Monday, March 16, 2009

Thoughts and film

You probably know how cinema works. If you take reel of cinema and see, you will see a whole series of static pictures. Then, how do we see continuous sequences in cinema? Explanation is probably known to you as well. When those static pictures are shown on a screen at a high speed (using projector), brain tends to interpret them as a continuous sequence rather than standalone still images rolling one by one. You can even simulate slow motion by slowing down the speed of the projector. Same thing with electricity as well. What we call today alternating current goes up and down but at the rate of 60 cycles per second, it is too fast for eyes and brain to notice, adjust and see the difference. Else we would be seeing flickering all across.

Recently while reading one of Easwaran's books, a light bulb went up when Easwaran used this simple analogy to explain the thought process. Thoughts all occur one at a time but our mind is sped up so much so that they rush on our mind's screen like those still pictures being projected from a cinema projector. That angry feeling you get about someone, how does it start? Take a moment to dissect it. First thought, mind goes back 10 years, then second thought, kicked up by memory, comes up. That's when you remember the first part of the incident that is making you angry. That follows with few other memories and so on. All these are independent discrete thoughts are arising in your mind. They are coming at such a high speed that you start developing that anger emotion in you. Within minutes you are full of anger about that person. It does not stop there. Mind is on cruise control, it is going where it likes. You start thinking about all that you could have and should have done to pay him or her back right then and there. It probably takes good 15-20 minutes before you realize what a waste of time it has been to get angry about someone for something he or she did 10 years back. If you regain your composure in 15 minutes or so, congratulate yourself. Sometimes, people can carry such process over very long time. Thus ruining days and weeks at a time one such incident.

So, using the cinema reel analogy Easwaran beautifully explains if you slow down your thinking or the mind which is causing such rapid thinking, you will first start seeing thoughts for what they are. Individual and discrete. Once you start seeing them like that, you can edit the thoughts the way an expert cinema editor edits the movie. He cuts a scene here, add something else there and the result is a master piece. I am sure you have admired razor sharp editing in some movies. At the right time, right scene comes up. When a particular catchy beat of a song is heard, some major scene is shown. Can we do same thing with our thoughts too? Absolutely. First step is to take the reel and using the steady mind start editing the thoughts so that a beautiful masterpiece emerges. This is exactly happens when we have positive emotions. Positive emotions are nothing but a series of same rapid thoughts one after another. If we have that capability, why not use that to edit out negative thoughts?

All this can be done but only when mind slows down. Projector has to slow down to let our eyes see individual still images. Else, we will be seeing continuous sequences all the time.

Another good thing to remember is to think less. It is absolutely possible to think less or think less about things that we know are harmful. After you have made some conscious attempts to slow the mind down, you become aware of your thought process. First negative thought comes, you deliberately ponder over it. That pondering helps because instead letting that thought escape, you are putting it under scrutiny. Despite the scrutiny, that negative thought may still continue but its power has been considerably reduced. You keep on doing this exercise for a very long time and no doubt one day you will be able to think only when you need and think only what you need. That too with full focus and only on things you really need to think about. All other time your mind is free and calm. But, ever ready to engage in important thinking.

Meditation helps. Spiritual reading helps. Selfless work helps. Keeping fully occupied with family helps. Doing what you enjoy helps. All these help to ward off unwanted thoughts. Solitude helps a lot too. Being occupied all the time may help you ward of negative thoughts. But, the moment you have a minute of free time, untrained mind is back to its basics. However, if you allow yourself some solitude from time to time and challenge yourself to steer your thoughts in positive direction, you are exercising your mind to go against conditioning. That is going to pay off a lot.

Cheers to minding your own mind.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009


"When I am good, I am very good. But, when I am bad, I am even better."

Hard to get the meaning out of this right away. What can this possibly mean?

One thing that comes to my mind is about people who have our best interest in their hearts. When they are good to us, it feels good. But, when they are bad to us, if we set aside our preoccupation with feeling good all the time, we see that they are better when they are bad. Because they are acting out badly just out sheer frustration of not being able to see us delivering our best. Probably you have had this experience with your best teachers, good mentors etc. They sometimes snap at us. Scold us. Scowl at us. What not....It is easy to get hurt by such behaviors from people we have come to admire and consider as our friends and family. When such things happen, always examine the motives. Chances are, when the fog clears, you see that they still harbor best of best intentions for you and your well being. It is just that their best interests for your well being are coming out that way. They do not intend to hurt you anyway. They may be frustrated that you,despite being very talented, are not living up to your full potential. So, do not move away from them just like that. Try to dig a little deep why are they acting the way they are. Always give benefit of doubt to everyone including someone who you consider as your adversaries. Benefit of doubt is one benefit we should learn to shower lavishly on everyone. It is going to be paid back in multitudes when it comes to you. Like everyone else we feel that everyone should give us a benefit of doubt and listen to what we have to say. So, why should it be any different for other? What goes around, comes around. So does benefit of doubt you give to others.


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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Get best rates for your money

There are so many banks. They offer so many savings and certificates of deposit accounts with varying rates. How can you find the best deal? Won't it be great if somebody can announce your intention to open a new savings or certificate of deposit account and ask banks to bid for your money? Won't it be super cool if the banks are also FDIC insured so that you can invest without stress? How about if you can also access reviews from other customers? All cool things. OK, no good idea goes unexploited by smart people. As a result, we have MoneyAisle.

MoneyAisle is really cool. All you need to do is to go to their web site and provide some basic information like amount you want invest, duration of certificate deposit etc. and start the bidding process. The system talks to several banks and finds out the highest possible interest available for your amount for the period you specified. Then if you like, you can accept the non-obligatory bid and choose to open an account with the bank that won your bid or just move on. No commitment from you at any stage.

Before you open your account with any of the banks, please do check the rates offered by your own local bank. Since this is a new service not all banks and more importantly credit unions are not participating. For example, in my case, my credit union offered better rates than any bank that bid for my money.

In the era of failing banks, credit unions seem to be fairing better. I have mainly banked with a credit unions for last 10 years so. I had not-so-great experience with one of these large banks in the earlier days. No personal touch to their service. Callous attitude etc. So, I chose a credit union and been banking with them even though I have moved several times in last 10 years. Most of my accounts remain with a credit union in Boston area. With their excellent Internet portal, I have found no reason to bank elsewhere. I was not sure if they were offering best possible rates. Checking on Money Aisle kinda proved it. So, why bank elsewhere? Credit unions are also insured by something similar to FDIC. So, you money is safe up to $250,000.

Savings accounts and CDs are fairly safe investments. Safety also comes at the expense of investment returns. Highest possible rates for say 3 year CD are in like 3% APR which is less than annual inflation. So, your money is earning less than inflation. But, if you want the safety of your principle, bank deposits are better.

For long term investors, stock market is still a better place to invest. Agreed that definition of long term has definitely changed over years now. Earlier they said 5-10 years. Now with stocks close to their 12 year lows, probably horizon now is 20 plus years. But, that's ok. Ask yourself if you believe in the basics of capitalism. If you do, then act like a investor and stay put invested in a diversified portfolio of entire US market plus some exposure to international market. Chances are you will create enormous wealth for yourself and your next generation in next 30-40 years. If you want the safety of retaining your principle, then open certificates of deposit and sleep soundly that your $1000 remains as such although today's $1000 may be less than half after few years of 4% inflation.


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