Sunday, April 3, 2016

Judging, witnessing and awareness - II

Continued a from prior post (2-8-2016)

Understanding the mind and making it do our bidding may be seem like an impossible task at times. The mind occupies a central part of our lives and everything we do involves the mind directly or indirectly. Whatever happens in the mind is deeply is deeply intertwined with our external lives. So much so, that there perhaps isn’t one act that is done that does not involve the mind. If we aren’t conscious of something, it does not mean that the subconscious mind isn’t registering it. In sleep, we lose awareness of the mind, but does the mind completely shut down? That is very hard to tell. It seems paradoxical to remain awake and being witness to what happens when we are asleep. The mind has turned into a judge of everything, a potent force to be reckoned with. Through our inattention, it has turned into an autonomous entity within ourselves and has assumed a steering role in our lives. It holds us accountable, but there is nothing that seems to hold the mind accountable. It has occupied the driver’s seat.

The mind can been seen from a distance, but as one approaches the mind, boundaries become indistinct and blurred. For example, it is similar to watching clouds from the ground versus flying through them in an airplane. From the ground, it is easy to spot the distinct margins of the clouds and various names have been given to the patterns created by clouds. When flying through them, clouds look very similar. Examining the mind from a distance is not the same as saying one has overcome the mind. The mind may have to be unravelled slowly over time while maintaining some distance from it. Maintaining a certain distance from the mind may be considered as witnessing and the process of unravelling it may be considered as awareness. One can witness the mind without maintaining awareness, but one cannot be aware without first witnessing.

These processes are not meant to intellectualized. They must be actualized by experience. The mind is far more experienced in dealing with and manipulating with us than we are able to do otherwise. The mind is an excellent data analyst. There is so much information flooding in all the time. These impressions created on the mind catch our attention to varying degrees. Some create deeper impressions than others. Deeper those impressions, greater is the grip the mind has over us. A major weakness that the mind exploits is our craving for repetition of certain experiences. The mind hides everything about those experiences except a pleasant, lingering memory of them, It dangles the “carrot” of pleasurable experiences in front of us. To get at this “carrot” we are prepared to go through much pain. The mind promises a lot, we give in, having always done so, we don’t really consider the alternative. Giving in seems sweet, pushing against it feels bitter. But the bitterness leads to lasting sweetness if only we persist in our efforts at not paying attention to desires. We have a created a need to seek opportunities to play out our desires. Unfortunately it is a pursuit with no end.

Desires may be latent, smouldering, active, passive or imminently explosive. It is a train that cannot easily be stopped. Desires only relate to the past or the future. They never are about the present. There is continuous movement of thought when desires are engaged and given a recurring lease of life. A considerable amount of our mental energy is expended in this manner. Just as in an engine, which creates heat while running, use of mental energy to pursue desires to their fruition creates “heat” in mind in the form of tension. Just like a wet piece of cloth that is twisted and wrung till no more water comes out of it. we wring all the happiness out of the mind as this tension gradually builds.

When the tension in the mind hits a peak, and the desire is fulfilled, there is a sudden letting go that happens unconsciously. There is a tremendous release and this creates a sudden and dramatic relaxation. This sense of relaxation of the mind is equated with fulfilment of desire and the object of desire is credited with bringing us this sense of relief which we then refer to as happiness. In reality, letting go of the mental tension, not the acquiring of an object is what creates that sense of euphoria. After a fulfilling a few desires and experiencing this sudden mental relaxation, it becomes a conditioned reflex and the pursuit of that sudden euphoria becomes yet another desire, albeit surreptitiously. This is not real happiness, but a degraded form of it. We have divided happiness into relative and absolute. But happiness is either there or not there, there is no varying degrees of it. What’s relative is the sense of mental relaxation which is inversely proportional to the intensity and duration of the desire that binds the mind in painful knots.

One person’s happiness may be another person’s misery. This should not be the case if happiness is an absolute entity. What varies from person to person is the degree to which their mind is wound up in tension. Only those whose mind is fully relaxed are able to experience the full scope of happiness. Mental relaxation can come about when there are little or no desires to fulfil, taking life as it comes and most importantly working and keeping the mind occupied without expectations. Working without expectation generates happiness as we go along. This generator stops when we expect a result. The reward is in the work and not necessarily from the work. Everything else is a byproduct including the money that may be earned. Linking happiness to the byproduct of any work we do may become a source of misery.

We call it happiness when we are able to turn pleasant recollections and reflections into tangible experiences. That agreeable feeling created inside through those experiences does not last very long. If there was only one desire and let’s say that was fulfilled with no more in the pipeline, perhaps that feeling would have some chance of being perpetual. But in reality, once the mind is completely relaxed, it is gripped by another desire. Caught in this unending cycle, there is no true freedom. It is a form of slavery, to repetition. Money may provide external freedoms, but it certainly is not capable of providing internal freedom. True freedom is getting out of the the clutches of desire. Desires cannot escape the confines of the mind, but we can.

It is obvious that it’s impossible to fulfil every one of our desires. There simply isn’t enough time or opportunity in our lives to achieve that. Even if we were able to fulfil all our desires to the fullest extent, what is the benefit of that in the grand scheme of things? One may say fulfilling our wishes brings happiness, as we explored earlier it is not really happiness, but rather a release of pent up mental tension. If the mind can be put in a state of relaxation without the pursuit of external objects, we would achieve the same result without going through the time, effort and not to mention expense of fulfilling desires, big and small.

The backseat driver

Going through life, everyone likes to grab the wheel and steer. We are told from a young age that we are masters of our own destiny. Destiny is not a destination, but rather a compilation of all our thoughts and actions in the present and from the past. Here thoughts and actions are equally important. Just by thinking and not acting, we don’t get very far. Acting without thinking gets us nowhere. Our thoughts and actions are very fragmented. This is a result of “compulsive impulsiveness”. It may not be obvious to us, but every thought can make us impulsive in some form or another.

For example, a thought may arise and it carries a desire to possess something. Even before we give ourselves a chance to ponder this desire, we impulsively “own” this desire and want it fulfilled. In this manner, every thought dangles a desire in front of us. These desires pertain to either acquisition of or getting rid of something or the other. We spend a lot of time creating the necessary space in our lives to accommodate these desires. A lot of these we may have strived for in the past, which may now be long forgotten. We likely did not achieve anything through those pursuits, but in the process, valuable time was lost. When one realizes that time is finite and a diminishing thing, a desire arises to acquire time itself! In this manner we wrap ourselves in so many layers that in the end, the meaning of life may be completely lost.

Very few stand back and watch this process without getting involved with thoughts impulsively. Thoughts are aimless wanderers without roots. Thoughts cannot watch us. We can watch them. They are best left to wander through the mind like nomadic tribes in a desert. That is their natural home and they are most comfortable being there. When we invite them into our conscious realm and we give them food and water, they start to grow roots. Thoughts are in an unnatural state when they are bound by us. In turn, they end up binding us, trying to pull us deeper into their natural home, the mind. This tug or war is won and lost on a daily basis. It becomes a tiresome exercise and only when we realize that much of our mental fatigue is due to this constant duelling with thoughts, we can finally step away from this daily occurrence.

In order to overcome the constant pull of thoughts, a clear strategy needs to be set up. One needs to take a long view of life and set realistic goals. Once set, perhaps a daily reminder would be a good thing to ensure that it is the first thing we think about upon waking. Daily life can be very busy and confusing for the mind. We are generally in the habit of leading our lives as if getting through the day to day events and struggles is the main goal of life. What could be said about the future? There may be more challenges to come. As we age, the demands on us may go up while our energy declines. Unknowingly we set up our own future full of worries and misery. Who would want a future such as this? The time to think and act is in the “now”. Each moment is new. We carry the memory of the past, it is not recorded in the moment. By force of will, one can with repeated effort slip away from the grip of memory and learn from the freshness and purity that each moment brings.

We divide time into what we have experienced (the past) and what we want to experience (the future). The past is fixed and the future is constantly changing. The past keeps us on a leash. The future entices us to fight the pull of that leash. The past becomes relevant only if we have desires or worries about the future. If we are able to forget the past, thoughts of the future will also slowly drop away. When one attains the clarity of mind that comes from not thinking about the past or the future, that is called the present. It is also called meditation. That clarity cannot be measured by time, it is timeless. Initially, it appears as though that clarity is only momentary, but with practice, it can suffuse our entire life. Then meditation need not be an exercise done in an uncomfortable posture, it becomes as natural to us as living and breathing. This state is not out of the realm of possibility. Everyone is equipped to reach such a state. Humans have to do it consciously. Plants and animals do it unconsciously.

Part of the worry that everyone has about the future is the inability to direct what is to come. From the perspective of the mind, it is impossible to predict what the future holds. Everything we wish for and dream about is a potential possibility. Each one of us has a unique gift. No two humans are alike. We do our best to appear and act like someone we look up to. This may be important in one’s formative years, but there comes a time when we have to identify and act upon our individual talents. Just because talents are not manifest on the surface for all to see it does not mean there are no hidden or latent talents. We don’t allow themselves to be revealed through the wall we create by worrying and desiring. One need not necessarily go very deep into oneself to see what we are truly capable of. Everyone has natural inclinations for doing something or the other. A lot of times, what comes naturally to us is suppressed by conforming to the demands of everyday life. Both are important, nurturing our innate talents and living a useful and productive life. The two can be balanced only we of are able to step back and take a look at ourselves. We can then get a better perspective on what needs to be done and what we are capable of doing.

The two things that are common to everyone in relation to the past and the future is that the past is known and the future is unknown. The past can teach us a lot, the future cannot teach us anything. Thus far, everyone alive at this moment has negotiated the past in their own respective ways. That is more than half the battle. The future may be long or short, one cannot say. We may have been inconsistent with our reactions to situations in the past. But moving forward, one can mentally affirm a clean slate and make a recommendation to ourselves that our reactions to any situation faced in the future would be predictable and dictated by us, and not the impulse of the moment.

This one thing alone, that is consistency in how we react to any given situation can potentially bring a great sense of relief. Deep down there is the memory of our reactions to situations in the past that we considered unpleasant. There is always that hidden, subconscious fear that it would manifest itself again in the future. Suppressing this subconscious fear creates a certain degree of friction in the mind. If one is confident of being surefooted in response to any of life’s future challenges, this subconscious fear will disappear.

For this to take root and become part of one’s nature, one must become a “back seat driver”. When one drives a car, the focus is mainly on the road that one sees immediately in front of the car. The drive may be very scenic but the road looks the same. Asphalt is the same color, the lane lines are the same whether one is driving through a city or a countryside. If the focus is just on the road, much is missed. That is what is happening to most of us. Focusing very narrowly on daily life immediately ahead of us. Everyone is traveling on different roads. They may be smooth, narrow, wide, potholed, curvy, straight or a combination of these. For most people, the mind has already been trained to deal with day to day living. There is little need to micromanage the mind. In fact, the mind dislikes this very much.

We can only attempt to control a small part of the visible aspect of our lives and the mind. There is a much vaster invisible aspect that we have no control over. The first step is to give up control over the visible aspect and just be a witness to it. Only then, perhaps can there be any hope of bringing the invisible aspect of the mind into our conscious awareness.

To be continued...