Vipassana with Mrs World
A winner of several international beauty pageants, actress, medical doctor, and psychologist, Dr Aditi Govitrikar speaks to Satish Purohit on the law of karma, yoga, and her commitment to her vipassana practice
Dr Aditi Govitrikar, after earning her MBBS degree, went on to study gynaecology, which she gave up, to pursue an eventful career in entertainment.
Aditi, a mother of two, won the Gladrags Supermodel Contest in 1996, the Asian Super Model Contest (1997), and the Gladrags Mrs India in 2000. She remains the first and the only Indian woman to have won the Mrs World title. Aditi ventured into acting when she played the lead role in Thammudu (1999), Paheli (2005), India’s official entry to the 79th Academy Awards, and De Dana Dan (2009), which won an award at the International Indian Film Academy Awards. She has also appeared in music videos like Kabhi to nazar milao by Adnan Sami and Asha Bhosle (1997) and Aaeena by Jagjit Singh (2000). Aditi launched People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in India.
Aditi, who already holds postgraduate degrees in psychology and counselling from IGNOU and TISS, is pursuing a master’s degree in psychology from Harvard University, to strengthen her efforts as a professional mental healthcare provider and holistic wellness evangelist.
How did you become interested in spirituality?
I have always been a seeker. Even as a child, I was drawn to matters of the spirit. I got myself enrolled in yoga camps while I was in school. Somehow, it made sense to me and made me feel good. Later, this spiritual bent made me explore some more. Life will often knock you hard on the head and shake you out of your complacency. Nothing you know so far or have learned helps you negotiate the problems that are thrown your way. Most of the time, this is when you begin to turn towards spirituality. This is what happened to me as well. I experienced some tough rides that disturbed me tremendously. In my early years and then as a young person out in the world with responsibilities of marriage, motherhood, and a career in show business, I found myself at the end of my tether. This is when my old interest in spirituality awakened. Like all seekers, I tried many paths, modalities, and systems, before deciding what resonated with me. I have found what works for me, but I continue to explore different paths for a deeper and better understanding of life.
What form does your current spiritual practice take?
After trying many things, I settled on Iyengar Yoga, which I practice regularly. I also do breath work in the form of pranayama. Vipassana meditation also has an element of breath awareness. These are practices that I undertake to centre myself as part of my daily routine. I live and eat consciously. I believe in the law of karma and that all of life is a dance, an exchange, and interchange of energies. The law of karma is natural justice in action. It is in the nature of things for every action to lead to a consequence that is either rewarding, punishing, or neutral. I notice that as long as I operate from a place of integrity in my mind, speech, and action, people I transact energies with, are taken care of.
So there are rewards and punishments for treating you well?
That is not how I would put it. I believe that it is the law of karma that rewards and punishes. I am a person, out to make an honest living. As a single mother of two, I have responsibilities. What I mean is that whenever people have tried to shortchange me, they have suffered. I have nothing to do with this. It just happens. I had a recent experience where the people I undertook a project with began evading me when it was payment time. I lost out on other work as I had blocked two months for this project. I messaged the person and told him that if he did not have money to pay me, it was okay. In fact, I offered him monetary help. However, it was not okay to engage me as a professional and disappear without communicating. Earlier, such challenges used to keep me awake for hours at night. I have always been an over-analyser, a worrier. I have become considerably secure in the knowledge that the law of karma takes care of everything. Whenever I have been cheated, either emotionally or financially, I find that just trusting the universe ensures that justice is done. On my part, I just have to go out and give my best as a person and professional.
Do you believe in God?
I have a special place for Ganapati in my heart but am not much of a temple-idol and worship person. I don’t believe in following blind rituals. I do have a sense that we are surrounded and backed by something bigger than ourselves. That something is energy. There is so much that is beyond our comprehension. God is one of those things. I believe that no kind or good act goes unnoticed by the Universe. One can earn merit in the divine account books and also incur debts. I also believe that one can, by acting right, negate the effects of past karmas performed in this lifetime or in previous ones. Vipassana is the way forward in this respect. There were times when I felt so low that it was like a free fall into darkness. There appeared to be no light at the end of the tunnel. I struggled to hold myself together. Today, people say I am very calm. Well, it is not that I do not experience troubles anymore. Life remains daunting. The challenges are there but I don’t obsess over setbacks for as long as I did earlier. I can come out of my ditches faster than I could in the past. I am trying to become what is called ‘tatastha’ in Marathi, meaning ‘equanimous’. I think I have improved.
You were young when you entered the entertainment industry. Would you, the person you are now, take decisions differently from the ones you took earlier? Is there advice that you would like to give young people (or to the younger you) who aspire to make a mark in the industry?
Yes, I would live life differently, but isn’t that something that all of us would love to do. Aren’t we all wiser in retrospect? I would have lived it differently, but today, I have no regrets. Life‘s challenges have taught me so many lessons. I am what I have become, thanks to these experiences. Life has to be faced as it is. To young people, especially young women, I have a few suggestions that can prove useful. Girls come from small towns at a very young age and have to fend for themselves. It is important to have mentors and guides who give no-nonsense advice and show you the mirror.
Often, because of their inexperience, they take unsound decisions for momentary gains. They forget to take care of their health by exercising regularly and maintaining their bodies and minds. There is a price to pay for late-night parties, an unhealthy diet, and giving in to unhealthy emotional patterns. A number of these young girls have no one to go to if they wish to unburden themselves. Social media compounds the issue. Everyone only shares the high points, the positives, the achievements. One’s perceived lack of success is accentuated by such posts by friends, competitors, and colleagues because everyone seems to be having a great run except you. It is not a pretty place to be. It is crucial to find an anchor, a sounding board, who will keep you rooted.
So, what does one do in such a distressing position?
One, you have to get someone who is willing to listen to you. Deep, engaged, and active listening is vital in such situations. Now that may be an issue for a person away from home, childhood friends, and family. Which is why, if you cannot get a parent or a mentor to give you attention, take professional help from a trained counsellor or psychologist. There should be no shame, hesitation, or doubt in seeking professional help.
Two, before the tension builds up inside you and turns you into a pressure cooker with a whistle about to explode, do a reality check. Understand that you are not alone in your pain. People are only putting their best masks under the lights. That smiling face in the Instagram picture is not the complete reality.
Three, it is important to work towards shifting public consciousness with its obsession with the trivial, the superficial, and the gossipy to matters that truly matter. As stress levels rise, mental health issues are rearing their head everywhere. I found, to my chagrin, that a video I made on making people aware of mental health issues has a tough time getting visibility compared to sensational and controversial videos that excite the public. We need to work together to make this shift happen which is imperative for our physical, mental, and spiritual evolution.
How are you working to make this positive shift possible?
Being a practising counsellor and psychologist, I am trying my best to reach out to as many people as possible by running awareness campaigns and giving lectures, attending seminars, and holding workshops on the subject of mental health. For the underprivileged or the financially challenged, I do it for free or at rates that are affordable to these sections. I recently conducted 50 workshops for the Mumbai police on coping with stress. Our policemen serve us for long hours and their efforts go largely unacknowledged and unappreciated. The awareness campaigns focus on getting the message across that one does not go to a counsellor because one is mad; one goes so that one does not go mad. A counsellor is your mental health insurance. It makes sense to seek help before it is too late. I offer workshops on dealing with stress, on communication, and leadership. I also conduct programmes on the subject of sleep.
Who needs a workshop on sleep?
With technology coming up with new toys that compete for attention as well as rocketing stress levels, an increasing number of people find themselves deprived of sleep. The world is full of sleep-deprived people who are either unable to or unwilling to give sleep its due. This tells on their physical as well as mental health, as their ‘sleep debt’ (a term popularised by Arianna Huffington in her best selling book, The sleep revolution) builds up.
Tell us about Vipassana, which is the bedrock of your spiritual practice.
Vipassana is the intense training of awareness, which enables one to break free of limiting patterns of the mind and body. Vipassana can prove to be deeply therapeutic too. People are known to free themselves of mental patterns that are disturbing or limiting them and causing them suffering. Vipassana is a practical method or tool, handed down by the Buddha himself, to free oneself of misery. Also, a great benefit is that you see things as they are. I have experienced great change in my physical, mental, and emotional health due to Vipassana, as taught in India by Shri SN Goenka. I have witnessed it changing so many people for the better, that I recommend it to everyone. ‘Sabbe satta sukhi hontu,’ says the Pali prayer, which means ‘May all beings be always happy’.
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