The Art of Remaining Calm

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Swami Bodhananda is a world-renowned management guru. He is an avid reader and is well-versed with the contemporary challenges that the corporate leadership and corporate management face. In this talk, he stresses on watchfulness and how it can impact our mind and its functions.

Remaining calm in a turbulent world is a challenge that we all face. If you interact with the world with a disturbed mind, then the world looks confusing and you become unproductive. You may be efficient but not effective. A person with a disturbed mind is like a bull in a china shop or a misguided missile. It can hit the wrong places. You can be very calm in a cave at Himalayas because there is nobody to disturb you, but it’s very important that we keep our mind calm while we interact with the world. When the mind is calm we can understand the world better and process the sensations better. How do we do that? Is it a science or an art or something else? Or is it both an art and a science? Science is technology, and art is application of the technology. I find that most people have the domain knowledge and skill sets, but they are not able them apply it properly. What they lack is the sub-skill or emotional intelligence or effective people skills. When you are alone, you can achieve nothing but you can achieve a lot when you are in a team. The challenge is, keep yourself calm while you are interacting with your teams.

The Eye of the Storm is Calm

They say the center of the storm is calm. Can you remain calm, quiet and serene in this turbulent world as you interact with others and as you process sensations and respond to them? Our mind is like a drunken monkey, stung by a scorpion and possessed by a ghost. To tame such a mind which is like a wild river, you can dam it and have a beautiful reservoir. You can use that water for generating electricity or for irrigation. 

First of all, you should know if you have a mind. Most people don’t know. They think they have hormones but not a mind. How do you recognize that you have a mind? You must do some reflection. The mind and the self are different. It is the self that owns the mind. Take some time every day of your busy life, sit in a quiet corner and watch yourself. We don’t watch ourselves but watch others and comment upon others. In the process, we forget to watch ourselves. Watchfulness is very important to recognize the place of the mind and its importance in life. 

The 4 Functions of the Mind

The mind takes care of four functions—emotions, thinking, memories and ego. When you don’t look at the mind, it misbehaves. When we mind the children, they behave; when we don’t look at them, they try to misbehave. The self has got two aspects: the witnessing self and the executing  self. Mind has got two parts—the surface mind and the deep mind. Psychologists call the deep mind as the unconscious mind. We don’t know what is going on there. The unconscious part influences our behavior. As far as the world is concerned, there is a sensory world, which is presented to you and a scientific world, of which you don’t know much of what is going on. Thus, an individual is a complex entity. The environment influences you, you influence the environment and the self in turn influences you. All these things put together is the individual sitting there like a question mark not knowing what is going on. 

When the mind is calm, you get access to your spiritual reserves or the spiritual energy. You must believe that you have a spiritual reservoir which has great energy and that belief is very important in managing the mind. If you are part of the mind, then you also become part of the problem. You must understand that you are beyond the mind. Somebody said, “Give me a lever and a place to stand. I can lift the whole world.” The mind is a lever, a tool, but you must have a place to stand to use the mind.  

The ‘I’ Experience

That place to stand and use the mind is the ‘self’ which is referred to by the experience of ‘I’. We always use the word ‘I’. We say, ‘I got up in the morning, I had a bath, I had my breakfast and so on…’ One thing which doesn’t leave you is the ‘I’ experience. The ‘I’ is your centrality and the rest are all happening around you. Every day, sit in a quiet place to reflect. These days, we simply react without reflecting. That is the greatest tragedy of the modern individual. Through reflection, you can realize that you are beyond the mind and that your mind is just a tool like a car or a computer, which you can use to reach your destination and get knowledge and information. Watchfulness is also called mindfulness and attentiveness.

A leader is one who gives a vision and motivates people to work toward realization of that vision. Being a leader or a manager, you must have some time to sit calmly and reflect. It is not waste of time but a good investment.  Spend some time every day to watch your mind, to experience your mind and to distance yourself from the mind. Then you will get the ability to control the mind. The miracle is that when you watch the mind, it becomes calm. You don’t have to do anything else. If you try to discipline the mind, it rebels against you.

When you sit in a puja room, the mind is calm because nobody is disturbing you but once you are out in the world, the mind becomes agitated, like water into which stones are thrown. Watch the mind without judgment. Most of the time we judge ourselves, ‘I am good; I am bad’ and so on. When others judge you, you internalize their judgment. We look for confirmation from outside and allow our self-image to be determined by others. 

Looking for Clean Water

There’s a very interesting story. When Buddha was preaching about enlightenment or Nirvana, he was giving the message that answers to your questions can be found if you look into yourself. During his wandering, Buddha was feeling thirsty and he asked his companion, Ananda, to fetch him some water from the river. Ananda ran towards the river. When he went there, the water was all muddied because a few bullock carts had crossed over the shallow river and the water had become muddied.

Ananda jumped into the water and tried to clean up the mess. The more he tried to clean up, the more the water became muddier. Finally, out of exasperation, he went to his master and said, “Master, I couldn’t get a clean cup of water.” Buddha asked, “What did you do?” Ananda said that he jumped into the water and tried to clean it up. Buddha told him, “You should have stayed on the bank of the river. The mud will settle down by itself and the clean water will surface. Then you could have fetched the water. Go and just watch.” 

Similarly, when you watch the mind, it becomes clear. Spend 15 minutes every day with the mind, being friendly with it and watching it. There will be distractions when you try to sit quiet. Those distractions may be coming from the depth of the mind, like undigested food. The mind tries to reprocess all your past experiences, because a lot of traumas might have been accumulated by you, as you grew. Don’t worry about it and keep practicing every day. 

Gap between Stimulus and Response

The next task is to maintain that state of mind while you are interacting with the world. It is possible if you practise non-reaction. Create some gap between stimulus and response. Our tendency is to immediately respond to a stimulus, without any gap. Take a breath, say ‘Aum’ and create some gap. Don’t suppress your feelings. Then it may lead to diseases. Don’t express violence, but respond to situations.  

We all search for happiness outside. Our happiness is within. What do you want at the end of the day? Power, money, reputation or fame? Finally, we  end up saying, “I want to be happy. I want to be comfortable.” Our ultimate goal is not wealth, but well-being. A happy individual is creative, while an unhappy individual turns destructive.  

At the peak of their careers, some are so busy that even their children might think that they are strangers in the house, because the children would have rarely seen their father. Later, they regret what they have done. So, happiness is very important. When you are happy, you are nearer to God and when you’re unhappy, you’re far away from God. God is the ultimate value of all good values. God is a smile away, they say, and not a mile away. When you smile, you attract everybody and become a magnetic, charismatic person. When you frown, people move away from you. When you reflect and contemplate, you can realize that happiness is not outside but happiness is your nature. This is the sum and substance of Indian philosophy, culture and tradition.

So, these are the three things that you have to practice:

  • Sit down and watch your mind without judgment.
  • Don’t suppress your emotions but do not impulsively express yourself. Look before you leap. I heard a story that somebody was sitting on the seventh floor of a star hotel, looking through the window. He heard an internal announcement that said, “Mr. Peter. Your wife died of an accident and hearing that your daughter also committed suicide.” Hearing this announcement, the man thought that there was no point in living and jumped out the window. As he was falling through the floors, he realised that his name was not Peter but John. It was too late by then. Therefore, create some space between stimulus and response.
  • Your happiness is not outside. Nobody can make you unhappy, and nobody can make you happy either. You have the agency to be a happy person. Take back the agency which you have lost. Become an agent of your own happiness.

By these methods, one will be able to calm the mind. That’s why I call it, ‘The Art of Calming the Mind’—and not the science and technology of it.  It is very important that you are able to have a handle on your mind so that you can interact with the world better, understand the world the better and understand yourself better. You will become a whole and healthy personality. When you interact with the world, you will become magnetic and charismatic. You can influence people and your own thoughts and you can become the master of your destiny, with a calm and quiet mind.