Awareness is life (Column: Spy’s Eye)
It is interesting that of all the professions it is a career in Intelligence that works for sublimating three important mandates that governed life. First of all, being well informed about the people of interest for you — in both the work area and the personal sphere — brings in success in any field. For national security, all information about the thinking, plans and movement of the leaders of a hostile country had to be accessed, collated and evaluated and in business also similar initiatives had to be taken for studying the rivals. In personal life too, one had to be aware of whatever was happening to one’s family, friends and supporters to appropriately respond to them. Life itself, it can be said, is all about interacting with other human beings and hence an awareness of human psyche, behaviour and emotions helps to wade through it successfully at the workplace or at home.
Second is the importance of mental faculties in steering a successful life. Perceptions, interpretations and evaluations of situations are all a function of the brain not the body and an awareness of the broad scheme of things nature had rolled out and the ‘big picture’ — of which all that is seen in front is a part — is important for reaching the right conclusions free of biases, personal preferences and wishful thinking. People are not able to distinguish what is long range from the immediate, a major problem from a minor irritant and in fact say the journey from the destination. In short, the quality of life is determined by one’s thinking and the thinking, in turn, is conditioned by the degree of awareness that one was able to command for viewing things from a larger perspective. Those who handle Intelligence are adept at distinguishing the essentials from non essentials — a vital trait that had a theoretical base in the Pareto’s law which laid down that “there are a significant few amongst the insignificant many”.
The third paradigm is the ability to see when to stop investing more energy and time in a particular pursuit and think of a course correction for moving ahead. Sometimes analysis becomes an end in itself and not the instrument of decision-making and action that it was meant to be. In Intelligence, actionable knowledge is always on the agenda and in life too this should be the motto for pushing ahead. Intelligence, by definition, is ‘information for action’ and a takeaway from this principle is that knowledge should be used for making progress in an ongoing fashion.
Awareness defines a state of mind that is achieved when there was a certain completeness of knowledge about a subject or an ‘issue’ that was relevant. In Intelligence, there is awareness even of this ‘incompleteness’ in terms of identification of points on which information was still missing. Businesses like to have an idea of both ‘opportunities’ as well as the ‘risks’ in the climate of the market — taking a major decision on insufficient information is risky but there is importance also of the ‘calculated risk’ that enterprises take for moving forward. In the area of national security, actionable information is not kept on hold even as the fuller picture of a threat was still being worked out.
A response accordingly is made with an awareness that action initiated on ‘incomplete but reliable’ information might produce some difficulties. It might be useful to remember in this context that in taking action, knowledge of what is external often works in conjunction with the intuition and imagination of the action taker that is totally an inner attribute. Awareness is something larger than the possessed knowledge. This is how India’s ancient sages and thinkers could decipher concepts of solar systems, ‘indestructibility’ of matter and even ‘reversibility’ of time and come out with a ‘philosophy’ of life that would answer questions about the unknown.
The higher awareness is about the finiteness of life, importance of physical and mental health as a factor that determined the degree of ‘dependence’ on others and identification of a ‘purpose’ for living. Time has to be usefully spent — from work at the assembly line for some to ‘meditation’ for retaining mental equilibrium for some others — depending on one’s situation. Regrets have to be eliminated — an awareness that what turned out to be a ‘failure’ could be interpreted as an honest effort that did not bring in the desired returns, might help. Also, self-diminishing thoughts on comparisons should be given up with a quiet belief in the singularness of every individual. On the whole, a healthy approach to life is one that realises the importance of both ‘awareness’ and ‘acceptance’. This brings clarity on such thoughts as ‘destiny’, ‘karma’ or deeds and ‘non attachment’.
Ordinary folks seem contented with their lot largely because they had no time to waste on examining why some others were richer or more resourceful. A child in the mother’s lap has the same sense of protection and happiness regardless of whether the woman is a labourer’s wife or a millionaire — this is because the emotion of love has an unvarying quality of its own. In life, fulfilment can come from an awareness of how emotions played a part in determining the conduct of a person one was interacting with. A boss, for instance, should not be totally oblivious of the fact that domestic worries of a subordinate could be affecting his or her work output. Awareness often is focused on one’s own needs and interests — if extended onto a broader canvas it definitely enriches life. Interestingly, innocence is bliss in one’s own personal realm but life is about rubbing shoulders with people who might be able to see that somebody’s innocence was, in fact, ‘ignorance’ –that was the opposite of awareness — and exploit it.
In the practical plane, combining awareness with conscious acceptance of what life had brought forth by way of disappointments and rewards in the past, can be the recipe for contentment that presages happiness — particularly in the ripe years of life. This holds good for both the faithful and the agnostic as a means of seeing things within the ‘big picture’ of humanity. The message would be to continue using one’s physical and intellectual wherewithal to do good to others to the extent possible and thus acquire a sense of purpose for whatever part of life was still to be traversed. At this stage, some cultural traditions may advocate a renunciatory approach, which is reflective of an awareness of the reality of one’s existence coming to a final end sooner or later — but a higher understanding of life would perhaps promote working for some noble cause till the end if possible, to give something back to the humanity even as an anonymous contributor. The spiritual interpretation of whether life is a one-time event or a serial phenomenon of rebirths does not negate the merit of keeping usefully engaged during the journey of life with full awareness that it had to end in a finite amount of time. That life is itself a journey is, in fact, the ultimate awareness.
Humans are the only living beings gifted with the power of recall that enables them to apply the learning from the past to an endeavour of the future. An awareness of life being a continuum, even though gains are incremental and losses sporadic, helps to retain equanimity through its course. It should be understood that happiness needs a foothold of tranquility and that is why even though happiness comes in moments it can stay longer with a receptive mind that was stable. It is not easy to stay calm in a perceived crisis but like J Krishnamoorthy famously said, “Understanding is the end of the problem” — and this understanding comes with a developed sense of awareness. A contingency may arise due to natural causes or may be man-made and it has to be handled with an awareness of all its dimensions and its outcome accepted in the light of that awareness. In the profession of Intelligence, failure is not a deterrent — it is an effort that did not succeed — because it is part of a battle of wits between two sides and not an issue of current knowledge alone. This principle of approach to a failed outcome can be worth emulation in the general walks of life too.
On the whole, ‘awareness’ is the great instrument of a life well lived.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)