Sunday, October 16, 2011

Seeing things the way they are

A couple of centuries ago, lived a great writer who contributed significantly to the world literature. Some of his works are considered literary classics. He had his share of admirers and critics, mostly the former. One particular critic stood out and dogged this writer throughout his literary career. Lacking the writing skills of the protagonist, the critic mostly used the “spoken word” as his medium. Living in the same town, they often ran into each other. One evening, they happened to cross paths in a dark and narrow alley. Facing the writer, the staunch critic exclaimed, “I don’t make way for fools!” The writer politely stepped aside and remarked, “On the other hand, I do.”

The human mind can be thought of as the alley way where two opposing forces constantly try to win the battle for your attention. One is the polite and quite inner voice or conscience and the other is the loud and overbearing voice of the senses. The former is the gatekeeper to the inner world and the latter is the gatekeeper to the outer world. The writer and his critic both had their viewpoints, and in their minds both of them felt that they were in the right. An independent observer is left with the final judgement of which was the better of the two. When we say, my mind, my conscience or my senses, we can infer that we have the ability to separate ourselves from the mind, the conscience and the senses.

Ordinarily the senses are very busy and have the tendency to trap the mind and drag it around endlessly. The mind then becomes dependent on the senses, and thoughts start to seek expression through the senses. Before long, one’s whole persona becomes enslaved to the dictates of the senses. The senses are more concerned with what appears good in the immediate present and the inner voice or conscience takes a more long term, balanced view. In order to have a happy fulfilling life in the short and long haul, one needs to enjoy the present moment tempered with reminders of a higher long term perspective.

Since the senses are the gateway to the outer world, the first step is closing these gates. We have full control over this process. Actions such as sitting in a quiet, peaceful place and closing one’s eyes is an example. At this point, since the mind is so enmeshed with the senses, it takes over, and comes up with numerous rational sounding points to weaken your will. As one persists with efforts to separate the mind from the senses, the “death” of this association does not happen easily. As with the Kubler-Ross model that describes how people cope with grief, the mind goes through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

As one sits in a quiet place, the mind becomes very active and tries to deny a quiet inner realm with a barrage of thoughts, making it easier to discontinue the practice rather than persist with it. With persistence however, many of these thoughts fade away, but a few express their “anger” by pointing out the physical aches and pains one has to endure in the process of sitting still. Then comes “bargaining.” As the restlessness in the mind settles down, a clearer picture emerges, with the mind still trying to cling on to objects of the senses, presenting these to the mind’s eye. The mind tries to bargain and persuade on behalf of the sensory riches. With further persistence, a sense of sadness or depression sets in on realizing the loss of sensory pleasures. Finally, the mind settles down and accepts this new found void of blackness behind closed eyes. It is here that the faint sounds of the soul heard as the inner voice or conscience start to be heard. You are now in the middle of the dark alley of the mind seeing the internal and external realms the way they are.