At a time when the most popular class at Yale teaches how to lead a happier life, advice on mindfulness seems to be in high demand. On Wednesday, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a world-renowned humanitarian and meditation guru, came to Yale to discuss how to be mindful in a turbulent world.
The talk, titled “Mindful Leadership for Turbulent Times,” was hosted by the Yale Secretary’s Office, Asian American Cultural Center, the South Asian Society and Mind Matters. More than 150 people — including students, professors, local residents and people from out of state — streamed into the Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall for the event, which was moderated by Susan Cain, a lecturer and author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.”
As Shankar and Cain entered the packed room, audience members rose to their feet in a show of respect for the guru. Emily Seppala, a researcher at the Center for Emotional Intelligence who introduced the guests, kicked off the event, remarking that it would be interesting to see how exactly a conversation between Cain, the “Queen of Quiet,” and Shankar, “The King of Silence,” unfolds.
“Anything we do stressful, we end up regretting,” Shankar said, as he began the talk. “[The] number one thing is to get rid of stress. But we don’t know how to get rid of this stress. No one teaches how to do this”
Known for helping at-risk people with techniques to manage stress and anxiety, Shankar began by describing the importance of a simple task: breathing. “Like fish surrounded by water, we are so with air,” said the guru, as he engaged the audience in a 15-minute breathing and mindfulness routine. Throughout the exercise, Shankar spoke about the connection between one’s breathing and one’s mood, explaining that each emotion is associated with a different method of breathing.
“Since you can’t directly change moods, you change it with the help of your breaths,” he said, adding that “when the emotions are calm, the intellect will become sharper.”
After the exercise concluded, Cain asked Shankar a series of questions sent in by students before the event, such as how it could be anything but selfish to focus on one’s own calmness when the world around them is suffering. In response, Shankar drew a parallel to the work of a doctor, saying that if a doctor is not well, he or she cannot possibly care for patients. This led Cain to ask about another topic on students’ minds — how people can be satisfied with their jobs if their work does not directly help others.
Shankar was quick to respond, altogether rejecting the merits of job satisfaction as a concept.
“Don’t look for job satisfaction,” he said. “You should find joy within yourself. By your own meditation and your own compassion. The job should be an expression of joy. The job should not be the joy.”
He added that as long as there is “charity in mind, purity in heart and sincerity in action” any job should be fulfilling. Students in the audience interviewed after the talk said Shankar’s views on job satisfaction in particular resonated with them.
Archeta Rajagopalan ’19, an attendee and co-president of the South Asian Society, said that while there were many parts of Shankar’s talk she enjoyed, the discussion of jobs stood out to her because it underscored the importance of “spreading joy, not finding it.”
During the talk, Cain also asked Shankar about other aspects of his work, such as focusing on building stronger leaders and mediating between individuals who might disagree with one another.
“The important thing about being a leader is not wanting to be a leader,” Shankar said in response to a question about whether anyone can be an effective leader. He even described himself as someone who became a guru by default.
The guru encouraged audience members to go out and spread, not assert, what they have. According to Shankar, a good leader should share ideas and show passion and compassion for others.
Shaima Sharma | firstname.lastname@example.org