By Jim Schutze
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McBee, who at one point suffered from anxiety, found Prakash's meditation lessons particularly useful. "It's difficult in the investment world when the stock markets are always open and there's always a fire to put out, but you realize you can close your door and take five minutes to recharge," he says. "But you're not necessarily going to do that unless someone's on you once a month to say, 'OK, are you doing it?'"
Prakash learned to meditate during the most chaotic time of his life. It was the '40s in Delhi, India, and he was an ambitious young physics student determined to become an engineer and set a good example for his five younger siblings. As the eldest of six children born to a telegraph operator and a homemaker, he made sure his sisters and brothers did their homework, told them education was the only way to a successful life and chastised them when they listened to popular radio shows he claimed would "pollute their minds" (all five would go on to earn graduate degrees).
Yet in the final years of World War II, as Mohandas Gandhi rallied the country against British rule and was hauled off to prison amid a brutal government crackdown, Prakash's sense of justice was ignited. He put his studies on hold to join the Free India movement. Volunteering as a door-to-door organizer, he talked with people about how the fruits of independence would be worth the struggle and spread Gandhi's message of Hindu-Muslim unity in an effort to quell simmering resentments between the two groups.
Gandhi would come quarterly to meet with the area's organizers. While Prakash never had a one-on-one conversation with the revered leader, he once sat directly across from the little ancient-looking man and marveled at the profound calm that surrounded him, no matter how stressful the situation. As the movement's ardor grew and the rulers' opposition solidified, police raids became commonplace. One night a group of officers stormed into Prakash's family home looking for him. He was gone by the time they reached his room, and when they noticed his still-warm empty bed, Prakash's mother insisted that a different son had been sleeping there. From then on, Prakash lived as a renegade, staying in a different place each night, taking few belongings with him and steering clear of the security forces.
At one point, an older Hindu organizer observed that Prakash, just 21 or 22 at the time, looked haggard. He taught the young man a traditional meditation and told him to do it whenever he could. While Prakash had been raised Hindu by his father, he'd never practiced meditation. Once he learned, he found it to be incredibly useful, especially when he'd slept little or barely had time to eat a decent meal.
By the spring of 1947, Prakash was a central organizer for a neighborhood in Old Delhi. One day, he led a procession through the streets and then spoke on a raised platform while throngs of people shouted slogans and tossed garlands over his neck. Shakti Walia, one of his younger brothers and a decade his junior, darted through the crowd to watch Prakash up close. As his speech was winding down, a police van appeared and a clutch of officers emerged to drag Prakash off the stage and push him into the vehicle. Shakti—scarcely an adolescent—fell in with a group who chased the van, praising Prakash and cursing the police as he was taken to jail.
While his family feared prison would be harsh based on rumors of deprivation and torture, Prakash would later call the six months he spent in jail "a blessing in disguise." It was there, amid the steady routine of sleep and meals, reading and meditating, exercising and writing (he jotted his thoughts onto envelopes), that he restored his energy and learned how to take care of himself. That proved useful when after he was released and independence was granted in August 1947, the country convulsed with sectarian strife and the reality that Gandhi's commitment to peace had failed to prevent Hindus and Muslims from killing one another. When the Mahatma was assassinated by a Hindu extremist the following year, Prakash was devastated. Even now, more than 60 years later, his eyes well when he talks about Gandhi's death. Yet those tumultuous years provided him with a crucial set of tools: meditation, determination and the realization that he had both a gift for and a love of counseling people. He ditched his engineering ambitions and opted to become a psychologist.
Prakash finished his physics degree and worked as a high school teacher and counselor for eight years while earning his masters in psychology. Once enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Delhi, a mentor who'd just returned from the University of Minnesota told him that if he wanted to be a worthwhile psychologist, he should go to the United States. A wealthy student he'd counseled gave him 5,000 rupees to fund his trip, and soon he was on a merchant ship to France and a plane to Chicago. When he arrived at the University of Minnesota in 1960, he got a job as a bus boy at the cafeteria and worked his way through a second master's degree. A year later he met his wife, an American, and they moved to Montana, where Prakash earned his doctorate in clinical psychology and learned how to use hypnosis to heal trauma and modify destructive behavior. He later moved to Texas to serve as a therapy director at North Texas State Hospital and opened a private practice.