Responding with intelligence to the Corona virus challenge By Manoj Krishna, Founder, Human Enquiry Project Hi! My name is Manoj Krishna and in this blog from the Human Enquiry Project we are going to explore how the enquiring mind can respond with intelligence to the challenge posed by Coronavirus and the anxiety it causes. At the end I’m going to leave you with 6 tips to consider. We live in extra-ordinary times. The Covid-19 pandemic is sweeping the world. The actual number of people infected, and the death rate, remains unclear. Beyond social distancing, washing hands and taking simple precautions there is little we can do. Panic buying has hit supermarkets, the financial markets are in a tailspin, and many people’s livelihoods are threatened, particularly in travel, entertainment and hospitality. No one knows how the pandemic will end. There are scary projections by experts in terms of the number of people who will be infected and die as a result. How can an enquiring mind respond to this challenge with intelligence? Every challenge we face also presents us with an opportunity to understand ourselves and how our mind works. We can do this by observing our reactions and then exploring what lies behind them. This awakens in us an inner intelligence and this allows us to deal with the challenge we face much more effectively. Let us begin with the facts. In a world with 7.5 billion people, there are at the time of writing (16th of March, 2020), about 160,000 cases and 6400 deaths. 80% of people infected will have minor symptoms. Another 15% will feel really ill, and 5% will need hospitalisation. About 1% will die from the disease. There is no vaccine and no treatment at present. We don’t know how seriously we need to take this. People are frightened. The more we read, the more frightened we become. We start having dark thoughts about the future, about our livelihood, our own health and our loved ones. We worry about falling ill or even dying from the disease. We can become anxious. Perhaps it is worth exploring the nature of fear, and how we can respond to it with intelligence. Today it’s the corona virus, tomorrow it may be something else and what we learn can be useful in dealing with other fears. When we look at ourselves and how our mind deals with this problem, we realise that we struggle to live with uncertainty, with not knowing what will happen. That uncertainty creates a space for our imagination to fill, and we know the human mind usually looks at a situation and thinks of the worst possible outcome. How can we deal with this uncertainty? Perhaps acceptance is the key, hard as it may be. Can we live with not knowing what may happen and make our peace with that? There are so many questions that have no answers, like not knowing if we will get infected with the corona virus, if there is life on other planets, and so on. If we can accept uncertainty, and be comfortable with not knowing, we can avoid the anxieties caused by the many wild imaginings of our thinking. If I am worried about something, I keep churning it over in my thinking, like a dog with a bone. Each time I swirl it around, I think of a new angle to worry about. Forget coronavirus, what if I have a heart attack or stroke, will there be enough intensive care beds, for example? It can keep me up at night and the less sleep I get, the less able I am to deal with the challenges of the day. All my worries are in the future. If I actually look at my life right now, it may be okay. I can step outside. It's spring and the daffodils are out. Life is beautiful in the spring sunshine. Reminding myself of that seems to bring me back to the moment and the life that is for living, right now. There may of course be real challenges to deal with – I may have lost my job, or be caring for a loved one who is ill, or fallen ill myself. To face these challenges, I will need all my energy and intelligence. If I can be in the present, I can do that much more effectively. Problems generated by my fears on the other hand have no solution because they have not yet occurred, so my worries never go away and they wear me down. I see that fear makes me think and behave irrationally. I am not aware that I am doing so. If I am challenged, I will find many arguments to justify my behaviour. Before I know it, I am in a panic and stockpiling items from the supermarket, even though everyone is saying it is not necessary, and that leaves little for others in real need. When I look honestly at myself, I learn that fear makes me even more self-centred than normal, and I seem to lose all consideration and compassion for people outside my immediate circle. I would never admit that however, even to myself. Having understood all this about fear how can I respond to the current challenge with intelligence? The first step is to realise that I am worried and anxious. That may not always be obvious and it may just be expressed in my behaviour. I may want to talk about this all the time with others, or buy things I know I do not need, or keep surfing the internet churning over the news. I may notice that my body is tense, that I am on edge or my heartbeat is faster. The second step is to accept it and not label this fear as good or bad, or justify it as necessary. The crucial third step, which awakens an inner intelligence, is to ask what lies behind that feeling of anxiety, and what I can learn about myself from exploring it. Here are 6 ideas to consider from my own enquiry: #1 I write down all my fears and ask myself how likely they are to happen. I then divide them into 3 groups. The first group lists all my fears which are just a product of my imagination - that the world as I know it is going to end, we are going to run out of medicines and food, for example. In the second group are fears that are real but which I can do nothing about and just have to accept. I have to accept for example, that despite my best efforts I may get infected, and it is more than likely I will be fine if that happens. The third group are my fears that I can do something about, for example I may get stuck if I travel somewhere, so I don’t travel. Or that I may pick up a bug from the schools I am visiting, next week, so it seems sensible to cancel those engagements. #2 I realise that all my fears are in the future, and actually in the present moment I am fine, so I go for a walk in the spring sunshine. I write down all the things I have to be grateful for. It's a long list. It’s beautiful and a joy to be alive right now. #3 When I look back at my life I see that very few of my fears actually came to pass, and I think this one will also pass. Everything passes in the end. So much energy is wasted in worrying about things that never happen. #4 I realise that the constant thinking and reading and talking about the problem is just filling my mind with more fear and anxiety, so I stop. I get on with my life based on the best advice available and keep up with the news once a day. #5 I notice how my fear is making me behave irrationally. I am not critical of myself for that, but just observe that and ask myself, is that intelligent? That question usually leads me to changing course and doing the intelligent thing, whatever it may be. In this case I resist the temptation to stockpile items from the supermarket and have much more consideration for others. #6 This one may seem like a very strange idea initially but walk with me as we explore it, please: Can we meet stress and anxiety without thinking? I see that all my fears are based on thinking, and while that is essential, I realise that the constant thinking about things is generating anxiety and worry and leaving me worn out. On my walk when I look at the daffodils with complete attention, my fears temporarily dissolve, and I realise when I was paying complete attention to the daffodils, I wasn’t thinking. I discover that If I can meet my fears in the same way, with complete attention and without thinking, they dissolve too. When a fear arises in me, I pay attention to it, and don't start thinking about it. I then tune into my breathing, and let the fear continue to rise in me. I accept it completely, but don’t react to it at all. I just observe it. I don’t even name it as a fear. I just stay with it. I notice my mind goes quiet when I pay complete attention to anything, and if I can do that to my fear as it rises in me, it dissolves. Try it and see. Please don’t accept anything I say without checking for yourself if it is true. After all, we share the same mind, you and I, and the nature of fear is the same in all human beings, whether we are afraid of losing our jobs, falling ill with the corona virus, or life after death. Stay well, and look after yourself. This too will pass. You can find out more about the Human Enquiry Project at humanenquiry.org
The world of knowledge has changed so dramatically in the last 25 years. Now we can have all the knowledge we need at the click of a button. So much information that was once difficult to access, is available to everyone who has an internet connection. When I was growing, owning an encyclopaedia was the ultimate source of knowledge, and really expensive. Now it’s free. In fact, the problem is the opposite- too much information, and not knowing how to make sense of it. But our education system has not changed. It is still largely rooted in sharing and memorising information, and we are examined on this very narrow ability of the brain. Why is it still important to memorise all this information, when it’s all available at the click of a button? It is still designed to help us get a job, and prepare us for the companies that are looking for workers. We think that earning a living is the most important thing in life. There is one other way in which our education system has not changed. It is still focused on teaching us about the world around us, but not at all about ourselves. We know much more about mathematics and science than about loneliness, fear or the art of happy relationships. Why is that?
How do human beings respond when we get psychologically upset? We start by labelling the feeling as anger, stress, anxiety, depression or something similar. It’s like a fire in the brain. This can be caused by different events, and though the details may differ, they are broadly similar in all human beings. We may lose something we were attached to – a favourite pet, a person or a job. We may not get something we want- we may fail an exam, or not get a job, or fail to achieve a goal at work. We may be criticised for something we have done, or compare ourselves with others who have done better than us, Or feel our needs are not being met in a relationship, or feel lonely. All these hurt. There are many other reasons why we get stressed and upset. How do we respond? We immediately seek solutions in the world around us. We may start by blaming a person or our circumstances for how we are feeling. Feeling like a victim brings a subtle form of pleasure in itself, and also gives us a reason to not accept responsibility for how we are feeling. If the distress continues we may seek refuge in one of the familiar escapes which make us feel good in the short term. We may escape through pleasure: go shopping, go on holiday, start a new relationship – anything that distracts us from our pain. We may take to alcohol or drugs which again offers an escape from our pain, though that causes its own problems. Or we may try some of the well tested stress reducing techniques out there – Yoga, Mindfulness, Counselling, Tai-Chi, Meditation, or start some medication. All these provide some relief and make us feel better, so we continue. But they all have one thing in common – they are dealing with the symptoms of the internal disorder but not the root cause. The engine of disorder continues to generate our psychological pain, continues to create new fires which we have to try and put out. The only long term solution is to understand the engine of disorder. Most of us are not aware that it even exists, or how to explore and understand it. The book Understanding Me, Understanding You, which is part of the non-profit Human Enquiry Project offers a road-map to explore our inner spaces and the origins of our distress. This understanding results in a long term solution to these problems. If the origins of our anxiety are understood then we no longer have to try and not be anxious. If we understand that our hidden images of ourselves cause us to be hurt when criticised, we can let go of them. If we understand that our conditioning is pushing us to react to life in unhelpful patterns of behaviour, we can live with intelligence so it no longer operates from behind the screen of our awareness. If we see that our hidden psychological needs are behind much of our pain and disappointment in a relationship, we may try and understand where they come from. By just turning our gaze inwards, and understanding ourselves and the way our minds work, the engine of disorder can be switched off, and we can live with a sense of inner peace. The beauty of this approach is that all it needs is for us to understand ourselves deeply, and that empowers us to take responsibility for and solve our own problems. Take the first step, and find out for yourself.
Of all the skills we need to be happy and successful in life, getting on with others has to be among the most important. In order to get on with other people we need to understand them, and the best way to understand others is to understand ourselves, because as we will explore, beyond the screen of our awareness, the human mind functions in the same way in everyone. Physically we think we are unique because we look different but scientists say that 99.9% of our DNA is the same, so biologically we are very similar. Psychologically we feel we are even more unique. We may speak different languages, come from different cultures or countries, and have had different experiences. These are the contents of our memory. We identify ourselves with this content, which is unique, and this creates the sense of us being separate individuals. Behind the scenes however, despite our apparent differences, our minds function in the same way. Take the example of a couple who are arguing about what they should spend their money on. She may want a new phone and he may want to go on holiday. Each is attached to their own desire which creates conflict. If they explored that more deeply they would realise that the feeling of desire is the same in both of them. It is linked to an anticipation of pleasure and as soon as the desire is fulfilled the pleasure ends and they would feel empty again. If they understood that the nature of desire in both of them is the same, their conflict would end immediately. The other reason that their discussion can get quite heated is that each is attached to their view. They do not understand the mechanism behind this and so there is conflict. Without realising it we become attached to the content of our memory, because it becomes part of our identity. We then want to defend our opinions and beliefs and invent increasingly clever arguments why our view is correct. Any assertion of our identity brings us pleasure, because it strengthens the ‘me’. If both people understood the mechanism behind how our opinions are formed and how we get attached to them, the arguments would end. In this way if we explored any feeling we would realise that the mechanism behind it is the same in all of us. We are all shaped by our past experiences, we all want to be happy and we all get hurt. In the background, our minds function in similar ways - just as computers run the same operating system even though they have different contents stored in their memory. This ‘operating system’ is the same in all human beings. If we can understand this fact, it can be life changing and has been for me. We might feel less alone. Realising that our minds function in the same way as in others may allow us to accept ourselves as we are and that may bring a sense of peace. It may allow us to understand and accept others, though they may look different and have different opinions from us, and that may lead to compassion and harmony in our relationships. It would also allow human beings to come together and explore whether it is possible for us to change deeply, and live with less conflict in our lives, which would make the world a more peaceful place. We owe it to future generations to find out. This understanding is not complex, and is open to anyone who is willing to look within, accept what they see and question themselves. The book Understanding Me Understanding You is part of the non-profit Human Enquiry Project and enables everyone to understand themselves and how their minds work. You can find more details at humanenquiry.com, or on the Facebook page @humanenquiry. Please join us, to help make the world a better place.
All through our education we are taught that the reason we are being ‘educated’ is so that we can get a good job at the end of it. In fact, that is what the education system was designed for: to take care of children while their parents went to work, and to prepare children for the world of work. It has served industrial economies well and made them prosperous but this model had one major failing. Because of its focus on finding a job, we are educated to understand the world around us, but not ourselves or how our minds work. In the race to find a job, we have neglected to understand our inner spaces and this has resulted in the mental health crisis we currently face. 1 in 5 of of us will contemplate suicide at some point in our lives and 1 in 4 will experience a mental health problem every year. How does this impact the process of finding a job? Before we even get to the interview stage will have to cope with many letters of rejection, and the disappointment that follows. If we are lucky enough to have the right skills that are needed at the time we are looking for a job, we may find one easily. But there are many factors that are beyond our control, like the state of the economy or artificial intelligence and robots which are displacing many of the old jobs we may have trained for. Self-awareness will allow us to remain mentally stable throughout this process, through an understanding of the nature of desire, and our expectations. If we do get invited to a job interview most people will experience anxiety to varying degrees, based on their personality. Despite a realisation that it is bad for our general health we seem unable to do anything about it. It is linked to fear and the prospect of failure. We have many self-images that we need to project and protect, that we are ‘successful’ or ‘cool’ for example. We do not realise that having these images make us more prone to anxiety and the ache of disappointment. The anxiety we experience going into an interview reduces our performance and is plain for the interviewer to see. Nobody wants to hire an anxious person because they may worry how they will cope with the pressures of the job. Self-awareness helps us to understand the nature of anxiety and live a life where we can cope with life’s ups and downs with equanimity. Understanding ourselves and how our minds work helps us to understand others, because deep down our minds work in similar ways. This allows us to read people better and respond with intelligence to them. According to research 70-80% of all communication is non-verbal. Much of the impression we make in interviews is based on the non-verbal signals we give out. Understanding these in ourselves and others, through self-awareness, makes us nimble and better able to respond to others during the interview. If we can come across as relaxed, assured and sensitive to the needs of the interviewer we have a better chance of getting the job. If we don’t get the job, self-awareness would allow us to not be crushed by disappointment, remain mentally stable, learn from the mistakes we made and ask how we could do better next time. Understanding ourselves and how our minds work brings intelligence and wisdom and the benefits of that spread into our life in many ways, not just in finding a job. It is a journey of life-long learning which can result in successful relationships, a sense of inner peace and leave us better able to respond to life’s challenges. The book Understanding Me Understanding You is part of the non-profit Human Enquiry Project. It provides a road-map for everyone to undertake this journey of self-enquiry and understanding and reap its many benefits. Visit humanenquiry.com to browse the book, for videos, blogs, mind-maps and more. Join us to help make the world a better place.
Millions of people participate in competitive sports the world over. Sports psychology is a well-established field and a psychologist is part of the training squad in most professional teams. Does understanding oneself and how one’s mind works have anything to contribute? All sports men and women accept that being physically fit is important for their sport and they train rigorously to be the best they can be. Sometimes they don’t realise that mental health is equally important, and perhaps they don’t give as much attention to that, unless they develop a problem. Mental illness is very common in sports, but people usually hide it because that would make them look ‘weak’ in the eyes of their coaches and peers. It is much better to prevent problems from occurring by understanding the cause of them in the first place. Understanding ourselves and how our minds work brings wisdom, and that allows us to face the challenges that life and our sport will throw at us, and still remain mentally stable. For example understanding our self-images and the role they play in the hurt we feel when criticised may allow us to accept criticism with intelligence rather than just react with anger from the pain we feel. How we cope with failure is also important, because it is going to be part of every sports-person’s life. There is a natural anxiety that develops before sporting events and understanding that in ourselves would help people cope better with it. In some cases it can be paralysing and affect the performance on the day. Understanding that all anxiety is linked to thinking about the future and the consequences of failure, allows a person to meet it in a fresh way, neither suppressing it, nor escaping from it or judging it. If one can be with that feeling completely without even naming it as anxiety, it can dissolve. This does need a diligent study of the way our minds work. Our hidden beliefs can get in the way of our performance in any sport. If we don’t believe we are good enough that that will feed into our performance, because it may stop us pushing ourselves beyond a certain limit. If you believe you can do something, you are half way there. If we are involved in any sport we also have to question if we are just happy to play the sport, or do we want to be successful at it? What does success for us really mean? Why do we want to be successful? Usually because it boosts the ‘I’ and that brings us pleasure, which we love. Why are we so addicted to pleasure? Do we realise that the pursuit of success and pleasure can also lead to frustration, and mental health problems? Exploring these questions for oneself may allow us to find our own answers and have a healthy attitude to the sport we are involved in. It doesn’t at all mean that pleasure is ‘bad’, or that the pursuit of ‘success’ is unhealthy, but exploring and understanding the nature of pleasure, success, anxiety, fear and belief may allow us to approach our sport in an intelligent way, without experiencing the mental health challenges that are so common. This understanding would also contribute to our performance on the day. This understanding is not complex, and is open to anyone who is willing to look within, accept what they see and question themselves. The book Understanding Me Understanding You is part of the non-profit Human Enquiry Project and enables everyone to understand themselves and how their minds work. You can find more details at humanenquiry.com, or on the Facebook page @humanenquiry. Please join us, to help make the world a better place.
We all want to be happy, healthy, and live in peace with ourselves and others. If we look at the disorder in the world and in our own lives, we can see that is not at all easy. Why is that? The disorder in the world is a reflection of the disorder in the human mind, which we all share. We may think we are unique because we identify with the content of our memory, but our minds function in similar ways. We all have many psychological needs for example, which we are not aware of, and which we expect others to meet. We get frustrated when these needs are not met and can blame the other person or situation for the frustration and unease we feel. This is just one example of how our minds work in similar ways. We all experience the same emotions, want to be loved, feel secure, feel valued and important and want more and more pleasure. Many of these patterns of thinking that cause our sorrow, anxiety, depression and conflict are hidden from our awareness. We just assume they cannot be changed and it is just ‘human’. Preventing these problems from arising in the first place, by understanding the mind they come from, is so much easier and more important. Since all our problems begin in the human mind, the solutions must also begin there. We can do this by understanding ourselves and how our minds work, by simply observing our thoughts as they arise and then exploring what lies behind them. This understanding brings wisdom, which can transform our life. Because we understand ourselves clearly, we can understand others and this leads to more harmonious relationships. With the clarity that this understanding brings, our problems can dissolve. We find looking within and trying to understand ourselves difficult, because all through our education we are educated about the world around us, but not ourselves. We know much more about mathematics and science than loneliness, anxiety, or the art of happy relationships. This understanding brings a natural sense of stillness and peace, without effort. If we live with anxiety, we may say ‘I am going to try and not be anxious’. All these efforts do not work for a simple reason. The ‘I’ that is trying not be anxious, is part of the same thinking process that creates the anxiety in the first place. If we want to be healthy we need to look after the body and the mind. We know how to look after the body through exercise, eating well and Yoga. We do not know how to look after our mind because we do not understand it. Meditation as it is currently practised may bring some short term calm, but the underlying processes which cause our problems continue, because they are not understood. By exploring the reasons behind our unhappiness we may avoid them and discover the secret of happiness. By exploring the many ways our relationships break down, we could live in harmony with others. By understanding the causes of anxiety, conflict and sorrow, we may discover a sense of inner peace. This understanding is not complex, and is open to anyone who is willing to look within, accept what they see and question themselves. The book Understanding Me Understanding You is part of the non-profit Human Enquiry Project and enables everyone to understand themselves and how their minds work. You can find more details at humanenquiry.com, or on the Facebook page @humanenquiry. Please join us, to help make the world a better place.
Isn’t it astonishing that a few spoken words have such a power to hurt us? My name is Manoj Krishna and in this blog I’m going to explore the question of what happens when we are criticised, and how this understanding can help us respond with wisdom rather than react with anger. It is based on the book Understanding Me, Understanding You and part of the non-profit The Human Enquiry Project. We have all been criticised and experienced the sudden pain that arises deep within us. We have no control over it. We react to this pain by getting angry, or criticising the other person, or withdrawing our affection, or think of other ways of getting our own back, and so on. This is the same in all human beings. Our psychological sense of self, which is a creation of our thinking, experiences pain just like our physical body does, and can feel threatened when criticised. To understand what is going on, let me give you an example. If I am a surgeon and you criticise my abilities as a surgeon, I will feel really bad, but if you say I am a terrible dancer I might just laugh and agree with you. The difference is that I have an image or opinion of myself as a good surgeon, but not as a good dancer. All our images are part of our identity, and when they are challenged, we feel hurt. We are not aware of the many images of ourselves that we have accumulated or how they got there. The more images we have, the more the risk of getting hurt. Sometimes our life experiences can make us hyper-sensitive, and we can feel threatened even when no criticism was meant. Understanding the mechanism behind the hurt we feel when criticised may allow us to respond with intelligence. All criticism offers us an opportunity to learn about ourselves, even though it’s just another person’s opinion. We may pause, and ask if there is any truth in what is being said, and say sorry or change. If we were smart, we could go further and actively welcome feedback from the people in our lives, to avoid making mistakes we may not be aware of and to keep our relationships healthy. We may explore our various images of ourselves and ask how we acquired them, and that understanding may allow us to let most of them go. The ability to accept criticism with wisdom and grace is an important life skill we would all benefit from learning.
My name is Manoj Krishna. This is the first of 3 blogs exploring the subject of criticism, and based on book I’ve written Understanding Me, Understanding You, which is part of the non-profit Human Enquiry Project. In this blog I want to explore what happens when we are critical of other people. Let me start with an example. If you come across someone smoking, you are much more likely to be critical of them if you are a non-smoker, than if you smoke yourself. Why is that? Perhaps it is because our mind compares everything it sees and hears with what it already knows. If we encounter something very different, like someone with a different opinion, or doing something we wouldn’t, it creates a disturbance, along with a sense of irritation or even anger. This is because we are attached to our own point of view without realising it, and anything different feels wrong. We respond to this disturbance by being critical of the other person. Being critical is another way of saying I am right and you are wrong, and that strengthens our sense of self which brings a burst of pleasure. These 2 mechanisms are automatic and work in the background, behind the screen of our awareness. This is why being critical of others can become an unconscious habit. Unfortunately, this can result in conflict, because no one likes being criticised, especially if our irritation or anger is evident in our tone. If we do it repeatedly it can damage a person’s self-esteem. It can also diminish us, because we become closed to different ways of seeing and doing things. Criticism is neither good nor bad, and sometimes entirely necessary. If we can however understand the mechanism behind it, we can respond with intelligence rather than in an automatic way. We may still say something critical, but in a way that does not convey our irritation or anger and trigger a defensive response. We may also just pause, and ask if we need to say anything at all, and accept other points of view as being equally valid.
Hi my name is Manoj Krishna and in this blog I want to explore the question of ‘Why we are critical of ourselves’. Its based on the book Understanding me, Understanding You, which is part of the non-profit Human Enquiry Project. Some degree of self-criticism is healthy, but for many people it can be a cause of deep unhappiness and low self-esteem. Sometimes it can manifest as an eating disorder, or as chronic anxiety. It makes us more sensitive to criticism from others as well as making us more critical of other people. Our pain demands our attention so we can become self-absorbed, and lose our sensitivity to the people in our lives. It can also distort our ability to think clearly and become a habit which we can’t seem to change. So what is behind this feeling? At its core is the difference between who we are, and who we would like to be, which we can call our images of ourselves. We are this and want to be that, which we think will make us happy. The difference between our images and our reality is what causes our pain. We are over-weight and want to be thin, or thin and want to look more muscular, or be more loved, or more important, or be better at something, and so on. This process goes on automatically and we are blind to it. We do not realise that we have accumulated all these images from our environment, and this has happened without our consent. For example, we may not see the link between reading a fashion magazine and thinking we need to lose weight. So what can we do? We could start by observing our images and the hidden way they act in our lives. We may then realise that our problem lies not in who we are but in our images of who we want to be, and just let them go. This understanding would allow us to just accept ourselves, which would bring so much peace to our lives.