I am a Hummingbird

Last Friday we attended a parents’ training program setup by Sahana’s awesome school. The talk was about Trauma Proofing your Kids by Carlee. It was based on a book by the same title written by Peter Levine. I learned a lot about myself and it kinda let me gain insight into my behaviour.

So, every one of us has something called “Stress Response”. It’s the default way we deal with stress in our lives. There is no right or wrong way in this, it’s just how we deal with stress. There are different archetypes of how we deal with stress. And as we did the exercise, I fell in a bucket named – “The Hummingbird”

humming bird

Here are the patterns of stress responses by Hummingbird,

  • Tracks a lot of information from different sources
  • Vigilantly notice energy/shifts in the environment
  • Engage intuition, read the situation and all people in it
  • Attend to lots of little details
  • Attention “leaves body”
  • Inability to stay present
  • Stop attending to bodily needs or fail to recognize exhaustion, hunger, or emotions
  • hyper-vigilance

That list was so on spot, I was shocked how well it organized everything along these archetypes.

So the basic baseline of my stress response is – my attention leaves my body. In other words, I get all mental – focus on past or future. Anywhere in space and time except here and now! That blew my mind. I know I am always up in my head, a lot of chatter going on but no much awareness of my body. But I didn’t realize that is how I respond to my life. And how I respond to my life has basically organized my life along those lines.

For example:

  • I can go on ignoring my hunger pangs for hours – for someone or something’s sake.
  • I love books – they are my gateway to escape into a different reality
  • I could never understand or appreciate art. I don’t know why, I mean I admire some cool art but for what reasons I don’t know.
  • It’s hard for me to take compliments. My critic is basically mowing me down when I think other people say that I am good/cool.
  • Self deprecation is my default mode of humor!
  • I have hard time learning things that involve me doing something with my hands or body. Like pottery or swimming
  • At the same time I am super good with software and learning languages – which I think are highly mental.

The list goes on and on but the most fascinating nugget I learned is – as the trainer said – When people drink alcohol, they tend to focus outside of body and since I focus outside of body for my stress response – I like people who drink or like to drink. That literally blew my mind.

Sangita thinks there is a way for me to bring the focus back to my body. She did a lot of Somatics work and she thinks I should do Drama Therapy. That mere thought scares the shit out of me. I mean to enact what I am feeling among a group of people – would be the toughest thing I would ever do. As usual, I am thinking……

Vivid Dreams

Ok this is weird but I think I realized a correlation recently. In the past few days – I am doing this news and feeds diet. Meaning, no reckless browsing on reddit, hufpost or facebook. It was hard first few days but I was getting more done! (I know, obvious right?) I wanted to keep that going and have been but something else has been happening. In the past 2 nights I have been having extremely detail and vivid dreams. It’s rare I see such a flurry of dreams so vivid and for so many days. When I woke up this morning I can remember a whole lineup of dreams and even though I slept for 7 hours my eyes were aching and didn’t want me to wake up.

I am not sure if these 2 things are related but may be all those neurons I am killing with aimless tech browsing are finally being utilized to provide entertainment during my sleep! I love it. sleeping-ganesha

Microfinance – Good, Bad and Ugly

Microfinance is a one of those ideas which has been around for a long time but people have shown a lot of interest in it only recently (trend link). Now a days most people understand what it is and usually have  lot of positive things to say about it. But like any other idea, it has those 3 sides – good, bad and ugly. I stumbled up on the last 2 only in the past few weeks. After reading Yunus‘s book – it was very inspiring to learn about Microfinance and how it is going to pull a lot of people out of poverty. I was a very firm believer in that. But I think the reality is far different than what we find in books.

Banker to the Poor

The other 2 books in context are – “A fistful of rice” by Vikram Akula and “Confessions of a Microfinance heretic” by Hugh Sinclair.

A Fistful of RiceConfessions of a Microfinance Heretic

Vikram Akula was a poster child of Microfinance – couple of years back, in 2007 when I learned about him – I was so inspired and I had dreams of going back to India and working for SKS Microfinance. I sent emails to SKS Microfinance about it but never heard back. The technology stack was all .NET so I couldn’t find a way to work for them. Later in 2008 I attended a talk by Vikram Akula at University of Chicago and was completely inspired. As I read his book – which showcases all the troubles he faced to start his firm – it stuck me how he was forgetting the basic tenets of Microfinance. He has been working in it for almost 10 years and was dreaming up to connect Microfinance with capitalistic market based profit making companies. His idea is cool on paper, but the implementation is wrong.

When you get to poor people who are way below the poverty line and you offer them these micro-loans – the core idea should be helping them. Just helping them. Not even thinking in terms of “Oh, I am here to rescue you out of your poverty-ness”. No. Just helping them and showcasing them certain best practices is what one can do. There is no way one person, one system can massively move people out of poverty. If you think a little deeper – the systems which we have in place are enablers of this poverty and poor people. Nothing within the system can really fix it. But if we go around trying to do so – it would be a failure.

Which is exactly what happened to Vikram Akula’s SKS Microfinance. Even though Yunus never liked linking Microfinance with for profit making companies – he couldn’t stop Akula. And in 2010 – SKS collapsed. When a lot of poor people who borrowed money and couldn’t pay back – started committing suicides – the AP Govt passed a law to ban all microfinance activity in the state, thereby bringing down SKS. When you bring in investors who are looking for returns there is going to be a pressure on the company to churn profits always. This in turn will put pressure on the micro lenders to perform better which is passed on to the poor people who are already struggling to survive.

Hugh Sinclair explains it much better in his book. He worked in various microfinance firms for about 10+ years and saw how the reality mismatches with the fantasy story that everyone is weaving around him. Poor people are struggling but they are also human. They have desires as well – the money they started to borrow – got used for one time entertainment values rather than use it as an investment. If you are poor and hungry, a entertainment is far more distracting than a entrepreneurial thought. They do want to get better but after their basic needs are met. So any money thrown at them will first go towards their basic needs and then to uplift yourself.  Maslow talked about this so long ago. Sinclair also talks about how big banks have gotten into microfinance which is a $70 billion market and trying to make hay day out of it. In all this Grameen Bank (not Grameen Foundation – checkout the comment by Hugh below!) is an exception. It also functions as a bank, because of some laws passed in Bangladesh and may be that is the way to go. A Microfinance company can become a bank after certain time or reaching targets and then start thinking of profits- rather the other way around where the big banks get in with sole motive of making profits on the back of struggling poor.

My next book I am planning to read is – Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid – which Akula says was his inspiration to try to make a profitable public company on top of idealistic mico lending company.

Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Some moments

There are some moments in my life – where I would be in between of something and God knows what happens – may be some neurons fire together – a specific memory flashes back. Today I was writing some code and a distinct memory of my dad on  a particular day lit up in my head. I was trying to subdue it but it wouldn’t go away. I accepted what was coming in and stopped what I was doing and reminisce about that day.

When I finished my high school, I appeared for every premier institute entrance test. My favorites were IISC (Indian Institute of Science) or ISI (Indian Statistical Institute)  but it was a long arduous selection process. Every institute had this written test which was hours long and it would be a one whole day spent on it. I did my best to prepare, but my dad would want to make sure I am taken care of well. So, he would drop me off at the place and say that he would pick me up.

But sometimes he would never leave. He would take time off from his work and just spend all day waiting for me to finish the test. I would know once I get back out by the look on his face. Tired but eager. I don’t know why he did that. At that time I used to ask him not to do that but he wouldn’t listen.

That particular image popped up in my head today and refused to leave till I paid attention to it. I don’t think I am being nostalgic but I feel that there is some meaning to it. Also, I wouldn’t lie that this particular memory was easy to handle – it moved and churned a lot of things in me. 

Addicted to New, Obsessed with More

That is how I would describe sometimes I feel. I mean, I can start to think about million things and I can blame it on all of them for this unsettling feeling. But in the end it all comes down to taking responsibility for my own feelings and my own issues. There is this constant nagging within which basically lures me into this trap of “Newness”. It’s like I am a *bee* which just goes from one flower to flower seeking more and more and something new. I am addicted to newness. This shows up very easily as to what I do when I read news. I jump from link to link not even giving my brain a full reading opportunity. It’s like Twitter has set a internal reading limit on my brain and I can’t read anything more than 2 sentences. Boredom has become more of a habitat than a situation. Boredom has become so easy to acquire.

Then the obsession with “Moreness”. I want more and more of stuff. It could be anything. As long as it tickles my 140 char taste buds I will take it. Boredom also plays a role in this. The natural pull has become to seek new and then get bored easily and then see more new. This vicious circle has literally has me in it’s grip (there you go, I am objectifying my problem and putting it outside of me).

This is crazy. I mean sometimes I feel like I think this situation is medical – like ADD. But I don’t think that’s correct. I wasn’t like this before. It’s just one of those weird stages I am in. There is only one way to fix this – becoming aware of it and cutting the habit off. It’s hard when you have Google reader and subscribed to 4000 blogs. It’s like falling in a bottomless pit.

In addition to becoming aware of it I also need to get back to my daily meditation. I know, with a baby arriving in the next 1 week – it might sound as an impossible task to do. But I think I will take this baby step first and try. Because the other option really sucks.

The 40 bits

It is said, scientifically that our brains are processing 4 billion bits of transactions per second. Out of these 4 billion we are consciously aware of only 40 bits at any time. Just 40 bits. The whole body working, the awareness of mind about it’s surroundings, everything is taken care without even us being aware about it.

It’s a very efficient design. Our mind gives us exact information we can process (if we mind gives us info to process – who is processing? That’s another blog post). But, as you can make a guess there is amazing amount of info that is being either discarded or filtered. And this is not always a good thing.

40 bits is our cognitive upper limit. 40 bits is metal awareness limitation. This in-place limitation affects our daily life. We tend to think that these 40 bits are “The Truth”. And over a period of time these Truth’s are turned into Beliefs and belief systems. All this happens even without our knowledge. These 40 bits are the thin veneer pulled tight over our eyes.

Just because we have a limitation, it doesn’t mean we can’t break it or over come it or at least use it smartly. Here is where the Creativity process comes into picture. There are 2 steps to over come this limitation.

  1. Becoming aware of it
  2. Replacing, reusing the 40 bits

1. Becoming aware of it: I have talked about this here, here and here. I don’t want to go into more details, but the gist of it is – you need to be aware of your own thoughts. The inner chatter that happens is where all the action lies. There are a bunch of ways to become aware of it.

  • Just being still
  • Being in the moment
  • Meditation
  • Being in Nature
  • Taking a stand whole day – Like “I will not judge anyone or anything all day today” and keep watching yourself over that stance.

Recently I have came across a great book which does this process but with Questions. It’s Byron Katie’s ‘The Work’. It’s a very simple 4 questions inquiry process which is tremendously powerful once you start to use it. I would highly recommend that to adopt a inquiry process if you don’t have time to meditate. Another thing you could do is to read ‘Bhagavad Gita’ every night. I know I sound so totally Hindu here. But, I am recommending Gita not from a standpoint of religion but from the point of view of Philosophy. It drums this whole thought system which, if used, is very powerful. I would recommend Jack Hawleys – Bhagavad Gita for Westerners (not much on mythology and a small book)

2. Replacing, reusing the 40 bits: Well this has been my day to day thing all my growing up years. I always thought that there exist some system out there by which we can be more creative. I have ready and used many many systems – but the whole idea behind it is – you need to stretch out your mind by opening yourself up with new information. In this age and day there is no dearth of information – but if you always seeking the same info- they you are always keeping the same info in that 40 bits you got.

So, 2 books come to mind. Any book by Edward De Bono – he might come out as dry and simple. But trust me try the tools. Another one is by author Dan Roam – He has a visual problem solving framework. His books are here and here. The advantage of using a visual model as compared to textual model is you can put those 40 bits to maximum use. Like if you draw a picture – you can refer to it probably using just 1 or 2 bits – like a pointer for all those computer guys.

I know it’s not easy being aware of our own 40 bits. Awareness is scary and processes are hard. But again it’s something you do on a long term learning basis. You can’t get this done faster. It doesn’t work that way.

Patterns of Dualism

We all live in a dualistic world. The Philosophy of Dualism has been proposed long time back in Indian Vedanta Philosophy. It’s called Dvaita. The concept is very simple, but hard to remember and use to our advantage. In simple terms it just states that – we perceive (actually our sensory perceptions) our reality in the form of ‘subject’ and ‘object’. This is the basic logic behind it. Now everything is built on top of it and it can get very complex that we become un-aware of it.

Below are some patterns I have consistently come across in my perception. These things are nothing new. We all know these. Just like we have ‘Design Patterns’ in Computer Science, we also can find patterns in dualism. Here are some:

1. Rise and Fall

This pattern just states that whatever goes up, will come down and vice versa. You can try to observe this around you. The stock market, population growth patterns, traffic etc. Any data you take, you would see this pattern embedded within it.

Rise and Fall
Rise and Fall

What is important to note is in this rise and fall, everything is advancing towards the future or moving forward.

2. Big and Small

This is very easy to see. In any scenario or situation – there is someone who is big or with power and there is someone who is small or powerless. And and in most of the cases, there is always a tussle going on between these two entities.

Big and Small
Big and Small

We see this every where in our society. The middle east conflict, the Sri Lankan Sinhalese & Tamil conflict, the minorities in India, US. This is prevalent everywhere. The division may be based on power, money, population etc – but the pattern is same. One group is Big and another Small. We are so obsessed with this pattern that we make folklore & mythological stories based on that. Example: David and Goliath, Kauravas and Pandavas.  We love to root for the underdog.

3. The Choice Paradox

This one is a little complicated. These are the mental locks or physical situations we get into where there is no way out. This is ambivalence that results after two equally opposite values try to pull us in either directions. This is most powerfully experienced at the person level as compared to the previous two which play out much more at the society or group level.

Examples: The things that make us happy can also make us sick. Chocolate. Some morally questionable activities may give us more joy. We have a common name for this pattern called Catch-22

choiceparadoxThese are few which I see around me. As I said, there are many more patterns and I am pretty sure you may see them or come across them. Let me know if you have any and I will add them here.