Tag Archives: Perceptions

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”

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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.

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.

Lord Ganesha and the Rat

In the last post, we discussed about the two qualities of thinking – focusing and expanding, and their role in creative thinking.  These two qualities in fact represent two movements in the mind. These movements are like channels through which the thoughts are channeled.

It is possible to make the mind experience this movement and hence train it. But it is not possible to do this when the logical mind is active and dominant. When the logical mind gets out of the way, the creative mind is exposed and it is then possible to experience this movement without the commentary. In some traditions of meditation they do this. One you are in deep meditative states (when the thoughts stop and the logical mind quiet) you can alternatively become aware of something very big (like a mountain) and something very small (like a grain of sand). If your meditation is deep enough, you can feel both the expansion and focusing of the mind. Note the term ‘aware’- in meditation we only become aware. It is the logical mind that thinks and the creative mind is just aware.

When the creative mind experiences this movement, it learns.

In Hindu spiritual tradition, symbols are used extensively to make such movements in the mind. It is also woven in to the daily living so as to help people think better. One such example is of Lord Ganesha. For those who do not know, Lord Ganesha is a fat, elephant-headed god with rat as his vehicle, who is worshipped to remove obstacles before an activity is undertaken (see a picture here)

See the brilliance of the people who designed this. When you pray to the lord, that is a moment where thoughts stop – which means the logic stops. Now the gross form of Ganesha gives you that expansion in the mind and the rat creates the movement of focus. And this is what you need when you begin any new activity – ability to think big and ability to pay attention to details.

It is in fact a great idea to use visuals (like statues or photos) to create these movements in the mind, because visuals are perceived by the creative mind.

The act of watching

To know why the mind is normally unable to perceive something completely, let’s see how it works. Typically the thoughts (including the memory) are connected to each other and there is always a tendency for forming new connections and strengthening the old ones. Thoughts can hardly exist without being connected with an existing thought (we make use of this aspect while accessing the memory).

Any stimuli could potentially evoke a range of thoughts in the mind. Assume that these thoughts arise in a sequence. But then there is also a strong urge to connect the ‘first thought’ with an existing one in the mind. Normally this urge is very strong and beyond the control. So abandons the act of forming new thoughts and moves to connecting the thoughts.

The act of allowing as many responses to occur in response to a stimulus without the unconscious urge to form an association is the essence of ‘presence’.

Here is a representation of how the mind behaves while responding to a stimulus:

As soon as the first thought occurs (the first few..) there is an urge to form an association with thoughts in the memory. The association could be based on an event, appearence, place, person, emotion etc. The next thought again tend to form subsequent associations till either the thought links become weak or an exteranl trigger interrupts it or the mind suddenly becomes concious.

The relationship to creativity is simple. Creativity is about forming new thought associations and patterns is about sticking to old associations. The former is the creative way and the latter is the productive way- at deep down this is what differentiates creativity and productivity. You get to choose one, not both; at least simaltaneously.

How much of what we see, we ‘see’?

Yesterday,  I watched a video on a medical condition known as ’Neglect’(also known as Hemispatial neglect) which is exhibited by people with the right hemisphere of the brain injured (the left hemispherical injury could also result in this situation, but that is not bad as this, because of the built in redundancy in with the right hemisphere for the visual processing). These people lose their sense of space on one side (usually the left) and don’t much realize it.

This video showed a patient copying a picture of a cat and when she reproduced it, it just had only one half ! What was also interesting is that she did not realize that it was incomplete; she could actually see the whole picture.

This points to a very interesting aspect about the way we see. In fact, we ‘register’ only a small percentage of what we see around us, the rest of the details are filled in by the brain based on past experiences (retrieved from memory). Which is to say when you look at some object, you only notice some key features and the image in your mind is formed by combining what you see and what is already stored in your memory about the same object. Optical illusions and magic exploit this behavior of the brain. So the mind sort of takes a “Oh! I know this stuff already” approach.

This leads to problems like not paying attention to details, pre conceptions about things/events and also restricts your creative thinking.

 Now assume what happens if we don’t access the memory when we see things around us. You just watch. You perceive things as they are without judging, labeling, categorizing, connecting to yourself, attaching an attribute etc. We are in a way not letting the left brain come in the way. This can be a great experience and you will see the entire world around in a new perspective.

This is the essence of mindful watching…

Or will we just end up seeing the outline of everything around, like in cartoons?

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….