Tag Archives: Misery

Do we get to choose in life?

It is rather strange. But it always looks like everyone else has a choice in life but not me. Things are thrust on me mercilessly. Why is life unfair to me?

There seems to be things to choose from all around, but strangely the moment I get to choose, the choices vanish and there is simply that one thing, the one thing that I do not like, left.

 The world is full of opposites, at least they way my mind sees it. Opposites to choose from;there is love-hatred, war-peace, joy-misery, chaos-order, beauty-ugliness, wellness-suffering. They tell me that I get to choose. They tell me that I am what I have chosen to be.

Do I really get to choose? Can I simply choose between being happy and being sad? If I can make that choice, will I need to make any other choice in life at all?

 Or have I made that choice already?

 Sometimes in our lives, we make choices. Either because we are not attached to the choices or there is a logic that overrules the feeling or we are utterly confused that the decision making becomes conscious. The choosing is unconscious mostly otherwise and in fact, there is no choice at all in the first place.

 Many a times when you attempt to change something (you make a conscious choice to do something or not to do something), panic sets in. There is so much of trauma, uncomfortable feeling, frustration, resistance and mostly after enduring the suffering for a while, we return back to the comfort of what we were.

Moreover, it does not occur to us that a current situation (mostly unpleasant) is in fact a consequence of a choice we have made some time back. Partly because our sense of cause and effect is limited both by time and physical space.

But most of us would agree that we do get to choose. Why then is it difficult to make choices?

The answer to this lies deep down in the mind. The truth is that most of the time, the mind does not see a choice at all in the first place. Because there is a pattern in the mind that will immediately trigger the irresistible urge to react in a particular way (pre-rehearsed or learnt from the past experience). So, for the mind it looks as if there is no choice. This is also why we feel others have got a choice, because the choice disappears only when we try to connect it to the sense of self.

We will be able to see the choices only if we can stop the urge to connect a thought trigger to an existing pattern in the mind. This happens in the present moment. See the representation in the post The act of mindful watching

 The moment we are able to bring space at this level of thought, choices simply will spring up. Most of the time making the right choice seems tough for most of us because we approach it upside-down. An abstract feeling becomes a thought, then an action and further a habit or behavior. And we try to make change at the level of habit / behavior. This doesn’t work. Also because at the level of habit or behavior the logical mind is also very dominant.

When the logic drops, patterns weaken one travels back to the thought and then the basic abstract feeling. There one makes a simple choice and a new dimension opens up. This is the choice of going back to a child’s mind of joy and creativity.

So there seems to be only one choice to make –whether to go back to the pre-thought state or not.

….hm, do we really have a choice?

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It’s just the difference between acting and reacting

A change is always tough. Most of us are sure that there are certain things that need to change in our lives. But when we attempt to change, there are all kinds of problems; uneasiness, fear, agony and depression. Even if we are able to change some thing (like a habit), there is a high probability of relapse after a period of uncertainty. I have wondered about it; often triggered by my attempts to stop smoking. When I did quit finally (rather easily), it gave me a new perception about the issue.

I think the problem is fundamentally with the point of change. Here is the theory : The difference between success and failure (or misery and happiness) is a simple choice between acting and reacting. Look at the picture below:

Action and Reaction

Say you are at the point Z and need to take a decision. You have two choices. One is to go by the patterns (or mind) which is usually the reactive path. The moment you align your mind in this way, mind starts further strengthening and reinforcing the point of view. You are then lead in one direction as indicated by the green line (the lines around it indicate the reinforcing mind patterns). There is another choice. That’s not to go by the patterns (mind), but to be aware or listen to your consciousness. This is the path of action, indicated by the red line. Even here, the mind does strengthen and reinforce the thinking.

Every moment in life we are actually at the point Z. If we can be aware and not get carried away by the mind, perhaps we can take right decisions for the future. This is rather simple.

But when it comes to change, the problem is more complex. The decision point is actually somewhere in the past and we have say taken a reactive approach and proceeded in one direction. Assume, it has taken us to Y. Now we want to change. We want to be at X. So we take a decision and convince ourselves to be at X. But this is just temporary. Soon the old patterns become dominant and you are mercilessly dragged to Y. When that happens the reinforcement is further strengthened and you are more convinced that you cannot change.

So where is the problem? You should actually be first moving to Z (and not X). This will demand that you work through the conditioning of the mind slowly and remove them. When you are at the point Z, look at the decision again. With the correct mindset or awareness, you can take the right decision and take the path towards X. Since the conditioning has been taken care of, they don’t trouble you hard and in no time new patterns are formed.

 Let’s understand this with an example. Take smoking. Assume you are a smoker (because at some point in your life, you decided to try it apparently for no reason) and you are trying to quit now. You are at Y, and have lot of stuff built already around it in the mind like – Smoking helps me relax, It reduces my stress, it’s difficult to stop this etc. You also want to escape and you want to be, say at X ,where you are free from the habit.

Action and Reaction eg

Now you project yourself to be at X (whatever method you use – Cold turkey, cutting down etc). For a day or two, you are better off (at X), but soon the patterns become active (and there are things going on in the mind like – perhaps this is not the right time, I should actually cut down etc..)  and you feel miserable. And soon you are pulled back to point Y (you relapse). The more this happens, you are even more convinced that you can never escape, because every failure reinforces your conviction that you cannot quit.

Why this happens? You were at the point Z, several times in your life; say whenever you are smoking or whenever you tried to resist the temptation. And when you decided to smoke, you actually said: This is enjoying and relaxing. This has taken you in one direction and all the conditioning is built around it. Even if you are successful with this approach to quit, you are likely to be depressed and miserable, because the basic decision is in question.

So in order to really escape, you need to go back to the point Z and rephrase the mindset. An example could be : “ This has been a dreadful disease that’s taken control of me, I am now stepping out. It feels so great to be free”.

Now there are three elements. You, Smoking and the act of Quitting (or not doing it). So at the point Z you have to use these three to construct a direction statement. You know what most smokers do? They construct it something like this : “ Though smoking helps me to relax, now because of my bad health, I have to somehow stop it. I am going to try it real hard. I am not sure if I will succeed, I have failed many times before. But I will try it hard this time”. This takes them straight to the path of misery. 

But if you can construct a direction statement like “ I am escaping from this dreadful disease, it is so great. I do not need to do this again”. You take the other direction.

It’s not just a simple affirmation statement in the mind. You need to use awareness (and reflection) to go deeper and deeper till you find the basic decision making point and make the change. And this change will be easy and permanent.

This might rather look simple, but if you understand it, it is the key to change.

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.

Expectation Joy and Misery

Twenty five centuries back, Buddha told us that “expectation is the cause of all miseries”. We have heard this time and again from different masters in different forms. What does it really mean to us?

Obviously one problem with the above statement is that it looks direct. When I tried to understand this first, this is basically how my mind interpreted it : if you expect something out of people or situations, you are likely to be disappointed.

The obvious way then to apply this in to life was to drop ‘expectations’.

How does that work. When I have attended an exam, don’t expect a good result? Don’t expect a promotion that’s due ? Don’t expect an appreciation for a good work?

No. That was hard. It wasn’t working. Even when I tried to force myself in to ‘being neutral’ about something, I was not being true to myself. At the bottom of my heart, I was actually expecting and I was happy / sad depending on the way it went.

In some cases where I could actually be really neutral about something, there was neither joy / disappointment at the end. Is this what I wanted ? No chance.

So what does this really mean? If I want to apply this in my life, how do I do that? – It took me a long time to go one level deeper in to these questions.

I realized that my small little mind was constantly caught up in the expectation-joy / expectation-misery cycle. These were so minute that I almost missed them. It is as simple as:

  • Someone passes by, I want him to acknowledge me, but he walks off without giving me face
  • I am driving, want to overtake a vehicle, the moment I begin, he switches the lane and I can’t do it
  • In a team meeting, the manager is talking about an achievement we had, I am expecting him to take my name, but he doesn’t. He just gives credit to the whole team.

One day I tried to make note of these; but believe me, they are pretty many. It looks like, these small cycles actually reinforce the patterns of expectation – reaction in our mind, which we apply to the bigger activities in life too.

When I had tried to apply this the first time, I looked at the bigger activities in life, but now I realize that if I can first address the small cycles, the bigger ones will automatically correct themselves.

How can we do that?

Awareness. Be in the present moment. Slow down in life.

There is a profound technique called Mindfulness. Start practicing it. Look at how your mind being swayed from being at ease & joy. Just notice and I think the tendencies just drop.

It also makes sense to choose those activities prone to such oscillations. For me driving is one such. I get annoyed when some one tries to speed, overtake on the wrong side, honk…..Nowadays I take a decision in the morning that I will be completely aware while driving and will drive slow.

Seems to be working. I am still getting to it. Will come back later with more experiences