Monthly Archives: June 2009

Helplessness, Fear, Resistance and Stress

It is a common misapprehension that overworking leads to stress. While I agree that any demanding prolonged activity of the mind or body will lead to some sort of fatigue, I do not believe that this is what causes stress. Such a fatigue can be overcome (unless it is very prolonged and neglected) by breaks, some discipline in life or any activities that help you unwind.

What cause stress? When does it become a real serious issue? How do we know we are getting in to it? How do we overcome it? Here are some thoughts.

 Stress is caused by the mind and ego taking over an issue, typically in a relationship where there is some kind of hierarchy. A work place is a typical example; and that will be the focus here. Let’s see some common scenarios.

 To start with you have certain expectations on something or someone. You strongly believe that something needs to be done in a particular way and of course, you have your reasons.  Now you are asked by your boss to go ahead in a totally different way. You try to protest, but finally have to yield. This creates a conflict in the mind. The ego takes over and you feel wronged. You go ahead with the task but every mind your mind is churning out reasons why it wouldn’t work. Your ego really wants it to fail so that you can have your boss suffer for the wrong decision. Slowly the thought becomes obsessive. You wake up in the middle of the night and before you realize, the battle is already on in your mind. If you are a drinker or a smoker, you tend to over abuse, which aggravates the issue. You vent your frustration to your friends and they readily sympathize with you, which reinforces your feeling of misery. You don’t feel like going to office and secretly nurture a feeling of vengeance in not turning up for work. Before you realize, the stress catches up with your body and mind. And one fine day you wake up with a thumping heart and lump in your throat to realize that you lost the battle badly.

Look at another scenario. You are stuck in a situation where you are accountable but do not have power to solve it. A typical example from the Indian IT industry scenario is the role of a customer relationship manager. There is a fight going on between the customer and the offshore team and things have come in to a deadlock. There are big egos involved, which is obvious to you. But you cannot point this out. The management blames you for not resolving the issue. You are helpless and soon the stress gets it victim. The latter part of the story remains almost the same.

Another common scenario is responding to threat (not those obvious ones like – I will kill you, but those subtle ones). Typically many managers in India try to get work done by inducing subtle fear in the minds of team members. Your conscious mind may not realize this, but your subconscious mind reads the threat and you are preparing for a fight without realizing it. This also happens with intimidation – don’t try to act smart here, we know what to do. It leaves you badly hurt and because you cannot respond directly, you resort to playing those scripts in your mind.

In all the examples above, you can see helplessness, resistance and fear are common themes and I think our inability to deal with them gets us in to trouble. Sometimes we pull through, but to find us again in a fresh trap. It’s like a viral attack, every time the virus changes its structure and the body cannot find a permanent solution for it.

The trap is that we try to solve the issue always, and believe that everything will be peaceful after that. But the real problem is in our mind, which remains there as long as we understand.

So how do we tackle getting in to this mess? Here are some thoughts:

  • Speak out when needed. Even if it might be painful and your mind and ego will persuade you to avoid it.
  • Whatever be the case, if you cannot solve an issue and cannot escape from it, drop all your resistance and accept the situation
  • Don’t let issue based conflicts become people conflicts. Convey clearly to the person that you value him.
  • Seek help from someone whom you respect and who has a larger view of life. You are not helpless
  • If someone tries to instill fear in you, politely but firmly make it clear that you do not approve it
  • Do not respond emotionally to any issue, even if provoked. Stay calm not to feed the other person’s egoYour mind will tell you that the only way you can solve the issue is by getting out of the situation. Don’t believe this, unless you can really make that move. Otherwise, this creates a conditioning that makes you miserable.
  • Watch out for early signs, don’t neglect them. Typically the first symptoms are obsessive thoughts and disturbed sleep.
  • Finally, always have something that you really enjoy in life. May be a sports or some hobby, which will help you disconnect from the issue.

Escaping from such situations is not a long term solution, because you carry with you what really caused it – your mind and the ego. Stay firm and fight it out, and you have really learned something in your life.

Also Read:

  1. Surrender
  2. Why Cant we resolve our own issues by thinking?
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Tell stories to overcome the logical barrier in the mind

(Continuing from my pervious posts on Right Brain and Left Brain and a technique for coordinating them)

In my view we were all creative and imaginative as children and as we lost it to a good extend as we grew up. Thanks to our education system and the demands (at least as we perceive) of the world around us. 

Look at this scenario. You are in a team meeting in your office where your boss presents a problem and asks you for ideas to solve it. There is silence for sometime. Suddenly you have an idea. You are about to open your mouth and then you hold back. Because you are not sure if it is ‘not illogical’. What happens if others laugh at my idea? You decide to wait. Others start giving their ideas. All of them making perfect sense. The boss doesn’t seem to be happy yet. Then suddenly a colleague blurts out exactly the same idea that you were pondering on. The boss is jumping up in excitement and your mediocre colleague has stolen the show. You feel a lump in your throat as you leave the room and you are asking you this age old question- why did I hold back? I just lost an opportunity.

Reason is simple. As we become more logical, we are so particular that everything that comes out of our ‘mouth’ (I wouldn’t say mind) has to make sense for us as well as to others. Which is like the logical brain putting a gate or a filter for any information that comes in or goes out. It’s then, you look at a great painting of Salvador Dali and wonder – what’s this stupid thing all about?

So, the point is you need to re-train your brain to overcome the logical barrier. Here is a simple technique to do that.

If you have a small kid at home, start telling him/her stories. Not the ones you have read or heard. Create stories for your own. Make them as illogical as possible. Don’t have to worry; your kid is not sitting there judging whether you make sense. He/she is enjoying every ‘illogical bit’ of it. The more ‘weird’ the story is, better they enjoy.Don’t hold back your imagination and don’t try to make sense of what you say. Add effects by appropriate postures, gestures and sound if you like. Do it whenever you find time to spend with the little ones.

Two things will definitely happen:

  • Your  rating as a parent will shoot up
  • You will soon have someone making a comment on you that ‘you really have those out of the box ideas’

Playing with Perceptions

We all form perceptions. We categorize and label people, situations, places and objects continuously, based on some cues that we pick and interpret. They are positive, negative or neutral and are generally harmless in most cases (except that it triggers a pre-conditioned approach or response). When we have formed a strong perception, we tend to avoid situations involving that anyway.

Why do we form perceptions in the first place? I think our minds are trained to logically analyze things around us and this ‘ability’ gets better as we grow. Lot of the work that we do demand this; be it analyzing a requirement or assessing a person. And before we know, it is our personality, and we conveniently label it as ‘sense making’. Even the tools that we use help us reinforce this behavior. Look at this blog itself; I have to categorize every post and add tags and build a meta-data around it.

When do perceptions become a problem? I think, in relationships which are egoistic and demanding in nature. The two most obvious are romance and work. The moment perceptions are taken over by mind and ego, there is trouble. Some times real serious trouble. I think in romance (marriage included) the impact is not that bad because there is some thing called ‘belongingness’ which at times can overrule all such negative tendencies.

So let’s look at work. Typically in Indian companies, managers are supposed to assess the employees not just based on the work done, but also the behavior, attitude and other soft skills. Perfect setting for forming perceptions, which are ‘professionally right’. I think this is one of the prime reasons for stress at workplace and people leaving jobs.

As I said, mostly perceptions are typically formed based on ‘cues’ and is not substantiated by evidences mostly. How the cues are interpreted depends on the person (and I think where is processed – ego or mind)

Look at this illustration that I think we all can relate to:

Alex is a manager in a company and Erich is a team member reporting in to him. There is another manager David who, Alex suspects to be working against him. All of a sudden, Alex finds that Erich and David are hanging out together often. He is curious but decides to wait and watch. Sometime later, in a meeting David brings up a particular point against Alex, one which Alex thinks is not possible for someone outside the team to know. Now Alex’s perception on David that he is working against him is reinforced, and Alex forms a new perception that Erich is actually bitching on him to David. (Alex’s ego takes over here). Alex gives a feedback to Erich that he is not seen at his desk often and has been taking too many breaks these days. Erich if offended. (His ego takes over). He is now wondering why Alex is trying to find fault with him, while he has been delivering what is expected on time. Erich forms a perception now that Alex is trying to intimidate him. (Why? May be my ideas are better than Alex’s).

Now Erich is careful and but also uncomfortable that Alex is watching him continuously. In the months that follow, Alex is actually searching for cues to reinforce his perception, while Erich is behaving quiet unnaturally, careful not to give Alex any chance to intimidate him. Alex picks some simple ‘cues’; for e.g when Alex gives a smile to Erich when they meet on the corridor, Erich returns just ‘half a smile’ and turns his face away. Fine, Alex is at least confident that he isn’t wrong. The relationship between Alex and Erich becomes very formal and uncomfortable and Erich is now avoiding Alex as far as possible. Alex is also watching who Erich is talking to in the team, subconsciously looking for any changes in their attitude also.

Now Erich talks to David about this and seeks his guidance and in the process David’s perception on Alex, that he is a man on mean thinking, is reinforced. Talking to David reinforces Erich’s perception on the situation that he is being victimized.

 In the next feedback cycle, Alex gives a comment that Erich is ‘spreading negative energy’. Erich is furious and offended (ego is hurt badly) and wants to now prove that Alex has a malicious intention to corner him. His mind is now sucked totally in to this and is completely disturbed. A week later, they meet up to discuss the feedback and Erich couldn’t hold his emotion back and vents out his frustration on Alex. This reinforces Alex’s perception and now he is more the sure that he was right. Alex tries to portray that he is helping Erich ‘improve’ by pointing out a ‘hidden’ problem and expects Erich to thank him for that. Now Erich’s perception is reinforced that Alex has some malicious motive in trying to find fault with him and brand him. Alex also sense that Erich is forming a perception on him, and this reinforces his perception on Erich further.

It’s easy to assume where this is heading to. But the sad part is that we get in to this trap often in life and it sucks all the creative energy in us and makes our lives miserable. What everyone missed in the above example that there could be a genuine positive reason for the connection between Erich and David. And the existing perception of Alex on David, prevented him from seeing it that way or trying to find it out.

One of the most important outcomes of letting perceptions rule relationships is that it creates ‘false identities’ for us. When someone has formed a perception that you are ‘moody’ (and you know it) you will automatically tend to be moody in his presence.

While I do not think that it’s not possible (and not needed too) to completely stop forming perceptions, I definitely think we can stop it from ruining our lives and the others around.

Here are some thoughts and suggestions:

  • I think the first thing is to see situations and people as they are, without the frills around it. Rather easy said than done. But you we are more mindful and understand how ego and mind works, I think you will be able to do this
  • Drop the notion that people are out there to get you. This arises out of fear, and leads to the wrong assumptions we make.
  • Even if you form perceptions, don’t let your ego latch on to it. Without the ‘ego’ playing our side, you will be able to solve it through discussions.
  • Whether you have formed a perception or fighting one, don’t go around discussing with people. It feeds your ego and further reinforces the perception. Seek help if needed from someone who can help.
  • If you are discussing with someone on a perception issue between the two, don’t let your emotions to take over. That will further aggravate the issue. Stay calm and don’t lose your balance
  • If you try are trying to change a perception someone has formed on you and it doesn’t work, just drop it. Understand that it is his problem and let him deal with it. Stay away.
  • Drop the conditioning that everyone has to have good and right perceptions on you. Try to resolve it only if it has any relevance to you. Don’t let your ego chase it.

 

After all perceptions are transient, they are bound to change. No one is going to hold on to a particular perception on forever.

Rajinikanth and Sharukh Khan

Before you get carried away by the title, let me make my point. I believe that people who have had phenominal sucess in life, do have certain ‘special qualities’  which are not very obvious or noticeable. I think these qualities have helped them (over and above the accepted traits such as hardwork, perseverence, committment and luck) reach unimaginable heights and stay there for long. Let me give you two of my observations:

I was reading a review on the book The Name Is Rajinikanth ( I haven’t read the book) in a magazine last year ( For those who do not know, Rajinikanth is a south Indian actor who is famous for his style and commands a popularity that no other actor in India can ever imagine). There was something I found very interesting about him in the article; that’s his ability to detach from what’s going around. There was an incident mentioned where he goes to a director to return the advance payment and to tell him that he is going to the Himalayas in search of the truth. The article mentions that Rajini often gets this ‘problem’ where he can detach from life and look at it as a third person.  This is the essence of what is called Sakshi Bhava (The art of witnessing) which even great sages would die to achieve.

Look at another example. During a flight , I watched an interview with Shahrukh Khan   ( For those who do not know, he is the ‘King Khan’, who rules the Hindi film industry of India). There was something interesting that caught my attention. Shahrukh talks of a special character of him, which describes as – Every place looks new to me, even if I have visited it several times. I forget people and places. When I’am there the next time, I can’t recollect if I had been there earlier. When I’m there, I am just there. (My interpretation of what he said, not verbatim). This is what every one who is trying to ‘be ‘mindful’ or ‘live in the present moment’ strive to achive.

The point I am trying to make here, these simple (but profound) characteristics in these people have definitely helped them to be what they are, but without being feverish about it. They may not get noticed easily, because I think they came to them naturally and effortlessly.

Who knows, there muct be such a quality in each of us, lying neglected because we don’t really recognise its significance..

What does yoga offer for right-left brain coordination?

Adding a note to my earlier post Right brain or the left brain? Does it really matter?.

The ancient sages of India had explored literally everything that could influence the mind and conciousness positively. Looks like they were aware of the importance of coordinating the right and left brains for better functioning of the mind and better awareness.

There is a simple technique called Yoni Mudra (A mudra is a  posture  that is used to channel energy to a specific part of the body) which is used in meditation, to achive this. Externally this is meant to balance the energies between right hand and the left hand. But interally this helps to balance the right and left parts of the brain. Yoni mudra is performed using the hands as shown below in the picture.

Yoni Mudra

How the mudra meditation done?

Just sit cross legged with the spine erect, hold your hands in yoni mudra (thumbs are facing the ceiling and the hands below your navel with elbows bent outwards) and take deep, joyful ujjai breaths. Do few rounds. This can be integrated with other yoga practices, or can be done alone. Typically a mudra is practiced after raising the enrgy level in the body through yoga or pranayama or even a physical activity like jogging

When do you want to balance your left and right brains? When one of them is really dominant. That is either you are too logical and lack creativity or you are too sensitive and emotional and can’t approach things logically.

Note: In some texts, yoni mudra refers to a different posture. I think just a termonilogy issue.

Also see the post on story telling to make the brain more creative

Why is that I do not enjoy something fully? – II

Continuing the thought from the previous post Why is that I do not enjoy something fully?, here is another perspective on the same question.

For most of us the enjoyment is either in the past (our  own heroics, success, victory, luck) or in the future (hoping for sucess, win, prosperity etc). Both are virtual because they don’t realy exist except in the mind.

When we enjoy something in the present, it is not the mind that’ enjoying it. It is something above that; call it your conciousness or self or whatever you want. This comes from a total acceptance, which I believe is possible only in the present moment.

Difficult to belive? Try this. Pick a task/activity that you don’t enjoy (better something that you have been pushing aside for long), and do it today with total involvement. No judging. No analysing. Enjoy doing it. If your mind is trying to pull you away, just smile at it.

See what happens. So where is the genuine enjoyment? Is it in the mind or in the present moment?

Surrender

Surrender is a beautiful concept advocated by all the Indian religions. It is even placed superior to many of the spiritual practices.

But what does it mean really? What do one surrender? To whom? What happens after that?

I had my own problem understanding what surrender means. It is a tradition in India to offer your problems to a god, diety or a guru. This seemed to me the closest possible meaning of surrender, when I tried to undertsand this initially. 

This is how I experimented this.When I had a problem that I couldn’t solve or escape from, I said – God, I can’t handle this, I’m surrendering this to you. You take care. But it didn’t really work and soon it looked more like a ritual. I realized that such a surrender demanded complete faith (in whatever you surrender to), which was another abstract concept I needed to then understand. Without faith, the surrender was meaningless, because I doubted whether it would work or not and still continued pondering on it. Subconciously, I wished it would work, because my faith would grow then! So I had another chicken-egg situation. 

I dropped it for months till I became interested in  Mindfulness  and present moment. I decided to attempt to be ‘in the present moment’ for a week or so, just to feel it out ( I didn’t continue that for a reason; that’s for another post). As I became more and more mindful (in the present), surrender manifested all of a sudden! It was there in the present moment.

This brought about a totally diffrent meaning to Surrender. The real surrender is to drop all the resistance (to anything, may be after you failed to solve it or escape from) and just be in the situation. And the problem is no more there, simply because in present moment there are no problems.

Try it yourself. If there is a problem thats bothering you right now, just drop all your resistance to it, accept it fully and just be there. See what happens.(No cheating, be true to yourself, the acceptance has to be total and effortless)

I have tried this in some simple issues in my life and it works beautifully. But I think the challenge is to apply it to real serious issues (especially where ego is involved..)and that’s something I would like to start practicing.

Long way…