A TASTE OF COOLNESS

I have never been to Japan, yet I know a lot about Japan. James Clavell’s classic novel, Shogun, gave me my first insight into the culture, and the norms of the Japanese. My never-ending fascination and romance with this part of the Orient assumed an exciting dimension and coloration while at school at Oxford, in the English West Midlands in the late seventies. I was accommodated in a hostel that housed a motley crowd of boisterous, young students from all over the world. My next door neighbor was a bright-eyed Japanese youth of my age, named Tokushi Hirohito. We were to become very close friends, and when his parents came on a visit from Japan, it seemed only natural that I be invited to spend the weekend at the Hirohito’s town house in London’s smart West End. My encounter with the elder Hirohito, a wealthy industrialist in his early sixties, at his well-appointed summer residence, will to this day remain one of my most cherished and memorable. That the Japanese are a fastidiously courteous race is a legendary fact. That they also demonstrate incredible resilience and amazing shock-absorbing capabilities in the face of adversity, even when it is to the extreme, was an even greater source of fascination for me. At dinner on my first night at the Park Lane mansion, I precociously asked Mr. Hirohito to tell me the source of his people’s well-known ability to remain quiet, composed and seemingly unruffled in the midst of difficulty, and even outright chaos.
This was what he said.
“Son, perhaps as a result of centuries of internal and external conflict and trauma, the Japanese have developed uncommon coping mechanisms, the most important of which is internal quietness. Our people have learnt the practice of quietness to an uncommonly high degree of proficiency.”
And that was how, through the tutelage of the elderly gentleman, I gained invaluable knowledge about what is actually a very important ritual in Japan.
It is called Ryomi, and in English, this roughly translates to The Taste Of Coolness. My young and impressionable mind soaked in the details of this exotic, yet sublime ritual, and it wasn’t until many years later that it would assume a great utilitarian value in the practice of my vocation as a stress consultant.
A couple of months ago, I received a midnight call from the Principal Private Secretary to the Governor of one of Nigeria’s thirty six federating states.
As the man chose to put, the Governor was intensely stressed up by the demands and pressures of his high office. He was greatly perturbed, and would like, both answers and remedies.
“The Governor would like to consult with you.” He concluded gravely.
I found myself at Government House barely forty eight hours later, and after a two- hour wait, during which the Governor received the Norwegian Ambassador in audience, I was ushered in to see the politician. A look at the man’s face told me volumes. The sheer number of worry lines on his forehead was enough indication that the poor man could suffer a complete breakdown at any moment. I quietly reminded myself to remember the look on his face if at any time in the future I developed an inordinate ambition to become the peoples’ Executive Servant!
“Your Excellency, what seems to be trouble?”
After a lengthy pause, he replied.
“Doctor, I really don’t think I can cope any longer. The pressure on me has become really unbearable, and I am truly at my tether’s end. When I think I’ve successfully resolved the challenges of one day, the next day appears with its own seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and in, almost invariably, twice the proportion of the previous day. I have come to learn, to my chagrin, that politics can be very murky business. To make matters worse, I’m surrounded by aides whom I can hardly place. They all seem quite loyal, but all my instincts tell me I’m riding on the back of a tiger. I feel so alone. The burden of decision-making and problem-solving is becoming too great for me to bear. I am the Chief Executive, I’ll admit, but each day, I actually feel as if I’m to be executed instead! Please, help me!”
I felt a rush of compassion for this man, who must be the source of intense envy by virtue of his exalted political office.
“Your Excellency, may I invite you to join me in looking at difficulties and problems from an unusual angle? A difficulty can make you, or it can break you. A difficulty is very much like a knife. Grasp it by the blade and it will cut you. On the other hand, if you grasp it by the handle, you can use it constructively, and although most people would say that it can be difficult to grasp it by the handle, it can be done.”
The Governor smiled ruefully.
“What an interesting way of looking at it! Tell me more.”
“Well, consider this. Without problems and difficulties, just how enriching would your tenure as Governor be? Admittedly, difficulties constitute the more unpleasant aspect of life, but then they are essential to your political and emotional growth. In fact, problems are actually a sign of life. The more problems you have, the more you are actually a part of life. Let’s face it, the only place where people have no problems is a cemetery, and there, they are all dead! Be glad that God can trust you with some problems. Thank him for the compliment. I suspect that He believes you will, somehow, develop the capacity to handle them effectively.”
After a slight pause, I continued speaking.
“Having said all that, however, I will now invite you to join me in exploring an oriental technique for handling difficulty.”
I now embarked on an explicit description of the Japanese concept for facing adversity with calmness and dignified composure.
“Your Excellency, anytime you are faced with a difficult challenge, your first priority is to get yourself as calm, quiet and composed as possible. What you want to attain is a state of mental quietness. So, rather than react to the challenge with panic and agitation, you would instead respond with a clear mental faculty which will allow you to think clearly and rationally. When you become internally quiet, your mind can then face its real and pertinent business, which is rational thinking. It is amazing that most people are blissfully ignorant of the great value of silence in meeting life’s challenges, for indeed, silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves. What silence does is to ‘air-condition’ the mind for focus, clarity and sharp illumination.
I now explained the ritual of Ryomi to the Governor. His fascination with the subject was palpable, and he readily agreed to facilitate the enabling conditions to practice it, and within an hour we had relocated from his office to the indoor swimming pool of the mansion. I had requested that the water in the pool be heated to a temperature of forty five degrees centigrade. We changed into swimming trunks and entered the pool.
“I want you to consciously allow the water’s heat to seep into your skin. Now, gradually engage in a conscious relaxation of your muscles, from the top of your head to your toes. Allow you’re your mind to slip into a languid, relaxed state. Forget about problems for now. Eliminate all consideration of state affairs, political problems, and even domestic upheaval, from your mind. Close your eyes and feel yourself dissolving into a relaxed and deep pool of nothingness and quietness.”
By now my voice had dropped to barely a whisper.
“After a while, you will start to feel like a philosopher because your mind is gradually entering a state of unaccustomed clarity and brightness. At this stage, even without conscious effort, your conscious mind will begin to perceive your so-called challenges, buried in your subconscious mind, in a clearer perspective. The heat is beginning, in a manner of speaking, to depart from your thinking process, and you are beginning to get the taste of coolness.
An hour later, we came out of the pool, shedding off our trunks for light, cotton bathrobes, which was an improvisation for what in Japan would have been a cotton kimono. We then retired to the Governor’s private study. This room had been emptied of all furniture, leaving only two mats placed on the floor. The room, at my instruction, had been air-conditioned to a temperature that was almost at chilling point. We sat quietly on the mats, and presently we were served cups of the Japanese rice tea, called sake, which I’d had the presence of mind to bring along. In this part of the ritual, you don’t gulp the tea. Rather, you sip it thoughtfully and reflectively. You linger over the tea, making drinking it a sublime act of serenity. All the while, your mind remains relaxed and cool, the entire purpose being to allow your quiet reflection, relaxation and stillness to induce peacefulness at its ultimate essence. No talking is permitted, and instead you meditate deeply and peacefully.
We remained at this part of the ritual for a whole hour, by the end of which a new countenance had come over the Governor. He looked infinitely more relaxed and there was a distant, trance-like look in his eyes.
Presently, as we got up to terminate the session, the Governor turned to me.
“Doctor, this is amazing! I seem to have an instant testimony on the superlative efficacy of this technique. I have just arrived at an incredibly simple solution to a teething, long-standing problem I’ve had with my state’s legislature. I can’t wait to get to the Speaker. This is simply amazing! Thank you so much. I believe this day will mark a significant turning point in my life.”
A couple of hours later, I bade farewell to the restrictive protocol of Government House. Shaking the Governor’s hand, I said, “Keep cool, Your Excellency!”

Author's Bio: 

Dr Yomi Garnett is President/CEO at THE GARNETT CENTRE, a centre for the development of the human potential. He spends the greater part of the year on the lecture circuit teaching individuals and corporate organizations how to achieve their highest potentials.
He is also Author of the Bestseller, 365 DAYS OF WISDOM-A Daily Companion For The Soul In Search Of Enlightenment. www.dryomigarnett.com