Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Extraordinary Gift of the Mind:Part-7

Stairway to the sky by Megatruh

Continued from Part-6.

20.    Planning

The Mind, being the creator of the time, can extrapolate the events in future. Mind can imagine events and can tag them as happening in the future. The Mind can estimate the likely sequence of events, it can predict them. Also, it can estimate the consequences of an action. Certain events, such as physical processes, follow neat mathematical laws and their outcome can be determined more accurately. Certain processes follow statistical laws and their outcome can be estimated as probabilities. Sometimes the Mind relies on intuition to get a guess-estimate of the outcome. Some events, like the behaviour of a stranger, are unpredictable, and the Mind uses some thumb rules to deal with such situations, the rules being a result of its experiences with such situations.

Given the above set of abilities, it is possible to organize one’s actions so that a certain outcome is achieved. This is the process of Planning. It is deliberate, intended and often a conscious process. As we know, intentions or desires are a result of mental activity, an outcome of experiences, they are the trigger for actions, and so are triggers for planning too. Planning is delayed action.

There is no time, so no future, yet it makes sense to plan things, because there is change, there is impermanence. Fortunately, a major part of the change (aka Experiencing) happens with regularity. The Mind is an expert in discovering the regularities. The Mind is a pattern matching machine, so finding regularities and patterns amongst the change is its primary function. For example, day follows night and seasons follow a pattern (temporal patterns) and when you go to your kitchen, you expect your refrigerator to be still there (spatial patterns), however, the food may or may not be there inside it, from which one can conclude that some things happen irregularly, unexpectedly. It is because of the irregularity/complexity in the change, that planning is needed. Everything must come together perfectly for an event to happen as you intend it to happen. Even though there is much regularity and predictability, some events do not happen as expected, especially if humans are involved. Planning is an attempt of the Mind to organize the irregularity deliberately into a structure, and take actions to create that structure/event.

A man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.
- Confucius (BC 551-BC 479)

It is debatable whether there is any irregularity or randomness in the changes/events that happen around us every day. The Mind sees the events as a product of the Fundamental Process (the evolutionary auto-process, we discussed before), which, by necessity is Perfect. There is Perfection everywhere. Nothing is imperfect, because the Fundamental Process, by definition, produces optimal change. So, now, you must be puzzled, if it is all perfect and events happen in a most perfect way, why do we need to mess them up with our planning? The only answer I know is – the action of planning done by you, is also perfect. It cannot be anything else, and if the plan fails and you end up doing something else, that is also perfect. Some thinking and introspection will reveal why I say so [1].

Everything is perfect in the universe -- even your desire to improve it.
- Wayne Dyer

The age old question is – how much one should plan? Can we micromanage all events of our life? Do events really always happen as planned? Should we set long term goals or not? All valid questions. In my experience, events do not happen as planned most of the time, then perhaps I’m not a good planner, anyway I do plan major events, if those can be planned. The reason being, even if the event does not happen as I planned, I do not regret later that I did nothing at all, no effort to organize that event. Now that something else has happened, I simply deal with it as best as possible, and plan something else. When I look back at my life, I hardly planned the major milestones, I made small short term plans mostly. That is because I lacked a big picture of the life, not knowing what one should do with it. Life is a series of experiences, and we are a product of those experiences. We are what we are today because certain events happened. I wouldn’t change a thing (except perhaps the most embarrassing of the events :D) because if I could, I wouldn’t remain me.

The ability to plan develops with experience (as is with all abilities). So one cannot expect to be a good planner at a young age. I’ve never seen a baby plan his future investment portfolio, so one must conclude that one needs to get to a certain point from where the major life planning begins. Usually others help us to get us on our feet and then there is sometimes a wake up event, which is mostly expressed as – “what the hell am I doing with my life?” This is the point where one considers planning for their future, not before. It takes time to decide on the path one should take, and as we have discussed, it is usually the path that finds you. Once you are sure that you are on the path of your heart, then, in my experience, the need to plan each and everything disappears.

21.    Decision making

Just like planning is a sophisticated form of intending, decisions are a sophisticated form of choosing. The process of decision making involves laying out choices in open as clearly as possible and considering all the pros and cons of each, assessing practical difficulties, risks and so on before arriving at an action. I’d recommend a good book on management instead of going into the details of decision making, as this is not my subject. Same applies for planning, as they go hand in hand.

Our lives are a sum total of the choices we have made.
- Wayne Dyer

The decision has to be in line with the intention, obviously. Whenever one has sufficient time, a good number of choices, and the consequences of the resulting action can be heavy, one should go through a conscious decision making process, and arrive at the best decision possible. As with planning, not all decisions will turn out to be right, a decision is right only in retrospect, but it must be made anyway.

Decision making is closely related to the planning, so most of the discussion on planning applies to decision making also. There are some additional tricks while doing it. Whenever you can delay it, delay it. A decision taken in hurry is not very effective. Why do it today when you can do it tomorrow – can be a positive thing in regard to decision making. When the situation is provocative (e.g. you received an insulting email), it is best to delay the action, and decide later, because the first action is nothing but a knee jerk reaction for most of us, and it worsens the situation. Same for any situation that evokes emotions and reactions. The rule of thumb is to wait for at least 24 hours before starting your decision making process in such situations [2].

What happens is, in situations that are wet with emotions, our survival programs take over the entire Mind. This is necessary, because the Mind trusts its millions of years of stored knowledge when it comes to survival. So I do not recommend delaying your decision to flee or kill an attacker, who is about to stab you with a big knife. However, when there is no physical threat, and the situation is still provoking survival instincts (such as anger, lust, fear etc), it is wise to become very aware of the situation, see the internal environment of the Mind clearly, apply brakes on auto-programs and delay the action or the decision to take any action. Waiting for a sufficient amount of time lets the Mind settle the survival programs and now you are freer to choose, there are now much better and intelligent choices waiting for you. Choose the actions that lead to pleasant consequences or no consequences at all. This is the essence of decision making.

Decision making is a dynamic process, or it must be one. The decision for further actions changes according to the situation at hand. However, when a lot of resources and time (men, money, materials) are already invested on a certain decision, it should not be changed. Of course, there are no set rules and your experience is your best guide. The trick is to not to be adamant about your decision, not to make it an ego issue or a prestige issue. If a person is making decisions according to his conditioning and programs, then it shows how ignorant that person is. Such people cause a lot of suffering. The decision making has to be a logical, objective and aware process.

What if there is no way and nothing can be decided? It means that the person has incomplete/no knowledge, the situation is novel for him. The Mind can come up with some intuitive solutions (as discussed before) given sufficient time. But if you find it hard to decide at times, its best to surrender and let it happen on its own.

22.    Problem Solving

This is a complex activity that bundles together many abilities of the Mind, such as creativity, planning, decision making, imagination and many more. Problem solving ability is a tale-tell sign of intelligence. A highly intelligent person has the ability to solve most of the problems in his field of knowledge quickly and elegantly. It comes with experience, the more problems one solves, the better he becomes in solving problems.

It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.
- Douglas Adams 
I’m not planning to write about this ability in detail here, as this is a well-studied subject and good books/teachers can be found, that can help in improving this ability. I will merely mention some tricks that worked for me. Problem solving starts with identification of the problem. Well, that should be obvious, there is no need to mention it. There is actually, most of us are not even aware of the problem in many cases. Pondering on the problem helps to reveal its nature. Roughly speaking, half of the problem is solved as soon as you know what the problem is.

Few can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem.
- Krishnamurti
Breaking the problem into pieces helps to solve it. Divide and conquer. The problem needs to be divisible for this to work. Solve the easy parts first. This applies very well to say, writing a computer program, or dealing with your staff. When you clear off the small things, the root of the problem is revealed and now you are less distracted by the insignificant parts of it. This also builds up a lot of confidence. This technique works nicely for engineering kind of problems.

Hit and trial works whenever the problem is such that there is no tried and tested solution, and it cannot be broken down in parts easily. Hitting it again and again from many angles works. You slowly gain insights on how to solve it. This technique works very well in the case of scientific experiments, where the novelty is immense and one has no clue how to tackle it.

Intense imagination and creativity, the application of them, is another route. These are the abilities to call up when everything else fails. Set the Mind to one task and only one task – to solve the problem at hand in your Mind. The Mind needs to be saturated with it 24x7. It can take days or months, but there is a good chance that you will eventually get a solution that works. Mathematical and theoretical problems are best solved this way. It is necessary to keep all distractions away for this purpose, however, sometimes seeing something novel or just discussing it with a friend is enough to bring up an answer.

Majority of us are hardly concerned with solving management, engineering or mathematical problems. The problems we face in day-to-day life are mostly of social nature. A bully in the school, or a bad relationship; wars, corruption or a dogmatic society – these are some examples of it. Usually there is a person behind the problem (or many persons sometimes) and the root cause of such problems is the ignorance of that person. In my experience, one cannot simply fix the person. One can avoid the person or the situation or can punish the person [3]. It is a hard job to clear the beliefs of that person and enlighten him about his behaviour, to make him see that he is causing suffering. Even if you do that, there is no guarantee that he will not cause some other problem for you (especially if you are stuck with him, e.g. he is a relative). People change, problematic people become less problematic as they mature (often seen with children and teens) and sometimes totally nice people turn into nasty enemies (your ex?).

It may seem to your conceited to suppose that you can do anything important toward improving the lot of mankind. But this is a fallacy. You must believe that you can help bring about a better world. A good society is produced only by good individuals, just as truly as a majority in a presidential election is produced by the votes of single electors. Everybody can do something toward creating in his own environment kindly feelings rather than anger, reasonableness rather than hysteria, happiness rather than misery.
- Bertrand Russell

Our lives are littered with such problems. Well then, how to solve them if you can’t fix that person easily? You can fix yourself, that solves it. More on that later, as its a big subject, and we are discussing the awesome abilities of the Mind here, not the mental disabilities of people [4].

How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.
- Wayne Dyer



[1] Perfection or beauty is considered an essential aspect of all that is - the Presence, since ancient times (the quality of Sundaram is one among the three qualities of it). The imperfection that we perceive is a result of our own ignorance, partial knowledge, lack of knowledge. So is all this suffering also perfect? Yes it is, it cannot be anything else but suffering, a perfect result of our ignorance and actions, which are perfect too. More on this topic later, I know its confusing.

[2] I’m thankful to Rohit Arya and others for their teachings in this regard.

[3] I know what you are thinking. No, killing him is not the ideal solution, even if its tempting. Remember that all your actions have consequences, even those that are a solution for a problem. Be careful in choosing a solution, it may appear attractive in short term, but can cause major suffering later.

[4] In my experience, people are the only problem on this earth, all other problems are pale in comparison to the problems people cause. And I’m not exaggerating. However, we are a part of that problem, perhaps I’m a problem for someone else, who knows. But this is the bottom line. Majority of the suffering is caused by people full of ignorance. The lives of ignorant people are not bad, if you ask me, only if they stop acting on their ignorance, while calling it their smartness.

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