Tag Archives: Ego

Concepts

What you see in the picture is a dust cover of a book lying on the floor of my living room.

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It’s such a trivial thing to attach any importance to. Even I did not, until this evening, which was the third day that it had been lying there. It caught my attention when I returned from work. The irritation I felt lasted only a brief moment and gave way to amusement as the complexity of what lead to it unfolded in my mind.

I should give you a bit of background first. My wife, my 10-year-old daughter and I live in this apartment. A very clear division of responsibilities exist in our house, which has evolved over a period of time. My wife takes care of all matters at home (though with lot of complaining). I take care of my office work and things outside of home. My daughter lives in her own world of books, games and TV, never crossing her self-drawn boundaries.

My daughter and I are extremely unorganised. We love to scatter things around and literally litter the house. My wife loves to keep the house neat and tidy and we now take it for granted that it is her responsibility to put things in order. This works most of the time, except on few occasions where she feels she has had enough.

My daughter and I are voracious readers. I keep buying books for both us and the result is an overflowing library at home. My wife thinks I am wasting money buying books and keeps gives me a nasty look whenever I do.

Now back to the dust cover lying on the floor. It had been removed from a book and kept in the book shelf.  It must have fallen down (most probably) when my daughter was taking a book out of the shelf. She must have never bothered to put it back, for she considered it was mother’s job to put things in order. My wife must have had enough of this and decided to leave it where it was (books belong to father and daughter and they better learn to take care of it). I come home in the evening and notice the dust cover lying on the floor, but do nothing about it (who ever let it fall should put it back).

No questions asked, no words spoken. All of us went about with our regular affairs; except that none seems to take notice of the dust cover lying on the floor. The next morning I left to office and my daughter to her school. When I return in the evening, the cover was lying there still. Our maid servant was on leave for a few days and I assumed that the house wasn’t vacuumed or mopped.

Another night passed with the dust cover still lying there. I think each of us now where expecting someone else to lose their patience and do something about it.

On the third day I returned home to find the dust cover still lying there and I also saw that it was deliberately left there (the floor was vacuumed and mopped !).

It was when the whole drama dawned on me and I couldn’t help being amused at the complexity of it. I picked up the dust cover and put it back in to the book shelf.

Everything around us, whether important or trivial, in order or out-of-order, on time or delayed, isn’t there or there without a reason. They have complex human egos with hundreds of concepts, playing elaborate games behind the scene.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, said Prospero in Tempest. But I am sure our lives are made up of such concepts that we are not even aware of.

Bandh

Today we had a ‘forced holiday’ throughout India.a Bandh. The opposition parties had called for a Bandh (Bandh means a General strike. The word literally means ‘a tying up’ in Hindi) to protest against the recent steep hike on petrol prices.

Bandh is a big affair in India. Shops remain closed, offices do not function, roads deserted and people pretty much stay indoors. The severity depends on the party that has called for Bandh. The communists are notorious for making Bandh a big success and the Communist ruled states in India enjoy at least one such ‘forced holiday’ every month.

Are Bandhs the right way to protest or are they simply causing damage to the nation’s progress by losing millions of hours of productive work? It’s hard to say. On one side is the right of every man to protest against what he thinks is unjust and on the other side is the huge losses incurred by Corporations and the economy in general (Not to mention about people unable to reach hospitals on time, marriages postponed, people stranded in Railway stations etc. and the inconvenience caused. They don’t matter much; it’s at the personal level and people will need to sort it out themselves) I leave the question here for your to ponder, that’s not the point here.

 There is another side to it. Bandh has an un-seen spiritual significance. It’s a sort of meditation at a grand scale.

On any normal day, this is what you see in Indian cities: People running around because they are late to work or some other important appointments, people making frantic calls demanding updates, giving instructions, people honking restlessly at traffic signals, vehicles trying to squeeze through the almost-standstill traffic, people trying to pile in to elevators, follow-up meetings, midnight con-calls…..

 The message that everyone is conveying: I am someone important, I need to be somewhere at this point in time, otherwise something is going to go wrong. What I need to do is important.So I need to rush. Hurry.

People are always running; because they are important, what they need to do is important, time is important, commitments are most important.

 And then comes the Bandh. Everything comes to s stand still. No office, no tasks, no commitments, you don’t need to be anywhere. No one cares.

And nothing happens.

What is the message?: Relax, even if no one does anything here for the whole day, NOTHING happens.

The Bandh makes a mockery of our ‘inflated self-esteem’ and reminds us how insignificant we are.

 We try to pretend otherwise. The next day Newspapers give the estimated loss caused by the Bandh and that’s somewhat satisfying – we are important. Aren’t we?

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?

Patterns and mental commentaries

Driving in Indian cities is tough. Ever since I started driving in Bangalore, it had been an extremely stressful thing to do. I would get irritated when people overtake from left, honk unnecessarily, drive rash etc. In an earlier job, I used to drive about 15 kilometers during peak hours and would reach office almost out of my mind. I remember, it used to take me at least half an hour to be back to my senses. My strategy at that time was to avoid the traffic by changing my timings.

The intensity of the problem gradually reduced as years went by, probably because I was becoming more aware. But still the problem existed. Driving was stressful. I would get tensed up at the slightest wrong doing or provocation on the road (they are plenty in India).

But why is this such a problem? The answer came accidentally sometime last year. I developed this habit of listening to audio books / tapes when I drive. I used to listen to them intently. Then I observed that whenever something went wrong during driving (which I did not approve), I missed a brief part of the talk  I was listening. It was not much, may be one or two sentences,  but it was as if I closed my ears for a while.

I began to further analyze this. I found that during those small intervals, there was a quick brief dialogue going on deep in the mind. It was so quick that it was hard to see what it is. But over sometime, it became clearer.

This is what was happening. Whenever there was something unacceptable happening, there is a short mental commentary going on in the sub conscious mind. The commentary is something like “it is his fault”, “why is he driving like this”, “can’t you see the red signal” etc. But they were not clear like a thought, but were like a fast-forwarded tape, almost imperceptible.

Then the question was, what were these commentaries doing?

They were subconsciously feeding and strengthening my perception about driving. They were feeding the resistance and also in way feeding my belief that I was right. But since it happened so subtly and over a period of time, it was almost impossible to see such a thing happened unconsciously.

Like all other subconscious patterns, the moment I caught it and started to watch it, it lost its grip and slowly began to fade away.

This is what happens in the case of any subconscious patterns in our mind. Every time people smoke, there is a subtle commentary feeding in to the subconscious mind and over a period of time, the habit becomes so strong to break. The same thing happens with the ego. When ever one says “I have done it” or “I don’t like it” or “it is mine” etc, there is an unconscious strengthening of the sense of “I”. This is built gradually over years and it hard to break it.

The key is always to catch it and watch it without resisting. The mental patterns will soon disintegrate and then there is no more need for the commentaries.

There is an old saying – what comes in the way is the way

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…

Living in the present moment

Over the weekend, I spend some time cleaning up my laptop. That’s when I found this mindmap that I had done probably a year or so back. These were my thoughts on Living in the Present Moment(For those who do not know, Mindmap is a tool that is used to visually represent your thinking). This was around the time I got hooked to the concept and wanted to figure out what it meant to live in the present moment. I listed down things and questions which when done or answered would lead me eventually to a state of present moment !

Fortunately I dropped this approach after a while without pushing really hard.

The reason why I wanted to put this up here is to show the stupid, humane error that all of us make. We think we are intelligent and rational human beings and we can intellectually understand any concept and also work backwards to create a plan/approach to reach there. But how true is this belief?

If you don’t believe me, just consider this. Try putting up a process/ methodology for falling in love and executing it with your great logical mind versus just falling in love totally unexpected. I don’t think you will need another illustration than this.

While many great things in life are like this, they just happen when the time is ripe. But the Mind and the Ego likes the intellectual gymnastics. The more intellectually you try to understand the truth, you are actually creating concepts with which the mind and ego plays around. (That’s when someone who is ‘being with himself’ looks so stiff and depressed)

I think the truth works the other way round. When the right moment comes (and we don’t decide it, the nature (or whatever you call) knows it) you just fall in to it and all that change needed just happens spontaneously. All that we need to do is to wait patiently for the moment to come. Drop the resistance and be there.

But how do we convince our dear logical mind to stop the noise-making activity called thinking?

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See also : Conflicts are not resolved by our logical mind

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?