Sunday, January 29, 2012

Digging Deep

Geologists have a fairly accurate idea about the structure and composition of the earth’s interior. It is several thousand miles to the actual center of the earth. In comparison to the deeper layers inside the earth’s interior, namely, the mantle and the outer and inner core which extend a few thousand miles in depth, the outermost layer or the earth’s crust is not more than 30 miles in depth. Sending a man made object to the center of the earth is in the realm of science fiction. No man made object has ever penetrated beyond the earth’s crust. An ambitious drilling project several decades ago by the Soviets was stopped after reaching just over 7 miles into the earth’s crust. An inhospitable climate of heat and pressure may deter future attempts to get even deeper.

A classic science fiction novel written in the 1800s by Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth, is an adventurous story of a professor and his nephew who find an ancient map that guides them to the center of the earth through a volcanic tube. The obstacles, difficulties and the unexpected wonders the two adventurers face could be construed as allegorical references to our own mental journey to the core of our being. Just as we have not made it, as yet, to the center of the earth, there are no scientifically proven first person accounts of people finding the soul, which could be thought of as the fundamental basis for human life. 

We don’t, however, need scientific proof that life exists on the surface of the earth. We are able to see it everyday. Similarly we don’t need proof that the human mind exists. All we need to do is close our eyes and “see” the mind. We generally don’t stop and think whether the earth’s core has a hidden hand in making the conditions just right on earth’s surface or not. Similarly, our individual soul may be an unseen force that fosters happiness on the surface of the mind. We actively seek this deep happiness, especially at times when our human frailty makes us commit mistakes. We call this soul searching.

The living human mind can be compared to the existence of life on earth. In the grand scheme, human life as we know it exists in a very narrow spectrum on the surface of the earth. The orchestration of various factors such as gravity, the atmosphere, the sun and moon, salinity of the sea etc. makes comfortable life possible on earth.  In order to have a meaningful existence, the human mind needs an accompanying body, underlying intelligence, interaction with other people etc. Beneath all this is the spark of life, of which we know very little. We spend a vast majority of our time on the plane of the mind. Just as intelligent use of valuable natural resources makes life comfortable life for all, good use of human mind and intelligence makes happiness possible for all human beings.

Measured on a scale of comfort and livability, there are places on earth that we may consider a paradise and there may be others which are quite inhospitable. Some locales may not be inhabitable due to natural factors such as extremes of temperature, lack of water etc. Whether we are able to or not, we all aspire to live in the best of places,  Earthly regions that have a lot of natural beauty and an ideal climate may be rendered inhospitable due to man made factors such as disagreements that lead to war. For a happy person, the mind is like a paradise that promotes a sense of relaxation. For an unhappy person, the mind is an inhospitable place that promotes stress.

Just as we cannot easily change the location of certain natural phenomena on earth such as the mountains and oceans, there are some natural tendencies of the mind that may resist change. In the last few hundred years, man has used his intelligence to work around natural obstacles such as the vast oceans of the world to bring down the time taken to travel around the world from several months to a matter of hours. Similarly one’s intellect can be used to make one’s mind useful to oneself and others. The nature of the mind is to wander, dragging the senses along the way. Letting the mind wander around aimlessly is like walking on a desert without a map. Without a planned route, it is hard to come back to the same spot where you started from. Just as it is comfortable to stay on the surface of the earth, it feels very comfortable for us to live on the plane of the mind. For most of our lives, that is what we have seen and known for the most part.

Just as the two fictional characters in the Jules Verne novel found a passage way from the surface to the center of the earth, our inner journey starts at the level of the mind. The scope and diversity of one’s mind makes it difficult to identify that passageway to the interior. Perhaps there are numerous passageways, just as one can dig from any point on the surface of the earth and potentially reach the same center. When one knows that there is a vast treasure of gold to be found at a certain spot underground, no obstacle seems insurmountable. Our inner gold is mental peace and happiness. In order to reach this, we may encounter certain obstacles posed by our mental conditioning. Just as we seek gold underground, we have to to make repeated efforts to dive deeper and deeper into the mind, working through the many obstacles we may face. If not, the mind will be pockmarked with several shallow holes, each one marking a mental obstacle that has not been surmounted.

One way to get around these mental obstacles is to not look at them as a difficulty or a handicap, but a challenge worthy of a journey into the unknown. Several hundred years ago, the first ocean crossings from Europe to Asia and the Americas were fraught with great dangers and difficulties. These difficult voyages are regarded great adventures that have benefited mankind.
When one sets out to seek what lies within ourselves, it is like a journey into the unknown. When the sailors that set sail on those first great ocean voyages, they probably did so in the bright morning light and not in the middle of the night.

Just closing one’s eyes and pushing aside disturbing thoughts and not critically looking at our conduct in the external world is like setting off on a voyage in the middle of the night. The best teacher is someone we would consider our adversary. It is difficult to find someone who has never had ill feelings towards anyone, just as it is difficult to find someone who is universally liked. We have all been in a situation where we are disliked or we dislike someone. If we think of one such instance where someone has harmed us in any way, mentally we have three options out of this situation. The first and easiest option is to develop a mental dislike and hatred of that person. The second option is to not have ill feelings towards that person. In a way this is remembering the incident but not mentally reacting to it. The third and more difficult thing to do is to forgive that person. Once we are able to forgive, it is better to forget the situation as the memory may return again at a future time to test us again. Doing this is like repairing a boat in the relative safety of a shallow harbor than in the middle of a deep ocean. This will help us develop a noble and detached attitude towards whatever challenges that life may throw our way.

All human beings have some motivations behind every action, however altruistic it may appear. This is reality, as human nature is a mixture of varying degrees of selflessness and selfishness. Every one would like to think that they are more selfless than selfish. It takes some courage to accept that sometimes we are very selfish in our ways. If we examine the motivations behind our thoughts and actions, we find that desires lurk in the background. Just as the physical body needs water for survival, the fuel for the mind is desire. Mental desires point our search for happiness outwards and limiting desires correctly steers the course of this search for happiness inward.

All human beings are motivated by the desire to feel happy. Though we never stop seeking happiness, we look for it in the wrong places. What makes us seek this happiness? One could say it is mental desires that make us seek this, as a happy mind is a fulfilled mind. However, even when most mental desires are exhausted, we still seek happiness. Seeking the motivating factor behind this constant search for happiness is the proverbial volcanic tube that leads within. As we tread into the mind, we encounter selfish desires as the motivating force behind our search for happiness. As we correct ourselves and remove these desires, the deeper layers of the mind may spring up unselfish desires that make us happy, such as seeking happiness by working for uplifting less fortunate beings without expectation of a reward in return. This still does not answer the question on what motivates us to seek happiness. Perhaps it is an inner prompting to find our changeless real nature. Just like the inaccessible ferrous core of the earth creates a magnetic field detected by a compass, perhaps it is our true inner nature that motivates this search for happiness. Just as a compass detects a magnetic field but is powerless to change the magnetic field, our mind detects happiness but is powerless to change the source of this happiness which is our inner core.