Monday, February 8, 2016

Judging, witnessing and awareness - Part 1

The mind, a tool we have at our disposal for experiencing the world around us is the source of both our joy as well as our misery. We put in an enormous amount of time and effort to enhance joy and lessen misery. They are relative to one another. It is hard to find someone who is in absolute joy or absolute misery. Most are somewhere in between with varying amounts of joy and misery at at given moment. Is this what life is all about? Balancing the scales and tipping it one way or another. Surely there must be more to life. Why would nature waste such a sophisticated creation such as the human body in order for us to play this game? The deeper meaning of life will always be hidden from us as long as we are not willing to give up this mechanical game of self torture, always seeking the other. When seeking ends, being starts. When being starts, judging stops. When judging stops, the mind gives itself up. 

When one enters a dark room, so dark that there is no way of determining how big the room is, one can let one’s imagination soar and for some the room is a small closet and for others it may be larger than the largest building in the world. Without light to clarify who is right or wrong, both can claim to be right. A single candle, brought in from the outside can reveal the the extent and size of the room. Similarly, when entering the mind, it is hard to fathom its extent. Truth is like the candle that dispels the notions and beliefs regarding the mind. Absolute truth is not found in the mind. One can either be in the mind or in truth. If one is in the mind, one is blind to the truth. If one is in truth, the mind ceases to exist. Going from where we are, groping in the blind mind to the truth is everyone’s quest, whether it is acknowledged as such or not. We are never satisfied with relativities. If we are, then unhappiness should be extinct. Truth cannot be spoken in the language of the mind, which are thoughts and emotions. If the absolute truth can spoken about, it is no longer that. It can only be experienced.

The mind defies definition. It is a non physical entity that uses the physical senses. The mind, as a tool has immense potential. Only the one who knows the mind can use it to its full potential, the rest are used by the mind. Most people use the mind in limited ways, for example, to pull up stored experiences such as memory or projecting dreams into the future. Once the mind is conditioned to live in the past or the future, we find it hard to see the present, which is the ability to see things the way they are. It may sound very easy to see things as they are, but in practice it is a very difficult thing to do. Every fresh experience that is acquired through the senses is first filtered through through layers and layers of prior experiences. Based on the net result of that filtering we pass our final judgement even before the conscious mind has a chance to “see”. All this happens in a fraction of a second and through the force of habit, it is virtually impossible to stop this process.

By exposing ourselves to entirely new experiences which the mind has not seen before, it may become possible to bypass the process of filtering experiences through prior ones. But the mind finds a way to take us back through the route of prior experiences. The process of meditation is a new experience for the mind. There is nothing in our prior experience that can relate to that. That unknown unnerves the mind and it fights back very fiercely. It is hard to live with an uncomfortable or unaccomodating mind. Therefore most people give up even before trying. Living through the mind has become a very natural thing. Everything else seems unnatural. We have come to accept the restlessness of the mind as our nature.

Children and adults are very different, but similar with respect to restlessness. This restless energy in the case of children is manifested in their bodies and in the case of adults, it is experienced in the mind. Just ask a child to sit in one place without moving for even a few minutes. It is virtually impossible for that child to obey. Similarly, asking an adult to hold the mind in one place or freeze the mind’s attention on one thought is a extremely hard thing to do. Children are left to run around and play as that is their nature. The nature of the mind is also the same. But if the mind is constantly moving about and not focussed, it is hard to achieve anything that is worthwhile in life. All our achievements in the world are done through the mind. A restless mind is tiresome to put up with and people invariably end up finding a way to distract it. When the mind troubles us, we generally seek refuge within the body. Stress eating and binge drinking are examples. We don’t realize that escaping to the body is a dead end street. Very few accept the mind for what it is and move on in the search for what is beyond the mind.

If children and adults are both restless, in their own ways, why are children generally much more happier than adults? The answer may lie in their grounding. Children are more grounded in their bodies and that restless energy is easily dissipated through their bodies by constant play. Their minds are not fully developed and whatever they experience is through their bodies. Adults are neither grounded in their bodies nor in their minds. It is hard to find any solid footing in the mind, it isn’t a physical object. Thoughts are like quicksand. If one were to “stand” too long on one thought, one gets sucked into its depths. It may not always be a bad thing to go deep into one particular thought. Most people lack the patience and perseverance to stay on a thought long enough to reach the bottom and find its source. Hence, the preference is to allow one’s attention to jump from one thought to another. This constant “running” creates restlessness in the mind. That energy needs an outlet. If one knows how to direct that energy within, perhaps new and previously unknown dimensions of one’s own mind may open up. But it seems easier to direct that energy outwards rather than inwards.

A common method of dissipating the mind’s energy is through the eyes. Compared to the other senses such as the ears, tongue, skin and nose, the eyes dissipate a lot more of the pent up energy in the mind. It is easier to sit in one place with eyes open, rather that keep them closed. The notion of equilibration applies here. Energy flows from high to low. As as example, if one were watching a beautiful scenery from a distance such as a mountain range, it is a static image for all practical purposes. But if the mind is restless, the mountain range comes alive in our inner experience colored by whatever thoughts that may be passing through our mind. If the thoughts relate to any experience that we may have had with mountains in the past, they interact and create a new composite image. If the thoughts have nothing to do with the scenery we are witness to, then the conscious mind becomes “unconscious” for a while and starts moving with the thought forgetting the scenery in front.

Unless energy is depleted from the mind, it cannot easily be stilled. For example, in a hungry state, the body is starved and mind feels that starvation and its energy gets depleted over time. The mind, in that state focusses only on one thing, food. But through practice, while fasting, the thought of food may be substituted for another thought. Hunger is a real phenomenon as far as the physical body is concerned. Fasting, done in a safe and gentle manner may be utilized to recondition the mind to develop deeper concentration on something else other than food. Perhaps, this is the basis for fasting, besides resting the digestive system, that is prescribed by many religions of the world. When it comes as a religious edict, it is more likely to be followed by a large number of people than otherwise. Like fasting, there are many other devices that may be developed and used for the purposes of consciously stilling the mind. It is important to note that a technique that is suitable for one may not be suitable for another. Each one needs to expend a certain amount of time and effort to find a technique that is most suitable. Once the goal is accomplished, whatever technique one may have used must also be dropped, otherwise there will be that danger of “worshipping” the technique. This may then start a belief system that takes one far away from the real truth.

Before settling on a technique to concentrate the mind’s rays, one has to first understand, accept and overcome the conditioning that has already been set in place. If that is not done, it leads to suppression of one’s prior conditioning and that is liable to resurface at an inopportune moment when one is ill prepared to handle it. A deep rooted conditioning that is common to most people is judging. What is manifested on the surface is a thousand fold more powerful in the depths of the mind. The force of an earthquake is the greatest at its epicenter. But the damage may be manifest at a distance. Similarly, deep within one’s own mind, each emotion has an epicenter. Once the damage is done on the surface of the mind, it is hard to harness that energy. If one cannot contain that energy within the conscious mind, it enters the world where real damage may occur. But if one can watch the emotion as it erupts from its epicenter deep in the mind, that energy may be channeled before it gets colored by thoughts on the way up to the surface.

It is easier to judge others than to judge oneself. Deep within one’s mind, there is no one but oneself left to judge. The ego will prevent one from reaching that depth where there is no one but oneself. Every thought, emotion and experience is judged. This habit then spills into the world. It is easy to say that others are wrong but is very difficult to acknowledge one’s own faults. The beauty of the mind lies its secrecy and the privacy it affords. No one can enter another’s mind, even if permission is granted. Therefore, one is free to open up to oneself and acknowledge one’s failings. No one need know that. Once that acceptance is complete, it will change our entire outlook on the world. Judging oneself is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do. The rewards are great, unlike what we get when we judge others. In judging ourselves, one must be careful not to fall into the trap of likes and dislikes. Rather it should be used as an introspection tool for self improvement.

Very little if anything in our experience is totally liked or disliked. There is always a flavor of “like” when something is disliked and vice versa. This cross contamination of likes and dislikes leads creates the messy heap of thoughts under which we get buried. This build up of thoughts happens unconsciously. If one were aware that this was going on, one would perhaps be careful not to let that happen. In this regard, we are extremely forgetful and a simple remembrance of this process is enough to put an end to it. It needs to be a continuous remembrance. Like anything else it takes time and effort to be successful. The alternative is piling on more thoughts one on top of another. Thoughts are manifestations of our prior experiences. It is impossible to assign a cause and effect relationship between experience and thought, as one cannot possibly remember all prior experiences. Many of those experiences may have been registered without our conscious attention. An example is central and peripheral vision. We may be focussing on one object, but it is hard to exclude light that is reflected from surrounding objects. That light is registered in the mind unconsciously. Although we don’t “see” those images consciously, a subtle impression is created in the mind.

When thoughts come to our mind space, they are a product of prior experiences, imagination and other subconscious inputs. As information goes into the mind it is looked at through the lens of likes and dislikes and as that information morphs and comes out as thoughts, which are in turn judged. Further experiences are created in the mind based on those thoughts. This process is potentially endless and it is all too easy to be caught up in that process. It is virtually impossible to unwind that process. There are many such clusters of thoughts in the mind. Space is not a constraint in the mind unlike the physical world. In many cases the mind ends up being a vast, unorganized dumping ground. We are all hoarders in this respect.

In theory, it should be easy to move away from those piles of thoughts. Who and what is stopping us? That is a question one needs to answer for oneself. No one can peer into our mind, nor can they restrict the amount of space in each individual’s mind. Yet we find it hard, if not impossible to walk away from thoughts. The mistake people make is trying to undo thoughts that have already been created. It is far easier to step away and keep one’s attention elsewhere. By doing that, thoughts are not modified or suppressed, rather they are allowed to run their course till their fuel is used up and then the remnants falls harmless to the bottom of the mind as empty shells.

There is something within each thought that we like, either openly or secretly. It is hard to let it go of thoughts on account of that. That clinging or attachment is innate. It pervades the entire gamut from gross physical objects to the subtlest of thoughts. The body sits on the dividing line between the gross and the subtle. Through this instrument, the inner and the outer universes may be experienced. We not only cling to the experiences we gather, but also to the very instrument, the body, that brings us these experiences. Unless one is ready to drop the body at anytime and at anyplace without a second thought, one cannot be free from this clinging. Attachment is deep rooted and if one gives up one thing, attachment is transferred to another thing.

The phenomenon of judging stems from attachment. When we say either like or dislike something, we obviously care enough about it. Otherwise it would be hard to pass a judgement. In most instances, that sense of attachment may not be obvious. It is usually well hidden. Logically speaking, one could argue that it makes little sense to be attached to anything. Everything within our experience is subject to change. If we intellectualize this, we could perhaps all agree that attachments are meaningless. Yet we cling to something or the other.

We remember and recall a lot of things from memory but the most important remembrance is moment to moment awareness. In the moment, there is no question of recall, as thoughts pertain to the past or the future and not of the moment. It is impossible to think of the moment. There is either thought or the moment, not both. Forgetting the moment, we are identified with thoughts, big or small. From that illusory perch, everything else is weighed. If we are dwelling on a big thought, everything around that thought looks small, and if we start to judge from that vantage point, it can lead to a sense of superiority. If the thought we are identified with is small and narrow, other thoughts in its vicinity appear larger and judgement starts to come from a sense of inferiority. A sense of superiority and inferiority both lead to unhappiness in the long run. In the case of superiority it is indirect, first passing through transient happiness. Thoughts never let us live in the moment, they drag us to the past or the future.

The mind may be thought of as a deep well. Looking at the well from above, everything around the well may be clearly seen except the bottom of the well. It appears dark. From the bottom of the well, only a small portion of the outside can be seen. We can look into the mind from the level of the senses or look at the world from within. From the level of the senses, the world around is seen with far more clarity than what is within the mind. From the depths of the mind, all we see is thoughts floating around and very little of the actual world is seen. In both cases, we don’t get the whole picture. With only a partial view, it is easy to spring to judgement. Generally speaking, our entire sense of awareness filters through the mind. It is hard to fathom being aware while the mind is asleep. This, they say is the end point of meditation. Meditation is a gradual process wherein there is little or no judgement and whatever is the point or focus of concentration is taken for what it is. When one is lost in the beauty of a sunset and there is no thought of whether it is good or bad, that is a form of meditation. It is easier to uses external props such as a sunset before transitioning to internal props. In the ultimate analysis, even meditation is nothing but a tool and that must also be dropped.

To be continued...