Tag Archives: How we think

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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Perception with no mind

We are often so caught up with what is going on inside us that we pay very little attention to what’s around us. Scientists say the human mind looks for some basic details to figure out what the object is and usually we are trained to notice differences. May be in the compulsive need to label / understand the object, we compromise on the quality of perception.

I am reading a book titled “Krishnamurti’s Notebook”. This is a diary written by Jiddu Krishnamurti (the famous philosopher, popularly known as K) in the sixties. K is said to have had a mind which was thoughtless. The depth and richness of the perception has an indescribable beauty and majesty. If you ever want to get a feel of what it means to perceive without the mind (without thinking) look at the one page I am reproducing below:

November 17th

The earth was the colour of the sky; the hills, the green, ripening rice fields, the trees and the dry, sandy river-bed were the colour of the sky; every rock on the hills, the big boulders, were the clouds and they were the rocks. Heaven was the earth and the earth heaven; the setting sun had transformed everything. The sky was blazing fire, bursting in every streak of cloud, in every stone, in every blade of grass, in every grain of sand. The sky was ablaze with green, purple, violet, indigo, with the fury of flame. Over that hill it was a vast sweep of purple and gold; over the southern hills a burning delicate green and fading blues; to the east there was a counter sunset as splendid in cardinal red and burnt ochre, magenta and fading violet. The counter sunset was exploding in splendor as in the west; a few clouds had gathered themselves around the setting sun and they were pure, smokeless fire which would never die. The vastness of this fire and its intensity penetrated everything and entered the earth. The earth was the heavens and the heavens the earth. And everything was alive and bursting with colour and the colour was god, not the god of man. The hills became transparent, every rock and boulder was without weight, floating in colour and the distant hills were blue, the blue of all the seas and the sky of every clime. The ripening rice fields were intense pink and green, a stretch of immediate attention. And the road that crossed the valley was purple and white, so alive that it was one of the rays that raced across the sky. You were of that light, burning, furious, exploding, without shadow, without root and word. And as the sun went down further down, every colour became more violent, more intense and you were completely lost, past all recalling. It was an evening that had no memory.

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?

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.

Map of the Mind

To understand the thinking better, I set out to create a 3D map of the mind. I picked the word ‘elephant’ and tried to represent all the thoughts that have come in my mind in the recent past with elephant as the starting point. I put this all in to the below representation. It looks interesting, though it can hardly represent the real complexity of the mind.

All the bubbles represent thoughts and the lines represent connections between thoughts. I have just started this, further I am going use this as the base to illustrate thinking, influencing factors, sense making etc.

Spontaneity in Children

My daughter’s school opens next week. The bus will pick her up at 6.50AM, and to make it she will need to rise by 6.00AM.  My wife is extremely tensed about this because she thinks this is impossible and also because she will need to rise by 5.30 or so.

We were discussing this last week over dinner when I suggested to my wife – why don’t we practice getting up early for next few days so that we can get accustomed?

It was my daughter who responded – why should we practice? can’t we just get up when we want?

I had no answer. It left me again thinking about the complex adult mind. As our logical minds become more and more dominant, we tend to do any thing twice. First in the mind and if that goes well then externally. The problem here is that at the mind level there are numerous reasons why something should be / can be / cannot be done, depending upon how complex one’s thinking is. Where as in reality, there may be very few options: for e.g something is done or not done.

More logical we are, the more we are caught up in the process of analysis, judging, processing, rehearsing etc. But for children it;s really simple. They do something or don’t do something. And for either, that might not have a reason. And more importantly they do not create an issue out of it.

Someone said, when a bird flies from one branch of a tree to another, it does not go though a thinking process evaluating different options. It simply flies, because it is part of it’s being.