Category Archives: Ego

Concepts

What you see in the picture is a dust cover of a book lying on the floor of my living room.

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It’s such a trivial thing to attach any importance to. Even I did not, until this evening, which was the third day that it had been lying there. It caught my attention when I returned from work. The irritation I felt lasted only a brief moment and gave way to amusement as the complexity of what lead to it unfolded in my mind.

I should give you a bit of background first. My wife, my 10-year-old daughter and I live in this apartment. A very clear division of responsibilities exist in our house, which has evolved over a period of time. My wife takes care of all matters at home (though with lot of complaining). I take care of my office work and things outside of home. My daughter lives in her own world of books, games and TV, never crossing her self-drawn boundaries.

My daughter and I are extremely unorganised. We love to scatter things around and literally litter the house. My wife loves to keep the house neat and tidy and we now take it for granted that it is her responsibility to put things in order. This works most of the time, except on few occasions where she feels she has had enough.

My daughter and I are voracious readers. I keep buying books for both us and the result is an overflowing library at home. My wife thinks I am wasting money buying books and keeps gives me a nasty look whenever I do.

Now back to the dust cover lying on the floor. It had been removed from a book and kept in the book shelf.  It must have fallen down (most probably) when my daughter was taking a book out of the shelf. She must have never bothered to put it back, for she considered it was mother’s job to put things in order. My wife must have had enough of this and decided to leave it where it was (books belong to father and daughter and they better learn to take care of it). I come home in the evening and notice the dust cover lying on the floor, but do nothing about it (who ever let it fall should put it back).

No questions asked, no words spoken. All of us went about with our regular affairs; except that none seems to take notice of the dust cover lying on the floor. The next morning I left to office and my daughter to her school. When I return in the evening, the cover was lying there still. Our maid servant was on leave for a few days and I assumed that the house wasn’t vacuumed or mopped.

Another night passed with the dust cover still lying there. I think each of us now where expecting someone else to lose their patience and do something about it.

On the third day I returned home to find the dust cover still lying there and I also saw that it was deliberately left there (the floor was vacuumed and mopped !).

It was when the whole drama dawned on me and I couldn’t help being amused at the complexity of it. I picked up the dust cover and put it back in to the book shelf.

Everything around us, whether important or trivial, in order or out-of-order, on time or delayed, isn’t there or there without a reason. They have complex human egos with hundreds of concepts, playing elaborate games behind the scene.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, said Prospero in Tempest. But I am sure our lives are made up of such concepts that we are not even aware of.

Mind and uncertainty

Over lunch today, my friend Dileep narrated to me an interesting incident.
Yesterday, he had been to a Cake Exhibition in Bangalore with his family. While he was standing in the queue for purchasing tickets, a board that said ‘Tender exact change’ caught his attention. The ticket was priced at 49 Rupees. He had two 1000 Rupee notes and one 500 Rupee note in his purse. He needed to buy 4 tickets, which would cost him 4X49 = 196 rupees. He would naturally would have given the 500 Rupee note for purchasing the tickets, which meant he had to get 304 Rupees back.

The board made irritated a bit when he thought of the 4 rupees. Was it something logical to expect everyone to carry exact change? Wasn’t the authorities responsible to keep enough change with them? Then he wondered whether they would give him the 4 rupees back or round the amount to 200 rupees. That would be very likely, but quite unfair. What was he supposed to do? Demand four rupees back? Will he look silly making a scene for just 4 rupees? He should make it clear that it was an issue of professional dealings and nothing to do with that insignificant amount…..

In no time his mind was caught up these thoughts going back and forth. The uncertainity was unbearable. Once at the ticket counter, he gave the 500 Rupee note and purchased 4 tickets. Unable to hold back any more, he asked the lady at the counter –‘Aren’t you going to give me the change’. ‘Yes’ she said and gave him four rupees back.

What a relief, the uncertainty that had gripped the mind for few long minutes suddenly ended.

It was only the today morning, when he checked his purse, did he realize that he had forgotten to collect the remaining 300 rupees at the counter yesterday. He was so caught up with the 4 rupees that everything else did not seem to matter.

Not that it was a goody story (at least for him), but I liked it immensely for the deep meaning. This is a snapshot of what keeps happening in our lives. The mind does not like uncertainity.The objective of all that thinking, planning, aggression, action and logic is to make life as certain as possible in the future. Therefore even the slightest uncertainity poses a threat that the mind need to fight with all its might. It pushes everything to the background and takes possession of thinking, however trivial the uncertainity is. No wonder we never hear the birds sing, feel the breeze, sees the sun splashing the evening sky with magnificient colours. They are all not important; will the next meeting, next task, next investment go as anticipated. That all that matters.

The famous philospoher Jiddu Krishnamurthy was asked, just before his death, what was the secret of his happiness. While the audience waited with a bated breath to hear that great secret from Jiddu, he simply said ‘ I don’t mind what happens’.

Action and Reaction

What’s the difference between acting and reacting? – This was our topic of conversation over the morning coffee yesterday. Do we ever act or we only react?  We tried to think of some activities where we were only ‘acting’ without responding to anything outside/inside. Here is an example how the discussion went:

 I drink water when I am thirsty. Obviously I am responding to the thirst. But if I am filling my water bottle so that I would be able to drink water whenever I am thirsty, is ‘filling the water bottle’ an action or reaction? Though at first sight it looks like an action, am I not reacting to the thought of ‘needing water’ in the future?

 Soon it became more and more obvious that there is actually nothing like pure ‘action’. Whatever we do is actually some sort of reaction; either to an external stimuli or to the stuff in the mind. The only difference I could think of is that there is an element of ‘choice’ that distinguishes between action and reaction. But then the choice was only influencing the quality; the basic idea of reacting still remains.

 Though it’s well known that most of our action are in fact reactions, it is really scary to think that we only react. Because in order to react, I need an ‘environment’ around me to react to and I need time that separate the two acts. My mind that reacts has also come in to existence as a result of reacting to the environment and time. So, if there was no environment to react to, there would be no mind, no action and no me. This means when I say I exist, that’s not completely true. It’s the environment that exist and I am just a byproduct of the reaction to it. If the environment does not exist, I too do not exist.

 Now shift your perspective a bit. The environment is not one entity, but is rather made of people, their thoughts, objects, events etc. Extending the same concept, each of these entities only exist because they react to their environment. For these entities I am also part of the environment.

 This now takes the problem to another dimension. This means that the environment also does not exist in reality; it’s also a byproduct of reacting to its environment . So everything exists through responding to everything else. Then in reality what exists?

 This is what the Indian mystics call Maya or the illusion…

 It may be far easier to imagine that we are actually ‘acting’ and not ‘reacting’ and live with that belief. It’s going to be an ‘action’ because I am going to choose it. Great me!

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.

Accomplishments and Freedom

A huge screen was put up in our office cafeteria yesterday for employees to watch the much hyped India- Pak Cricket match live. I am not a big fan of cricket; but went there on time just for the heck of it. I was just on time lucky enough to grab one of the few available chairs there and soon the cafeteria was fully crowded and most had to remain standing.

After a while, I wanted to take a break for a smoke. But then it occurred to me that if I get up, I would lose my chair. The match was expected to go on for another good 3 hrs or so and I intended to watch it throughout.

But then, I also wanted to take a break.

As I sat there with these conflicting thoughts in mind, a strange realization occurred. While I was battling with this silly dilemma, I could see that the people who were standing had all the freedom. They could take a break, go and come back later or simply decide to leave without a second thought. They had nothing to lose; didn’t have to hold on to the chair as they had none. But the people who were sitting did not have the freedom, because of the fear of losing the chair. The brief period where I thought I was lucky to get a seat had already lost its charm.

Isn’t the same with every other thing in life? Aren’t we confined and limited by all our possessions, achievements, positions – everything that we had struggled hard to achieve. After the brief interlude of happiness, they actually instill a fear about losing them. And this fear is limiting. So in a way, when you don’t have something, you are not bound by it and you have all the freedom.

After my short break, I was back watching the match, now standing. I was still following the same thread in my mind.

Now, it was interesting. If I was looking for someone to get up so that I can occupy a chair, I am again without the freedom; I might lose my chance if I was not attentive. On the other hand, if I accepted the situation and did not look forward to sitting, I was free. So restrictions don’t just come from what we have, but also with what we wish to possess.

Now comes the most interesting part. Many left as the match progressed (OK, India was little disappointing) and there were many chairs empty. But there were also many standing then, not bothering to sit down. When what is desired is easily available, the interest is lost.

Though this is such a trivial incident, it represents a pattern that fundamentally makes our lives so problematic. Be it looking for a seat, be it buying a BMW, be it becoming a billionaire or be it getting out of a miserable situation, it is the same mind and mental pattern at work!

The real beauty of this whole thing is that the whole drama happens just in the mind; in reality, there is no drama. It is just a situation as it is.

Buddha saw this whole drama some 2500 years ago, when he said “desire is the cause of all suffering”

What does the ego want?

My wife informed me that my daughter got down from her school bus crying. She told me the reason too, but I wanted to hear what my daughter had to say.

In the evening, I picked up a conversation with her on this. I asked her why she had cried in the bus.

“Papa, you know it was Suneethi’s (another girl in the bus) b’day today. She distributed chocolates to everyone in the bus and she didn’t give me”

 “So, why did you cry?” I asked.

“Because she didn’t give me”

 “OK fine, she didn’t give you. But why did you cry?” She looked little puzzled.

“It is a bad behavior, right?”

 “May be, but then why did you cry” I asked gently.

There was a pause. I repeated the question again.

“Because I wanted them to feel sorry..?” she said hesitantly and then quickly changed the topic to something else. I guess she saw the point.

This is what the ego always does. It thinks by reacting (emotionally) it can change a situation favorably or at least make someone guilty about it.  It’s easy to see how this works in children, their egos are still developing. But as adults look at the amount of messages we sent out by reacting to the world every moment. We are constantly saying to the world “I am right, you better change”.We all have a need to be in constant conflict with one or the other thing.

Aldous Huxley once said “I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.” But will the ego agree?

Conflicts are not resolved by our logical mind

I was attending a 5 day meditation course at the Art Of Living Center  last year. This is residential course and we are in silence for most of it. This is when I faced this problem. There was a gentle man who was doing service in the dining hall (for those of you who do not know, it is a common practice in India for people to stay in ashrams (spiritual centers) for some duration and do some service) who (I don’t know for what) was making people sit in perfect order without leaving gaps in between (We take our lunch and squat on the floor on mats to eat it).

I have always had this problem. Whenever some one tells me to do some trivial things a particular way, I have an irresistible urge not to do it that way. I don’t like being told where to park my car for example by the security person. And here was this guy, who wouldn’t let me sit wherever I liked. I tried, but he didn’t let me. And I gave in partly because I wasn’t supposed to be rude and mainly because I was in silence.

This repeated couple of times. Every time I went to the Dining Hall, this resistance surfaced and disturbed me. My mind (ego) said – this stupid guy shouldn’t be here. Afterall we are here to relax and be with ourselves. Why is he doing this useless thing? The disturbance was felt more, because the mind was settling down and there was nothing else around me that was disturbing. There was nothing I could do about it, but I could feel the resistance and the disturbance.

 On the third day, I decided to tackle this problem. To begin with, I decided to just avoid him. But this wasn’t working as I became very very conscious when I tried it and it disturbed me still.By then I could also sense him getting disturbed slightly by my presence. I think every human being can sense resistance and hostility pretty quickly.

I then decided to drop the resistance completely. I went about observing what was happening in the mind, to begin with and shortly the problem almost ceased to exist.

Now we were on the last day of the course and out of silence. Mind was clear, thoughtless and centered. I walked in to the dining hall. This guy was right there, making people sit in perfect rows (still I don’t know why). I just walked to him straight and with a smile told him – tell me if I you will permit me to sit wherever I like, at least for once. Only then I will pick my lunch. He just smiled and in a moment we both realized the stupidity of the whole thing. We hugged each other and all that resistance just melted like a snowflake. Very rarely have I felt that level of belongingness. Mind was so clear.

I don’t think need to try resolving conflicts the hard way. They just don’t exist when mind is settled we drop all the resistance. That is when we feel true belongingness.

Can the logical mind and analytical thinking ever resolve a conflict?