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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