Recently at my local grocery store I was juggling a cartful of groceries, while my toddler who was sitting in the cart was screaming and throwing protein bars from the nearby shelf onto the floor. Ugh! I apologised to every passing shopper for the noisy mess, and was ready to pull my hair! While checking out, I glanced at the magazine rack. Right on the cover of a recent issue of Time magazine, it said- “Mindfulness- The New Science of Health and Happiness.” The whole issue was devoted to various articles on the same topic – mindfulness, of course – that’s what I needed!
I needed to be mindful of my body while lifting my tot, mindful of my mind while losing my temper and mindful of my emotional and spiritual being – okay, that was an easy sell! The magazine found its way into my grocery bags and waited by my bedside, until my toddler fell asleep later that night.
When I finally picked up the magazine, the issue surely drew me in immediately. The articles spanned from yoga to the science behind mindfulness and its benefits. One would pause to think – what’s new about any of this? Well exactly. While looking through the magazine, I found that almost every article mentioned India. Indeed, it is the land of the mindful, it was where meditation and yoga originated.
My first thought was – Wow! this whole issue focused on mindfulness is now part of mainstream media in America. How far we have come! Yoga, meditation and mindfulness were a part of the counterculture movement in the 1960s. Infact, when B.K.S. Iyengar came to America for the first time in 1956, he was surprised by the lack of interest in yoga. Well, fast forward about seventy years and we have 36 million people in America practicing yoga. I was proud of the fact that my Indian heritage related to yoga is no longer a mystical and unknown entity. Continuing research in the West finds scientific evidence of the myriad benefits associated with mindfulness which include better sleep, less stress, better family relationships and just an overall better quality of life. It is exciting to view these practices in a new light drawn from a scientific point of view as opposed to following practices because our ancestors did so.
As I reflected upon this, I broke out into a peel of giggles. My husband shushed me and I went back to reading. But the fit of giggles was induced by the question that popped into my head – are we really a mindful people? Are we really from the land of the mindful? Well we sure are not mindful of our land. When I visit India, there are various things that I have observed which makes me think otherwise. We throw trash out of our front doors and onto the streets. We have no traffic sense, we are not mindful of crowds, noise or pollution. We can be loud while celebrating festivals and weddings. We thrive in chaos and we sure do not seem to be affected by it. We roll our car windows up when we see beggars banging on them and we believe in maintaining societal hierarchy with haves and have-nots. Modern Indians are hooked to their cellphones to the extent of clinical obsession (the mindfulness issue warns against excessive use of gadgets) How ironic then that this was the land where yoga and mindfulness began.
On further thought, there were other ways in which we continue to be mindful in the way we live – truly ironic! For example one of the articles in this issue focused on slow eating. Slow eating is sitting down to eat your food, feeling it with your senses, giving it full attention and respect and seeing the nutritional and nurturing element in it. Slow eating creates better metabolism, weight loss and body consciousness. Aha, that sure describes every meal in India. No wonder the idea of fast food was quite foreign in our land until recently. Indian families eat together, slowly – everything comes to a standstill while food is enjoyed with all the senses including the hands that touch the warmth and texture of each dish.
Another story was about mono tasking, which is the practice of doing one thing at a time. Multi tasking is the expected norm in the West. You do everything and you take pride in it and you take greater pride in doing it all together at the same time. Even though multi tasking definitely has its pluses, new research has found that it links to high blood pressure, sleep issues and anxiety. Mono tasking as the name suggests is doing one thing thoroughly and finding joy in that. India is all about monotasking, I hate to generalise but I do it here anyway; without the societal pressures of multi tasking, our laid back but bright minds don’t mind working on one thing at a time. Growing up, I remember plenty of tea breaks at government offices. While I was ready to display rage towards the employees for interminable wait times as I waited in the sweltering sun, they were sipping their tea slowly. Looking back, I can forgive them for truly they were practicing mono tasking.
Other articles talked about faith, early rising, intention and prayer. All these ideas were not new to us. I am grateful in my daily life for the faith that I was raised in. In fact all world religions have their roots in meditation, pointed out another article. The Vedas in Hinduism talk about meditation and yoga, Buddhism believes in meditation which is how Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha, early Christian mystics talk of it and Islam professes meditation through the salat and Sufism talks of union with God and Zikr. Prayer centers us and as an Indian, I am proud of our culture’s firm belief in prayer.
We often hear of setting an intention in the modern world, whether it is a New year’s resolution or the intention of going to the gym every day or even the intention of being more mindful. Intention as pointed out in this is issue is called samkalpa in Sanskrit and is a very important concept in Hindu philosophy. So is gratitude. We are all told that gratitude has its health benefits and is just a kind thing to do to yourself and others. You can buy gratitude journals or just check Facebook where many posts are often about what people are grateful for. My earliest memory of gratitude is of praying before a meal and being thankful for it. Our culture places so much importance on giving thanks. The same beggars that we shut are windows to, we go feed on holy days as a gesture of gratitude for our own good fortune – ironic but true!
Reading the mindfulness issue, brought me peace, giggles and pride. We as a people have resources, a history and traditions that we can draw from at any time that we want. As a people we also have an objectivity to appreciate the irony that exists in being acknowledged as the birthplace of mindfulness, and the humor to get through it. Henry James once said, “ Don’t underestimate the value of irony, it’s extremely valuable.” I for one am surely becoming mindful of my own ironies.
Preeti Hay is freelance writer. She grew up in Mumbai, India and has a Masters degree in Post Colonial Literature and a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She has written for major publications in India including The Times of India, Hindustan Times and DNA India. She is passionate about creative writing and is currently working on her first novel.