Sunday, July 26, 2015

Training the mind - 13

Fearless of actionless prayer
And fearful of prayerful action
One neither scales the earthly summit
Or rises to the high heavens

Work is worship goes the saying. There are innumerable types of work that one may undertake. It does not answer the question, what is true work? Mark Twain said, “work and play are words used to describe the same thing under different conditions”. Even when we are sitting quietly with eyes closed and the mind not focused on anything in particular, there is a tremendous amount of work going on in the body. Cells are not static. They are in continual state of action that leads to either regeneration, maintenance or destruction. When our mind thinks it is escaping work and thinks it is resting and enjoying activities that it finds pleasurable, this internal work in the body goes on. Even in the mind, there is always activity going on. When we sleep, we close the door to the mind, but we can never turn it off. Each one may have a different definition of what work means. Generally speaking, when we try to define work, we are only able to to describe activities that we perform in different situations. All these activities are looked at from the perspective of the mind.

Recently, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made it to the doorstep of pluto, the farthest space mission to date intended to reach its primary target. For the first time, we are now able to see what the surface of that mysterious planet looks like. From the perspective of that little spacecraft, the earth may not even appear as a tiny dot in space, full of other brighter and larger objects. Whatever object is closest to that spacecraft will appear the most defined to its cameras and lenses. We can take this as an example to better understand the relationship of the mind, thoughts and our attentiveness. For all practical purposes, during our waking hours, we are enslaved by thoughts. Every moment, there are thoughts that either amuse, excite, anger, incite fear, make us lonely, or happy and so on. It is an endless cycle that goes on from the time we are born till we die. Each of these thoughts can be thought of as the heavenly bodies like stars, planets etc that we see in the night sky. To us, thoughts may either appear distant and inconsequential or one single thought can literally consume all of our energies especially if it is one born out of fear of loss of something or someone. On the black canvas of the night sky, stars may appear as tiny dots, but each one is a giant in relation to the size of our earth. Our mind may be thought of as that black background which we call space. The innumerable thoughts that one has may be thought of as the billions of stars that one sees each night, when the sky is clear. Our attentiveness may be thought of as a spacecraft making its way through space.

With a spacecraft, one clearly knows the exact spot from which it left earth and its intended target. But within ourselves we cannot pinpoint the source of the attentiveness that makes us interested in certain thoughts while rejecting others. Furthermore, for most people, the aim of life is a very deep question without easy answers. That leaves us with the unfortunate problem of letting our attentiveness aimlessly wander from thought to thought, making us nomads within our own mind. The source of conflict and division in the world today is people identifying with certain common thoughts and ideologies while rejecting others. When one identifies with a particular thought, it is inevitable that everything else will be seen from that perspective. For example, the sun looks very different from pluto compared to our view of the sun. So it follows that using thought as vehicle, one cannot get a real and true perspective of what life is.

What we know of the known universe is what our senses and the instruments we have invented show us. Similarly, what we know of the mind is what our thoughts show us. Just like what lies behind the known universe is a great unsolved mystery, what lies beyond thought is also very opaque and hard to know. One cannot imagine living anywhere except on earth, where we have a life sustaining envelope of air. Similarly, we imagine that one’s mind or attention cannot exist without thought. It is the kinetic energy of thought that creates the illusion of happiness or misery. Through our senses we consume experiences, process them and store them as memories. They then come back to us in the form of dreams, aspirations, expectations. When unfulfilled, we seek other more palatable experiences that we think will overthrow the prevalent mood of that time. When our dreams are fulfilled, we seek more such dreams to fulfill. This is a pattern that we cannot easily shake. Perhaps we don’t seek to break that mould out of fear of “emptiness”. We seek empty space around us, but are frightened about the same thing within us. Think of a closet full of clothes, all of which cannot be worn at the same time but each day one can wear a different outfit. Similarly, the mind can be thought of as a closet and we wear one or more predominant thought pattern each day. Just as one takes clothes off to shower each morning, it is possible to shed the coat of thoughts for even a few brief moments each day without fear. That would give one a perspective from the “other side” beyond the reach of conditioned existence. It requires putting our attentiveness to work, not on thinking but observing from within. This observation must be done dispassionately without creating an experience, imagining the future, recollecting the past or thinking of the present. The past, present and future may be thought of as timestamps placed on thoughts. Like a library that contains books on ancient history, contemporary times, and futuristic sci-fi fantasies, the mind also contains thoughts that fit those three categories.

It is easy to let go of our attentiveness and allow it to wander amongst these categories of thoughts. Due to the compulsions of habit, we imagine that it takes a lot more work to keep tabs on our attentiveness than to let it roam. We have a certain sense of security within our own mind and since it is a private space, we have the perceived freedom to do as we please there. In reality, once thoughts take hold, they never let go. There is no true freedom wherever there is thought. We turn into helpless rag dolls passed on from thought to thought. Why do thoughts have this immense power over us? From when we are little, we are deeply identified with the body. This identification starts with the thought, “I am my own being, separate and unique from others”. When there is a sense of separateness, we try to protect what we consider “mine” and ignore what happens to what we don’t consider “ours”. This leads to division and ultimately strife. A huge amount of effort is invested in raising this body from that of an infant to a full grown adult. As the body grows, so does our mind. Once we consider ourselves as individuals, there is a deep seated fear of loss of the “I” ness. To overcome this fear, we struggle to surround ourselves with what we consider pleasant. If one steps off this treadmill of life for just a moment and ask ourselves, is there any real meaning in all these actions we perform? A satisfactory answer may not be possible even if one engages the computing power of a supercomputer to comb through all the possible permutations. The answers we get are mostly based on one’s culture, religion and environment. The same bodily frame that brings so much happiness to oneself and near and dear ones when it is alive and healthy, brings tears of sorrow and agony once life leaves it. It is remarkable that there is such great faith placed in something so tenuous.

The human body is at best, a seed that can help one transform into something greater, albeit not in the physical sense. Millions of years of evolution has brought the physical body to the present state. In one lifetime, it is hard to even imagine improving upon this wonderful gift. Just as a seed has to sprout to take root, our inner potential has to be awakened for each one to grow into a “giant”. Such “giants” will coexist peacefully with everyone else. A gigantic tree like the redwood coexists with a tender blade of grass growing around the base of its trunk. The tree does not grab what the grass has and vice versa. Both a tree and a blade of grass plant roots. The depth of their respective roots vary but both depend on the ground for support and sustenance. Once uprooted the tree or the grass no longer exists but their seeds may have spread far and wide. The body is supported by the earth, the mind is supported by the body. If one probes this line of thought a little deeper, one may not clearly understand what supports the mind, but there probably exists an anchor that keeps the mind in our sphere of influence. Our “roots” are presently in the body and the mind. Our external dependence is on the earth and internally there is something deeper that sustains all of us. The body and the mind are finite entities. They are in our possession as long the life flows in and out, and blood flows in and out of the heart. The only predictable aspect of life is that these life sustaining processes go on till the end. If one were to build a house on a swamp, a desert or a rocky ground, the types of foundations would vary considerably. Mind is like a ground where we build the foundation of our life. But the problem with the mind that it keeps changing every day. It may be solid and dependable one day, flowing with emotion the next. One another day, it may be like fire, burning up everything in sight. It may also be spacey and not connected with anything in reality. How does one build one’s life around something that is so fickle? Either one has to find another place to build or change the nature of the mind.

The body and the mind are seamlessly interlinked. This makes it even harder to get a sense of separation from the body and the mind. Until we are able to consciously step out of the mental box that we have lived in all our lives, what lies beyond the reach of thoughts is impossible to ascertain. Whatever may be written about it, or spoken about will just be another string in an endless series of thoughts unless it is in one’s actual experience. Such a state, beyond thought, may be equated to pure awareness. There is no addition, deletion or modification of information. It is simply a state of being and observing. That would make us like mountains or trees except that we have the mind as a tool. Once it is emptied of the products of movement of thought and experience, perhaps one might find it bursting with energy. We expend a huge amount of energy everyday in the intake, classification, analysis, storage and retrieval of thought. Most of these are very trivial and meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but at that moment when a certain thought is active, our whole life becomes that. This leads to a slow metamorphosis of our personality and in the end we become the product of our thoughts. If one had no idea of the concept of evolution and were told that humans were descended from fish, it would be hard to believe. Similarly, when one understands the workings of the mind and thought, it becomes easier to understand that we are the product of our thoughts.

The earth has a thin envelope of air that is unlike anything else that we know of in the universe. There is a great empty space stretching for millions of miles all around us. But that does not make us completely isolated in the universe. Every object in the universe is subject to the force of gravity. It has no color, shape, smell, form or any other physical attribute. Yet we are subject to it as much as the sun or the galaxies are under its influence. Once we leave the sphere of influence of thought, perhaps there is a unifying principle that ties us all together. During the daytime, the sun outshines any light manufactured by man. During nighttime, differences in the intensity of light from bulbs, candles and lamps are apparent. Similarly, if one were to step outside the shelter of the mind and thought, in theory, everyone should be able to have the same level of awareness. This is possible only if one is truly without thought. This state of pure awareness does not make one lazy or complacent. On the contrary it should make one more active and productive. There is a great deal of difference between activity that is product of thought and that of pure awareness. Just as light from the sun that enters our atmosphere and supports life, from a state of pure awareness, one may be able to enter the realm of thought and direct them into action that is beneficial for mankind. Such action is unselfish. If there is no such need at that time, one may remain that state of true awareness as a witness. Action that is the product of thought may be weak or strong depending on the energy in that thought. These actions are invariably selfish. When we are enslaved by thought, our actions are similar to those of a puppet. These actions stop when thoughts lose their energy, allowing other thoughts to take over. This “thought puppeteer” never stops. The state of pure awareness can be compared to a mirror. A mirror reflects objects whether they are near or far. The distant stars or the hair follicles on one’s skin are both reflected. The mirror does not modify the object that is reflected. Thoughts don’t function like mirrors. Whatever is reflected on it is instantly modified and changed.

Real work starts when we start polishing the mirror of pure awareness. When one lives and acts prompted by thoughts, this mirror is forgotten. But everyone has equal access to it. Every action has the potential of uncovering it. That potential is lost when every activity of our is motivated by selfish thought. The basis of such thought is past memory. By its nature it is divisive and action that results from such thought is invariably selfish action. That is it pertains to the preservation of the body and propagation of further thought. This endless cycle has bound man since time immemorial. Freedom from thought leads to true selfless action. Then, modifying what Mark Twain said, freedom and unselfish action are words used to describe the same thing under different conditions.

To be continued...