Mid-life Crisis

Just happened to talk to someone about mid-life crisis. From childhood, we are conditioned to think and behave in a certain way, to have a specific world view, to cultivate a specific class of aspirations. And we study our way out of school & college under the influence of that conditioning. And we continue down that trajectory after we get independent.

However, there is always a voice within ourselves that keeps disagreeing with all this conditioning. A voice that demands something else. A voice that wants to follow a different trajectory. The trajectory itself is not known but there is a general feeling that it’s different from the current trajectory.

And then the voice gets louder and louder. It starts questioning you: ok, I did the college; ok, I did well in the job; ok, I got married and have kids; is that what it was all about? No comes the answer. Feeble initially and strong later on.

And while this voice is gaining ground and is being swept under the carpet at the same time because you don’t know how to address it, you see death. Not your death but the death of people who you’ve known closely. And you see eventuality of your own death. And at that point of time, you realize that it has to be now otherwise it’s never.

But old habits die hard…

The Unlit World

We receive this world through our senses. That’s how we know that a ball is round, sunflower is yellow, a lion roars, sandalwood has a nice smell and fire is hot. I had once read an interesting hypothetical question: “What would happen if we had a magnetic sense? Or some other sense along those lines?”. I always found this question amusing. But today, I find this question important as well.

There was a time when the living beings didn’t have eyes; and ears; and nose. That means they could discover only part of their environment. The knowledge was limited to a slice of the absolute total that was there to know. Without eyes, the living beings couldn’t know that a ball was round or that the sunflower is yellow. In fact, to know the color of a flower requires more than eyes. It requires the eyes to have the capability to see a spectrum of light that reveals the color of a flower.

Anyway, my point is that before our senses developed to the extent they are developed as of now, there was part of the world that we knew and part of the world that we didn’t know. And when I say our senses, I mean the whole of living beings and not just human beings. I call the unknown slice of the world as “The Unlit World”. It just denotes the world that is not discoverable by our senses.

There is no reason to believe that living beings can have at most 5 senses (touch, smell, hear, see, taste). As we move forward on the path of evolution, we can develop more senses (e.g. magnetic, gyro, thoughts and what not). In fact, there is no reason to believe that we already don’t have more than 5 senses. May be we already have some other senses but they are quite feeble as of today and would get stronger as time goes by.

More often than not seeing overpowers the hearing. And hearing overpowers touch. It’s quite possible that we already have some other senses (e.g. thought sense) but they are getting overpowered by other senses. May be that’s all sixth sense is all about. When someone accidentally taps into a sense that’s not yet fully developed in human beings as a whole, we just put it under the umbrella of sixth sense.

This whole line of thought has interesting implications. One implication is that at any point of time, we have only limited view of the world. It’s not only about knowing less number of things but also about knowing things in an incomplete manner. It’s like knowing only the thunder and not the lightening (or vice versa). However, my mind reacts to situations as if it knows everything about the situation.

Another interesting implication is a thought experiment: what would be the contents of the mind if there were no senses at all?

I disagree with myself

I have this joke these days: if an alien was to come to earth and read people’s Facebook posts or Whatsapp messages, the alien would consider the earthlings to be very intellectual and very well behaved. After all, people post such amazing thoughts everyday on Facebook and Whatsapp that if their behavior was inline with those thoughts, earth itself would be heaven.

However, that’s not the case. People’s behavior has nothing to do with the thoughts they appreciate or the principles that they intellectually agree with. Most of the people would agree that dishonesty is bad, we should not steal and we need to love our neighbors. But do they actually do that?

This deviation of behavior from the ideas that we uphold is a universal phenomenon. You are not an exception and nor am I. It’s as if our intellectual self is a different person from our behavioral self.

For sometime, I’ve been trying to change many of small small behaviors that I show from time to time. They include things like office gossip, waking up on time, taking time for learning music etc. No big things. Just small things. And I’ve found it to be extremely hard to consistently change such behaviors.

So, here is what I am thinking. Even when I agree with something, there is a part of me that hasn’t agreed yet.

And here is the question that I am asking myself. Can I put more weight behind my agreement? Can I really really agree with something before I say that I agree with that thing?

Can I stop disagreeing with myself?

At the threshold of a dream

It’s been a couple of days when this interesting experience came to me. I was sleeping (or should I say dreaming?). In the dream, I saw a few people. And I was also there. I don’t remember now what the situation was but it was just a normal dream-like dream. Nothing fanciful about the contents of the dream itself. And then I woke up.

When I woke up, a question crossed my mind. It went something like this: I saw many people in the dream and I was one of them. How did I know which one I was. I mean, let’s say there were five people in the dream and I saw one of them as me. But how the hell did I know which one of those five people was me?

I posed this question to one of my colleague the other day. “How do you know which person is you when you see multiple people in a dream?”. His response was that the person through whose eyes dream situation is being seen is he himself. It’s a logical response but I find it incomplete. Because one thing that I clearly remembered from this dream (and many others that I’ve seen), I was part of the situation in the dream as much as other people in the dream were.

Then I started probing this further. And I found that I was anyway there “dreaming” the dream. So, in a way, the dream was the situation and I was already seeing that situation through me. But it’s like I had forgotten during the dream that I was dreaming the dream and mistook someone within the dream as myself.

And from here, more and more questions start originating. For example, can I be dreaming right now? From within the dream, it’s impossible for me to say that it’s a dream. And there are more along these lines.

The questions are amusing and disturbing at the same time. And the answers are eluding me.

Amy, Jamy & The Broken Flask

(I made up this story yesterday over the dinner. The purpose was to give my daughters a framework to deal with the problems they were facing. Any problems.)

There were two very good friends: Amy (a girl) & Jamy (a boy). They were inseparable. Everything they did, they did it together. (btw, my younger daughter Ashita chose the names & genders.)

They were kind of special. Jamy could see what was happening. And that’s all Jamy could do: see and know what was happening. On the other hand, Amy couldn’t see anything. But Amy could decide what’s to be done. And after every action, Amy could also learn from the results and make better decisions in future.

So, Amy & Jamy would always be together. Jamy would see and tell Amy what he saw. Amy would decide an action. Jamy would see and tell the results and Amy would use this information to improve future actions.

For example, Jamy would see a sunset and describe it to Amy. Amy would automatically start appreciating its beauty and writing a poem. Or Jamy would see the food and Amy would decide whether to eat or not (based on the appetite), if yes, how to eat. Jamy would know how it tastes and based on that Amy would further decide whether to continue eating or not.

So, you see, they were inseparable. They were always together. They had to be.

Amy & Jamy had a magical flask. The water level in the flask told them how good they could do something. So, if they wanted to swim, they could look at the flask and the water level in flask would tell them how well they could swim. Or if they wanted to cycle, again, the water level in the flask would tell them how good or bad they could cycle.

Once, Amy & Jamy went deep into the mountains for a trip. In the mountains lived a monster who caught hold of them. The monster threw a challenge at them. The monster gave them one month of time. Within one month, they had to defeat the monster. If they couldn’t defeat the monster in a month, the monster would kill them and eat them up. During this month, they could fight with the monster as many times as they wished. If they tried to run away from the mountains without defeating the monster, the monster would immediately kill them and eat them up.

They had no choice now. They had to somehow defeat the monster. They looked at the flask to assess how good they were at fighting with the monster and the flask’s water level was very low. Since, they could fight with monster as many times as they wished, they decided to take a chance and have one fight right away. Well, the monster defeated them easily and punched them all over their bodies.

Defeated, hurt and tired, Amy & Jamy sat down and started wondering what to do. The water level in flask had come almost to zero. Since, they had no choice, they decided to practice fighting. The strategy was that Jamy would as usual tell Amy about the monster, Amy would decide how to fight, Jamy would tell the results and Amy would improve. And they’ll keep doing it till they’ve defeated the monster.

They’d first practice fighting alone. Then they’d fight with the monster, try their tactics on the monster, at times they’d manage a punch or two on the monster but eventually monster will beat them up. They’d learn from the fight and prepare for next fight. It went on for many days and then, the last day of the month arrived. On this day, they couldn’t afford to be defeated. They had to win over the monster or they would get killed.

They looked at the flask and the water level just about 3/4th. Which means they were much better now but not good enough. But they had no choice. Today, they had to win.

Before their fight began, Amy told Jamy to put 100% focus on seeing the monster. “You’ll not take your eyes off the monster even for a moment”, said Amy. Jamy promised and they called the monster for final fight.

As the fight proceeded, they found they were doing better today. Jamy was extra cautious in watching every move of the monster. And that helped Amy make better decisions about where to punch, when to punch and how to punch. As they were fighting better, they took a look at the flask. The flask showed them more water level but still not 100%. And guess what, this distracted Jamy. Which means Amy couldn’t take very good decisions anymore. And the monster started punching them. When beaten up, Jamy again started focusing 100% on the monster and now Amy could do better and they again started doing better. But then again, Jamy would look at the flask and get distracted. And this happened a couple of times.

Amy & Jamy felt that something was going wrong. They were actually doing well but this flask was distracting them. So, they took an extreme step. They broke the flask. No more flask, no more distractions. Once they broke the flask, they went all out and fought ferociously with the monster. Jamy would watch the monster very carefully and Amy would quickly learn from all the information Jamy gave her.

Finally, after a long fight, monster accepted defeat. It retreated and ran away. Not only Amy & Jamy were safe now, they could also freely roam around in the mountains.

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So, let’s come to the essence of the story. What’s this story about? Of course, it’s allegorical but what do the characters represent?

Amy & Jamy represent the sub-conscious & conscious parts of our mind. Monster is any problem that we face. We’ll talk about the flask a little later.

Our conscious mind (i.e. Jamy) sees everything. But it can only see things. The actual skills are picked up by our sub-conscious mind (i.e. Amy). Be it cycling, swimming, programming, cooking or whatever. The conscious mind observes through the five senses. The sub-conscious mind gets trained and decides the actions. For every action, there is a result which is again observed by the conscious mind. This acts as a feedback to the sub-conscious mind.

Usually, the big problems (monsters) that we face do not require an immediate resolution. Take school homework for example. There is plenty of time for kids to learn to deal with this problem. Or cycling for that matter. They don’t have to be good at it the very first day they ride it. But gradually, they can learn to be good at it.

Dealing with monsters (or problems) requires us to pick up some skills. Skills are picked up by our sub-conscious mind by training. More the training, better the skill. But for the sub-conscious mind to pick up skills, the conscious mind has to focus on the activity. If your conscious mind is busy with the smell of food that’s cooking in the kitchen, you cannot complete the essay that you got as homework (that’s one of the examples I gave to my daughters).

So, to deal with any problem, Jamy (the conscious mind) has to completely focus on the problem. Then, Amy (the sub-conscious mind) will pick up the necessary skills and present the solution.

Now, let’s come to the flask. In our mind, we form a self-image. An image about how good or bad we are at something (compared to some other people). We place ourselves at some level and we get comfortable looking at ourselves at that level. If we do worse than that, we pull ourselves up. And surprisingly, if we do better than that, we tend to pull ourselves down. And regardless of all that, this flask is just a distraction. This flask is what every sportsperson has to deal with when he/she is at the verge of winning/losing a match. When a team needs 4 runs from the last ball, this flask is what troubles the batsman and the bowler. This flask is what makes them commit stupid mistakes.

So, this self-image needs to be abandoned. We need to know how well we are doing right now. But we don’t have to build a fixed self-image around that. We don’t have to start relating to ourselves as such.

Getting rid of this self-image, we need to let Jamy & Amy do their work. Jamy needs to focus on the problem so that Amy can crack it.

Bhishma Pratigya

Many times, I’ve wondered the kind of will power Bhishma would have had. In a moment, making a promise not to marry ever. And then making further promise to remain faithful to the king. There are many instances in Mahabharata where I find Bhishma’s determination was tested but nowhere do I find a hint that he got tempted to break his promise.

Anyone who has resisted even a hot choc fudge sunday, it would seem to require infinite will power. To carry on for years & years of life without a shoulder to rest the head on or to see the entire clan disintegrating in factions and then fighting with each other.

Many times I wondered, what it would take to develop that kind of will power. But I got a new perspective a few days back. May be, Bhishma didn’t require any will power at all. It was probably the other way round: he had no temptation to begin with. I can quit brinjal any day. It doesn’t require any will power at my end. It just doesn’t tempt me. What if nothing ever tempted Bhishma?

So, now I wonder what it would take to be a person who is not tempted by anything.

The Knower’s Dilemma

Ignorance is bliss as they say. While this may be true, it’s hard to connect with this statement. Reason being that you can talk about ignorance being bliss only after you’ve known something that takes away your bliss. And once you are in the know of something, you can only connect with “the knower” and not “the ignorant”.

So, even though ignorance may be bliss, and it may be a deeply philosophical statement with casual overtones, I can’t connect with it. Being a knower, what I can connect with is “The Knower’s Dilemma”.

Let’s dive deeper here. Once you are in the know of something; something that takes away your bliss, you are faced with a choice. You can either stay put and continue to feel miserable or you can take the responsibility for changing things.

Let’s say, you participated in a competition. Someone won the competition but you found out that the competition was rigged. Other participants don’t know it. So, the ignorant participants are blissful while you may feel a tinge of misery. If you do nothing, you’d continue to feel that tinge of misery. If you take responsibility to undo this wrong, it’s not going to be blissful road either. This is the knower’s dilemma.

Competition is one example but it practically works at so many different levels. I particularly became aware of “the knower’s dilemma” in a different context. Over time, I am getting to know my personality better. And as I learn more about myself, I become more and more aware of my traits that can be viewed as shortcomings with respect to my aspirations. Now, I am aware of my aspirations as well as the traits that stand in the way of these aspirations. So, the question for me becomes whether I just let things be or change my aspirations or change my personality.

And each of these choices is equally hard. And that’s the knower’s dilemma.

Synthesis of Behavior

Our behavior in a given situation is a combination of our own state of mind and the environmental conditions. Then, why blame the environment alone when we lose our temper or generally put up a rude face?

Behavior is not a reaction to the environment. It’s a side effect when the mental state and the environmental factors are synthesized. One is not more responsible than others.

At the same time, we do have some leverage over the state of mind. Theoretically, 100% control. Practically, it depends. So, the easier way to create a desirable behavior is to change the state of mind.

What’s my world?

Supposedly, we all live in the same world. A world, where bread can be bought on a corner shop, a cow has four legs, government decides policies, children are innocent, we go to office in the morning & come back in the evening. There are many more things about this world that we all live in but suffice it to say that it’s the same world that everyone lives in.

This is all true as long as I look at myself at the body level i.e. as long as I look at this matter at the material plane. But now, let’s jump into the mind.

My experiences are tied to what’s running in my mind and not to the details of outside world. No doubt that the outside world details shape the contents of my mind. But eventually, it’s contents of my mind, and not the outside world, that create experiences for me.

There was an accident on the road. The man was lying unconscious; close to the sidewalk; bleeding. Some people slowed down their car, looked at the person and moved on. Some people stopped by, came to the aid of the person but stood confused. One person called for an ambulance. Another took the man to the hospital. Many many people read about that accident in the newspaper next day (the death counter in road accidents increased by 1).

Same outside world but different inside worlds. At a superficial level, one person died in road accident. But for some, one person was hit by a car in a road accident; for some, the roads have become very dangerous; for some, old people should not ride two wheelers anymore; for some, ambulances take too long to come; for some, blood is too bloody red; for some, … you got the idea.

We don’t live in the outside world. We live in the inside world. And the inside world is, at best, shaped by the outside world.

Unfortunately, for most part, the inside world just happens. We don’t try to observe it, understand it, influence it, “create it”. It just happens. Just happens.

What’s real anyways?

Today, my daughter was joking that she has seen a dinosaur. “_Really, I’ve seen a dinosaur. Really. I’ve seen it in my dreams.”_

So, here is an interesting dichotomy. She has “really” seen a dinosaur in her “dream”. So, did she really see the dinosaur or not? What’s the difference anyways?

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