“Is it true?” vs “Does it work?”

Lately, I have been so intrigued by the question “Why” that it has clouded my life-long fascination with the “How”.

Trying to answer the fundamental Why questions remains a quest – its deep, its meaningful, even sexy.

Trying to answer the How is less glamorous. It is an arena filled with squabbling crooks, missionaries, conmen, charlatans, quacks and well… those like me. Since masses care about the How more than the Why, there has been commercialization of this space too.

Here is why I care about “How”

The lack of empirical evidence is more the norm than an exception of the discipline of mind-science (to use a not-so-graceful term).

John Horgan in his book “The Undiscovered Mind – How the brain defies explanation” says… (not verbatim)

Evolutionary Biologist Erns Mayr argued that no field of biology can match the precision and power of physics, because unlike electrons and neutrons, all organisms are unique. Even then, the difference between two different kinds of bacteria or different types of horses is trivial compared to differences between two human beings, even those who are genetically identical. Each individual mind may change dramatically when its owner is spanked, learns the alphabet, reads a book, takes a drug, falls in love, gets divorced, undergoes Jungian dream therapy, suffers a stroke. The variability and malleability of the human mind enormously complicate the search for general principles of human nature.

Investigations into the human mind have failed to generate the kind of applications that compel belief in a particular paradigm. Physicists can boast of lasers, transistors, nuclear bombs. Biologists can show-off vaccines, cloning, antibiotics. By-products of mind-science are less impressive: cognitive behavioral therapy, thorazine, prozac, shock therapy, IQ tests etc.

Millions and millions of people receive inputs through psychoanalysis, which Freud invented a century ago. Psychoanalysis also fares very poorly in empirical research. Freud has been described as a cult-leader who excelled at self-promotion and also as a genius whose insights into the psyche, though difficult to pin down empirically, still “ring” true. Each of these views is defensible, and the persistence of psychoanalysis proves the inability of science to offer an obvious superior explanation of the mind and its disorders. Freudians cannot point to an unambiguous evidence of their paradigm’s superiority, but neither can proponents of more modern paradigms.

The field of social psychology – which continues to speculate about human culture – coining terms that we are so intimately familiar with as teachers – like “identity crisis”, “conventional wisdom” or “learned helplessness” – these are not scientific theories but “help us think”.

A slightly different approach then, would be to judge paradigms of thought, not on what they say – but for what they do. The question shifts from “Is it true?” to “Does it work?”

Early advocates of Quantum Physics could only describe results from esoteric experiments. Later, they had the supporting evidence from fission reactors, transistors, lasers, thermonuclear bombs – technologies that altered the course of history. For many physicists; whether quantum mechanics is true is almost irrelevant. It works.

I believe – the name, the label, the thought-movement or affiliations don’t matter. I discovered NLP and several other philosophies in a personal quest for meaning and growth and accepted that which made sense and matched my experience. This strategy has worked for me. I cannot claim in all honesty that I have not been skeptic or unfairly judgmental of certain bodies of knowledge. However, in such cases – the loss has been mine.

Reality is a purple blob

Floating heads like me are often urged to be “realistic” and “practical”
Another request often made is to live in the “real world”
In about 120 years, all seven billion human beings alive on this planet would be dead – and that is “really” realistic!
Being realistic and practical wouldn’t have mattered at all.
That can be deeply distressing or immensely liberating.
Which one is it?
🙂

Ambition or Meaning?

When I think about how I have evolved, there seem to be two main players.

Ambition and Meaning
These are the two principal actors in the theater of my life.
Ambition and Meaning.
Ambition takes center stage at times, his demeanor is assertive, his gaze fixed. He is full of passion and believes in his dreams. Ambition strives to succeed, to create, to partner, to conquer, to defeat, to win. Ambition takes a hard look at reality and proclaims “This needs to change” or “I will create this and that”. Ambition got me to be dynamic, learn skills of persuasion and negotiation. Ambition tells me I should hire an agent who will do a good job promoting me. Ambition got me to start my own company and persist in the face of odds. Ambition gets me to create new products, ideas. Ambition gets excited at the slightest mention of fames and riches and seeks glamor and the limelight. Ambition is full of energy, constantly dissatisfied, constantly striving, constantly improving.
Meaning on the other hand is much pensive. Much reflection, curiosity and intellectual honesty seem to have gone into the making of Meaning. Meaning strives to find, to connect, to synthesize, to combine, to bring together, to understand, to analyze. Meaning does not believe in perceptions. Meaning does not believe in the “outer world”. Meaning is beyond social, political, environmental and even personal happenings. Meaning only strives for intellectual honesty and believes only in the power of reason. Meaning does not care about glamor or riches or fame. Meaning only cares for an understanding, for things to make sense. Meaning seeks its place in the universe and its role in the scheme of things. Meaning does not even seek fulfillment or satisfaction – merely the beauty of “it makes sense!”. It seeks the higher truth, not worldly gratifications.
Here I am, typing these words into a screen with zillions of shimmering digital drops of lights. I run a company, care about my work. I make a difference to people’s lives – when I know in the ‘absoluteness’ of it all – it doesn’t matter. I strive to succeed, yet understand that success is an illusion. I seek fulfillment, yet understand that its impossible.
This is my malaise. Who do I choose to rule my life – Ambition or Meaning?
As of now, we continue with their uneasy co-existence.

When the student is ready…

I chanced upon a photo-album in my hard-drive. It had pictures of Gandhi, Richard Bach, Tim Berners Lee and others. At first, I just couldn’t for the life of me remember, why I had created this album and downloaded these pictures. Then it dawned on me. I was creating an an album with pictures of people who had really made a difference to my life. Who had mattered. People who had me look at life in a whole new different way. Usually, coming across them meant an intense and immensely satisfying period of personal growth and learning. I was never the same again after crossing paths with them.

Thought it would be fun to capture this list. So here it goes – in no particular order:
Kalpana desai: 1998 – She was the trainer for a Silva program I attended. She was kind, compassionate, loving and really cared for the audience. She was the first trainer I ever knew.
Sue Knight: 2002 – I attended a two day workshop by Sue called ‘Introduction to NLP’. After relentlessly pursuing NLP on my own for three years – finally getting to learn it from someone as insightful as her was a revelation. She also helped me make some powerful distinctions about myself.
Premchand: I am yet to find a better writer than Premchand. He makes me want to write. His stories and novels literally taught me the beauty of the written word.
Neale Donald Walsche: His book “Conversations with God” helped me create a model of the universe and its meaning – which held good for a very long time. It helped me build some of my core beliefs about the world.

Anthony Robbins: He introduced me to NLP
Sabah Carrim: She introduced me to pure philosophy and conversations with her about philosophy blew my mind. Everything I knew suddenly became a subset of something bigger, more wonderful. The fundamental questions I was asking about life and work changed. The brightest mind I ever came across in person.
Anne Townsend: Taught me how to facilitate. Her kindness and affection with a greenhorn trainer like me allowed me to build confidence in myself. She said one of the most powerful things I have ever heard “We are not different from each other, we’re different like each other”
Mark Wedgwood: Taught me how to facilitate. Anne and Mark were my first models of serious facilitation and I blindly copied (er… modeled 🙂 ) what they did in the first two years after I went solo. I also value his friendship and some amazing conversations we’ve had.
Dale Carnegie: In 9th standard, I read his book “how to win friends and influence people” – the first non-fiction book I ever read. Got me started on non-fiction.

Azam Pasha: Discussions with him about life, love, creativity and philosophy added new dimensions to my thought
Swamini Vimalananda: Attended a Chinmaya Yuva Kendra camp in her guidance when I was about 12 years old. Met her again when I was 24. Her grace, depth and self-effacing humor probably got me interested in personal growth to begin with.
Ayn Rand: Fountainhead seared itself on my mind for years. I came across her in school – while I tend to disagree with some basic tenets of her philosophy, she helped me find my own voice.
Richard Bach: Introduced me to the magical world we live in and a philosophy of life which resonated true. Illusions remains one of my favorite books.
Purushottam Rai: My grandfather – every moment with him makes you want to be a better human being. Can I be like him when I am old, please 🙂
Gandhi: I read his autobiography in a train journey from Ranchi to Chennai. Life changed forever. Some of my fundamental ideas about our world, war, peace and society are derived from Gandhi.
Tim Berners Lee: Thank you for having the courage to give away the www to the world for free. it changed my life in so many ways that I cannot even begin to describe. I couldn’t sleep the night I came to know about the world wide web, in 1997 🙂

The Albatross

Often, to amuse themselves, the men of a crew
Catch albatrosses, those vast sea birds
That indolently follow a ship
As it glides over the deep, briny sea.

Scarcely have they placed them on the deck
Than these kings of the sky, clumsy, ashamed,
Pathetically let their great white wings
Drag beside them like oars.

That winged voyager, how weak and gauche he is,
So beautiful before, now comic and ugly!
One man worries his beak with a stubby clay pipe;
Another limps, mimics the cripple who once flew!

The poet resembles this prince of cloud and sky
Who frequents the tempest and laughs at the bowman;
When exiled on the earth, the butt of hoots and jeers,
His giant wings prevent him from walking.

— Charles Baudelaire

Two of a kind

I do not write very often. I have been advised of Bernard Shaw’s “Write-5-pages-a-day-no-matter-what” rule, have tried it and not succeeded. Regular readers of my (other) blog would notice that the promise of one-post per day was not kept either. I need inspiration to write. I need an idea to bubble up from the abyss of consciousness, stir my soul and strum my neural network till I am driven by inspiration and energy to put it down on paper – or – type it out on the screen.

I am inspired, today. Why?

Imagine growing up knowing there is something fundamentally weird about the way you think. Imagine being able to see the unfairness of the world and the hypocrisy of it. Imagine never buying into the world, really. Imagine learning to shut up and be normal. Imagine learning not to let your teachers know you are smarter than them. Imagine learning that your astute observations about life, education, religion, learning, patriotism, morality might be really really politically incorrect. Imagine learning to shift, change, adjust, accommodate. Imagine lowering your standards for the kind of person you are, can be and want to be with. Imagine being abnormal, idealistic, impracticable, unconventional, eccentric, over-analytical, dreamer, stupid….. and hiding that. Imagine being not-understood and imagine not imagining any other way things could exist.
Now, Imagine discovering that there are two of you.

Richard Bach says – Your true family is seldom the one you are born in

And the winner is…. Choice!!

Just before I started penning these words, I stared at the white blank space in front of me. The possibilities are staggering. With my thoughts, my mind and fingers, I have the choice to make any use of it that I like. I can write a poem about the beauty of rains, a story about a little girl and her dog, a hate letter against a country or community, a new manifesto for a better world, conversations with myself, haikus, an article about how to use nail-clippers better, a list of my deepest held goals and desires, a list of things i need to buy in the next one week, names of people who have hurt me, a love letter, a gratitude note to those who have touched me, a work mail, a love song, a swot for my company, a recipe for making littis, a manual on how to get an autorickshaw in bangalore, a litany of accusations against someone I despise, a list of reasons I shouldn’t write anything or nothing at all.

Anything.

The white space invites me to express any part of myself that I choose to bring forth today… right now. The possibilities, the potential, the freedom, the limitlessness, the infiniteness of it is very difficult to miss.

Life is a lot like this, isn’t it?

At any given moment, the next moment and the moment after that stretch before us like a blank sheet of paper. We have absolute freedom, total control, complete power over what we choose to bring forth in those moments. We can choose to write a beautiful story of our life, our destiny. We can choose to write lovingly or write with angst, we can choose to write with our soul or write with our mind. We can choose to admire or envy, we can choose to learn or weep, we can choose to grow or shrink, we can choose to bring forth that which is the best in us – our best version of ourselves or we can carry on – a humdrum existence or even a part of ourselves that is angry – full of hate and venom. We can also tear up the blank sheet of paper. But, we are free. We can be, do, think – anything we want. The only limitations we might apply are those that we have created ourselves.