Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Balance Sheet

  1. Started staying close to office. less than half hour daily commute time.
  2. Started cycling to work and have continued.
  3. Reduced weight to less that 70 kg (from 73 kg) and stayed that way.
  4. Got rid of samosas and vadas in the evening snacks. Took to fruits and nuts. Have stayed that way.
  5. Have got into a healthy sleep habit. Have stayed that way.
  6. Spent much more time than before with family. Have felt very happy during the evening tea time with wife and child.
  7. Improved significantly in hardwork, discipline quotient.
  8. Got smarter in many domestic activities.
  9. Filed my taxes online myself.
  10. Travelled to USA.
  11. Kept a steady rate at writing and programming.
  12. Read a few really good books: Small is Beautiful, The Shadow Lines, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
  13. Learned a bit about formal method techniques.
  14. Became much more fascinated with idea of sustainable living, Zen and minimalism.

  1. No publications. I am almost happy with the amount and quality of research I have done this year. But I have gone against my own policy that every once in a while there should be a short term deliverable. I have stayed with ideas and concepts for an over-extended period. Hope 2012 will bring most of them to fruition.
  2. Water colour painting didn't improve. I have felt quite discouraged with my lack of progress in this. I think I have found some leads and will try and work on them in the coming days.
  3. Concentration was insufficient. Though my ability to manage many little things improved significantly, I continue to feel that breakthroughs come through concentrated and continued effort. I haven't done so well in that front. Creating space with better organisation is fine. But to be able to use that space well is quite another. Must focus serious energy into this.
  4. Weakened contact with many friends even after trying really hard. This year, for the first time, I see the truth in that, beyond a point, spending excessive energy in maintaining friendships is a waste. Some friends have clung on. But many have drifted away. I also have started accepting that the large network of friends I have always boasted of is not so much a magical blessing, but largely due to ridiculous amount of energy I spend on maintaining it. Now, I agree that with growing age and life conditions, there has to be a natural evolution in relationships. Some new ones will emerge, but many many of them will have to give way. I feel sad about it. But unless I accept and internalise this, I will only pain myself more. Probably, wisdom lies in nurturing the surviving relations, because they have survived the hard struggle for existence, and in accepting with grace the demise of those which didn't.
  5. Weakened contact with extended family.
  6. Failed somewhat in personal organisation. I have tried hard to be better and better in this. But seems I am not good enough. My professional productivity speaks of this. My low self-satisfaction in handling my domestic matters speaks of it. Of course, the contradictory idea is that personal organisation can help only as a fine-tuning step. The major impact depends on the intensity of one's style of working. May be, organisation only helps in managing breadth, not depth. And most of the work I need to do require depth. Let's see.
  7. Couldn't sustain the Yoga habit

Lessons learned
Everything has cost
Progress matters more than completion

Overall score
fitter and happier than ever before.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Forgotten Heroes

Our generation was brought up with very few career choices to pick from, particularly in middle class homes. Engineering and Medical studies were the only so called respectable careers possible. That in itself is so ludicrous and tragic! But worse still was the fact that both being based on science, the love of science that many of us developed was not a love but a compulsion for us all. Not one of us can make out if, even after having spent a lifetime in service of science, science would really have been our first love, had we had the choice to love something else.

No wonder people who don't take up science as a career seem to shun it like a disease. The essential nature of science -- that of asking questions, and using enquiries based on logic and experiments to find their answers -- is completely hidden from most. Instead, what has got ingrained in most of us is that science is what distinguishes the smart ones from the others. Therefore, those who didn't pursue science as a career for whatever reason develop a hatred for it. Who will be stupid enough to accept one's stupidity simply because they didn't become scientists (or technologists). For most, Science appears as a thing which intelligent people make a career out of, and in their spare time, use it to scare and demean others. Most people wish to have nothing with science unless it creates technologies which bring value in terms of entertainment, healthcare, comfort, lifestyle and convenience. That science is by itself a beautiful thing is never considered. And why would it be, when the way it is introduced into our lives is so ugly and distorted?

To some extent, intelligentsia in general, and scientists in particular, are also to blame for this predicament. Most of them carry the illusion that it's their tremendous intelligence which makes them what they are. However, if you look closely, scientists use pretty much the same set of skills which others use to accomplish their tasks. Intelligence is just one of the many properties of a scientist. And I don't see why it should be assumed that pursuing science requires any more brains that anything else? Similarly, the joys of pursuing science are very similar to that of pursuing any other activity. The elitism associated with science is also its greatest undoing.

TV is a potent medium which brings in front of us a wide choice personalities and lives which we and our children could treat as our role models. With the state of affairs as described above, TV channels find it unnecessary and uneconomical to give much of their time to talking about intellectuals, particularly scientists. Probably Discovery and Nat Geo do give some coverage. But I am not sure how close things there are to the spirit of science, with the element of sensationalism they induce. The effect of this on who our children will idolise, and in turn will want to be like, is disastrous I think. In general, mass media, being in the hands of people who are away from science, give a very skewed picture about the population crowding the world, and important things happening around. The people whose images are flashed are mostly movie-stars, sports-stars and politicians. Models. To some extent businessmen and artists. And these days, reality show starlets. But hardly ever intellectuals like scientists, engineers, doctors and authors get any coverage. Similarly, people are always perfectly up-to-date about the movies being released, the wars and protests (sans any indept understanding of the real issue behind them), what's the latest cream in the market which will help keep your skin glowing, how the dance item the starlet presented brought tears to the judge's eyes. Who cares about what interesting ideas researchers are dabbling with, what new secrets about the way the universe works they are trying to unravel, what beautiful thoughts an author is playing with to write his new novel, and what he is trying to say through his stories?

I feel our kids would have got a much more balanced picture of what all could be done with all the time available in a lifetime had there been less fear of science in the current generation; had people looked at it as another way of having fun and expressing oneself like various art forms and sports. In general, I wish we had known how to dissociated the notion of being intelligent with science and intellect. I wish we had identified science for what it is: being curious, asking questions and seeking their answers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Agnostic's Faith

Meaningfulness of life rests upon not our rationalities, but on some fundamental faith. I am firm that you need faith to find this life worth living.

I too have a faith. My faith is: I am good person.

People who love me know what I mean. People who hate me may think of it as the resounding substantiation of the hunch they have that I am probably an egotistic bastard. I think they are all right. Life's all about myself.

I believe that it's possible to approach a point where this fact is beyond doubt: for others (probably easier to achieve), and for myself (most difficult). Like all other faiths, my faith can't be proved or disproved. Like other un-enlightened creatures of different faiths, I too often waver on my faith, commit sacrileges, and then get back. Like other faith-fuls, what I never do is question my faith. Because, I don't find a way otherwise which would let me live with zeal and energy, and not get reduced to a passive vegetable waiting to be decayed or devoured. Believing in the beauty of life appears to me the only way of making life beautiful. Life may be an accident. But, whether it's going to be a beautiful accident or an ugly one is a choice. And this choice rests on one's faith, because rational thoughts can't resolve this issue.

My faith has another corollary: Everyone is a good person.

I feel, the urge to live is inseparably tied with the urge to be good. Because, being good is the only way you support the idea of life being a beautiful thing. Doing something ugly is an act of sacrilege to the faith of a beautiful life. It's hard to believe that murderers, rapists, corrupt people, ... they are all creatures of the same faith. But, I firmly believe, they too are creatures of the same faith. They too are seeking to make life beautiful. Just that their notion of beauty is in terrible conflict with their environment. Conflict and disharmony is the measure of ugliness.

Yes, life's all about myself. But the I exists in the context of a universe. Discord with the context affects the harmony within. Hence, the state in which the state of perfect goodness reveals itself in a stable glow only happens when the being is in perfect harmony along with the entire universe. This happens only if there's harmony everywhere. This happens when the barriers between the system and environment break down. This happens when the I consumes the universe, or the universe consumes the I. Whichever way. Shouldn't matter.

Probably, I sound similar to advaitists. May be. I don't give my faith any name for the moment.

Related posts:
The Spiritual Way of Life

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Biggest Achievement

Someone was being interviewed. He was asked about his biggest achievement.

I too wondered what was mine. I scanned in my mind through my many experiences. Many of the things I toil hard for: professional achievements, family achievements, social achievements, artistic achievements. In them, I am never completely satisfied; never fully happy. In fact, I walk around with a depressing feeling that I have never quite done so well in any of them. I just manage.

Cold sweat broke when I wondered what, if not these, have ever made me feel really happy, really proud. Have I lived my life so far in the empty mirage of becoming an achiever?

Then, it occurred to me. There have been moments when I have felt really happy. Really proud. That's when a childhood friend met me somewhere, and after a while of chatting, said: 'Sujit, you are still just the way you were in school! यार! तू तो बिलकुल नहीं बदला!'

Monday, December 05, 2011

Practising Presence

We are all continually wondering all the time what we should do and what we shouldn't. At a very superficial level, we may seem to apply so many different criteria to decide the question. Physical, social, spiritual, egoistic, and so on. But, at a more fundamental level, we always strive to do something that yields more value.

The question of deciding the value of something is fundamental.
Here's one thought that more and more frequently appears to me as very sensible:
  • If a moment is spent in conscious joy, the moment goes in our account of valuable moments.
  • If a moment lacks either of the two elements -- consciousness and joy -- it's a moment lost.
  • And then the value of life (or length of valuable life) could be measured in terms of the accumulation of valuable moments.
 (see figure below)
Also, for reference, we use the following definitions of both the above terms:
  • Consciousness: When you are mindful of the current experience
  • Joy: When you are enjoying the current experience. A significant part of you wishes the experience to continue for the moment.


 The above may seem like a naive, simplistic criterion. The biggest disadvantage of the above theory is that it can't be directly put to use to come up with an universally applicable list of value-adders and value-subtractors. We aren't looking for such a list. We are looking for some further insight than nothing.

Let's illustrate our point through a bunch of examples:
  • unconscious, joyless: Coma, death, mechanical toil
  • unconscious and joyful: intoxication
  • conscious and joyless: Boredom, toil, fighting
  • conscious and joyful: Meditation, eating, sex, sleep, sports, nature-view, artistic pursuits, praying, love, humour, living

Not all examples in the above list belong to their respective quadrant permanently. The list is to just bring home feelings of familiarity to understand what we mean by the 4 quadrants. For example, mechanical toil, often when we are doing chores or when a mechanic operates a machine, we tend to loose ourselves in an absent minded way. The mind isn't necessarily thinking anything at all at that time, leave alone thinking something nice. In fact, in such situation, our mind often goes dull and numb to avoid feeling the pain of doing something we don't like. Similarly, eating or sex needn't necessarily be done in a conscious and joyful way. I have met many people who aren't even aware of what they are eating while eating like glutton. For them, getting done with their meal and getting back to what they think is useful stuff is the prime goal of their life at that moment. Similarly, think of prostitutes for whom having sex is merely a part of their job. It's unlikely that they enjoy sex in all its glory. It's hard to say which of the 4 quadrants such an activity should be put into.

Duality between Joy and Consciousness

Why should it be so difficult to achieve joyful consciousness? We often talk about how ignorance is bliss. It can be seen easily that there’s often a direct trade-off between joy and consciousness. The more conscious we are, the larger ground of knowledge we have to deal with; and larger are the chances that something won’t be quite right in the whole thing.

What's here and now?

At this juncture, we need to revisit the definition of consciousness. What does it really mean to be conscious. We observe that consciousness is always partial. Being conscious of one thing results in our being oblivious of something else. Being conscious of the present causes us to forget about past and future.

One may try to tackle this issue by deciding to focus on the here and now. However, to define here and now is, I think, a very metaphysical difficulty. To say that here is where my body is, and now is the time read on my watch, would be an oversimplification. Often the body becomes a very insignificant element of our presence. Similarly the fact that we are situated in a particular point on the time axis could be an equally inconsequential fact. To focus on either in such a situation wouldn't necessarily be the wisest thing to do. For instance, a poet may be giving birth to a beautiful poem thinking about his childhood friends who are geographically separated. Where is he? When is he? Where should he focus his attention to practise presence?!

Spiritual Perspective

Consciousness and joy aren't mere boolean values. They aren't merely determined by their presence or absence at a moment. There's also an aspect of intensity associated. Spirituality deals in intensifying both these parameters. An idea is that a moment conceals in its bossom a possibility of infinite joy and infinite experiences. An enlightened soul would be able to explore all these infinite experiences. That is the state of perfect meditation (समाधि, samadhi). An individual experiencing a moment in all its infiniteness has conquered death in a sense.

An important interpretation of the state of samadhi is the dissolution of the duality between consciousness and joy. In the spiritual state of being, penetrating consciousness is the source of intense joy, instead of being a deterent of the same.

The above idea is mystical. I would take it seriously, if not literally. The state of perfect meditation is probably only achievable in another world devoid of the non-idealness of a physical existence. But, I do believe that trying to approach it makes practical sense. Every finite bit achieved in the direction of infinite joy for infinite time has a non-zero value-add to this life.

I think I will not meet much opposition if I say that the prime goal of our life (apart from self-preservation) is stable state of joy and fulfilment. Worldly ways prompt us to take many circuitous routes to that goal, almost tangential to its direction. On the other hand, I feel, every step taken directly in the direction of that happiness, through self-discovery and deeper understanding of what really makes us happy, is a transcendation from these orbital routes to happiness, closer and closer to the actual goal.

Is it possible to apply the concept of alertness and joy to wider questions of ethics? I think, it is. We'll think a bit about that shortly.