The Gift of Mindfulness

“The ultimate value of life depends on awareness, and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” – Aristotle

Quote written by Naureen’s Father on January 1, 2001


  Lt Col SS Bhullar (Retd)

Much before I had heard the term “mindfulness,” I had experienced it and seen it in action in front of my eyes every day, thanks to my father. Dad passed on to another world last year in 2022, devastating my mind, body, and heart, which all form a whole. A gaping hole in this whole. [I cannot use the term “away” after “passed” as it signals a separation which I cannot accept no matter how many times I hear or read about homilies from others who have experienced or not experienced this]. I have been shattered and shaken to my innermost core. Unearthing fragile emotional states that I rarely share with anyone.

I also dwell a lot on the many gifts from Dad. And one of the foremost ones that came to my mind while writing the eulogy a week later was mindfulness. I read about mindfulness extensively and also carried out some research related to it after meeting Nitesh Batra, the founder of The Mindful Initiative. I read Ellen Langer’s book titled “Mindfulness” and also got an autographed copy from Langer, thanks to Nitesh. I made copious notes as I read this book and others. At that time, too, I could not think of anyone who exemplified mindfulness as closely as Dad. He is in the moment at whatever task he is engaged in . Reading closely each sentence. Sometimes re-reading it, writing down notes from these books. Memorizing the sentences and phrases that enchant him. Reciting them from memory verbatim – long sentences from Napoleonic, Wellington, and World War II history books, essays from Shaw, Jonathan Swift, quotes from Gurbani, saakhiyan (stories from Sikhism), couplets from Ghalib, Zauq, Momin to name a few. Also fully absorbing the music and lyrics from the golden era of Hindi movies, remembering in detail the lyricists, music directors, cinematographers, sound design, and performances. Observing the behaviour of natural life – especially fauna, not so much flora. Or the beauty of human excellence in sports. What caught his attention was minutely observed, absorbed, introspected, cherished, and described to us. He adores beauty in everything around – nature, people, art. Every word and sentence of ours is also paid attention to by Dad. Our opinions carry weight. Worldly matters are not the priority. Some people try to hurry Dad along the worldly path. What is the benefit of reading so much or accumulating knowledge about these matters without the extrinsic reward of money, fame, and related accouterments? Some skeptics may ask this question but that never stopped Dad. I never got the sense of being rushed from one point to another in our conversations or interactions. Almost each moment has its sacredness that will never return. I learnt it from Dad implicitly. He emphasizes process over outcome. Fully enjoying the process and not chasing outcomes. How rare is this? I realized this uniqueness of Dad with my contrasting interactions with the outside world, where this was extremely sparse.

               Naureen with her Father

I recall a lot of episodes with Dad from an early age that family members sometimes don’t. I believe I got this gift of mindfulness from Dad, and it has given me the ability to be in the moment to absorb it fully. It has provided unparalleled joy in holding these memories and sometimes writing them down. I intentionally took several pictures of Dad, Mum, siblings, nephew, and niece during my visits home. Sometimes videos too. Recently I saw pictures I took a couple of years ago. Just the picture of Dad’s feet. In my mind, his feet and hands (and the bluish-green veins in the translucent skin) are right in front of me that I can touch softly. It brings to my mind the following scenes – his tiny gesture with the bent forefinger to scratch an itching eyelid; complete drying the feet of my brother with a towel every time after a bath; putting the vessel of hot milk in cold water to cool it to make dahi/curd; fixing the electric equipment with delicate and careful finger movements; getting warm water in a bowl for Mummy to wash her hands after her meals when she is bed-ridden after her foot surgery.

Naureen’s Parents

Dad emphasized eye care to us often. Emphasizing caution during Diwali and Gurpurab when firecrackers like the popular “rocket” exploded. Dad always emphasized caution in daily life and reminded us to tilt the rocket accordingly – “away from your face.” When Dad’s eyesight diminished significantly, and he could not read or observe the beauties of the world, it was calamitous for him, and it broke our hearts. When I saw the intense beauty of the foliage in rain or the setting sun of the campus I work in, tears stung my eyes and choked my throat as I found this mix of hedonic pleasure of the beauty in front of me and the fact that he cannot see it stunning in its emotional aftermath. I recall these many moments, but I still held on to the hope of scientific breakthroughs for glaucoma treatment, whose google updates still reach my inbox.

At times Dad lamented his loss of sight but also showed so much grace and fortitude in bearing with it. His erect and strong posture as he sits on the sofa in the living room or the lobby before his meals, introspecting about many things (probably past and present) resides in my thoughts permanently. He never says, “I am bored.”  In fact, when I said this same thing one summer in the US, he said he did not expect his children to say that when there were so many things to explore in this life. He fully cherished his time in rural and isolated West Virginia with limited social interaction, reading, gardening, growing vegetables, and taking care of my brother (with autism) single-handedly as we went to work or classes. I am reminded of the Birdman of Alcatraz described in Ellen Langer’s book, albeit in a different context “He was sentenced to life in prison without any hope of a reprieve. He would stare at the flocks of birds flying outside his bird and even nursed a crippled sparrow back to health. Others started giving him birds, and he learned more and more from them and became a distinguished authority on bird diseases… Instead of living a dull, stale existence in a cell for 40-odd years, the Birdman of Alcatraz found that boredom can be just another construct of the mind, no more certain than freedom. There is always something new to notice. And he turned what might have been an absolute hell into, at the least, a fascinating, mindful purgatory”. (p. 75-76)

Before Dad’s health challenges in the last decade, he had an uncanny knack of deriving the maximum joy out of almost anything, whether it was working around the house, kitchen work, childcare, building houses, traveling with us for university admissions, the embassy, and the airport visits. I attribute this greatly to his mindfulness. He did not have a fully happy childhood with a mother who was unwell for an extended period and economic challenges due to which he could attend college primarily due to scholarships. He worked actively towards his goals- being a swimmer and a water polo champion in college and a long-distance runner and shot-put player at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), while also excelling academically. Not a hint of mindlessness in his other work and choices too, including choosing the army postings that ensured the best schooling for his children, books to gift us, libraries and bookstores to visit to ensure a lifelong passion of reading in us, and the unquenchable curiosity to explore the wide-ranging topics life has to offer. He has been a true polymath (a person of wide knowledge or learning) that only mindfulness could lead to. An equal connoisseur of poetry, literature, physics, sports, art, culture, wildlife, psychology, history, and more. Some people I know have been astonished by my wide range of interests and called me an “encyclopedia”, which is of course, an exaggeration. I say this is nothing compared to Dad.

Dad’s compassion, gentleness and softness are also well-known in our family. He has been called to cut a new-born’s finger nails as no one trusted anyone more than him in his remarkable attention to detail and avoiding pain for the young ones. He was bit by a raccoon on a trip to Philadelphia in Fairmount Park, which perturbed him for some time. Sometime later, I recall reading an incident to Dad, where a raccoon bit a person, and the raccoon was hit on his head as a response. Dad expressed profound dismay and said that one must not hit the raccoon. His gentleness towards animals was also demonstrated when I told him about a hiccupping stray dog in Bangalore that lived nearby and who I still see every day. The dog never stops hiccupping. I had never seen a dog hiccupping and I was intrigued. Dad said that someone should help the dog. Dad had been unwell during that time and in some pain. I heard the pained expression in his voice that conveyed empathy for a fellow creature who was also suffering.

His friendships were also a source of joy.
Each new year’s day, he would whip out his small black diary and call friends across the country and some abroad to wish them a happy new year in his usual jovial and buoyant tone and remember all the family details (spouse and kids included – their names never forgotten). Thoughtfulness and compassion personified. Forgiving in his speech and actions. Dad lived fully due to his inherent mindfulness, which may have been instilled (or absorbed from) by his spiritual family members. There may be a genetic component to the degree of mindfulness in people, as some research findings have demonstrated, but I believe it may be largely affected by what we see around us while growing up and if we have the motivation and inclination to follow that person’s behavior. Dad has been the most influential and beloved person from my earliest memories. I was motivated to follow him in this aspect, perhaps subconsciously, without planning to do so actively.

Thank you, Dad. Always proud of you. Your true lessons on mindfulness will always be my lodestar.


About the Author:

Dr. Naureen Bhullar: 

“Naureen Bhullar writes about lessons of mindfulness that she has been learning from her father, Lt Col SS Bhullar (Retd).”

May 5, 2023


Subscribe to Stay Informed

    163, 4th Cross Rd, Dollars Colony, Phase 4, JP Nagar, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560078, India