It was a bright, sunny day in the hills, with clear skies, and the children were bustling around trying their hand at bouldering. This is an activity which involves scaling a smooth, inclined face of rock with bare hands and nothing else. Some children discovered, sometimes to their own surprise, that they possessed the natural lightfootedness of a mountain goat and quickly bounded up the rock with a wide smile on their faces. Others figured out after a few failed attempts that all they needed was a ‘fast start’, so they allowed the teacher on hand to give them a push up and scrambled up the remainder of the rock by themselves.
My attention centred on one boy whose repeated attempts at climbing up the boulder were met with disappointment. This was a child who prided himself on his intellectual breadth of knowledge, his agile and sharp mind, and his determination and drive to do well in everything he chose to do. He refused any kind of assistance from the teacher and insisted on trying again and again, refusing to take even a short break. He would clench his jaws, have a steely look in his eyes and seek a toehold as he started going up the rock. Midway through, he would struggle to balance himself on the sheer surface, claw desperately at it looking for a hold, even as he would begin to slide back down with a look of frustration and puzzlement. Here he was, clearly trying his best, throwing all his energies, both mental and physical into the exercise, willing to persevere and yet, success seemed elusive. He wrung his hands, shrugged his shoulders and shook his head in dismay, displeased with himself and the situation he was in.
After what seemed to be an appropriate amount of time trying, and when his energies finally started flagging, we sent him on his way to the next activity, rappelling. After an hour or two, it was the boy’s turn to rappel down an almost 20-metre vertical rock face wearing a safety harness. He took on the task bravely and in less than a minute he planted his feet firmly on the ground. Even as his feet touched the ground, almost reflexively and certainly in an unplanned manner, the boy let out a loud cry. A sound which was equal parts joy, celebration, and relief. The act brought out good-natured laughter both in the boy himself and the other children watching from the sidelines.
I let the episode pass, even as I tried to process my own thoughts and reactions to what I had witnessed. I had understood ‘conflict’ until then as a primarily extrinsic phenomenon—a tense state of affairs between two or more physical entities. Something which could be resolved through reasoning, negotiation and essential fairness. Yes, no doubt, I had also been in situations where I had experienced a conflict of the ‘mind’, caught between two or more courses of action and unable to choose satisfactorily among them. But what I had seen that day had allowed me a glimpse into a more deep-seated and seemingly incomprehensible kind of conflict, a conflict between one’s selfimage and oneself. A conflict which all of us have experienced in our lives, yet perhaps, not recognized or realized. Here was a child who had an extremely positive self-image—of being an achiever, a person who believed that honest effort and persistence, both physical and intellectual, always leads to a desired goal. A child who had perhaps defined himself all along by the result of his effort. That day he was clearly frustrated that he was not able to ‘meet’ that selfimage in spite of his best efforts. When, through the rappelling exercise, the boy finally met with success, the celebratory cry was perhaps an involuntary expression of relief and comfort that his self-image had been reinstated.
All of us tend to grapple with this self-image we have of ourselves, our roles and how well we play them in our lives. The ‘caring parent’, the ‘promising employee’, the ‘effective teacher’, the ‘dependable friend’ and so on. And when we perceive a conflict between what is and what we want to be, what are our actions, our struggles and what impact do these have on our thinking and on our lives?
I came away from that school trip, seeing Krishamurti’s statement, “All conflict is internal”, in a new light.