Why Are There So Many Stars

Dharmakeerti (Dr Usha Sundaram), Bangalore

"Let me be like a child, running barefoot through the forest of laughing and crying people, handing out flowers of imagination and wonder that God gives free."

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

It was a warm summer day. The crowd in the waiting room looked harassed by the morning heat. The fan overhead whirred monotonously and hot air ruffled the papers on the table. There was a subtle blend of restlessness and lethargy that comes with boredom. A little child walked into my room shepherded by his very efficient looking parent.

Sukhdev was a dreamer. As he approached my desk, his eyes were like stars, and following his gaze I saw it reach the single rose in an empty medicine bottle. I knew then that this boy would go far- that he was more perceptive than every adult in that room, whose minds had strayed beyond the flower to the dust on the window ledge and settled there with discontent.

We want him to shine

The mother had brought him to a psychiatrist because his teacher felt that there was something odd about the boy. She was upset that an eight year old child did not play rough games with other children, that he often looked out of the window of the crowded classroom at the clouds floating by. He liked playing with mud at home and made himself dirty in the process. He studied only two hours in the evening, while the neighbour's child laboured' at his desk for four hours or more.

Besides, his father held a very important post in government service and 'he had a tradition to maintain'. Tell me', I asked the mother, 'What sort of tradition is this?' 'His father comes from a very well known family. His grandfather was a high court judge and we are perfectionists, Doctor. We love our child. We would like him to be at the top of his class academically and in extracurricular activities; we want him to shine. His sister is no bother. She is very smart. It is only this boy who causes us endless worry.'

I looked at the boy they so 'loved' and yet had brought to a mental therapist for emotional plastic surgery- so that what he was could be replaced by a socially acceptable personality. It took me less than fifteen minutes to see that Sukhdev was above average intelligence. Finding the routine cramming of classroom facts stifling, and unable to escape the situation, he had intuitively taken recourse into little forays of adventure in fantasy to keep alive the spark of creativity. It took me all of three months to help the mother accept him and his unique individuality - to help her learn the beginnings of real love - that which does not bind, but frees.

The roots of violence

Day after day Sukdev's mother rediscovered herself as she discussed mothering and parental attitudes. It requires courage in a mother, a courage born out of love, to set a son free from oneself, free from small values. Sukhdev's mother had that love.

We read daily, accounts of rapes, violence, strikes, suicides, corruption, assaults. We reflected on the fact that hardened criminals, at one time, were innocent children. Where did they learn to be violent? We often recognise violence only when it is physical. If a deeply insecure parent goads a child into running the rat race of ambition, is he not injecting violence into the child's personality?

When a father tramples on the love and trust in a child for the sake of petty desires is this not violence? What is this generation doing for its young? We are busy building departments of education and health, projects and institutions, but we forget the foundation; that of wonder and comparison. Children all over are told to shut up and study whenever they ask, 'Why are there so many stars in the sky? Why do butterflies have beautiful colours? Can I make mud balls?'

Often children are told that if they do not get good marks in school, they will have no future. 'I often wonder what future we are talking about,' I said to the boy's mother, Is it a stereotype of today built with our insecurities, or a tomorrow of compassion forged by these little ones inspired by an inner freedom?' She was trying out her wings, but conflict between the inner and the outer continued, 'Parents sometimes say that children need to be spontaneous and creative, but the system today demands that they compete,' she replied.

There is magic

This idea is an illusion we hold to justify our weaknesses. Millions of people in the west are satiated with luxury and feel discontented, bored and frustrated. Much of the problem is that they are ignorant of their potential, their inner capacity to move through a chaotic world and find magic in it. Because beyond the violence, cruelty and turmoil, there is magic. But you can see it only through the eyes of a child.

Watch your child follow an ant to its destination, rapt in its pilgrim progress. See him smell a half forgotten wayside flower. Look at his eyes light up as a cat uncurls. This is a wonder- a part of yourself that turns this monotony driven world into a symphony of love and faith.

Each individual has more than 15 billion nerve cells in the brain. Considering that the whole human organism is built from the potential of one single cell, consider the power lying dormant in each nerve cell of a highly specialised organ. Is it not all delusion to look at such a vast reservoir of possibilities and call it colourless, useless or inferior?

Few people know the implications of the research by Sperry, who was awarded the Nobel Prize last year for his split-brain experiments. He proved that the left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for the verbal conscious aspect of the mind and for logical, sequential and rational thinking. The right half is the seat of the subconscious and unconscious, the deeper layers of personality, the intuitive, artistic, creative dimensions of the mind. It is this aspect that is responsible for musical creations, masterpieces of art, scientific discoveries- in fact the essence of genius.

These deep and powerful parts of ourselves are often choked by logic, strangled with anxiety, and kept suppressed by the millions of impulses that bombard the average mind- the impulse to be cleverer than the other, to run down a rival, to market oneself and the world in a constant endeavour to fill up the growing vacuum within.

Building a firm foundation

Up to the age of eight years a child's intuition is alive. Around this time, the pineal, which is a small pea sized gland at the base of the brain, starts atrophying and the child has the physical, mental and emotional turbulences of puberty thrust upon him before he can learn to cope. Yogis have known this from time immemorial.

Traditionally, a child was given a mantra, taught pranayama and surya namaskara at this age. These practices work through the endocrinal system, the autonomic and central nervous system delaying the sudden onset of puberty. This allows the emotional development to catch up with the physical and mental development, thereby creating an inner harmony which becomes a firm foundation for later responsibilities.

These techniques which have come down to us through the ages have been contaminated with social value systems and are rapidly losing their true purpose. Today, with the vast amount of research going on in western countries, in schools and hospitals, there is a resurgence in these well known yogic practices. They are being rediscovered in the light of practical, effective functioning; in the light of increased relaxation and awareness that goes towards realising the heights of one's potential, to soar beyond one's limited self.

Lighting a candle

If we see suffering and hardship around us, let us not throw stones or moan. It is only in the dark that one has the experience of lighting a candle. We have shackled ourselves far too long. We have held on to our external identifications of social status, power, family name, social values, cars, etc.

Let us sow the seeds of peace, creativity, pride in oneself, compassion for the other into the lives of the next generation by example not instruction. Let us renounce this need to see ourselves in our children. Let us allow them to break away from our limited concepts into the fullness of their own unlimited inner being.