Tag Archives: Attention

The joy of nothingness

As a small child, I used to enjoy watching the rain drops fall from the roof top in to the collecting water, make small bubbles that burst with a small ‘pop’, making concentric circles that travel outward to collide with countless others before disappearing in to the water. By then, several new drops arrive and the process goes on and on without an interruption.

As I simply watch this for a while, something strange used to happen. There was a strange feeling of peace and joy and there was nothing but the continuous birth and death of water bubbles, countless circles and the distinct ‘pop’ sound.

There used to be several small black ants that are caught up the sudden downpour, frantically swimming away to safety. The ant was definitely not enjoying this as I did. That thought made me feel different to be watching the whole thing as is, not affected by it. Strangely, watching these rain drops used to bring a sense of detachment in me; that I did not really bother to rescue the ants.

There was something serene and divine about this. If there was someone above who was watching over us, the humans, running around stressed, fighting, cheating, trying to find happiness, chasing fulfillment… wouldn’t he also have the same sense of detachment that I had?

After a very long time, I was in my hometown last month sitting in the verandah and watching the falling raindrops. At first it brought back the strong memories from my childhood and soon I lost myself again in it. Quite some time should have passed, when it occurred to me that it must have been very long that I indulged in something so trivial and useless; thanks to the industry that I am part of and the fast world that I live in.

The serenity was there, the peace was there and I was lost.

It was a message on impermanence from the heavens. It was pure perception – me, the bubbles- nothing more, nothing less

It was zen

Rain drops

Rain drops

I remembered this today as I watched this TED video the_world_s_most_boring_television_and_why_it_s_hilariously_addictive. This is about the world’s most boring television show and the concept of slow TV. This talk was delivered by Norwegian television producer Thomas Hellum who is behind some of famous ‘boring’ programs aired by the NRK Television. They did shows around very trivial things such as a live telecast of a 7hr train journey (three cameras –one at the front and one each at each side – There was no story, no commentary, just whatever the camera saw and heard), an18 hr fishing expedition and a 5.5day ferry voyage. The Norwegian president appears in the video stating that he has been glued to his chair for 5.5 days (btw, he is 82).Thomas Hellum says that they are planning to live telecast many such trivial things such as knitting, cooking etc etc.

There is something very beautiful about this. They are showing things as is and you see something as is, real time, with nothing to expect, nothing to logically process. If you can overcome the initial barrier of judgment and rejection, something wonderful happens. You begin to thoroughly enjoy and at some point all the noise in the head begins to settle down.

And every great religion has told you how nice it feels when that damn noise stops.

This is like a new age zen and I believe increasingly there is an absolute need for people to fully engage in something that is trivial, of no use as such, logically unconvincing…This might probably be the next booming industry, a technology powered zen at a very large scale.

This will be the new religion and spirituality of the world.

afterthought: I watched the film PK over the weekend. If you compare to all the great ‘alien’ films, this alien was terrible. The alien here looks like any of us, talked Bhojpuri Hindi, ate Samosa’s, feel jealous when he learns that heroine was in love with someone else..The film is one of the biggest hits in the history of Bollywood, I think primarily because there is not much of logic in there. Once the great burden to ‘understand’ is not there, there is real enjoyment.

Thoughts and possibilities

I was sitting over a cup of coffee with a friend of mine and he mentioned to me that he was leaving to Thirupathi that night (For those who do not know, Thirupathi is the abode of Lord Venkateswara and is the richest temple in the world). I didn’t feel like engaging in a conversation, so we just had some loose talk till we were done with the coffee. But interestingly, I could see that there were lots and lots of thoughts that came up in the mind in response to the topic of discussion.

As we walked back to the desk, I was thinking about this. Probably because I did not speak, the compulsive need to pursue a thread  wasn’t that significant, and this must have allowed all these different thoughts to come up in mind.

I tried to list some of these thoughts here:   (what is in the main bullet is the primary thought trigger and what is in the second level bullet is the secondary though trigger which comes from the primary)

  1. I haven’t been there yet, I would like to go
    • Is this the right time to go there? When is the rush less?
  2. Is this your first trip? Do you go often?
  3. It’s the richest temple, I read that there is a special ’chakra’ installed there to attract money
    • I read recently that the temple of Shirdi is the second richest temple
  4. I normally go to Sabarimala everyyear
  5. In Kerala, we do not worship Balaji
  6. Infact I have not been going anywhere for a long time
  7. I s it better to drive? I want to go when I get my new Car?
    • I will plan to get the new car in June
  8. Is it necessary to shave the head?
    • My sister had been to Palani recently to shave her daughter’s head
  9. It’s interesting that all the major temples of South India are on hill tops

 These different thoughts in fact stem from different aspects of our mind and personality. For e.g thoughts 3, 5, 9 come from the point that I want to show that I know these facts (probably this will enhance my sense of self as a ‘knowledgeable person’). Thought 7 is a dangerous one and can hit my self-esteem big time. Thoughts 4,5 justifies my not going there, so that my sense of self is not diminished etcetc.

 This is infact a practical illustration of the concept described in the post The act of mindful watching. In normal scenario we do not see so many thoughts for a single trigger. We probably have one or two. This depends on our personality, mood and state of mind. For e.g if at this moment I am nurturing a feeling that my life is a failure, the likely hood of me getting only thought 6 is very very high. And since each of these thoughts can take the conversation/further thinking in a totally different direction, we are most likely to take one of those thought paths than to look at more thoughts coming up.

Needless to say, more reactive the mind is lesser the options we see Many times there are those negative feelings within us waiting patiently to react to any thing that would engage them. This is the reason why everything looks negative when your mind is in a negative state.

As we discussed earlier, if we can overcome the compulsive  need to react to a trigger, more options simply arise and this is the most basic quality for a creative mind.

Commitment and Detachment

When I began to write about the two qualities of the mind, I never thought it would drag so long. I thought it was all done and today morning appears this thought. Looked like I had to write it.

In the previous post I have described some techniques to fine tune the two qualities of the mind. These have a profound effect on the mind and ones thinking. But it is easy to overdo one and get in to an imbalanced state. Especially when one is experimenting. If the expanding aspect is dominant, one feels relaxed, energetic, will have a holistic view of  things;but will have difficulty is doing task that demands continuity (an office job for example). If the focusing aspect is dominant, one becomes obsessed with tasks and end up chasing time always. Over and above the practice, there is one’s natural inclination to thinking that plays a role here.

It is very important to balance these two for the mind to work perfectly. This can be done by introducing a compensating element that can restore the balance.These compensating elements are the two virtues : Commitment and Detachment which one needs to cultivate.

When the mind is in an expanded state, one needs commitment to focus on work at hand and the goal in life etc. Otherwise he can become a day dreamer unable to focus the attention anywhere. Committment is bringing the focus to a specific point. And if you observe closely, this is an aspect of the logical mind (this is where self talks helps).

When the mind is only focused, the thinking can become extremely narrow and rigid, and the person becomes feverish about things. There seems to be very less possibilities.Feverishness is what gets people in to most of the psychosomatic diseases like stress. This is where one needs to master the art of ‘letting go’. And, this is not something the logical mind will or can do.

To have fine balance in thinking, both the aspects – focussing and expanding – needs to be fine-tuned. At the same time, one needs to cultivate these virtues – Commitment and Detachment which will serve as the levers to maintain the balance.

And to have Commitment and Detachment at the same time is yet another contradiction…

Smile or Frown?

In the previous post, I wrote about the two qualities of the brain – focusing and expanding, and their role in creativity. Though these are qualities of the mind, they are also qualities of the brain. Anything that influences the brain has a direct impact on these aspects of thinking.

It is now an accepted fact that structural changes of the brain has an impact on the mind; mostly negatively. In fact there incidents keep a whole battalion of brain scientists engaged these days. What makes these cases interesting is also that they cannot be created (at least as of now) though a surgery or something like that. It is also possible to alter the way the brain functions by altering the chemical composition in the brain (what most of the psychiatric medicines do). To some extend the brain can change its own functioning through thinking (“I can win” types).

But if you have noticed carefully, the way our mind functions keeps changing without any such intervention: our thinking may be focus, or the mind devoid of thoughts, balanced or cluttered. Since we do not watch our minds, this goes unnoticed mostly, but we do rarely observe this, especially when we feel down, depleted of energy or there is too much on noise going on in the mind. And typically people try to get over this by indulging in something very distracting or through self-talks.

When I began to practice mindfulness, I saw that there is a correlation between the way the brain (mind) functions and the facial expressions. And this leads to a profound, but simple way to alter the way the mind works at a given point of time. The argument is that the reverse is also true.

We will discuss two facial expressions here and how they alter your thinking:

1)      Frown : When you frown the mind focuses. This is a state of concentration. There is a one pointed focus on something.

2)      Smile : Observe what happens to the mind when you stretch your lips for that beautiful smile? You can observe that the thoughts suddenly reduce, you feel a sense of space. This is a state of expansion. Your logic takes a back seat and this is also a state of creative thinking.

A variation of this is to feel the stretch at the temples (backward). If you hold this stretch gently for some time, you can see that you are in a state of attention.

It is possible to use these expressions to alter the way the mind functions at any point of time (especially if it is not in the state we want at that point of time). The approach will be to smile or frown consciously for a while till the way mind works alters.

Consider this example. You are listening to a presentation and you are supposed to give creative ideas. But those ideas aren’t coming. Then you observe that the mind is cluttered and distracted completely. In this situation, try this. Stretch the sides of the temples backwards and hold the stretch gently for a while. You will observe a dramatic shift in your attention and you will be able to come up with very creative ideas.

While this comes handy in many practical situations in life, I am not really sure the impact of really switching the way the mind works. Experiment it yourselves.

If you practice it carefully, you will also observe the change in breathing during these three expressions. This is another key, we will discuss this later.

In some of the traditions of Buddhism, the only thing they do is to smile (or laugh). That is their meditation, message and life. Mostly, they had figured this out.