Sunday, August 30, 2015

Training the mind - 15

There’s happiness in emptiness
When vision isn’t obstructed by fear
Parachuting in through thought
Invasion of loneliness multiplies wants

“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” Lao Tzu

Everyone is looking for a certain depth of experience in life. Without that depth, be it through emotions, intellect or enjoyment, we may as well be robots and not humans. Our nature is to seek happiness and that is the deepest of all experiences, as it is the basis for anything we do. Any thought that makes an impression on one's mind creates that depth. But a thought, no matter how deep cannot penetrate the bottom of the mind and see beyond the mind. That is, thought which is the product of the mind cannot be bigger than the mind. Each thought represents a portion of the mind. It is a mere reflection. Just as one cannot feel the heat of the sun by dipping a hand in its reflection on a lake, one cannot experience the whole of the mind through thought. Going from the reflection that thought is, one needs to have a direct perception of the source, if the mind is to be truly understood.

Mind is the vessel that holds thought. If a vessel holding water for example, breaks, it’s contents are also lost. That is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to what we have stored in the mind as our life experiences, especially if they are negative. Ultimately whether we seek to preserve as real (or discard as false) our thoughts and life experiences depends on what one seeks in life. Ordinarily for the conscious mind, the comfort zone is the body, senses and thoughts. The depth of experience obtainable through the body is limited. Those experiences are not long lasting. It lasts only as long as the chemical messengers triggered are still circulating in the blood stream. Since there is a finite store of those chemical messengers, it has to be continuously replenished. It is hard to create that state of euphoria at will. To enhance that experience, people tend to resort to external chemicals, most commonly alcohol. It is ultimately damaging not only to our body but also to our future prospects of understanding what our true nature is. Getting a greater intensity of experience through external agents is like a streak of lightning. Illumination from lightening does not last for more than a few seconds and may be dark again. Also, it portends a storm that may be imminent. Similarly when one reaches the depth of any sensory experience, one cannot stay at that depth for too long, just as a scuba diver can only stay for a finite amount of time underwater. Repeating such experiences exhausts the nervous system which leads to "darkness" of the nervous system in the form of fatigue in the short run and depression in the long run.

Over time, the nervous system develops a tolerance to the chemicals we use to trigger a response. One may have to increase the amount of those chemicals whether it is a pill or alcohol or something else. It is a hole that gets deeper with each use. It is a vicious cycle in which one gets sucked deeper and deeper into a wrong groove. To an untrained mind, it may appear more pleasant to experience a variety of sensory experiences than to discard those experiences. A sacrifice would have to be made if one wants to search for a deeper and more lasting source of happiness. This may cause pain in the short run but it leads to a long term gain. As opposed to a flash of lightening that was used as an example to understand the fleeting nature of sensory experiences, the rewards of seeking inner happiness that is not conditioned by anything external are like stars in a clear night sky. Unlike a streak of lightening, stars are visible night after night. Their movement is reliably predictable. Similarly, with completely clear mind free of any thought, the light of inner happiness ought to be always be visible. Sensory experiences that deplete the nervous system of energy as they try to create something new that was previously non existent. More energy is poured into archiving and retrieving remembrances of those experience. But tapping into something that is already there within all of us, not through thought but by direct perception may actually rest and rejuvenate the nervous system, as this process is independent of the sense organs.

There are two aspects to every individual. One is time bound and the other is timeless. The body and the senses are time bound as they will perish one day. Seeking happiness through them is limiting. There is something deeply mysterious and timeless within all. Inner happiness may be a marker of that timelessness. Seeking its essence and being permanently in that state of happiness is the process of liberation. The next logical question becomes, how does one go about attaining that state of permanent happiness?

Happiness is ubiquitous in the world around, if we know how to distill that essence without being contaminated by the residue of sorrow. As an example, oxygen from air that we breathe in the form of a gaseous substance needs to be converted into a form that can dissolve in our blood before the bodily tissues can absorb them. Air in its native state, cannot travel through the bloodstream. Physicians recognize the dangers of free air in the bloodstream, which could cause a potentially fatal condition called air embolism. That transfer of oxygen from gas to liquid occurs in the lung. There is innate cellular intelligence that is able to extract only what is essential from air while rejecting the non essential. Similarly numerous sources of happiness that are present in the world enter our mind through sensory experience. At the level of the mind, one must figure out not just how to extract that essence of happiness, but how to make it last. We all know how to extract happiness from worldly objects. Once we acquire an object that we desire, we experience a state of being happy. This comes naturally to us and is embedded in our nature. In course of time that happiness gets diluted by other thoughts and desires, which are like contaminants. Once we enjoy that taste of happiness, it is natural that one would want more of it. Herein lies a problem. We get hooked onto the delivery vehicles of happiness, ie worldly objects without understanding it's a deeper essence of happiness is what we are really after. Consider another example of a mail carrier delivering letters. Letters that are addressed to us are written by someone else and mailed in a sealed envelope. Mail carriers have no knowledge of the contents of the letter they may be carrying. We don’t ask the mail carrier about the contents of a letter. It does not matter if it is a different mail carrier delivers letters everyday. We accept those letters as long as they are addressed to us.  It is upto us to open and read them. Similarly any object or person in the world that we associate with happiness is like that mail carrier. They bring the essence of happiness to us. It is upto us to distill that essence irrespective of the form in which it is brought to us. Some envelopes may be in tatters but that’s ok as long as the letter inside is preserved. SImilarly, life’s seemingly difficult situations are like those tattered envelopes that may have a hidden lesson for us. Any difficult situation can make us happier in the long run if we are able to accept that difficulty and learn from it. Usually it is not the situation that needs to change, but our response to it. If we don’t open and discard the envelope, then how would we be able to read the contents of a letter that is contained within? Similarly, every experience is like that envelope. It has to be opened and discarded after we get the essence of that experience, whether it is happiness or a lesson for the future. By hanging on to the vehicles that bring us happiness, we set ourselves up for future sorrow. Imagine if one collected all the envelops that one receives in the mail everyday. The whole house would be full of them in a relatively short time. Similarly, the mind instead of enjoying that essence of happiness becomes enmeshed thoughts related to the vehicles of happiness.

One can be like a honey bee and extract bits and pieces of happiness just as a bee extracts nectar from flowers and deposit them in the hive of the mind. What bees go through to create a hive is expensive in terms of time and effort. Moreover, it is a collective effort of thousand of bees working in a coordinated fashion. Bees cannot control external factors such as the availability of suitable nectar laden flowers, the right season etc. There are a lot of variables out of a bee’s control that goes into building its hive. Besides, the lifespan of the bee may be up before it is ever completed. It is busy working at building that hive, rather than enjoying the sweetness it is collecting. Similarly we all want to create the perfect hives of happiness in our mind. But like the bee collected tiny droplets of nectar, we lose time in that effort. Busily working and collecting, we hardly give ourselves an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of our efforts. By the time we get around to doing that, it may be too late. Illness may strike or other life changing situations crop up. Like the bee, our time may be up before our concept of a perfect mental hive of worldly happiness takes final shape. We then leave the material manifestation of that mental hive we have created, in the form of inheritance to future generations, who are themselves involved in making their own hives.

Just as bees fly from one flower to another in search of nectar, our attention and senses flit from one object to another seeking the nectar of happiness. Rather than fly from one object to another, a more direct way is to look inward for happiness. The quality of our innate nature is happiness. Otherwise this would not be what everyone is after. Compared to building a hive from painstaking bits gathered from the world, looking for happiness that is already within is like having a readymade jar of honey. If one has a large store of honey at home, why would one go disturb a beehive for more? There is always the danger of being stung in the process of getting honey from a beehive. Similarly, going after external happiness may result in one getting bitten by the bug carrying the contagion of desire. Our essential nature is not easily appreciated as our mental energies are focussed on acquiring through objects, the best possible vehicle for happiness. No object is the perfect vehicle for happiness and the search goes on and on without a satisfactory end. A lot of energy is expended in this process through thought. This energy is renewable and may be retrieved through various techniques, meditation being one of them that is commonly employed. Even if one is deeply engrossed in creating wealth for oneself, that can also be turned into a form of meditation if the mind is directed to that activity exclusively. Worldly activity such as acquiring wealth usually does not give us the experience of true meditation as there is a lot of fear and expectation that goes hand in hand with making money.  Any activity may be turned into a “mediational activity” if we are able to keep fear and expectation out. The end result of meditation is freedom from thought. That does not mean we become thoughtless. This is a very important point. It means that there is no psychological recording going on in the background that leads to attachment and limitation. When there is freedom from thought, thoughts may be used as a tool. Just as one uses a passport to identify oneself at international border crossings, one can use a particular thought as a means of conveying one’s ideas and actions to the world. In other words, it is being used to help others and not just enrich our already considerable store of subconscious memories.

Just as people are focused on weighing the different types of vehicles that bring us happiness, people also tend to have internal or external conflict about the means to get the end result of concentrated attention or meditation. A concentrated mind is a happy mind. Some think it is best to approach this goal through god and religion, others through science. But the end result gets is the same, which is a sense of a better life and happiness. Why fight over who is right or wrong? When flying on a commercial airliner, the ticket price and schedule is more important than the external paint of the airliner. Similarly, any approach is a great technique if it gives us freedom from the binding aspect of thought.
This source energy for thought may be thought of as a finite point in the mind of infinite potential. There can be no defined place for this to exist in the mind. Whatever point in the mind that receives the greatest focus and attention becomes the center and everything else revolves around it. Each thought has a certain amount of energy and that energy seeks to be a center around which other thoughts with lesser quanta of energy revolve. Similar to the sun, which is the object with the greatest gravitational force in the solar system, around which all other planets revolve. The planets themselves have their own gravitational fields, which prevent them from collapsing their orbits and hurtling into the sun. Similarly, energy from each thought keeps others thoughts at bay and the thought with the strongest energy is the one around which all other thoughts revolve. The quest for being happy is an example of that strong force that lives in the mind and every other thought is influenced by that. But if thought itself is set aside, the build up of energy that isn’t lost through thought-matter interaction in the mind could be tremendous. If this energy in turn is concentrated to a smaller and smaller point through further refined focus and attention, one may reach a stage where the individual mind becomes an infinitesimally small entity with a huge amount of potential energy confined in a very small space. All this may be imagined, but to experience practice is required. Complex mathematical equations may be imagined, but will have to be proved through a sequence of equations in order to believe and understand them. Mathematical equations themselves do not lead to benefits directly, but their applications have greatly benefitted mankind. Similarly, approaching the mind in this way may not seem to have a direct benefit but proper channeling and application of that energy could help mankind tremendously. Each one has this energy source with. It lays dormant from lack of use. The process of switching on this reactor is what meditation seeks to achieve.

If all the energies contained in the mind can be concentrated on one point, there must be space around that is emptied of that energy. The universe for example is thought to have started out as a point of energy. If all the billions of galaxies could be condensed into that point again without collapsing the space that contained them, there will be a point of unimaginable energy and a vast amount of empty space. The state we call happiness may be thought of as a combination of concentrated energy and a field of emptiness around it. Greater the concentration of energy in a smaller and smaller space results is a bigger field of happiness around it. At some point in our lives we may have experienced an ecstatic moment. At that very moment, there is no other thought and all the energies of the mind are focused in one place. Apart from that point of focussed attention, there is a sense of emptiness. But that moment does not last. Very quickly that energy is dissipated amongst thoughts that start to crowd in. But by concerted efforts within one’s mind’s space, a more lasting state of concentrated energy amidst a field of emptiness may be created. For this, attachment and identification with thought, good or bad (translating to likes and dislikes towards external objects) must be the first thing to go.

The mind is not opaque. In its pure state it may be thought of as being transparent like a clear glass container. Imagine a glass container that is completely transparent, so much so that it is virtually invisible. An outline of that glass container may be seen if something more opaque fills it. If that container is filled halfway with sand for instance, we cannot say that the container is only that tall, just because we cannot see the rest of it from a distance. Similarly the mind cannot be seen, but its outline may be delineated by the thoughts it contains. Thoughts may be small or big. But the outline extends only as far as the biggest thought. But that does not mean that there is no greater depth than what we perceive of it through thought. That is the fallacy of understanding the depth of the mind through thought. Thoughts reflect energy in the mind, therefore they can be felt. Thoughts are like the sand in that transparent glass container. If we are able to directly perceive the true extent of the mind without the medium of thought, then one gets to experience the real potential of the mind. The journey cannot stop there. Although direct perception of the mind is a much subtler and concentrated form than perceiving the mind through thought, but there must be something beyond that. That energy must be coming from somewhere. To trace it back it further, the container that holds thought which in turn reflects its energy must also not exist. Then we come to a pure energetic state without any boundary, whether it is confined to thought or extends to the entire mind. Energy implies movement and excitement, such as the energetic states of electrons. If that movement also stops, everything involutes further. It becomes pure potential energy of infinite intensity, so highly concentrated that even emptiness around it cannot exist. This state may be compared to that of a black hole. To an outside observer, that potential energy appears like nothingness that cannot be perceived directly. Any perception implies that the energy has escaped the state of absolute potentiality. We infer that “nothingness” such as that of a black hole from the outside, but cannot directly perceive it. Journey to that distant and abstract possibility of “nothingness” that contains all the energies making it the source of everything, starts with what is nearest to us, the conscious mind. Now the question is, how many are ready to leave their psychological attachments behind and investigate this rather profound question for themselves?

To be continued...