Mindfulness and living in the present are words that are thrown around so commonly that no conversation on stress free living, meditation or wellness is complete without using them. It is increasingly becoming ‘cliché’ to use them and one is surprised at how little people actually know about this or how useful the practice can be in real life. The entire message of Patanjali’s Yogasutras can be condensed to learning on how to operate in the ‘here & now’. The ‘power of now’ was popularized by Eckhart Tolle by a book bearing the same title and several people today are seeing the benefits of it – whether it is in managing stress, improving sleep cycles or enhancing wellness.. Physicians like Jon Kabat Zinn have now brought it into the realm of mainstream medical practice while people like Daniel Goleman have introduced the concept into the world of emotional intelligence. The leadership literature is also not lagging behind and several people are now seeing the benefits of exercising leadership mindfully by being in the here and now. How does one exercise this kind of leadership and what does it mean to be in the here and now? I learnt this through a personal incident that happened to me several years ago when I lived at Saragur and was heading the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM).
There are a few people you come across in your life who leave a permanent impression on you. They are people who seem to be above the ordinary, full of wisdom and compassion, and who can rightfully be called ‘jewels amongst men’. Amongst the few that I have met and interacted with, I would consider Shri Chamanlal as the ‘rarest’ of the ‘rare’. He was a Indian Police Service officer who had served the nation in several senior capacities. My first contact with him was in 1997 when as the Special Rapporteur of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) he has asked to investigate my complaint of human rights violation of indigenous tribals by the Governments of India and Karnataka. What began as a professional relationship matured and he decided after his stint with the NHRC to come and stay with us at SVYM, overseeing the Monitoring and Evaluation activities. Chamanlalji lived a very disciplined life and was a stickler to time and he was very meticulous in everything that he did. One day, early in the morning as I was reaching my office, I was informed that he was looking for me and wanted to speak to me. I felt that it was appropriate that I meet him immediately and started to look around and figured that he would be having his breakfast in the cafeteria at that time. I went there and sat with him and after the usual exchange of greetings asked him what he wanted to speak to me about. In his usual candid way, Chamanlalji told me sternly that he gave his 100% to whatever he did in life and that what he wanted to speak to me was important and he would do so only in my office. He politely told me that he was enjoying his breakfast and wanted to give his 100% to his breakfast and invited me to share a coffee with him. I returned to my office a little confused.
Later on when he met me, he explained that one of the ills that society in general and leaders in particular were facing was that we never gave our 100% to whatever we did. He said that what he wanted to speak to me was the state of a project not doing so well and that it was important to get both his and my 100% attention. He said that by talking about it over breakfast, he felt that both his food and the issue on hand would only get his partial attention. He said both were important events, meriting his fullest attention. Little did I realize that there was so much truth in what he said. The contingency of the moments and the pressures of everyday operations usually result in each of us doing so many different things at the same time. We end up not paying full attention to the critical details and hence, the quality of our work suffers. Swami Vivekananda had mentioned that what separates great actions from ordinary ones are the eyes for the smallest details. He stressed on the fact that the means were as important as the end. And one can give one’s 100% only when we learn to operate in the present and in the here and now. Most of us are either burdened by the actions of our past and the guilt that it brings along; or by the consequences of what may emerge by our actions in the future. Not acting in the present takes away the freedom and the liberation to give our fullest attention to our actions in the moment of time and this contributes hugely to leadership failures.
Being in the present moment, or in the “here and now,” means that we are aware and mindful of what is happening at this very moment. We are not distracted by ruminations on the past or worries about the future, but centered in the here and now. Buddha urges us to be constantly aware and mindful of all our actions all the time, and to live in the present and neither brood about the past nor worry about the uncertainties of the future. This lesson from Chamanlalji was not just an extraordinary leadership and management one for me, but one filled with practical spirituality too.
This article appeared in the Star of Mysore on 28 Oct, 2019. The same can be read below: