Tag Archives: concentration

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.

The secret of creative thinking

It’s now commonly believed that creativity has got to do with the right brain, and that the logical left brain is the biggest block to creative thinking. It’s very hard not believe this because of the physical structure of the brain. But is it true that we just need to be right brained to be creative?

Few months back, I happened to watch a video of a boy whose left brain was removed in early childhood. He was about 18 years and pretty much is a normal person. It seems his right hemisphere .had pretty much taken over the functions of the left which happens typically when one of the hemispheres is removed in early childhood.

At that point of time, I had almost believed in the right brain-left brain theory. Therefore it was with great expectation that I watched this video. I was hoping to hear that this boy is either very creative or very spiritual. Nothing. He was almost a plain normal boy. 

 I began to wonder if the right brain – left brain theory was a matter of convenience. Perhaps it was because we have moved from studying the mind to studying the brain (thanks to the new technologies), which itself could be limiting our thinking.

I have come to believe now that there is something ‘dynamic’ in the brain that is above the physical structure (may be the analogy of PC Hardware and operating system will help). This ‘movement’ determines how the brain works at a particular instance, and is responsible for what and how we think

There are two distinct qualities of our brain:

–          Focusing : this is the ability of the brain to go deep in an almost linear fashion. This is typically expressed as concentration. You can also imagine that this is like going deep and vertical.

–          Expanding : This is the ability of the brain to expand; which is typically expressed as  ‘attention’. This is like going outwards and horizontal.

Every brain has these two qualities. But unfortunately, they tend to interfere with each other. For e.g, you are trying to read something and after a while you tune off and is thinking about something non-relevant. This is the expanding ability interfering with the focusing ability. The other way is also true. But in their pure forms, both of them are extremely powerful

Developing control over these two qualities is the first step to creative thinking. That is also to make thinking a conscious activity. When this happens one will be able to concentrate on something for long time without being distracted and at the same time he will be able to think divergently without being limited by his memory and logic.

Both these qualities are necessary in creative thinking. But in addition, there is something that will synchronize the  two in a very dynamic way (looks like, physiologically  Focusing is the aspect of the left brain, Expanding the aspect of the right and Balancing the aspect of the front brain)

So you can visualize the creative thinking like this : You think outward till you spot(feel) something important or something you are looking for and then you zoom in on that (the closest analogy you can think of is that of an eagle circling on the sky looking for the prey and zooming on it once found.

Most of us are typically caught up in the ‘zooming’ function, which is linear. The second step in creative thinking is to shift the default thinking mode to ‘expanding’

I would like to assume that there must be something in the brain (mostly non physical) that coordinates the two qualities. At the moment I have no idea what this is. But my hunch is that this is what is what the yogis call prana

Being true to yourself

Imagine the time you were a student, preparing for an important examination. It’s late night and you are in your room, supposed to be studying. After a while, you are bored and sleepy and you pick a novel and start reading. Unexpectedly, your father walks in to your room and before you can cover up, he sees what you are doing. He walks out without saying anything.

What happens? You are overcome by a terrible feeling of guilt and embarrassment. You feel miserable. You know you have done something wrong, but still do not know why.

It could also happen in office when your manager suddenly walks on to your desk to find you browsing some sites instead of working on an important assignment.

All of us have this difference between what we are supposed to be doing and what we are actually doing. But the interesting part is that such things happen without us taking notice of. We would have actually sat down with a plan to work on something for the next two hours. After a while, we get slowly distracted. There is an uncontrollable urge to check your personal mail or see who is on the chat or look in to the bulletin board. And invariably this is the time someone chooses to have a glimpse of how you are working.

This extends to other things in life. Say if you have promised your wife that you will never smoke again and you yield to your urge and puff away in office. You come home in the evening soaked in guilt. Your wife asks – did you smoke today?. You say – No. She is so happy about you keeping the promise and you are asking yourself – what kind of person I am?

When this involves another person (someone is expecting you to do something) it normally ends up with them forming perceptions or opinions on you. You manager might decode that you need constant monitoring or your wife is actually smelling your cloths to confirm that you haven’t really smoked.

But the real problem is what happens to you. Every time when you come to know of this ‘difference’, it pulls down your self-respect. And you see this phenomenon extending to all other things in your life – at your work place you are not doing what you should be doing, your wife is not what you expect her to be, and eventually your life is not what it should really be. The more you lose your self-respect, more doubtful the mind is and this further creates the difference.

I think it’s extremely important to ‘be true to yourself’, to live a life with self-respect. In my view, there are three things to set right.

  • Managing Interruptions : There are two kinds of interruptions. One is external (someone walking over to you to clarify something) and the other internal (your mind says – forget this boring presentation, let’s look at what’s new on the bulletin board). These internal interruptions are the ones that cause the problem. Here some suggestions:
    • Try this out. Next time before you sit down for a task, set your mind – I am going to do this for the next two hrs. No interruptions. I will look in to anything only after that. I think over a period of time, you will see a great improvement
    • The other issue is to do with planning the day. Spend some time every morning to plan the day. This will avoid drifting of your mind
    • If you have this problem for long, it could be because of a lack of purpose. Set some definite goals, which will provide a direction to your mind
    • Another important point to take care is the restlessness of the body. If you don’t exercise regularly or have lot of mental clutter, the body is restless and in no time the restlessness passes over to your mind.
  • Unable to keep up a promise :  Big or small. You have promised someone something and then don’t honor it. This creates not only self-respect problem but also perception problems. Being true to yourself also means that you only make promises that you can keep. Start with simple things and you will master this soon.
  • Inability to stick to your decision :  One night you take a decision that you are going to rise early and exercise regularly from tomorrow onwards. The next day, you wake up as usual late and  as you are hurrying to reach office on time, you despise your self and are convinced that you can never take any decision in life.

The suggestion again here is, start with simple things and don’t take a decision for your life time. It creates lot of fear which is sufficient to doom anything ever before you start. Take a decision for a day, or a week or whatever is comfortable.

I think if we are able to get rid of this ‘difference’ and be true to ourselves, life is bound to be much more peaceful.