Taming the mind through meditation is one of the best ways of knowing how to engage the inner self—and consequently—the rest of the world.
As a young girl, I used to watch my father sit cross-legged, his hands on his thighs and his eyes half closed in a room that didn’t let in a shred of light. We had to be as quiet as mice to get past his room, and any disturbance would lead to a spate of angry shouts that had the power to shake a slug off its stupor.
We lived through it not knowing the kind of stress Father dealt with in a city like Mumbai. He was the sole breadwinner of the family as Mother stayed home to look after the two of us – my brother and me.
Father would go for work in the mornings and reach home late at night, at times irritable and moody. We hid behind our Mother’s flowing sari and looked at Father to know if it was okay to approach him. We didn’t judge him. We didn’t feel bad. We didn’t blame him. We sensed somehow that he wasn’t as connected to us as Mother was. We were okay with it. Mother seemed okay too.
We didn’t ask Father what he endured in the office or in the crowded local trains of Mumbai. We didn’t reassure him when he struggled with my brother’s report card from school, which sometimes carried nasty remarks by nastier teachers. We didn’t think a man as strong as him – with such a powerful persona – could ever be stressed. To us, he looked invincible.
As teenagers, we found out that Father was prone to depression. He told us he had tried to run away from life by staying for days together in a temple in South India. As a firm believer in astrology, he told us that he was probably under unstable planetary influences at the time. We didn’t ask what he did at the temple. He may have sat listlessly, thinking about us. He may have tried to understand what he was doing and how he could reign in his moodiness and bad temper. He may also have thought of renouncing everything –like the Buddha – and vanishing from our lives like many men do. Had he abandoned us, we may not have grown to be who we are today. Our lives would have been starkly different. What made him retrace his steps? We don’t know.
All we know is that he turned to meditation. He tried to learn yoga and bought books that taught him how to control the mind. To our amusement, he sat before the television in the evenings, attempting strange yogic postures that helped him breathe well. He walked for an hour in the mornings and avoided buying a telephone at home so as to minimise noise pollution. We also saw him switch the doorbell off so as to meditate in peace. The hollow tick-ticking sound of the doorbell became a common occurrence and was questioned by none. Father tried to keep the world at bay and made his home his island of peace. He stayed short-tempered but didn’t feel the need to run away from his life.
A grand old man of 76 today, he still practices meditation every evening for an hour. I laugh at times when I hear him snore and have itched to ask if meditation induces sleep. Maybe it does. Father remains addicted to this ancient art of healing and he isn’t the only one who considers it one of the best ways to stay connected to the inner self.
A friend of mine recently completed a ten-day course on Vipasana – a 2500-year old breathing technique propagated by the Buddha. He claimed it comforted him, made him more aware of his mind and body, and helped him see that the vagaries of the world beyond cease to matter if you learn to conquer your mind. He told me it helped him in office and at home. Vipasana controlled his mind’s needless chatter by helping it focus on his breath alone.
Intrigued, I asked him if many men attended the course. He told me out of the 47 people there, about five of them were women. The rest were men. There were men of all ages– from an 18-year old teen to seniors. I understood then that Father wasn’t alone in his quest for peace. From high-pressure environments of office cubicles to the constant beeping of gadgets and phones, men face considerable stress and heightened anxiety levels as they live their lives trying to be good sons, loving husbands and doting fathers.
As a working mother, I used to come home to my child and forget the pressures of work very easily. However, I am not sure men are able to deal with it by just being with their families.
As women need time-outs, so do men. There are many ways in which they could set their lives aside and focus on themselves, but it is vital for men to first accept the reality of constant stress and what it does to them. It is important to step back and see how they may have changed as people. It is even more important for them to like what they see.
If you don’t appreciate the man you have become, it’s time to retrieve yourself – at least for a while – from societal obligations and worldly pressures that sometimes gnaw away at your inner self without your knowledge.
I haven’t yet experienced the wonders of meditation but I will pick it up one of these days. As Father says, the answers we seek don’t come when the mind is busy. They come when the mind is still. It remains one of his favorite sayings, and for good reason. Find a way to still your mind. Be a meditative man.
Photo: Kah Wai Sin / Flickr