Tag Archives: Doubt

Future, God and the Contradiction

Someone in the adjacent cubicle was getting a new car. As I reached office, there was a discussion going on if the registration number of the car was an auspicious one (for those who do not know, in India numbers 3,7 and 9 considered generally auspicious . Unlike lucky numbers  which are personal, these are ‘auspicious’ numbers generally for everyone. For bigger numbers, they need to add up to 9 or multiples of it)

Like all the other daily matters, gods play a key role in driving in India and the auspicious number is one of the numerous ‘grace’ invoking means.

As the discussion went on, someone presented an interesting statistics. It seems a study has revealed that the vehicles with auspicious numbers met more accidents that the rest. The most auspicious 9 (where the numbers added up to 9 or multiples of it) topped the list.

I was overhearing the conversation and this particular piece of statistics made me curious. I wondered if this info was right.

As I thought about it later, it looked quite possible that it could be true.

 Here is how it works:  It is those people who have an element of doubt in their ability (here in driving) who look forward to things that would provide them some form of assurance against things going wrong. So logically, the group with auspicious numbers ( more precisely the group who believe in auspicious numbers) are in fact less skilled than the rest. So the rate of accidents would be naturally higher in the first group.

This lead to another interesting thought. When one is actually performing an activity (driving here), the possibility of him doubting his ability is very thin; in reality all the doubts come up when one is thinking about it.  That’s to say only when you look forward to an activity in the future (in the mind) and insist that the outcome has to be something specific , then the doubt arises. And the doubt is rooted in the past – either his own past or the past of others that he has come to know.

Do animals have doubts? Unlikely. May be because animals do any activity in the present moment and in the present moment, there is no doubt. So animals do not need auspicious numbers, talismans, Laughing Buddha etc. All that’s needed only in the future which exists only in the human mind.

So, do animals need god? Also unlikely. Because you need god to help you with uncertainty which in exists only in the mind constructed future. Since animals don’t construct a future and seek security there, mostly they do not need faith and god too.

This leads to one of the greatest contradictions we face. It is only when we are thinking, we have a past and a future and that’s when we need god. But it’s when our thoughts stop, we are in the present moment and that’s the only place we get to know god.

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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.

Mind, Ego, Memory, Body, Emotion and Self – 1

“I am depressed”

“This is not right”

 “I don’t like him”

 “I am not comfortable doing this”

”I will teach him a lesson”

 “Who is he to tell me what I should do?”

 “This is stupid; this isn’t what I had wanted”

 “I can’t do this, I am not capable”

 “Why is he trying to find fault with me always?”

 “People are going to be ‘Wowed’ by what I am making”

 “This is it. I need to take charge of this”…

Sounds familiar? These are some of the expressions we use all the time in our lives. And we think this is our identity or character. How true is that?

 One of the fundamental reasons for all the problems in life is said to be this false sense of identification. This is what all major philosophies have been telling us for ages. False identifications! What exactly is that? Let me put in some thoughts. This is going to be a bit long, so I will try to split them in to several posts; topic wise.

Though by habit, we refer to “me” in every above situation, in reality there are very distinct faculties within us which are operating behind the scene– The Mind, Ego, Memory, Body, Emotion and Self. At different points of time, based on the situation, we identify ourselves with any of them. For e.g when you say we are depressed, in reality it is our mind that’s depressed. When we say we are tired, it’s our body that’s tired. When we want to ‘teach some one a lesson’ it is actually our ego that wants to do it.

While each of these faculties is necessary and good in their own respect, the problem arises when they take control without us realizing. In this constant struggle for dominance, the great master “The self”, which is above and beyond all others is ignored. All the religions advocate that the moment you identify yourself with the self, all the problems vanish and that is what is liberation or enlightenment. But the concept of identifying with the self looks too conceptual and ideal. So, the first step let’s try to understand these faculties a bit more in detail; may be when we do that the self will just emerge effortlessly.

Here are some thoughts on The Mind.

Mind is the most complex and the dangerous one to tackle. Most of us, most of the time identify ourselves with the mind. Mind is just a collection of thoughts (remember the analogy of Trees and forest). That in a way means we identify with the thoughts.

The nature of the mind is movement. Mind keeps going to the past and the future. Mind is time. Mind exists only in time. Mind lives constantly in anticipation of a ‘happiness’ that is in the future or feeding on a ‘memory’ that occurred in the past. These are the two things that mind needs for its survival- pleasure and pain, in the future or in the past.

Mind likes to be in charge. The other faculties like Ego, memory, emotions and body are allies of the mind. Mind uses them as needed to maintain its control over your identity.

Mind is not sure of its identity. It needs approval from others. You seek acceptance, approval, appreciation constantly when you are identified with the mind.

It’s the mind that’s judging and categorizing. It’s what adds the ‘flavor’ to events, situations, responses, people etc. Mind prevents you from seeing things as they are.

Mind is not concerned about what’s good and bad, it goes more by what’s comfortable. Mind always resists a change away from a comfortable state.

Mind loves concepts. It is happy analyzing and reasoning things (predominantly to suit its needs). For e.g If you are really looking for joy, mind will interpret it as happiness and then tell you how the objects, achievements, victories will give you that joy.

The two strong weapons mind has at its disposal are fear and doubt. And to make sure that it is in control, it constantly strengthens these two weapons and any effort you take to overcome fear and doubt will be spoiled by the mind.

Another trap that the mind (along with the memory) creates is patterns. These patterns are executed by the mind without the slightest trace of awareness. The more patterns we build, the more the control of the mind. And any effort to remove a pattern is sure to make the mind uncomfortable.

Why is it necessary to understand and control the mind? Because most of the philosophies advocate that the ultimate freedom lies in a state of void that emerges when the thoughts stop.

Here are the first two simple steps to understand the mind and gain some control over it.

  1. Understand the nature and function of the mind. When we are able to say- ‘Oh. It’s not me, it’s my mind’ (and probably smile at the mind), something great has happened. This will need some practice, and of course; the mind doesn’t like being watched. So it will try everything possible to shake your attention off.
  2.  The second is to cultivate Mindfulness. In this age old practice (originally advocated by Buddha) breath is used as an instrument to bring the mind in to present moment. Though there are numerous techniques available to bring about a stage of mindfulness, breath awareness still remains the best.  Just simply become aware of the breathing for few moments (as often as you can) and you can see the mind settling (You could also do a body awareness if that’s what you like)

The idea is never to confront the mind and bring it under control; mind would resist that and do anything to win you over. 

Thoughts on Ego in the next post…

Doubt, Negativity and the level of Prana

There are times when our minds become doubtful. All of a sudden, things look different. We start doubting people, situations, and intentions and finally start doubting ourselves (our capabilities, qualities, achievements etc). Sometimes this passes quickly, but at times it gets lodged firmly in the mind, difficult to shake off. When prolonged, this leads to psychosomatic disorders.

But where does all this doubt come from? It’s interesting to see that you were perfectly at peace with some situation till one fine day where you begin to ‘sense’ something wrong. A doubting mind soon develops negative tendencies and the negativity feeds on to doubt back. This could also lead to depression.

Typically we attribute ‘doubting’ to personality traits, thinking problems or even certain situations. But it’s interesting to see the point of view of Yoga. Yoga suggests that mind becomes doubtful when the Prana level goes down. Prana is what’s called the life force (or mental energy) which is alive in everyone. When your prana levels are low, that is when you feel down, disinterested in things, lethargic and develop a negative attitude in life.

So Yoga suggests that to keep doubts and negativity away, all you need to do is to keep your Prana levels high.

How do you do that? According to Yoga, there are four sources of energy: Food, Sleep, Breath and Meditation. Paying attention to them (if not all, at least one or two) will help you keep your energy.

Here is a brief overview of the four:

  • Food – According to Yoga, there are three types of food
    • Sattwik – Whole some food E.g Fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, cereals. They give lot of energy (greener the vegetable, more the prana)
    • Rajasik – This group causes lot of agitation in the mind. E.g Tea/Coffee, Spicy foods
    • Tamasik – That depletes energy and makes you dull and lethargic. E.g Alcohol, mushrooms, non vegetarian food, garlic, fried food, frozen food, refrigerated food etc.

If you are eating Tamasik food regularly, it can make you become very lethargic. Change your diet a bit and go for Satwik food. 

  •  Sleep : It’s important to have sufficient amount to quality uninterrupted sleep. If you have sleeping problems, sort it out. (See the post Tips for a good nights’ sleep )
  • Breath :  Look at your breath. Is it deep or shallow, is it long or short. A bad breathing pattern will fail to reenergize your body and mind as required. If you are badly down, completely devoid of energy, get on to some Pranayama practices. Things will turn around quickly. (Suryanamaskara is also a profound technique) Or try some aerobics. Paying attention to breath also brings some amount of present moment awarensss. 
  •  Meditation: A great source of energy. Needs some practice but can keep you really charged. There are several schools and techniques, choose what you find suitable for you.

Putting attention in these four sources for a few days, you will have a better prana level and even if you have been down for longh, you can see that in few days mind turns around.

H.H Sri Sri Ravishankar says in a talk – Doubt is always about positivity. When someone says “I love you”, you ask “really?”. But when someone says I hate you, you don’t question that. You don’t doubt your anger or depression, but you doubt all the positive qualities in you….

Also see Doubt and conditioning of the mind for the worse

An insight to making firm decisions

All of us make decisions in life. We decide to do something or we decide not to do something or change the way we do something. While we are successful sometimes, there are also quiet many failures. (By success I mean that we are able to stick to the decision and failure the opposite)

Have you ever wondered why we aren’t successful always? Even if we thought about it, we are most likely to attribute it to things like our will power. One reason why we are unable to see a pattern in our own decisions (and the success and failures) is that every time the decisions are different and look unique. It’s very rare we take the same decision over and over again.

 I had the great privilege of being a heavy smoker for many years. I had made numerous attempts to quit, and one important ritual in every attempt was my taking the decision ‘not to smoke ever in my life’. I failed repeatedly. Sometimes it was immediate; sometimes it took few hours, days or weeks before I succumbed to the temptation. Sometimes I was miserable and some other times happy.

When I analyzed these failures, I could see there were two separate aspects. One was the decision making itself and the other sustaining it through maintaining the mindset. If I made a good decision, that helped me have a great start. I could overcome the initial hurdle without serious problems. Similar to a rocket gaining the escape velocity to overcome the earth’s gravitational pull.But if the decision it self was weak, I failed almost immediately. Even when I made a good decision, my failure came from the second aspect – where could not sustain it.

So, when was it that I could take a good decision? I saw two scenarios:

  1. When I had done enough reflection and introspection (why am I doing this, what is it doing for me..etc)
  2. After an emotional outburst.

But still I couldn’t figure out why was my decisions were stronger in the above scenarios.

 Months later, I came across a technique from Yoga for making firm decisions. This is the technique:

Sit in with your eyes closed, spine erect. Take a deep breath and hold the breath inside. Now repeat the decision firmly and continuously in your mind. Keep holding the breath as long as you can. When you can’t hold any longer, breathe out completely. Now hold the breath outside and repeat the decision again in the mind. When you can’t any longer hold it out, breath in and hold and so on. Do this couple of times. And it seems, whatever decision you take like this, you wouldn’t be able to break even if you try to.

This was interesting. Holding breath is a stage in Pranayama called Kumbhaka. And what happens when you do Kumbhaka? – the mind stops (or the thoughts disappear). (Please do not attempt the above technique without guidance or knowledge)

Now the whole thing made sense. I could see a connection. I could see that in both the scenarios above, there was something interesting about the mind. In the first scenario, the deep reflection settled the mind (or the doubts) and the in the second mind just entered in to a void following an outburst. So in essence, I could see that the mind had to get out of the way if we have to take a firm decision. This is verified by the fact that there are times when I take a decision; I almost knew that it will not work. I could see that before even the decision is made, doubts arise in the mind and the decision is doomed even before it starts.

Based on this experience, I have formed a concept for making firm decisions:  If you have to make a firm decision, you need to first get the mind out of the way. Once the thoughts stop (mind doesn’t exist then – I like the analogy of mind and thoughts to forest and trees) take the decision. Allow it to sink deeply in to your self. You will find that the decision is successful, almost effortlessly.

So how to get the mind get out of your way? Here are few suggestions:

  1. Intense Mindfulness. Mindfulness literally kills your mind. When you are mindful, the decision making is good automatically, and you don’t need to do anything extra. But becoming mindful needs some preparation and effort
  2. Intense prayer and surrender – This also settles the mind, especially when there is fear about the decision or you feel helpless
  3. Deep reflection and introspection. In cases where your mind is cluttered about the decision. For e.g smoking, on one side you really want to stop and on the other side you fear that you will miss your friend. Do a deep reflection to get clarity, this will settle the mind and you can take a better decision.
  4. Certain techniques in yoga where you do breath retention (like Moorcha pranayama, Nadi Sodhana Pranayama with prolonged Kumbhaka or simply just holding the breath as mentioned above). They immediately result in a void, and this is the space where you actually take the decision. A void could also result by haphazard breathing for sometime. Techniques 2 or 3 followed by 4 will be your key to making firm decisions.

Sometimes, it is also possible that your mind becomes void or blank without any effort. If you are aware, you should be able to catch it (I have seen this happening ton me when I am physically exhausted)

But remember, taking decision is one of the aspects we need to master. Thoughts on sustaining that in another post.

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.

Tell stories to overcome the logical barrier in the mind

(Continuing from my pervious posts on Right Brain and Left Brain and a technique for coordinating them)

In my view we were all creative and imaginative as children and as we lost it to a good extend as we grew up. Thanks to our education system and the demands (at least as we perceive) of the world around us. 

Look at this scenario. You are in a team meeting in your office where your boss presents a problem and asks you for ideas to solve it. There is silence for sometime. Suddenly you have an idea. You are about to open your mouth and then you hold back. Because you are not sure if it is ‘not illogical’. What happens if others laugh at my idea? You decide to wait. Others start giving their ideas. All of them making perfect sense. The boss doesn’t seem to be happy yet. Then suddenly a colleague blurts out exactly the same idea that you were pondering on. The boss is jumping up in excitement and your mediocre colleague has stolen the show. You feel a lump in your throat as you leave the room and you are asking you this age old question- why did I hold back? I just lost an opportunity.

Reason is simple. As we become more logical, we are so particular that everything that comes out of our ‘mouth’ (I wouldn’t say mind) has to make sense for us as well as to others. Which is like the logical brain putting a gate or a filter for any information that comes in or goes out. It’s then, you look at a great painting of Salvador Dali and wonder – what’s this stupid thing all about?

So, the point is you need to re-train your brain to overcome the logical barrier. Here is a simple technique to do that.

If you have a small kid at home, start telling him/her stories. Not the ones you have read or heard. Create stories for your own. Make them as illogical as possible. Don’t have to worry; your kid is not sitting there judging whether you make sense. He/she is enjoying every ‘illogical bit’ of it. The more ‘weird’ the story is, better they enjoy.Don’t hold back your imagination and don’t try to make sense of what you say. Add effects by appropriate postures, gestures and sound if you like. Do it whenever you find time to spend with the little ones.

Two things will definitely happen:

  • Your  rating as a parent will shoot up
  • You will soon have someone making a comment on you that ‘you really have those out of the box ideas’