Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Be interested NOT excited

When John F Kennedy won the election and became the president in 1961, some news reporter asked him - you must be very excited today. Are you not?.

JFK told in his characteristic self-assured manner - I am not excited but very interested.

When the whole nation was celebrating India's independence on the night of August 14th into the early morning hours of August 15th, everyone including top leaders were partying. It was only Gandhi who withdraw himself into his meditation and other rituals. He just wanted to be all by himself and spend time in quiet reflection.

What did JFK and Gandhi know about and what can we learn from it?

Emotions like excitement, happiness are one of the two extremes of the emotional pendulum. On the other end are depression and sadness. If you choose to hop on the pendulum when it is at one extreme, you are sure to reach the other extreme. If you get excited with anything today, same thing will push you into depression some other time. If you become happy with something today, same thing will push you into sadness some other time. 

But emotions like 'being interested' are not like that. They are very neutral. Interest may have its opposite in disinterest. But, that's about it.

Life of duality is fraught with such extremes. It's been man's futile endeavor for thousands of years to isolate only one extreme and not have the other at all. 

If you want to live in the life of duality with peace of mind, start avoiding extremes in your emotional spectrum. Like something. Just like it and enjoy it. No need to get excited about it. Feel good about something. Just be content and thankful rather than being ecstatically happy. This way you do not rock the pendulum so hard that it swings wildly and takes you along with it on a wild roller coaster ride. This is finding equanimity in life.

Does this kind of living make life dull? Not at all. 

Just recall from your own experiences. How after a day of ecstatic shopping (both real and window), how tired you feel both in body and spirit at the end. I am sure you were very excited while shopping, trying out new things, getting fabulous discounts and what not. Then come home and buyers' remorse is the first sign of opposite of excitement - oncoming depression. Then you look at the amount of money you have spent and all the unnecessary things you have bought and the clutter it is going to create and other additional headaches it is going to cause and of course credit card balance,  will all result in some kind of negativity in you.

Shopping is just one example. There are several other examples too.

You know, many of us who have worked on ourselves can deal with disappointments very easily. With some positive outlook, many of us do not slip into a depression just because things did not go our way. There may be moments of sadness but we manage to cheer up and move on.

But when things are going our way, when we are achieving everything we set out to do, when lady luck is smiling on us, that is the time when even some of the most balanced people lose their perspective and feel excited and invincible. We talk a lot. We call everyone and share our success and what not. But, soon that will lead to depression. Because we have caught one extreme of the pendulum. The deal about which you were so excited does not go through, that event you were so excited about gets postponed and so on. 

People who can stay balanced even when things are going well are the ones who never slip into depression because they are never excited in the first place.

Gandhi and JFK offer two examples. Both could have been wildly excited and celebrated like hell after their respective victories. They did but in a balanced way. 

JFK landed into real hot waters with Cuban missile crisis soon after his inaguration. How he handled with astute calmness is an example. If he were to be excited before, he would have been depressed beyond recovery and would have surely had nervous breakdown when the world came on the brink of third world war and on the brink of extinction with both US and USSR ready to exercise all their nuclear might.

Same with Gandhi. Soon after the independence, violence from partition flared up everywhere and Gandhi had to restart his work all over again. If he had been overly excited at India's independence, he would have been burnt out at the end of it and would have had to retire.


** Inspired by Sri Eknath Easwaran's wisdom. You can read the original piece and real wisdom here. Third paragraph.

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