However passionate a teacher is, the invigilation duty during the exam period proficiently offers a grimace to any teacher. Certainly, there is the law of Freakonomics involved behind the functional anxiety caused by the invigilation duties. Although invigilation of students during exams is somewhat supervising the decorum and discipline, like a Custom officer, it is the most boring and gurning work. But, it’s inherent to the academicians. There is no great escape!
Like any other, I had this duty to invigilate the students of Art at some institute on a weekend. Ritually, I spent a little more time flirting and solacing my mind in the early morning of the duty day. If I had not given this attention to mind, surely hell broke loose. Neither I am privileged enough to ignore the work, otherwise, I will be in the infinite records of bad books at my workplace. No choice, I had to head towards the exam centre for invigilating the Art exam straight for the 3 hours (excluding the settlement and reading time), without cellphones and strolling in the class.
The theme of the Art exam was ‘Still Life’ which preemptively hinted to me that I am not going to find something intriguing either in the exam hall, since ‘Still Life’ depict things that are “still” and don’t move. ‘Still Life’ includes all kinds of man-made or natural objects, cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish, game, wine, and so on, and it can be a celebration of material pleasures such as food and wine, or often a warning of the ephemerality of these pleasures and of the brevity of human life!
I did politely ask the main supervising examiner to permit me to sketch or drawing something to keep me awake, during the course of invigilation, since the Art students here don’t have the scope and hope to imitate each other’s creativity, unlike other theoretical papers. However, she rejected it with a euphemistic smile. It pained me more than rickshawala’s rejection.
The bell rang. Students commenced their work. I became restless because each second felt like an hour, for the first time on planet Earth for me, unlike what has been depicted in the ‘Interstellar’ movie (2014).
Since I am a tea-totaler person, I consumed plenty of water. Reminiscing my school days when my science teacher reminded us that our body should possess 70% of water. While the supervising examiner was secretly reading her diary notes, after concluding her clerical work, I eventually became ‘Still Life’ to myself.
My mind was wandering like ‘Betaal’, while my restless body turned into ‘Vikram’. I was feeling a little envious of the students’ fortune, while the examiner was in her own diary world (assuming she is now in a romantic relationship)!
I was asking my mind what it wants, yet I received no response. Felt like my mind has blocked me, as some do on WhatsApp. I was not feeling so bad that I was not interested to pursue the invigilation but since my work culture is in a rigorous pattern sitting vacant for some more time hints at the ‘existential crisis’. All these possibilities, in the exam hall, finally made me wonder than wander about how my mind can be negotiated and settled.
After a moment of pause, a gentle part of my mind finally figured out the teachings of a late Buddhist monk from Vietnam, Thich Naht Hanh, who always emphasized the idea of mindfulness, even when at those moments we feel…can be chaotic. It is not that I was not aware of it but the sudden realization of his teaching, stemming from the archives of my unconscious mind, poured out. Finally, I endeavored to make it purposeful to intriguingly finish the invigilation of ‘Still Life’.
“Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present, and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car, or take our morning shower.” — Thich Naht Hanh
Keeping my eyes open, I got my mind focusing on my respiration process and not on any thought or imagination. Initially, the mind was not willing to settle down with this new resolution. It just acted like an untrained child taking a dip in the swimming pool, clamoring helplessness. But, after some time, with an iota of hope, without any choice from external assistance near the pool, the child realizes their own self-actualization and thus puts in an effort to float and thereby swim. My mind and I felt exactly the same.
The epoch we live in is filled with the buzz and noise of hustleness. It makes us feel criminal, for doing nothing, for being still. In this rat-race, pausing for a moment in the cycle can be revolutionary. But, at this juncture, I doubt we think alike. The mental focus on my inhaling and exhaling eventually transmogrified the predicament of ‘Still Life’ into the plight of ‘Still Mind’.
A ‘Still Mind’ is a state of blissful realization and enlightenment. You can be as noisy and louder as you can be but if the mind is not in the stadium of equanimity, you’re subjected to manipulation and depression. We do not teach ‘stillness’ of mind in our schools or by our parents, therefore, most of us struggle to even find patience in the stillness of a minute. We’re so wired to hustle and burn out at the cost of our mental health that we fail to take a pause and feel in the moment, the present.
A mind wandering in past (anxiety) and in the future (stress) is not a blessing, no matter how religious or rich you’re, unless you can be empathetic to your own mind. I am grateful to the supervising examiner for not letting me sketch during duty, otherwise, I would have missed the most important lesson today: The Power of Pause, The Power of Now!