Category Archives: Thinking

Behind a dream

I had a strange dream last night. There was this girl in the dream who was possessed and I was there to exorcise the spirit. The dream was set in a kind of somewhat unfamiliar environment – there was a building with many houses in a row and we were doing this in one of the rooms on the first floor. I remember having done the exorcism (with some reluctance); but cannot recollect anything post that as the dream ended somewhere there.

A friend of mine had rung me up in the evening – he had wanted me to talk to his 7th standard daughter, who seemed to have become uninterested in anything. I advised him to take her to a child psychologist – but he pressed me to have a conversation with her first. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this – at the same time I could not refuse his request.

Reflecting on the dream, it was evident that this incident was what lead to it.

But what I could not figure out was the part with exorcism- where did that come from?. As I was pondering about it during my drive back home in the evening, the whole thing dawned on me and I couldn’t but be amused at what’s going deep inside the mind.

This is what had happened behind this dream:

In the evening, I had watched some part of a film called ‘Resident Evil- Part 2 apocalypse’ on the television for about half an hour while I was on the treadmill. I saw the part where the character Alice escapes from the ‘Hive’ and is caught again and to the point where ‘Operation Alice is activated’. I didn’t quite get the whole story, but sort of figured out that Alice was being programmed to be evil – something like that. Alice’s daughter appears in multiple scenes and there was this scene where she asks Alice if she would be alright again.

Now in the dream I connected these two together. And what was the connecting link ? – The child, that was common between the incident and the dream.

And why these two specific incidents – because both of them were sort of incomplete. In the case of my friend’s daughter I was in a dilemma whether to do it or not and in the case of the film, I did not understand the story.

Imagine something like this – everyday while you are asleep, all the unresolved / incomplete things precipitate in to the unconscious mind (who obviously do not like anything unresolved) and it tries to make sense of them.

If that’s what dreams are made of, then what’s it that this world is made of?

Naughty Children Meditation

Compulsive thinkers have a tough time meditating. Better you are at thinking, harder it is to let go off it.

I have had this problem ever since I started meditating. What typically happens is something like this: I sit down to meditate and watch my thoughts. There are thoughts running and as I watch them, I come across that brief interval between them. For a moment, it looks like I am getting it. Wrong. Unobserved, there is this voice at the back of my head that says ‘It’s working, the gap is there’. Then there is another part of the mind that’s watching this and he says ‘Not yet, that’s a thought there’. Now there is another part that is analyzing the whole situation and says something like this – this isn’t working for you.

Then I remember something I read about meditation in a book and a part of my mind commenting that it’s not all that correct. Then I realize that I am again caught up in thinking. I let go off thinking again and again get back to being the ‘watcher’. And the struggle goes on and on, with some success after few iterations.

They say during meditation, you have to be like a gatekeeper. Watching every thought that comes in. But I realized that my mind was something like a house with several doors and windows. While I am watching the front door, there were thoughts entering through the backdoor and windows. They just needed that split second where my attention was elsewhere. While these sessions did help me get some insight in to the working of the mind, it has always been a challenge to be free of thoughts.

In olden days, people had not-so-much complicated minds as we do and it would have been easier for them to watch the mind as a single entity. But people like us whose primary occupation is thinking, have much more complex minds with several distinct faculties. Most of our lives are made of thinking and it’s hard to drop it – it’s like dying.

Over a period of time, I could see that these thoughts were not just random, but had some specific purposes behind them. For example, some thoughts were about planning, somewhere concerned about making sense of something happening in life, somewhere concerned about some dreams in the future etc. So it was like there were some little entities in the mind with certain purpose/objectives and they were responsible for specific thought patterns. They together made up the mind.

So if I were to really watch my mind, I should be watching each of these entities first and when each of them becomes quiet, I would be a step closer to a silent mind.

But how do we do this? I devised this meditation technique – Naughty Children Meditation- which is an improvised version of existing technique of watching the thought stream.

The first challenge was to identify all those little entities. I listed them down and gave them unique names so that I could identify them easily. Here is the list with names and some descriptions for you to easy understand

Thinker – One who keeps thinking, random thoughts, who keeps the thinking process going

Commenter – One who makes those subtle commentaries in the head as you carry on with your daily chores (e.g.’I am cutting this pasting it here..)

Planner – One who plans the next activities (e.g. ‘Oh, I have to send a mail to my manager’)

Reactor– One who reacts to situations, people (e.g. How can he behave like that)

Watcher– One who is watching what is happening in the mind (e.g. My mind is very clouded)

Analyzer – One who is analyzing what is going on in the mind, in a life situation and in your whole life (e.g. if the situation continues like this, I will be stuck in this job)

Rememberer – One who remembers events, people, traces of memory, something you forgot to do etc. (e.g. remembering a conversation with a friend this morning)

Dreamer – One who dreams about the future, situations (e.g. riding a Porsche or becoming famous)

Worrier– One who is worrying about things, situations either at the moment or in the future (e.g. what to do with my irresponsible son?)

Wanter – One who wants things or thinking of desires, things to be achieved, pleasures etc. (e.g. beautiful house, I want to live in such a one or I need to have a coffee now)

Whiner – One who is complaining about situations, people (e.g. why is that I am held responsible every time)

Competitor – One who is competing with others, comparing, wanting to be better than others (e.g. he thinks he knows everything, let me show him)

Sensor– One who senses or feels (e.g. he is being aggressive)

Fearer – One who is afraid, fearful thoughts, anxieties (e.g. what happens if he shouts at me)

The Bear – This is an odd one in the lot. This is that entity that tightens your body when unobserved.

The first thing to do is to familiarize with each of these entities. Each of them have a specific purpose and all the thoughts that arise can be traced to one of these. (It’s likely that you may want to add your own entities in to the list – like Regretter – One who regrets some actions in the past.

This is how the meditation can be done

Imagine that each of these entities are like little naughty children in a class room. They are sitting in front of you (visualize), and you are simply watching them. They are so naughty that they will talk the moment your attention is not on them. But if you catch them, they remain silent. At the same time, they are small little children and if they are caught, you are not going to punish them. You are going to simply laugh (or chuckle or smile) when you catch them talking.

So this is what you do. Sit in your favorite meditation posture and imagine that you are watching these little naughty children, who are sitting in front of you. Now when a thought comes, identify the naughty entity behind it (compare it with children taking). For e.g. if the thought is regarding something that you need to do, then it comes from the planner. Notice it (look at him) and laugh (or smile). The next thought, say is a commentary about what just happened in the mind. You know it is from the Commenter. Just watch him and laugh and leave.

Just keep doing this. When you look at them, they become quite.

You might also sense some tightness in the body – this is the work of The Bear. Just watch him and smile and he will let go off his grip.

Very soon, a these naughty children will become quite while your attention is placed on who is ‘talking’.

Then something profound happens, the whole mind stops or vanishes and you transcend the mind, so to say.

Meditation is supposed to be effortless, while there is some effort involved here. But that effort is only meant to overcome the initial difficulty that you face. You are watching the mind not as a single entity, but as different entities that does different things. This helps because then the thoughts cannot enter through the backdoor, unnoticed. Once a these entities are silent, the whole mind is silent and then onwards it is effortless.

Remember, playfulness is the key here. Visualizing these entities as little naughty children is extremely important; it’s like a game that you are paying with them. And you do not react, you smile at their naughtiness. Laughter or Chuckle or Smile creates that little gap that you need not to get caught up in the thinking, but to be able to watch it.

One problem that you might find is to identify these entities precisely. Do not worry about it, start with a few that you can figure out. Read through the list carefully again and you should get it. It does not really matter if you make a mistake, the whole objective of meditation is to transcend the mind and it does not matter what the content of the thoughts are and where they come from. Let this not deter you from making an attempt.

Initially you will need to do some sitting practice. Once you get a hang of it, you will catch those little ones in your daily lives. When you get angry at someone in traffic you will know that the ‘Reactor’ is talking and that awareness is enough to silence him and that smile is enough to transcend it.

Try it for yourselves. God bless.

Intelligence

I had stopped at this small roadside shop for a coffee and a smoke. As I was waiting after placing the order, my attention was drawn to a gentle nudge on my right leg. It was very distinct, but also very gentle. I looked down to face a dog with its eyes fixed on my face intently. It was silently telling me ‘buy me something to eat’. It was a very clear communication and there was no mistaking. I bought a packet of biscuits and offered him. He ate them briskly, gave me a look of ‘thanks’ and moved on to another person.

Intelligent Dog

Intelligent Dog

I have seen trained dogs do all kinds of things like picking newspapers and even do some shopping. But they are always doing something repeatedly and I never thought there was so much of intelligence in it. But here was a stray dog, healthy (you know why) and it had learned exactly how to communicate with humans. Did someone teach it ? very unlikely. My best guess was that it saw some children persuade their parents to buy them something.

Do we choose the good or the bad?

The results of the assembly elections in the state of Karnataka (the state in India where I live) was announced today. The ruling party was voted out of power and a party that was not in power for more than a decade emerged victorious with an absolute majority. This is very typical in India. Any party that comes to power gets embroiled in corruption, scams, scandals and in-party power struggles and by the time of next elections people are fed up and look for a change. While it seems as if people chose a party to win, the truth is the reverse. People choose that a party should not win.

Last week, I met a friend of mine. Both of us had gotten out of our cars and were walking towards the lift. He told me that he was planning to change his car and asked me how my car was. I told him that it was good and it was the power (128 BHP is pretty high for Indian standards) that I really liked. He had not made up his mind as to which car to buy. So we had a short discussion around the topic while we were in the elevator.

‘Why don’t you look at Renault Duster’, I said. Renault has recently launched this SUV that was doing pretty well in the market.
‘Duster does not have the third row seats’, he told me.’So it is not really worth the money’
‘Ertiga (from Suzuki) is selling well’, I observed.
‘I am not happy with Ertiga’ he said ‘the third row is cramped and the interior is very plasticky’
‘You can have a look at Honda Amaze’, I said. Amaze is the first diesel car from Honda recently launched in India.
‘The engine is quite noisy’. he told me.
It was time for me to step out of the elevator and we had to end the conversation. I told him that there would be many more new models in the market by the time he decides to buy and wished him good luck in finding a good one.

As I was walking to my apartment, I was thinking about this conversation. I was really amazed by the fact that his choice was not really based on what is good, but rather what is bad.

It makes perfect sense logically. In a given set of choices, it we go on eliminating the ones based on bad qualities, we would ideally end up with the best. But then the problem is most of the good and bad are in fact pure perceptions that we carry in our head.

This process of elimination works in every aspect of our lives in India, from choosing a government to choosing a life partner.

While it might seem that we all tend to choose the best things in life, it could be far from truth. Our minds are actually choosing the bad ones to avoid.

Or is it that we do not know what we really want?

Grass root Innovation

In India, kids enjoy a long summer vacation; typically for the whole of May and June. This is the time the kids and their mothers go to their native place leaving the husbands alone in Bangalore.
While some people find this forced solitary life unbearable, I find this very interesting. The most interesting part is that I get a glimpse of a life with ‘no strings attached’. Usually this is also the time I do lot of introspection and sometimes simply space out.
When I am alone, there are few daily chores that I need to attend to. This involves some amount of exploration around the house, especially in the kitchen. And it is when I come across some simple innovative ideas that amuse me. For e.g,
1)our washing machine is in the work area and that’s where naturally the washing powder is kept. But then you don’t always wash in the washing machine, sometimes you wash certain things (like socks) in the bath room. To your pleasant surprise, you find washing powder is also kept (though in smaller bottles) to cater to such needs. This eliminates the need to walk to the work area just to get the washing powder.
2)Things in the kitchen cabinet are arranged in such a way that all those things that are used frequently (sugar, salt, tea powder etc) are ketp in the cabinet that is closest to the stove.

Working in large corporations, we generally tend to look down upon our wives as the ones who mechanically do the same things over and over again. But I am afraid that’s far from truth. If you aren’t convince yet, here is a simple illustration.
I had put the cloths in the washing machine yesterday. Since in a tropical hot climate like in India, the collars and cuffs become dirty and they need to brushed once before washing in the washing machine. I looked around for the brush and found something interesting. My wife had affixed a small piece of soap on the other side of the brush.
Washing Brush
Now, imagine the situation. The cloths are in the washing machine, and one needs to pick some of them, apply soap to the collars and cuffs (and some other places where there is extra dirt) and then brush them. If you were to use a soap and brush separately, it will involve lot of work to pick the soap, apply it, keep it back, pick the brush and brush it. All this extra effort is eliminated by this simple solution. All you need to do is just reverse the brush to apply the soap and turn it around to brush..
Washing Brush
I do not know if such a brush is available in the market, if not it is a good idea..

I think to see real practical innovations, one need to go not to the corporates (with all complex techniques for Systematic problem solving), but in to homes (more in to the kitchens) and you will simply be amazed at how the housewives have optimized everything possible.

No wonder you get your bedcoffee, breakfast, ironed cloths etc on time everytime.. They have optimized better than any CMM 5 companies..

Deep seated problems

I was to attend a Conference in Mumbai last week along with a colleague of mine. We were to catch a morning flight to Mumbai and decided to share the same taxi to the Airport. To confirm the plans, I rung her up the previous evening and told her that the taxi would pick me up at 6.00 AM and she should be ready by 6.15AM.
I was somewhat surprised when she asked me if we shouldn’t be leaving earlier than that( We had a 8.30 flight and the Airport was approximately 1 – 1.5 hrs. of drive from where we were. Considering all this, I had booked the taxi at 6.00AM which would give us some buffer in case the Bangalore traffic throws up some surprises). I told her that we would be there well in time and asked her why she felt we should leave earlier.
‘I want to check in my bag’ she told me
That was ridiculous. We would be in Mumbai for just two days, and in no way I could imagine that someone would carry a bag that couldn’t go in as cabin baggage. When I asked why she was carrying so much stuff just for two days, she clarified that it was because she wanted to carry some perfume in the bag. That sounded a good enough reason, as liquids more than 100ml wasn’t allowed in the cabin baggage. Not wanting to change the plans, I suggested that she either carry a small bottle or buy one after we land in Mumbai; in case she was very particular.
She agreed to this, though I couldn’t help feeling somewhat puzzled at this strange (at least for me) conversation.
So we were there at the Airport the next morning and were about to board the flight. While at the queue, she requested a help from me. Once we were inside, she wanted me to help her put her bag in the overhead lockers (She was very short and couldn’t reach the lockers herself). I was happy to help, but then another problem arose. As per our allotted seats, she had to use the front door and I had to use the rear door. While I was about to leave her towards the rear door, she quickly handed over to me her bag and told me that she would collect it when we reach Mumbai.
So here I was carrying two bags plus my laptop bag, trying not to look like a porter. I was a bit annoyed. While I was happy to be of any help, this was going beyond the limits. Any co-passenger would have helped her put the baggage in the lockers or she could have asked the air hostesses to help her.
That moment everything connected together in a flash. I understood the whole problem. As I had told, my colleague was very short and apparently was very conscious about it. I realized that that was the reason why she wanted to check in the baggage in the first place; to avoid being uncomfortable while trying to stove it in the overhead locker. That was also the reason for her almost impolite behavior of handling it over to me.
I have come across several such instances where people (including myself) act in strange ways to cover up such deep complexes and fears and also to fulfill deep desires. I remember when I had purchased my first car in 2004; my father was the proudest man on earth. He grew up in poverty and had to toil hard his entire life to make a living. I am sure a Car would have been beyond his dreams. We drove to the market in my car. The weather was very hot and I wanted to turn the a/c on. But my father suggested that we roll the windows down to get some fresh air. Soon I understood what was in his mind – he wanted everyone to see him travelling in his own car. I saw him beaming and smiling at friends and acquaintances throughout.
These deep desires, fears and complexes create our lives and influence the way we think, react and make decisions. And most of the time we don’t get to set them right because we constantly justify our behavior and put in all our efforts to ensure that they aren’t threatened.
Note: I am just setting up my website ( http://sajeevvk.com/) which exclusively will contain my thoughts on mind and its working. I welcome you there and would be grateful for any feedback and comments.

Our Shame

The New Year celebrations in India were dampened by the recent incident at New Delhi. A 23 year girl who was gang raped by 6 men in a moving bus, succumbed to the injuries on the 29th of Dec after a 10 day brave battle. No other crime in the recent past has caused so much of a public reaction and the nation’s capital has witnessed protests of unprecedented scale in the last few days. The protestors had called for a nationwide ‘Bandh’ today, perhaps the first of its kind for a crime. This incident was is not something the world’s biggest democracy would be proud of.

The crime against women has been on the rise steadily and post the Delhi incident, the public, politicians, film stars and other leaders are unanimous on the opinions that there needs to be more severe punishment for sexual offenders. At the moment the nation seems to be divided between gallows and castration for the Delhi crime accused. This demand obviously comes from the logic that the fear of punishment would discourage people from committing such crimes.

But how true is that? Even post the Delhi incident (which attracted so much of attention across the nation), there has been dozens of similar offenses reported every single day. There was even another attempt of rape in a moving bus in Delhi. Considering what happened after the Delhi incident, one would expect a decline in such crimes atleast for a few days or weeks.But that’s not the case; sexual crimes continue to be committed on every single day.

Once the crime is committed, it is easy to label and accuse the criminals and there is a strong judicial system to take care of them. But the real question is – were they not criminals prior to committing this crime? ? The answer is Yes, they were. The potential was with them. But unfortunately there is no way to know of it, unless the crime is actually committed. In fact there are millions and millions of people who carry the potential to commit such a heinous crime, given a chance. Some of them might get a chance (god forbid) while most may not get a chance. These people who carry the potential to commit a crime are actually the nation’s worry than the ones who have actually committed it (which is a very small percentage). They are just waiting for that moment in dark street corners, their own houses, class rooms, trains and every other place imaginable.

Will fear prevent them from doing it? I guess not. Because these crimes are actually done several times in the mind and when the opportunity comes their mind is completely taken over by the impulse.

India was the home for world’s most ancient civilizations and taught the world love and compassion. Contentment is the natural result of love and compassion. Those days and gone now and in this new era of information technology and globalization, greed has taken over the society. Greed is the motivator in a capitalistic country and is always accompanied by a perpetual and insatiable lack and desire. We have moved from a world where people believed one could be perfectly happy without any possessions to a world where one is unhappy even with every possible comfort. And all these potential criminals carry this insatiable need for fulfillment in them, waiting for the right opportunity to satisfy it.

May the victims soul rest rest in peace.

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’.

Secret of Happiness

My friend grows a ‘money plant’ on her desk in our office (Money plant is a beautiful creeper with green leaves laced with yellow stripes that is believed to bring ‘money’). She takes good care of it : watering, charting out a course for it to creep (it’s grown quite big now), regularly checking the cellophane tapes that hold it to the cubicle walls and often telling us about how good it looks.

Today she was attending to her plant and I was talking to her while she was at it. She normally asks me several doubts – for e.g why do the leaves become bigger as they go higher- and I generously give her my views.

She suddenly saw that one leaf (out of 47 leaves -she told me) was slightly damaged and was concerned about it. When she pointed it to me and asked me how that would have happened, I said smiling ” It’s because you have just one plant, these trivial things matters to you so much”. I have several plants at home and I would never have paid attention to a damage of a leaf -that was insignificant in the whole scheme of things.

Of late I have been doing some thinking on happiness (unhappiness to be precise) .Our identity (what we call ‘me’) essentially consists of few components (such as job, family,friends etc) which are given different weightages based on their relative importance.  For us to be happy, they all need to be as close as to the desired levels as possible. But if some of them are not as expected, they exert a proportionate downward pull on the overall ‘level of happiness’.

That would be to say the ‘overall level of happiness’ is the result of a pull between things going good vs things going bad. If the weight of bad things is more, we would be largely be unhappy.

When I had made the comment to my colleague that such trivial things matter because it was the only plant she had, I was suddenly struck by a revelation. The same truth holds good for life too. When we have few things that make up our life, each of them becomes so important that we cannot afford to have even one of them going against the expectation. A single component of our life (the identity to be precise) going wrong would be sufficient to make us completely unhappy.

The key to happiness may be then, to have several things that makes up your life so that the relative weightage of each of them would be small and even if one goes wrong, you wouldn’t become unhappy / depressed. This is quiet contrary to what experts in the field tell us – they ask us to pursue that single passion in our lives and that would make us happier. 

May be some future studies will show that people whose life is made up of several components are less unhappy (even if not more happy) than the  rest of the population!

But then what if  ‘being happy’ is the only thing that matters to us? I think that’s where the road to enlightenment leads to.

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.

Playing with Gods

We in India are pretty friendly with gods. Not only that we have countless to choose from according to one’s own tastes, the relationship is pretty much personal and informal. We not only worship them but also demand things, accuse, avoid and even bribe them. Most of our gods are not those serious looking types, but are quite humane in many ways, playing pranks. Gods play a very important role in the everyday life on any Indian- you can’t find a vehicle in India without a god’s photo or idol on the dashboard (If you ever wondered why there aren’t as many accidents in this chaotic traffic!)

But then we also try to fool around with gods. Not in a big way (we are also afraid of them) but more as a matter of convenience (and gods do understand that!). Here are two examples I came across:

1. We had planned a trip to Rameshwaram (this is famous Shiva temple located at the southern most point of India) sometime last year. Everything was planned; but then we came to know that back at my hometown a cousin of mine was expecting a baby anytime. According to our belief system, if a child is born in the family, one is not allowed to visit a temple or perform any religious rites for few days ( as a matter of fact 10 days if the child is male and 3 days for females).

We were slightly worried if the trip will have to be cancelled. There was every chance that the child would be born and we will have to call of the trip.

Then my wife gave me a great idea. She asked me to request my cousin’s family not to inform us if the child was born before we left. She observed that there was no sin if we visit the temple unaware. Of course I didn’t do it and as for our luck, we made the trip without any problems.

2. A friend of mine who had been to Hajj (the pilgrim to Holy Mecca) started growing his beard. When I met him few days back, I curiously asked him about the significance of this and he explained to me that once you perform the pilgrim to Mecca, you are supposed to let your beard grow. But there is a rule; it’s expected to be grown till your chest (you should be able to hold it in your fist).

I met this guy again today (that was the trigger for this post). I was amused to see that he had trimmed his beard. I asked him if he decided to go against the rules laid down in the scriptures.

No, he explained. The rules were very clear- you are not supposed to shave, you have to let your beard grow and there was a maximum length to which it could grow. But there is no mention about how short it can be. So my friend trimmed his beard very short. This definitely looked much better in a corporate environment, but the crux is that he actually found a way out without going against the rules.

Gods also love fun!

Motivating Children

My daughter has a “Spell Bee” competition (this is a competition on getting spellings right..) coming up in her school in Feb. Yesterday evening my wife complained to me that she was not preparing in spite of her repeated pestering and demanded that I interfere.

 I have always thought that my wife’s approach to getting things done was wrong (as with all women); she was too nagging. Whereas I am a strong believer of the fact that children should be motivated than forced upon. Well, here was my chance to prove the point; so I decided to have a  conversation with my daughter about this.

 “How has your preparation been going on for Spell Bee?” I asked

 She mumbled something in response; indicating that she wasn’t really enthusiastic about the conversation.

 “You will have a surprise gift from me if you get the first prize” I didn’t have a better choice for motivating her than this age-old proven tactic of offering something.

 Her eyes lit up briefly (OK, I was on the right track)

 “You will get a pair of nice Cinderella shoes in you win the first prize” (She has been behind me for that expensive shoes which I obviously thought was sheer waste of money)

  Now, I am waiting for to explode with joy, but…

  “Not needed papa”, her response was cold and for moment I went blank

 “Pink color shoes with golden laces..”, maybe I had not made it look attractive enough

  “Listen papa. If I win the “Spell Bee” contest, I will get a reward of 12 lakhs. So we will have lots of money, we can buy whatever we want…..May be we can also buy bigger home, more comfortable car… Or expensive clothes…”

  I had absolutely nothing to say; there was just a deep pain somewhere.

 Few months back when I had been to my ancestral home, I found a “pencil-case” in an abandoned cupboard. I had won it as a prize in a competition when I was in 3rd standard. It was something unearthly to me and meant everything in the world for quite sometime. When I saw it after several years, I was amused at the details that flooded my memory- the smell of the plastic, the pictures on it, the glossiness of the packet, how it feels and everything about it. I brought it with me back to Bangalore and it’s lying on my table. A strange joy fills my heart whenever I look at it.

 So much has changed in 30 years. I can understand generation gap, but can’t really understand it when our own children are generations away from us…

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.

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!