A Room of One’s Own

Just sailed through Virginia Woolf’s delightful book: A Room of One’s Own with great awe and wonder.

The book originates from a lecture delivered by Virginia Woolf in Cambridge University in 1928. I was spellbound by the broad view and detailing of the impact of poverty as well as chastity on women’s creativity. It is generally acknowledged to have achieved the status of ‘one of the greatest feminist classics of the century’.

But I haven’t seen it that way. I was left amazed by the smooth flow of a great mind exploring a subject with great delicacy and precision. It was a pleasure to see how a trained mind maintained its balance throughout the book, without slipping even once.

She didn’t take sides at all. There was neither any evidence of a reckless dash towards feminism nor any evidence of appeal of righting the injustice inflicted on women by a predominantly man’s world.

In fact, she does just what is least expected. She shows a reasonable way forward for women to free themselves from the shackles of societies to unleash their creativity through their writings without sacrificing their womanhood in the least. Surprisingly, the condition is to have £ 500 a year and a room of one’s own to not only regain their self-esteem but also enrich humanity.

What I liked most was the view that the best writers who have retained their appeal over the years neither took a man’s view nor a woman’s view of the world while expressing reality as they saw it. Such great minds were androgynous.

In addition, such great minds completely avoided the big ‘I’ to infiltrate into their writings. It was as if they dreaded the big ‘I’ like some infectious disease.

The other interesting thing was to see how awareness of one’s own body and its relationship to one’s environment gets reflected through one’s mind in one’s creation.

These are big lessons – very big lessons. It boils down to the fact that creativity is simply a reflection of a state of mind where the ‘creator’ is no longer a prisoner of his own ‘perceptions’ but is happy to stay as a witness – and in some cases not even that. It calls for courage of the rarest kind.

One of the many ways for allowing that state to arrive is to simply watch and enjoy such an unfettered mind effortlessly cut through delusions to expose layers of reality in things and phenomena that happen around us.

If that is one’s intention, I would highly recommend a deep study of this book – just to see how such a liberated mind works – if not for any thing else.

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No Mind and Consciousness

These days, there is lot of talk about mindfulness. Simply stated, mindfulness is the result of paying attention within a field of awareness.

Actually, awareness and attention are deeply inter-related. While awareness is about being present in a diffused field composed of different stimuli without attaching to any stimulus in particular; attention is about focusing on certain ‘stimuli’ taken from the diffused field of awareness, for varying lengths of time.

Consciousness, which encompasses attention, awareness and action; goes onto form a no-mind that goes beyond all the senses.

Though the essence of no-mind cannot be fully captured by words, an attempt can be made to describe it roughly. It is a mind that is not conditioned by the past or by the future and dwells in present, moment by moment. Therefore, it does not carry any baggage of previously stored responses, born out of our senses or lean upon the imaginative creation of the future for our senses to enjoy.

Technically speaking, no-mind is a mind that captures insights from present reality, essentially based on the principles of non permanence of anything; inter-relationship between all things and no identified self of anything (no-self). It is also about generating and choosing responses (action) based on insights gained from a given situation.

However, it seems that no-mind can be better understood through examples. And what better examples can there be other than those taken from the life of Buddha, who was one of the great practitioners of no-mind.

The story goes that one day a man came to the Buddha and asked, ”God is there, no?” Buddha replied, ”Yes.”

Then another day, another man came and asked, ”Is God really there?” To which, Buddha replied, ”No.”

Next day, a third man turned up and asked, ”Tell me whether God is there?” This time, Buddha remained silent.

On seeing three different responses of his master, his discipline and constant companion, Ananda, asked, ”How is that you gave three different replies to the same question? It is very confusing to me.”

Buddha explained, ”No, I did not give three different replies. I only responded differently to three different situations. The first person was sure that God is there. He was just asking for a confirmation. Therefore, I confirmed; since any amount of reasoning or exploration would not have helped him. He would not have accepted anything other than what he was convinced about. He had already formed his mind.”

Buddha continued, ”Similarly, the second person also had a fixed idea in his mind that God wasn’t there and was only seeking a confirmation. Hence I confirmed his strongly held belief.”

”But the third man came to me with an open mind with the sincere intention of finding out whether God existed or not. Hence I remained silent, indicating that he must explore the issue through deep and prolonged inquiry facilitated by a silent mind.” Buddha concluded.

The other story goes like this:

One day, Buddha happened to pass a man on the road who was taken in by his overwhelmingly peaceful presence.

The man stopped and asked, ”Who are you? Are you an angel or God?”

Buddha replied, ”No, I am neither an angel nor a God.”

Still curious, the man asked, ”Are you then a magician?”

This time again, Buddha answered, “No.”

”Then are you a man?” Asked the young man.

”No,” Buddha affirmed.

”Then what are you?” By this time the man was quite exasperated.

To which, Buddha replied, ”I am awake.”

Possibly, these two stories illustrate how a no-mind responds and what is the nature of no-mind.

In Buddha’s own words, no-mind is about: ”Be a lamp unto yourselves to light up thousand minds.”

Nice to Watch/Read:

a) How Meditation Can Re-shape our Brains by Sara Lazar

b) Mindfulness & Psychotherapy, 2nd Edition, Ed. Christopher Germer, Ronald D. Siegal and Paul R. Fulton

Moving between States of Awareness for Problem Solving

Of late, the word ‘awareness‘, ranks high in the public consciousness and is being used a lot.

What does it mean?

In plain language it means ‘paying attention’ to something or ‘noticing something’ or being ‘mindful’ about something and then extending that awareness to different dimensions through understanding, reflection and action. Awareness is not something which is fixed and static but rather fluid and flowing.

All that might seem very confusing to begin with.

Actually we move through different states of Awareness. And this ‘flow’ is achieved in a particular way.

So let us begin by asking, “What are the different states of awareness and how does it move?

The First State of Awareness

1. Awareness of the Physical:

It means anything that we can physically sense through our senses. It is generally an object but it can be something more fluid like smelling something ‘burning’. Or for example, it might be a simple building or a gear or people passing on the street or the sounds one hears in a city or simply a part of one’s body or pain area in a business ….

This is called point awareness, i.e. our awareness is focused on a fixed point.

In this state of awareness we are using our usual senses or extension of our senses through some form of instrumentation.

Note: In this way we can fix our attention to many fixed points present in a given context or ecology.

The Second State of Awareness

2. Awareness of Connections and movements:

Now the awareness moves in a different direction. It starts looking for connections and movements that link the ‘fixed point’ to other points and pieces in the ecology. For example, if we are aware that we are tensed and stressed out and aware about our tiredness and not too good digestion we may be able to link the these together to form a link. Or for instance if we are looking at ‘low order volume’ of any organization and the waste they are generating in their value creation process we might be able to link the two to form a link. Similarly, if we are examining a vibration frequency spectrum and we notice high amplitude vibration of a bearing and then notice high amplitude of the fan blades then there is a clear possibility that we might link the two to form a relationship.

We can then further pay attention about how a movement in one affects the other. Or in other words we understand ‘How a change in one creates a change in the other’. While extending our awareness in this stage we also notice the function the relationship does like — a) holding something, b) releasing/eliminating something, c) producing or reproducing something, d) moving or stopping something, e) expressing or communicating or feeding back information or withholding communication …

This is called line awareness, i.e. our awareness is now moves from independence to interdependence focused on relationships and their changes (interdependence) and their functions.

Note: Like in the earlier case we can create many ‘lines’ (relationships and their interdependence through changes) in this fashion.

At this stage we are not using our usual five senses any more. We are entering into what researchers call ‘one’s own perception’. Technically it is called ‘proprioception’. Proprioception does not come from any organ of the body but from the nervous system. So we go beyond our primary sense perception and start forming a more holistic picture of what we are aware of. This stage brings into play both non-cognitive and cognitive skills at the same time. It is process through which we start extending our minds.

The Third State of Awareness

3. Awareness of Contexts, Perspectives and Feelings:

From our ‘line awareness‘ we move to ‘surface awareness’. This happens when we put many ‘lines’ together. This is quite similar to what we do in geometry. For example when we place three lines together we get a triangle. Similarly by placing four lines together we get a square or a rectangle and so on.

Likewise, when we relate different parts of our ‘line awareness’ together we form a ‘surface awareness‘ of the context. At this state of awareness we form a perspective or understanding or a point of view. With each ‘surface’ we have a different perspective. So with multiple ‘surfaces’ we create and hold together different ‘perspectives’ or view points. The idea at this stage is to increase the number of perspectives (diversity) so that we reach closer to a fuller and more holistic understanding of a phenomenon or context we started out with.

Note: Like in earlier cases we aim at developing as many surfaces as possible to get multiple views or perspectives on something. We are consciously encouraging diversity to view reality which is complex enough. This is the stage where we have gone beyond our primary ‘senses’ and ‘proprioception’ and entered the domain of feelings. This is because each perception evokes in us different feelings and emotions. So the idea is to harvest a diversity of feelings about something.

The Fourth State of Awareness

4. Awareness of Shapes:

From ‘surface awareness’ we move to what I call a ‘3 Dimensional awareness‘ of a situation, phenomenon or anything we are paying attention to. Why is it 3 dimensional? This is because when different surfaces come together we get a ‘shape‘ which is essentially 3 dimensional. That is we have captured the reality (of course depends on how much we are able to capture) into a ‘shape‘. Again geometry would help. For example, when we bring together 4 triangles we form a pyramid. Or for instance when we stitch together 6 square surfaces we get a cube and so on. Or it can take the shape of a moving spiral of say gases.

In any case we create a ‘volume‘ (an empty space) by bringing different surfaces together. This gives us a holistic understanding of ‘reality‘ to which we are paying attention to.  The emptiness of the shape is the source of the creative potential for change to happen with all the relevant information existing on the sides of the ‘shape’.

Now we can pay attention to the ‘whole’ and find possibilities of creative change, redesign or better maintenance depending on possible ’emergence’ that either unfolds or remains enfolded.

At this state of paying attention we can have insights both in the form of intuition (noncognitive skill) and reason based on our cognitive skills. However both intuition and reason must come from what we are paying attention to and not from our memory. This is a higher level of emergence of our ‘nervous system‘ as a whole, which involves both the mind and body.

Why is that?

This is because as we pay attention to the ‘whole’ shape our nervous system provides the insight and our mind provides the ‘imagination’ and the reasoning based on our scientific understanding which in turn trigger the emotions and energy trapped in our bodies inspiring us to act. So the three basic elements — ‘nervous energy’, ‘mental energy in the form of imagination followed by reason’ and ‘physical energy‘ are called into play.

However, the most important element at this stage is the ‘imagination’ part. We are not imagining the past or the future but the ‘gap’ existing between those. This imagination is directed towards ‘empathy‘. Unless we can empathize at this stage our subsequent thoughts, reasons and actions would not produce the right results (right for the context).

The Fifth State of Awareness

5. Awareness of effortless creativity and joy:

Armed by the right imagination we are now ready for the last state of awareness that is bringing creativity into play. By now we know what is the existing imperfection, what the ‘shape’ is trying to drop (generally its past) and the quantity of information that needs to be changed along with its speed. This helps us to be in the flow of things just as they are and just as they  “want to be”. Through our creative action we can bring about the required and right changes to experience happiness, joy and equanimity. How would we know about what actions would bring about joy, happiness and equanimity?  If things become better and we become or stay healthy our creative actions are right enough. If not, we need to improve upon ‘paying attention’.

However, by now it might be self-evident that awareness or the very act of paying attention is something like flow. It is not fixed or static. It simply likes to flow from one state to the other as described above. But like all flows the flow can be impeded or stopped by artificial constraints we set up through our mental filters of likes, dislikes, good, bad, ambition, desires, aspirations, concepts, preformed ideas, memory. When this happens we lose agility in our living and work.

Once we realize this and try to break down or let go of such artificial constraints we not only become agile in our engagements but also develop resilience, which incidentally is always built into our physical bodies. So our bodies either reflect or absorb the energy which might either make and keep us healthy or sick and diseased; active or inactive. So resilience can lead to both health and sickness/suffering. Sickness indicates the presence of artificial constraints that are to be overcome. Health indicates that we have identified the real constraints that help our natural flow. Such constraints are to be retained and developed.

Our minds and bodies are both useful but we perhaps now realize that without a strong nervous energy they can both be rendered useless. Incidentally, the nervous energy is also connected to our immunity system. Therefore, it has a lot to do in keeping our minds and bodies in perfect order since all the three together as a whole are fully engaged in our awareness, our normal senses, proprioception, feelings, perception, imagination, intuition, empathy, understanding, insights, creativity, reason, thoughts, actions and perhaps wisdom. One can’t be sacrificed for the other.

When practiced to a high level of perfection we live in a liberated state – a state where we love what we get and get to do what we love to enrich our lives, i.e. we enjoy being in the flow of things.

It is beyond love. It is kindness to self and others, which flows from the effortless effort we experience in the fifth and last state of awareness a state between perception and non-perception.

That in short is awareness or simply ‘paying attention’.

Notes:

1. The technique of PLS3D (Point, Line, Surface and 3Dimensional Awareness) is one of the various technique/tools used in Rapidinnovation a process developed by my firm RMCPL. This has been widely applied and taught in India with great impact.  Would be happy to be a mentor or teach it to anyone who might be interested.

2. This is used in various types of settings like – Problem solving, Whole System Design, Design, Systemic thinking,  Manufacturing Systems, Organizational Systems, Entrepreneurship and a host of other applications.. including personal improvement and transformation, which to my mind is the most important application for a better future.

Developing Life Skills…

Like any skill development developing life skills is a serious business.

It needs three basic qualities —

a) Simplicity

b) Patience

c) Kindness and respect for yourself

This is because development of life skills goes through four distinct phases, which are —

1. Unconsciously incompetent — we simply don’t  know why we are doing things that we keep doing. It keeps getting again and again with no improvement in sight. We behave like a robot.

2. Consciously incompetent — we suddenly realize that there must be a way out of ‘failures’ and ‘sufferings’ and ‘pain’ that we are inflicting upon ourselves.  And we decide to do something about it. We also realize that it is our unconscious habits, ideas, concepts, assumptions, thinking patterns, convictions, weaknesses that are the source of trouble. We then start to see our feelings and thoughts as they arise and try to look at them before they transform into commitments, decisions and actions. We are conscious about it but find it a difficult job.

3. Consciously competent — slowly over time and practice we start to have a grip on the issue of seeing our feelings and thoughts and check the flaws in those, which would have undesirable result both for ourselves and others if acted upon. We then consciously start changing our intentions and actions. However, at this stage we sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. But we are aware of both our successes and failures and are able to keep ourselves centered.

4. Unconsciously competent — this is the transformation stage. And such transformation happens quite suddenly. When it happens we no longer need to be conscious about what we are feeling or thinking and about the decisions and actions that are to be taken. It happens automatically. We have before us many choices to make and the right choice for the right context is automatically selected. It is so automatic that it seems that ‘nothing special’ is happening. Such transformation leads to better outcomes for self and others and perhaps for the world at large.

We automatically take care of our problems, failures, sufferings and pains.

Without undergoing individual transformation, I strongly feel that there is little or no hope of changing our lives and the world.