Monthly Archives: October 2009

How much of what we see, we ‘see’?

Yesterday,  I watched a video on a medical condition known as ’Neglect’(also known as Hemispatial neglect) which is exhibited by people with the right hemisphere of the brain injured (the left hemispherical injury could also result in this situation, but that is not bad as this, because of the built in redundancy in with the right hemisphere for the visual processing). These people lose their sense of space on one side (usually the left) and don’t much realize it.

This video showed a patient copying a picture of a cat and when she reproduced it, it just had only one half ! What was also interesting is that she did not realize that it was incomplete; she could actually see the whole picture.

This points to a very interesting aspect about the way we see. In fact, we ‘register’ only a small percentage of what we see around us, the rest of the details are filled in by the brain based on past experiences (retrieved from memory). Which is to say when you look at some object, you only notice some key features and the image in your mind is formed by combining what you see and what is already stored in your memory about the same object. Optical illusions and magic exploit this behavior of the brain. So the mind sort of takes a “Oh! I know this stuff already” approach.

This leads to problems like not paying attention to details, pre conceptions about things/events and also restricts your creative thinking.

 Now assume what happens if we don’t access the memory when we see things around us. You just watch. You perceive things as they are without judging, labeling, categorizing, connecting to yourself, attaching an attribute etc. We are in a way not letting the left brain come in the way. This can be a great experience and you will see the entire world around in a new perspective.

This is the essence of mindful watching…

Or will we just end up seeing the outline of everything around, like in cartoons?


I was reading about some thing called ‘Lojong’ in Tibetan Buddhism (which involves refining and purifying one’s intent and way of thinking through a set of proverbs) when I came across this short story about a teacher called Atisha, the originator of this concept. This happened when Atisha was planning to move to Tibet to teach there; the story is reproduced below from Wikipedia:

 A story is told of Atisha that when he heard that the inhabitants of Tibet were very pleasant and easy to get along with, instead of being delighted, he was concerned that he would not have enough negative emotion to work with in his Lojong practice. So he brought along his ill-tempered Bengali servant-boy, who would criticize him incessantly and was awful to spend time with. Tibetan teachers then like to joke that when Atisha arrived in Tibet, he realized that there was no need after all.

 Though the story brought out an instant smile, the depth was touching. How many people really think of the possibility of negativity around for his/own self development?

 This reminded me of an article I read long ago. This was written by a person called Siddique (a film director from our state) about a person called Father Abel, the founder of an institution called Cochin Kalabhavan  (this is group of performing artists with lots of emphasis on humor). Siddique recalled this incident about Father Abel, when the latter passed away .

 When Siddique was a small boy, he along with his friends used to play football in a ground adjacent to the church. Father Abel used to walk  to the church from his residence and back, along the road next to the ground. The children used to make fun of him, call him names and tease him, whenever he walked past. But he would never respond and would walk away walk away calmly as if nothing happened. Many years later, Siddique joined Cochin  Kalabhavan as  an artist and during a conversation asked Father Abel why he refused to react when the children made fun of him. Father replied with a smile: “ When we were in Rome for the priesthood training, people are employed to stand on roadside to insult us. This was done to increase patience and tolerance. When you boys were giving me that training free of cost, why should I get angry at all?”

In the corporate world, I have heard the ‘whether the glass is half empty or  half full’ stuff more than a dozen times, and whenever people use that to talk of attitude, you could tell how empty the statements were. But to practice it to the  extend where everything is simply a means to help you on the path, needs something more profound.

May be that’s why god need to exist…

Which brain listens? Right or left?

Some of the literature on right and left brain suggest that while the left brain processes things serially, the right processes things as a whole.

Looked interesting and also convincing, but for quiet sometime I could not really figure out what it really meant.

But then I had this interesting experience that simply but in a profound way showed me this. As is my usual practice, I was listening to a talk as I was driving home yesterday. Though it was the second time I was listening to it, I was listening intendly. Suddenly there came a moment of laughter, where the speaker explained a point with a joke. As I burst out laughing, suddenly I became aware of the surroundings; and where I was at that point. But what was also interesting was that I remembered exactly the location where I listened to the same joke earlier. I rather remembered it like a picture.

I was amused and when I shared this incident with a friend, he too agreed to have had similar experiences. I think this is what happened: When I was listening to the talk, it was my left brain who was ‘listening’ (predominantly) making sense of what is heard in an incremental way. But when the moment the joke came, suddenly the right brain kicked in and the whole thing including the surroundings is perceived as one shot.

I think the reason why the shift to right brain was so visible, is that a joke is not serially processed, mostly you laugh at a whole joke. So you wait till a joke is complete without logically processing it and when it is done, the whole thing is just processed in one shot as a whole.

And I think this is the essence of mindfulness…

Collective wish

I was in a meeting when someone brought up this topic. Why many projects fail? The organization has created a strong supporting infrastructure for the project to execute: there are good enabling functions,(such as Training Division, Quality, KM, HR, Networking)a host of tools (for project management, tracking etc) and proven practices and proceses. In spite of all these, many of the projects are in trouble or are sure to fail. Why?

No one had the answer (it is not expected too…)

Sitting there, something strange came to my mind. I remembered someone telling me a potential reason behind increasing number of sick people around; he said it was because of what is called a ‘collective wish’ by the doctors. Though not consciously, a doctor, deep in side is actually wishing that there are more and more sick people around, so that he can make a living. And such strong wish by many doctors together actually becomes true. That’s the power of the wish. The same holds good for many other professions. Lawyers are wishing for more crime and trouble in the society, army is wishing for more wars…etc

It is not that they make this explicit wish, but deep inside, their existence depends on this. If everyone is healthy, what will a doctor do? In a way this is also a contradiction in the mind. At two levels, one wishes for two opposite things to happen.

I think the same thing happens at work too. Most of the people or groups who are supposed to help projects execute better, deep inside also wish that the projects get in to trouble or even fail. Because they are constantly required to prove their value-addition or difference they bring on to table, and for them to do this projects need to be in trouble. Only then they can ‘turn them around’ and prove their worth. If everyone in the company follows the process perfectly, what is the need for a ‘quality team to exist’ at all?

The same can be extended to ‘why companies fail’ also? Many of the CEO’s (and the aspirants) are in fact wishing that the companies perform badly (or go bankrupt or the existence threatened); so that they can ‘turn them around’.

The converse might also be true. Probably one reason for the high rate of crime could be that there is no ‘collective wish’ for peace….

The country that gods rule…

Gods rule this country. Any problem that the government, judiciary, police, technology or medicine cannot resolve, people simply go to gods and…..the problems is solved, no matter how hard or bad it is.

See below how innovative this can get…


If you didn’t get it…here goes the thinking. In India, people like building walls for their property, and when the “Indian men” encounter a such a wall, there is an irresistable urge to pee there. And there has been no way to stop this age old habit…law would be useless as this is almost a comulsive reaction.

So..comes gods.  Some one started to make tiles  with gods pics which you can put on the walls. God fearing people don’t pee on gods.

This led to another problem. Some people found it more satisfying to pee on other’s gods.

Comes the workaround: tiles with pics of gods representing all the religions in the area..(the one you see above is such a one)…