A Conversation with Dr. Anees Sheikh
By student Mitchell Nyffeler
Professor at Marquette for 46 years
Born in India and later moved to Pakistan
Originally was a pre-med student
Completed Ph.D. at the University of Western Ontario
Over the years, Dr. Sheikh has taught about 20 different graduate and undergraduate courses, ranging from Experimental Psychology to the Psychology of Happiness. In recent years he has taught primarily Psychology of Fantasy and Imagination, Psychology of Happiness, and Psychology of Death and Dying. He said that this last course allows him to delve into deeper issues, like the meaning of life. He feels that in coming to terms with our impermanence, we value our life more. To illustrate the point, he quotes George Santayana, who said, “The dark background that death supplies, brings out the tender colors of life in all their purity.” On the very first day, Dr. Sheikh told us one of his favorite stories written by the late Anthony De Mello, an Indian Jesuit priest. This story set the tone for the class:
All questions at the public meeting that day were about life beyond the grave. The Master only laughed and did not give a single answer. To his disciples, who demanded to know the reason for his evasiveness, he later said, “Have you observed that it is precisely those who do not know what to do with this life, who want another that will last forever?” “But is there life after death or is there not?” persisted the disciple. “Is there life before death? – That is the question!” said the Master enigmatically.
In response to my question about his philosophy of teaching, he said, “If we roughly divided teaching into two major categories: relationship-based and technique-based approaches, I would like to be included in the first camp. I believe that compassion, kindness, and forgiveness are key to finding happiness and physical and emotional health. I try my best to bring these values to my classroom. I firmly believe that within each student a treasure of wisdom already exists. In addition to imparting information, I attempt to bring students to the threshold of their own mind.”
When asked of his most memorable moment in his professional life, he paused and then said, “In 1976, I received an invitation from a publisher to become the founding editor of a new periodical, Journal of Mental Imagery, which influenced my career in major ways. I was its editor for four years. Its success gave me the opportunity to organize the first national and the first international conference on the subject.” He has published 16 books on the topic of mental imagery and is recognized for his pioneering efforts in this field. Currently he is working on 2 books: Pictures of Health: A Comprehensive Approach to Image Therapy and Lessons from Within.
When I asked him about the changes that he has witnessed at Marquette during his long tenure, he explained that the campus has been transformed beyond recognition. The Psychology Department now has much better facilities, has developed a reputable Ph.D. program, and has a larger, more diverse and extremely productive faculty. The favorite expressions of students have changed over the years. Lately words that previously had negative connotations are used as a positive. Dr. Sheikh recalled that some time ago, a comment on a student evaluation said, “Dr. Sheikh is a bad ass.” Dr. Sheikh confessed, “I was taken aback to be called an ass and a bad one at that. When I ran this by my children, they explained that being a bad ass is a good thing. Who would have guessed!”
I wanted to know which psychologist he most admired and if he were to teach a new course, what would its title be. Dr. Sheikh said that he has admired various psychologists over the years but the prize would have to go to Buddha. If he were to develop a new course, it would be entitled Eastern and Western Approaches to Healing. On my way out, I asked if he had any parting words of wisdom. Dr. Sheikh advised, “Mitchell, always try to be kind.”