He would often be standing by the wrought iron gate that led to the small stone patio in front of my grandparent’s home. A tall, handsome figure, his silent presence would convey some unknown greeting from behind his large, sunken eyes. On every weekly visit, we kids would wonder – what kind of mood is he going to be in today? We kids were told that he was a brilliant young man, and that he had an ‘almost drowning’ while serving in the Navy, which affected his brain. I hoped that my aunt (his older sister, who raised me) or my grandfather (his father) would be spared his rage which would sometimes pour forth in an unmitigated verbal barrage of obscenities.The two people that he rarely tangled with were the two ladies of the home – his mother and his sister-in-law. I remember watching him drink his evening cup of tea with such peace, standing outside the kitchen or at that wrought iron gate. His moments of silence seemed to be as deep and impactful as his lapses of rage.
On Tuesday of this week, I stumbled upon the fact that many organizations across the world were observing “World Mental Health” week. I am not sure why, but after all these decades, the memories of my dear Uncle came flowing through my mind. Buried deep within my own brain’s cognition, the memory of his pain returned to my awareness. It made me ask the question – what actions and practices can we, as travelers on our spiritual journeys, take, to create mental sanctuaries – for ourselves, and those who cannot create them for themselves? Some answers were revealed in a live webinar titled “Love and Compassion for Mental Well-Being”, which I attended on Wednesday morning. The three practices, not in any particular order, that emerged from this conversation were:
1. Work to remove Isolation. Those, like my Uncle, who suffer from chronic inner pain due to improper mental health, often choose inner and outer isolation. Isolation becomes their sanctuary, because it is perhaps their only safe space. When we observe such a tendency towards isolation, within us and in others, we can work towards reaching out and taking action towards its mitigation. Even though my Uncle lived in the same house with his family, I am sure that he felt isolated in many ways, because nobody really knew how to engage with him in a way that would be meaningful to him.
2. Choose Self-Compassion. We, in the #SpiritChat community often talk about the practice of compassion, and how we ought not to forget to apply compassion to our own selves. We are often more aware of being compassionate towards others, than towards ourselves. Why is self-compassion essential to creating a mental sanctuary? One reason is that “self-compassion is necessary because it is an antidote to shame”. We may have been raised in a family, a relationship, a work environment that inflicted shame upon us. Self-compassion helps us break the circle of shame, and allows for healing to enter the mind. With compassion, we can create an environment for a new, healthy mental sanctuary to emerge.
3. Create a New Self-Image. How do we see our own self? Our image of our self is often created on the lens of our mind by the impressions of our past experiences, our current life situation, and what we expect our future to be like. A mental lens that is overly clouded with impressions, weak and strong, can affect our mind and heart. Regular practice of (self) forgiveness can help us clean some of these impressions. As our heart forgives, we become lighter, we admit new light that can create a clear, new, radiant, brilliant self-image. A new self-image, when combined with self-compassion, erases self-hatred.
Those who are suffering due to poor mental health, often do not have the resources to break the triangle of isolation, lack of love, and lack of compassion that becomes their ’sanctuary’. It thus becomes our responsibility – all of us who have the resources of love, compassion and companionship to offer – to offer the sanctuary of these three, to them and to ourselves, with kindness and grace. Will we choose to share, to create a new sanctuary? Or will we let the suffering continue?
P.S. Join us in our weekly twitter chat, Sunday October 13 at 9amET / 630pm India. We shall share some love, compassion and companionship – and share our practices which can help each other create healthy mental sanctuaries. I also invite you to reach out to someone you may not have heard from in a while, who may be feeling ’isolated’, and ‘check-in’ on them. Maybe even invite them to some ‘tea and cookies’. Namaste – @AjmaniK
The bridge that leads to one of my ‘sanctuaries’