Tag Archives: Survival

Mind and uncertainty

Over lunch today, my friend Dileep narrated to me an interesting incident.
Yesterday, he had been to a Cake Exhibition in Bangalore with his family. While he was standing in the queue for purchasing tickets, a board that said ‘Tender exact change’ caught his attention. The ticket was priced at 49 Rupees. He had two 1000 Rupee notes and one 500 Rupee note in his purse. He needed to buy 4 tickets, which would cost him 4X49 = 196 rupees. He would naturally would have given the 500 Rupee note for purchasing the tickets, which meant he had to get 304 Rupees back.

The board made irritated a bit when he thought of the 4 rupees. Was it something logical to expect everyone to carry exact change? Wasn’t the authorities responsible to keep enough change with them? Then he wondered whether they would give him the 4 rupees back or round the amount to 200 rupees. That would be very likely, but quite unfair. What was he supposed to do? Demand four rupees back? Will he look silly making a scene for just 4 rupees? He should make it clear that it was an issue of professional dealings and nothing to do with that insignificant amount…..

In no time his mind was caught up these thoughts going back and forth. The uncertainity was unbearable. Once at the ticket counter, he gave the 500 Rupee note and purchased 4 tickets. Unable to hold back any more, he asked the lady at the counter –‘Aren’t you going to give me the change’. ‘Yes’ she said and gave him four rupees back.

What a relief, the uncertainty that had gripped the mind for few long minutes suddenly ended.

It was only the today morning, when he checked his purse, did he realize that he had forgotten to collect the remaining 300 rupees at the counter yesterday. He was so caught up with the 4 rupees that everything else did not seem to matter.

Not that it was a goody story (at least for him), but I liked it immensely for the deep meaning. This is a snapshot of what keeps happening in our lives. The mind does not like uncertainity.The objective of all that thinking, planning, aggression, action and logic is to make life as certain as possible in the future. Therefore even the slightest uncertainity poses a threat that the mind need to fight with all its might. It pushes everything to the background and takes possession of thinking, however trivial the uncertainity is. No wonder we never hear the birds sing, feel the breeze, sees the sun splashing the evening sky with magnificient colours. They are all not important; will the next meeting, next task, next investment go as anticipated. That all that matters.

The famous philospoher Jiddu Krishnamurthy was asked, just before his death, what was the secret of his happiness. While the audience waited with a bated breath to hear that great secret from Jiddu, he simply said ‘ I don’t mind what happens’.

Advertisements

Grass root innovation

I was in Sabarimala over the weekend for the annual pilgrimage. Sabarimala is one of the most popular pilgrimage spots in South India, attracting over 50 million people every year and undoubtedly one of the largest human gatherings in the globe. The temple is situated on a hill-top and has been facing difficulties accommodating devotees who pour in at the rate of about 90 people per every minute. Several initiatives have been taken by the authorities in the recent past the manage the increasing crowd, de-congest the place to make space for the pilgrims. One such initiative has been to relocate the shops beyond the periphery wall.

This naturally should have hit the sales and the shops are invariably forced to think out of the box to boost sales. Here is one such shop

Sabarimala

What you see below is a pilgrim shelter the boundary of which is indicated by the yellow line. There is a shop that sells steel vessels (used by pilgrims to carry the offerings back home) above the boundary wall  indicated by the red arrow. The pilgrims spent time in the shelter and it is likely that they would buy the vessels there than to walk up the row of shops above.

So this shop people have figured out a way. Firstly, they have displayed all the vessels on the walls for pilgrims to choose. Then there are two people sitting on the wall mid way. The pilgrims can communicate with them – choose a vessel, enquire the price, bargain etc. Once the deal is fixed, the transaction is carried out using a bucket and a rope

The money is put in to the bucket and the change and the vessel is delivered back.

Sabarimala_1

This is called grass root innovation.

A policeman who saw me taking this picture simply smiled, because the law only forbids selling anything within the shelter and the wall definitely was not covered under the rule !

Intelligent Creepers

(Continued from the previous post…)It’s not just the trees alone that are intelligent. Something that was really amusing in the forest was the large creepers. If you look at them, you can see that they go from one tree to another. The trees are several meters apart and the creepers are several meters above the ground.

One thing that amused me was how these creepers reach from one tree to another. One theory that came to my mind first was that these creepers had climbed on to the trees when the trees were pretty small, and then they grew with them. But that didn’t relay look like a prabable theory, because in most cases it would have taken several years for the creepers to reach such heights.

 

The most important observation against this theory was that it did not look as if this happened by chance. It looked very deliberate.

 A friend of mine who lives near a forest area gave me this explanation. These creepers actually reach out to the adjacent trees first on the ground. Once they climb to a certain height, they tighten themselves and lift them up to the desired height.

This seems plausible, but stillone question remains? Why would they lift themselves up like this? Because the probability of being destroyed is very high on the ground?

 Then the fundamental question remains, how do these creepers know that such a risk exists and then know what needs to be done and does it in such a brilliant way?

Intelligent trees

Do trees have intelligence? I think most of us will agree that they do. But can they think the way we humans think? Here are some examples from my recent trip through a forest. It’s really amazing and it’s hard to believe that they cannot think.

In the picture above, the tree is leaning on to the pathway, probably to get more sun light. But then the probability of the tree falling down is very high. To prevent that, the tree has put in a special root (see the red arrow) in the horizontal direction, to compensate for the tilt.

Here is another example

This tree too had the same problem. It is leaning on to the pathway. But this is very huge tree and it cannot use the same technique the other tree used.  So it did something different. It developed another set of fresh supporting roots (see the red arrow) that sort of acts like a pillar.

How do trees figure out such issues and take corrective actions?  We think our intelligence is in the brain, but where does the intelligence of the trees reside? Or are we mistaken, is every cell of our body carry that intelligence?

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!

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?

Playing with Perceptions

We all form perceptions. We categorize and label people, situations, places and objects continuously, based on some cues that we pick and interpret. They are positive, negative or neutral and are generally harmless in most cases (except that it triggers a pre-conditioned approach or response). When we have formed a strong perception, we tend to avoid situations involving that anyway.

Why do we form perceptions in the first place? I think our minds are trained to logically analyze things around us and this ‘ability’ gets better as we grow. Lot of the work that we do demand this; be it analyzing a requirement or assessing a person. And before we know, it is our personality, and we conveniently label it as ‘sense making’. Even the tools that we use help us reinforce this behavior. Look at this blog itself; I have to categorize every post and add tags and build a meta-data around it.

When do perceptions become a problem? I think, in relationships which are egoistic and demanding in nature. The two most obvious are romance and work. The moment perceptions are taken over by mind and ego, there is trouble. Some times real serious trouble. I think in romance (marriage included) the impact is not that bad because there is some thing called ‘belongingness’ which at times can overrule all such negative tendencies.

So let’s look at work. Typically in Indian companies, managers are supposed to assess the employees not just based on the work done, but also the behavior, attitude and other soft skills. Perfect setting for forming perceptions, which are ‘professionally right’. I think this is one of the prime reasons for stress at workplace and people leaving jobs.

As I said, mostly perceptions are typically formed based on ‘cues’ and is not substantiated by evidences mostly. How the cues are interpreted depends on the person (and I think where is processed – ego or mind)

Look at this illustration that I think we all can relate to:

Alex is a manager in a company and Erich is a team member reporting in to him. There is another manager David who, Alex suspects to be working against him. All of a sudden, Alex finds that Erich and David are hanging out together often. He is curious but decides to wait and watch. Sometime later, in a meeting David brings up a particular point against Alex, one which Alex thinks is not possible for someone outside the team to know. Now Alex’s perception on David that he is working against him is reinforced, and Alex forms a new perception that Erich is actually bitching on him to David. (Alex’s ego takes over here). Alex gives a feedback to Erich that he is not seen at his desk often and has been taking too many breaks these days. Erich if offended. (His ego takes over). He is now wondering why Alex is trying to find fault with him, while he has been delivering what is expected on time. Erich forms a perception now that Alex is trying to intimidate him. (Why? May be my ideas are better than Alex’s).

Now Erich is careful and but also uncomfortable that Alex is watching him continuously. In the months that follow, Alex is actually searching for cues to reinforce his perception, while Erich is behaving quiet unnaturally, careful not to give Alex any chance to intimidate him. Alex picks some simple ‘cues’; for e.g when Alex gives a smile to Erich when they meet on the corridor, Erich returns just ‘half a smile’ and turns his face away. Fine, Alex is at least confident that he isn’t wrong. The relationship between Alex and Erich becomes very formal and uncomfortable and Erich is now avoiding Alex as far as possible. Alex is also watching who Erich is talking to in the team, subconsciously looking for any changes in their attitude also.

Now Erich talks to David about this and seeks his guidance and in the process David’s perception on Alex, that he is a man on mean thinking, is reinforced. Talking to David reinforces Erich’s perception on the situation that he is being victimized.

 In the next feedback cycle, Alex gives a comment that Erich is ‘spreading negative energy’. Erich is furious and offended (ego is hurt badly) and wants to now prove that Alex has a malicious intention to corner him. His mind is now sucked totally in to this and is completely disturbed. A week later, they meet up to discuss the feedback and Erich couldn’t hold his emotion back and vents out his frustration on Alex. This reinforces Alex’s perception and now he is more the sure that he was right. Alex tries to portray that he is helping Erich ‘improve’ by pointing out a ‘hidden’ problem and expects Erich to thank him for that. Now Erich’s perception is reinforced that Alex has some malicious motive in trying to find fault with him and brand him. Alex also sense that Erich is forming a perception on him, and this reinforces his perception on Erich further.

It’s easy to assume where this is heading to. But the sad part is that we get in to this trap often in life and it sucks all the creative energy in us and makes our lives miserable. What everyone missed in the above example that there could be a genuine positive reason for the connection between Erich and David. And the existing perception of Alex on David, prevented him from seeing it that way or trying to find it out.

One of the most important outcomes of letting perceptions rule relationships is that it creates ‘false identities’ for us. When someone has formed a perception that you are ‘moody’ (and you know it) you will automatically tend to be moody in his presence.

While I do not think that it’s not possible (and not needed too) to completely stop forming perceptions, I definitely think we can stop it from ruining our lives and the others around.

Here are some thoughts and suggestions:

  • I think the first thing is to see situations and people as they are, without the frills around it. Rather easy said than done. But you we are more mindful and understand how ego and mind works, I think you will be able to do this
  • Drop the notion that people are out there to get you. This arises out of fear, and leads to the wrong assumptions we make.
  • Even if you form perceptions, don’t let your ego latch on to it. Without the ‘ego’ playing our side, you will be able to solve it through discussions.
  • Whether you have formed a perception or fighting one, don’t go around discussing with people. It feeds your ego and further reinforces the perception. Seek help if needed from someone who can help.
  • If you are discussing with someone on a perception issue between the two, don’t let your emotions to take over. That will further aggravate the issue. Stay calm and don’t lose your balance
  • If you try are trying to change a perception someone has formed on you and it doesn’t work, just drop it. Understand that it is his problem and let him deal with it. Stay away.
  • Drop the conditioning that everyone has to have good and right perceptions on you. Try to resolve it only if it has any relevance to you. Don’t let your ego chase it.

 

After all perceptions are transient, they are bound to change. No one is going to hold on to a particular perception on forever.