By Uma Garimella
Assuming that there is only your way of thinking or doing something is a sure way to unhappiness says the author
Ever wondered why we should always have north on top in a map? Aren’t north, south, east and west purely arbitrary choices we humans have made to have a frame of reference? Yes, and any other choice would have been equally ‘right’. But the downside (pun intended) of any frame of reference is that it puts us in only one frame. After a while, we start to believe that the frame is the reality. When I saw a ‘down under’ map with the north pole below and south pole on top it got me thinking. And then I saw a Pacific-centred map. By our standards it appears ‘distorted’, but it is only another new perspective after all. All map projections distort the surface of earth in some fashion because we are moving from a 3-D sphere to a 2-D map. With the traditional (Mercator) map Greenland and China look to be the same size but in reality, China is almost four times larger! So much for geography!
The idea for this article was brought about when I saw a ‘backward’ clock which a friend of mine (Bhyrav Prasad) had made in his spare time. Although digital clocks have rendered the concept of ‘clockwise’, almost obsolete – it was still a pleasant surprise to see an ‘anti-clockwise’ clock. I was reminded of the ‘down under’ map I had seen while in France in 1995! I was shocked at that time.
Interested I looked up the internet for products that offer a novel perspective. Google illumined many out-of-the-box – an example being an upside down house. Closer home, my son, Raman, tries to use his left hand (he is right handed) to become ambidextrous. I used to get annoyed when he was clumsy at the dining table, but he told me that the true sign (or one of them) of enlightenment is to be not biased to any side. That immediately shut me up because wasn’t I on the path?
Stephen Covey in his ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ gives an example of a ship mistaking a lighthouse for another ship and asking it to shift course. When the lighthouse reveals its identity, the captain has a shock of his life and decides to shift course. Covey talks about the paradigm shift that happens when suddenly you get to know the situation from another angle. He also gives an example of a father entering a train with his boisterous children who proceeded to create havoc much to everyone’s annoyance until the father reveals that the children had just lost their mother. What an astounding paradigm shift! To quote Covey, “While individuals may look at their own lives and interactions in terms of paradigms or maps emerging out of their experience and conditioning, these maps are not the territory. They are a ‘subjective reality’ only an attempt to describe the reality.” What an apt metaphor! We mistake the map for the reality, whereas it is only a representation of reality. And does anyone know the reality? Even Gary Zukav in ‘Dancing Wu Li Masters’ says that science (well, he is talking of quantum physics) is not independent of the observer. The basic definition of science being an ‘objective’ study of phenomenon, simply did not fit the observations. They discovered that the observer is very much part of the experiment – so what you see is because you are choosing to see it.
From the most profound to the mundane (as in ‘put yourself in the other person’s shoes’), wisdom tells us that we must always keep our mind open to seeing a situation in another light. Minds are like parachutes – they function best when open – I read this somewhere recently. How true! Dr Wayne Dyer also writes about giving up black and white thinking in his book, Your Erroneous Zones. Thinking that there is only your way of thinking or doing something is a sure way to unhappiness. I have noticed always to my amazement, at the end of any seminar or workshop, when I ask participants to tell me one or two things they have learnt – there are more things they say than I have set out to teach them. Sometimes I did not even know there was such a message in my session or that something I said was so important. The same seminar can mean different things to different people!
|The ‘down under’ map with south pole on top|
At lunch in office, someone referred to a girls’ college. Arun, one of my team members, said he had never seen it. We all laughed and told him that it was on his way to work! How could a young guy miss a girls’ college? He said he never took that road while coming but only while going, so he never saw this college, which was more conspicuous on the other side of the road. We pulled his leg that day but isn’t it what we experience many times? When we are accustomed to one approach, we sometimes even get lost coming from a different direction or a lane.
Another safe and sound way is to become good listeners. It is amazing how listening to another person with 100 per cent attention opens up new vistas. I can’t call myself a good listener but I am trying. By not thinking of what our response is going to be the moment the speaker gives us a chance to talk, we can just listen and understand the world from another person’s view.
Reading a different newspaper or a different genre of book, eating new items from the menu, taking opportunities to meet people from varied professions or watching a foreign film, and travelling to new lands can be paradigm-shifting experiences of varying degrees.
Instead of being jolted out of our personal view of the world around us by unpleasant situations, we can actually practise these techniques and perhaps be more enlightened, as my son told me.
Have you ever noticed that you wear your shoes or shirt or dress in a particular sequence? Become conscious of it and try to change the sequence – for example, wearing the right sleeve of your shirt first as opposed to your habit of left sleeve. On a personal level, you can actually start using your non-dominant hand – try initially light jobs and then go for tasks that need power.
On a more serious note, I work with an NGO and have come across many physically-challenged people. It is truly a humbling experience to see them perform routine tasks in a completely different way from my thinking. Paraplegics getting into a chair effortlessly, blind persons adept at computers and mobiles, deaf and dumb persons having a lively chat using sign language, polio-affected persons driving vehicles – there is really no end to this list. While every living being has a tremendous potential for adaptation (to circumstances and disability), all of us need to always keep the ‘other view’ in mind and not have a fixed map! Sometimes just looking at the world in ‘shirshasan’ (a yogic pose that requires you to stand on your head) may help.
Uma Garimella drives educational change through her Teacher’s Academy (www.inspiring-ers.com) and also works at Bodhtree Consulting. Contact: email@example.com
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