Thursday, July 17, 2014

Training the mind - 2

Five figurines stacked on one another
Their beauty hidden by a smokescreen
Conjured by a magician exemplar
Whose grandmaster lives beyond rivulets of desire
Wearable optics such as the Google Glass are now in vogue. Information that used to be available at fingertips can now be had at the blink of an eye. The modern mind is quickly adapting to these “synthetic senses” in addition to the five natural senses. But this “heads up display” of information has always been an inbuilt feature of mind. Anywhere we look, the sensory information processed by the eyes is interpreted in real time by the mind. A constant stream of thoughts guides us based on new information as well as older information already stored in the mind. Unlike the internet, the information bank in our minds is sequestered for only our private access. Or is it? Perhaps, it may be possible to explore the deeper roots and connections our minds may have if we are able to sufficiently quieten the surface mental activity.

Recently scientists have discovered a reservoir of water, about 400 miles beneath the earth’s crust. This water body is three times the size of the surface oceans. Now scientists are theorizing a “whole-Earth water cycle” where water we drink is thought to have bubbled up from underground rather than from an icy comet striking earth from distant space. Although the mind we know is packed with external information, perhaps there is a hidden source that is the basis of the mind itself. A readily available tool to explore this hypothesis is self inquiry behind closed eyes. Just as sensitive seismic instruments pick up activity deep in the earth’s crust, we may be able to discover for ourselves what could lie in the core of our being. However, the colorful variety in the world around and a contrasting dark void that we usually encounter within limits us from exploring further in an inward direction. There is complete darkness inside the body, yet the flow of blood and working of the cells is reliable and predictable. This contrasts to the ring side seats the senses occupy, witnessing the happenings of the world, some of which are unpredictable and unreliable.  

Birds and animals take in sensory information for their survival, but they lack a mind to interpret this information in the context of daily living. If we were to live under the skin of a bird or an animal, I wonder how this “mindless” existence would compare to our “mind full of thoughts” existence? A home computer with sufficient data storage capabilities can store more information that one would probably need in a lifetime? The mind can also store vast amounts of information, but this is not readily accessed as one would from a computer.

A curtain may blind one’s view to what is what is happening on the other side. The curtain that is drawn across the conscious mind mind not only blinds us to what lurks in the subconscious realm, it also binds us to earthly life. We are not just beings with a physical body and a mind. Life manifests itself in various forms in the workings of the cells and organs. The intellect may be felt as separate from the mind. For example, the mind may make rude suggestions that appease no one but our egos. The intellect may softly suggest that these thoughts be discarded. An inner conversation between an unruly mind and a reasoning power controlled by the intellect goes on all the time. It is usually a one way street in favor of the lower mind, which is driven by the senses. There may be a complete transformation in one’s lives if the intellect is allowed to gain an upper hand. When this reasoning power is not consciously applied, it broadcasts unconsciously as our “conscience”.

To someone floating on a life raft, surviving and getting off the life raft is the top priority. One would never call it one’s home or decorate it with comforts. The body is similar to a life raft. We heap all our faith, hopes and dreams onto this tiny speck of flesh. It’s survival is paramount to us even as we lead lives with highly unregulated habits that are detrimental to the health and well being of the body. If the goal of life is appeasement of the flesh or fulfilment of the mind’s fantasies, it sprouts roots of unhappiness. Time and change are merciless showing no regard to one’s wealth or status. One need not be disillusioned about this gloomy prospect that faces one and all.

Instead, even a small shift in mental attitude could turn this whole thing around to enhance our sense of satisfaction and happiness. These two goals, namely happiness and satisfaction are what everyone wants out of this life. This change in mental attitude could be applied to work done in any walk of life from the most important post in the country to the very ordinary. Any work we do is accompanied by a constant chatter in the mind weighing the personal benefits in relation to how much we work. There is always a reward with any type of work done. In general, that reward is equated in monetary terms. The lower mind likes this type of compensation. But there is a portion of the mind that seeks happiness, which as they say money cannot buy. This happiness is easily obtained in due course by discharging one’s duties to society without expecting a reward. A small example to illustrate this point. There are many people in the world today that willingly give up a week or two a year to do some type of volunteering work. What drives them to do that? The happiness derived from doing work without expecting something in return. Greater the renunciation of the thoughts of the end result, greater is the feeling of happiness.

If you think about it, it is quite amazing to see how seriously we take ourselves, in the context of the certainty of life ebbing and fading away from the body one day. The physical frame may be looked upon as a tool for working on evolving our minds to a higher plane of thought. Natural selection and evolution takes millions of years and an average human lifespan is too short to see any change from what we now know about human biology. But the evolution of the mind occurs at varying speeds in proportion to our efforts. One need not expend physical energy to see mental growth. The mind also need not be taxed. But one needs to make a conscious effort to change our inner attitudes. A scientific bent of mind need not be a prerequisite for rational thinking. Everyone can do it, if only one’s conscious intellect or unconscious conscience is given a chance to blossom. But ego is a smokescreen that thwarts our efforts to see the bigger pictures. It maroons us on our individual minds and prevents us from enjoying the comforts and vastness of the greater collective consciousness of humanity. Abundance and variety is nature’s smokescreen that prevents us from seeing the common thread that underlies all life forms. A lot of our comforts in daily life are derived from minerals and other inanimate objects, but are we humble enough to take care of the “inanimate” part of our planet that sustains us all?

The grand marshal walks a perilous line
At the sharp end of the mind
Seeking thrills on the crests of sensory waves
Avoiding the even keeled skiffs at harbor’s edge

Life throws up obstacles now and then. At times, the metaphorical wall of desires is so steep that your nose literally touches it as you try to surmount it. When the compass needle of the mind points to the gateways of the mind that lead to the outer world, these desires multiply and can never be fully satisfied. It is intriguing that despite failure and disappoints related to efforts to fulfill worldly desires, the mind continues to battle and persist till the very end. How does one turn the mind away from the attractions of the world? Greater the force of attraction towards one one thing may result in an equal force of repulsion to something else. The needle of a compass always points to the magnetic north. Similarly the mind by nature turns towards the outside world. If the focal point of attraction for the mind can be turned to something deep within ourselves, it may be possible to slowly wean the mind away from dependence on the world for generating a sense of happiness for us.

Not many people can keep an abstract and arbitrary focal point within the mind to focus on. Some of the major religions of the world have developed the concept of devotion to either objects, a human form or formless entities. Fighting over which method is better creates dogmatic thinking leading to external violence from internal confusion. Not everyone can follow one method. Natural inclinations are not universal and the variety of methods available for concentrating the mind are actually beneficial and not detrimental. Perhaps, religions initially came about to formalize a particular method of concentrating the mind. Since it takes many years to achieve a steady, focused and unshakable mind, rules created by religions help to keep one’s mind on a narrow path. Once the mind is steadied and is brought under complete control, the external props provided by every religion in the world may become unnecessary. But to deter another’s progress due to one’s own lack of genuine insight into this process unfortunately leads to many of the problems we face today. The road to true happiness does not go through another person’s land or wealth, but it comes from efforts in trying to understand oneself. If the term “religion” is substituted with the term “method of concentration”, this concept would become universally appreciated and even agnostics and scientists would be on board. Paths may differ, but the the benefits that come from controlling one’s mind would be available to all without being lost in the fight about which method is better. Appreciating the beauty of nature, the grand scale of the universe, observing the distant stars and the moon also can become focal points for one’s concentration. Just observing the workings of nature and the sheer magnitude of the universe will greatly subdue one’s ego. The body is an insignificant speck in the grand scheme of things, but a great tool to realize infinite happiness.

People who have mastered their minds become naturally humble. Since the ego is the first obstacle that is surmounted, love and respect for all beings starts to increase. Everyone is seen as a traveller trying to reach the same destination. The paths may differ, individual efforts may vary, problems may be plenty but the end result is the same degree of happiness that is eventually enjoyed. Subduing one’s ego takes our thoughts away from the body and material objects and mental energy is freed up. Like a well constructed canal that directs water in a certain direction, the mind may be slowly turned 180 degrees towards the inner spring of happiness.

The psychological architecture on which the mind grows and develops may be deduced from certain concepts that are externally evident. There is a force of attraction and a force of repulsion as exhibited by opposite and similar poles of magnets respectively. The concept of space between atoms is universally acknowledged. Atoms are electrically charged or electrically neutral based on the protons and electrons. They can be electrically positive or negative. The concept of change may be equated with the concept of time. These principles, attraction and repulsion; positive, negative and neutral charge; space and time can be applied to the workings of the mind.

The power of feeling which everyone experiences may be referred to as consciousness. This power of feeling identifies with what we relate to. The ego confines this consciousness to the space occupied by the physical body. This space is relative to the body and correspondingly moves with the body. This power of feeling may also be associated with concepts that are universal such as peace and love. Peace that is confined to one area cannot be cannot universal. If peace is everywhere, the concept of peace is not different from one place to another. Thus limited consciousness that is movable in relation to the body may become fixed and immovable by focusing the mind on certain thoughts such as universal peace. In this sense, space may be transcended. Time becomes relevant when the mind divides thoughts into those of the past, present and future. When memory associates with worry, thoughts of the future are comprehended. When the mind is fixed in one thought, the concept of time slowly diminishes. As one concentrates on one thought, over time the power of concentration may wane but this thought becomes forever embedded in the mind and time has no power to extinguish it. It may remains in the deep layers of the mind as latent embers waiting to flare up at an opportune time. Time can be thought of as the greatest of all thieves, showing no remorse or repentance. Probably the most difficult thought to eradicate is that of self preservation or the love for the life that exists in one’s physical body. However deformed or beautiful one may be externally, this seed thought of preservation is the king of all thoughts. This thought sits on the dividing line between our true self and the mind. Everything external to this seed thought is in the realm of the transient and the material.

When consciousness is withdrawn and fixed on this seed thought of self preservation, the mind becomes very quiet and is as fresh and innocent as that of a new born baby. If the consciousness is withdrawn further and this thought is completely extinguished, the mind disappears and one is said to have attained “freedom” from everything external. As consciousness creeps up from the deepest recesses of the mind and starts to spill into the mind and identifies with thoughts, experiences and transfers itself to what the sense organs perceive in the external world, it becomes bound in a never ending cycle.

In its subtlest form of being bound,  if consciousness is attached to the thought of self preservation, in its grossest form, it is attached to the objects in the external world mainly through the senses of sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing. The process of freeing consciousness from these external attachments, however subtle or gross is the goal of spiritual practices such as meditation. Why does it need to be freed? It is said that the joy of all joys is our true nature or our inner self. It is the state of pure consciousness or feeling that is not bound. If it is affected even by the slightest attachment to anything external, it may still produce great joy, but this joy is relative to the changes that invariably occur in the outer world. Since anything material, including thoughts and gross objects are transient, any joy experienced from this is also not permanent. If joy is not permanent, the absence is filled by the sense of sorrow and unhappiness. To annihilate sorrow, one must not identify with any thought. Separating the field of consciousness and thoughts may be difficult to achieve. The link between the two that needs to be broken is our identification with thoughts. When light falls on an object, one cannot separate light from the object. Light can be seen without the object, but the object cannot be seen without the light. Similarly thoughts cannot be perceived without consciousness, but consciousness may exist without thought. When one is deeply focused on one thought, whether it is through the process of meditation, deep scientific thought, observing wonders of nature and outer space there is greater sense of joy compared to when the mind is dwelling on several different things at once. This is due to consciousness being closer to the state of nonattachment during those times of singular focus.  

The mind may be calm, excited or dull. At any given time, it exists in one of these three states or a combination of these. It  When the mind is calm, one is in a positive and uplifted state. When the mind is excited, the peaks of positive feelings and happiness are negated by the unhappiness that lurks. In this state, the net result is neutral. When the mind is dull and unhappy, it is a negative state. Why does the mind go through these positive, negative and neutral states. It is due to the interaction of thoughts with the field of consciousness drawing it from a static state to a more dynamic state through the process of attachment and identification. This attachment is not a physical attachment outside the body but a psychic attachment that is stored as a seed thought. Millions of such seed thoughts are accumulated and stored in the mind. In deep sleep, consciousness withdraws beyond these seed thoughts and we lose identification with them. Consequently even the idea of having a body disappears. Death is a more permanent form of deep sleep where the field of consciousness does not disappear but the interaction of the seed thoughts with this field does. Why this process of interaction of these seed thoughts with the field of consciousness in the first place is one of the great mysteries of life to be pondered upon.

To be continued...