14/07/2024

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A Two-Star State Of Mind

A Two-Star State Of Mind

The plane’s crew was engaged in last minute formalities before take- off. As usual, I was comfortably ensconced in my favorite window seat, and had just fastened my seat belt when I spotted a car on the tarmac racing towards the plane. It was a khaki-green, Peugeot 406 sedan. Its bodywork shimmered in the early morning sunlight, and with its two headlights switched on, a pennant fluttering on its bonnet, and two gold stars on a red background, I easily came to the conclusion that the car belonged to an important military personage. Presently, it came to a screeching halt near the aircraft’s gangway, and a soldier jumped out to open the rear passenger door, stepping back to throw a smart salute at a tall, well-built military officer. A couple of minutes later, a pretty stewardess escorted the man into the cabin. Nodding a curt hello in my direction, he sank into the aisle seat next to mine, and dropped a newspaper on the seat between us. It was the day’s edition of one of the more popular tabloids. Glancing down at it, I saw a rather flattering picture of myself on its front page. Only the previous day, the paper’s feature editor had requested to interview me, seeking my opinion on certain recent developments in the country’s health sector, and never one to spurn the limelight, I had graciously acceded to his request, since, in any case, a bit of publicity never did anyone in my line of work any harm. My companion fastened his seat belt, threw back his head and closed his eyes, affording me an opportunity to scrutinize him closely. I saw a man in his mid-fifties, and a quick glance at his shoulder epaulettes told me he was a Major General, a two-star General, in the Nigerian Army. He looked tired and troubled, and I thought he had fallen asleep, when shortly after take-off, he opened his eyes and picked up the newspaper. A minute later, I saw a look of comprehension in his eyes as he threw a quick, furtive glance in my direction. The look of surprise on his face told me had recognized me as the man on the tabloid’s front page.

“Is this you, sir?” He enquired.

Decidedly refusing to deny my identity, I offered him a warm handshake, introducing myself formally.

As it turned out, he was the General Officer commanding one of the Army’s divisions in the southern part of the country. He read my interview thoroughly, and then we got talking. Later that evening, at his request, we continued, what turned out for him, a most timely consultation at his Lagos home.

“Doctor, I must consider our meeting on the plane a most fortuitous one, and this is because I have had the urge to talk to someone like you for quite some time. I am not at peace with myself. My mind is always in a turmoil. I become irritable at the slightest inconvenience. I now find myself unable to bring my usual, calm rationality to bear on my day-to-day challenges. I don’t need to tell you how seriously this unfortunate tendency could impact on my career as a commander of thousands of officers and men, and overseer and custodian of sophisticated and sensitive military hardware. To put the entire fiasco into a nutshell, I am simply not at my performing best. What can I do to regain, even a semblance of my old, enthusiastic self?”

After a thoughtful pause, I started talking.

“General, quite obviously the command authority inherent in being a two-star General is not sufficient to cope with the demands and responsibilities incident to your high martial office. What you also need is a TWO-STAR STATE OF MIND!”

He gave me a look that was both startled and amused at the same time. He was obviously thrown off balance by my choice of phrase.

“Please explain, doctor.”

“Peace of mind is that elixir that we all seek, and this is because peace of mind is the ultimate human good. Without peace of mind, we do not really possess anything. Your bank account could be brimming with millions, yet without peace of mind that account may not mean much, and may even be as well as empty.”

The General nodded vigorously in agreement.

“Peace of mind is the source of great energy. This peace does not, of course, connote an escape into a dream world, but a more effective participation in a real and vibrant world. What, in practical terms, this translates to is that peace of mind is actually power of mind. A great value of peace of mind is that it increases intellectual power. Your mind is efficient when it is cool, and not when it is hot. When your mind is nervously excited, it cannot rationalize properly, nor can it engage in an orderly thought process. So, in asking you to maintain a mind that is always at peace with itself, I’m actually asking you to maintain a tranquil mind, and by this I mean a mind that is well-ordered.”

“Are you, perhaps, familiar with the cyclone?” I asked.

The General nodded his head in the affirmative.

“A cyclone is a gigantic, stormy whirlwind, and it’s very common in Asia and some parts of America. Believe it or not, powerful and destructive as this fearsome wind storm is, it derives its devastating power from a very calm center. And so should we, as human beings, derive our strength and resilience from a calm, tranquil center. We should always strive to make room for silence in our lives, and by this I mean silence at the center of your being. The power of silence in developing peace of mind, and with it depth of life, is great indeed. Silence fertilizes that deep place where personality grows. Indeed, when your life has a peaceful center, you will be able to weather all storms and develop great strength. You will also develop certain special qualities:

*Inner strength

*Poise and composure

*Amazing insight and understanding

*Genuine depth of soul, and a quality of mind of enduring superiority.

To gain peace of mind, an important step is to learn the art of emotional self-management. When you encounter a potentially upsetting situation, simply refuse to work yourself into an emotional reaction. You can eventually develop this as a skill through constant practice. It won’t be easy, but then, no emotional victory was ever achieved without some effort. Picture yourself as reacting calmly under every circumstance. A very useful tool you can employ to achieve this, over time, is the constant practice of meditation. With this practice, you will eventually develop such a habit of mental peace that it will be difficult to shake your composure.”

An animated expression suffused his handsome features. He was obviously quite fascinated by this new line of teaching.

“Please, tell me a bit more about meditation. I have always been fascinated by the subject, yet I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about it.”

I settled more comfortably into my seat.

“The origin of meditation is from Eastern religious practices. Meditation is simply the act of being quiet with yourself and shutting down the constant monologue that fills your mind. By this I actually mean the stopping of the constant bombardment of thoughts and seemingly endless chatter filling your mind. The techniques vary and usually involve intense concentration on a word or phrase to the exclusion of all other thoughts. This diverts the attention of the mind from the millions of scattered thoughts and it is constantly brought back to present-moment awareness. Now, I will let you into a great secret. NO MAN CAN QUITE ACHIEVE HIS FULL POTENTIAL AND BECOME GREAT WITHOUT SETTING APART TIMES FOR QUIETNESS AND INTROSPECTION. Incredibly, such people are engaging in the practice of meditation, mostly without even being consciously aware of the fact.”

“Meditation and contemplation allow your mind to experience more and more abstract levels of the thinking process, and ultimately to transcend to that level where your mind becomes so still as to become a fertile ground for tremendous creativity. This is the reason why the greatest men and women are great practitioners of meditation. The most potent secret on earth is the use of the subconscious mind. Meditation allows you to access this subconscious mind. So, meditation is actually a practice of creative discipline. In fact, the religious teachers will readily tell you that during meditation, you are closer to your creator.”

“Also, scientific studies have shown conclusively that meditation reduces heart rate, basal metabolic rate and the blood pressure. Insomnia, anxiety and depression are also relieved, and can even disappear altogether. And because during meditation, there is increased brain wave coherence, there is also improved attention span, creativity, learning ability and memory. Ultimately therefore, meditation is one of the greatest stress-relieving tools known to man. Perhaps the greatest fact known about meditation is that its effects are consistently carried over into your daily activities. You therefore gradually become a calmer, deeper and more insightful person.”

I had the General’s full attention, as he nodded continually in apparent comprehension.

“Doctor, please teach me how to meditate.”

I told him to sit comfortably in a straight-backed chair.

“Now, place your hands on your thighs, close to your knees. Take in a few, long deep breaths, and then exhale, becoming aware of the pattern of your breathing and the filling of your lungs. As you breathe deeply in and out, consciously relax your muscles, starting from your toes and working up. Now, choose a phrase or word and start concentrating on it. I use the word “ONE” because it’s so simple, short and common-place. Continue to repeat this word while ensuring that all your muscles are relaxed, keeping your mind on your word, “ONE.” It is only natural for your mind to wander. Gently but firmly bring it back to the present. When you achieve the state of complete relaxation, your breathing will become slower and shallower, and your head will feel heavy. You have entered the Alpha state of brainwave activity, a state in which subconscious activity is at its peak. Continue with your meditation for twenty minutes and then slowly come off the relaxed state. If you practice meditation even once a day, and on a consistent basis, feelings of stress, tension and irritability will become less and less a part of your life. You will start to cope with each day’s challenges with a calm confidence that will confound even you.”

We sat in thoughtful silence for a few minutes, and I could see that the General was deeply affected by all I had told him so far. Finally, with a contemplative shake of his head, he got up from his chair, pacing the room’s length.

“Thank you so much, doctor. I believe I’m about to enter a new phase in my life. But then, tell me, why is it that I find it so difficult to forgive and forget wrongs done to me? I even find myself bottling up pent-up fury against such people. Surely, this can’t be doing me any good, can it?”

“Indeed, most of us destroy our peace of mind by being grievance collectors. Even if the feeling were justifiable, still, the nursing of grievance and grudge is simply not worth the emotional effort. You cannot develop upper-level personality if you allow yourself to collect and hold grievance. The best attitude to take toward grievance and perceived injustice is simply to forget it! Skip it! This way, you will handle yourself with dignity and still enjoy the benefit of peace of mind. Whenever you are irritated or provoked, instead of flying into a rage, practice flying into a great calm instead.”

“This practice of flying into a great calm has been perfected into a cultural art by the tribes living on the Tibetan mountains of central Asia. Discipline yourself never to get mad or resentful. It won’t be an easy task, but then, what emotional victory is? The vital fact is that you can achieve it if you put your mind and soul into it. By committing to, and achieving emotional control, you will develop a power that is not available to your detractors, and you will this way gradually gain the understanding, respect and esteem of all fair-minded people.”

Already, I could see a countenance of peace beginning to settle over the General’s face, and as I observed the haunted look all but disappear, I continued speaking.

“In conclusion, I ask you to be still at the center of your being. Know that real power to meet life’s challenges is developed in those deep centers of inner quietness where your soul and mind meet your creator. When you know this as a profound fact, and you become committed to this practice, there will come to you a deep and profound peace that nothing can shatter, and then you will be able to handle your assignments, and even your difficulties, with a competence and effectiveness that will amaze you. On a final note, permit me to leave you with a spiritual strategy that wise men and sages have used for centuries to maintain a calm equilibrium in their lives. There is a very profound verse in the Bible that goes: Be still and know that I am God. Any time you find yourself in a potentially upsetting situation, or even one in which you seem to have lost control, repeat this verse to yourself rapidly at least fifty times, and you will be amazed at the emotional power it will place at your disposal.”

With this, my encounter with the General came to an end.

A couple of months later, he sent me this e-mail:

“Doctor, what you actually meant was a two-star power of mind, and not a two-star state of mind! I have discovered that peace of mind is power of mind. Accept my gratitude.”