Saturday, August 2, 2014

Training the mind - 4

A sticky glue
Trapping invisible ink
Seeking heaven and shunning hell
Scripting a journey by roll of dice

Life is one long sticky road. The mind is stuck with either the notion of happiness or unhappiness. Just as the evening sky morphs into the night sky, which in turn changes in the the morning, there is no period of time when a sense of happiness or unhappiness is absent from the mind. Just as light from the sun changes the color of the sky, thoughts can change the prevailing mood in the mind. The sky does not change, and the intensity of sunlight does not change, but it is the movement of the two relative to each other that changes. The interaction of mind and thought may be considered similarly. The subconscious mind is an infinite storehouse of thought and an endless chain of thoughts from the subconscious travels into the conscious realm. Each thought in the subconscious mind has a 50-50 probability of nudging us toward a more happy or a less happy state. Faced with this uncertainty in the quest for happiness, the conscious part of the mind tries to increase the odds of success by turning to the outside world. Through the senses, experiences are selectively sought to enhance the sense of happiness. This approach would work if the mind is satisfied with one object and that object remains unchanged with time. However, the mind is never satisfied with one object and everything external is subject to change.

Think of the mind as a vertical rock wall. As one climbs this rock wall, there are new obstacles with each step. Some easy, others hard. A rock climber carries only the most essential supplies such as properly fitting rock climbing shoes and powdered chalk for the hands. The progress up a rock wall is slow and deliberate. Hands probe cracks and crevices and only after ensuring that it can hold one’s body weight, is the other hand freed to grip the wall a little higher up. When there is very little between the climber and the wall except for strength, will power, training and a quest for adventure, it becomes an unforgettable climb. If there is fear at the beginning of the climb, this fear multiplies exponentially further up one gets. A climber cannot make progress up very difficult sections of a rock wall if he does not have the confidence and strength to put his entire body weight on one hand while the other three limbs work in coordinated fashion to crawl up higher. Just as hands are feet are important to the body, the senses are to the mind. The “limbs of the mind”, namely the senses cannot scale the “mental wall” if they are extended out into the world. Just as one touches and feels an object in the external world, any thought in the mind can be looked at as an object of perception for the senses. This exercise would likely help restrain the senses in the mind without forcibly cutting off their activities. Gradually, just as climbing a mountain fatigues the arms and legs, the senses would similarly get fatigued and lie down quietly in the mind. This would then create an internal environment that is relatively insulated from the outside world and one that is conducive for further efforts at concentration.

From a great distance, one can pretend to hold a massive mountain between the thumb and the forefinger. Only when one is right at the foothills, the enormity of the mountain becomes apparent. Without a trained guide or signs, it becomes difficult find trailheads leading to a path up to the mountain top. Every mountain in vast mountain ranges such as the Alps and the Himalayas is unique with very different set of challenges. Every individual’s mind can also be thought of as a unique mountain. Due to the great diversity in thought between individual minds, there cannot be one single recipe for surmounting the mind, which is the breeding ground of restlessness and hence unhappiness. But some basic principles would be universally applicable. Examples of such principles would be moderation and restraint. Rather than depend on societal rules and external constraints, the most effective way of policing oneself is by one’s ownl efforts. Bad actions inflicted on others may result in incarceration of a healthy body in a prison cell. Not taking care of one’s own body will result in living with a suffering mind incarcerated in a diseased body.

Moderation and restraint may be thought of as a preventive measure to ensure a healthy body and a happy mind. This can in fact be applied to any aspect of one’s life. At first, it may be difficult to apply this to one’s thoughts, if it is not practiced and experimented with first in the external world. This great experiment, we call life is a long marathon and not a short sprint. Efforts at moderation and restraint should be metered out assuming an average life span. Only then would it sustain long enough to turn into a good habit bringing with it suitable rewards. It is hard to restrain thoughts as one has not way to see its origins. But one can measure one’s response to thoughts that float up in the mental space. Like clouds, they can be “seen” in the skies of the mind. They cannot be touched. Going near a thought, one is surrounded by that idea just as one ascending into clouds is surrounded by it, limiting our vision beyond the clouds.  Just as one cannot pluck a cloud out of the sky, one cannot easily get rid of a disturbing thought. The choice is to focus the mind elsewhere or simply watch the thought as a detached observer till it loses its hold on us and its energy dissipates back into the mind. Forcibly trying to remove a thought is a type of violence we inflict on ourselves. This “injured thought” remains suppressed for a while only to surface again, much stronger and better prepared to take away our peace of mind. When peace of mind is lost, this internal disturbance is then transferred outside creating external problems. Just as cleaning a mirror provides a better reflection, by restraining ourselves from reacting to a thought may give us deeper insight into the source of that thought. That thought may turn out to be a great teacher teaching us something we previously did not know about ourselves.

Just as air is everywhere and we feel it as we inhale deeply, thoughts are everywhere. The ones that we connect with are the ones that we feel and react to. Everyone has free access to air. It is not a tradable commodity like food grains, for example. Similarly access to one’s mind is free. For arguments sake, let’s suppose that there is one giant mind for entire humanity and we plug into it as individuals. The oxygen we breathe in is recycled carbon dioxide that we breathe out. Nature’s mechanism is one giant circle where everything is recycled and utilized in another form. Stretching this argument to the mind, our thoughts are recycled through actions back into more thoughts. Just as lungs hold a limited quantity of air, the conscious mind also holds a finite amount of thoughts. The rest of the air is moving in and out of billions of human lungs. We don’t have the capability of recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen as do trees, but we have the capability of recycling the energy from bad thoughts into good ones. If trees produced only carbon dioxide and humans used up oxygen, very quickly the planet would become an uninhabitable “green house”. If the majority of the people had evil thoughts and tendencies, the world would become a terrible place to live. If more and more people come to the understanding about our interdependencies not just amongst small groups of people, but with rest of humanity and nature, there is a great chance that greater good will come to the world. Good or evil thoughts cannot be seen, but their energy is reflected in what happens in the world. If you see good things, imagine yourself to be a transmitter that boosts the energy of good thoughts that were the basis of these actions. If you see bad things, imagine yourself to be a filter that recycles the energy behind bad thoughts and turn them into good thoughts. Then life will be less dependent on the roll of dice on the gameboard of the mind, and would turn into a voluntary, self directed effort to make this interconnected world a happier place.

Dancing in the shadows
Yet revelling in the light
It’s deception seeks refuge everywhere
With baits aplenty

Roses are given to express one’s love, gratitude, friendship, and to symbolize purity. Different colored roses symbolize these feelings and emotions. Roses were also represented on royal badges in the medieval times. What now constitutes symbol of love and purity, namely a red and a white rose were symbols of two warring factions in medieval England, commonly referred to as the Wars of the Roses. These wars were fought in the late 14th century following years of social and financial difficulties. In ancient Rome, a wild rose meant keeping a secret. In every major religion, roses represent something. So what is a rose? Depending on who you ask, you get a different answer. To a botanist, it is a shrub or a climber. It has flowers of different colors, a stem with thorns and roots. To a florist, it must take the pride of place in a floral arrangement. Honey bees get nectar from roses and produce honey in their hives. Every description of a rose plant or what it symbolizes would pertain to roses but one answer cannot be given to the question, what is a rose? Similarly, questions such as what is life and what is a human being have many possible answers. What we believe in and what we know colors the answers with our own unique perspective. Any answer about what life is partly correct. What constitutes a complete answer? As long as there is a mind and plurality of thought, there cannot be one complete answer. The five senses perceive the same object in five different ways. A composite of these impressions is created into a mental picture. This process goes on continuously. The mind give us no rest. But we give it rest by going to sleep. The basis for a conscious mind is sensory impressions, for a dreaming mind it is subconscious impressions and in a dreamless stage of sleep, it is nothingness. These three states of waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep are reflective of the states of mind and do not answer the question, what is life?

Just as life in the body is a slave to oxygen in the air we breathe, mind is a slave to imaginary thoughts. Broadly speaking, life in the waking state may be divided into two groups. One that is seen and experienced through the mind and the other is independent of the mind. If mind does not exist, how is life experienced? The concept of heaven and hell are descriptions of states of extreme happiness or sorrow experienced in the mind. I would argue that they don’t exist outside of the mind. So what lies outside of the mind? The answer to this question is elusive. What lies beyond the physical universe? No one can convincingly answer that question. For argument's sake, even if one is able to travel to the outer reaches of the universe and report back what one sees and experiences, the answers remain within the realm of what the mind knows and perceives.

A fish cannot live outside of water and we cannot live in water and breathe naturally. It is hard to fathom what life would be like in a state beyond thought and mind. One cannot call it an experience as this again implies duality, ie the experience and the experiencer. One cannot call it nothingness as it implies a comparison to a state where there is presence of something. This comparison is again made by the mind. Accepting every experience as a modification of the mind and simultaneously rejecting the notion these are “real” starts the journey of freedom from the mind. Understanding this art of deception employed by the mind is knowing the secret of the mind. If everything in the mind is taken as unreal, then this deception does not exist. Living life through the lens of the mind is not a natural life and living life independent of the fluctuations in the mind is natural living- ie, free of the notion of the experiencer and the experience.  In this state of non duality, there cannot be any attachments or repulsions as these again spring from the mind. It is life in its purest essence. Whether there are forms or no forms, it does not matter.

To be continued...