Given the context of all the conflicts engulfing our blue planet alongwith economic headwinds, it is often hard to comprehend and keep up with the frenzied pace of life in 2023. In such circumstances, wellbeing becomes a pertinent concern in societies. But stress plays a huge role in how societies act towards wellbeing in a day-to-day manner.
BW Businessworld recently got in touch with the widely acclaimed peacekeeper and spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, to get a sense of the basics of conflict resolution, wellbeing in troubled times, work-life balance for entrepreneurs and the eternal pursuit of happiness. Read on for excerpts from the interview.
How did the name “Art of Living” come to you?
About 42 years back when we started, there was a lot prejudice about Yoga, Meditation and everything spiritual. In those days if you said Pranayama or Yoga, they would imagine someone standing in Kumbh mela on a single leg or someone standing on a bed of nails/lying on a bed of nails. So, I came up with “Art of Living”. That created a curiosity in people to say – “What is it? Let’s go and find out!” Then they would come and practice. And they would see its benefits in their day-to-day life. The practice is also beneficial for someone who has a lot of responsibilities in life.
What does it take to practice mindful breathing every day?
Every day you take time to brush your teeth, right? That’s dental hygiene. Similarly, practicing mindful breathing is essential for mental hygiene. Take 10 minutes of your time in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening to do some breathing techniques. Relax and meditate. Give a bigger context to life. Then, you can carry on with your work with a greater enthusiasm, energy and sense of purpose in life.
The last 12 months have been full of conflicts globally. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has impacted all of us in different ways. How do we bring conflicts to an end? How do we reduce conflict between countries?
Conflicts rise in the minds of people. We have never paid attention to this aspect in our societies. Mental health crisis has become so prevalent in the world today. On one side, there is aggression and on another is depression. People go through this all the time. When leaders are surrounded by a small coterie and they don’t look beyond that, their communication system breaks down. Their perception about how things are gets flawed. And that’s when you expect conflict. Better communication is important to avoid conflict. Second, commitment to a greater cause is essential. It’s important to see how a conflict is going to affect the population of the world. Third, context to life. When we see the context to life, we start thinking bigger. We start thinking with much more clarity.
Is a “Selfless Leader” an oxymoron? Or, do you see selfless leaders in today’s environment?
We can’t put all leaders in the same basket. There are leaders in the world who are very large-hearted, and they have a greater vision for the world and countries. And we can’t discount that. No doubt, the reputation of politics has gone very down in comparison to what it was earlier. When we were all growing up and we were children, politicians were respected a lot. But that’s not the case today. Then again, please don’t put every leader in the same basket.
All of us want to be healthy, wealthy, wise, respected and have good relationships. How do you define wellbeing?
Wellbeing is very obvious. It’s when you have an undying smile on your face and your communication has humor in it. Wellbeing can also be observed in people who are taking impetus, taking on challenges in life. Someone who is sick – they are usually not so energetic; they lack enthusiasm and don’t take on challenges. But if you are ready to take on challenges and you have a sense of humor, it shows that you are well.
How does a modern-day business executive, a CEO or a mid-level executive practice wellbeing in their lives? Is there a toolkit to pursue this?
Work-life balance is important. One, they have to take some time for themselves to reflect on their own mind and get rid of stress. They need to understand different layers of our system – the body, the breath, the mind and then, see how their intellect is functioning.
By attending to the breath, their emotions can become stronger and subtler. It is also important to see how their prejudice level is or what type of prejudice they have. You develop prejudice out of your experiences or conditioning of the mind. Are you able to get out of your conditioning? And then of course, the ego factor.
If your left-side of the brain is active due to your work, which involves logic, numbers and thinking – your brain gets tired and you go out of balance. To balance your system, you need to listen to music for at least for half an hour. Especially lawyers, chartered accountants, and businessmen, who spend their day-and-night with numbers and logic. They also need to spend some time every week with the nature, planting a tree or just observing the nature, spending some time in the garden.
Everyone is chasing happiness today. How does one reach that state?
It’s human nature to go after happiness. Our mind always wants to go a state of higher joy. Even in the Upanishads, it’s defined – how many grades of happiness are there. So, this has been the case for ages. It’s nothing wrong. Pursuit of happiness is our nature, but you have to go where it is and not go where it is not.
How can we find happiness?
To find happiness, you need to have a calm mind. You must first get rid of the stress. If you are stressed, you don’t even find things that you have kept in your own home. In such a situation, how will you find happiness when you are so messed up in your mind? You need keenness of observation and clarity in mind. But for that, you have to be free from stress. When you get rid of the stress, there will be purity in heart and your actions will be sincere. Life flows effortlessly once we pay a little attention to these aspects.
Many wise gurus have said that happiness is in finding your purpose. You found your purpose very early in life. Is there a playbook to finding purpose in life?
First of all, we must ask this question. Is there any purpose in life? Many people don’t even ask this question. There are some basic questions, which every intelligent person should ask themselves. And this will remove a lot of cobwebs around the mind. Clarity will dawn. Don’t go asking someone, “what is the purpose of my life?” You simply have to ask yourself. When you start asking these questions or start your journey in the spirit of inquiry, you will get clarity.
There’s power in gratitude and grace. Can one develop a habit of gratitude and grace or is it by nature?
Awareness is the key. If you are aware of all that you have received as blessings, you can’t but feel grateful. We forget and take many simple things for granted. That’s when our life energy starts dwindling. The more we are grateful in life, the more fulfilling life will be and more grace flows into life. There is no dearth of miracles but you need to be conscious about all that you have received in life. This won’t happen every day. But again, you must remember and be grateful. Then, life takes the right direction, right speed and right step.