Category Archives: Habits

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’.

The Law of Attraction

Over the lunch I was listening to the story of my friend caught and ‘fined’ by the traffic police.

This was not the first time that my friend was caught by the traffic police; I have listened in the past too to several such stories. In one case he was actually fined in another state; the reason – the size of the letters on the number plate of his car was not as per the specification.

It would be appropriate at this point to also mention about how the traffic police operate in India. Ideally one would expect that you violate a rule and the police catch you. But it’s actually the other way round. They catch you and then try to find a reason to slap a fine. And commuters are not actually caught for violating the traffic rules (in India rules are more of a matter of convenience) but for not carrying the relevant documents.

But then, a large number of drivers in India do not carry proper documents with them; at times by mistake and at times deliberately. This has, over a period of time led to two things: Firstly, police have figured out a way to identify who is having documents or not, just by scanning the commuters’ faces. Secondly, the people have figured out how to ‘sense’ the presence of ‘traffic police’ on the way; if there is ‘police checking’ ahead, the traffic takes a specific pattern that people have learnt to sense. 

Back to the story. Typically, this is how the traffic police conducts their operation. Two policemen step on to the road and scans the drivers by looking at their faces. They stop the suspects who need to then go to the team (normally the head of the team) who stands by the parked vehicle.

But my friend actually travels with all the necessary documents. But then if he was being stopped by traffic police so often, it does mean that by looking at him the traffic police gets a feeling that he does not have the documents.  

I told my friend that there must be something in his ‘face language’ that’s giving him away. But that actually seemed a remote possibility, because he had all his documents with him. But then where is the problem?

 After some discussions and reflections, we found where the problem is (possibly). Some years back, my friend was driving a motor bike in the city. His salary wasn’t great, so it so happened that the insurance of the bike was not renewed and the pollution test not done. This remained so for several years. During that period, he had so much fear for the traffic police and had to be constantly on the lookout for them. In his own words – whenever he would see a while shirt, a panic alarm would go off.

 Years went by and he moved to better paying jobs and now is driving a car. But the fear for policemen was deeply rooted in his unconscious mind. This fear is what the traffic police men were looking for when they scan the drivers and that explains why he was being caught so often.

 How true is the law of attraction! It’s the fear of something that attracts it – fear of danger brings danger, fear of insecurity makes one insecure, fear of  suffering makes one suffer… It’s negative spiral that reinforces itself. Here the fear actually attracts danger and the danger in turn creates more fear.

Tips for handling Sleep problems

There is nothing like a sound sleep to keep one fresh and going. With me it’s much more; I sort of have a dependency on it. My mind almost refuses to function if I have not had a real sound sleep. So naturally, sleep has been an area of interest to me. Recently, I have had several discussions around sleeping problems with many people. It looks like quite a few have one or the other issues. Therefore I thought it makes sense to write a post on it. And as it looks, it turnt out to be an unusually long one.

Typically there are three problems: Getting in to sleep, maintaining the sleep and lastly not feeling fresh even after 8 hrs of sleep. When one or more of this happens regularly, that’s a sure sign that something is not really right

Most common and simplest of the problems is getting in to sleep. This is an indication that the mind and or the body is very active. First get the basics right: avoid exercises/ coffee/ smoke for 2-3 hrs prior to the sleep. Also avoid stimulating mental activities. A gap of 2 hrs between your meals and sleep is recommended and it is also advised not to drink plenty of water before getting to sleep.

 Contrary to the general perception, alcohol does not induce a good sleep. The quality of the sleep is severely impacted by alcohol and in higher quantities, it interferes with the memory. The process of storing temporary memory to permanent memory happens at night through a process called ‘memory consolidation’ and alcohol has a direct influence with it.

 Most of the restlessness in the body and the mind comes through an imbalance between the energies in the body and mind. If by nature your body energy is very high and mind energy low, you will have a lot of restlessness in the body. On the other hand, if your mind energy is very high and body energy low, you will have a lot of issues with obsessive thinking. In the first case, you need to include some relaxing activities in your daily schedule (like meditation) and in the second case you need to take up some solid exercising. Most issues with restlessness will be taken care of.

 Getting in to sleep becomes a problem when the mind is under stress, caught up with some compulsive thinking, brooding over a conflict/problem or is excessively obsessed with some planning. More compulsive the thinking is, more the effort to break it and get to sleep. In the case of stress, it is very common that people wake up in the middle of night (~2-3AM) and even before they know get sucked in to thinking and unable to resume sleep. In such cases, it’s a good idea to break the thought train and that will let you sleep peacefully.

Gibberish meditation is a simple but very handy technique to switch off this stream of thinking, even for those who do not have prior experience with mediation. I have written a separate post on it and advise you to read it. If your mind is too busy and does not let you sleep, practice it just before going to bed. You will sleep like a baby.

 For some people the problem is with scattered thoughts and off it goes from one thought to another. Such people will find it beneficial to do some ‘focusing’ just before going to bed. There is a great technique called ‘candle flame gazing’ that can help you (In yoga, this is called Trataka, in case you want to Google). Here is how you practice this. Place a glowing candle at arm’s length at the eye level. Sit relaxed and look at the flame of the candle. The flame should not flicker. After a while, when the eyes get tired gently close them and focus on the after image of the flame in the dark space before your eyes. When the image begins to fade/ move away, try to hold it steadily. When you can no longer hold the image, gently open the eyes and repeat the practice. Do it 4 or 5 times.

Practice notes:

  1. Instead of the candle flame, you can use a dot (.) on a wall
  2. People who suffer from any eye aliments should not practice Trataka
  3. People who suffer from epilepsy should not practice Trataka on a candle flame, instead should practice on the dot.
  4. It’s not recommended to practice Trataka for a prolonged period of time, as it might leave a permanent impression on your retina. Once a certain level of focus has been achieved, use some alternative techniques to maintain it
  5. When you practice Trataka, lot of suppressed impressions and emotions will surface. Sometimes they may surface too quickly and can make you down. If that happens, do not practice this technique.

 For people who have a strong unconscious mind (generally the emotional type of people), the problem is to do with the day’s events and other information need to be processed. Even when you are asleep, the unconscious mind keeps analyzing the events and tries to make sense. If you are a person who dream a lot, that’s an indication of this problem. This results in two issues. Firstly, you have no idea what the unconscious mind is doing with the information. Secondly, this consumes a lot of energy, so that you don’t feel fresh in the morning even after an 8 hour sleep. Here is a brilliant technique to handle this:

                Let’s call it the ‘rewind technique’. Just before you sleep lie on your back, close your eyes , relax your body and start re-playing the entire day’s events backwards from the moment you closed your eyes. Just watch as you watch a film. Don’t start thinking about it. Try to go in to as much detail as possible, like what you felt, what thoughts were going on in your mind at that time, the sense perceptions etc. Should you get distracted in between (very likely), gently bring your mind back and continue. Thought it may sound very simple, this is a profound technique and if you can practice it on a daily basis, not only that you will sleep like a baby, you will also be freed from the unconscious mental processing that makes your life miserable.

                 Stress is another common problem that causes sleeping problems. Stress affects both the ability to get in to sleep and maintain sleep. The root cause behind stress is that you have too much identified with your thoughts. If you generally have a lot of emotional burden, practicing some witnessing technique will help. The essence of this is to make a bit of distance with your mind, by watching it. But it’s not going to happen in one day. You will have to cultivate it gradually. Here is how you can practice it:

Before you go to bed, sit with your spine erect and watch the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Thoughts will distract you; gently watch them and come back. You might alternatively observe the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe in and out. The most important thing here is not to strain. Be as relaxed as possible and watch it with a sense of detachment. About 20 minutes would generally suffice.

 If you have too much stress accumulated on your body (which is indicated by stiffness, tightening of muscles in more acute cases aches and pains), you can also watch your body from inside. Take your attention in to the body and watch your body from inside. Relax every muscle as you do this. The stress accumulating in the body is a common problem these days because of sedentary life styles and bad postures. Exercises and massages will also help to remove stress from your body. The exercises should involve stretching and relaxing of the muscles.

                 The sleeping posture bears an important correlation with the quality of sleep. There is a direct relationship between your thoughts and body movements. That’s when a specific kind of thought occurs in the mind, it creates specific body movement. The converse is also true. A stress on any muscle in the body  in turn triggers a particular thought pattern in the mind. If you sleep with your body tightened in any way, it’s time to change it. This is more the case with those who sleep on their tummy and hands tucked below the neck. Lying on your back or side is a definitely a more relaxed posture.

                 The time just before going to sleep and just after you wake up is very significant. This is when the conscious mind is still not very active, but the unconscious mind is active. Normally this is the time you kind of hallucinate. People with very strong unconscious mind, this is the time very deep impressions are created and reinforced. These impressions have a deep impact on your personality, mood etc. Two things will help. One is that you sleep when you are really sleepy; try reading something before you sleep or try one of the exercises described above. Secondly, leave the bed as soon as you are awake. This is very important especially for those who feel down in the mornings.

                If you are feeling tired even after 8 hours of ‘good sleep’, check out one of these possibilities. If the room is not ventilated, you may not get enough of oxygen at night and that could make you dull in the morning. For some people, it could be that your natural way of breathing is very shallow and it becomes more shallow at night. For such people, either a deep breathing technique (like Pranayams) or engaging in some aerobic activities would help.

                 There is a medical condition called sleep apnea, which obstructs the breathing during sleep. But it is hard to detect. If you have anytime woken up choked at night, perhaps this is one possibility. You will need to get medical help to sort this out.    

                Another reason why you feel tired in the morning is that the unconscious mind is very active during the night. The techniques described above (especially the ‘rewind technique’) will surely help. This is important for those who have a lot of emotional stress and confused patterns.

                 Some people who feel tired in the morning, despite a regular fixed sleeping pattern, might need to try increasing / decreasing the duration of the sleep by say 30 mts. The mind goes through different stages during sleep and when you wake up in some of those stages, you feel fresh and in some other stages you feel down , irrespective of the duration of the sleep. Sometime it so happens that you have a fixed schedule and you always get to wake up exactly during the phase where you feel down. If nothing else works, try to change the duration and see.

 You will need to experiment with some of these techniques for a few days to see what works for you.

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!

Identity and two amusements

I recently came across two very amusing things. They happened at different times, but essentially was on the same theme.

Amusement number 1: Is to read the resumes of people  you know well

I was going through a bunch of resumes in the process of designing our expert locator system. These were the resumes people submitted to the company when they joined. There were a few resumes of the people I knew and couldn’t resist the curiosity to have a detailed look. It was  really amusing. Not really because some of them have done things that you would never have imagined from him/her. But more because there was a clear disconnect between what they were and what was written in the resumes. It seemed people were trying to project an identity that they were actually not. That means if you know the person and you read his resume, there is every chance that you cannot connect them.

Strangely, this does not happen the other way round. That is if you read the resume and then meet the person, you don’t feel similar disconnect. Probably because what you read in the resume sort of biases your impression. Another strange observation (I am not really sure of this) is that wherever the resumes looked very neatly laid out, I found the disconnect was more.

 Amusement number 2:  Is to read your company’s job classified advertisement in the newspaper

If you ever read your own company’s job advertisement, you will almost feel that you have been going somewhere else all these days. If it was a company that you worked for some time back, there is at least the  benefit of doubt that things have improved after you left. But with the current company, there is no hardly any chance.

 Be it an individual or an organization, what is the need to project a different identity? I remember a question recently asked on linkedin – why social networking sites are so popular? . I guess this is the reason. We want to keep telling everyone what we are.

 Or is it that we want to hide from everyone what we really are!

Meaningful work

I don’t exactly remember the exact trigger, but the topic of ‘two snakes swallowing each other’ came up during yesterday’s lunch. I was having lunch with some friends from the Organization Study team. These are the folks who study manpower requirements, productivity, resource utilization etc in the Organization.

This is a hypothetical situation. Imagine two snakes exactly of the same size starts swallowing each other from the tail at the same pace(apparently this lead to the discovery of benzene ring). What would happen if they continue swallowing forever? Hypothetically, there should be nothing left.

Once I finished explaining, after a pause, one of them said “Why should you have two snakes? If one snake starts swallowing itself from the tail, the same thing would happen”

“So we have saved one snake, which means a 50% saving”, remarked another colleague.

The discussion then drifted off in to how we have created a value add that how we can project that saving in the appraisal etc.

But there is something interesting here. This is actually a representation of the work many of us do, especially in the corporate functions. The problem, the solution, the value add- everything is hypothetical. It’s all a kind of mental circus. It looks frightening at the same time very funny. Most of the work at corporate functions is to offset someone else’s dys-functionality. For e.g people are supposed to be productive, but then people aren’t. Then you need someone to study and tell them that they are not productive. The whole stuff is a mental game, but looks so convincing.

Just living around our thoughts is what makes our lives probably such a mess. I was inclined to think that the work needs to produce something that’s physical for it to be rewarding. But when I look at the Bangalore city and the traffic from my office on the 11th floor, I am forced to change that view. The vast expanse of the mess that’s stretched in front of you is simply a reflection of the chaotic human mind. It’s taken some physical form, that’s all.

I think, the way to end this potential insanity is to collaborate with nature. When you grow something, it’s a shared effort. You do your part and then nature does its part. I think that connects you with something deep and meaningful. Perhaps the biggest problem that this generation faces is that we are cut off from nature.

Appreciating Children

Last evening my daughter was proudly showing me he school workbooks. She was really proud because most of the worksheets/test papers had ‘good’, ‘*’, smileys or even some stickers below them. Some had even multiple ones. And she was now looking at me expecting appreciation (which of course I did)

 I was thinking about this later. These are just one part of the appreciation these kids get. In addition, they get to stand near the board, get smileys on their hands, get the class to clap for them. What for? For reciting some rhymes, reproducing some words with correct spellings, bringing some objects to the class as told by teachers, keeping silence in the class, doing additions and subtraction without mistakes. And the children expect similar appreciation from parents too.

 The thought I had was – aren’t we little overdoing this? When you are grown up, appreciation is a very rare thing and that too a genuine appreciation is seldom. At work, where you spend most of your time, appreciation comes in the form of more responsibility and more money. But that too is once a while.

 So what happens to these kids who are so used to being appreciated for every right thing, when they grow up? Are they likely to become depressed ? Are these kids likely to become more addicted to nicotine/drugs? I think it is very very likely. May be someone will study this someday in detail.

The appreciations at school primarily comes from complying to rules or being good. Very rarely children get appreciated for a creative response or solution. But when they grow up, no one appreciates them for being good, the likely hood of they getting appreciated is high if they are creative. This I think is creating a contradiction in their minds and naturally in their lives too.

 But I am not really sure if being very conservative in appreciating children will be a good idea? It is possible that they might get a more realistic perspective of life ahead. Or will be end up making their life also dull and uneventful like that of ours?