With so many people evidently out of step with others in public life, it might be useful to recall a natural law or two in our individual lives: that a convoy moves at the speed of its slowest ship; that a team moves at the speed of its boss. So what is a suitable response if an individual is faster or slower than his or her holding pattern?
The holding pattern could be anything. For a newly-married girl, it could be that older women in the house with superior domestic skills make her feel at a disadvantage because they are faster and better at everything. For someone idealistic and hard-working in a bureaucracy or political system, it could be an agonizing lack of vision, support, coordination and delivery. It could be the smart sibling or the popular, charming one with lots of friends, who gives brothers and sisters a complex. It could be the horrible traffic or a taxi driver who is deliberately taking the long roundabout route or the indifferent, unhelpful person on the phone, at the counter or the front desk. (As a veteran of traffic jams, I can proudly state that I was trapped in one for four hours exactly a year ago, forty-five minutes at one traffic light alone, on a journey that normally took twenty minutes from Point A to Point B).
What are we hapless humans supposed to do? We could look for inspiration to people in uniform, who have signed on for hours of standing still. It is mental discipline and some very famous civilians like the Buddha have practiced it too, with remarkable results. I don’t have a clue about how the Armed Forces and the Police or the Paramilitary stay calm through the alarums and excursions. But like many of us, I do know that the Buddha’s secret of staying detached while staying affectionately connected to a bad-tempered, jealous and generally stressed-out world, was to breathe. Prana. The difference between being dead and alive. To train the mind, which otherwise famously jumps about like a monkey, the simple, convenient method that the Buddha himself is known to have practised and praised is ‘Anapanasati’ or Mindfulness of Breathing. The ‘stake’ of breathing in and breathing out is what we ‘tie’ our mind to. This simple, peaceful and wholly personal, secret method is almost unbelievably easy. Next time we want to throw a (wholly justified) hissy, we may like to check out the procedure.
Renuka Narayanan writes
on religion and culture