for Life’ and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme.)