Sunday, August 17, 2014

Training the mind - 6

Limestone trellis, support for a time
Awaiting seedlings vibrant with life
At a hill’s side, a lifetime’s siege
There is no ease, threatened by disease

For those unfortunate people living in present day conflict zones, the principles of disease prevention is a luxury they can ill afford. They are more preoccupied with existential thoughts. Faced with the immediate threat of atrocities committed by minds that are the breeding grounds of hatred, intolerance and violence, survival mechanisms kick into high gear. For the lucky ones living in relative comfort in safer areas of the world, preventive measures against ill health are more of a necessity, to combat the fear of disease which could easily cut into their otherwise happy lives. In both these scenarios, the common theme is fear, the former group of people fearing outer enemies and the later living in fear of an inner enemy. In each of the two instances, the mind is the common area where the conflict originates. The outcome of this fear is a restless mind. A restless mind is ill equipped to deal to with the ever changing world. It clings to a concept of permanence that is as illusory as the spokes of a wheel giving the appearance of being stationary while the wheel is in motion.

The mind may be thought of as an island surrounded by a sea of objects. The mind tries to harpoon the objective world through the senses. There will always be more thoughts than are the actual objects of desire. A thought may be compared to a sea shell. Every day, thousands of thoughts go through our minds. Most don’t stick and we are barely aware of them, we might sense a ruffled mind. Some thoughts however, trigger a strong emotional response, either a positive or a negative one. These thoughts that elicit a strong response in the mind, may be compared to sea shells that contain a living creature. Like shells that are a protective covering for soft creatures, what triggers emotions from these thoughts are not usually apparent from the surface. When one goes deep within these thoughts, reasons for why they persist in our consciousness, memories etc. may be more apparent. Thoughts that fly by without evoking a response from us are like empty sea shells. These hard protective layers created by a sea dwelling creatures are of little use after the animal has died. These shells are usually washed up on the beach and those with interesting patterns, colors or shapes are picked up and may be nice ornaments to keep. Similarly, most of the thoughts that go through the mind may be thought of as ornaments of the mind. Occasionally if a few of those thoughts catch one’s fancy, it may be allright to dwell on them. But just as one does not hoard thousands of sea shells, these empty thoughts should ignored and ultimately they will be reclaimed by the sea of the mind.

It is sometimes hard to convince ourselves that whatever fear we may be experiencing is unfounded. Despite evidence to the contrary, we cling to fear as if that is the only hope. Fear evokes a strong chemical response in our brains and hormones are released. These effects are felt in the body long after the source of the fear has disappeared. Experiencing a tangible response in the body, fear appears real. Happiness that is derived from experiences in the objective world also triggers a chemical response in the brain, creating a pleasurable sensation in the body. Since something is felt in the body, the happiness from objects is taken as real. However, these cannot be reproduced in deep sleep when the mind involutes completely. Dreams may be taken as real experiences until one wakes up and concludes the contrary. But there is no such thing as “waking up” from a conscious waking state. Introspective self analysis may provide a way out of this false sense of reality that may created by fear.

The process of replication is not unique to the human body, it occurs in all living species.
Cells are great replicators. They do this using the blueprint provided by DNA. The mind also replicates, creating and propagating thought patterns from seed thoughts. The concept of a plant growing out of a seed is universal to all plants, but the types of plants differ based on the the seed. Fear is a great masquerader, it enters our consciousness through a momentary thought or experience, and may contaminate every thought if we allow it to do so. Seeded deep in the mind, it may seem inseparable from thoughts of various kinds and the degree of fear we experience is proportional to how much attention we give these thoughts. In general, the more negative trains of thought have fear as the basis. Absence of fear leads to more positive thinking.

The world is plagued by avarice, stemming from fear of loss or not having enough in the future. Fear may also transform into hatred. Fear can also be thought of as a kingmaker of various diseases. For example, when fear is sensed in the mind, a portion of the brain called the hypothalamus is activated. This sends a signal to the master endocrine gland, the pituitary, setting in motion a cascade of events ultimately leading to the production of a hormone called cortisol. Repeated exposures to this hormone may result in premature cellular death, decreased immunity and thereby creating the milieu for diseases to set in. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Since this emotion replicates and mutates into several different thought patterns, it becomes more important to understand the fundamental basis for thoughts that really grab our attention. The question of why we think the way we do can only be answered by us. By changing our thought patterns or even our attitudes towards our existing thought patterns, we can change our destiny. The future is not predetermined. The only prediction that may be made is how we would probably deal with events that may happen in the future, and this prediction is based on our general mental attitude towards life in the present moment. If one is filled with fear, chances are one would be afraid of the future. If one tries to be happy all the time, the future will likely bring happiness. Stephen Hawking said, “I have noticed that even people who claim everything is predetermined and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.”

The three states of matter, namely solid, liquid and gaseous states, are vital to life in the human body. The bony skeleton and the flesh it supports is bathed in blood, which in turn is rejuvenated with life giving oxygen derived from air entering the lungs. Although, the three states of matter are interchangeable as evidenced by water as ice, liquid or vapor depending on its temperature, in the body they are not. The body is maintained at one constant temperature. The past, and the future are distinct points of time in relation to the present. In the mind, our attention constantly drifts from the present to the past and future. The same thought may take on different forms depending whether our our reference of time is the past, present or the future. If our attention keeps pace with real time and is always on the present, which is a constantly moving target, our viewpoint becomes more objective. By receding into the past or drifting into the future, our mental outlook becomes more subjective. Thoughts contaminated by fear usually relate to the past or the future. Fear as an instinctive response as in the fear, fight or flight response usually lasts for a very short period of time until the external source of fear is dealt with in some fashion. Fear as an emotion lasts a very long time, perhaps a lifetime. This occurs by thoughts interbreeding with memories and creating a suitable host for fear to claim as its home. Humans have successfully turned a potentially life saving instinct into an uncomfortable lifetime companion. The common link between fear as an instinct and emotion is the chemical messengers secreted in the body. Fearful thoughts are like dangerous parasites. In normal daily living, these thoughts provide little or no benefit. They may cause great harm by potentially providing a justification for wrong actions.

Living species are not biologically immortal. Every plant, animal and human has a finite estimated life span. Indeed, our sun and the universe also has a life cycle spanning billions of years. Life expectancy of humans has gradually increased over the last several centuries, but people living past the age of 100 are the exception rather than the rule. The human mind, although not a distinct physical entity, but it can be argued that it has a lifespan of a day. On entering waking consciousness every day, for a fraction of an instant, the mind is in a potential state of no thought. Before we realize it, thoughts rapidly occupy it and multiply during the day. Just as every human generation starts as a single celled organism, resembling bacteria, which over the course of years turns into a fully grown adult, the mind starts off every day as a nebulous single point from which all thoughts seem to spring forth. At the end of the day, in deep sleep, the mind “dies” and goes back to its potential state. The lifecycle of thoughts may be even shorter. Every day, thousands of thoughts go through birth and death. Thought may be thought of as soap bubbles. One can easily blow soap bubbles, but they are impossible to catch. We can generate many thoughts, but it is practically impossible to keep our concentration on one thought for more that a few moments. The substance of a thought may be transferred to another thought before the it dies out. Fear exists in thoughts and would it not be nice it were as evanescent as thoughts. One way to understand why fear lingers is to go back to the distinction of fear as an instinct and an emotion. As an instinct, it dies with the thought that brings it to our attention. As an emotion, it can potentially propagate indefinitely by infecting our memory bank. One practical application of this concept is to make a concerted effort to visualize a thought associated with fear, and see it disappear with the end of that thought’s lifecycle, and along with it fear consciousness. Since emotion is a qualitative and not a quantifiable entity, greater the focus and concentration on getting rid of a fearful thought, less may be its chance of survival and propagation among other thoughts. The mind can be gradually trained to defeat fear by looking at it as a false notion and by reducing the lifecycle of fear consciousness from the duration of the physical body to that of a thought.

Fear is a dangerous idea. It changes everything, the mind, body, and our outlook on the world. If enough people develop fear, conflicts arise as a secondary reaction. This is usually justified as defense, while the enemy within goes on an offensive rampage. There are four fundamental forces of nature that keep order in the universe. Characteristics of these forces are strong, weak, attractive or repulsive. The mind also has attractive and repulsive forces. Fear as a repulsive force divides, and love as an attractive force unifies people. In the present day, fear has become a stronger force than love. As a general observation, in nature, life forms that have a very short lifespan multiply more rapidly than those that have a long lifespan. In the mind, the initial source of a fearful thought may be short lived, but it multiplies very rapidly. Love is a very long lived thought. The fundamental love that is common to all is love for our own life, which starts at birth and exists throughout one’s lifetime. This love is so great that the thought of suffering in even a very small part of the body, such as one’s fingernail is very difficult to bear. This love manifests through pain when the body is hurt, which then prompts us attend to the problem at hand. If one has the thought that all of humanity is contained in one’s body and treats everyone with the same care as we would our own bodies, then there would be less strife and love would grow from a very weak force to a very powerful one. There are plenty of examples of this in recent memory, such as the love exhibited by Mother Teresa towards destitute lepers. Fear of contracting a deadly disease kept most people away from lepers, but Mother Teresa did not have that fear. Instead she loved them as much as she did herself. The body is the vehicle for the mind to express. The body will follow the dictates of the mind and not the other way around.

The bridge between fear and love is acceptance. Imagine being marooned on a remote island. It may be a terribly lonely prospect, with the fear of no human contact. Trees on such an island may be seen as impersonal and distant companions that provide sustenance for the body and little for the mind filled with fear and loneliness. Now imagine a completely different scenario. To get away from the hustle and bustle of a crowded city, people long to be on a lonely island for a period of time with very limited human contact. The same trees in this example are looked upon as great natural beauty that brings calmness to the mind. The trees have not changed but the mental attitudes in the two examples are very different. Humanity as a whole leads a very lonely existence in the cosmos. We coexist with other species that cannot communicate with us. Just as in the above example, where an island may be looked upon as a desolate, dangerous place or a paradise, we can change our vision of earth into that of an island paradise in an otherwise cold and lifeless cosmos. If one accepts that life involves work and disease is inevitable, in some form and at some point, fear of the unknown future will greatly diminish. The body is our lifeboat and love is humanity’s life boat.

To be continued...