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Healing Space | Who is your personal Himalayan Yogi?

We all have a mentor, teacher, guru, guide. How much of your personal power are you handing away to them?

February 27, 2022 / 07:57 PM IST
Seeking advice is not the issue. Complete surrender to the advice, that amounts to suspension of one’s own faculties of reason, however, is problematic. (Illustration by Suneesh K)

Seeking advice is not the issue. Complete surrender to the advice, that amounts to suspension of one’s own faculties of reason, however, is problematic. (Illustration by Suneesh K)

Note to readers: Healing Space is a weekly series that helps you dive into your mental health and take charge of your wellbeing through practical DIY self-care methods.

Chitra Ramkrishna, first woman MD and CEO of the National Stock Exchange (NSE), had all the trappings of a stellar career, until it turned out, she had surrendered her autonomy and decision-making skills to a ‘mentor’ who went under the name of the ‘Himalayan Yogi’. The grim details are available in several news features.

Healing Space logo for Gayatri Jayaram column on mental healthAs exceptional as it sounds, Chitra Ramakrishna is not alone in leaning on someone she considered more experienced and wiser for advice. We all have someone we turn to, and in business environments, from M.V. Kamath to Aditya Puri, the intervention of stalwart mentors has been valuable for companies.

What is astounding is the extent of the surrender. It’s also an aspect explored in the show The Shrink Next Door (Apple TV), as also an eponymous podcast that investigates the true story of how a man surrendered control of his property and assets to his psychiatrist.

Whether it’s business or personal decisions, we tend to seek out someone to vet our options - parents, mentor, teacher, guru. Nothing wrong with that. So, how do we know when we are seeking valid advice, and when we are surrendering our autonomy to another person?

First, seeking advice is not the issue. Complete surrender to the advice, that amounts to suspension of one’s own faculties of reason, is problematic. Even if the person who gives you advice is much admired and esteemed in your industry, it’s good to keep in mind that they operate in a different playing field, may not understand your constraints entirely, or may not be aware of current and newer trends in the market. Yes, even icons make mistakes or get it wrong. So when you take advice, take what works for you in your context, and leave the rest.

You tend to assume that an icon can never get it wrong because you idolise them. If you believe the person you look up to is never wrong, that’s setting yourself an unrealistic parameter. Everyone is wrong some of the time. If you’re unable to even admit that as a possibility to yourself, you’re in too deep and need objectivity. Even if you continue to seek their advice, become aware that the tendency to idolise is strong in you (if you feel that’s not caused by their superimposition on you), so also seek a counter or alternative set of views to balance them out.

Advice is great if it is not the entirety of how you make your decisions. It needs to be a value-add. So you have shortlisted a set of options for yourself but are having trouble deciding, so you seek advice, that’s alright. If you need someone to give you the options or tell you what to do entirely, recognise that that’s dependency.

One way to identify a good mentor is to see if your relationship is bringing you greater confidence to be yourself or if it is leading to greater dependency on them.

Someone who cultivates dependency is not interested in your personal growth or power; they’re interested in expanding their territory of power and gain a sense of control by manoeuvring those who become dependent on them. In the latter case, your leaning on them for advice is serving your purpose less than it is boosting their ego. Try to discern whose purpose is being served by your asking them for advice.

How-to-distinguish-between-mentoring-and-manipulatingSometimes you may have a long-standing relationship, like with a parent, or an old family friend, a spiritual guru, where you feel asking the advice before acting is courteous and a show of respect. Maintain the respect, but also maintain an awareness of why you ask. Once the courtesy is shown, discriminate between whose purpose is served by the action you take and act accordingly. You may owe them respect, but you don’t necessarily owe it to them to act in a way that does not serve your interests.

Personal power grows by our interactions with our seniors, those with more experience. It keeps us connected and learning, and also expanding our area of influence in a work or personal environment. To be taken under someone’s wing is also very often a sign of mutual respect, that signals to others that you are also valuable. However, autonomy and self determination are crucial aspects of independent thought that make you valuable in your own right, and not merely as an appendage or instrument of another’s agenda. Complete dependence on another to act reflects a surrender of self-esteem or a fundamental belief in your own capabilities.

When we surrender our ability to act for ourselves, we also surrender charge of our lives. And that’s not growth, that’s giving up on ourselves.

Healing space How to distinguish between mentoring and manipulating

Gayatri Jayaraman Gayatri is a mind body spirit therapist and author of 'Sit Your Self Down', a novice’s journey to the heart of Vipassana, and 'Anitya', a guide to coping with change. [ @G_y_tri]