Stuck between Confirmation Bias and Cognitive Dissonance

Sometimes it feels like I am stuck between my confirmation bias and my crazy cognitive dissonance. As I spend some regular time meditating, I get into this mode of observing what my brain is cooking up and how my behavior is affected by it. I tend to seek (as many of us) – information, things, shiny stuff – that fit my mold and agrees with me very well. I can see (sometimes) clearly how I am biased towards certain ideas, thoughts, people, places and opportunities. As I become aware of it, and as I catch myself from digging a deeper pit of my own bias – I try to straighten up and fix it.

Since the bias is prevalent in various behaviors – I choose certain bias I can change. Like try to genuinely understand Trump voters or read fiction or think of how everything around me is made up of just atoms and there is no particular divine thing. It’s a very interesting thought experiment. But this lead me to some other problem – Cognitive Dissonance. Two or more opposing ideas floating in there and confusing the hell out of me and doubt my sanity and intelligence.

Confirmation Bias feels like that warm cozy leather chair by the fireplace – where all my thoughts are dotted and ideas are crossed. I get a fuzzy feeling that the whole world is complying to my requirements. Cognitive dissonance feels like sitting by the side of a putrid smelling rotten stuff! Throws me off and makes me imbalance.

Being the Libra I am – I don’t know how else to balance these two extremities in my life. I feel like I am trapped between these two.

My Dad, a big fish

Like most people I have my share of childhood “stuff” or trauma to blame it on my parents. I do however have come a long way to accept most of it as my very own karmic debt. Last month was my dad’s 9th year death anniversary. I have been thinking about him for quite some time and I think I have coherent enough thoughts now to put them on here.

Growing up me and my sisters watched my dad make a lot of proclamations. Huge and big ideas which at that time sounded like he was bragging. Some of it, he probably was but what I realize now – now that I am a parent and how I sub-consciously imitate my dad’s style to my daughter sometimes! he was actually a big fish in a small pond.

My dad saw some of the toughest situations in life. He was part of family of 8 siblings and my grand dad (whose name my dad gave me) was an extremely poor man who tried his hands at anything to keep his family going. Having not much of education, my dad literally ran away from his hometown at the age of 15 to make and build his own things. What he endured for the next 10 years is – all this magic stuff he was made of. I believe he endured a lot of pain. On streets and no food and doing some odd jobs. Through that process he developed a story. Basically an amazing response to his reality around him – a story he told himself to keep him alive and survive. He believed in some higher force guiding him and helping him and him doing amazing things while going through that period.

So, when he had kids – he would relay parts of that story to us and I never understood most of them. I know he believed that a strong will is a choice and can be built through practice. He also believed miracles would happen out of thin air and told us a lot of stories. Some of them may not be true through scientific lens but what I realized is that – that was “his” story. That story was hand painted colorful because the paleness of reality was too much to bear.

These thoughts reminded me of the movie Big Fish – whose story line kinda fits with what I had seen in my dad.

Now that I reflect back – I think he passed on a lot more than just the name to me. I believe in the same force guiding my life. Every moment. I am spiritually inclined in stuff which he showed me in my early life. I tend to read books about these amazing fakirs, babas and Gods – who my dad claimed to meet and has been blessed and transformed.

On a day like this – where the candles are lit around me and I can still smell that incense and all this peaceful ambiance around me – the one thing I miss most is – I wish he is here relating me one of those stories to me. Today, I would give anything to sit and listen to his stories without judgement. I miss you dad.


Perfection is a shackle

I struggle with perfection. It’s especially true when it comes to my work. I start to learn something new and then see how others are doing and then set myself up for achieving that stature and shackle myself with that perfect image of what I need to be and then I struggle. Every mis-step I take after that hurts and every lapse – I judge myself forcefully. It’s been going on in my life for a very long time. I have this perfect, pristine self-image which I have made myself a slave of. I struggle carrying that image in my head and shoulders and I crumble.

As I journaled today I realize that I need to step back and take a look at how I put myself in misery and how I can break out of it. As I started to write I realize that the only way I can do it is:

  1. Grateful – Be grateful of the opportunity provided. This would change my attitude and mindset.
  2. Make it small – break down the task at hand in smallest piece possible and work on it
  3. Failure is ok – I can fail and it’s going to be ok
  4. Trust – trust my intuition
  5. Expectation – expect great experience.

Fallacy of Self-Discipline

There is a voice in my head which dictates, identifies and categorizes every moment of my life what I am experiencing. It feels like it’s the ultimate self-discipline which is basically controlling my life. I seem to try to copy and perpetuate this pattern in other parts of my life. Like, learning something new, acquiring a new skill. I tell myself that the only way to do that is to be self-disciplined and follow it through. But over the years I have come to realize that this is an illusion. A perpetual carrot dangling in front of me. It’s never final, reached or done. This inner voice makes sure of it. Every time through self-discipline I reach a goalpost or milestone – I find it automatically advanced or moved – thereby creating a void in my self. And every time I resort to stronger regiments and strong promises I increase the size of this gaping hole.

The alternative to this has been suggested to live in the present moment. To accept that all the answers that I seek are in me (or us) and will find a way to me if I make myself present and listen. But my self-discipline seeking mind converts even this one into a self-discipline activity – like “I need to meditate more”, “I need to read up more of Eckhart Tolle” etc. This not only adds to my void but makes peace of mind elusive.

Accepting myself as is the greatest gift I can give to myself in this moment.

Content and Pattern

The conscious mind loves content and sub-conscious mind works on patterns. We love to keep engaged with stories and theories around us and that’s the part of Conscious brain. The sub-conscious however though excels at pattern recognition and most of the time is extracting patterns from the the content that is being fed through the conscious mind. Like anything else in our lives, we need a good balance of these two.

I feel like in this link happy world and facebook shares – we get bogged down by a lot of stories. A lot of them unnecessary. But we read them, we talk and chat about them. What it does however is it kinda creates this fog in conscious part of the brain. This further creates confusion to sub-conscious as it’s not able to extract concrete patterns out of it. This results in sub-conscious mind creating contradicting patterns. Which actually hurts us more than anything.

I believe checking out facebook (a lot) is like death by 1000 cuts. It’s slow but eventually the brain goes numb. I am not against FB in specific but in general how this social media sharing is used in day to day lives.

I feel what meditation does is basically stops the content to the conscious mind for the amount of time and thereby gives subconscious mind a opportunity to sort out stuff. And I think there are many other activities that we do – something deep like that happens. Like when we say the morning sun took my breath away. It’s doing more than that.


Emotional Reserve

I think we all have this thing called Emotional Reserve. The capacity to respond emotionally to a situation or to a person. I think it comes with an upper limit and a lower limit as well. In addition to that we also have 2 kinds of emotional reserve. One positive and one negative.

As we go about our lives, we build up and stock this emotional energy. We use positive to balance out the negative. The way to deal with negative emotional reserve is to find a way to let that out. We do it many ways – physical, mental etc. The ways we let the emotional charge could be – writing, talking to friends or family, just yelling it out in a shower, working on something or even sex. Unlike negative reserve which needs to be drained now and then, we need to do the exact opposite of it with positive reserve. Do some conscious acts – to build it. Follow a routine, play with a baby, be generous with words, acts – meditation and sitting in nature, being in the present.

The positive reserve can be used to balance out the negative reserve but it doesn’t work always. Otherwise we wouldn’t need anyone else in this world. This world exists as an exchange medium of these energies. At the end of day we are left with what we did with these both reserves.

All this sounds very, very obvious. Yep. This whole blog post is my way of letting go of some of my negative emotional energy.

The Astronomer in Me

When I was a kid, I don’t know when exactly but I wanted to become an Astronomer. I used to tell people and the inner me that when I grow up I will be an Astronomer. It made me immensely happy. That kid in me was just dreaming up things. I used to visit my grandparents’ place – a remote village where people slept at 7pm and skies were clear – I could see million stars in the sky and never have to think that it won’t be possible to touch them one day. I was a dreamer.

As I grew up I changed my life goals. I switched from Astronomer to a Number Theorist. I was obsessed with numbers and would dream up numbers. Then came a phase where I dreamed up of being Physicist. Like a serious one. I even dreamed up of becoming an Astrophysicist! Sigh.

Tonight was an emotional night. I met a lot of friends and couple of drinks later, as I laid back in a hammock to witness the night sky with my daughter as I started to tell her stories of Moon and Stars – I witnessed a bright sky (8PM) and one single star. The ambient light of Oakland has let only one star to glow in the sky. It was a sad state. It moved me. It looked like my lonesome dream of Astronomer stuck in space time. It was pretty sad.

I spent some time on feeling nostalgic about it and realized that dreamy Astronomer boy is still within me. I had a very rare glimpse of that boy who would spend hours just staring at sky and wondering how they lit up, far far away. I miss that dude. I miss that Astronomer kid. Long time back when we moved into our new place I was excited that we have a new place and ample space to finally have our own Telescope to look at sky – but then Sangita mentioned – that in this country having a Telescope is creepy that you use to look into your neighbors houses! Thanks Hollywood for killing millions of kids dreams!

It’s ok. I can still look at bare skies and transcend into that kid who still has that gleam of excitement about being made out of stardust. I love looking up night skies and having that feeling.

The Critic, The Rebel and The Witness

I think we all have these 3 personalities that always are taking charges of our minds, lives constantly. I notice it in me more and more. The bad thing about it is that – these 3 archetypes aren’t evenly distributed.

The Critic

Obviously the critic is kinda kicking everyone’s ass. You could notice it if you start to watch your self talk. Or when you are in front of a mirror. Or you watch people as you stand in a line at Starbucks. The Critic is always making opinions, giving negative feedback – about me, about my environment, about the people I interact with. It’s kinda how we navigate this world. It does has very good use though – judgement. The Critic can judge fast and it’s very useful in certain situations. But we let it dominate all other things and thats when it kinda ruins our lives.

The Rebel

We all know this person. Especially if you had rough teens. We all rebel in various ways. Usually – internally this rebellion is against that Critic and externally it’s directed towards parents, siblings,¬†colleagues and rest of the world. You may think there isn’t any rebel in you, but trust me there is. It might be subtler – like you love grunge or dub step or eat really spicy food. This rebel kinda helps us break through the threshold of your limits placed by the Critic. This guys lets you break through the glass ceiling that the Critic put in place. Without the rebel we can’t do a lot of things that we admire ourselves for.

The Witness

Then there is this witness – probably occupying like 0.01% of our being. The ironic thing about witness is, it doesn’t do anything. I mean literally like anything at all. It doesn’t prompt you to do any action, it doesn’t prompt you any thoughts either. It’s just witnessing, running the cosmic tape recorder and recording. Why is the Witness important? Remember what Archimedes said? “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the Earth“. This witness is the place for us to stand. The place where we can move things and the Earth (metaphorically). The witness is the place where we are nothing and yet notice everything. The witness is the position where you see who you actually are.

A lot of religions, new age societies have named this witness as God, Universe etc.. pick one you like but it’s a special one.

The trick is to make all these 3 psyches balance. It’s not easy. Our default mode is Critic and it’s probably going on by now how this blog post is BS (believe me mine is telling me the same too!). What I have noticed is that the only way to increase the Witness’ role is through contemplation, journaling and meditation. The rebel will automatically take care of itself.

Personally I am giving myself till this year end to add some of these practices more often to my life and make them active part so that I am in a better place with Witness and be able to live a meaningful life.

Pink Floyd & Alanis Morissette

Today listening to NPR program about music, dads, family, education-  triggered a lot of feelings from my past. I was sitting there in garage till the program finished. I am not in a great mood to write a lot about it as of now but I always thought 2 songs summarized it very well.

1. My childhood – can be summarized in Alanis’s song called Perfect


2. My education – can be summarized with Pink Floyd’s song called Another brick in the wall


All my years growing up, my dad always talked about how I need to find my purpose. The purpose of my life. He used to talk a lot about ‘maqsad’ == purpose. I liked it couple of times but hated it most of the time. I thought it was rhetorical. The teenager in me ignored it. When I started to work, I was happy with my life. Getting paid well and loving what I do and not to mention working with my best friends and getting drunk!

I thought I realized the purpose indirectly. But my dad didn’t see it that way. He kept talking to me about it. Now after all these years – it has me all stirred up. This thing has been on my mind since September and my visit to India last month has made me wonder am I really living the purpose of my life? I mean I am happy and content. I have the best family and friends. My work is cool and I love what I do. But there is something missing and I can’t really put my finger on it.

It’s very rare I come across people who really know what they want in life. I mean money, power etc are laudable goals but not really good enough to qualify as purposeful life. I have some friends who are leading purposeful life. They are on the path which is basically their life. And I have a lot of friends who are like me – happy, content in the moment but missing the overall purpose.

I have no idea what mine is. Dwelling heavily on philosophy and religion – gives me answer which basically says that the purpose of being born as a Human is to reach God. But I don’t know how to do that. I mean without uprooting the lifestyle I have now. Thinking in terms of work – I think of a lot of things that come close to being purpose but not good enough.

As I close my eyes to go to sleep every night, my dad’s words ring in my head. I can’t let it go. I need to figure this out and I don’t think there is an easy way other than just facing it. I really hope I find out soon, because this thing is killing me.