Tag Archives: Identity

Deep seated problems

I was to attend a Conference in Mumbai last week along with a colleague of mine. We were to catch a morning flight to Mumbai and decided to share the same taxi to the Airport. To confirm the plans, I rung her up the previous evening and told her that the taxi would pick me up at 6.00 AM and she should be ready by 6.15AM.
I was somewhat surprised when she asked me if we shouldn’t be leaving earlier than that( We had a 8.30 flight and the Airport was approximately 1 – 1.5 hrs. of drive from where we were. Considering all this, I had booked the taxi at 6.00AM which would give us some buffer in case the Bangalore traffic throws up some surprises). I told her that we would be there well in time and asked her why she felt we should leave earlier.
‘I want to check in my bag’ she told me
That was ridiculous. We would be in Mumbai for just two days, and in no way I could imagine that someone would carry a bag that couldn’t go in as cabin baggage. When I asked why she was carrying so much stuff just for two days, she clarified that it was because she wanted to carry some perfume in the bag. That sounded a good enough reason, as liquids more than 100ml wasn’t allowed in the cabin baggage. Not wanting to change the plans, I suggested that she either carry a small bottle or buy one after we land in Mumbai; in case she was very particular.
She agreed to this, though I couldn’t help feeling somewhat puzzled at this strange (at least for me) conversation.
So we were there at the Airport the next morning and were about to board the flight. While at the queue, she requested a help from me. Once we were inside, she wanted me to help her put her bag in the overhead lockers (She was very short and couldn’t reach the lockers herself). I was happy to help, but then another problem arose. As per our allotted seats, she had to use the front door and I had to use the rear door. While I was about to leave her towards the rear door, she quickly handed over to me her bag and told me that she would collect it when we reach Mumbai.
So here I was carrying two bags plus my laptop bag, trying not to look like a porter. I was a bit annoyed. While I was happy to be of any help, this was going beyond the limits. Any co-passenger would have helped her put the baggage in the lockers or she could have asked the air hostesses to help her.
That moment everything connected together in a flash. I understood the whole problem. As I had told, my colleague was very short and apparently was very conscious about it. I realized that that was the reason why she wanted to check in the baggage in the first place; to avoid being uncomfortable while trying to stove it in the overhead locker. That was also the reason for her almost impolite behavior of handling it over to me.
I have come across several such instances where people (including myself) act in strange ways to cover up such deep complexes and fears and also to fulfill deep desires. I remember when I had purchased my first car in 2004; my father was the proudest man on earth. He grew up in poverty and had to toil hard his entire life to make a living. I am sure a Car would have been beyond his dreams. We drove to the market in my car. The weather was very hot and I wanted to turn the a/c on. But my father suggested that we roll the windows down to get some fresh air. Soon I understood what was in his mind – he wanted everyone to see him travelling in his own car. I saw him beaming and smiling at friends and acquaintances throughout.
These deep desires, fears and complexes create our lives and influence the way we think, react and make decisions. And most of the time we don’t get to set them right because we constantly justify our behavior and put in all our efforts to ensure that they aren’t threatened.
Note: I am just setting up my website ( http://sajeevvk.com/) which exclusively will contain my thoughts on mind and its working. I welcome you there and would be grateful for any feedback and comments.

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Secret of Happiness

My friend grows a ‘money plant’ on her desk in our office (Money plant is a beautiful creeper with green leaves laced with yellow stripes that is believed to bring ‘money’). She takes good care of it : watering, charting out a course for it to creep (it’s grown quite big now), regularly checking the cellophane tapes that hold it to the cubicle walls and often telling us about how good it looks.

Today she was attending to her plant and I was talking to her while she was at it. She normally asks me several doubts – for e.g why do the leaves become bigger as they go higher- and I generously give her my views.

She suddenly saw that one leaf (out of 47 leaves -she told me) was slightly damaged and was concerned about it. When she pointed it to me and asked me how that would have happened, I said smiling ” It’s because you have just one plant, these trivial things matters to you so much”. I have several plants at home and I would never have paid attention to a damage of a leaf -that was insignificant in the whole scheme of things.

Of late I have been doing some thinking on happiness (unhappiness to be precise) .Our identity (what we call ‘me’) essentially consists of few components (such as job, family,friends etc) which are given different weightages based on their relative importance.  For us to be happy, they all need to be as close as to the desired levels as possible. But if some of them are not as expected, they exert a proportionate downward pull on the overall ‘level of happiness’.

That would be to say the ‘overall level of happiness’ is the result of a pull between things going good vs things going bad. If the weight of bad things is more, we would be largely be unhappy.

When I had made the comment to my colleague that such trivial things matter because it was the only plant she had, I was suddenly struck by a revelation. The same truth holds good for life too. When we have few things that make up our life, each of them becomes so important that we cannot afford to have even one of them going against the expectation. A single component of our life (the identity to be precise) going wrong would be sufficient to make us completely unhappy.

The key to happiness may be then, to have several things that makes up your life so that the relative weightage of each of them would be small and even if one goes wrong, you wouldn’t become unhappy / depressed. This is quiet contrary to what experts in the field tell us – they ask us to pursue that single passion in our lives and that would make us happier. 

May be some future studies will show that people whose life is made up of several components are less unhappy (even if not more happy) than the  rest of the population!

But then what if  ‘being happy’ is the only thing that matters to us? I think that’s where the road to enlightenment leads to.

Identity and two amusements

I recently came across two very amusing things. They happened at different times, but essentially was on the same theme.

Amusement number 1: Is to read the resumes of people  you know well

I was going through a bunch of resumes in the process of designing our expert locator system. These were the resumes people submitted to the company when they joined. There were a few resumes of the people I knew and couldn’t resist the curiosity to have a detailed look. It was  really amusing. Not really because some of them have done things that you would never have imagined from him/her. But more because there was a clear disconnect between what they were and what was written in the resumes. It seemed people were trying to project an identity that they were actually not. That means if you know the person and you read his resume, there is every chance that you cannot connect them.

Strangely, this does not happen the other way round. That is if you read the resume and then meet the person, you don’t feel similar disconnect. Probably because what you read in the resume sort of biases your impression. Another strange observation (I am not really sure of this) is that wherever the resumes looked very neatly laid out, I found the disconnect was more.

 Amusement number 2:  Is to read your company’s job classified advertisement in the newspaper

If you ever read your own company’s job advertisement, you will almost feel that you have been going somewhere else all these days. If it was a company that you worked for some time back, there is at least the  benefit of doubt that things have improved after you left. But with the current company, there is no hardly any chance.

 Be it an individual or an organization, what is the need to project a different identity? I remember a question recently asked on linkedin – why social networking sites are so popular? . I guess this is the reason. We want to keep telling everyone what we are.

 Or is it that we want to hide from everyone what we really are!

On email signature quotes

Like most of you, my office life revolves around emails. I don’t consider myself a socially active person, but even then I get about 20 mails a day. Some of these emails interest me deeply, because of something that they carry beyond the email itself. That’s a ‘quote’ (I think it’s called an email signature quote) that some people put beautifully below their signature. Every time I see such a quote, I think of the person and almost every time there is a huge disconnect. This is something that has interested me for a long while.

Today I happened to meet someone for a discussion. This was the first time we met, though we have exchanged mails before. There was a quote under his signature that said “Only strength can cooperate. Weakness can only beg”. The message was clear enough – I am of the first type in case you don’t know (or at least this is what I thought it conveyed) and I was skeptical when I went to meet him (thanks to past experiences on the similar lines). The meeting was a complete disaster. I presented him the plan for an initiative that we had undertaken and there was one area where I wanted his support. He cut me short and showed me a plan that he had prepared and presented to the CEO sometime back. The key difference was in his approach the long-term plan and the short-term plans were sequential while in mine, they were sort of parallel. I tried to explain to him why would a parallel approach work and finally meeting ended up with him making a statement like ‘I am not used to being told how to do something’.

As I walked to desk post the meeting, I was thinking again about the signature quotes. Why do people put them there? And for what purpose? Are they trying to convey something ? And why is it that there is always a contradiction?

Interestingly most of these signature quotes are about intangible things like creativity, commitment, attitude etc which people generally like to associate with themselves but at the same time are hard to prove or disprove. I have not yet seen a quote that says – come to office on time or switch off lights when you leave, which would have made more sense practically. But as it so happens all these quotes are about higher levels of consciousness and super human qualities! My take on the purpose of putting these quotes in the mail is this – to convey that they are of a different league or they are at a higher conscious plane. This is where I find the contradiction. Almost in every case I find the person badly lacking the quality that the ‘quote’ is trying to highlight.

One possibility is that these people are aware (unconsciously may be) of this lack and they are trying to project it the other way to skillfully hide it from others. Or is it that they sincerely want to possess those qualities and publishing it like this will in a way force them to imbibe that quality? That would be a more positive way of looking at it.

I sincerely hope so.

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…

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?