When Saroja had a nervous breakdown, her family rallied around. Demands stopped, negative comments were held back, personal chores were quietly done, her private space was given new respect. Ah yes, it greatly helps to have kind, supportive people around. As Mother Teresa observed, “It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”
The critic. Simultaneously, we absolutely need a full-hearted inner cheering champion to silence the internal critic, the voice-in-the-head that constantly carps: “You look fat in that outfit,” “The Chief Trustee of your institution doesn’t like you,” “You failed,” “You’re worthless.” These remarks cannot be passed off as reality checks, they are our own prejudices, wrong notions turning around and biting us, even wild exaggerations that encourage self-drama. Yet, repeated frequently, they prevent us from leading a healthy, relaxed, focused, loving life. The Master says, “As a mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth and the ocean of tiny drops of water, so is life composed of little details, actions and thoughts. The consequences, good or bad, are far-reaching.”
While exercising indoors calms the mind, walking outdoors adds another dimension — the sunlight increases the serenity-promoting serotonin levels in our brain to cause the ‘pilgrim effect’ — a feeling of elation and elevation.
The champion. Let’s aim for good consequences. Instantly, disbelieve the remarks from the internal critic. Refute them before they blow up into issues and thrust you in the burnout zone. Begin with a definitive, “No, this remark is not true.” Then speak the truth: “I look good in this outfit,” or “I am overweight, so what? I look great!” Be logical: “The Chief Trustee doesn’t dislike me. She is aloof with everybody!” Give a fresh perspective: “I haven’t failed. I haven’t succeeded yet. Soon, I will.” As for the statement, “You’re worthless,” denounce it stoutly: “Rubbish! I’m worth every ounce of inspiration Creation was sparked by when It created me!” Jot down a list of all your positive qualities. Start a notebook and invite your friends to write down what they think of you, giving instances wherever possible. It makes a heart-warming book to browse through. When you consciously, constantly raise the level of your inner dialogues and assumptions, stress seeps out, ease moves in, strengths get replenished. Ponder this universal truth: each and every one of us possesses all the highest of qualities, we just need to possess them consciously.
Mindful immersion. The mind is our greatest blessing. It just needs calmness and resilience daily to ward off and rise above the little every day stresses of family, job, commuting. One beautiful way to prepare it is through mindful immersion. Immerse the mind in breathing. As you breathe consciously, think, “Calming my thoughts and feelings, I breathe in and out.” As does the sun set and a soothing silence envelops the world, so do thoughts and feelings set and a soothing peace envelops the mind. From this peace, a quiet, luminous resilience is born.
Mindful immersion can be practised also through reading an inspiring book with deep concentration — focusing on the details the words spin out so completely that the inner critic and outside happenings are shut out. I was deeply moved listening to an interview with a person on a wheelchair. Reading a chapter on pain and suffering in a spiritual book, he says, was the beginning of a mind-transformation. He has a disease where his muscles weaken progressively. After his experience of mindful immersion in the spiritual chapter, he has risen above the affliction by accepting it. It is as it is, he says simply. Even if his physical condition couldn’t be improved, his mind has cast off suffering and is in a calm, positive, peaceful state.
Alter brain chemistry. Manage your time and wellbeing tenderly. When negative emotions arise, release them through physical exercise. Moving the body alters our brain chemistry making us feel lighter, more optimistic and hopeful. The mind releases moody clutter and the world appears brighter, more spacious. While exercising indoors calms the mind, walking outdoors adds another dimension — the sunlight increases the serenity— promoting serotonin levels in our brain to cause the ‘pilgrim effect’ — a feeling of elation and elevation. In fact, I’d say it was a combination — reading Yogananda’s book Autobiography of a Yogi and my fitness-regime (exercising one-and-half-hour every day and walking in the sun to do my errands) that transformed my thinking and made me a pilgrim of life’s winding journey.
Mindful immersion can be practised also through reading an inspiring book with deep concentration — focusing on the details the words spin out so completely that the inner critic and outside happenings are shut out.
If we do not want the inner voice to constantly express negative thoughts, we need to watch our negative emotions. It is important not to hold grudges. Speak to the people concerned, to understanding friends who validate your feelings and don’t dismiss them. Consult somebody experienced and mature. Never let negative thoughts and feelings linger. They give grist to the inner critic and, alongside, weaken the immune system as the festering resentments harden into stones in the kidney/gall bladder, as calcium deposits in the joints or as tumours in any vulnerable region. If we’re already vulnerable emotionally, then the harsh inner critic can drive us to drink, despair and depression.
Create balance. Any imbalance can tip the emotional scales. What we need is a quality called steadfastness which means we need a regular routine to adhere to. Regular meal-times, regular sleep-time, regular exercise-time, an hour for a pet hobby, music, volunteering… Direct emotional energy into absorbing, creative or constructive activities that you do for the sheer joy of doing without expecting any reward. Sing, sculpt, paint, dance, polish a stone, garden, write a para, poem, song, cook, read and share what you’ve read… Whenever you do something creative, you transform your agitated breath into a beatific smile. When all that is wavering and fitful in us gives way to a sane balance, we lead fruitful, fulfilled and healthy lives.
Be at ease. Finally, find your own entry points to peace and ease. Even if nobody pressurises you, you may be pressurising yourself. Instead, be realistic about how far you can go without being stressed. Also, know: you don’t have to make life a pleasure-seeking cruise — when you deeply appreciate what you have, that itself would arouse pleasurable, contented feelings. As importantly, know: when you aren’t experiencing pleasure, it doesn’t mean you are unhappy or bored. Hence, don’t give in to complaining, it only raises toxic emotions and stress levels. Forgive, let go, let be — it shows a higher intelligence and self-awareness. The less you react to negative people, the more peaceful and balanced your mind and body. One of the most useful things I’ve learnt is: there is no such thing as an awkward silence when you can be relaxed in it. In short, as the birds demonstrate every moment: If you want to fly, give up all that weighs you down.
The writers are authors of Fitness for Life, Be Simply Spiritual –You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme. They also write Savurfaire, a daily blog to spread wellbeing.