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Cricket

Over lunch today, I was a mute spectator to a very intense discussion between my colleagues. The topic obviously was cricket.Cricket is like a second religion in India and there are on a handful of people (me being one) who has no clue about it.

The interesting thing about cricket is that the whole joy seems to come from discussing about it – speculating, commenting, arguing, analyzing matches, expressing anger/frustration, exchanging scroes, checking updates etc. Many of these enthusiasts do not watch any matches (except when there is a match when India is playing ofcourse) and most of them do not play cricket at all.

This is confusing to me. When someone loves a game, I am naturally inclined to believe that he would love to play it. But that not being the vase mostly, why so much enthusiasm about cricket?

I think the reason is this. Cricket is what most Indians use to strike a conversation and you could simply initiate a conversation with a stranger by asking the latest score. This is the most common topic of discussion in any gatherings. Any one who cannot discuss cricket is simply left out. I think it is the fear of being left out is what drives people to be crazy of cricket than the love for it.

Few weeks back, I walked in to the living room in my apartment to find this group of children huddled up together on the sofa. A young cousin of mine had come to visit us and had brought his portable Play Station with him. He was playing a T20 tournament in that and the enthusistic children from our apartment, including my daughter, flocked around him to be part of it.

Cricket

The children were cheering different players. My daughter was shouting ‘Sachin…, Sachin…’. There are also some arguments (minor though) on whether Sachin was better or Dhoni was better. As far as I know, none of these children had any clue about cricket (I am dead sure of my daughter). But each of them had to be part of the group and not left out. So they were sort of faking with the minimum stuff they could gather. And it was OK for them, they were just learning the trick. And for an outside it just looked like a great group of enthusiasts.

I am sure, this lesson about ‘being left out’ is going to remain in their hearts for their life and when they grow up, they are going to feeding on any news about cricket just to be able to be part of the discussions.

Putting numbers, targets and rules around the games was definitely a brilliant concept; it makes you indulge for longer times chewing on them. Otherwise the pleasure would have been there only while you ingulged in it. Prolonging pleasures beyong indulgance has been a great achivement for humanity as a whole. Because it has taken the pleasure from the body to the mind.

Indulging is fine, but feeding on it outside of it is what creates the problem. I think this definitely has influenced the psyche of the nation negatively. It is this mind set that creates the perpetual longing for indulgance. I am sure if a study is conducted, the sexual offenses in India would be much lesser during the cricketing season than rest of the year.

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’.

Grass root innovation

I was in Sabarimala over the weekend for the annual pilgrimage. Sabarimala is one of the most popular pilgrimage spots in South India, attracting over 50 million people every year and undoubtedly one of the largest human gatherings in the globe. The temple is situated on a hill-top and has been facing difficulties accommodating devotees who pour in at the rate of about 90 people per every minute. Several initiatives have been taken by the authorities in the recent past the manage the increasing crowd, de-congest the place to make space for the pilgrims. One such initiative has been to relocate the shops beyond the periphery wall.

This naturally should have hit the sales and the shops are invariably forced to think out of the box to boost sales. Here is one such shop

Sabarimala

What you see below is a pilgrim shelter the boundary of which is indicated by the yellow line. There is a shop that sells steel vessels (used by pilgrims to carry the offerings back home) above the boundary wall  indicated by the red arrow. The pilgrims spent time in the shelter and it is likely that they would buy the vessels there than to walk up the row of shops above.

So this shop people have figured out a way. Firstly, they have displayed all the vessels on the walls for pilgrims to choose. Then there are two people sitting on the wall mid way. The pilgrims can communicate with them – choose a vessel, enquire the price, bargain etc. Once the deal is fixed, the transaction is carried out using a bucket and a rope

The money is put in to the bucket and the change and the vessel is delivered back.

Sabarimala_1

This is called grass root innovation.

A policeman who saw me taking this picture simply smiled, because the law only forbids selling anything within the shelter and the wall definitely was not covered under the rule !

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.

Boredom and creatiivty

I decided to pick a coffee during a meeting today. Since the office boy wasn’t there, I had to pick the coffee my self from the vending machine.

When I went to the coffee vending machine, something on the wall caught my attention. There were these beautiful flower designs and on a closer look, I realised that they were made of paper cups.

These were quite attractive and as I later figured out they were the handwork of the ‘office boy’ who manages the vending machine. This guy’s only job is to serve coffee/snacks at regular intervals whenever there is a meeting (and they don’t happen everyday). So he has lots of free time at his disposal. But, at the same time he is expected to be around the vending machine always.

I think that’s where these creative designs come from.

So most likely, boredom alone doesn’t lead to creativity, but it should be a combination of boredom and inability to escape from it.

I didn’t meet the guy though, but this is a tribute to that unknown designer

Plants do understand…

There was this plant in our balcony (I do not know what is it called) which bears (supposed to)small beautiful flowers in white and reddish-brown. For whatever reason, the plant had not borne flowers for last 2 years or  more. Eventually I had moved it to a corner which didn’t have as much sunlight for me to keep other plants.

Since my family was away for the whole of May, I was taking care of the plants. It had been a while and I tried to make some changes like shifting some plants here and there, pruning etc. Then I noticed this plant and realized that I hadn’t seen it flower for a long time. Instinctively I told the plant – See, I will give you two weeks and if you don’t flower, I am going to throw you out of this place and plant something else instead.

I said it as if I say to another human being and really meant it. I had recently read an article on the great scientist JC Bose, who had proved that plants also have emotions like humans, which can be measured. I had also read about an experiment where a scientist repeatedly assured a cactus plant that there was no danger and after some time the plant shed its thorns. May be they were at the back of my mind.

I had forgotten about all this until yesterday when my wife (they are back now) showed me that the plant was blossoming. When I remembered what I had said, I could sense a mild shock travelling up my spine. The plant had buds on almost every branch.

I can’t believe that this is a coincidence. Did the plant understand what I said? If yes, what is the magnitude of the error we commit by cutting trees, pruning, uprooting and the host of other crimes that we inflict upon them?

I would like to believe that the plants choose to be silent; in the state of pure being.

Blessings from heaven

I was travelling yesterday from my hometown to Bangalore. I clicked this photo on the way at Waynad. It was a cloudy day and there was this single hill on which the sun was shining. It was like a special blessing being showered on it.

The voice of the gods

Most of the temples and other such religious places in India traditionally have Oracles who are considered to be representatives of the gods.(See the pictures http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3235/2396067808_2e3cc10f71.jpg and http://www.wiki.indianfolklore.org/images/thumb/3/3a/NilaMarch2009_195.jpg/250px-NilaMarch2009_195.jpg ) I can vividly remember, as a child watching them with fear and awe as they would dance in trance.

The oracles participate in special rituals in the temples in their special costume ( red dress, anklets, bells, sword) accompanied by drums. The ritual normally consists of some kind of dance, walking barefoot on fire and wounding themselves on the forehead with the swords. As the rhythm of the drums progresses, they enter in to a trance and what they talk in that state is supposed to be coming from the gods. Even today, these oracles command lot of respect in the villages.

It was only after the incident described below, did I realize the brilliance of this whole thing. Anything that typically comes from the human mind is conditioned and limited by the logic. A true revelation or insight comes from a dimension beyond the logic.

 But for this to come, the logical mind need to be silenced, which is extremely difficult. But then the ancient people have invented lots of methods by which the logical mind can be temporarily gotten out of the way and in that gap an unconditioned thought can arise.

One such method is ‘pain’. When you can consciously endure pain, it brings the mind to the present moment, which means the mind stops, which means suddenly you enter the realm of unconditioned space. This is what happens here. The Oracles walk on fire and wound themselves and when they do this consciously, they come to the present moment. The other paraphernalia and the drums just set the atmosphere for this.

And once they are completely drawn to the present moment, what they say comes from beyond and has a quality that’s beyond the logical human mind.

A moment in ‘Presence’

The comment from Yogi brought to my mind an incident that happened few months back. It may be interesting for those who are trying to cultivate ‘mindfulness’. Many a times we aren’t aware of what lies in there for us.

 I had been practicing ‘mindfulness’ to some extend and developed a liking for it. Sometime later, I decided to go deeper and experience what it means to live completely in the ‘present moment’. I started becoming aware of my body, thoughts, movements and activities, emotions, things around, how the mind is reacting etc. And in few days, I was almost living in present moment (or at least that’s what it looked like). Mind was very clear and there were hardly any thoughts. I could more clearly see how the mind operates.

But this also had some adverse effects. One area that was severely affected was my memory. I started misplacing things and even lost a few of them. Even if I met someone and talked something, I did not recollect it later. And what is worst, even when I came to know that I had lost something, there was no feeling, no sense of loss. Work was another area that was affected, because the typical motivation factors like ‘proving’, appreciation etc did not have a place in the ‘present moment’.

But, it was a very creative state. There were lot of insights.

This particular incident happened on a Saturday. I was intensely in the present the whole day. Mind was almost blank. In the evening I went to a mediation session (I attend a weekly meditation session called the Sudarshana Kriya taught by The Art Of Living).This usually has an immediate and profound effect on the mind. On that day, after the Sudarshana Kriya, I became even more present. I was blank, no thoughts in the mind, but I was perfectly aware of everything around. I didn’t want to move and felt like being in that state forever.

After we finished the session we sat there as the Teacher was talking to us. She observed that many people weren’t coming regular and she asked if any of us could suggest something to motivate them.

 All of a sudden I got up, walked up to her, took the mike and started talking. It was as if someone was making me do this, It seemed as if I had no control ( I would have never done such a thing in my normal state of mind) I talked about being in knowledge etc and the words did not come from me, it was as if they came from somewhere through me. It was few minutes later that I realized what was happening and came to my normal state of mind. I did manage to cover it up somehow, I guess.

It was a profound experience that altered my whole understanding about myself. Later I stopped practicing mindfulness so intensely; I chose just to be aware. But when I looked back I think I was fortunate to have done it there; what would have happened if I walked up the CEO and told him he was not doing a good job?

 It’s perfectly possible. Because no logic operates there. You are just what you are, nothing more and nothing less

Thought in its purest form

In the previous post I have said that a ‘creative thought’ (if I can call it a thought..) is one that is not influenced by the past. It has no continuity from the past events and does not bear a cause-effect relationship with anything. I stick to it, but thinking further, this is only one side of it. A ‘creative thought’ is also not influenced by the future. This means that it does not have a result beyond it or does not lead to something else.

This is to say that the element of time cease to exist because all the continuity exists only linearly. One is taken out of the dimension of time (may be briefly) and in the new dimension of space that emerges, flowers a new thought.

Also, this thought is not influenced (or conditioned) either by what it belongs to nor what it contains. And the thought itself is not influenced by its own past and future. In other words the ‘creative thought’ does not evolve or transform. It simply exists. Rather it chooses to.

Its identity is not derived from anything that is there or that will be there. One can’t know it, it is beyond the logical mind to relate to..

 This is thought in its purest form…

Need for continuity

For most of us, a large part of our thinking is unconscious and compulsive, in the sense that we aren’t even aware that we are thinking. But even then the mind is able to go on and on with thoughts to the extent that even if we wanted to, they wouldn’t stop. I have always wondered why the mind has to do this, because this is what leads to compulsive thinking and stress.

Even if the thinking is unconscious, there exists a continuity existing between thoughts. Which means there is ‘something’ that facilitates the connection of one thought to the next. This does not happen just in the case of compulsive thinking but also with day dreaming. Once the thinking can have it’s own continuity, it tends to act like an independent function and does not need the thinker to intervene as much as possible. This is the state of no awareness. In the state of no awareness the ‘unconsciousness’ spreads to other aspects of life, like decision-making, performing some routine tasks, reacting to situations…

It may be interesting to look at if this continuity issue arises at a thought level and spreads to other aspects of life or it is the other way around?

Even if we say that the thinking is unconscious, it is not really so. Most of the time there is a theme or a topic or an objective and there is mostly an order. But within that space, at the level of thought, the continuity is unconscious. But we need this continuity to think, to produce results, to make sense etc.

The intelligent mind actually adopts many techniques to keep thoughts together and give continuity. Here are few examples:

  • Stories – stories make up the lives of most of us (I am like this, my achievements, my sufferings, my this and that..)
  • Reactive Mind Patterns , Conditioned behaviour
  • Anxiety and anticipation
  • Resistance – Past/ Future

 This continuity spreads to all aspects of our lives and ultimately results in us seeking continuity in our own lives. And for most of us, this is what drives our lives. It is what strengthens our sense of self  which thrives on seeking continuity and fulfillment. But most of the time the continuity is so well established as a habit that people have absolutely no say of what they think and how they think.

What happens when the continuity is broken? Assume that there is no compulsive need for a thought to connect the next what happens?

This is probably the state what most spiritual traditions call freedom. They say this is the state where there is no likes and dislikes, no desires, no remorse … you can look at something without thinking and you do not need to react to something….

So the revolution is to go deep to the thought level and eliminate the need for continuity. Then all the mind patterns, habits, concepts and identity will simply collapse. Because the root cause lies deep in the mind.

But is that the real freedom that we as human beings want? I do not know…

Lord Ganesha and the Rat

In the last post, we discussed about the two qualities of thinking – focusing and expanding, and their role in creative thinking.  These two qualities in fact represent two movements in the mind. These movements are like channels through which the thoughts are channeled.

It is possible to make the mind experience this movement and hence train it. But it is not possible to do this when the logical mind is active and dominant. When the logical mind gets out of the way, the creative mind is exposed and it is then possible to experience this movement without the commentary. In some traditions of meditation they do this. One you are in deep meditative states (when the thoughts stop and the logical mind quiet) you can alternatively become aware of something very big (like a mountain) and something very small (like a grain of sand). If your meditation is deep enough, you can feel both the expansion and focusing of the mind. Note the term ‘aware’- in meditation we only become aware. It is the logical mind that thinks and the creative mind is just aware.

When the creative mind experiences this movement, it learns.

In Hindu spiritual tradition, symbols are used extensively to make such movements in the mind. It is also woven in to the daily living so as to help people think better. One such example is of Lord Ganesha. For those who do not know, Lord Ganesha is a fat, elephant-headed god with rat as his vehicle, who is worshipped to remove obstacles before an activity is undertaken (see a picture here)

See the brilliance of the people who designed this. When you pray to the lord, that is a moment where thoughts stop – which means the logic stops. Now the gross form of Ganesha gives you that expansion in the mind and the rat creates the movement of focus. And this is what you need when you begin any new activity – ability to think big and ability to pay attention to details.

It is in fact a great idea to use visuals (like statues or photos) to create these movements in the mind, because visuals are perceived by the creative mind.

Future, God and the Contradiction

Someone in the adjacent cubicle was getting a new car. As I reached office, there was a discussion going on if the registration number of the car was an auspicious one (for those who do not know, in India numbers 3,7 and 9 considered generally auspicious . Unlike lucky numbers  which are personal, these are ‘auspicious’ numbers generally for everyone. For bigger numbers, they need to add up to 9 or multiples of it)

Like all the other daily matters, gods play a key role in driving in India and the auspicious number is one of the numerous ‘grace’ invoking means.

As the discussion went on, someone presented an interesting statistics. It seems a study has revealed that the vehicles with auspicious numbers met more accidents that the rest. The most auspicious 9 (where the numbers added up to 9 or multiples of it) topped the list.

I was overhearing the conversation and this particular piece of statistics made me curious. I wondered if this info was right.

As I thought about it later, it looked quite possible that it could be true.

 Here is how it works:  It is those people who have an element of doubt in their ability (here in driving) who look forward to things that would provide them some form of assurance against things going wrong. So logically, the group with auspicious numbers ( more precisely the group who believe in auspicious numbers) are in fact less skilled than the rest. So the rate of accidents would be naturally higher in the first group.

This lead to another interesting thought. When one is actually performing an activity (driving here), the possibility of him doubting his ability is very thin; in reality all the doubts come up when one is thinking about it.  That’s to say only when you look forward to an activity in the future (in the mind) and insist that the outcome has to be something specific , then the doubt arises. And the doubt is rooted in the past – either his own past or the past of others that he has come to know.

Do animals have doubts? Unlikely. May be because animals do any activity in the present moment and in the present moment, there is no doubt. So animals do not need auspicious numbers, talismans, Laughing Buddha etc. All that’s needed only in the future which exists only in the human mind.

So, do animals need god? Also unlikely. Because you need god to help you with uncertainty which in exists only in the mind constructed future. Since animals don’t construct a future and seek security there, mostly they do not need faith and god too.

This leads to one of the greatest contradictions we face. It is only when we are thinking, we have a past and a future and that’s when we need god. But it’s when our thoughts stop, we are in the present moment and that’s the only place we get to know god.