Tuesday, May 29, 2018

3 expressions of clarity


Last week I wrote about my favourite mindfulness principle: clarity is action. In this article, I would like to present 3 things I experienced which, in all likelihood, are the expressions of growing clarity. I am sure there are many more things than just three because clarity pervades everything in our life. However, let me start with these three.

1.      Universal empathy: Every day we encounter people whose behaviour appears crazy to us. These folks could be living with us or they could be random people we come across on the street or these could be people we read about in the newspapers. Some of these behaviours have the power to upset us. Why can’t she just listen to me? Why did he have to cut me on the road? How could this mining baron be a leader of this political party? How can they perform such a heinous act? With clear perception, we begin to see automaticity of thinking and actions. It becomes clear that this seemingly crazy behaviour is almost like a program working – mechanical stuff with little intelligence. Then the anger, frustration doesn’t arise. It becomes obvious that their behaviour is an expression of necessity. It couldn’t be otherwise. This is an empathic understanding extended universally to everybody.

2.      Ease of saying “No”: Many times we engage in projects without being clear why we are doing it. Then we end up putting half-hearted effort. With clarity, saying “No” becomes easy. This could be a response to an invite to a meeting or a request for a proposal or even business partnership proposal. Money is one of the major considerations in these decisions. When there is clarity about how much money I really need, then it is easy to say “no” to projects just to make more money. Another reason for saying “yes” to a request is to keep one’s image, perhaps as a friend, intact. “What will he say if I don’t join?” we think. Once this image maintenance business is clearly seen, decisions become easier. Lack of clarity can also create confusing notions of what it means to help someone especially poor. Sometimes underneath the urge to help may reside a desire to look socially responsible. Once the selfish fa├žade is seen for what it is, that clarity acts with ease.

3.      Comfort with “what is”: Most of the moments in an average day are ordinary. They may involve commuting, brushing, reading a newspaper, watering plants, eating, small chit-chat, cooking, doing dishes, reading/writing emails etc. If we carry a deep desire to reach somewhere financially, career-wise, spiritually, then many of these moments may be categorized as “waste of time”. They seem to be just delaying us in reaching the ultimate goal. That creates a nagging feeling of “I would rather be doing something else”. This results in a perpetual unfriendly relationship with “what is”. Once the process of becoming is clearly seen for what it is, then that clarity makes us comfortable with “what is”.

Image source: clipart.com

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Clarity is action: My favorite mindfulness principle

"What should I do now?" is a question that pops up every now and then as we navigate this complex world. Many times we find ourselves in tricky situations with respect to relationships, parenting, career choices, investment decisions etc. In this article, I would like to explore one of my favorite principles on mindfulness “Clarity is action” which might shed some light on this dilemma. It is counterintuitive and quite different from what we experience every day. Let’s begin with a visual example.

Imagine you are walking through the woods where the path is paved with dried leaves. And suddenly you sense slight movement a few steps ahead of you. Most likely, you are going to stop walking and watch the path in front more carefully. To get an idea, please check the image by enlarging it and try to spot a snake. In case you spot a snake while walking, you are likely to alter your path. Even if you are a herpetologist who studies snakes, you might slow down and trade your path slowly in order to study the snake. When you don’t even hear any rustle, however, you would continue to walk the same way.

The clarity about the presence of a snake in your path instantaneously results in a different action. This is what the principle “clarity is action” is trying to point at. When the meaning associated with the current situation changes, the new meaning expresses itself in a different action. In this walk-in-the-wood example, the new action may mean stopping to walk and looking around for something fishy. The action may involve new movements inside the body e.g. increasing the heartbeat, secretion of some hormones etc.

Now, let’s look at what the hypothesis is not saying. One, it doesn’t say, “Clarity follows action”. i.e. it doesn’t say that a certain action leads to clarity. For example, it says that in the image of the woods above, if you don’t spot the snake at first, there is no specific action which can guarantee you see the snake. Of course, certain annotations in the picture may help one see the snake. But that is not guaranteed. That is true of all the optical illusions. A shift of perception happens, you can’t make it happen. Second, it doesn’t say, “Action follows clarity” i.e. It doesn’t say that first, you should have clarity and then you should ask a question, “What do I do next?” Once there is clarity, action has already begun.

Now, let’s extend the snake example to the no-snake situation. Let’s say we spot a couple of snakes on our way and now we are paranoid about seeing a snake every now and then. In fact, we might start seeing a snake where there is no snake. But if we are constantly thinking, “What if there is a snake here?” Then that would make the walk very difficult. It might paralyze us. The alertness while walking is useful but the panic that every small sound creates is dysfunctional.

Well, whenever we worry about a situation, say about faring poorly in an exam, then our situation could be similar to the no-snake paranoia situation. The worry is ultimately associated with the damage to the self-image in case of a poor performance – what will my parents say? What will society say? etc. The imagined presence of a snake is similar to the impending damage to the self-image. Unless there is clarity about what this self-image really is, our action may continue to be dysfunctional.

Hence, mindfulness is a process of learning to see what is real and what is not. There is no formula for learning. Every “snake” that generates fear in our mind is an excellent opportunity to learn and see clearly. And once the self-image is seen clearly for what it really is, then nothing further is needed to be done. Because that clarity expresses itself through appropriate action. So one way to resolve the question "What should I do now?" is to go to the source of the anxiety which underlies the question and look for the "snake". 

Notes:
1.      Image source: Snake hiding in the jungle was sourced from huffingtonpost.com.au. The article attributes the photo to Twitter / @SSSNAKEYSCI / Jerry Davis.

2.      I encountered the phrase “clarity is action” in the book “Commentaries on living” by Jiddu Krishnamurti, volume 1, Chapter 71 titled “Clarity in action”. Another phrase similar to this phrase is “Meaning is being” used by David Bohm in the article “Meaning and information”. It is also explored by David Bohm's interview by Renee Weber titled "A change of meaning is a change of being".