Monday, August 17, 2015

Training the mind - 14

Cloudless sky, a spectacle the almanac fears
Vision of the heaven to some, but farmers wish otherwise
Vagrant clouds spilling their guts may bring welcome relief
But roots look elsewhere, their success is in the depths

“Modern science is based on the principle, ‘Give us one free miracle and we will explain the rest.’ And the one free miracle is the appearance of all the matter and energy of the universe, and all the laws that govern it, from nothing in a single instant.” (Terence McKenna)

Time is a concept that is hardwired into our mind. The question of what time is has never been satisfactorily answered. We use time as a measure and using that ‘miracle’ of time we have come to define the past, present and future. And by an extension of that, nothing in life as we know it may exist without time. From the perspective of the mind, the past is what that senses have already perceived, the present is what the senses are currently perceiving and the future is what the senses will in all probability perceive. Ordinarily mind looks at time in this way. What the senses perceive in real time is what we refer to as the present. It is constantly changing and is an insignificant fraction of time. The mind conditioned by prior experiences and memories cannot relate to the world without the aid of the senses. While one is asleep or under the influence of deep anesthesia, the senses don’t operate and hence the awareness of the mind, conditioned or otherwise is absent. Even though ordinary waking consciousness may be absent, the living consciousness or the life principle is still very much present. In that state, the present reality may be negated from an individual’s perspective. Furthermore it cannot be said that reality does not continue to exist just because it is absent from one individual’s conscious perception. When the mind is on a break, time ceases to exist. Time brings depth and perspective to the mind. It is also the culprit that divides the ever present reality and starts the process of conflict within and amongst thoughts.  

Most fear the unknown in the depths of the mind and at the same time do not take advantage of the perspective that time brings. Time is helpful in putting everything into context and is a great aid in the archival process that goes on in the mind, otherwise referred to as our memory. But the trouble is we get bogged down with “arranging books and bookshelves” and not taking the time to read and understand what is contained in our book of thoughts. Over millennia, storytelling has been a very effective way of propagating information from one generation to another without altering the original message, with the passage of time. Each thought has a story to tell. These tales may be lighthearted and fun, dark and serious or any other genre. These stories may take use to the root of thought itself if we probe deep enough. As an example, one’s current taste in literature likely does not reflect past interests. One does not usually maintain a strong like or a dislike for a particular book that may have been read a long time ago in passing. It may still be on a bookshelf gathering dust or it may have been thrown away. Either way, it is “lost” as far as the mind is concerned. Thoughts can be compared to books. Each thought also has a story behind it. The fact that a certain thought grabs our attention should indicate that there is a hidden thread that ties it down to a certain depth in our mind. Stronger the thought, positive or negative, deeper is the thread buried in the mind. To uncover the basis of a particular thought and remove it completely from our consciousness, whatever else has accumulated around that thought would have to be read cover to cover just as one would read a book. One cannot read the first page of a book and the last page and claim to know the story being narrated. Every word on every page may have to be read to understand any story well. Similarly, a thought that grabs our attention in the present consciousness will have to be examined in detail all the way to its source very deep in the mind to fully understand why it resonated with us in the first place.  

Everyday thousands of thoughts pass through the lens of the mind. It is obviously impractical to examine every thought in this manner. It would take countless lifetimes of concerted effort to do so. Computers have made it easy to get information and its context at our fingertips. We now take that for granted. Even as recent as a hundred years ago, it was a very different story. Imagine going back in time when computers were not available. In that age, centers of knowledge revolved around the great libraries of the world. Access was very limited, and travelling long distances was very hard, if not close to impossible for many. Nowadays, a farmer in a remote part of the third world and a wall street executive can potentially have access to the same information instantaneously. Everything gets relayed in real time in this twitterized world we currently live in. Everyone now has a voice that may be heard all over the world.

Our mind may also be developed so we can instantly assess the basis of each thought and hopefully be able to quickly dispense with a particular thought before it is permanently stored in our memory bank, especially if it is deemed harmful in the long run. Our memory is the repository of all the information we have accumulated through the sense organs. It may not leave physical traces that can be picked by current imaging technologies such as a MRI scanner. But it is undeniable that it leaves a mark on the mind. Some memories don’t even scratch the surface. Bad ones leave deep scars on the mind. Happy memories are like paintings we like to see and admire over and over again. To house all these memories, we end up creating dwellings in the mind. Just as the natural landscape is pockmarked with man made structures, some aesthetically pleasing and others constructed haphazardly, the mind over the course of a lifetime may come to resemble a bustling city, a war torn area or a busy bazaar rather than appear like a pristine valley that has been untouched by human civilization. There are fewer and fewer of these places where one can retreat to in the world today. Everyone is seeking an escape in some form or another from their present circumstances. It may be hard to change one’s physical surroundings, but it is easy to change the mental landscape. Therefore, people tend to dream about an ideal future. There is nothing wrong with dreaming. The problem arises when we take it seriously and want to experience it through the senses over and over again.

The basis for our thoughts is not readily apparent. One cannot trace most thoughts beyond the surface of the mind. They seem to trouble us or please us on the surface of the mind only to mysteriously disappear. Using them to travel back to the library of memory is almost impossible just like the difficulties faced by people in ancient times in travelling great distances. Other thoughts may be well developed and travelled like the Great Silk Road of ancient times and can take us to the very core of our being. Survival is an example. If our very survival is threatened, fear takes over and we can readily observe those thoughts generated by fear travelling to the very core of the mind. Along that journey, we may be presented with all manner of thoughts relating what and who we would miss and how much, if the privilege to exist was somehow taken away from us. Without fear as a catalyst, if one could drill through the mind using any thought to get a snapshot of a cross section of the mind from the core to the surface, it may change our very outlook on life. We may potentially lead a completely different life far from the fears, anxieties and insecurities that plague us today. The fear of the unknown may disappear along with the fear of the passage of time.

How may one develop the mind so that a few thoughts on the surface of the mind may be used, just as we use search words, to get the entire context downloaded to our conscious mind (without expending much time, just like a contemporary search engine)? In order to achieve this, the mind would have to be looked at in a totally different way by putting time aside. Currently we look at the mind in a very linear manner. Past, present and future point like an arrow in one direction. Directionality is given by time. We have come to depend on the concept of time and take it as a certainty. As a thought experiment, what if time did not exist? Our awareness would still be there and probably not memory. If time is taken out of the equation and we are able to maintain awareness, the boundaries between the past, present and the future may potentially be blurred and indistinct. What the mind now considers as the present may extend far into the past as well as the future that we had previously feared. One may ask how it may be possible to achieve this? Consider this example. Raw materials for a meal are easily available to all. Only an expert chef can mix and cook them in a manner that makes one crave for that preparation over and over again. Food once cooked, cannot be restored to its original condition. Similarly time cannot restore the past. A meal cannot be cooked in the future. It has to be cooked in the present moment. Similarly, time cannot bring the future to the present. We are all expert chefs when it comes to mixing and cooking thoughts. We create delightful meals for the mind and by that we start to crave those experiences over and over again. We also dream of a future where it may be experienced again. This is repeated for every thought that brings us a sense of pleasure. Our thoughts also craft ideas for creating unhappiness in others. It is like a chef trying to poison his patrons. Such a chef would quickly go out of business. Furthermore by trying to create unhappiness for others, our happy state of mind will also be closed for our viewing pleasure. One can potentially “defeat time” by not “cooking” and adding “flavor” of our prior memory to sensory input that comes into the mind. This process obviously cannot happen in an instant. It is a slow process that may take a long time. One cannot say that a journey has begun until the first step is taken. With each subsequent step, the destination comes that much closer. It isn’t a moving target as the conditioned mind would like one to believe. When it’s existence is threatened, it is natural for it to fight back. It’s weapon is our dependence on sensory pleasures and it’s armory is our prior memories. If weapons are taken away, no amount of ammunition will be of any good. If the armoury is exhausted, empty weapons cannot cause much harm.

Mankind had assumed that time was a constant until Einstein’s theory of relativity proved otherwise. He suggested that the speed of light is the only constant and time is relative to that. That is, time can either slow down or speed up. Time runs slower as the gravitational pull increases. Gravitational pull increases as the mass of the object increases. Conversely, lesser the gravitational pull, greater the speed of time. This fact of the physical universe may be used as an example to understand our perception of time in relation to thought. Some thoughts are seem very light and we can easily brush those aside. Other thoughts seem very heavy and dense and grab our attention even as we fight to get away. When one is burdened by heavy thought, time does not seem to pass that quickly. An example of a heavy thought is a thought that evokes a great sense of sadness within. Thoughts that generate a sense of happiness within are lighter thoughts and one is under their influence, time seems to pass quickly. Nothing that we know of in the physical universe can exceed the speed of light. Thoughts seem to travel faster than light. Time does not add to the speed of thought, it only gives it directionality as to whether it relates to the past, present or the future.

Imagine walking through a very narrow path carved through a dense corn field. It is hard to see what is there on either side beyond the tall corn stalks. For most people, the present moment is like this narrow path surrounded by innumerable thoughts of the past and the future. The moment one lifts awareness of the present, thoughts about the past or the future immediately pounce and take over our consciousness. Thought entice and get our attention with a promise of a reward in the immediate, near or distant future. Otherwise if there is no hope of acquiring a lasting state of happiness why would one identify with thoughts that create a transitory pleasant sensation within our mind space. There is nothing wrong in pursuit of happiness through thought, but there seems to be a problem with that approach. Each day, there may be thousands of such thoughts promising happiness. Which thought may one choose as a vehicle of lasting happiness? If one settles on one thought, there may several others the next moment promising even more. And with billions of people chasing thousands thoughts on a daily basis, no wonder there is no clearly defined path to happiness in the world today.

Now consider the example of walking through a large clearing in a forest. There is a certain amount of space and freedom to move on either side before one reaches the thicket of trees. This may be compared to decongesting the conscious mind space. One still has thoughts of the past and the future, but there is more freedom to dwell in the present without the danger of other thoughts crowding in. The thoughts of the past and the future are maintained at a safe distance and it becomes more of a choice if one wants to indulge in those thoughts. And finally consider the example of walking through a desert with no vegetation in sight. One may be able to see a long distance in every direction without any obstructions. Unless one has a good sense of direction, walking in any direction may appear to be the same. This may be compared to a state of no thought of the past or the future. If there is a destination to be reached across those desert sands, one better have a good idea where one is going, if not it may be easy to get lost. Deep sleep is comparable to this. In sleep there is no awareness and the mind does not have a finite direction. If one can maintain awareness and have no thought of the past or the future, this whole drama of life and its ultimate meaning may be better understood. It cannot be explained, it has to be experienced. It is a thoughtless land. Just like an evergreen tree cannot grow in a desert, thoughts cannot exist where there is full understanding with total awareness.

There is nothing is the known material universe that is completely static. Everything is in a state of motion and subject to change. Time signifies irreversible change. This is what most people fear most about time, irreversible change. Unconsciously we are seeking a state of no change or a static experience. There is a subtle psychological effort to overcome the process of change. If that static experience is filled with absolute happiness, then there is no need for thought to manifest or propagate. Only when one is removed from that state of absolute happiness, does thought move from one state of relative happiness to another. The senses are a witness to this. The senses are good at perceiving change. They are constantly on the lookout for it. To experience a completely static or changeless mind, the senses are not the right tool. By an extension of the senses, use of what is stored in memory or prior knowledge is also not the right avenue to experience changelessness. Memory also signifies a certain distance from an event or an experience. Off all the memories, the one that is the most distant and the least apparent in its purest form is that of the state of eternal happiness. It is an universal goal. Everyone has this fundamental need to be happy. The need implies that there is a void somewhere deep within. Every endeavor we undertake, we do so with the unconscious desire to fill this void. This void has come about because we have bought into the concept of time and with that the mind goes from changelessness to inevitable change. Just as changes may manifest into infinity, changelessness may also manifest into infinity. They may both be running like parallel tracks. Our present awareness is locked in on change and not changelessness. On the track of change, the journey may never not stop. One has to keep moving and inevitably will be subject to the past, present and the future. On the other parallel track of changelessness, the journey is the same whether one moves or not. Time can no longer have a hold. Time bound existence would cease to be. There would not be any need for the miracle of time to explain our existence. Time bound bodily death would be just that. Not the death of our consciousness. Some part of us will live on forever whether the senses are fed or starved. The goal of life should be to discover that changeless aspect within by travelling to and beyond the root of thought .

To be continued...