By Celia Coates
Gandhi’s grandson, Arun, wrote,
“Bapuji often had a spinning wheel at his side, and I like to think of his life as a golden thread of stories and lessons that continue to weave in and out through the generations, making a stronger fabric for all our lives.”
This quote is from his book –THE GIFT OF ANGER And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi – and it has more than a touch of gold itself in the stories and lessons he shares with us.
Bapuji, a loving name for grandfather in India, is what Arun Gandhi called the man known as Mahatma (Great Soul) to the rest of the world. Arun’s parents, living in South Africa as Gandhi himself once had, decided that their twelve-year old son should live with his grandfather for a while because he had a growing problem with anger. The stay turned out to be two years long and Arun has written,
“In that time I learned from him lessons that forever changed the direction of my life.”
Thank goodness for those two years – Arun Gandhi has spent his life carrying forward what he learned then, and it’s a very fine gift for many of us.
For quite a while I’ve been looking for simple instructions that could really help beginning meditators. Then there they were! I was delighted to find them written clearly and briefly on less than two pages. One day Arun had gone to Bapuji and asked,
“I need to strengthen my mind. … What kind of exercises do I need to do?’
He describes his grandfather’s answer,
“He told me to start very simply. I should sit in a quiet room without any distractions (these days that would mean no cell phone!) and hold something lovely, like a flower or photograph of a flower, in front of me. I should concentrate fully on the object for a minute or more, then close my eyes and see how long I could hold the image in my mind. In the beginning the image might vanish as soon as I closed my eyes. But if I did it regularly, I would be able to hold the image longer and longer. That showed I was pushing our distractions and gaining control over my mind.”
His grandfather told him that when he was older he could go to “the second stage” of the practice,
“In that same quiet room, close your eyes and let yourself be aware only of how you are breathing in and out. Try to focus your mind completely on your breathing and keep extraneous thoughts away. These exercises will give you greater control over your responses, he said, so that in a moment of crisis you will not act rashly.”
“I started doing Bapuji’s exercise the next day – and I still do it faithfully. It remains the best way I know to control my mind. It took me some months to learn how to channel my anger into intelligent action, but eventually I did succeed.”
It takes many of us in these highly distractible times much more than months to feel as though we are succeeding at all. And there’s something to gain from that too – on the way to the goal of clearing, calming, and focusing the mind, I’ve found, there is a great deal of learning about our own natures and how our brains work.
In a future post some of Gandhi’s wisdom about the good uses of anger will be presented, but frankly, it would be better to read this whole book yourself.
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THE GIFT OF ANGER and Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi, Arun Gandhi, Gallery Books/Jeter Publishing, An Imprint of Simon and Schuster, Inc., 2017