June 2014 By Ranjit Rao In our modern pursuit of busyness, we court illness, unhappiness and depression, observes Ranjit Rao Somewhere along the way in developed countries, being busy became a revered state to be in. Busyness became associated with purpose, efficiency, power and with money. When asked, “How are you?”, how often do you answer “Busy”, with a disgruntled shake of the head, and an exasperated expression on the face? If you haven’t noticed this, please observe what you say the next time someone asks how you are. As a surgeon, many of the illnesses and complaints that I see are simply a manifestation of a poorly managed life. We set up a cycle of busyness based on the perception of how life should be lived, usually in comparison to how others are living. What may not be apparent is that one in five Australians aged between 16 to 85 experiences a mental illness in a year, with depression, anxiety and substance abuse being the most common ones. Though some of these conditions may be inherent or having endogenous susceptibility, many of these tendencies may actually be provoked or promoted by the lifestyles we choose to live. Australian mental health statistics show that alarmingly every day, at least six Australians die from suicide, and a further 30 people attempt it. In developing countries, the rate of mental health problems is far lower than developed nations like Australia, USA and the European countries. The idea of being so busy that it becomes detrimental to health would be considered ludicrous in the Third World. Generally, their set of health problems arises from nutritional deficiencies or water-borne diseases. In countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal and India, many of us would have witnessed the unadorned simplicity with which people live. A humble straw hut; a small patch of land to till, no prospect of ever having investments or wealth; a day-to-day living that is full of people, family, culture and life. “They have so little, but are so happy”, is the common observation among Westerners returning from their Third World sojourn. But is going back to basics a solution to this malaise? Should we shun material living and adopt a frugal lifestyle? This clearly is not the answer. The solution comes in developing clarity about life, and what truly matters. Is it important to have a one-million dollar house but have zero happiness amongst its occupants? Is it worth sacrificing one’s entire time doing a job that they hate, simply to afford a luxury holiday once a year and a few small, fleeting pleasures spaced sporadically? Clarity is either born out of intelligent observation of the world, or through many unhappy realisations which are a result of poor choices or bad luck. Clarity is the ability to look at things with an uncluttered mind, free of biases, misconceptions and comparisons. Only a humble mind can be clear. Some of the factors that cloud our mind are greed, jealousy, hatred, anger, pride and fear. Only through observation, introspection, contemplation and meditation, can we come to understand the true nature of our minds, and walk towards clarity. So just this one day, take a few minutes to pause and reflect. Spend five minutes watching the mind and observing the breath. And take a step to move towards a greater state of clarity. It comes as breath of fresh air when it finally dawns!
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