Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is it truly dark at the center of it all?

In 1943, the chairman of IBM famously said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Back then, computers weighed many thousands of pounds and filled entire rooms. With the advent of microprocessors in the 1970s, the size of the computers dramatically decreased along with an increase in computational power. In the 1980s, Bill Gates was quoted as saying “640 kilobytes ought to be enough for anybody.” The average smart phone these days is more powerful than the Apollo mission’s computers that put the first man on the moon. However sophisticated or diverse the applications of computers these days, the smallest and most basic increment of data is measured in units called bits, which are either 1s or 0s. In current day computer chips, data travels through semiconductor pathways and in the not to distant future, this will be obsolete and data will be sent over light pulses instead making these chips even smaller in size.

Despite these technological advances in computers, we have yet to fully understand the basic mechanisms of how human memory works. For instance, how does the brain process and store tangible sensory input from the skin, eyes, and ears into intangible thought forms that may be recalled later? We experience thought forms both in the conscious waking state and also subconsciously during sleep in the form of dreams. Like modern day computers, could there be basic increments of data that are common to all thought forms? In other words, looking at memory from a data storage perspective, the building blocks of memory could be simple units such as 1s and 0s and looking at it from the vantage point of recalling some of life’s pleasant or unpleasant memories, the corresponding thoughts become more vivid and colorful.

With all the advances in technology that have helped us understand and document what is going on in the most distant stars and galaxies at the edge of the known universe, we have a very poor understanding of what is at the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. It is now acknowledged that at the center of our galaxy and many others like ours, lies a super massive black hole. Everything in our galaxy is thought to revolve around this black hole. Despite the advances in science and the capability to look at virtually every cell of the human body, there is no consensus or description of what lies at the center of our minds, or if there is even a central focal point. Our minds and thoughts appear to be very active when we close our eyes. In the backdrop of the darkness behind closed eyes, we perceive thoughts, each one competing to take us along a journey based on the content of that thought form. Where do they come from? Does peering into the apparent center of this darkness behind closed eyes with great intensity and concentration bring us to a state of better understanding of ourselves? Certainly, peering at an arbitrary point in this darkness with intensity and concentration for several minutes at a time brings us some measure of peace and and happiness. This may be due to a temporary relief from the pull of thoughts that want to take us in different directions.

Just as a moon rocket needs a certain velocity to escape from earth’s gravitational pull, we need to put in a certain amount of effort to escape thoughts that root us to our present mental conditioning. Only then can we even begin to think about journeying to the center of our being. The fuel for this journey is concentration and effort. No one except ourselves can begin and undertake this journey. When we close our eyes and make an effort to overcome the inner crowding of thoughts, we tend to pick an imaginary point of focus somewhere in the dark distance we see within. Ordinarily thoughts take us outward. By focusing at a point out in the distance, we may give room to a strong and persistent thought form to pull us away from our focus and we then get lost in the vastness of the mind, forgetting where we started from.

Instead, as we close our eyes, imagine that this point of focus to be deep inside us and buried somewhere beneath the curtain of the mind. Then as thought pass through, and as they try to take hold of us, direct them to the center of one’s focus deep within. As we journey on, a sense of lifting of the burdens of the present, joy, contentment and peace may be milestones we experience along the way. It is perhaps human nature to consider these milestones as the end of the journey. As we get more adept, we are able to make the journey to and back from one or more of these milestones in lesser time than it took us during our initial efforts. Why stop there and come back to our present state of mind, without seeking a deeper goal?

The five senses which are so vital to our transactions with the everyday world around us are also the least beneficial along this inner journey. When the senses are subdued, thoughts may not be able to find an outlet for expression and these same thoughts that drag us outwards aimlessly can be directed inwards, even if we are not able to identify where they came from. This way, these thoughts are contained and may not be able to cause us misery in the form of unhappiness. Along with trying to cast away distracting thoughts, there is another thing to contend with, namely the human frame. The body and mind travel together from the beginning of the journey of life to the end, just as driver and a car travel together from point A to B. The body and the mind start the journey together are and at the end, the mind disappears leaving the frame that hosted it behind. We really don’t know what happens before and after. One can speculate and argue till the end of time without coming to a definite conclusion.

However, one thing is certain. At the very end, right before life as we physiologically know it departs from the body, the body appears still and the senses don’t really have any power over us. Some accounts of people at or near death who have come back to life, perhaps thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, have suggested that they have seen a bright light. Whether this is real or imagined, there is no way to prove it one way or the other. It does give us some direction in what to look for as we consciously practice stiling the body, mind and the senses during our allotted years as inhabitants of our healthy human bodies.

If this inner light is perceived in the midst of darkness is true phenomenon, it still does not answer the question of what lies beyond. Perhaps, this is another milestone in the search for the real center of our being. It is probably better to go along this journey without expectations, as any expectation is related to our present mental conditioning. Regardless of whether we get there or not, the byproducts of this search may offer something money cannot easily buy, namely peace of mind; this comes from stilling the body, mind and senses.