Sunday, October 11, 2015

Training the mind - 18

The masterkey of thought
Easily overcomes its binding knots
The choice of earth or heaven ends
When there is no more a fork in the road

We are all interconnected in one way or another. Everyone lives off the same life giving air. Our bodies are very similar in their composition and structure. This earth is the only place in the cosmos we can call home. We all have in common feelings of love, generosity, compassion, happiness watching others succeed etc. These contrast with coexisting feelings of hate, greed, anger, jealousy, envy etc. that we also harbor. These are the basic flavors in the mind. Thoughts by themselves are bland, but by adding in these flavors, some become palatable and others not so. Unlike food, which we can choose whether or not we want to eat, thoughts are already within ourselves, and if some of them are not what we want, we cannot easily get rid of them. Everyone is playing the game of cat and mouse with their thoughts. Chasing the ones that are appealing and trying to run away from the ones that create a sense of unease in the mind. There is very little time or energy left for new ideas that may change how we live for the better. New discoveries demand a quiet mind that is full of energy.

We hear of new discoveries everyday. If we look back over the last twenty odd years, the information technology revolution has dramatically changed how we live our lives. It is more of a paradigm shift than a natural evolution. All this has come about thanks to a small minority who have taken charge and led the crusade for newer and better ways of living. The entire world has benefitted from these advances.

In many cases, rather than making lives easier, it has complicated matters. It has become hard to live a simple life these days. Not just external simplicity, but more more importantly internal simplicity is hard to obtain. With the information overload we are all subject to, there is little chance of the mind retreating to a state of quietude. It is not the fault of technological advancement, rather how we use it determines what we get out of them. There are going to be more discoveries to come. All these advances are based on electromagnetism, a phenomenon as old as the universe. Furthering our understanding of the mind is an unexplored frontier, which may be revealed in course of time. In the meantime, how do we prepare ourselves internally to not only enjoy these advances but also try to contribute in our own way, big or small? For all that we need to first have a better understanding of our mind.

The mind is a very confusing place when one stands in the middle of it. It is like trying to figure out the layout of a city from a dark and narrow alley between two imposing buildings. In such a situation, It is impossible to have another perspective than what is in front of one’s eyes. Similarly, sandwiched between a thought that may have just passed and the ones yet to come, all one can say of the mind is what’s contained within the continuous stream of thought. Even there, our attention may not be deep enough to study every thought. We tend to pick the loudest amongst the thoughts and act on them. If thoughts can be compared to tall buildings, we tend to jump from one building to another. This works well in a cartoon or a video game, but not so in real life. Granted, thoughts are endless and one can jump from one to another all the time without fear of “falling”. But that game gets tiring after a while. It becomes hard to divine a purpose to one’s life if that is constantly happening. There is space between thoughts where the mind is quite comfortable and peaceful. If only we allow that space to grow, a happy life is not very far away.

To get a better perspective of one’s thoughts, one has to find a way to soar far enough above the mind, but not too far that everything becomes an indistinct blur. A tinge of adventurism may be needed. Rather than wait for an annual holiday to get away and rejuvenate the mind, one can easily give oneself a daily holiday from the usual routine, even if it is only for a few minutes. A little patience and imagination can go a long way in making this possible. Imagine walking into an anthill with ants climbing one on top of another. Such a scene would be one of complete chaos and disorder. The inside of the anthill would likely appears as an endless maze with ants coming out of and going into every visible opening. There is no audible communication amongst the ants but, they appear to move around as if there is a strong purpose to their existence. There is order amidst the chaos. There is the egg laying queen and worker ants that carry out many roles. It is hard to imagine all that structure and order when one sees a few individual ants. Studying a ant colony from a distance offers that insight.

Individual thoughts are like ants. The mind is full of them. They seem to come and go as they please. If we don’t give thoughts a purpose, they will ruin the home that houses them, which is the mind. There is a constant fight for dominance amongst thoughts. They audition for our attention in the conscious realm of the mind . There isn’t enough time in the day to address concerns put forth by individual thoughts. A country’s foreign policy is not based on each individual’s input but based on what is good for the nation as a whole in general. There may be people who may agree and others who may disagree. That does not change the overall tilt of a certain policy.

The mind is similar. How we decide to interact with other people determines our individual “foreign policy”. One may decide to be loving and kind, but that does necessarily mean that every thought would manifest that color. But if enough thoughts can be recruited to comply with our determination to be loving and kind, the rest will have to follow. Conversely, if we are determined to be hateful and unkind, loving thoughts will have no power.

With every thought there are three things that one can do.

1. Being actively engaged and acting upon thought.

2. Observing the trains of thought and following where they lead without acting upon them.

3. Being a passive witness and letting thoughts come and go as they please without letting our attention follow or act upon them.

These are not necessarily sequential steps that should followed, graduating from one to another. Rather, one who is skilled at dealing with the mind employs all three to varying degrees when dealing with thoughts. One has to be quick on one’s feet when dealing with thoughts. There is always a chance of being swept away in the wrong direction. This sense of loss of control over thoughts is also referred to as emotion. Those who cannot direct how their thoughts behave are generally emotional people. It is good if these emotions are generally positive, but there is no such guarantee. If one gives into emotions, upheavals are inevitable. Life may end up becoming an emotional rollercoaster.

In an ocean, there are favorable and unfavorable winds and currents. If one is in a sailboat, wind and ocean currents become extremely important. One cannot always hope for favorable winds. But a largo cargo ship with massive diesel engines can power through regardless of whether winds and currents are favorable or not. Even if one is habituated to becoming emotional, the engine of willpower can overcome the pull of positive and negative emotions.

Without full control over the processes of the mind, one cannot hope to ascend to a higher states of consciousness. This is required to maintain peace and happiness within oneself and between people as we struggle to keep pace with the rapid changes happening in the world. In the external world, advances in science have brought us higher standards of living. It cannot do much for the internal world. If the pace of discovery in the internal realm does not keep up with that in the external realm, imbalance sets in. If the mind is not ready for it, scientific advancements end up being used for destructive purposes. Some people are better off as a result of technology and others are unfortunately worse off. It depends on how ready the individual mind is. External advancements may be brought about by a few individuals or groups of individuals. Internal advancement can only be brought about one individual at a time. Without individual effort, it is not possible.

Practising being a passive observer of thoughts helps one get better at actively engaging with thought and jumping into action when called for. Passively observing what goes on in the mind is like taking a step back and getting a better idea of the overall picture. When the general layout of a city is known, it becomes easier to navigate individual streets with a better sense of direction. Passive observation of the mind also keeps emotional storms at bay. It serves as an anchor that one can hold onto to help reset and regroup. Reserves of mental energy are shored up by this process.

It is a common problem for people to feel very restless when they try to stem the tide of thoughts in the mind. Especially when the eyes are closed, it invariably ends up feeling like one is holding back a huge storm surge with bare hands. Most people give up after a few seconds. A taste of the concentrate of one’s own mind becomes too much to handle. When it is diluted by the sights and sounds of what is external, it becomes easier to deal with. Therefore most people prefer to engage with the world than their own mind.

Unless one takes a plunge in a swimming pool, braving the water if it is cold, one cannot reach the bottom. If the water is clear, the bottom may be visible standing outside on the pool deck, but that vision of the bottom is a distorted by the refraction. The depth cannot be accurately gauged. Similarly, plunging deep into one’s own mind may seem uncomfortable and alien at first, but without doing that the bottom where all the treasures lie cannot be examined and experienced. They cannot be experienced by keeping the surface still and quiet. That may lead to a sense of calm and peace, but is it not long lived. Just as people scuba dive to experience peace and calm, those skilled at immersing themselves in the mind can also experience that.

When one is swimming under water, it is hard to see unless one is wearing goggles. A little air in a watertight compartment that has a piece of transparent glass or plastic enables one to see clearly through water. When one dives into one’s own mind, it is generally hard to see beyond thoughts that are immediately in front of us. Like those swimming goggles which create a barrier or air through which we can see clearly, one can visualize the mind more clearly despite having a lot of thoughts floating around, if one can maintain a sense of separation from the mind. This comes when one is a passive observer as if one is looking at an ocean through a porthole in a ship. One can see the water, but cannot get wet. Similarly, one can visualize thoughts as a detached observer without being dragged along and force fed its contents.

We are all importers and exporters of ideas, feelings, thoughts and emotions. This exchange not only occurs between individuals, but also occurs within the mind. There are transactions going on all the time, except when we are in a state of deep, dreamless sleep. Information flows in and out of the conscious and subconscious parts of the mind. When considering the mind as a whole (conscious + subconscious) import and export of information between these parts of the mind balance exactly and the sum of that is the total mental output. Greater the efficiency of the mind, greater is the mental output. One need need depend on anyone else to increase the efficiency and output of the mind. It depends on the size of the conscious and subconscious mind in relation to one another. Greater the size of the subconscious mind in relation to the conscious mind, noisier the mind. A noisy mind is an inefficient mind.

The conscious mind is generally very small compared to the subconscious mind. There is no good way of quantifying their size. Qualitatively one can estimate the relative sizes of these two parts of the mind. Let’s assume that there is very little outside sensory input, an example of such as situation would be when one is sitting alone in a quiet and dark room with no distractions. With nothing external coming into the conscious mind, it should logically be very quiet, since that part of the mind is the gateway of all sensory input to the whole mind. In such a situation where one is in a quiet place, if the mind is extremely noisy with a lot of thoughts flowing through it, the assumption would be that the subconscious mind is infinitely bigger than the conscious mind.

The notion of the present seems momentary and it keeps changing. Our awareness is subject to time. As time proceeds, our conscious awareness also travels along with that. What if there is a state where the conscious awareness is decoupled from time? In other words, there is as much awareness of what is has just passed into the realm of the past as there is of the present moment. Attention is constantly shifting from present to the past and back to the present. This happens very quickly, over time it becomes habitual. Maintaining a state of awareness independent of time expands the conscious mind.

There are various techniques to achieve this expanded awareness and hence enlarge the scope and size of the conscious mind. During the process of this expansion, the subconscious mind (including memory) is slowly purged of all its contents. It would be great if that happened in one go. But in reality, it takes many, many weeks, months or even years of practice to achieve that. This process depends on the willingness and intensity with which it is approached. Some many not even be able to do that in a lifetime. Once the conscious mind is fully expanded and crowds out the subconscious mind, there should be no more secrets left. The mind must then become like an open book. Every thought is accounted for from start to finish. In such a condition, whether one sits in a quiet or a noisy place, it should matter little and the fluctuations of the mind will be greatly diminished or eliminated altogether. A fully expanded conscious mind that maintains a state of constant awareness is usually a very quiet mind. Such a mind is capable of tremendous output.

A quiet mind is essential to achieving greatness in any endeavor. In such a mind, there is very little importing or exporting of information between compartments of the mind. There is a huge amount of energy saved as a result. The energy of the entire mind can be directed to something very productive and the total mental output, akin to the gross domestic product (GDP) should greatly increase. A human being who has cultivated such a mind can do great things for the world. Imagine if more and more people practice and achieve this state of quietness within the mind. Our knowledge and understanding would increase exponentially and human suffering would be greatly diminished.

When conscious awareness expands, our evil traits also fall away, as a natural byproduct. This is because insecurities are greatly diminished. Insecurities stem from the unknown which in turn arouses fear. To compensate for this fear, evil tendencies may crop up such as anger, jealousy, hatred, envy etc. The more that is unknown about ourselves, the more we want to know of the world. Scientists are curious about distant stars and galaxies which is a productive endeavor. There are several spin off benefits from space technology that we use on a daily basis. There are a long list of examples. Some of these include infrared thermometers, invisible braces, enriched baby food, freeze dried food, solar cells, food safety etc. Ordinary humans are curious about what others are upto and are more into other people’s lives than their own. This is highly unproductive.

When awareness is very weak, the conscious mind blindly gropes in the dark when one tries to probe the subconscious mind. As awareness develops and expands beyond the flow of thought, the conscious mind illuminates a tiny part of the subconscious just as a flashlight illuminates only a very small part of the darkness at night. As it further expands, the conscious mind may be thought of as a bright but artificial light flooding a room. Assuming the room is empty, there cannot be isolated pockets of darkness if the light floods the room uniformly. This light cannot penetrate the walls of the room and is confined within. With further expansion to a state of full and constant awareness, the distinctions between the conscious and subconscious minds slowly fall away and there is only the mind. Just as night and day cannot coexist, distinctions within the mind cannot coexist.

If there are no distinctions within the mind, then the perception of external differences fall away. Such a mind is an expansive mind. The air-skin interface experienced by the senses will no longer be felt by the mind. One may then reach a state of complete unity within and without. There is no more a fork in the road, choosing one over the other. When there is internal development it is reflected externally and when there is external development it is absorbed internally. Both coexist like one’s right and left hands. When two hands come together, individual fingers that represent the individual or “I” come together as “we”. We cannot give with one finger but we can when all the fingers come together as the hand. “I” ness leads to illness and “we” ness leads to wellness. A lot of diseases originate in the mind. Depending on our thought, hormones that spill into the bloodstream can become nectar or poison to the bodily cells. Hormones are very powerful. A tiny drop can effect changes in the entire body. Thoughts are even more powerful. A single powerful thought that can move the world has the potential to turn this place into a heaven.

To be continued...