Saturday, September 12, 2015

Training the mind - 16

The most sought after relationship
Rarely survives the test of patience
Thoughts ask a lot in return for pleasure
Unlike the monuments of nature

Can one have a close relationship without expectation? The easy answer is yes. Being individual entities, there is no getting around relationships of one kind or another. But one can easily live without expectation. It is optional. We may not have control over certain relationships, but we have full control over our expectations if we choose. For example, our relationship with the air we breathe is essential for living. We can never cut that umbilical cord and say we can do without air. The atmosphere will continue to exist without us but without it we cannot live. Even though the atmosphere “holds all the cards”, there is no expectation of a return favor. Life itself is a relationship between the living and dying. The survival of each cell depends on which way this relationship tilts. This relationship is taken for granted when one is healthy, as the work of maintaining life goes on automatically in the body and we continue to reap the benefits. Only when the body is sick, do we dive in to aid the the process of life through medicines and other interventions. 

It is an unrealistic expectation to think that death is a very distant possibility and it only happens to others. It is great to be optimistic in this regard but keeping that reality visible on the horizon keeps us honest in how we utilize our time. There are very few positives one expects from death. There is tremendous fear associated with it, and it is always unexpected when it happens. It is not pleasant to expect or experience fear, therefore we try to remove the thought of that inevitability from our mind. But death teaches a very important lesson about expectation. Making no distinction, death is like a wide broom that sweeps up everything in its path. Our successes, failure, joys, sorrows and not to mention expectations that we have accumulated in our psyche are removed in one fell swoop. If one can live without expectations, fear of death can have no hold over us. One can have a very close relationship with life as long as one does not expect to gain only happiness, with the exclusion of sorrow, out of life. In our relationship with life, it is the death of expectation that brings happiness. One does not have to be rich to experience happiness. On the contrary, expectations tend rise as we gain in material prosperity.

When it comes to interpersonal relationships, we have turned into indecisive shoppers, always expecting the perfect fit. The “fit” depends on the thought behind it, and thoughts come in all different sizes and shapes. Unlike clothes that don’t generally stretch or shrink to a significant degree, thoughts can either become narrow or broad once we “buy” them and start the process of identification. Generally speaking, broader a thought, lesser is the associated expectation, narrower a thought, greater is the accompanying expectation. The process of identification with a thought starts when the sense of “I” starts accepting some thoughts as “mine” and rejecting others as “not mine”. When we subscribe to the notion that expanding what we consider “mine” enhances happiness, we set ourselves up for misery down the road, if there is an expectation of happiness from whatever we consider as “mine”. This expectation can not always be fulfilled. The concept of “mine” can easily trickle down into any relationship, and when it does so in a relationship between two individuals, it invariably triggers conflict within the mind. Internal conflict is the harbinger of external conflict.  

When two strangers meet for the first time, there is no real sense of “I” or “mine” that cross paths. In other words, from an expectation or a relationship point of view, the two individuals are totally disconnected. Some relationships end here, others proceed further. Once common ground is established, both individuals extend their sense of “I” into that common ground by expressing their respective interests and desires. When these interests comingle, a shared entity is created in the minds of both individuals. Over time, one forgets it is giving (and not taking) that has contributed to this shared entity. When both individuals try to extend the sovereignty of their respective individual “I” over this shared entity that they have collectively created with their thought, conflict begins. As long as expectations are fulfilled, the conflict gets sugar coated and remains dormant. If expectations are not fulfilled, the sugar coating quickly comes off and the relationship becomes a bitter pill to swallow. When the “I” wants something and cannot get it, the reverberations from that can shake the entire nervous system. There is a considerable amount of potential seismic activity that lays dormant in the subconscious mind stemming from prior unfulfilled expectations. If all these come to the fore at the same it, it could really wreck our peace of mind. Therefore, enquiry in this regard must be approached slowly step by step. The conscious mind is small in relation to the vast consciousness and this limited space in our awareness acts as a safety valve.

When two individuals are in conflict, for example, over a physical thing like a piece of land, a third person may say it is easy to draw and line and divide that land between the two. What is much harder to do is to draw that same line in each individual’s mind. That line in the mind can only be drawn if the level of expectation is kept very low. If it is not drawn first in the mind of each of those two individuals, no matter how fair the division, there will continue to be strife. If this individual conflict is expanded to a large number of people, imagine the length and intensity of the conflict that would ensue. It may get to the point of no return and that conflict is passed on from one generation to the next. It burns effortlessly like a fire that is continuously stoked and fed. The warmth of love that comes from lack of expectation is very different from the heat of anger that comes from unfulfilled expectations. Both burn and create heat. One provides comfort and the other causes tremendous discomfort.

Once the sense of “I” extends to a person or an object, it is virtually impossible to eradicate a thought of that person or object from the mind. When we identify with a thought in the conscious mind, there is a permanent mark that is left on that thought which cannot be erased. Once it passes into the subconscious mind, it may seem like it has disappeared, but that thought cannot be erased from the mind. One may say that it is possible to undo that identification with a certain thought. In reality, It is hard to selectively remove the sense of “I” from some thoughts and leaving it in others. Imagine a clear glass of water. Even a tiny drop of colored water would diffuse and change the color of the water. That diffusion process is not limited to one part of the water, leaving some pockets clear. The mind without the sense of “I” is like that glass of clear water. When even a small trace of of “I” is added to the mind, it diffuses through every part of the mind, both the conscious and the subconscious parts. Every thought gets colored by it. When new thoughts are added, which they are are everyday, they get the “I” stamp the instant we identify with them. Just as one cannot take out the drop of colored water once it mixes with clear water without emptying the whole glass, one cannot selectively take out the sense of “I” from the mind once it has mixed with thought. The contents of the entire mind will have to be emptied out to eradicate the “I”. As long as this is not done, one will continue to remain in conflict within one’s own mind and with other individuals. Eradicating the “I” from the mind would have to be done as a conscious effort for attaining the state of permanent freedom. A temporary form happens unconsciously everyday in sleep. But as soon as the waking consciousness returns, the process starts again where it was left off.

The question may then arise, how would life be if “I” or the sense of “mine” were to disappear. Would someone take advantage of us if we say that nothing belongs to us? That question stems from fear and expectation, and would not arise in the first place if the sense of “I” truly did not exist. In a perfect state, the world without individualistic thinking that comes from identification would be like a watering hole in a jungle that belongs to no particular animal or group of animals, but to every animal that needs that water. Mankind’s watering hole is the earth. Everyone needs the air and water it holds. It is an existential need, and not a desire that can or should go unfulfilled. The collective “I” of nation states has divided the surface of the earth, but the core of the earth belongs to no one. Similarly, the portion of the mind we have access to directly or indirectly (the conscious and subconscious mind respectively), is divided up amongst innumerable thoughts. The common link amongst all our thoughts, is the sense of “I”. When one goes to the core of the mind, beyond the sense of “I”, there must be a state of homogeneity that is common to all. Just as lions, tigers and elephants may drink from the same watering hole to satisfy their individual thirst, we all drink from that state of homogeneity. Once that energy enters our individual consciousness, we immediately identify with it, trapping it in a thought of “it’s my life”. The sense of “I” can permeate every aspect of our being all the way up to that homogenous state beyond the “I”. Once we understand the limitations that the “I” imposes upon us, then with that understanding, it may be easier to transcend it.

The “I” creates a sense of perspective, of the seer and the seen. Through that “I” we see ourselves as unique and different from the rest of creation. By doing that it can also lead to isolation. No one like to be in isolation. Separation from that state of homogeneity causes a very deep seated loneliness. This is not a physical separation, it is a psychological separation. Everyone wants freedom from loneliness. By seeking this freedom through the world and its objects, it leads to even greater isolation. We fail to realize this. Transient happiness that we derive from the world masks this state of isolation, but does not get rid of it.  Most people are not in a position to identify this deep problem.

In order to overcome this psychological isolation, we enter into relationship with thought mediated by “I”. We extend that relationship to people, objects etc. But that does not solve the fundamental source of one’s isolation, which is that sense of “I”. Things in nature are all in interdependent relationships. That is the basis of any ecosystem. The individual mind is no different. We create our own thought ecosystems that become self sustaining. The senses are in relationship with the neural circuits, the neural circuits in turn are in relationship with the emotional centers in the brain and they are linked to our thoughts. Information traverses down these pathways in both directions. The “I” does not live outside in the world but seeks the sense of security that comes from the world.

The “I” initiates the process of becoming something that we are not. Forgetting that the center of our being is that state of homogeneity beyond the reach of the individual “I”, we adopt a more thought centric viewpoint. At any given moment in time, the dominant thought at that instant becomes our center and everything else seems to revolve around it. This is similar to the pre Galilean world, where the geocentric view that the earth was at the center of the universe was unquestioned. This notion, as we know, was disproved by scientific observations and in our current understanding of the physical universe, the earth is a tiny insignificant speck in the grand scale of the cosmos. In our mind, each thought tries to impose the “thought centric view” on the mind. That baton of “being the center” is passed on on from thought to thought. Just like the ancients cried heresy when Galileo put forth his views, thoughts fight back when we try to nudge them aside. It may be hard for us to imagine how the world would appear to us if our thoughts were not at the center of it. We have built up a relationship with the world through the medium of thought. By default, it has become the platform for experiencing happiness.

Every thought is burdened with that expectation of providing happiness. If that expectation of happiness is not there, we can start a relationship with thought without identification. That is the path towards freedom from isolation. When one exists without expectation, one becomes an expression of creation that is in harmony with everything else. The relationship of the mountains, the river, the rain, the sea and the clouds creates the cycle which provides access to water for mankind. One is not more important than the other. Together, they create the right milieu for life to exist. Similarly in any relationship, each one has something unique and different to add. If a relationship is looked at as a cycle that goes from one to another and back to oneself and so on without being trapped by the “I”, then something very useful will surely come out of such a relationship. Just as a river flows to the sea and loses its identity completely, the cyclical nature of any relationship must be allowed to flow according to its natural order and not allowing it to be constrained and trapped through the process of identification and expectation. Then we would become no different from the monuments of nature such as the sun and the stars. We forget that we are what we are seeking, the state of freedom from fears. We enter into relationships with the expectation that it may provide that freedom. Expectation must be the first to go if we are to have any hope of getting rid of the forgetfulness of our essential nature, which is freedom.

To be continued...