Tag Archives: Habits

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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Mosquitoes and a lesson on Surrender

I was few minutes in to my evening mediation, when I felt that familiar prick on my hand.

I was away for a few days. The windows of the room were left open by mistake and apparently many mosquitoes (they are very common in Bangalore) had found their way in. And I did not realize this until I sat down to meditate.

I had had a very disturbed weekend and was looking forward to a deep mediation to set my mind right. And it was then the distraction came in the form of a mosquito. The moment it bit me, there was this deep reflex to raise my hand and kill it. But one of the first rules in meditation is to keep the body absolutely still. I decided to ignore the discomfort, but in a meditative state the pain (and the irritation) was disproportionately high.

Some time pass by and the urge in me to lift mind hand and strike it was so overpowering and finally unable to hold it any further, I finally raised my hand and struck it. As I went back my meditation, to my horror I found there were many of them now. I was in a deep fix. They were biting me on my back, hands, legs and every other exposed place. And having given once in to the urge to move, I didn’t want to move.

Perhaps I should just accept it was my next thought. I could see that my mind was not too occupied with the problem. I was thinking about it and also concerned that my meditation would now be a failure. The more I thought about it, the more intense was the problem and more intense was the urge to open my eyes and kill all of them.

OK. Let me just accept it fully, I said to myself. I paid complete attention to the pain and irritation of the mosquito bite and dropped any thinking about it. (At some point I even tried to imagine that I was loving the bite, which I think did not work well). It was somewhat tricky at the beginning. As I brought my attention to a point of bite, they would fly and settle at another spot. But then after a while, I was able to simply pay attention to the bites and was not thinking about them. The pain seemed much exaggerated, but that didn’t matter.

I had a really wonderful meditation.

After I was done, while driving to the restaurent for dinner I was thinking about it. There is this deep urge in us to run away from unpleasant experiences. This is what makes many of us leave jobs, leave partners or pick up quarrels of trivial issues. True, there is this strong unconscious reactive pattern that triggers an emotional response to unpleasant situations. But what happens if that is ignored? The mind picks it and start making a story about it. The objective of the story is to convince you not to be foolish by not reacting.

An emotion is actually very short lived. But what gives it a life in time is the thinking. If the emotion is just accepted as it is without any thinking around it, it’s great feeling. There is nothing personal about it (good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable) it’s just a feeling that would vanish as quickly as it came.

This is what the Buddhist’s call surrender.

(Note: After the session, I did kill all those mosquitoes I could lay my hands on. Probably compassion is still farther on the path)

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”

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?

Need for continuity

For most of us, a large part of our thinking is unconscious and compulsive, in the sense that we aren’t even aware that we are thinking. But even then the mind is able to go on and on with thoughts to the extent that even if we wanted to, they wouldn’t stop. I have always wondered why the mind has to do this, because this is what leads to compulsive thinking and stress.

Even if the thinking is unconscious, there exists a continuity existing between thoughts. Which means there is ‘something’ that facilitates the connection of one thought to the next. This does not happen just in the case of compulsive thinking but also with day dreaming. Once the thinking can have it’s own continuity, it tends to act like an independent function and does not need the thinker to intervene as much as possible. This is the state of no awareness. In the state of no awareness the ‘unconsciousness’ spreads to other aspects of life, like decision-making, performing some routine tasks, reacting to situations…

It may be interesting to look at if this continuity issue arises at a thought level and spreads to other aspects of life or it is the other way around?

Even if we say that the thinking is unconscious, it is not really so. Most of the time there is a theme or a topic or an objective and there is mostly an order. But within that space, at the level of thought, the continuity is unconscious. But we need this continuity to think, to produce results, to make sense etc.

The intelligent mind actually adopts many techniques to keep thoughts together and give continuity. Here are few examples:

  • Stories – stories make up the lives of most of us (I am like this, my achievements, my sufferings, my this and that..)
  • Reactive Mind Patterns , Conditioned behaviour
  • Anxiety and anticipation
  • Resistance – Past/ Future

 This continuity spreads to all aspects of our lives and ultimately results in us seeking continuity in our own lives. And for most of us, this is what drives our lives. It is what strengthens our sense of self  which thrives on seeking continuity and fulfillment. But most of the time the continuity is so well established as a habit that people have absolutely no say of what they think and how they think.

What happens when the continuity is broken? Assume that there is no compulsive need for a thought to connect the next what happens?

This is probably the state what most spiritual traditions call freedom. They say this is the state where there is no likes and dislikes, no desires, no remorse … you can look at something without thinking and you do not need to react to something….

So the revolution is to go deep to the thought level and eliminate the need for continuity. Then all the mind patterns, habits, concepts and identity will simply collapse. Because the root cause lies deep in the mind.

But is that the real freedom that we as human beings want? I do not know…

Psychological Camouflage

I was attending a meeting today where many senior people of the company were also present. This was one that ‘we are expected to attend’ and like every such meeting, this was boring and dragged on and on. Most of them were uninterested, but as it is customary in India, no one expressed it.

Time passed, and slowly one person got up, muttering something to his cellphone (very visibly) and pretending as if he is attending a call, walked out of the room. The reason looked quiet genuine, and a few more received calls and excused themselves to take them. (The cellphones are muted, so there was no way to figure out if there was a call really)

I sat there, curiously watching what’s going on.

I have already written in one of the earlier posts that mind (logical mind) plays a key role in sense perceptions. For e.g though there are so many things around, one must be seeing only a few things. These few things are those stand out from the rest or that has changed from last time, because the mind acknowledges only difference (linear from a previous state or transverse from the surroundings). All the rest is classified as usual stuff that ‘the mind already knows’. This applies to all the physical things.

Most of us are aware of this and this is what makes us dress like the rest around us or behave the way we have been behaving so far. Then we aren’t noticed by others. (the converse is also true, people who love to be noticed try to be different from others)

Trying to be identical to the surroundings is a phenomenon called camouflage, which is used (more predominantly in the insect world) both to escape from a predator and to attack a prey unnoticed.

Human beings dressing up like others etc is also a camouflage; for whatever reason we do not want to look different from the rest. May be this comes from the tribal nature of ancient humans.

But as humans, things need to be more complex.The incident described at the beginning is a totally different dimension to this camouflaging, unique to humans- I will call this ‘psychological camouflage’ (I do not know why this name, but this is what came up in my mind). At the first level, we try to behave like (well almost) people around us and over a period of time we develop what is called the right behavior (note that right behavior is always with reference to a society). Till this point, it seems OK. But what also happens in the process, we develop ‘expectations’ – how someone should behave in a particular situation. This ‘expectation’ is purely a virtual thing, it only exists in the mind (and the mind projected future). Any behavior around that is in accordance with this ‘expectation’ is generally unnoticed. Because the brain says – It confirms to what is expected.

Now if someone acts different to this expectation, it gets noticed. May the brain fires a ‘mismatch’ trigger or something like that. Each one of us are aware and conscious about this and many a times in our lives we pretend to be doing / not doing something to conform to other’s expectation. We psychologically camouflage in the projected expectations of people around us.

 It may be interesting to explore how this works. In the example described above, there is a conflict going on in the mind of the person to begin with. One part of the mind says – get out of this place. And the other part says –No it will look odd. This goes on for a while till the first part wins and you decide to leave. But then you do not want to look different (the ‘expectation’ here is that everyone remains for the entire duration and any act different to this is likely to be noticed by others) and then your cunning mind comes up with this solution – pretend as if you have just received a call and walkout to attend it. This may be not the perfect solution, but the best mind can create. The attempt is to make the act look as natural as possible, so that it goes unnoticed by others. This is attempting to camouflage.

If look around, you will be surprised at the amount of camouflage we all do. We may be looking intently at a presenter simply because that’s what is expected. We might be frantically scribbling notes in a meeting (especially when you have nothing significant to do) so that it looks natural. Watch someone who jumps a queue to join a friend who is far ahead.

 Always point is that we try to camouflage with what the world expects (and the world consists of other people who do exactly the same thing ..!). But most of the situations where we try psychological camouflage are points of cognitive dissonance, which is also the key for Innovation.

The muted TV

Over the last weekend, I was watching a film on the TV, when the phone rang. I muted the TV and picked up the phone; and it was a call for my wife. As she came walked in to the living room to attend the call, I returned to the sofa to resume watching of the film.

Not to disturb her, I didn’t turn the volume ON, but continued watching the picture.

This was interesting. I was trying to make sense of what’s going on without the audio part. I had to concentrate hard. It occurred to me that I haven’t watched something so attentively for a long time. And it was not easy.

The telephone interruption ended, but I continued to watch the film without the audio. I looked at people more closely (in to their eyes, lips..) and I could understand most of what is going on clearly. When there was audio, it was taking most of the attention and I paid little attention to really the whole experience (I think I paid real attention to the visual part only when there was no background clutter..)

I am all the more convinced now that language (or speech) disrupts our perception process by drawing our attention to it. Or may be there is an unnecessary urgency in us to ‘understand’ things..

When I look back at this, I also get a feeling that most of our primary needs and emotions can be expressed easily without any language. Then what we need the language for? – for all that mess that we have been building around us which is creating a false identity for us

Try listening to someone intently without processing what they say or without trying to interpret or even respond. You are in for a great revelation….