Monthly Archives: July 2010

Games People Play

Somebody recently mentioned to me something interesting about the Japanese martial arts. He pointed out that the essence of the practice is actually to accept a blow from the opponent rather than defending it. He told me that when one accepts an attack so completely, he can’t be hurt.

 The Japanese martial arts are very spiritual, supposed to have been influenced by Buddhism.

But what really struck me was the simple beauty of the concept. It is somewhat difficult for us to digest this as we are all taught to defend ourselves and being defenseless is generally considered a weakness.

Let me narrate an incident. I once had a very very aggressive and dominant boss. Aggressive in the sense that he had to be always in conflict with someone. Perhaps he derived his sense of identity out of it. It used to happen that we would get in to some arguments where I would defend myself fiercely and these meetings left me totally down and drained.

This happened for a while, till I decided to take a close look and analyze what is happening. I could see a pattern which was something like this: My nature was to defend when accused and when I do that I became very emotional and lost my mind. I would then withdraw and sulk. My manager had figured this out (I assume). So what he would do is to begin with a very provoking accusation. The moment I became defensive, he would completely be in control and take me for a ride. I also sensed that there was some kind of gratification he for him out of this.

This was like a game. He was pulling me in to this and I was unconsciously consenting. So what would happen if I refuse to play the game? This is what I started to do. I went completely prepared for the next meeting. I sat there listening intently with calm (as much as I could) face, smiling. When he made some of those accusations, I calmly responded something like “that’s an interesting perception”. I am still smiling serenely. Suddenly something is wrong. The discussion continues and comes the next one and there I am smiling and saying ‘may be’. That was it. He was furious.

I simply remained there unperturbed like a Buddha. I made it clear that I refuse to be pulled in to the game.

The same thing happened in the next couple of meetings and by then both of us had understood it had lost all the charm. And we didn’t have many more such meetings.

This was a great lesson for me. We are always taught to defend us and prove us right. And all that it takes for someone to get us out of the mind is to just tell that we are wrong. But for a change, if we accepted it with a smile, you can see the entire story crumpling right in front.

May be Sensei is also the Zen master…


There is a person I respect a lot; someone living in knowledge. We will call him V, to protect his identity. I first heard of him through a friend who narrated the following incident to me. Once V had been to the US Consulate in Chennai for a visa interview. The place was crowded as usual, and people were impatiently and nervously waiting for their turn. The US Consulate had the reputation of declining Visa without giving any reason. And it was an ordeal for most till they finished the ‘interview’.

There was a coffee shop around where people drank coffee and left the empty cups on the side walls and tables. Then V began to do something strange. He started picking up those cups and deposited them in to the dustbins. No word spoken. More people came and left more cups around. And V continued this till he was called in for the interview. He went inside with not a trace of nervousness.

 This story was the main motivation for me to meet V about 8 years back.

This incident came to mind recently when ‘purposelessness’ came in to a conversation. As the logical mind becomes stronger, it becomes extremely difficult to do something that does not make sense. ‘Let me understand’ is our common reaction especially to new things. And we discard many things in life because they make no sense.

But actually doing something that is ‘purposeless’ can be a profound experience. There is a joy concealed behind them. Ability to do something ‘purposeless’ is a sign of wisdom. This can help someone step out of the logical mind. But it is extremely difficult to do it as the mind will do everything to talk you out of this.

 Here is a simple exercise. When you meet someone either in the office corridor or on the street, just tell them a sentence (for e.g “it is better to be a vegetarian”). Nothing more, nothing less. No introduction, no waiting for a response. Just move on and may be tell the next person too…

Have fun!

The waiting mind

Have you ever observed your mind when you are waiting?

I was in a Supermarket on Sunday with my family. I am not really found of shopping, so I prefer to just wait somewhere taking care of my kid and of course watching people. My wife appears with some goods in hand which goes in to the cart I am guarding and off she goes again. Normally there is a set time (sometimes not explicitly) after which normally I lose my patience. Either we stop the shopping at this point or I swear not to accompany her for another..

But last week I simply stood there watching what happening in the mind ( I am reading book on Mindfulness). As I became impatient, there was a tension building up in the mind. It was as if the flow of thoughts stopped or the thoughts got confined to smaller circles.  The tension in the mind was something similar to what a magnet has on some iron pieces strewn on a paper.

This is what happens in the mind normally when one waits. The thinking becomes unconscious; that’s why many lose temper when they wait. Next time when you are waiting for something and are about to lose your temper, for a moment watch your mind.

But the real revelation was something different. This explains why many of the ideating sessions we conduct in offices do not work. We are there waiting for the idea to come and this waiting makes the mind ‘tense’ which is a non creative state. An idea that arises effortlessly and spontaneously comes from the mind that is not waiting; but at rest. I think this is one of the biggest blocks for creativity; but hard to see because of the contradiction build in to it.

Map of the Mind

To understand the thinking better, I set out to create a 3D map of the mind. I picked the word ‘elephant’ and tried to represent all the thoughts that have come in my mind in the recent past with elephant as the starting point. I put this all in to the below representation. It looks interesting, though it can hardly represent the real complexity of the mind.

All the bubbles represent thoughts and the lines represent connections between thoughts. I have just started this, further I am going use this as the base to illustrate thinking, influencing factors, sense making etc.