As I write this, my mood is pensive.
The backdrop was the webinar on Managing Stress that I conducted for the alumni of ISDM on 24th April, bang in the middle of the Covid19 lockdown. The conversation was about how Covid19 was a necessary correction to what humanity was doing to the planet and itself. Abhinaya asked me what I thought we should do. I quoted Sonam Wangchuk, and said we must learn to “live simply, so that the planet could simply live”. These beautiful and wise words rolled off my tongue rather glibly!
That was the last I thought of it until 13th May. I was in a breakout group, of the first of the 4 session “Resilience through compassion” series of webinars hosted by See Learning India. We were to discuss “Ethical mindfulness in everyday life”, a chapter from the Dalai Lama’s Beyond Religion. Of the three ethics (restraint, virtue, and altruism), the one that shocked me was the ethics of restraint. One part of the message was that we ensure we do no harm even by actions that are not immediately violent. An example would be polluting rivers or using products which do so. We were advised to “minimise the harm we inflict, apply discernment, and follow the natural sense of conscientiousness arising from enhanced awareness that discernment brings us.”
I was attempting to articulate the shock that I got when I read about the Ethics of Restraint. Before me, Nabiraj had talked about the difference between mindfulness on the meditation cushion, and mindfulness in real life. I have been a seasoned meditator for about 15 years now, but on the cushion! For at least the last year or so, my state of mind has mostly been in one or the other of 3 positive states – bliss, flow, or a deep sense of meaning. I see the interconnected nature of existence. I feel a deep and overwhelming sense of gratitude for so much – from the trees and the bees all the way to people near and dear to me, including the invisible people who make my life possible. And yet, the Ethics of Restraint shocked me. My insight was that I needed to be mindful not only of what I was doing, but also to be mindful to minimise the harm I inflicted, by not being discerning in my actions. I haven’t done the math, but I am certain that as a modern-day urbanite, I am doing lots and lots of harm!
Which brings me back to “living simply, so that the planet may simply live”. My insight is that I have been guilty of being so preoccupied with an exaggerated sense of self-importance of my mission of “Well-being for All”, that I am not mindful at all of the harm I am surely inflicting! That is one massive gaping hole in my world view! That’s the thing about many insights. Things are in front of our noses until we are ready to see them!
So here is my resolve. That “living simply, so that the planet may simply live” moves from being a great, beautiful, glib sound bite to becoming a way of life! And the only way I can do that is slow down from being a workaholic to live and be mindful in the moment, all the time! And that is the most scary, daunting, impossible and yet the most beautiful resolve I have made to date.
This article was first published by Shashi Nair on LinkedIn on May 14, 2020. Shashi is the Founding Team Member of the Wellbeing Movement and Trustee of Kiirti Trust.