Monthly Archives: July 2009

The trap of Time

I wasn’t keeping well and had a very disturbed sleep last night. I woke up at about half past seven; my wife was already shouting from the Kitchen that I was late. As I rose from the bed, I saw that my little daughter was awake too and she immediately sprang on me. She was  surprised to find me still in bed and was visibly happy. As she began to climb over my shoulders, I (who was already late) asked herto get down as I had to hurry up and left the room. When I was at the door, I just looked back to find her sitting on the bed with a look that I can never describe. I think I saw pain.

As I was driving to office, I was wondering – what the hell am I late for? 

This instance haunted me the whole day and as I thought about it,the whole stupidity began to surface.

 I think this is one of the most sinister traps we all have got in to- Chasing time. We are always late for some thing or the other. Late for office, late for meetings, late for lunch, late for leaving office, late to bed. This has become an obsession; time dictates our life.

Fundamentally the problem is not about respecting time, but I think the problem is about getting caught up with that. Say, I am doing something and it’s late at night. The great time keeper in the mind says – get to bed, you are late. Otherwise you don’t get enough sleep or you are going to wake up late. Which means either you are drowsy in the office or you are late. Which further means….enough. I stop and go to bed.

And the wonderful mind gives all the logical reasoning needed for this. What will happen when I leave late to office? There is going to be more traffic on the road, which means I will be more uncomfortable and probably take some extra time to reach. Very logical! So what happens, the moment I wake up and till I am actually in office, there is a persistent voice in the head that I am late.

Not only that we are in this trap, we use it against others whenever possible. The satisfaction it gives me when I say – I am late because you haven’t readied the breakfast on time, I have been waiting for you for 30 minutes, how can you waste by time?, get this presentation on my table in 1hr sharp, send me your quarterly objectives by the end of the day, I had to waste half a day because of a stupid mistake you did…

And what do we do with this time others have saved for us? We shamelessly waste it as we desire, without ever being even conscious about it.   

And what we loose in this whole process of chasing time is those little joys that make up our life. They are left behind and it might not occur to us that those moments might never come again in our life. When they came, just for us, we were not there. We were chasing else which infact might be much less significant.

When I look back, at some point in my life, it wasn’t as bad as it is now. I did things as I liked, some times I did nothing for days. I ate what I wanted, slept when I wanted. But now I can see all that effort that I put in to make myself more productive, punctual and successful in life. It really has taken some good effort.

But now, it is really scary. Many things in my life are done not because there is a need, but just because it’s time to do it. I have been eating my lunch everyday at 12.30 and this ritual happens irrespective of whether I am hungry or not. I go to bed at 11.00PM; doesn’t matter if I am sleepy or not.

Who is ‘me’ to complain? The time is important. And only that’s important.

And it is so obvious why children are happy and creative. They are never late for anything. They are just there wherever they are needed to be at whatever time they are needed.

I think this is actually the case with each of too. But it’s just that the amount to mess that we built up in the mind to justify this stupid act of chasing time prevents us from seeing the truth. What’s the result? We are still not there where we are needed and when we are needed. In addition, we always carry this permanent disturbance of wanting to be somewhere else sometime later.

I took my daughter out in the evening, played with her and read her a story book. But I’m sure the look she gave me today will linger in my consciousness for a long time to come. And how many such golden moments have I lost simply because I wasn’t there?

Mind, Ego, Memory, Body, Emotion and Self – 1

“I am depressed”

“This is not right”

 “I don’t like him”

 “I am not comfortable doing this”

”I will teach him a lesson”

 “Who is he to tell me what I should do?”

 “This is stupid; this isn’t what I had wanted”

 “I can’t do this, I am not capable”

 “Why is he trying to find fault with me always?”

 “People are going to be ‘Wowed’ by what I am making”

 “This is it. I need to take charge of this”…

Sounds familiar? These are some of the expressions we use all the time in our lives. And we think this is our identity or character. How true is that?

 One of the fundamental reasons for all the problems in life is said to be this false sense of identification. This is what all major philosophies have been telling us for ages. False identifications! What exactly is that? Let me put in some thoughts. This is going to be a bit long, so I will try to split them in to several posts; topic wise.

Though by habit, we refer to “me” in every above situation, in reality there are very distinct faculties within us which are operating behind the scene– The Mind, Ego, Memory, Body, Emotion and Self. At different points of time, based on the situation, we identify ourselves with any of them. For e.g when you say we are depressed, in reality it is our mind that’s depressed. When we say we are tired, it’s our body that’s tired. When we want to ‘teach some one a lesson’ it is actually our ego that wants to do it.

While each of these faculties is necessary and good in their own respect, the problem arises when they take control without us realizing. In this constant struggle for dominance, the great master “The self”, which is above and beyond all others is ignored. All the religions advocate that the moment you identify yourself with the self, all the problems vanish and that is what is liberation or enlightenment. But the concept of identifying with the self looks too conceptual and ideal. So, the first step let’s try to understand these faculties a bit more in detail; may be when we do that the self will just emerge effortlessly.

Here are some thoughts on The Mind.

Mind is the most complex and the dangerous one to tackle. Most of us, most of the time identify ourselves with the mind. Mind is just a collection of thoughts (remember the analogy of Trees and forest). That in a way means we identify with the thoughts.

The nature of the mind is movement. Mind keeps going to the past and the future. Mind is time. Mind exists only in time. Mind lives constantly in anticipation of a ‘happiness’ that is in the future or feeding on a ‘memory’ that occurred in the past. These are the two things that mind needs for its survival- pleasure and pain, in the future or in the past.

Mind likes to be in charge. The other faculties like Ego, memory, emotions and body are allies of the mind. Mind uses them as needed to maintain its control over your identity.

Mind is not sure of its identity. It needs approval from others. You seek acceptance, approval, appreciation constantly when you are identified with the mind.

It’s the mind that’s judging and categorizing. It’s what adds the ‘flavor’ to events, situations, responses, people etc. Mind prevents you from seeing things as they are.

Mind is not concerned about what’s good and bad, it goes more by what’s comfortable. Mind always resists a change away from a comfortable state.

Mind loves concepts. It is happy analyzing and reasoning things (predominantly to suit its needs). For e.g If you are really looking for joy, mind will interpret it as happiness and then tell you how the objects, achievements, victories will give you that joy.

The two strong weapons mind has at its disposal are fear and doubt. And to make sure that it is in control, it constantly strengthens these two weapons and any effort you take to overcome fear and doubt will be spoiled by the mind.

Another trap that the mind (along with the memory) creates is patterns. These patterns are executed by the mind without the slightest trace of awareness. The more patterns we build, the more the control of the mind. And any effort to remove a pattern is sure to make the mind uncomfortable.

Why is it necessary to understand and control the mind? Because most of the philosophies advocate that the ultimate freedom lies in a state of void that emerges when the thoughts stop.

Here are the first two simple steps to understand the mind and gain some control over it.

  1. Understand the nature and function of the mind. When we are able to say- ‘Oh. It’s not me, it’s my mind’ (and probably smile at the mind), something great has happened. This will need some practice, and of course; the mind doesn’t like being watched. So it will try everything possible to shake your attention off.
  2.  The second is to cultivate Mindfulness. In this age old practice (originally advocated by Buddha) breath is used as an instrument to bring the mind in to present moment. Though there are numerous techniques available to bring about a stage of mindfulness, breath awareness still remains the best.  Just simply become aware of the breathing for few moments (as often as you can) and you can see the mind settling (You could also do a body awareness if that’s what you like)

The idea is never to confront the mind and bring it under control; mind would resist that and do anything to win you over. 

Thoughts on Ego in the next post…

Doubt, Negativity and the level of Prana

There are times when our minds become doubtful. All of a sudden, things look different. We start doubting people, situations, and intentions and finally start doubting ourselves (our capabilities, qualities, achievements etc). Sometimes this passes quickly, but at times it gets lodged firmly in the mind, difficult to shake off. When prolonged, this leads to psychosomatic disorders.

But where does all this doubt come from? It’s interesting to see that you were perfectly at peace with some situation till one fine day where you begin to ‘sense’ something wrong. A doubting mind soon develops negative tendencies and the negativity feeds on to doubt back. This could also lead to depression.

Typically we attribute ‘doubting’ to personality traits, thinking problems or even certain situations. But it’s interesting to see the point of view of Yoga. Yoga suggests that mind becomes doubtful when the Prana level goes down. Prana is what’s called the life force (or mental energy) which is alive in everyone. When your prana levels are low, that is when you feel down, disinterested in things, lethargic and develop a negative attitude in life.

So Yoga suggests that to keep doubts and negativity away, all you need to do is to keep your Prana levels high.

How do you do that? According to Yoga, there are four sources of energy: Food, Sleep, Breath and Meditation. Paying attention to them (if not all, at least one or two) will help you keep your energy.

Here is a brief overview of the four:

  • Food – According to Yoga, there are three types of food
    • Sattwik – Whole some food E.g Fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, cereals. They give lot of energy (greener the vegetable, more the prana)
    • Rajasik – This group causes lot of agitation in the mind. E.g Tea/Coffee, Spicy foods
    • Tamasik – That depletes energy and makes you dull and lethargic. E.g Alcohol, mushrooms, non vegetarian food, garlic, fried food, frozen food, refrigerated food etc.

If you are eating Tamasik food regularly, it can make you become very lethargic. Change your diet a bit and go for Satwik food. 

  •  Sleep : It’s important to have sufficient amount to quality uninterrupted sleep. If you have sleeping problems, sort it out. (See the post Tips for a good nights’ sleep )
  • Breath :  Look at your breath. Is it deep or shallow, is it long or short. A bad breathing pattern will fail to reenergize your body and mind as required. If you are badly down, completely devoid of energy, get on to some Pranayama practices. Things will turn around quickly. (Suryanamaskara is also a profound technique) Or try some aerobics. Paying attention to breath also brings some amount of present moment awarensss. 
  •  Meditation: A great source of energy. Needs some practice but can keep you really charged. There are several schools and techniques, choose what you find suitable for you.

Putting attention in these four sources for a few days, you will have a better prana level and even if you have been down for longh, you can see that in few days mind turns around.

H.H Sri Sri Ravishankar says in a talk – Doubt is always about positivity. When someone says “I love you”, you ask “really?”. But when someone says I hate you, you don’t question that. You don’t doubt your anger or depression, but you doubt all the positive qualities in you….

Also see Doubt and conditioning of the mind for the worse

The ‘void’ for creativity in Organizations

Creativity is a buzzword these days and there are all these tools, frame works and thinking techniques to make people and organizations more and more creative (and innovative of course..). But how successful are they? How many organizations really are creative? How many dumb people have been transformed in to creative geniuses by these techniques?

Every organization is doing some thing or the other, which they believe will make them creative. You know what I really think ? Like most of such hypes, the organizations will pursue this for some time and at when they see that it doesn’t deliver what it promised, they will change the definition of ‘creativity’ to suit the concept in their mind (we have done that to Quality already..)

I think the fundamental problem is that most of the creativity advocates are not really sure how exactly this creativity works. When someone sees it happening in a particular setting / situation a few times, they think that’s what will make people creative. Brainstorming may be what an organization finds working for them. But do we go beyond to see how that technique makes people creative?

I think here is the secret. Creativity manifests in a state of void (no thoughts or in the present moment) spontaneously, even without the help of the logical mind. (Here is a typical example people tell you: Think of the time, you were trying to solve a problem and you eventually give up (or drop). And some time later the solution comes totally unexpected. May be after a sleep) How does it happen? When there is the void in you, this is the space or gap where you get to access the infinite creativity of the universe. And in that void the feverishness for the results also disappears.

If you take any techniques for creativity, they lead to this void. Take brainstorming as an example. What happens when you brainstorm? When you continuously flush your mind out, the mind comes to a state of void. This is typically where people become silent and then comes the real ‘out of the box’ ideas. 

There are some other techniques, which don’t take you to this space, because they deal with your logical mind. (Sometimes it is funny, you use your logical mind to overcome the logical barrier in the mind and it all looks perfectly logical) As a matter of fact, they do give results, but not really what’s called the ‘creative ones’. But many times organizations are happy with them, because they are safe.

So in essence to make someone creative, we need to create that void. But it is impossible to stop the mind to created that space. But the sages of India solved this problem rather easily. How? They discovered that mind, breath and body are closely interrelated and each could influence the other. They went on to create techniques (for e.g the breathing technique like Pranayama) which could create the void in the mind, without confronting it directly.

All this is to set the context for a concept of “Void for Creativity in Organizations” that I want to present to you. Extending the same concept to Organizations, I think the simple reason why Organizations are not really creative is because they don’t experience the ‘void’. The noise (or thinking) in organizations create so much of clutter that prevents them from getting to the void or the silence, which is the abode of creativity.

I think organizations, like individuals have a mind, and along with that comes other faculties that contribute to the constant chattering. Here are few important ones that occurs to me:

  1. Every organization develops a strong logical mind, which is based on data, past incidents, inputs from market, strategies. The logical mind is so adamant about being right every time.
  2. The organization’s mind is always in the past or the future (tracking and planning) and the space for creativity happens neither in the past or the future. The void is always in the present or the time stops in that void.
  3. Ego – Every organization works hard to build identities (internally and externally) and after sometime, this feeds in to the organization’s ego. Preserving this ego becomes a strong need and this needs effort. 
  4. Lack of a collective mind, which is caused by people conflicts, competing divisions etc.
  5. Too much of feverishness about the results or the outcomes.
  6. Attributes like Fear, Responding to triggers, Uncertainty (doubt) etc which become dominant at times.

As the organizations grow (old as well as in size) the noise increases, forms rigid patterns and becomes the way of functioning (It is not a wonder that smaller organizations and start ups are more creative many times). Even if organizations become aware of this issue (lack of creativity), typically we blame it on things like processes, bad management, bad marketing, lack of technical competence, market, competition etc. But I think the fundamental problem is that Organizations do not understand the need for the ‘Void’ for creativity.

Let me give you an example. The void comes sometimes when there is a real danger, say to the existence of the organization itself. That’s when people come together, let go of the past and don’t’ have big things to hope for the future – and this brings all the attention to what best can be done right now, which is the void for creativity. It is here where the organizations change its course drastically, attempts things it had always hesitated to do, decides to explore things that never made sense etc.

The moment when this void is there, creativity occurs spontaneously.

It might seem impossible to stop the clutter in the organizations and create a void. It will not come through structural changes or putting more processes, or introducing more techniques. But like the mind-breath relation, there are subtle indirect ways to create this void in the organizations. I will reserve the thoughts on that for another post. Right now, I want to leave this concept for you to think and comment on.

Living in the present moment

Over the weekend, I spend some time cleaning up my laptop. That’s when I found this mindmap that I had done probably a year or so back. These were my thoughts on Living in the Present Moment(For those who do not know, Mindmap is a tool that is used to visually represent your thinking). This was around the time I got hooked to the concept and wanted to figure out what it meant to live in the present moment. I listed down things and questions which when done or answered would lead me eventually to a state of present moment !

Fortunately I dropped this approach after a while without pushing really hard.

The reason why I wanted to put this up here is to show the stupid, humane error that all of us make. We think we are intelligent and rational human beings and we can intellectually understand any concept and also work backwards to create a plan/approach to reach there. But how true is this belief?

If you don’t believe me, just consider this. Try putting up a process/ methodology for falling in love and executing it with your great logical mind versus just falling in love totally unexpected. I don’t think you will need another illustration than this.

While many great things in life are like this, they just happen when the time is ripe. But the Mind and the Ego likes the intellectual gymnastics. The more intellectually you try to understand the truth, you are actually creating concepts with which the mind and ego plays around. (That’s when someone who is ‘being with himself’ looks so stiff and depressed)

I think the truth works the other way round. When the right moment comes (and we don’t decide it, the nature (or whatever you call) knows it) you just fall in to it and all that change needed just happens spontaneously. All that we need to do is to wait patiently for the moment to come. Drop the resistance and be there.

But how do we convince our dear logical mind to stop the noise-making activity called thinking?


See also : Conflicts are not resolved by our logical mind

Balancing the change – The improving and worsening parameters

There is a technique in TRIZ for conflict problem solving. The essence of the technique is that when we try to improve a parameter of a system, there is another parameter that is worsened.  Typically a compromise is arrived at balancing both the parameters. An example would be the power and fuel efficiency of the car, when you try to improve one, the other suffers. And this is the gap where innovation finds its scope – is there a way we can have a more powerful car with the same fuel efficiency? This would mean that we will need to create a new engine or is there a way to boost up the power output by external means…and so on.

The crux of the theory is that, every system is balanced in some way and when we change any of it’s parameters, that creates an imbalance.

This applies to our life too, when we try to change. Whatever is our personality or habits, at any given point of time; we are balanced (at least in our own view). Now when we are making a change (like you drop a habit like smoking) this leads to an imbalance. While the imbalance gets corrected over a period of time automatically, there is always a tendency to come back to the last balanced state automatically. I think this makes the changes difficult. Mind (or some external triggers) will try to trick us to go back to the ‘old balanced state’ and mostly we give in after some initial struggle. People who have been smokers will tell how miserable it is when they try to stop.

I think it’s essential to know how to retain the balance when we make a change. One reason why this is difficult is that while the improvement parameter is rather ‘physical’ the worsening one is ‘virtual’ (by physical what I mean is those we can feel as an entity in space, time or as an object or activity. Virtual ones are subtle, often in the mind which we cannot really feel or predict or measure). While we plan to change the physical parameter, typically we ignore the virtual one. For e.g, you take a decision that you are not going to smoke again. You list out all the reasons not to smoke again and take your plunge. But you ignore the ‘virtual’ part, which is the deprivation, misery and depression. You either decide to take them on as they come or hope they will not come. The moment you stop smoking, an imbalance is created. The mind will use all the virtual parameters as excuses to force you to go back to the old balanced state of a ‘smoker’.

So how do we tackle this? We shouldn’t take just one decision, but take two – one for the improving parameter and the other for the worsening parameter. So in this case it would be like this: (1) I will not smoke again and (2) I will be so happy about it. Provided you stick to both the decisions equally, a new balanced state will be created without much struggle.

In some cases where both the parameters are physical, this balancing happens rather automatically. For e.g you decide to wake up early from now on, you will naturally know that you need to go to bed earlier than usual. But in some cases, the worsening parameter lies hidden. For e.g you want to bring more focus to your work and you decide to spend more time in office. You know, this means you will spend less time with your family. But the real ‘worsening parameter’ here is that your family is not going to be happy about this change and at some point of time, the issue surfaces and may be an argument breaks out and you have your good excuse to go back to your old habits. So what could be the solution here – you also take a decision that you will well compensate for your reduced time with family with increased quality. This will create the balance for the change the family will undergo.

I think when we are able to move from one balanced state to another while making a change, changes will be effortless. Identifying the right improving and worsening parameters will be the key to this.

An insight to making firm decisions

All of us make decisions in life. We decide to do something or we decide not to do something or change the way we do something. While we are successful sometimes, there are also quiet many failures. (By success I mean that we are able to stick to the decision and failure the opposite)

Have you ever wondered why we aren’t successful always? Even if we thought about it, we are most likely to attribute it to things like our will power. One reason why we are unable to see a pattern in our own decisions (and the success and failures) is that every time the decisions are different and look unique. It’s very rare we take the same decision over and over again.

 I had the great privilege of being a heavy smoker for many years. I had made numerous attempts to quit, and one important ritual in every attempt was my taking the decision ‘not to smoke ever in my life’. I failed repeatedly. Sometimes it was immediate; sometimes it took few hours, days or weeks before I succumbed to the temptation. Sometimes I was miserable and some other times happy.

When I analyzed these failures, I could see there were two separate aspects. One was the decision making itself and the other sustaining it through maintaining the mindset. If I made a good decision, that helped me have a great start. I could overcome the initial hurdle without serious problems. Similar to a rocket gaining the escape velocity to overcome the earth’s gravitational pull.But if the decision it self was weak, I failed almost immediately. Even when I made a good decision, my failure came from the second aspect – where could not sustain it.

So, when was it that I could take a good decision? I saw two scenarios:

  1. When I had done enough reflection and introspection (why am I doing this, what is it doing for me..etc)
  2. After an emotional outburst.

But still I couldn’t figure out why was my decisions were stronger in the above scenarios.

 Months later, I came across a technique from Yoga for making firm decisions. This is the technique:

Sit in with your eyes closed, spine erect. Take a deep breath and hold the breath inside. Now repeat the decision firmly and continuously in your mind. Keep holding the breath as long as you can. When you can’t hold any longer, breathe out completely. Now hold the breath outside and repeat the decision again in the mind. When you can’t any longer hold it out, breath in and hold and so on. Do this couple of times. And it seems, whatever decision you take like this, you wouldn’t be able to break even if you try to.

This was interesting. Holding breath is a stage in Pranayama called Kumbhaka. And what happens when you do Kumbhaka? – the mind stops (or the thoughts disappear). (Please do not attempt the above technique without guidance or knowledge)

Now the whole thing made sense. I could see a connection. I could see that in both the scenarios above, there was something interesting about the mind. In the first scenario, the deep reflection settled the mind (or the doubts) and the in the second mind just entered in to a void following an outburst. So in essence, I could see that the mind had to get out of the way if we have to take a firm decision. This is verified by the fact that there are times when I take a decision; I almost knew that it will not work. I could see that before even the decision is made, doubts arise in the mind and the decision is doomed even before it starts.

Based on this experience, I have formed a concept for making firm decisions:  If you have to make a firm decision, you need to first get the mind out of the way. Once the thoughts stop (mind doesn’t exist then – I like the analogy of mind and thoughts to forest and trees) take the decision. Allow it to sink deeply in to your self. You will find that the decision is successful, almost effortlessly.

So how to get the mind get out of your way? Here are few suggestions:

  1. Intense Mindfulness. Mindfulness literally kills your mind. When you are mindful, the decision making is good automatically, and you don’t need to do anything extra. But becoming mindful needs some preparation and effort
  2. Intense prayer and surrender – This also settles the mind, especially when there is fear about the decision or you feel helpless
  3. Deep reflection and introspection. In cases where your mind is cluttered about the decision. For e.g smoking, on one side you really want to stop and on the other side you fear that you will miss your friend. Do a deep reflection to get clarity, this will settle the mind and you can take a better decision.
  4. Certain techniques in yoga where you do breath retention (like Moorcha pranayama, Nadi Sodhana Pranayama with prolonged Kumbhaka or simply just holding the breath as mentioned above). They immediately result in a void, and this is the space where you actually take the decision. A void could also result by haphazard breathing for sometime. Techniques 2 or 3 followed by 4 will be your key to making firm decisions.

Sometimes, it is also possible that your mind becomes void or blank without any effort. If you are aware, you should be able to catch it (I have seen this happening ton me when I am physically exhausted)

But remember, taking decision is one of the aspects we need to master. Thoughts on sustaining that in another post.