Tag Archives: Clarity of thought

Perception with no mind

We are often so caught up with what is going on inside us that we pay very little attention to what’s around us. Scientists say the human mind looks for some basic details to figure out what the object is and usually we are trained to notice differences. May be in the compulsive need to label / understand the object, we compromise on the quality of perception.

I am reading a book titled “Krishnamurti’s Notebook”. This is a diary written by Jiddu Krishnamurti (the famous philosopher, popularly known as K) in the sixties. K is said to have had a mind which was thoughtless. The depth and richness of the perception has an indescribable beauty and majesty. If you ever want to get a feel of what it means to perceive without the mind (without thinking) look at the one page I am reproducing below:

November 17th

The earth was the colour of the sky; the hills, the green, ripening rice fields, the trees and the dry, sandy river-bed were the colour of the sky; every rock on the hills, the big boulders, were the clouds and they were the rocks. Heaven was the earth and the earth heaven; the setting sun had transformed everything. The sky was blazing fire, bursting in every streak of cloud, in every stone, in every blade of grass, in every grain of sand. The sky was ablaze with green, purple, violet, indigo, with the fury of flame. Over that hill it was a vast sweep of purple and gold; over the southern hills a burning delicate green and fading blues; to the east there was a counter sunset as splendid in cardinal red and burnt ochre, magenta and fading violet. The counter sunset was exploding in splendor as in the west; a few clouds had gathered themselves around the setting sun and they were pure, smokeless fire which would never die. The vastness of this fire and its intensity penetrated everything and entered the earth. The earth was the heavens and the heavens the earth. And everything was alive and bursting with colour and the colour was god, not the god of man. The hills became transparent, every rock and boulder was without weight, floating in colour and the distant hills were blue, the blue of all the seas and the sky of every clime. The ripening rice fields were intense pink and green, a stretch of immediate attention. And the road that crossed the valley was purple and white, so alive that it was one of the rays that raced across the sky. You were of that light, burning, furious, exploding, without shadow, without root and word. And as the sun went down further down, every colour became more violent, more intense and you were completely lost, past all recalling. It was an evening that had no memory.

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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…

Psychological Camouflage

I was attending a meeting today where many senior people of the company were also present. This was one that ‘we are expected to attend’ and like every such meeting, this was boring and dragged on and on. Most of them were uninterested, but as it is customary in India, no one expressed it.

Time passed, and slowly one person got up, muttering something to his cellphone (very visibly) and pretending as if he is attending a call, walked out of the room. The reason looked quiet genuine, and a few more received calls and excused themselves to take them. (The cellphones are muted, so there was no way to figure out if there was a call really)

I sat there, curiously watching what’s going on.

I have already written in one of the earlier posts that mind (logical mind) plays a key role in sense perceptions. For e.g though there are so many things around, one must be seeing only a few things. These few things are those stand out from the rest or that has changed from last time, because the mind acknowledges only difference (linear from a previous state or transverse from the surroundings). All the rest is classified as usual stuff that ‘the mind already knows’. This applies to all the physical things.

Most of us are aware of this and this is what makes us dress like the rest around us or behave the way we have been behaving so far. Then we aren’t noticed by others. (the converse is also true, people who love to be noticed try to be different from others)

Trying to be identical to the surroundings is a phenomenon called camouflage, which is used (more predominantly in the insect world) both to escape from a predator and to attack a prey unnoticed.

Human beings dressing up like others etc is also a camouflage; for whatever reason we do not want to look different from the rest. May be this comes from the tribal nature of ancient humans.

But as humans, things need to be more complex.The incident described at the beginning is a totally different dimension to this camouflaging, unique to humans- I will call this ‘psychological camouflage’ (I do not know why this name, but this is what came up in my mind). At the first level, we try to behave like (well almost) people around us and over a period of time we develop what is called the right behavior (note that right behavior is always with reference to a society). Till this point, it seems OK. But what also happens in the process, we develop ‘expectations’ – how someone should behave in a particular situation. This ‘expectation’ is purely a virtual thing, it only exists in the mind (and the mind projected future). Any behavior around that is in accordance with this ‘expectation’ is generally unnoticed. Because the brain says – It confirms to what is expected.

Now if someone acts different to this expectation, it gets noticed. May the brain fires a ‘mismatch’ trigger or something like that. Each one of us are aware and conscious about this and many a times in our lives we pretend to be doing / not doing something to conform to other’s expectation. We psychologically camouflage in the projected expectations of people around us.

 It may be interesting to explore how this works. In the example described above, there is a conflict going on in the mind of the person to begin with. One part of the mind says – get out of this place. And the other part says –No it will look odd. This goes on for a while till the first part wins and you decide to leave. But then you do not want to look different (the ‘expectation’ here is that everyone remains for the entire duration and any act different to this is likely to be noticed by others) and then your cunning mind comes up with this solution – pretend as if you have just received a call and walkout to attend it. This may be not the perfect solution, but the best mind can create. The attempt is to make the act look as natural as possible, so that it goes unnoticed by others. This is attempting to camouflage.

If look around, you will be surprised at the amount of camouflage we all do. We may be looking intently at a presenter simply because that’s what is expected. We might be frantically scribbling notes in a meeting (especially when you have nothing significant to do) so that it looks natural. Watch someone who jumps a queue to join a friend who is far ahead.

 Always point is that we try to camouflage with what the world expects (and the world consists of other people who do exactly the same thing ..!). But most of the situations where we try psychological camouflage are points of cognitive dissonance, which is also the key for Innovation.

Right-Left Brains and the Presence

Though I am inclined to believe that the two brains (the right and the left hemispheres) play a role in the ‘present moment’, I am not really sure. The comment from Murali on the last post (Presence) forced me to think over this again and here is a hypothesis.

I am assuming (believing) that the thinking shifts between the two brains. In a normal person, the thinking and the shift can be represented as shown below:

The pulses represent thinking and the left brain is dominant here (marked L).Then there are gaps (red circle, marked R) where the ‘thinking’ shifts to the right brain. Here there is no ‘thinking’ the way we know it, but there is intense awareness. (there are also times when we draw blank may be out of exhaustion/sleep deprivation etc (marked in blue circle) – this is not a state of presence). These are the creative spaces where the ‘Aha’ moments can occur.

But typically in most of us, the left brain is so dominant that the ‘gap’ or the ‘state’ of presence is hardly there. There is so much of noise out there, mainly because after some time thinking becomes an unconcious and involuntary activity, which needs to keep happening.

An ideal thinking pattern would look something like this

There is more balance here, the ‘thinking’ shifts between the two brains.

This is what is needed to happen in ideation sessions for good ideas to come out.

This is just a hypothesis. There are techniques which can make this shift for sure. But I am not clear if  ‘intelligence’ has got to do anything in this..

Looking forward to your thoughts on this..

Responding to a trigger – what happens in the mind

Continuing from the previous post, let’s look at what happens in the mind when you respond to an external trigger (an object or an event for e.g). Whether we acknowledge or not, in fact there is a subtle choice that we make with every trigger – Accept or Resist. Depending upon the trigger, we could accept/resist an event either in the past or the future. See the below representation of how a normal mind responds to an external trigger (For simplicity, I taking a very general case here to illustrate my point)

The path on the left side depicts normal thinking, where in every event or object is compared against a mental image (either of the past or of the future). Then one either accepts or resists the event(the categorization of the event as good/bad, right /wrong also happens here) Accepting strengthens the ‘sense of self’ and resisting creates a ‘threat to the self’. This resisting leads to compulsive thinking that is the root cause for most of the psychosomatic diseases.

So, is there a solution? Or an alterative? This is what is called ‘witnessing’ which is the essence of ‘mindfulness’(see the path on to the right in the picture). Here there is neither acceptance nor resistance. You see things as they are.

Typically we try to solve most of our issues at the lower layers (lower as in the picture). For e.g say I do not like apples. I could either avoid apples in my life or could substitute with some other fruit or convince myself to eat it. This is typically how we approach most of the problems. But in fact the real problem is not apple but  ‘my nature of disliking’ something. A fundamental transformation can happen only when the basic nature changes.

If we can make changes at the basic level (marked A in the diagram), the problems will simply vanish themselves. This is what many a spiritual traditions try to achieve and also the key to creative thinking.

But is that easy? We will continue the discussion in the coming posts…

The beauty of contradictions

Last week, I was in a session discussing about TRIZ (For those who do not know, TRIZ is an inventiveproblem solving methodology which has 40 principles. This is an easy way to solve a problem using these principles : phrase your problem in to a contradiction (there is a parameter that’s improving and there is another one that is suffering) and then using a matrix, you can identify the correct principles to be applied)

That left me thinking a bit about contradictions. Have you wondered what happens in the mind when there is a contradiction? Why is contradiction an important aspect in problem solving?

I think this is because holding two contradictory thoughts in the mind simultaneously, makes the mind bit confused, and there is a moment of uncertainly and stillness. This stillness is where mind is receptive to new ideas, looking beyond the patterns.

Now when I think of it, all the religions used this brilliantly to convey their teachings. The “Bhagawat Geetha“, one of the most popular books in Hinduism begins with illustrating a contradiction. It starts with Krishna telling Arjuna : You are mourning for those not worthy of sorrow; yet speaking like one knowledgeable. The learnt neither laments for the dead or the living. (Chapter 2, verse 11 – This is where the great Shankara starts his interpretation of Geetha). Geetha is conveyed in to the stillness created by this contradiction.

Incidentally Geetha also ends with a contradiction. Towards the end, after the message is conveyed, Krishna contradicts whatever he said in the verse : Relinquishing all the ideas of righteousness, surrender un to Me exclusively, I will deliver you from all sinful reactions, do not despair.(Chapter 18, Verse 66)

Many sayings of Jesus has this contradiction in them. This is a good example: “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

This is what happens here: there is an immediate compulsive tendency for the mind to respond and this is based on patterns or conditioning. But when there is a contradiction, mind waits for a moment, not sure which pattern to execute. And this is a moment of awareness where you are open to newer possibilities.

I think for the contradictions to really become effective and bring about a new dimension to problems, it needs to be felt by the heart and not the head.

Be creative like a child..

‘Be creative like a child” – I have heard people say this at least a dozen times (and the variations too: let’s think like a child, let’s be playful etc etc) during various sessions. This is a popular approach to overcome the logical barrier while Ideating (i.e. when you try to come up with new ideas, the logical mind says ‘shut up, that’s a stupid thing to say’. Children don’t’ seem to suffer from this, because probably they haven’t learnt enough). The moment the facilitator says “C’mon guys, be like a child’, there is definitely a change in the environment. And you see some interesting and sometimes foolish-looking ideas do come up.

But I have always felt that such sessions lacked something; probably some liveliness… Though the ‘children’ symbol seems to help, it was sort of forced and artificial. And I believe this is the reason we do not get quality ideas many times.

A simple incident yesterday showed me what the problem was. You could behave like a child externally, but can you adopt that peace, love and simplicity too? They bring the grace, beauty and creativity to children spontaneously.

Here is the story:

Yesterday, when I was going out, my little daughter wanted me to get her a chocolate, her favorite one.

 When I was back home (of course with the chocolate), she was playing with her friend in the living room. The moment I entered, she ran up to me demanding the chocolate. But because the other girl was not supposed to eat chocolates, I didn’t want to give it. I told her – see I cannot give you the chocolate now. When you have finished playing and your friend goes back, you can have it. Not now. I proceeded to my room for freshening up, ignoring her protests.

I could distinctly hear the two girls talking. Though I couldn’t well hear, I could sense that my daughter was trying to persuade her friend to leave, which she was not willing to. There was silence after a while.

I had just begun to shave; my daughter appeared at the door, and stood leaning on the doorframe. I gave her a questioning look.

She tells: “I know a secret” (trying hard to make it sound interesting)

I smile.

 “But I will tell you only if you give me the chocolate

I give her another smile.

 Few moments pass. She says almost in a whispering tone : “ The secret is about you

She should have been looking at me intently trying to sense if I am ready for the deal.

 I looked at her and gave a ‘don’t try these tricks with me’ grin.

Few more moments pass.

She says: “The secret has something good about you…

At this point, I burst out laughing (If I had not, she might have kept building on the story further to lure me). I gave her the chocolate and had to convince her friend to settle for a candy.

The beauty of the incident touched me deeply and made me feel so light. The creativity was so spantaneous and had a grace and profound simplicity. There was no technique, process, gimmik, frills, just pure creativity. 

This is what was going wrong in ‘becoming creative like a child’. What we do not adopt is the beauty that lies within – the peace, the simplicity, love and purity. In this world, we are just concerned about the ends, not means.