bandhur atmatmanas tasya , yenatmaivatmana jitah
anatmanas tu satrutve , vartetatmaiva satru-vat
“For him, who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so; his very mind will be the greatest enemy.” – The Bhagavad Gita.
In these ancient words of wisdom, one can still hear the faint echoes of mindfulness that laid the foundation of a righteous and spiritual life thousands of years ago. During the epic battle of Kurukshetra, Lord Krishna helped Arjuna to still the chaos inside his mind so he could persevere on the battlefield. Through 18 chapters of Bhagavad Gita, Krishna holds the reins of Arjuna’s chariot, where the reins symbolize the mind and chariot the body. By gaining a deeper insight into his mind, Arjuna was able to summon the power of his inner mental strength, rather than yield to it.
At its core, mindfulness is being in control of one’s mind so that it may be guided towards awareness in the present and away from judgment. Unless we have befriended the mind, we cannot discipline it. This becomes all the more essential when festivities and celebrations tempt us to loosen our grip on self-discipline and forsake mindful living for a few moments of greed or pleasure.
What should we be mindful of?
The coming festivals of Navratri, Durga Puja, Dussehra, and Diwali celebrate the victory of good over evil besides being eternal sources of ancient wisdom and inspiration. However, over the passage of time, the revelry has stayed but the real meaning and purpose behind these festivals has faded. Back in our grandparents’ day, these festivals were not merely a day off from work or an excuse to buy something new or to throw a party, but they were occasions of great cultural, religious, and social significance. Preparations would begin weeks before, and communities would come together to worship and feast.
Mindful practices of starting the day with abhyanga snana and quiet prayers would set the tone for the rituals that followed. Children would touch the feet of the elderly, and families would visit temples and donate generously to the needy. Festivals were considered an opportunity to forgive past misdeeds and begin afresh, to be compassionate and kind.
Today, festivities are centred more around how we can celebrate than on what we can learn from them . We decorate our homes, temples and towns for Navratri and Durga Puja but let us not forget that our mind is a temple too. Let us beautify our mind with positive thoughts, empathy, and kindness.
This year, let the strength of the goddess inspire us to take a look inside ourselves and discover our own inner force. Let the burning effigies on Dussehra help us become mindful of our own vices and misdeeds. As we clean our homes this Diwali, make an affirmation to dust off the negativity, criticism, and antipathy hiding in the dark crannies of our minds. When we light the candles this year, why not trust our inner light to lead us from darkness to enlightenment.
The timeless teachings of our ancient scriptures are embedded in our traditions, customs, and festivals; we just need to be mindful and allow our inner wisdom to guide us in living a life of shared happiness and fulfilment.
How can we find the path to mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of life, not just a philosophical concept. Mindfulness is often confused with meditation or yoga, and is usually practiced as an escape from daily stressors or chaos. But Mindfulness isn’t sitting in contemplation; it is living in awareness. It helps us gain awareness of ourselves and our circumstances and to consciously live in the present without any judgment. Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate distractions from our life, rather it allows us to gain control of our thoughts and choose what to focus on and what to disregard. As soon as we feel ourselves beginning to lose control, we can reclaim the reins of our mind and gently guide it onto the right path until it becomes a habit, a default mode of living.
As Sharon Saltzberg says, “Mindfulness isn’t difficult. We just need to remember to do it.”
Just how Krishna gripped the reins of Arjuna’s chariot firmly, we too mustn’t relinquish whatever control we have on our minds. By practicing simple tools and techniques, we can learn how to compose and centre ourselves in the midst of daily chaos, so we can derive immense value from our lives, every day. As the Gita teaches, “little by little, through patience and repeated effort, the mind will become still in the Self.”