Tag Archives: reactive mind patterns

Action and Reaction

What’s the difference between acting and reacting? – This was our topic of conversation over the morning coffee yesterday. Do we ever act or we only react?  We tried to think of some activities where we were only ‘acting’ without responding to anything outside/inside. Here is an example how the discussion went:

 I drink water when I am thirsty. Obviously I am responding to the thirst. But if I am filling my water bottle so that I would be able to drink water whenever I am thirsty, is ‘filling the water bottle’ an action or reaction? Though at first sight it looks like an action, am I not reacting to the thought of ‘needing water’ in the future?

 Soon it became more and more obvious that there is actually nothing like pure ‘action’. Whatever we do is actually some sort of reaction; either to an external stimuli or to the stuff in the mind. The only difference I could think of is that there is an element of ‘choice’ that distinguishes between action and reaction. But then the choice was only influencing the quality; the basic idea of reacting still remains.

 Though it’s well known that most of our action are in fact reactions, it is really scary to think that we only react. Because in order to react, I need an ‘environment’ around me to react to and I need time that separate the two acts. My mind that reacts has also come in to existence as a result of reacting to the environment and time. So, if there was no environment to react to, there would be no mind, no action and no me. This means when I say I exist, that’s not completely true. It’s the environment that exist and I am just a byproduct of the reaction to it. If the environment does not exist, I too do not exist.

 Now shift your perspective a bit. The environment is not one entity, but is rather made of people, their thoughts, objects, events etc. Extending the same concept, each of these entities only exist because they react to their environment. For these entities I am also part of the environment.

 This now takes the problem to another dimension. This means that the environment also does not exist in reality; it’s also a byproduct of reacting to its environment . So everything exists through responding to everything else. Then in reality what exists?

 This is what the Indian mystics call Maya or the illusion…

 It may be far easier to imagine that we are actually ‘acting’ and not ‘reacting’ and live with that belief. It’s going to be an ‘action’ because I am going to choose it. Great me!

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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)

You are what I think you should be…

At my new job,  I was supposed to meet someone for a discussion last week. Just to make sure that I make the right pitch, I enquired with a colleague how this person was. My colleague told me that he had never interacted with him, but from his appearance, he looked like a very irritable fellow. Soon I wasn’t the meeting with a person whose face exactly just said that –I am a very irritable person.

Like most of you, I too believed that someone’s face could tell a lot about his character; which means there is a cruel face, kind face, gentle face, dumb face etc. This incident made me think on this further. Why the hell there is a connection between how someone’s face looks and his character? Do we get it as a package? Or is it likely that one influences the other? Then what comes first? Does the character makes someone’s face the way it is (there are some people who think this way, especially when it comes to things like cruelty) or it is the other way round?

I found it hard to believe and as I thought about this a totally different dimension came to my mind.

There is already an association in the mind which maps different faces to different characters. We have learnt it from our elders, society and mainly films. That is to say, given a set of photos, most of the people would pick the same face for a particular expression.

Fine. Interestingly, this association in the mind forms a strong conditioning that influences our behavior.

 Typically our character has two components; one what we are truly made up of and the other what we develop in response to our environment.

Now assume that someone is born with a face that looks cruel (going by the normal conventions). He may not be aware of that to begin with, but the people around him react (unconsciously) to the way his face looks and this conditions their behavior. What they think of him is now ‘hidden’ in their interactions and his subconscious mind starts to react to this subtle message. If he is more of reactive nature, over a period of time and with many such interactions, he builds the character as conveyed by the people around.

I think this is what happens. People subtly induce the character on to someone depending on a patterns (association) they have in their minds and most of the people have no option than to conform to it. When they approach that person, there is an unconscious message that gets conveyed.

So the problem really is to do with the face and the patters all of us carry in our heads…

If there is someone who’s face and his character does not match (like you think he is a rough guy but he is actually a funny guy..), he is most likely a very creative person. Because most likely he has resisted this massive brain washing that the society attempted on him by being simply what he is.  

Add on:

Once I had a manager who (I think) typically learnt most  skills from books (including parenting, he told me once). There was often a problem between us. When we were in an intense conversation, I would take eyes off his face and stare typically at a blank wall or out through the window. For me these were the moments of intense attention, but he would take it that I have tuned off.

For all these games to work, people should have learnt from the same books or be from the same culture.