Tag Archives: Conditioning

Familiarity

Yesterday, my wife asked me to visit a particular shop to pick up some special things on my way back home. So after my office I was at the shop with a friend of mine. After we finished our purchase and were returning to my car, my friend remarked, “you seem to know that shop keeper very well”

“What makes you think so?” I asked.

“The way you both were interacting; it seemed as though he knows you well”.

I am not a regular customer at the shop and was not really familiar with the shop keeper. But then I also realized that we were interacting as if we had known each other quite well.

Several, probably hundreds of, people visit the shop on a daily basis. How would a shop keeper remember them? It would really be tough. But a shop keeper definitely had to remember his key customers, because they make his business flourish. So he will need to some way of figuring out who were his regular customers. When one walks in to the shop, there is a moment when the shop keeper is looking for some signs of familiarity, like a friendly smile. If that’s there, he assumes that the person is a familiar customer and then behaves as though he knew him well. He is not faking but is really genuine. So all that one needs to do is offer that first sign of familiarity nothing like a genuine smile.

This was the explanation I gave my friend about this. I happened to be in a good mood that day and probably he had ‘mis-read’ my expression for familiarity.

But as I was writing this post, I was thinking about it again. Will it be possible that the people we meet at the street or office also have this problem? I decided to check it out at office. I walked around the office today with a smile (as genuine as possible) and to my surprise several people I happen to meet on the corridors reciprocated with a smile, a wish or many a times with a ‘how are you’. We must have crossed each other several times in the past, ignoring. But I think unconsciously everyone is looking for that first sign of ‘familiarity’.

This is perhaps an instinct built within us to differentiate between friends and enemies. But what’s also interesting is that everyone looks for that sign during an encounter. No wonder I have so many whom I do not like!

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Superstitions and Intuition

This is an afterthought from the previous post….

Superstitions involve some beliefs that aren’t logical but yet you believe them to be true. If you observe, that’s the same case with Intuition. In intuition, you know something but may not know how or why.

There are two aspects to such ‘illogical’ beliefs. One is the ability of the mind to believe in it and second is the outcome and the environment. It’s likely that it is the same quality of the mind that believes in superstitions and also intuitive thoughts.

 What distinguishes them is fear

 Fear works in two ways. Fear comes when you already know the outcome of something. Fear restrains you from doing that activity because the outcome is unacceptable/unpleasant/dangerous. This fear is sometimes good because it helps you avoid danger and survive

Fear also works the other way. When the future looks uncertain (or the probability of success is very small), certain blind beliefs could help to reduce the anxiety. In India most superstitious people are film stars, politicians and business men; because all their professions involve a lot of uncertainty.

 But when the uncertainty is acceptable, intuition dawns. In the case of blind superstitions, you are trying to make your uncertain future predictable, while in the case of intuition, you are not conditioned by the fear about the uncertainty.

 If you basically have the quality of blind beliefs, it is likely that you can become very intuitive. It’s said that consciousness exits at three levels: Instinct, Intellect and Intuition. At the level of instinct the thinking is conditioned by fear, at the level of intellect, the thinking is conditioned by intelligence and when these conditioning are removed, you become intuitive.

 

Accomplishments and Freedom

A huge screen was put up in our office cafeteria yesterday for employees to watch the much hyped India- Pak Cricket match live. I am not a big fan of cricket; but went there on time just for the heck of it. I was just on time lucky enough to grab one of the few available chairs there and soon the cafeteria was fully crowded and most had to remain standing.

After a while, I wanted to take a break for a smoke. But then it occurred to me that if I get up, I would lose my chair. The match was expected to go on for another good 3 hrs or so and I intended to watch it throughout.

But then, I also wanted to take a break.

As I sat there with these conflicting thoughts in mind, a strange realization occurred. While I was battling with this silly dilemma, I could see that the people who were standing had all the freedom. They could take a break, go and come back later or simply decide to leave without a second thought. They had nothing to lose; didn’t have to hold on to the chair as they had none. But the people who were sitting did not have the freedom, because of the fear of losing the chair. The brief period where I thought I was lucky to get a seat had already lost its charm.

Isn’t the same with every other thing in life? Aren’t we confined and limited by all our possessions, achievements, positions – everything that we had struggled hard to achieve. After the brief interlude of happiness, they actually instill a fear about losing them. And this fear is limiting. So in a way, when you don’t have something, you are not bound by it and you have all the freedom.

After my short break, I was back watching the match, now standing. I was still following the same thread in my mind.

Now, it was interesting. If I was looking for someone to get up so that I can occupy a chair, I am again without the freedom; I might lose my chance if I was not attentive. On the other hand, if I accepted the situation and did not look forward to sitting, I was free. So restrictions don’t just come from what we have, but also with what we wish to possess.

Now comes the most interesting part. Many left as the match progressed (OK, India was little disappointing) and there were many chairs empty. But there were also many standing then, not bothering to sit down. When what is desired is easily available, the interest is lost.

Though this is such a trivial incident, it represents a pattern that fundamentally makes our lives so problematic. Be it looking for a seat, be it buying a BMW, be it becoming a billionaire or be it getting out of a miserable situation, it is the same mind and mental pattern at work!

The real beauty of this whole thing is that the whole drama happens just in the mind; in reality, there is no drama. It is just a situation as it is.

Buddha saw this whole drama some 2500 years ago, when he said “desire is the cause of all suffering”

Fear

I had my first roller coaster experience in Disneyland, Paris almost 10 years back. I had never been on a roller coaster till then and had really no clue how it really felt. It was drizzling and my wife and I took shelter near a dome like structure. I then suggested to my wife – anyway we are waiting here, why don’t we check what is inside. So we went inside and were ushered to a boat like structure and until the seat belts were fastened I really had no idea what we were getting in to. The boat slowly moved through the mouth of a canon and moved back, and I said – this is cool. And then suddenly it shot in to darkness, making rounds after rounds at unimaginable speed. I was not breathing (I think so) and closed my eyes and if I recall my mind was blank. I could hear people screaming and I remember once or twice I stretched my arm to check if my wife was still there. After while the boat came to a halt and I opened my eyes to see stars and moon right in front (This ordeal is called Space adventure or something like that). What a relief, and I gave a sigh of relief. But that didn’t last long. It all started again (we had to come back to earth, right?) and we were again in the dark making rounds. We were so much shaken by it that when we were literally trembling as our train to Paris began to move. I was so sure that I could never do it again, and if I do, I would simply be dead. For almost 10 years, I have never attempted it again (also similar stuff like Giant wheels..)

Few months back we were in a theme park near Bangalore where we had passes for all the rides. There was a roller coaster, a smaller one though, and my little daughter wanted to have a ride. I was sure I couldn’t do it and I tried to persuade her to talk he out. No way, she was very adamant and also extremely enthusiastic. After lot of deliberation, I finally decided to let her take a ride. But there was a bigger problem, I couldn’t send her alone. So reluctantly I decided to accompany her.

 As I stood in the queue, there was a battle in my mind. Against all my reasoning ( it was anyway a small one, it was free etc..) there was FEAR. I could feel fear building in me like a lump and something in my said – DON’T. I tried to calm my mind, but the fear was there taking over me. I wanted to run away. I was sure something would happen to me if I take the ride? What happens if I had a heart attack? By then we were boarding the roller coaster. I was completely out of my mind. I was watching the other people getting in and my mind said – here is the last chance to escape. All my reasoning had evaporated and the fear had completely possessed me. I finally managed to put my hand up to tell the operator that I am getting down and the precisely at the moment the roller coaster moved forward.

 In a flash, I went blank and as we made laps (not that bad as the earlier one of course), I suddenly realized there was no fear. We did one more round and by the then I was screaming with my kid and actually was enjoying it.

Recently we were discussing about fear and I used this incident to ask the question – Where is fear?

 Where is fear? Fear is only in the mind. The mind forms a rigid ‘concept’ or an ‘idea’ based mostly on a past experience and it tries to avoid it. Normally it is not that bad because you can choose to avoid such situations in the future ( and I think this is essential for survival). But what happens when the undesirable situation is eminent and unavoidable? This is a torture, fear builds up and the mind tries to tell you that you need to get away to avoid the danger. The more severe the danger is and the more close you are to it, more the trauma. You can even sense fear as a physical sensation, you start to perspire, heartbeat goes up and your breath rapidly. If you observe the mind in such a situation (very unlikely though), you can see mind rattling out warnings and reasons why should be avoiding it. It is also trying to suggest different ways to get out of the situation and end the trauma.

In the above incident, my daughter never had any of these problems, because she was excitedly waiting for our turn to board the rollercoaster. It was something she was eagerly looking forward to. And even for me, there was no fear when I was actually on the rollercoaster.

Fear lives on anticipation. And only when you think about it.

I think all animals too have fear in certain situations.But since for humans the things and events also exist virtually in the mind, fear also exists virtually.

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.

You are what I think you should be…

At my new job,  I was supposed to meet someone for a discussion last week. Just to make sure that I make the right pitch, I enquired with a colleague how this person was. My colleague told me that he had never interacted with him, but from his appearance, he looked like a very irritable fellow. Soon I wasn’t the meeting with a person whose face exactly just said that –I am a very irritable person.

Like most of you, I too believed that someone’s face could tell a lot about his character; which means there is a cruel face, kind face, gentle face, dumb face etc. This incident made me think on this further. Why the hell there is a connection between how someone’s face looks and his character? Do we get it as a package? Or is it likely that one influences the other? Then what comes first? Does the character makes someone’s face the way it is (there are some people who think this way, especially when it comes to things like cruelty) or it is the other way round?

I found it hard to believe and as I thought about this a totally different dimension came to my mind.

There is already an association in the mind which maps different faces to different characters. We have learnt it from our elders, society and mainly films. That is to say, given a set of photos, most of the people would pick the same face for a particular expression.

Fine. Interestingly, this association in the mind forms a strong conditioning that influences our behavior.

 Typically our character has two components; one what we are truly made up of and the other what we develop in response to our environment.

Now assume that someone is born with a face that looks cruel (going by the normal conventions). He may not be aware of that to begin with, but the people around him react (unconsciously) to the way his face looks and this conditions their behavior. What they think of him is now ‘hidden’ in their interactions and his subconscious mind starts to react to this subtle message. If he is more of reactive nature, over a period of time and with many such interactions, he builds the character as conveyed by the people around.

I think this is what happens. People subtly induce the character on to someone depending on a patterns (association) they have in their minds and most of the people have no option than to conform to it. When they approach that person, there is an unconscious message that gets conveyed.

So the problem really is to do with the face and the patters all of us carry in our heads…

If there is someone who’s face and his character does not match (like you think he is a rough guy but he is actually a funny guy..), he is most likely a very creative person. Because most likely he has resisted this massive brain washing that the society attempted on him by being simply what he is.  

Add on:

Once I had a manager who (I think) typically learnt most  skills from books (including parenting, he told me once). There was often a problem between us. When we were in an intense conversation, I would take eyes off his face and stare typically at a blank wall or out through the window. For me these were the moments of intense attention, but he would take it that I have tuned off.

For all these games to work, people should have learnt from the same books or be from the same culture.

Do we get to choose in life?

It is rather strange. But it always looks like everyone else has a choice in life but not me. Things are thrust on me mercilessly. Why is life unfair to me?

There seems to be things to choose from all around, but strangely the moment I get to choose, the choices vanish and there is simply that one thing, the one thing that I do not like, left.

 The world is full of opposites, at least they way my mind sees it. Opposites to choose from;there is love-hatred, war-peace, joy-misery, chaos-order, beauty-ugliness, wellness-suffering. They tell me that I get to choose. They tell me that I am what I have chosen to be.

Do I really get to choose? Can I simply choose between being happy and being sad? If I can make that choice, will I need to make any other choice in life at all?

 Or have I made that choice already?

 Sometimes in our lives, we make choices. Either because we are not attached to the choices or there is a logic that overrules the feeling or we are utterly confused that the decision making becomes conscious. The choosing is unconscious mostly otherwise and in fact, there is no choice at all in the first place.

 Many a times when you attempt to change something (you make a conscious choice to do something or not to do something), panic sets in. There is so much of trauma, uncomfortable feeling, frustration, resistance and mostly after enduring the suffering for a while, we return back to the comfort of what we were.

Moreover, it does not occur to us that a current situation (mostly unpleasant) is in fact a consequence of a choice we have made some time back. Partly because our sense of cause and effect is limited both by time and physical space.

But most of us would agree that we do get to choose. Why then is it difficult to make choices?

The answer to this lies deep down in the mind. The truth is that most of the time, the mind does not see a choice at all in the first place. Because there is a pattern in the mind that will immediately trigger the irresistible urge to react in a particular way (pre-rehearsed or learnt from the past experience). So, for the mind it looks as if there is no choice. This is also why we feel others have got a choice, because the choice disappears only when we try to connect it to the sense of self.

We will be able to see the choices only if we can stop the urge to connect a thought trigger to an existing pattern in the mind. This happens in the present moment. See the representation in the post The act of mindful watching

 The moment we are able to bring space at this level of thought, choices simply will spring up. Most of the time making the right choice seems tough for most of us because we approach it upside-down. An abstract feeling becomes a thought, then an action and further a habit or behavior. And we try to make change at the level of habit / behavior. This doesn’t work. Also because at the level of habit or behavior the logical mind is also very dominant.

When the logic drops, patterns weaken one travels back to the thought and then the basic abstract feeling. There one makes a simple choice and a new dimension opens up. This is the choice of going back to a child’s mind of joy and creativity.

So there seems to be only one choice to make –whether to go back to the pre-thought state or not.

….hm, do we really have a choice?