Category Archives: Brain

On dreams again

I had this dream today early in the  morning. I was living in Germany. In the street where I was staying, pillars were being erected for a flyover or overhead railway line. I was enquiring with someone if the prize of the apartment I was staying would go up if the construction was complete. There were two small restaurants nearby and I vividly remember choosing between them and picking some specific stuff like juice from one of them. Then there was a room, where there were two Indians apparently changing their cloths. I had picked up some conversation with them, but can’t recollect. I woke by then and was out of the dream.

 Though it looks like one of those common strange dreams, I was amused by the complexity of it. Last night I was watching a film depicting the struggle between an Indian King and the Britishers. There were many English men in the film and only when my wife pointed out, it occurred to me that this had probably triggered the dream. The last time I was in Germany was 2004, but the memories were still intact. The image of the pillar erection comes from Bangalore itself, where the metro rail project is going on. Yesterday afternoon, I had been to a shop right outside the office campus. The place was extremely crowded as I waited in anticipation for the shop keeper’s attention. The shop that I saw in the dream, resembled this shop (the way it was designed). The place I met the two Indians probably (this I am not really sure) came from a movie I watched last week where two Indian medical students turn in to serial killers in the US. They were staying in a similar room in the film.

 All these events had taken place at different points of time and seemingly not related at all. Why the mind tried to connect them in to a dream? Was it just a trial and error going on in the mind to see if it made any sense? Or is there an underlying connection between all these things?

 My experience is that mostly the dreams are triggered by something very recent; something that’s caught the attention. But then what is the mind doing with it during sleep? Is some sense making process going on? And can’t the mind do any sense making without connecting those things together?

How does the mind choose what memory to be recalled in connection with a particular trigger?  Is there a logic that the mind uses or is it just random firing of neurons? Is the mind trying to resolve something? So in reality what is unresolved? The current trigger or some thing unresolved in the memory? In other words is the mind trying to make sense of the current trigger using stuff in memory or is it the other way?

 I happened to catch the dream because I woke up in the middle. But I am sure this must have been happening several times during the night, just that I wasn’t aware or I cannot remember. Is there a result out of these dreams, something like a conclusion, understanding etc, that gets stored in to the mind. In that case it’s very likely that the mind is being programmed without our awareness.

 In the east they say, in deep sleep activities are absorbed in the root ignorance. Probably there is a point.

Positive Affirmations

I was reading an article on Positive Affirmations. Positive Affirmations is a popular (somewhat) technique used to create a strong subconscious (or unconscious) beliefs by repetition. This is touted as a method to create favorable unconscious patterns and also to remove unwanted patterns from the subconscious mind. The method is something like this. If you want to become wealthy, you spend some time everyday repeating something like “I am very wealthy” or something similar. The results are better if combined with visualization. For e.g in this case you also visualize yourself living in a palatial mansion or driving an expensive car or at your dream holiday spot. It’s said that when you create such a positive affirmation in your unconscious mind, it’s bound to happen almost automatically.

 The method had been long used in the ‘mantra’ tradition of the eastern cultures. A ‘mantra’ is a short phrase with or without a meaning and one is required to chant the mantra regularly for a long period. What happens is after a while the conscious mind loses all its interest in the mantra and then it sinks in to your unconscious mind. The unconscious mind understands ‘sound’ and the mantra is typically made of chosen words or syllables which can produce a certain effect. In Hindu tradition, there are mantras for all kind of things: like aquiring intelligence, acquiring money, removing obstacles etc.

 Coming back to the Positive Affirmations. The principle used is the same. When I read it for the first time, it looked pretty logical. But when I thought about it more, I see a catch. What one is trying to do here is to change/create one habit pattern keeping the rest intact. And if this happens, perhaps few other patterns will change unconsciously. It’s something like this. I put an affirmation in to my mind that I want to be wealthy and it becomes my nature. Then I figure out that if I need to be wealthy, it’s going to be at the expense of lot of other things, things that I enjoy doing, time with my family, interests of other people etc. But then I don’t have a choice because the drive to become wealthy is now an unconscious drive in me. Will I have done something good or bad?

 The fundamental question is- is it sufficient to change one thing at a time or is the change holistic? There is definitely a difference between the way eastern traditions and western philosophy approach change. In the western approach one tries to create positive habit patterns and remove the negative habit patterns. They lead to success and well-being in the future. But in the eastern tradition, the idea is not to classify patterns in to good and bad, but to step out of them completely. And the well-being that results in now and here.

Strange Dreams

Like everybody, I do get dreams. Though I must be getting several of them, I don’t remember many when I wake up. Though most them are just trivial or too cluttered, there are a few that are really interesting. These occur when my mind moves between different stages. It’s rather strange, but my mind keeps going around compulsive thinking, deep awareness and presence. These dreams are interesting because they seem very familiar, and are either to do with a distant past (that I don’t remember) or something in the future (that has happened later).

Last Friday night, I had such a dream. I was just recovering from a bad state of mind. I saw a colleague of mine in the dream. We, together with a group of people (who looked like students/tourists) were climbing up a winding pathway. We stopped twice on the way before we climbed up to the highest point. Then apparently for no reason, she just jumped down and died. I could not figure out what happened. It wasn’t clear whether she did jump herself, or was it an accident or someone pushed her. From where I stood, I could see a tall building with a garden (I think so) in front of it.

For whatever reason I believe in re-births and also strongly feel that some of these dreams are to do with some previous lives. But that’s completely illogical too if I had to substantiate it. So I deliberated on whether I should share this dream with my colleague.

 Today, I narrated my dream to her over a coffee. She seemed amused. After a pause she told me something interesting. Even now, apparently she is afraid of heights and whenever she stands at height, she is suddenly overcome by a fear of someone pushing her from behind.

Wow! That was interesting. People who believe in re-birth and past lives, suggest that many unknown elements in our personality such a fear, violent emotions etc are the result of past life experience. And the idea of Past Life Regression is that when you see it yourself, the problem vanishes.

“Was it the past or the future that you saw?” she asked me earnestly.

I had not thought about it earlier. But then it occurred to me that whenever the dreams were about the past, the person’s visual image was not clear. I just knew that it was somebody, but I couldn’t see them or I couldn’t recognize them visually. And I think (this I am not sure) there was no sound. But whenever the dreams were of something in future, I could see the visuals and also hear sound.

 “It was probably in the past” I said.

But I don’t know if there is any logic in this. Perhaps time to read “The Interpretation of Dreams”. I had purchased the book long back, but found it extremely difficult to read. But at least I am going to make an attempt now!

A Nonsense story and Creativity in Children

 “Papa, I have something interesting for you”. My daughter said and I could see that mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

“I will ask you some questions first”, she said

Do I have a choice?.

“Who is your favorite actor?”

“Amir Khan”

“Who is your favorite actress?”

“Kareena Kapoor”

“Choose a number between 0 and 10”

“3”

“Which your favorite pet”

“Dog”

After a short pause, she tell me the following story. “One day, Amir Khan and Kareena Kapoor comes to your home. You ask them how many children they have. They say three. Then you ask them how do they look. And they tell you that they look like dogs”

The way she told me this, she was thoroughly enjoying and looked quite satisfied. Though it looked too silly (and nonsense), I had to pretend that I enjoyed it.

Later as I think of this, it conveys something profound. There has been several studies done on creativity in children. But what prevents us (grown-ups) from being creative like them? In this world we are taught to make sense in what we say and do. Things need to be logical and needs to convey something etc. We are concerned about what others think of what we do or say. And it is this ‘need to make sense’ that doesn’t allow us to be creative..

If we just stop making sense (at least for sometime), perhaps we can get a glimpse of what a creative state is. But that may not be easy. Just try cooking up a story that absolutely makes no sense and telling it to someone, you will be surprised to see how tough that is.

Sleep like a baby

One of our coffee time conversations last week was about sleep. My colleague told me that she was having disturbed sleep these days that makes her drowsy during the day. I suggested her some techniques to for getting a sound sleep. Then it occurred to me that there could be many who would actually benefit from this and hence this post. A sound sleep for me is very important, without which my cognitive abilities do not function properly. A good sleep is also important for a good memory because the data transfer from the temporary memory to the permanent memory is done during sleep (this is called memory consolidation and that’s the reason why people under the influence of alcohol do not remember what happened on the previous night. An alcohol induced sleep is of poor quality and hence the memory transfer does not take place).

Here is a brilliant technique that I have come across for getting a sound sleep. This is practiced by the ancient sages in India and suits people who lead a very stressful existence.

When you retire to bed, lie on your back, relax you body and close your eyes. Now trace all the events of the day backwards from the point of closing your eyes. Just watch yourself going through the activities in the reverse order. Recollect as much of detail as you can including what was going on in your mind. Continue this till the point of waking up in the morning (most of us won’t make it past the evening, we would already be asleep)

Try this. You will sleep like a baby.

This is not a technique to get a good sleep alone. The real purpose is to remove the subconscious impressions in the mind that are caused by the days activities. After few days of practicing this, you will find your mind very lighter. So if you have lots of emotional stress in your life, you know what to do.

Perception with no mind

We are often so caught up with what is going on inside us that we pay very little attention to what’s around us. Scientists say the human mind looks for some basic details to figure out what the object is and usually we are trained to notice differences. May be in the compulsive need to label / understand the object, we compromise on the quality of perception.

I am reading a book titled “Krishnamurti’s Notebook”. This is a diary written by Jiddu Krishnamurti (the famous philosopher, popularly known as K) in the sixties. K is said to have had a mind which was thoughtless. The depth and richness of the perception has an indescribable beauty and majesty. If you ever want to get a feel of what it means to perceive without the mind (without thinking) look at the one page I am reproducing below:

November 17th

The earth was the colour of the sky; the hills, the green, ripening rice fields, the trees and the dry, sandy river-bed were the colour of the sky; every rock on the hills, the big boulders, were the clouds and they were the rocks. Heaven was the earth and the earth heaven; the setting sun had transformed everything. The sky was blazing fire, bursting in every streak of cloud, in every stone, in every blade of grass, in every grain of sand. The sky was ablaze with green, purple, violet, indigo, with the fury of flame. Over that hill it was a vast sweep of purple and gold; over the southern hills a burning delicate green and fading blues; to the east there was a counter sunset as splendid in cardinal red and burnt ochre, magenta and fading violet. The counter sunset was exploding in splendor as in the west; a few clouds had gathered themselves around the setting sun and they were pure, smokeless fire which would never die. The vastness of this fire and its intensity penetrated everything and entered the earth. The earth was the heavens and the heavens the earth. And everything was alive and bursting with colour and the colour was god, not the god of man. The hills became transparent, every rock and boulder was without weight, floating in colour and the distant hills were blue, the blue of all the seas and the sky of every clime. The ripening rice fields were intense pink and green, a stretch of immediate attention. And the road that crossed the valley was purple and white, so alive that it was one of the rays that raced across the sky. You were of that light, burning, furious, exploding, without shadow, without root and word. And as the sun went down further down, every colour became more violent, more intense and you were completely lost, past all recalling. It was an evening that had no memory.

How dreams are constructed

Last night I was travelling back to Bangalore in a bus.

 I had a dream. I was sitting in what looked like a coach and there was someone sitting in front of me. Some people were walking towards the train and some of them tied some kind of shining bracelets on his (the person sitting in front of me) arm which was held out through the window. I was just sitting there watching this.

 Suddenly, I was distracted by the crowing of a rooster and as I turned around, I saw few roosters and hens standing nearby.

At this moment the dream ended and I woke up. But I could still hear the rooster crowing, but now more clearly. For few moments, I wasn’t sure if I was still dreaming or awake! As I came to my senses, things became clear. It was nearly day break and the bus had stopped by a roadside tea shop. And there was a cock standing by the road and crowing! And this was the one that I heard in my dream too. There was such a perfect continuity in the crowing between dreaming and wakeful states. But during the dream, the rooster was very much part of the dream (I actually saw it). So either the subconscious mind heard the sound and integrated it nicely in to the dream. Or the other possibility could be that the crowing of the rooster (heard subconsciously) triggered a dream around it.

 I do not know which is right. I have had this experience before. Sometimes when I have been woken up by people talking loud and if I happened to be dreaming, I used to first hear the conversations as a part of the dream woke up with perfect continuity. There is always a small interval which is very hazy, where I am not sure which state the mind is.