Wrapped up in our busy lives, we forget to tune in to our inner selves. To make peace with old emotional wounds that may have left a festering scar. Somehow, it seems more important to rush around to make money, win fame and desperately try to fit into the narrow confines of what society labels as “normal’’. Stepping out of this normal space means inviting more stress, angst and pain, so real feelings and emotions are brushed aside. Anger, angst and despair are all simmering below the surface and a trigger or sometimes not even that breaches those bottled up feelings and sends you spiraling into a splintered, fractured world.
Hence, New Delhi-based filmmaker and writer, Vandana Kohli’s new book, Hinge, on emotional and mental wellness, comes as a timely reminder. It prods you to pause, to now and then connect with your ‘centre’ or your innermost self. The book, a collection of essays, strongly advocates that you practice to consciously get in touch with that inner self, not to be confused with the self-absorbed “I”(ego). Once you learn to be in sync with your centre, nothing that happens outside of you can disturb your life’s rhythm and sense of well-being.
So, what is this centre? It’s described in Kohli’s book as “not an actual, physiological space. Neither is it an unreal, ethereal imagining. It is rather a psychological space or point…” It is in this ‘space’ you take ownership of whatever comes your way and process it with equanimity and poise. You do this by being mindful of the bigger picture or training your thoughts to bank on the brighter side of things or to abstain from embarking on a blame-game etc. There’s so much more detailed in the book to centre yourself but at first, it takes you on a journey to grasp the intricate, complex workings of the mind, emotion, heart, body, logic and how life can go horribly awry if you don’t take care of these facets.
As much as seeking success, it is equally important to nurture these aspects of your life, asserts the author of Hinge, Vandana Kohli in an interview with The Federal.
Hinge is not written in an academic style, but more like a journalistic piece, as she weaves in real life stories of people battling with depression peppered with keen observations from key experts in the field. The book too not just demonstrates what depression can do to your body but it also suggests coping mechanisms.
For example, Kohli quotes Buddhist nun and teacher, Tenzin Palmo to suggest how to bring a meandering, chattering mind back to a task at hand. This happens to be a way to help to connect the body and the mind to maintain a sense of equilibrium. Palmo, whom she had earlier interviewed for a documentary, recommends in the book that one good way to rein in a ‘monkey-mind’ and start to concentrate, is to start with your breathing. Quite simply, she states because “we cannot breathe in the past or breathe in the future. We can only breathe now (in the now).”
A piquant, pithy thought that can set you on the path to bring your mind back into the body, into the present and into what it is doing now. Living in the present is crucial since the ability to stay focussed happens to be a prerequisite for emotional stability, Kohli says in her book, quoting Dr Richard Davidson this time. Best known for his ground-breaking work studying emotion and the brain, Dr Davidson is a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, and founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds.
Kohli, a FTII alumnus, is clearly at ease with her subject. After all, she has been engaging with issues like anger, depression and emotional health for many years now. Her first film on depression in 2002 was followed by one on biotechnology. Subsequently, she shot “Subtext of Anger”, a documentary for which she had interviewed 80 renowned experts in neurology, psychology and sociology in USA, UK and India, to research and understand the cause and impact of anger and stress, and its debilitating impact on the mind and body.
“Hinge is an expression of much churn through the years and attempts to take us towards wellness by addressing issues both at an existential as well as operative plane,” says the author.
Kohli admits that the purpose of writing Hinge is to keep the momentum going on conversations about emotional well-being in the country. “If people like Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who was educated, resourceful and seemingly had it all, could not handle emotional stress, what happens to people like you or me?” she asks.
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The book is divided into three sections: The Normal, where she explores what is considered normal situations and surroundings in the Indian context but can stir up disquiet in people; Unhinge taps into social and psychological triggers that over time affect the mind and body and disturb the equilibrium of a person; and the third section titled Hinge, examines all that is within us which we can “process” and work out to make us stable.
According to Kohli, her book throws light on how to be effective while involved in the humdrum of e daily life. Some of the homespun wisdom she offers includes writing a journal every day for 10 minutes to process one’s thoughts. Learn to think about things and to practice to work on “those areas in the brain which are important to regulate emotion” to be able to return to base despite provocation. Or, to practice mindfulness, (there are apps for this today), to relook at our responses and not react but respond.
It may be difficult to break years of conditioning. However, the book seems to take you by the hand and gently encourage you to take ownership of your actions, to firmly grasp the reins of your life and be in control of what is within your space. Above all, take responsibility for your core and care for it.
But how do you ignore the noise and hate stemming from social media? “There is a lot of hate and violence on social media. The internet is an uncensored violent world with no checks and balances. I would advise to handle what is in your control. You can learn to spend less time on it, conscious of how it is impinging on the finer side of your life. The amount of time you spend on social media is something each person has to work out,” says Kohli.
Kohli believes India is now slowly waking up to mental health issues with increasing conversations around emotional wellbeing. “There is enough talk happening within the Bollywood fraternity too about depression, this awareness has come at a heavy price after many people have taken their lives. But that is why books like Hinge are so vital to help people who are at a loss to take effective steps to nurture that core. It will serve as a guide to find you a way to the centre,” says Kohli.
The book also champions adopting a balanced approach and to shun extremes. “We need to embrace another person’s truth and accept that they can also be right. There is no us vs them because my right can very well be your wrong,” she points out.
Kohli says in her book that every one in four people in India and around the world are susceptible to an episode of major depression. Not to overlook the fact that the World Health Organisation had labelled India as the most depressed country two years ago. The situation has reportedly become aggravated with an unrelenting pandemic, which has stoked anxiety and uncertainty among people.
In that sense, what Hinge does is to tap you on your shoulder to urge you to make that tryst with your centre.
(Disclaimer: Please reach out to a mental health specialist if you need support or know someone who does. Helplines: AASRA: +91 98204 66726 | SAHAI: 080 25497777 | TISS iCall: 022-25521111 – Monday to Saturday 10 am-8 pm)