By Roshan Shah, New Age Islam
26 February 2016
Parenting—The Spiritual Way
Name of the Book: The Modern Gurukul—My Experiments With Parenting
Author: Sonali Bendre Behl
Published by: Random House India, Gurgaon
Price: Rs. 250
On becoming a mother, Sonali Bendre Behl gave up a busy life as an actress. She wanted to spend as much time as she could with her son Ranveer, until he began going to school, after which she resumed her career. In this book, she shares her experiences of parenting the spiritual way, combining wisdom drawn from ancient Indian methods of bringing up children with modern techniques. The book is her story of seeking, in her words, to bring up her son as a “loving and compassionate child”. It is also a story of the significant transformations that rearing her child in the way she chose to make in Behl’s approach to life.
For Behl, her role as a mother took priority over everything else. “Mothering Ranveer completely consumed me. I was only one thing—the mother of my son”, she writes. “Nothing else mattered. No one else mattered. Definitely not me, my body, or my mind. Everything else could wait.” In this regard, Behl advises parents that they need to give time to each other and to themselves, too. “Your child will respect you more when he sees you have a life outside of him,” she says. “Clinging to him and always hovering around […] will give the child a sense of being watched all the time. This could put pressure on the child.”
Behl stresses the central importance of the spiritual dimension of parenting. Helping to inculcate positive values in a child is an integral part of responsible, spiritually-oriented parenting, Behl explains. For this, parents need to embody those same values in their lives, for, as Behl reminds us, children learn more from what and how their parents are, than from what they might preach.
EQ, or Emotional Intelligence, Behl tells us, is as important as IQ. In nurturing the emotional intelligence of children, parents have a crucial role to play. Behl envisages parenting as an ongoing process to prepare children for life, based on the hope that they would grow into emotionally secure, non-judgmental, compassionate and loving people. “The way to teach compassion”, she tells parents, “is by being so yourself”. She writes that Ranveer has become a compassionate person by seeing her and her husband behaving compassionately with people. “Especially our boys—we need to bring them up to be compassionate human beings”, Behl notes. “I understand that they need to be tough, but girls too need to be strong. Being tough and being compassionate have to go hand-in-hand. It is all about balance, she says.
Parents seeking to help their children grow into well-rounded adults can benefit from the rich legacy of the Gurukul system of learning in ancient India, Behl informs us, a system that sought to develop body, mind and soul together. Lamenting the overtly materialistic and heavily competitive nature of contemporary schooling that breeds extreme individualism, Behl says, “I feel we have forgotten the spiritual journey completely”. She talks about how recognizing the spiritual oneness and interconnectedness of all beings is vital for harmonious collective living. Since this aspect is not taught in most contemporary schools, this is where her role as the “guru” of her child’s “Gurukul” comes in. “It isn’t that I want my son to become a sage”, she says, “but at least I can try to raise him to be a good human being. If we all seek to make a difference, I’m sure the coming generations will be far more evolved and peaceful.”
Education, both at home and at school, should help children develop empathy for others as well as inquisitiveness and focus on their integral or holistic evolution, Behl says. She notes that in many schools, children are forced to learn things they have no interest in and that education is often perceived simply as about scoring the highest mark in examinations. But it isn’t schools alone that have to shoulder the responsibility of children’s education. Behl stresses that parents have an equally central role to play here, both at home as well as outside (for instance, by taking their children on learning trips, providing them opportunities to commune with nature and to get off their electronic gadgets, and so on). Parents and their children must do things together. Not only could this help children learn new things; it could also help them develop emotionally and spiritually and enable them to learn healthy interpersonal skills.
Equally important as participating with one’s children in a variety of learning activities is the need for parents to appreciate the value of silence and to encourage their children likewise. “Silence is your best companion”, Behl says, adding, “One of the biggest challenges I face now is teaching Ranveer to be friends with silence.” “In today’s day and age,” she says, “none of us gets the time to sit by ourselves and actually enjoy the beauty of silence. I want to teach my child to like it and to be comfortable with it.”
Parenting is tough work, and parents are bound to make mistakes. It is important for parents to recognize where they fail, Behl says, and also for them to apologise to their children when they make mistakes. It is important, too, to teach children that it is okay to fail in a task (for instance, in an examination) if they do so. Parents, says Behl, should help them to learn to skilfully handle failure.
Parents must learn to accept their children with their flaws, Behl writes. Parents often blame and condemn children for their (real or imaginary) failings, but Behl suggests that they must recognize their own role, too, in this, in the form of flawed parenting. If your child lies to you often, she cites the Tamil spiritual guide and poet Thiruvalluvar as writing several centuries ago, it is because you over-react too harshly to his inappropriate behaviour. If he is not taught to confide in you about his mistakes, you’ve lost him. If he suffers from low self-esteem, it is because you advise him more than you encourage him.
If he does not stand up for himself, it is because you have disciplined him in public. If he takes things that do not belong to him, it is because when you buy him things, you do not let him choose what he wants. If he is cowardly, it is because you help him too quickly. If he does not respect other people’s feelings, it is because instead of speaking to him, you command him and order him about. If he is quick to anger, it is because you give too much attention to his misbehaviour and too little to his good behaviour. If he intentionally disturbs you, it is because you are not physically affectionate enough towards him. If he is secretive, it is because he does not trust that you will not blow things out of proportion. If he talks back to you, it is because he sees you talk back to others and so he thinks that it is normal, acceptable behaviour. If he rebels, it is because he knows that you care more about what others think than about what is right or wrong.
In an “overtly competitive world”, where “everything is a status symbol”, Behl sought, she tells us, to enable Ranveer lead what she calls a “minimalistic lifestyle”. This included teaching him the value of money in simple ways. And as she went about seeking to do this, she embarked on a transformative spiritual journey herself. “The simpler your life,” she says, based on her own personal experience, “the more spiritual you are. The less complex and complicated you make it, the more you evolve.”
This book, written straight from the heart of a mother seeking to provide the best possible childhood for her child, is an inspiring work of great spiritual insight and definitely worth reading.