November 22, 2017

South African academic recommends running to tame the mind and seek happiness

An interview by Vinita Kinra (@VinitaKinra)

Sigamoney Naicker

Sigamoney Naicker

Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Sigamoney. Tell us about yourself.

Sigamoney Naicker: I am South African and grew up as a child in the apartheid era.  We lived in one of South Africa’s desegregated townships.  After teaching and lecturing at a university, I was appointed by former President, Nelson Mandela, to the National Commission for Education Support Services in South Africa. Thereafter, I became the first Director of Inclusive Education for the National Government.  More recently, I have worked as Chief Director in Curriculum, eLearning and Inclusive Education.  I was awarded honorary professorships in the area of education and curriculum studies. During this time, I have written extensively about education and spoken at several international forums. Many of my written contributions were focused on inclusive education since I am of the opinion that every child has the potential to succeed. My sense is that we need to create opportunities for the youth to flourish, since too many of them feel alienated in the contemporary world. My most recent book, after running the London and New York Marathons, is Long Distance Running, Calming the Mind and Creating the Conditions for Happiness. This book is an attempt at providing the tools for people to understand the impact of the mind on moods, perception, imagination, instincts, behavior and habits. My running journey also involved pacing half marathons for Adidas and Puma.

Vinita Kinra: You have participated in the London and New York marathons. How long have you been running and what was the experience like?

Sigamoney Naicker:  I have been running for more than 10 years, and besides London and New York, I completed several half marathons, as well as the Oslo Marathon. I do not feel the noise of the 21st century when I run. The chatter in my mind decreases substantially. There is a peace in the air and in the trees all around us. I feel that peace when I run. Running has been a very influential factor in shaping several areas of my life.  Besides keeping healthy, I am able to apply the same discipline at work. Running a marathon reinforces the belief that one can do anything.

Vinita Kinra: Your strong belief in the healing powers of running inspired your book, Long-Distance Running: Calming the Mind and Creating the Conditions for Happiness. Talk to us about this journey.

Sigamoney Naicker: Through running, I have learnt our challenge as human beings is to tame the mind.  There are millions of people who struggle with their minds. We all have to contend with about 84,000 thoughts a day. The majority of our thoughts emerge from memory and the unconscious—something we know little about, yet it shapes our responses. Running became a meditational experience for me. While running, I learnt to observe the thoughts and not get emotionally involved with them. I practice observation of thoughts in every run. Peace lies below the chatter of the mind.

Vinita Kinra:  Most forms of physical exercise help detach the mind from the stress and chaos of modern life; why the special emphasis on running long-distance to achieve the same goals?

Sigamoney Naicker:  It is a combination of running, spirituality, as well as an understanding of the mind.  Understanding of the mind is at both physical and spiritual levels. The Free Zone is a term I use to describe the silence and calmness that emerge while I am running. All the preceding thoughts, anger, fear or whatever is troubling me is reduced substantially since I am aware of my thoughts each minute.  I have learnt after running several thousand kilometers that attempting to take this mental state into daily life is a process, not an event.

Vinita Kinra:  The majority of humans are victims to endless desires caused by instant gratification of the senses. What are your thoughts on curbing this demon of desire that gets hungrier the more we feed it?

Sigamoney Naicker:  There is a greater level of contentment when we curb desires. The discontent and restlessness amongst human beings results from desires, one of our greatest challenges.  Unfortunately, a large percentage of people have not entertained the idea of curbing desires.  The 21st century and the technology that accompanies it, produces the fodder for desires. Mass media tempts us with thousands of advertisements, which alert consumers to a wide range of products. As a result, a substantial part of our lives is consumed by desires. What is most unfortunate is that when one desire is fulfilled, another is waiting already.

 

Vinita Kinra: You believe that silencing the mind is the best holiday we can ever take. How can we achieve that state of calm in our daily lives?

Sigamoney Naicker: In my case, I was able to make progress in the area of silencing the mind through running. I applied this in my daily life. When running, I was constantly aware of my thoughts.  Moment by moment, you have to watch your mind. People can do this in their daily lives even if they do not run. Simply observe the thoughts: no analyses, no reflections, and no discussions in the mind. Peace prevails as the chatter of the mind subsides. It’s better than going on a holiday, as when on holiday, the chattering mind goes with us.

Vinita Kinra:  Controlling the senses is the key to eternal happiness. Do you agree?

Sigamoney Naicker: Yes, the mind triggers every organ of perception and action, which includes eyes, ears and other senses. Our senses could take us anywhere. Gambling and other addictions are cases in point.  A very important step we should to take in life is to subdue the senses. The senses are capable of sweeping you away at any time. An advertisement on the television, or something tasty could refocus one’s mind immediately. Therefore, alertness and constant attention to the mind is very critical. If we are able to practice moderation and refinement of the senses, our journey to happiness is much easier.

 

Vinita Kinra:  As human beings, we are forever craving approval from others. How can we overcome this compelling urge?

Sigamoney Naicker:  Self-confidence and self-contentment are two essential ingredients of peace.  When we are not confident, we tend to seek the approval of others to compensate for the lack of confidence.  A similar situation arises with feelings of discontent.  In this regard, we tend to look for external purchases or events to arrive at a feeling of contentment.  These external purchases are done with a view to being recognized by others. It is important to find that inner peace which comes through confidence and contentment.  Superficial approval is temporary and does not result in self-development.

Vinita Kinra:  The universe is magical and it offers us new hope with the dawn of every new day. What can we do to optimize our life experiences during our stay in the world?

Sigamoney Naicker:  We live a very short life when compared to the age of the universe. It is really a privilege to spend time on this magical universe, given the beauty of nature and people.  Each second should be a celebration of life. Hence, it is important to be happy, despite what happens around us. That happiness does not come from anything external.  It is the peace one must find within oneself.  How often do we really experience the peace in the air and in our surroundings?  It can only be experienced if there is peace within oneself.

Vinita Kinra:  Our readers would like to sample an excerpt from your book, Long-Distance Running: Calming the Mind and Creating the Conditions for Happiness.

Sigamoney Naicker: The thoughts do subside after a run, but they emerge once one gets back to a non-running state. The question that occurred to me was, how do I recapture the mind-set that I experienced

during running whilst in a natural state? I call this The Free Zone. I decided to make this my major focus through watching carefully what I think and intensely observing my thoughts.

 

Negative thoughts and emotions as well as people you prefer not to think about, do surface from time to time. The secret is to persevere by not letting the negative stuff interfere with your emotions. This requires training of the mind each second, each day. It is for this reason that I am writing this book to help myself and others to liberate their minds and live happier lives. I have gathered that whilst we seek happiness we live our lives contradicting that important goal. We desire so much, attach ourselves to the temporary and transient and allow our senses to dominate our lives. We tend to reproduce the past in the present but I have learnt it is possible to break this cycle.

Besides the challenge of the mind, the information and digital age together with consumerist culture places immense pressure on us. Consequently, we have such little peace and joy.

A Lou Harris poll found that nearly nine out of ten Americans experience “high” levels of stress. A report from Indiana University says that one quarter of Americans have felt they were on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It is not surprising that the twenty top-selling drugs in the United States are for depression and anxiety.

It does not have to be this way. Training the mind and focussing internally is critical for success.

The turning point can be reached if one is aware of one’s thought patterns. It has to be a step by step process that focuses internally. Constant awareness of what one thinks is very important.

The book talks generally about the human mind, memory and physical and spiritual composition of the human mind. It then attempts to provide a more realistic definition of happiness and suggests ways in which one can create that happiness. Attempting to understand happiness

is also a major objective of this book and some views are presented on having a realistic sense of happiness.

Sigamoney Naicker can be reached via Twitter@southafrica9

Vinita Kinra is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. 

 

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