Brain, Mind and Me

For more than a decade now, I have been fascinated by the human mind. And the more I have understood, the more baffled I have become.

Simple things – seemingly simple things like perception, decisions, awareness, emotions are such complex events and happen at so many levels (chemical, electrical, macroscopic- physiological, environmental, metaphysical, spiritual…) that with every passing moment, my awe and respect for the web of complexity in which we live has only increased.

While scientists have made some useful connections in terms of details, we are still struggling with some very basic questions –
“What is consciousness?”
“Who is the observer?”

Recently I have been reading a book called “How do brains make up their minds?” by Walter J. Freeman. In spite of the deceptively simple title, the book is a difficult read, but I am persisting and the result has been a rare insight into the workings of the brain (not the mind!).

Learning about the brain is fascinating, because unlike in the case of mind (which is intangible), in the case of brain – you actually have something to work with. The physical mass of gooey matter between our ears we call the brain. The neurons, the hypothalamus, the neuropeptides and the neural network are some of the labels we have given to an absolutely unexplainable miracle happening inside our heads all the time.

Every emotion has a chemical associated with it (called a peptide) and every time you choose to experience an emotion, the chemicals are produced in your hypothalamus. These chemicals are then released into the bloodstream. So, the happiness-chemical or the sadness-chemical literally explodes into your entire body through the blood-stream and finds its way to different cells. It then docks on a cell and then changes the very nature of the cell, sometimes even the nucleus.

We literally, with chemicals – poison ourselves with anger.
We literally, with chemicals – fill ourselves with fulfillment.

Fascinating, isn’t it?

How does this fit in with making real, measurable changes in our lives?

This is a good place to share another distinction I have made. In learning about the brain and creating real change in life (which is what I am committed to).

It is very interesting, it can give you amazing insights – but it is no more necessary to create changes in real life than it is to understand the intricate workings of the internal combustion engine to drive a car or even know how exactly a microprocessor works to use the computer more effectively.

Of course it would help, but it is not necessary.

While studying hardware is good for a deeper understanding and quenching our thirst for knowledge, it is surely more important to know your operating system and how it works.

Which is why for someone like me, who hopes to create effective results in life – better relationships, fulfillment, satisfaction and passion – study of the brain must remain secondary to the study of the mind.

If only it were not so damn fascinating!!

Choosing Habits – The 30 Day Trial

I discovered this fantastic site

Steve Pavlina is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, games-programmer. He is inspiring!

A lot of his posts are fantastic – addressing the most basic facets of self development, which are sometimes skirted by other authors for a more esoteric and less practical (not to mention preachy) approach.

His post on doing a trial for 30 days of a new habit that you might want to adopt motivated me to adopt it.

So, I will be trying these on for the next 30 days (from 3rd April to 3rd May) – On 3rd May I will decide whether I want to keep these.

Waking up at Seven : I wake up late. That is because I sleep really late. I somehow am most creative when the world goes to sleep and I can feel the eerie quietness beyond my window. However, I would like to be an early riser. I can do it really, I already do it in case there is some work that has to be done early in the morning. So, I will be waking up at seven everyday for the next 30 days – weekends included. I will be using this strategy, again suggested by Steve.

Vegetarianism: I have wanted to do this for a long time, but just didn’t get around to doing it, because I always thought of turning a vegetarian for life – and that seemed too big a commitment to make. However, I could easily turn a vegetarian for 30 days. Lets see if I feel like extending the commitment on 3rd May.

25 Minute Workout – I do take care of my body, going swimming is my favorite – but it has to be painstakingly decided in advance and followed through. So, a 25 minute workout everyday is in order – and should be easy if I am especially waking up early.

Blog Everyday – I created this Blog a looong time ago. However, I have posted only a handful number of times. I would like to post more. Hence – one post everyday for the next 30 days. That is probably a greater number of posts than already existing. Sounds cool.

Well, that is about it! I am excited about this new experiment and would share the results in the forthcoming posts!

May the best happen!

A better world

I do not believe in a perfect world.
I do not believe in a world without death, disease, anger or tragedy.

I do believe in a better world.

I have often felt my anger against ‘how things are’ versus ‘how things should be’.
I am sure you have too.
Anger against obvious injustices.
Men and women losing loved ones because of man-made reasons for one.
Anger against profit-motives overriding humanitarian concerns.

I have recently realized, anger against injustice is like war for peace.
It’s an anomaly. It’s useless. It’s pointless.

A more spiritual and a much more practical perspective to adopt would be to just start doing things that I would do if the world were just what I expected it to be.
If I want the world to be kind, let me jus believe it is and respond.
If I want people to be humane and selfless, let me just believe it is and respond so.

Somehow, this belief seems to have made a difference in my experience of life.

The questions is – what do I do when you witness proof to the opposite, which I surely will.

The answer – nothing. Just forget it and move on. Just tell myself, that this was an anomaly, an aberration – not reality and move on.

But then what is the truth. What is the world really like?
The truth is – nobody knows!!
Nobody knows whether people are good or bad or cruel or kind. There is surely no empirical proof and the subjectivity of the matter can be debated for eons to come.

The newspapers or TV Channels, if you choose them to be a mirror of our world are I believe, inaccurate.
They do not report reality, they just report what is newsworthy.
And more often than not, what is newsworthy is violence, tragedy and death – because they are abnormal.
Newspapers or TV Channels do not and can not report millions of people falling in love this very moment. They cannot report millions being selfless and kind and helping others. They cannot possibly be witness to the mind-battles millions fight and win by making a higher choice.

Since, no objective reality exists – the world will be whatever we choose it to be.
I choose a better world.
And remember Gandhi.

He said – “Be the change you wish to see in the world”

Ramayana – The US version

Laughed my guts out at this article I received on e-mail..
Read on…

A young second generation Indian in the US was asked by his mother to explain the significance of “Diwali” to his younger brother, this is how he went about it… “So, like this dude had, like, a big cool kingdom and people liked him. But, like, his step-mom, or something, was kind of a bitch, and she forced her husband to, like, send this cool-dude, he was Ram, to some national forest or something… Since he was going, for like, something like more than 10 years or so.. he decided to get his wife and his bro along… you know… so that they could all chill out together. But Dude, the forest was reeeeal scary shit… really man… they had monkeys and devils and shit like that. But this dude, Ram, kicked ass with darts and bows and arrows… so it was fine. But then some bad gangsta boys, some jerk called Ravan, picks up his babe (Sita) and lures her away to his hood. And boy, was our man, and also his bro, Laxman, pissed… And you don’t piss this son-of-a-gun cuz, he just kicks ass and like… all the gods were with him… So anyways, you don’t mess with gods. So, Ram, and his bro get an army of monkeys… Dude, don’t ask me how they trained the damn monkeys… just go along with me, ok…

So, Ram, Lax and their monkeys whip this gangsta’s ass in his own hood. Anyways, by this time, their time’s up in the forest… and anyways… it gets kinda boring, you know… no TV or malls or shit like that. So,they decided to hitch a ride back home… and when the people realize that our dude, his bro and the wife are back home… they thought, well, you know, at least they deserve something nice… and they didn’t have any bars or clubs in those days… so they couldn’t take them out for a drink, so they, like, decided to smoke and shit… and since they also had some lamps, they lit the lamps also… so it was pretty cooool… you know with all those fireworks… Really, they even had some local band play along with the fireworks… and you know, what, dude, that was the very first, no kidding…, that was the very first music-synchronized fireworks… you know, like the 4th of July stuff, but just, more cooler and stuff, you know. And, so dude, that was how, like, this festival started.”

Change the world, Shall we?

Disclaimer: I am not a commie, leftist, rightist, liberal, conservative, marxist, royist, mathewist etc.

I believe before we begin to arrive at any conclusion, it is very important to notice where we begin.

Most of the time we begin with an awareness of where our ‘faayda’ lies.

Then we conveniently use our intellectual ability to highlight those parts that make us right.

I believe it is very convenient to ‘not look’ at a world that we are not a part of.

Let us see…

1. The world’s populating is 6 billion people where 4 billion live on less than 4 dollars a day.

2. There are 577 billionaires in the world. Together they have more wealth than 195 of world’s poorest nations.

3. While you and I have daily concerns like ‘Got to pay my bills on time’ or ‘Saving tax’, there are a LOT more people who have daily concerns like ‘How can I keep my child alive’ or ‘Where am I going to get food for tomorrow?’

4. You and I cannot identify with that because we have never felt starvation, homelessness or been thrown out of our houses.

5. Let us not put labels on each other – call each other commies and leftists and rightists. Let us ask ourselves a question.

“Can the world be better?”

Of course yes.
I am not talking about utopia.

I am talking about hardcore ground-realities level improvement.

The hardcore reality improvement is that as Indians we campaigned for freedom some 60 years back and the situation did improve. Oppression did end. Freedom was indeed gained.

We might point out flaws in our freedom and say how things are not perfect – in Kashmir/ in North-East etc.

But at a very basic level – they are our problems. We are dealing with them, sometimes not very well, sometimes appallingly, but we are. It’s better than being ruled by the British.

Moral: Changes can be made. Positive changes can be made.

Imagine you are living in a house. The house has 10 rooms. You live in a room that is well furnished, has an A.C, a comfortable bed to sleep in, food to eat. The other 9 rooms are full of people starving, dying, diseased, malnourished, frustrated, deprived. How long will you be able to remain aloof of their agony, their pain and finally their anger, their hatred?

So, how do we bring about this change?

I am wondering.

Do you have an answer?

One NEW Thing !!!!

I would like to throw an open challenge to the readers here….

Today, after reading this piece – Do something, one thing that you have never ever done in your life!! EVER!!

Okay, here is the deal. Make this one thing. one new thing that you do today positive, good and really cool. It need not be a path breaking, spine tingling, nervous-system-exploding thing (like quitting your job, which by the way, i recently did – but oops, that is another post in the making!!)… it can be something really small, really simple but it has to be something you have never ever done!!

Maybe you could give 100 bucks to a beggar
Maybe you could call a long-time enemy and shock him by saying hi
Maybe you could simply run up the stairs of your office
Maybe you could go for a run on the beach
Maybe you could write a letter (not a mail) to your folks back home (and shock the living daylights out of them)
Maybe you could find five good things in your boss

So, guys… here is the challenge… do something you have never done it before….do it today and tell me what happenned!!!!

All the best!!!!!

PS: It would be nicer if knew how to tag someone with this…But I don’t…. so, I won’t. Unless someone out there tells me!

You want a good war?

This has me concerned today…

From an interview with Herman Goring, an early member of the Nazi party, founder of the Gestapo, and one of the main perpetrators of Nazi Germany:

Goring: “Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

Gilbert: “There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

Goring: “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Here, Right Now…What am I up to?

Taking on from the last post – that was a very good question.

What are you up to?

There are layers to this seemingly simple question. The deeper we go, the more clarity we have.

Taken in first person, this translates into an immensely useful question that we can ask ourselves when debating choices, making decisions or reacting/ responding. Asking myself this questions often makes it clear what the higher, the better, the healthier choice is.

What am I up to?

Your four year old daughter spills a glass of milk on the floor.
You look at her and shout in anger.
What are you up to?

You are walking by on the road.
An old beggar raises a shriveled hand for loose change.
You smirk as you give him some coins.
What are you up to?

You just heard from friend A that friend B has been fired.
You immediately call up friend B.
Is it only concern or curiosity as well?
What are you up to?

We behave, we react the way we do because of thousands of reasons, many of which are not always clear even to us. We could be enacting our life dramas or fulfilling a pressing psychological need. We might want attention, love, a listener, a punching-bag etc..

Asking myself “What am I up to?” often shows me that the reason why I am doing something is not the real reason at all.

The most significant lies are the ones we tell ourselves.

Asking myself “What am I up to right now?” has helped me be more genuine, more in touch with myself and has helped me in making the higher choice.

What are you up to?

Me, Myself and Traffic!

I think we reveal quite a bit of our real selves when we are in traffic.

Traffic provides us with a unique scenario. A zillion people together in the same physical space trying to attain their own individual objectives.

Our encounter with other human beings while in traffic is wonderfully innocent. We do not have a history together, no baggage. There are no expectations for a future. The relationship we share with a stranger in traffic is devoid of any possible WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) factor.

Traffic provides an opportunity for interaction with others where nothing is at stake, there is nothing to lose and nothing to gain.

In such a unique situation, what are we up to? The answer I believe will reveal quite a bit about our ‘real’ selves. What part of our ‘self’ do we express when faced with this unique advantage-less situation?

Here is a never-before opportunity to be generous, kind, forgiving, happy, grateful.

Do we take it?

Traffic can be such a wonderful teacher about who we choose to be and which part of us we choose to bring forth.

This evening, while going back home… Check that rearview mirror and notice the teeming mass of humanity you are a part of.

What are you up to?

Blogging from Word?

Trying out this Blogger Ad-On for MS-Word.

The big promise of this software is that you need not visit the site to publish.

You can type in stuff from the comfort of you MS-Word editor and publish your blog from there.

So, does that work?

Well, if you are seeing this. It does!