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To say that I have a particular affinity, if not an outright life-long love-affair with Mathematics, would not be too far from the truth. And yet it didn’t always used to be that way. I think it was my fourth or fifth grade Math teacher, a fire-cracker of a lady named Mrs. Das, who lit the spark within me. She had such a passion and energy for the subject that I still remember the spark in her eyes all these decades later. 

Once a week, my daughter brings home a “problem of the week” (POW)  as part of her ‘honors geometry’ homework. Their teacher encourages them to work the POW with a parent ‘at the dinner table’. I think it’s a brilliant idea as it encourages parent-teenager conversation and collaboration. It also gives me an opportunity to find out how much of my middle-school math I actually remember! More often than not, we sink our teeth into the POW by transforming it into equations consisting of unknowns like x’s, y’s, and if absolutely necessary, even z’s.

Once the transformation is complete, it’s time to solve for the unknowns. Yay. Algebra. The first question we ask is if we have at least as many equations as there are unknowns. Why do we ask this question? If we have more unknowns than equations, we are stuck. No exact solution is possible unless we reformulate the equations and unknowns. This is akin to where our heart is looking for a solution to a life challenge, and yet the unknowns far exceed our own knowledge of the problem. Now what? 

In life, one step towards a solution would be to make some assumptions about the relationship between one or more of the unknowns. Say that we need to buy a new car or a house, choose a spot for our next vacation, help our kids decide which sport to play or which college to attend, and so on. From a financial perspective, one could assume that the choice of the  car would directly impact the choice of college. By creating this relationship between our choices, we eliminate an unknown. We can also reduce unknowns in decision-making by evaluating our tolerance for risk-taking.

In some cases, our perceived risk of the unknowns is so great, that it binds our heart to insurmountable fear. What if we sign a mortgage on the house and our financial situation changes? What if we don’t like the new neighborhood or our neighbors? When fear takes over, it ensures that no amount of guidance or reframing of the challenge will get us closer to a solution. Fear can also make our decision for us by magnifying the risk of the hearts unknowns. 

In other cases, the risk may be low enough, and we may even have more than enough information to make a decision. And yet, there is a nagging unknown in our heart which is informed by our intuition, our past experience, or some higher guidance. Unlike the x’s and y’s of algebra and geometry, we are now engaged in the POW of life’s mathematics. We have two job offers in hand. They are both financially great for us, but the heart’s knowing leads us to the lower paying one with the low-stress lifestyle.

The heart’s knowing may thus lead to seemingly inexact or even irrational solutions. And that’s okay, because joy isn’t always found in finding the exact solution to the problem. Joy is in the simple sitting down at the kitchen counter and playing with the unknowns. Joy is in the knowing that there will soon be another opportunity to collaborate on life’s new POW with an open heart. 

Maybe it’s time to open our heart and re-kindle our love-affair with more unknowns — what does your heart think? 

Kumud

P.S. Join our weekly twitter chat, Sunday Feb 23 at 9amET in #SpiritChat – we will explore some new unknowns, and learn a bit more about life’s mathematics and may even attempt to solve a POW together. Of course, no group activity would be complete without tea and cookies…. Namaste – @AjmaniK

A Bridge into the Unknown

Bridges – old and new – can serve as invitations to explore the unknown – meditation is one such bridge…

It was a brilliant walk beyond that bridge…

Last autumn’s leaves, waiting for a new spring’s unknowns