Tag Archives: Conflict

Playing with Gods

We in India are pretty friendly with gods. Not only that we have countless to choose from according to one’s own tastes, the relationship is pretty much personal and informal. We not only worship them but also demand things, accuse, avoid and even bribe them. Most of our gods are not those serious looking types, but are quite humane in many ways, playing pranks. Gods play a very important role in the everyday life on any Indian- you can’t find a vehicle in India without a god’s photo or idol on the dashboard (If you ever wondered why there aren’t as many accidents in this chaotic traffic!)

But then we also try to fool around with gods. Not in a big way (we are also afraid of them) but more as a matter of convenience (and gods do understand that!). Here are two examples I came across:

1. We had planned a trip to Rameshwaram (this is famous Shiva temple located at the southern most point of India) sometime last year. Everything was planned; but then we came to know that back at my hometown a cousin of mine was expecting a baby anytime. According to our belief system, if a child is born in the family, one is not allowed to visit a temple or perform any religious rites for few days ( as a matter of fact 10 days if the child is male and 3 days for females).

We were slightly worried if the trip will have to be cancelled. There was every chance that the child would be born and we will have to call of the trip.

Then my wife gave me a great idea. She asked me to request my cousin’s family not to inform us if the child was born before we left. She observed that there was no sin if we visit the temple unaware. Of course I didn’t do it and as for our luck, we made the trip without any problems.

2. A friend of mine who had been to Hajj (the pilgrim to Holy Mecca) started growing his beard. When I met him few days back, I curiously asked him about the significance of this and he explained to me that once you perform the pilgrim to Mecca, you are supposed to let your beard grow. But there is a rule; it’s expected to be grown till your chest (you should be able to hold it in your fist).

I met this guy again today (that was the trigger for this post). I was amused to see that he had trimmed his beard. I asked him if he decided to go against the rules laid down in the scriptures.

No, he explained. The rules were very clear- you are not supposed to shave, you have to let your beard grow and there was a maximum length to which it could grow. But there is no mention about how short it can be. So my friend trimmed his beard very short. This definitely looked much better in a corporate environment, but the crux is that he actually found a way out without going against the rules.

Gods also love fun!

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What does the ego want?

My wife informed me that my daughter got down from her school bus crying. She told me the reason too, but I wanted to hear what my daughter had to say.

In the evening, I picked up a conversation with her on this. I asked her why she had cried in the bus.

“Papa, you know it was Suneethi’s (another girl in the bus) b’day today. She distributed chocolates to everyone in the bus and she didn’t give me”

 “So, why did you cry?” I asked.

“Because she didn’t give me”

 “OK fine, she didn’t give you. But why did you cry?” She looked little puzzled.

“It is a bad behavior, right?”

 “May be, but then why did you cry” I asked gently.

There was a pause. I repeated the question again.

“Because I wanted them to feel sorry..?” she said hesitantly and then quickly changed the topic to something else. I guess she saw the point.

This is what the ego always does. It thinks by reacting (emotionally) it can change a situation favorably or at least make someone guilty about it.  It’s easy to see how this works in children, their egos are still developing. But as adults look at the amount of messages we sent out by reacting to the world every moment. We are constantly saying to the world “I am right, you better change”.We all have a need to be in constant conflict with one or the other thing.

Aldous Huxley once said “I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.” But will the ego agree?

Conflicts are not resolved by our logical mind

I was attending a 5 day meditation course at the Art Of Living Center  last year. This is residential course and we are in silence for most of it. This is when I faced this problem. There was a gentle man who was doing service in the dining hall (for those of you who do not know, it is a common practice in India for people to stay in ashrams (spiritual centers) for some duration and do some service) who (I don’t know for what) was making people sit in perfect order without leaving gaps in between (We take our lunch and squat on the floor on mats to eat it).

I have always had this problem. Whenever some one tells me to do some trivial things a particular way, I have an irresistible urge not to do it that way. I don’t like being told where to park my car for example by the security person. And here was this guy, who wouldn’t let me sit wherever I liked. I tried, but he didn’t let me. And I gave in partly because I wasn’t supposed to be rude and mainly because I was in silence.

This repeated couple of times. Every time I went to the Dining Hall, this resistance surfaced and disturbed me. My mind (ego) said – this stupid guy shouldn’t be here. Afterall we are here to relax and be with ourselves. Why is he doing this useless thing? The disturbance was felt more, because the mind was settling down and there was nothing else around me that was disturbing. There was nothing I could do about it, but I could feel the resistance and the disturbance.

 On the third day, I decided to tackle this problem. To begin with, I decided to just avoid him. But this wasn’t working as I became very very conscious when I tried it and it disturbed me still.By then I could also sense him getting disturbed slightly by my presence. I think every human being can sense resistance and hostility pretty quickly.

I then decided to drop the resistance completely. I went about observing what was happening in the mind, to begin with and shortly the problem almost ceased to exist.

Now we were on the last day of the course and out of silence. Mind was clear, thoughtless and centered. I walked in to the dining hall. This guy was right there, making people sit in perfect rows (still I don’t know why). I just walked to him straight and with a smile told him – tell me if I you will permit me to sit wherever I like, at least for once. Only then I will pick my lunch. He just smiled and in a moment we both realized the stupidity of the whole thing. We hugged each other and all that resistance just melted like a snowflake. Very rarely have I felt that level of belongingness. Mind was so clear.

I don’t think need to try resolving conflicts the hard way. They just don’t exist when mind is settled we drop all the resistance. That is when we feel true belongingness.

Can the logical mind and analytical thinking ever resolve a conflict?

Helplessness, Fear, Resistance and Stress

It is a common misapprehension that overworking leads to stress. While I agree that any demanding prolonged activity of the mind or body will lead to some sort of fatigue, I do not believe that this is what causes stress. Such a fatigue can be overcome (unless it is very prolonged and neglected) by breaks, some discipline in life or any activities that help you unwind.

What cause stress? When does it become a real serious issue? How do we know we are getting in to it? How do we overcome it? Here are some thoughts.

 Stress is caused by the mind and ego taking over an issue, typically in a relationship where there is some kind of hierarchy. A work place is a typical example; and that will be the focus here. Let’s see some common scenarios.

 To start with you have certain expectations on something or someone. You strongly believe that something needs to be done in a particular way and of course, you have your reasons.  Now you are asked by your boss to go ahead in a totally different way. You try to protest, but finally have to yield. This creates a conflict in the mind. The ego takes over and you feel wronged. You go ahead with the task but every mind your mind is churning out reasons why it wouldn’t work. Your ego really wants it to fail so that you can have your boss suffer for the wrong decision. Slowly the thought becomes obsessive. You wake up in the middle of the night and before you realize, the battle is already on in your mind. If you are a drinker or a smoker, you tend to over abuse, which aggravates the issue. You vent your frustration to your friends and they readily sympathize with you, which reinforces your feeling of misery. You don’t feel like going to office and secretly nurture a feeling of vengeance in not turning up for work. Before you realize, the stress catches up with your body and mind. And one fine day you wake up with a thumping heart and lump in your throat to realize that you lost the battle badly.

Look at another scenario. You are stuck in a situation where you are accountable but do not have power to solve it. A typical example from the Indian IT industry scenario is the role of a customer relationship manager. There is a fight going on between the customer and the offshore team and things have come in to a deadlock. There are big egos involved, which is obvious to you. But you cannot point this out. The management blames you for not resolving the issue. You are helpless and soon the stress gets it victim. The latter part of the story remains almost the same.

Another common scenario is responding to threat (not those obvious ones like – I will kill you, but those subtle ones). Typically many managers in India try to get work done by inducing subtle fear in the minds of team members. Your conscious mind may not realize this, but your subconscious mind reads the threat and you are preparing for a fight without realizing it. This also happens with intimidation – don’t try to act smart here, we know what to do. It leaves you badly hurt and because you cannot respond directly, you resort to playing those scripts in your mind.

In all the examples above, you can see helplessness, resistance and fear are common themes and I think our inability to deal with them gets us in to trouble. Sometimes we pull through, but to find us again in a fresh trap. It’s like a viral attack, every time the virus changes its structure and the body cannot find a permanent solution for it.

The trap is that we try to solve the issue always, and believe that everything will be peaceful after that. But the real problem is in our mind, which remains there as long as we understand.

So how do we tackle getting in to this mess? Here are some thoughts:

  • Speak out when needed. Even if it might be painful and your mind and ego will persuade you to avoid it.
  • Whatever be the case, if you cannot solve an issue and cannot escape from it, drop all your resistance and accept the situation
  • Don’t let issue based conflicts become people conflicts. Convey clearly to the person that you value him.
  • Seek help from someone whom you respect and who has a larger view of life. You are not helpless
  • If someone tries to instill fear in you, politely but firmly make it clear that you do not approve it
  • Do not respond emotionally to any issue, even if provoked. Stay calm not to feed the other person’s egoYour mind will tell you that the only way you can solve the issue is by getting out of the situation. Don’t believe this, unless you can really make that move. Otherwise, this creates a conditioning that makes you miserable.
  • Watch out for early signs, don’t neglect them. Typically the first symptoms are obsessive thoughts and disturbed sleep.
  • Finally, always have something that you really enjoy in life. May be a sports or some hobby, which will help you disconnect from the issue.

Escaping from such situations is not a long term solution, because you carry with you what really caused it – your mind and the ego. Stay firm and fight it out, and you have really learned something in your life.

Also Read:

  1. Surrender
  2. Why Cant we resolve our own issues by thinking?

Playing with Perceptions

We all form perceptions. We categorize and label people, situations, places and objects continuously, based on some cues that we pick and interpret. They are positive, negative or neutral and are generally harmless in most cases (except that it triggers a pre-conditioned approach or response). When we have formed a strong perception, we tend to avoid situations involving that anyway.

Why do we form perceptions in the first place? I think our minds are trained to logically analyze things around us and this ‘ability’ gets better as we grow. Lot of the work that we do demand this; be it analyzing a requirement or assessing a person. And before we know, it is our personality, and we conveniently label it as ‘sense making’. Even the tools that we use help us reinforce this behavior. Look at this blog itself; I have to categorize every post and add tags and build a meta-data around it.

When do perceptions become a problem? I think, in relationships which are egoistic and demanding in nature. The two most obvious are romance and work. The moment perceptions are taken over by mind and ego, there is trouble. Some times real serious trouble. I think in romance (marriage included) the impact is not that bad because there is some thing called ‘belongingness’ which at times can overrule all such negative tendencies.

So let’s look at work. Typically in Indian companies, managers are supposed to assess the employees not just based on the work done, but also the behavior, attitude and other soft skills. Perfect setting for forming perceptions, which are ‘professionally right’. I think this is one of the prime reasons for stress at workplace and people leaving jobs.

As I said, mostly perceptions are typically formed based on ‘cues’ and is not substantiated by evidences mostly. How the cues are interpreted depends on the person (and I think where is processed – ego or mind)

Look at this illustration that I think we all can relate to:

Alex is a manager in a company and Erich is a team member reporting in to him. There is another manager David who, Alex suspects to be working against him. All of a sudden, Alex finds that Erich and David are hanging out together often. He is curious but decides to wait and watch. Sometime later, in a meeting David brings up a particular point against Alex, one which Alex thinks is not possible for someone outside the team to know. Now Alex’s perception on David that he is working against him is reinforced, and Alex forms a new perception that Erich is actually bitching on him to David. (Alex’s ego takes over here). Alex gives a feedback to Erich that he is not seen at his desk often and has been taking too many breaks these days. Erich if offended. (His ego takes over). He is now wondering why Alex is trying to find fault with him, while he has been delivering what is expected on time. Erich forms a perception now that Alex is trying to intimidate him. (Why? May be my ideas are better than Alex’s).

Now Erich is careful and but also uncomfortable that Alex is watching him continuously. In the months that follow, Alex is actually searching for cues to reinforce his perception, while Erich is behaving quiet unnaturally, careful not to give Alex any chance to intimidate him. Alex picks some simple ‘cues’; for e.g when Alex gives a smile to Erich when they meet on the corridor, Erich returns just ‘half a smile’ and turns his face away. Fine, Alex is at least confident that he isn’t wrong. The relationship between Alex and Erich becomes very formal and uncomfortable and Erich is now avoiding Alex as far as possible. Alex is also watching who Erich is talking to in the team, subconsciously looking for any changes in their attitude also.

Now Erich talks to David about this and seeks his guidance and in the process David’s perception on Alex, that he is a man on mean thinking, is reinforced. Talking to David reinforces Erich’s perception on the situation that he is being victimized.

 In the next feedback cycle, Alex gives a comment that Erich is ‘spreading negative energy’. Erich is furious and offended (ego is hurt badly) and wants to now prove that Alex has a malicious intention to corner him. His mind is now sucked totally in to this and is completely disturbed. A week later, they meet up to discuss the feedback and Erich couldn’t hold his emotion back and vents out his frustration on Alex. This reinforces Alex’s perception and now he is more the sure that he was right. Alex tries to portray that he is helping Erich ‘improve’ by pointing out a ‘hidden’ problem and expects Erich to thank him for that. Now Erich’s perception is reinforced that Alex has some malicious motive in trying to find fault with him and brand him. Alex also sense that Erich is forming a perception on him, and this reinforces his perception on Erich further.

It’s easy to assume where this is heading to. But the sad part is that we get in to this trap often in life and it sucks all the creative energy in us and makes our lives miserable. What everyone missed in the above example that there could be a genuine positive reason for the connection between Erich and David. And the existing perception of Alex on David, prevented him from seeing it that way or trying to find it out.

One of the most important outcomes of letting perceptions rule relationships is that it creates ‘false identities’ for us. When someone has formed a perception that you are ‘moody’ (and you know it) you will automatically tend to be moody in his presence.

While I do not think that it’s not possible (and not needed too) to completely stop forming perceptions, I definitely think we can stop it from ruining our lives and the others around.

Here are some thoughts and suggestions:

  • I think the first thing is to see situations and people as they are, without the frills around it. Rather easy said than done. But you we are more mindful and understand how ego and mind works, I think you will be able to do this
  • Drop the notion that people are out there to get you. This arises out of fear, and leads to the wrong assumptions we make.
  • Even if you form perceptions, don’t let your ego latch on to it. Without the ‘ego’ playing our side, you will be able to solve it through discussions.
  • Whether you have formed a perception or fighting one, don’t go around discussing with people. It feeds your ego and further reinforces the perception. Seek help if needed from someone who can help.
  • If you are discussing with someone on a perception issue between the two, don’t let your emotions to take over. That will further aggravate the issue. Stay calm and don’t lose your balance
  • If you try are trying to change a perception someone has formed on you and it doesn’t work, just drop it. Understand that it is his problem and let him deal with it. Stay away.
  • Drop the conditioning that everyone has to have good and right perceptions on you. Try to resolve it only if it has any relevance to you. Don’t let your ego chase it.

 

After all perceptions are transient, they are bound to change. No one is going to hold on to a particular perception on forever.

Surrender

Surrender is a beautiful concept advocated by all the Indian religions. It is even placed superior to many of the spiritual practices.

But what does it mean really? What do one surrender? To whom? What happens after that?

I had my own problem understanding what surrender means. It is a tradition in India to offer your problems to a god, diety or a guru. This seemed to me the closest possible meaning of surrender, when I tried to undertsand this initially. 

This is how I experimented this.When I had a problem that I couldn’t solve or escape from, I said – God, I can’t handle this, I’m surrendering this to you. You take care. But it didn’t really work and soon it looked more like a ritual. I realized that such a surrender demanded complete faith (in whatever you surrender to), which was another abstract concept I needed to then understand. Without faith, the surrender was meaningless, because I doubted whether it would work or not and still continued pondering on it. Subconciously, I wished it would work, because my faith would grow then! So I had another chicken-egg situation. 

I dropped it for months till I became interested in  Mindfulness  and present moment. I decided to attempt to be ‘in the present moment’ for a week or so, just to feel it out ( I didn’t continue that for a reason; that’s for another post). As I became more and more mindful (in the present), surrender manifested all of a sudden! It was there in the present moment.

This brought about a totally diffrent meaning to Surrender. The real surrender is to drop all the resistance (to anything, may be after you failed to solve it or escape from) and just be in the situation. And the problem is no more there, simply because in present moment there are no problems.

Try it yourself. If there is a problem thats bothering you right now, just drop all your resistance to it, accept it fully and just be there. See what happens.(No cheating, be true to yourself, the acceptance has to be total and effortless)

I have tried this in some simple issues in my life and it works beautifully. But I think the challenge is to apply it to real serious issues (especially where ego is involved..)and that’s something I would like to start practicing.

Long way…

What does the ego want?

This is an interesting question. What does the ego want? A friend on mine asked this question few weeks ago, as we were driving home. Though we didn’t really have an answer then, the question has been lingering in the mind for a while now.

Generally we label people as an egoist based on their external behavior. In my opinion, we mistake arrogance for ego. I think ego is much more subtle and difficult to catch. Even if we are able to keep in concealed externally, I think it’s waiting deep inside for opportunities to get what it needs. 

Let me narrate to you something that happened two days back. As usual, I was driving to office in the morning. There was a mother and a small child walking along the side of the road. The child was walking on the edge of the road and the mother wasn’t holding his hand. I honk to warn them. She doesn’t acknowledge and they continue walking. Now I am angry. I honk again. Again no response and I continue driving.

What followed immediately after was interesting. A short clip played in my mind :

As I am driving, I see the child and the mother and honk. They don’t respond. All of a sudden the child moves close to my car. I slam my brakes. I get down, console the child and then give a good dressing-down to the mother for her carelessness. As she stands there speechless, I get in to the car and drive away.

The whole thing just took may be few seconds and the above clip had finished playing even before I realized it. It’s amazing how ego gets what it wants.

But I also think, ego is not just about winning. Look at this incident.

I went  to se a doctor yesterday. There were many patients waiting and when I got my token, I was told that it would take about 45 minutes for my turn to come. I decided not to wait there, but go home and return for my appointment. I was back in about 45 minutes and the receptionist announced that I could go in next. There were many people still waiting there and some of them I am sure have been waiting for a long time. When the receptionist announced that next would be me (who just came in..) I could feel people where looking at me as an offender. As I settle in to a chair, the following clip is played in my mind.

My turn comes and as I just get up to enter the doctor’s room, another person interrupts me. He says: “I have been waiting here for such a long time and it is not right that you go in before me”. I give him a smile (the best one) and say “ No issues, if you can’t wait, please go in. I have no problem waiting for a while”. He is taken by surprise, clearly he had expected a different response. As he goes in to the doctor’s room, I settle back in to the chair, calm and totally unperturbed.

Again here the clip played completely in a fraction of a second, and by the time I caught it, ego has already got what it wants.

In both cases, the mind didn’t accept the reality as it is and had a compelling need to twist it to satsfy my ego. And as you can see, it really didn’t matter whether the incident happened in reality or not.

There are definitely numerous similar instances, many I haven’t even noticed.Why does this happen? I think the first issue is the problem with Me and Mine. We connect everything to ourselves and this puts a blind on our perceptual of the reality as it is. The second problem I think is the lack of awareness. Looks like the ego snatches the mind for a short while, does what it wants, and returns back? May be because we were not watching the mind?

Or is it something else that I haven’t realized yet.

It is going to be a while before I will find the right answer….