I have weaned myself away from the nightly ritual of watching the “news” on TV. It was getting increasingly difficult to clear my mind of the images and bombastic rhetoric aimed at dehumanizing entire peoples, countries and races, just before retiring for the night. Now, while other thoughts still preoccupy me, I find it is easier to fall asleep after reading for a bit.
A few years ago, a colleague and I traveled to India on business. At the end of our ten day trip, we concluded our final meeting near Sahar International hotel, Mumbai at around 6 pm and headed back to our hotel in Colaba. At that hour, the streets were jam packed and traffic was barely moving. It was also the “wedding season” and “pandals” (decorated tented pavilions) temporarily erected by the roadside were creating additional road blocks. Our minivan windows were rolled up to try and block out the noise and retain the cool, conditioned air inside the car. Exhausted, but relieved that everything was ending on the right note, we were discussing the outcome of our last meeting. No more than 10 minutes into our drive, I realized that my colleague and I were talking at cross purposes and cutting each other off rudely, in mid-sentence. Neither of us was listening, instead raising our voice to outshout the other. This had never happened before! Suddenly, she glared at me, “You are not listening to what I just said.” I retorted, “And you are just repeating what I have been saying all this time. Are you not paying attention?” Suddenly, we both realized what was happening. The rigors of traveling, trying to meet scheduled deadlines while coping with traffic jams, incessant and loud noise and ambient pollution, and, the constant subconscious jostling to reclaim our personal space – all this had finally got to us! It was something that had crept up, until we were overwhelmed. She took out the book she had been reading and dozed off within minutes. I switched on my iPod but fell asleep almost immediately. A journey that would normally have taken us no more than an hour, was completed in over three and a half hours, as the slow-moving traffic was further stalled to make way for a “VIP’s” cavalcade!
This episode was an eye-opener for me. There is much meaningless chatter and noise around us, which we absorb unconsciously. Such external stimuli affect us in ways that may not be apparent. We seldom pay attention to what our mind and body put up with on a daily basis, until at some stage the alarm bell goes off.
The adage, “We are what we eat” can be stretched to state “we are what we consume.” Beyond just food, the environment we live in and our daily external interactions shape our mind, body and inner thoughts. Death and destruction from natural disasters, politicians indulging in rhetoric that could well lead to a calamitous all-out war – we have to cope with the realities of living in an increasingly harsh world. So, how does one cope with this constant, round-the-clock exposure to negative images and thoughts?
Gautama Buddha had said, “The thought manifests as the word. The word manifests as the deed. The deed develops into habit. And the habit hardens into character. So, watch the thought and its ways with care. And let it spring from love, born out of concern for all beings.” As refugees are denied sanctuary and children are being traded as commodities, I would happily trade more than a penny for Buddha’s thought, today. We could start with Myanmar.
Finally, I leave you with this final thought from the Indian mystic Osho, who gave us sage advice when he said, “You need power only to do something harmful, otherwise love is enough, compassion is enough.”