Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Question of Perspective

"I am unhappy," my friend keeps bemoaning.

Happiness is a state of mind just as unhappiness is.

One can be in Tibet savouring the beauty of Manas Sarovar, one can be surrounded by the beauty of the lakes and flowers of Kashmir, one can be amidst the beauty of the Alps or the lakes of Scotland, or one can be vacationing on the beaches of Hawaii with one's love. Yet one may not be anywhere close to happiness - except the transient euphoria we often mistake for happiness.

One must have seen a beggar or a rikshaw-puller breaking into a hearty song at the dead of night while trying to sleep on the roadside amidst the stench of drains, swarms of mosquitoes, and clouds of dust all around him. And the carefree attitude in the voice is unmistakable. What makes this beggar or rikshaw-puller happy? Don't they really have enough difficulties to distract them?

No matter where one is, what one is doing there, or who one is with, happiness is not guaranteed except very transiently. One is happy just as long as there is a pleasant stimulus (unless the stimulus itself is there for too long - in which case one's mind would start asking for something else by way of a stimulus!) and once the stimulus is removed, one is back to the usual state.

If you have fallen down and sprained an ankle, u can be upset that u have sprained an ankle. Or u can be happy that u have not fractured the ankle - a mighty serious problem compared to the fracture of a femur or tibia.

I had a fairly serious accident riding my motorcycle a few weeks ago. I escaped with relatively minor injuries: just two fractured fingers and three fractured ribs. Well, I could have fractured my jaw, arm, forearm, hip, thigh, legs or skull (and the consequent medicare could have cost me a fortune) or even the vehicles behind me could have run over me. The man who ran across the road and caused this accident in the first place got away with a minor concussion. The man could have died on the spot (had I not been alert enough or had I been riding very fast) - and I would have ended up with a serious criminal case on hand.

Well, I was not all that unhappy about the injuries suffered. I was rather happy - and thankful to God - that things didn't turn out to be all that bad, after all.

I guess it was this sense of relief or happiness and the consequent absence of negative emotions that helped me handle the post-accident scenario very efficiently and effectively.

Perspective makes a lot of difference.

If we learn to see the bright side of a situation and be happy for the small mercies strewn in our way, we learn to be happy. The thought "Gosh! It could have been far worse!" is often enough to make us see sunshine where we could once see nothing but the darkest of clouds.

I don't for a moment suggest that there is nothing painful in life. The issue is how we react to a stimulus, the cause of what we perceive to be pain or pleasure.

The key is in how one reacts to an experience, a situation, a stimulus.

Responding pleasantly to a 'pleasant' stimulus is nothing unusual; responding pleasantly to an 'unpleasant' stimulus is.

The pleasant response leads to a happy frame of mind; the unpleasant response leads to an unhappy frame of mind.

Unless one attains that capacity to condition the way the mind reacts to a situation, one cannot conquer unhappiness because, no matter where one goes, one is accompanied by one's mind and, hence, the state associated with the mind : happiness or unhappiness.

The ancient rishis of this land had no fancy labels for their timeless wisdom. But their prescription for Man's woes was simple. The problem is not with the stimulus but with one's reaction to it; by controlling the reaction, one can control the effect of the stimulus.

Yes, training the mind is a tough job, a very tough job.

It is a slow process and one experiences tremendous despair along the way. Often, one marches ten steps ahead but goes back twenty in the face of some severe problem. And again struggles to regain the lost composure.

But that is the only way to go. And master one's reactions to any stimulus.

Nothing else yields happiness - happiness that lasts.


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