Monday, May 25, 2015

Training the mind - 12

Fighting a whirlpool, head caressed by air
Legs chained by water
Arms helpless as a broken sail
The wise glide, like a bird above troubled waters

Often, the question comes up about the role of fate in our lives. To a lot of people, fate has come to stand for Forced Acceptance of The Event. At any given moment of time, we cannot change what is happening. We can only accept or reject a situation. To some people, a mechanism of acceptance is to bring fate into the equation. By this, one may avoid being troubled by a particular situation or life event, but it does not help one grow mentally.  Another method of acceptance is to consciously observe the situation and see what one can learn from it. By leaning on the concept of fate, we may miss the chance to learn from any given situation. Perhaps, our thoughts and actions in the past may have had something to do with the current situation. Or it may be a random event that comes as a complete surprise. But by simply blaming fate, we lose this chance of introspection. In general, to explain away events that we perceive as negative, we generally attribute them to fate. It creates a certain level of peace and comfort in one’s mind to bring fate into the equation to explain a negative life event.

If something great happens in one’s life, a natural reaction is to think that it was well deserved. Can we say that people living in the 21st century were fated to have light bulbs and those who lived in the 16th century did not have it as it was not in their fate? No, it was not fate but one man’s brilliance that made it happen. No one would say it was Edison’s fate that he invented the light bulb. He was so deep in thought about inventing it, that he perhaps knowingly or unknowingly arranged his life around that one thought. Everyone is capable of great things. Only a focused and single pointed mind may be missing. Each one is endowed with certain unique qualities and capabilities. Without examining what we are capable of doing, we aspire to do something that someone else is doing because it seems like a better thing to do. It may or may not work out that way. If it does not work, it leads to disappointments in life and invariably fate gets dragged into the equation to explain away the failure. Instead, if we know what our strengths and limitations are, within that framework each one has the ability if he or she chooses, to create something new and useful. Fate will then have nothing to do with these creations that we bring into the world. Even if they are not immediately useful and don’t bring in fame or money, perhaps in the future someone may pick up on that idea and make it better. In that sense, our contribution never goes away, even if we are not recognized for it. Nothing in nature seeks recognition for itself except the human mind. And why seek to be singled out and recognized by fate?

In the grand scheme of things, our planet is an insignificant speck. And we are even more transient and insignificant that that. By thinking that fate singled us out to dish out a set of cards that would rule our existence is an indirect way of saying that we are very important. “Look if fate has thought of me and caused this or that in my life, therefore I must be important”, the mind silently muses. We buy into this fallacy as we currently know nothing about our existence beyond the body or the mind. We have become mouthpieces for the mind and its habits and compulsions. A lot of people rearrange their entire lives to accommodate demands of the mind. The mind is accorded such great importance that if external situations are not to the mind’s liking, we tend to side with the mind. The friction created by the mind’s struggle to rearrange the external world to its liking leads to a lot of unhappiness. Each one wants to rearrange the world in a different way. What one wants from the world, changes from moment to moment, day to day and year to year. Thankfully, evolution does not pay much attention to one’s thoughts and aspirations. Nature is very organized, but the world may appear chaotic. It may be a reflection of the chaos that is in the mind. If the mind is kept quiet and orderly, the world will also appear such. Only a quiet mind can be create something new. It is actions that stem from those moments of quietude that add contributions to the world. One big tree does not make a forest. Many millions of trees living in quiet harmony make a forest. From a distance those trees look like a sea of green. Not one tree stands out. That is the beauty of a forest. The mind can be looked at in a similar way. No one can empty their mind of all thoughts and remain in that state. It is practically impossible. But one has the ability to step away from the mind and look at thoughts as one would do a forest from a distance. Suddenly one troublesome thought that was ruining one’s otherwise happy life, will get lost in that sea of thoughts. It is not that it disappears, but it becomes unrecognizable. No one would want to sift through all those thoughts to find the one that troubles them the most. Once one is able to step away from individual thoughts, the mind space will offer an open area where new ideas may be planted. These seeds would be the ones that we choose not the ones thrown up at random from the subconscious storehouse. Anything worthwhile takes time to grow. In relation to the big bang that happened some 13 odd billion years ago, human life is an extremely recent happening. Why waste the rare chance to fully experience the pinnacle of life on earth, by focusing the mind on unproductive thoughts?

There are many things directly under our control and many more things that are out of our hands. Take hunger as an example. We have no direct control over suppressing or creating hunger for food. When the body decides it needs more fuel, the hunger center in the brain is triggered, prompting us to look for suitable food to eat. When the body has sensed it is full, the hunger impulse is turned off. Nobody says that it is the fate of the body to get hungry at times, therefore there is no need to eat. When one is lucky enough to have access to variety of delicacies, fate is thrown aside and whether the body needs that food or not, we tend to eat. But as for the millions who may be starving, as it is unfortunately happening in several parts of the world on a daily basis, we turn a blind eye to their suffering. If we do think of people struggling in those unfortunate circumstances, it may be easy to dismiss that thought as their fate that they have to suffer in that manner. But if their hunger becomes our hunger, and their suffering becomes our suffering, suddenly that same notion of fate will prompt us to act.

Life can be thought of one long walk with no particular starting point or destination. When we gain conscious control of our minds early in life, we may set certain goals for ourselves. This varies greatly from individual to individual. Life then goes from becoming an enjoyable walk to a race between arbitrary start and finish lines. For some, life becomes all about survival, eating and finding a place to rest their heads at night. Others, may set the aim of life as seeking pleasure for the body and the mind. For most of humanity, directly or indirectly these become the goals of their existence. They may drive expensive care, life sophisticated lives or live in temporary shelters and have no way to get around except on their two feet. But in the end, a great majority want the same thing from life, food, sleep and pleasure.

Viewed from the lens of existential concerns of the body, we can all agree that the fate of the body is sealed the moment we are born. Someday in the future, we all hope that it is the very distant future, the body will no longer be under our possession. Yet we operate like we are immortal. This is one of the great mysteries of life. Something this obvious does not come into our ordinary consciousness, and death seems to be a taboo subject for most people until it finally arrives. Fear is one reason why people may not like to discuss their individual mortality. When everything one has is vested in the body and the mind, it is but natural to try as extract the maximal possible happiness from them and make it last for eternity. But the heart beats do not go on for ever. But those suffering very bad circumstances, may or may not necessarily be of their own making would probably say, that death would come as a relief from the sufferings that they have endured. Rich or poor, religious or nonreligious, good or bad in the eyes of society, all humans are fated to undergo suffer bodily death and decay. Fate in this context is inevitable and one instance which is irrefutable.

Rather than look at death as a negative, it should spur us into action in the present moment. Time is not our property, we have access to a tiny part of the time spectrum. If we consider what time brings us tomorrow as fate, when “that tomorrow” arrives, very quickly in front of our very eyes, it is washed away into the past. The same fate that once lived in the future, does not travel to the past. It is simply called a memory, and we place a stamp on that memory, desirable or undesirable. When something is borrowed and we have it for a limited time to use and enjoy, we tend to keep it carefully and derive maximum enjoyment out of it. Everything is life is borrowed including time. The body is borrowed, the mind is also borrowed. We have the ability to shine the light of consciousness on the body and the mind. Forgetting that it is borrowed for a period of time we start claiming ownership over it. When we own sometime, we can do as we please. But in reality, we don’t own the body, the mind or time. What we have under our control and in a sense ownership of, is the ability to use and enjoy or destroy and suffer. This chance may never return. Some people, use this a rationalization to lead reckless lives by telling themselves, “anyway I am going to die one day, let me enjoy to the fullest”. There is nothing wrong with this approach to life, except it is not an easy question to answer, who is the “me” in that statement. A step towards answering that question may be taken by looking at the body and the mind as borrowed tools. Nobody wants blunt instruments. That applies to the body and the mind. Both come in pristine condition, for the most part, but through our misuse, they become blunt instruments that can do very little. Fate has nothing to do with it.

Everything in nature has two attributes in common, expression and expansion. When we talk of nature, we tend to speak as though nature is a separate entity from us. We can quite easily see ourselves as different from nature but have difficulty in seeing ourselves as neither the body or the mind. The body is complex biological organism, and one cannot say it is not part of nature. It depends on the most abundant element in nature, air without which we cannot survive. Air reaches every cell in one’s body charging it with life. Without a living and functional body, the mind cannot express or expand itself. Imagine being kept isolated in a dark room. One cannot fathom being stuck in such as place for too long. The mind would kick up a virtual storm in our head space when it finds no outlet for expression. Every thought potentially wants to find expression and expansion, be it love or hate, happiness or sorrow, greed or generosity. It is not by the accident of fate that we express ourselves in the world in a positive or negative manner. It is up to us to find, keep and foster thoughts that may be beneficial to everyone around us. These then turns into habits which can greatly harm or help others. The fate of the world’s happiness depends on what thoughts each individual focuses on to express or expand his or her mind. Most of us are victims of our own compulsive thoughts and actions. In order to fulfill these thoughts and actions, we may deliberately or accidentally trample upon other people’s personal space and property. If habit compulsions are very strong, they will find an outlet for expression. If there are enough like minded people, their collective consciousness may find itself expressing in irrational and dangerous ways. They can then change the fate of the world. As it applies to the physical world, is very easy to destroy what is already there, but very hard to create sometime entirely new. Conversely, in the mind, it is very easy to create new thought patterns, but it is very hard to get rid of old ingrained thoughts and habits. If a thought is good, it’s expression becomes beneficial to the world.

Every plant, animal or human is a unique expression of nature. The mind and sensory apparatus helps us experience nature consciously which plants and animal cannot do. This conscious ability to experience and derive happiness from nature comes naturally to children. As we grow older, we forget this capability of ours. This is because we start focussing on the internal environment that has piled up with our likes and dislikes. The mind has no ceiling. Even the sky is not the limit. The mind has endless capacity to expand. But if we expand it with our likes and dislikes, they will someday come back to us as pleasant or unpleasant thoughts. If we are able to function in the world with a sense of detachment, not apathy, we can be equally productive, if not more than we would otherwise. There are innumerable things that we have liked and disliked in the past, every thought that comes at any given time may be contaminated with memory of these likes and dislikes. Fate does not bring these thoughts. Our stored impressions have everything to do with how our mind appears to us today. The conscious ability to experience life is both a blessing and a curse. More our likes and dislikes, more of a curse life becomes. On the contrary, less our likes and dislikes, the more of a blessing life becomes. If we like everything in nature and see everything as part of us, the mind can expand without fear of a painful recoil. One can then find expression in infinite ways, if not physically, we can do so mentally. Then the fate of nature is no more a responsibility of individual countries, whether rich or poor. Each one will have a hand in preserving nature for the future generations. Everyone needs to breathe. Air is indispensable whether one lives in a country with forests or deserts. It is a well known fact that trees recycle the carbon dioxide we breathe out, into oxygen. Deserts don’t have trees but the air is rich with oxygen. Trees impact not only the local environment, but also of the entire world. Pure air is not a property of one country or person. Thought is energy and this energy can impact not only us but others. We become feeble broadcasters if we have several thoughts going at once in many different directions. If the mind can be made powerful by single pointed attention and focus, perhaps we may be very strong broadcasters. Currently our thoughts are broadcast all over the world instantly through social media, which have made the need to develop a strong and powerful mind redundant. But social media cannot penetrate the space beyond the mind. The mind can be made into a telescope to peer deeper within ourselves. Depending on the instrument of fate to look deeper will only cloud the lens of that dependable telescopic mind.

When people’s lives are troubled either by sickness, war, man-made calamities etc, the notion of the inevitable happening through the aegis of fate can be a soothing balm for the mind. It is like an intoxicant that numbs pain and suffering in the mind. The term fate has been used as a universal label to explain what the mind cannot explain. If one has a strong belief in fate, who decides individual destinies? If it is an invisible overseer assigned to us to dish out our fate, who watches that overseer? Like this, it can go on and on without a satisfactory answer. The other end of the spectrum is the notion that one is solely responsible for all the happenings in one’s own life. When one looks at this statement a little deeper, the question may be raised, who is the one that is responsible. One may answer, “I am responsible”. But then the question goes back again to “Who is that I?” If one waits for fate to provide that answer, it may never come.