Posts Tagged ‘perception’

Flexible Focus #57: Unlocking the Box of Perception

by William Reed on June 9, 2011

A recurring theme in the Mandala Chart is the use of frames for flexible focus. We have looked specifically at themes such as Finding Focus in the Frames, and Inside the Lines. One of the benefits of flexible focus is mental health and resilience.

We refer to a frame of reference, the belief system or perspective which frames our perception and values. Reframing is a core concept in psychology, both in the ability to reinterpret a problem as an opportunity, or the ability to listen to differing opinions with an open mind. It is one of the principles behind meditation and hypnosis, where silence and suggestion reframe the way we see and experience the world. Reframing is what moves our mind in art and in advertising.

Leonardo DaVinci frequently would draw the same object from at least 3 different perspectives. We should not be so quick to think that our current perspective is the only one. This folly is magnified when we try to impose our limited point of view on others, whether it is through education, propaganda, or persuasion.

Reframing is the shift in perception when our eyes play tricks on us, such as with optical illusions. It is the magic behind the magic eye and other stereograms, where 3D images are embedded inside a 2D image, sharply revealing themselves when you look at the picture with eyes slightly crossed or through special glasses.

All of this can be great fun. It is also used by some optometrists as a means of exercising lazy eyes, reducing eye strain. The importance and effectiveness of exercising your eyes is supported by the Bates Method and other approaches to improving vision. There are even yoga exercises for the eyes.

Making the Mental Leap

Scientists, artists, and inventors develop the ability to change perspective in visualizing solutions and solving problems. In business and training, creativity is encouraged through games that help the group achieve a new perspective. A great compendium of such games can be found in Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo.

What the Mandala Chart can add to this potent brew is the ability to be both creative and orderly in the frames. We have seen in the article on Assessing Your Situation with a Mandala SWOT Analysis how it can add new dimensions going beyond the 2×2 matrix.

Here is an additional way that you can use the Mandala Chart to multiply your mental powers.

Start with a 3×3 Mandala Chart, fill in the surrounding frames, and leave the central frame empty. This is used to capture insights you gain by cross-matching the ideas in the 8 surrounding frames. You could also write out your ideas on 8 notecards and arrange them in a box formation, leaving the central area free. Label your ideas A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, in the manner of the Mandala Chart, but instead of viewing them in a static arrangement, see what else you can discover when you combine them in creative ways.

You can look at rows, columns, or opposites on any axis. You can move cards to new positions and get a new perspective. Substitute new ideas for a potentially limitless range of perspectives, but always within the 3×3 framework. It is the blend of spontaneity and discipline which sparks your creativity. Create a new card for any hybrid idea that comes from mixing and matching elements in the square, but instead of putting the new idea in the middle, set it aside to leave the central frame open for additional offspring of your ideas.

Try to create at least 8 new ideas from this mental cross-pollination, and you will get a sense of the power of the process. Just as in nature, some matches are better than others. Not all combinations work, at least until you are able to make the mental leap and find a new perspective.

Remember that each idea looks different in the light of another idea. Extend this to the art of creative conversation and collaboration, and you truly have a magic key to unlock the box and discover the infinite idea treasures within.

Flexible Focus #43: 8 Levels of Consciousness

by William Reed on March 3, 2011

As central as the number 8 is to the Mandala Chart and the original Buddhist framework of Wisdom which it is based on, it is not surprising then to find that in this framework there are 8 levels of consciousness.

The first five are quite familiar. We call them the five senses: Visual, Auditory, Olfactory, Taste, and Touch, which are how we perceive the world, through our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and touch. The sixth is Ideation, our conscious thought, referred to in Buddhist thought as the Monkey Mind, because it is typically unsettled and constantly chattering. The first six levels of consciousness then make up the conscious mind, the part that we are mostly aware of.

What gets interesting is when you delve into the subconscious mind, which has two layers; the Mana (Obscuration/Shadow) consciousness, which we refer to as the Ego, and the Seed (Storehouse) consciousness at the core. This can be visualized in concentric circles, as shown in the illustration. These terms were made familiar in Western psychology through Sigmund Freud who studied the seventh level, the Ego; and Carl Jung who studied the eighth level, the Unconscious.

In fact, Jung in particular was heavily influenced by Asian thought on the eight levels of consciousness, which actually date back 1500 years to a 4th-century Indian Buddhist Scholar Monk named Vasubandhu, and the teachings of Yogacara. This is a complex body of thought, with many permutations and interpretations in India, Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan. For the sake of simplicity, we will focus on how this structure of 8 levels of consciousness affects our awareness, the way we see the world, and how we can make practical use of it with the Mandala Chart.

What you see is NOT what you get

Have you ever been startled by something that turned out to be something else? Perhaps what you thought was a snake turned out to be a length or coiled rope; or maybe you put salt in your coffee instead of sugar by mistake. We are taken in by our assumptions and mis-perceptions more often than we would like to admit.

Our tendency to misperceive, or even to miss altogether, that which is in front of our face is the subject of a fascinating book called The Invisible Gorilla, by Christoper Chabris and Daniel Simons. Their now renowned gorilla experiment can be seen on video, in which a group of students pass a basketball many times among themselves, and you are asked to count the number of times the students in white T-shirts pass the ball in one minute. The students are moving around, and half of them are dressed in black T-shirts, and if you pay attention you just might get the answer right. However, about half of the people who watch this video completely miss the fact that a person dressed in a gorilla suit walks into the center of the moving students, beats his chest, and then walks off the scene on the other side. Once you know about the gorilla you can’t miss it, but half of the time even very observant people completely miss it when they first watch the video.

The authors argue that this is quite a common phenomenon, that we are taken in by illusions of awareness all of the time in our perceptions, memories, and assumptions. This can cause us all kinds of trouble. Think about accidents caused by inattentive drivers in traffic, miscarriages of justice due to witnesses with selective memories, and aggravations caused by people who think they know when in fact they don’t. At the very least, this book makes you more humble about what you thought you knew about your world.

While this phenomenon is a fairly recent discovery in Western psychology, it has been core to Buddhist thinking for 15 centuries. One of the tenets that comes from this is the idea that the world we know is actually an illusory world, the Maya or veil of illusion of Hindu philosophy, and the Yuishiki (only mind) of Buddhist thought. In this sense, the snake turning out to be a rope, and the invisible gorilla in our midst are not just misperceptions, but profound metaphors for how we see the world.

Accessing the Unconscious

While Buddhist philosophy, depending on which culture, era, and school you consult, delineates a complex set of mindsets, deities, and layers of consciousness, there are several ways in which you can approach this subject. There is enough history and philosophy behind it to have kept scholars busy for the past 15 centuries. Students of Yogacara may approach it as a meditation or way of life, in an effort to deepen their consciousness or achieve some level of enlightenment.

Or you can study the psychology of consciousness, in an effort to better understand yourself and have a higher quality of life. This is the approach that we take with the Mandala Chart. Once you are aware that your perceptions are actually filtered by your preconceptions, and that the world is often not as it seems, then you can begin to explore what are the causes of our ignorance. According to Buddhist as well as Western philosophy, the trouble begins in the seventh layer, that of the Ego, the seat of selfish desires.

We have all met the EGOTIST, who falls for the ultimate illusion that they are the center of the universe. Perhaps at times we have been one. Shakespeare described him in Hamlet, as suffering in a state of madness.

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” – Hamlet

The philosopher Blaise Pascal described God and the universe as a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. This is the ultimate in flexible focus, and in the meaning of the word Mandala, which is Sanskrit for Universe. The Mandala Chart then, can help us through flexible focus to overcome the madness of the Ego-Centric view, by restoring in some measure the flexible focus which is a more accurate perception of the Universe.

However, the eighth level of SEED Consciousness, which some define as basal consciousness, causal consciousness, or universal consciousness, is hidden from us or at least filtered by the seventh level or veil of Mana Obscurity, the Shadow, the Ego.

The Storehouse contains the SEEDs which we plant, and gives them back to us in kind. Whatever grows from this Storehouse, whether a garden or a jungle, the Ego takes for granted and acts upon accordingly, thereby filtering our perceptions of what we see and what we do not see. It determines how we experience and respond to the world, our karma, the cycle of cause and effect, our work, our destiny, whether we experience suffering or experience bliss.

As a Man Thinketh

James Allen (1864~1912), through his book As a Man Thinketh, wrote the seminal work of the self-improvement movement, and a key influence on Norman Vincent Peale, Earl Nightingale, Denis Waitley and Tony Robbins, and others. The central premise of this short volume is that our thoughts create our world. Allen compares our subconscious mind to a garden, which bears fruit according to the seeds which are planted and cultivated. He was most certainly familiar with Indian philosophy and Buddhism, as evident from his writings, and from contemporary accounts of the friends of James Allen.

The lesson we can draw from it, and the practical application with the Mandala Chart, is to cultivate a flexible focus and select positive and harmonious seeds to plant in our unconscious. You manifest and feed what you focus on, so given the choice, why not focus on abundance in each of the eight fields of life?

We know that the Ego can be intransigent, stubborn, insistent on having its own way. How then can we free ourselves from this tyranny of our own making? The solution in Buddhist thought is that the Ego can be transformed from a tyrant into a humble servant through an attitude of gratitude, as we have seen in the article on the Principle of Gratitude.

The more you study the process, the more everything starts to fit. This is truly food for thought.

Get Out of the Forest, Onto the Hill

by Guy Ralfe on October 14, 2009

Tallest Tree in the forestHimanshu wrote on the blinding effects of Task Orientation earlier and it led me to think a little further regarding this on Projects. I have just been immersed into a project that has been running for a few months in a European office. Like everywhere in the world, it feels like they too are trying to achieve more with less resources and still expecting consistent satisfactory results.

Entering afresh in to the project mix and not having being part of the stories that the project team have been living in up to that point, I came on board with a different perspective on the project, entirely. However, it became apparent to me very quickly that the project situation was dire after only a few hours of orientation. The reasons for my assessment aren’t relevant to this article but what I found fascinating was how people were waking up every day and just kept trudging on. When I challenged the project decisions the response was mostly met with “I am glad you see that, I have tried to …<insert concern>… with no success/response/ownership” etc. While I assessed that the poor situation I saw in the project could be resolved – those in the project had resigned themselves to the situation and saw no opportunity to change the course.

I don’t want to appear critical, but rather sympathetic to this situation as I know exactly what it is like to be in the trenches – to be battling along, working harder and harder every day just to hope you are going to power through this mountain, out the other side… only to be met by another mountain and the disaster repeats itself.  I am sure this T-Shirt is sold out!

The paradox here is that from the outside there were issues, but none that couldn’t be addressed. For those deep in the project, that have traveled the project road over the last few months, there was just a mess around them and to them, it was  a case of survival. They did not see any opportunity to challenge how they got to where they were and continued living in the mess until they could get out the other side – OR what was probably thought but never spoken, that the project just dies and the mess goes away with it! The paradox is that we are not talking about two similar projects, these are two views of the exact same project.

It is only human to get into this situation and to try and power our way through. We have been brought up in a tradition that is deeply rooted in the virtue called “hard work” where we are taught that hard work and hard work alone is enough to be successful. This might have been true in the industrial revolution where productivity was a direct measure of the output of the power driven machines but today, with the advent and accessibility of computers, productivity is as much a measure of “knowledge” as it is of “hard work”.

What happens on projects is that we become attached to the strongest story at any time and we interpret that as a reality from which we build up perceived truths about what can and can’t be done. These truths build up on top of each other and become like walls that start to channel our thoughts into a narrow passage of possibilities (like blinkers on a horse) when in reality all the possibilities still exist (everything was a possibility as a new project team member).

This was once described to me like this:

“when you are in the forest it is impossible to see which tree is the tallest, but from the hill overlooking the forest it is easy to spot the tallest tree”.

In today’s knowledge age we need to manage ourselves to make sure we survey the landscape from the hill and not from within the forest – this is not just for projects but everything that we direct our energies towards. We have to constantly notice our “vantage point” and rigorously challenge the perceived truths we create for ourselves that limit our opportunities.

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I would like to acknowledge Steen Andersen who has had to take me out of the forest more than once, thanks – you can’t believe how clear it is from up here on the hill!