Sunday, June 19, 2016

The body is an interface

The sport of diving is very easy to watch but a perfect dive is extremely difficult to execute. There is a lot of physics that is involved in executing a complicated dive with twists, turns and somersaults. It is easy to enjoy the aesthetics of a perfectly executed dive but the viewer may fail to think of the efforts that have led to that point or the dangers that are involved in the sport of diving. The risk to the diver rises as the height of the platform increases. All the energy for the dive that includes the flips and turns are harnessed before the diver leaves the platform or a springboard. Once airborne, one is committed. Everything that a diver does while on the board and in the air determines the entry into the water. A splashless entry is the ultimate objective besides the aesthetics of the flips and turns in the air. Life is like the sport of diving. A “quiet and splashless entry” into our deeper being depends on how we train and use our body. Those who can effortlessly dive into their being are few and far in between. It isn’t a gift, rather a culmination of many years or even a lifetime of effort. Everyone has the capability to slip beyond that dark core that we perceive with our eyes closed. But that raw ability has to be refined and sharpened with repeated practice. Just as a diver is the only one who can truly experience a splashless entry, only those who have mastered diving deep within themselves can experience lasting peace and bliss that everyone craves. 

To consciously enter the realm of absolute silence within ourselves, the mind is the passageway that has to be traversed. One can get around the mind, but that experience is similar to that of deep sleep. There is a lingering feeling of restfulness and peace upon waking up from a deep dreamless sleep but one is not conscious of it while in that state. Over the course of one’s life, that passageway through the mind gets filled up with memories and experiences that we claim as ours. It then becomes a huge obstacle. An obstacle filled mind can be compared to a difficult walk down a dry, rock strewn river bed, rather than gently drifting downstream on a flowing river. The movement through and beyond the mind cannot be a forced effort. A part of the imperceptible life current that flows in our body is perceptible as the breath that flows in and out. The mind cannot reach the source of that life current, but can certainly be directed to ponder its origins while observing one’s breath.

The mind must be given “gainful employment” without which restlessness will prevail. The trickle down effect of this is chemical and hormonal imbalance in the body which can then sow the seeds of disease in the body. Each thought has the unique capability of becoming as big as the entire mind itself. Negative thoughts easily balloon up due to habit. But there is nothing stopping us from expanding a positive thought and have that thought take up the space we call the mind. Negative thoughts seek an outward expression. They create a state of unpleasantness internally and this is an unnatural state. Therefore we are usually forced to expel these into the world through our words and deeds. Positive thoughts are always welcome internally and can easily be retained inside or let out. The pleasantness that accompanies our being is the fragrance of positive thoughts within the mind. Our true nature runs contrary to any negative thought. Just as the body tries to rid itself of food poisoning through nausea and vomiting, the mind rids itself of negative thoughts through actions, which invariably will be unhelpful to us or others. When one eats a tasty meal, both the mind and the body benefit from it. Body gets valuable nutrients and the mind experiences pleasure of ingesting such a meal. When one entertains only positive thoughts, the mind feels healthy. In turn the body gets rest when the mind is at ease.

The mind is like a rechargeable battery. It gets recharged every night when we sleep. Better yet, if we learn to meditate, that charge may last a lot longer. Nature takes care of the earth and its needs for sunshine. But nature stops when it comes to illuminating the darkness we perceive behind closed eyes. When the mind is rested and fresh, it is always full of energy. One bad thought can drain that energy rather quickly. When the mind is filled with negativity, naturally negative consequences follow. Maintaining a positive outlook conserves mental energy which can then be used in a regulated fashion. Unregulated use of the mind’s energy leads to fatigue and a feeling of dullness. A positive mind gives us a sense of space and freedom within. This leaves wiggle room to initiate a search within for higher truths.

When one dives into water, gravity does most of the work. If we don’t initiate the dive by letting our feet spring off the ground, gravity cannot drag us into the water. Similarly, we have to take the initial step if we want to explore the deeper reaches of one’s own self. Reading all the books in the world cannot take us there. Initially the mind may appear very shallow and all we experience are the many thousands of thoughts that seem to aimlessly float in the conscious mind. Observing those thoughts without getting entangled with them is the training ground before wading into the depths of our being. Before going to the deep end, one has to master floating in the shallow end of a pool. A lot of people can swim in a swimming pool but only a handful can complete a major sea crossing such as swimming across the English Channel. The basic technique of swimming may be the same but the depths of the waters are very different. The body can be compared to a swimming pool. Within it is contained the bubbling waters of thoughts. When one dives, the waters part. Similarly, when there is determination to get to the bottom of the mind, thoughts will have to make way. Even the most persistent ones will eventually wither away when faced with the fire of determination.

To experience the deepest depths of the mind, one has to dive through the mind without so much as creating a ripple of thought. When one is standing on the bank of a lake, a tiny pebble thrown into the water will disturb its stillness. The same pebble when thrown on the bank of the lake will not send ripples through the ground. When one goes to a scenic lake, it is the stillness of the water that is enjoyed not the stillness of the ground holding the water. But only if the ground is still, can the waters of the lake be still. The body is like the ground holding the waters of a lake and the mind is like the water. In order to experience stillness of the mind, stillness of the its container, the body is a must. Stilling the body and the mind are best worked on in tandem. Like two friends supporting each other on an arduous journey, the body and the mind can help each other once a shared goal is established. Furthermore, they are both intertwined and what goes on in the mind affects the body and how the well or poorly the body functions has an effect on the mind.

The breath is the link between the body and the mind. By observing one’s inhalation and exhalation, one can easily deduce the level of calmness in the body and the mind. We have the ability to observe the breath from a higher plane of awareness. Thoughts dance in step with the breath. As the breath quickens, thoughts pick up pace and as it slows, thoughts also quieten down. One’s breath can be thought of as a leash that can train the body and the mind. Disordered breathing beats down the body and the mind. Harmony can easily be reestablished by rhythmic breathing. Rather than count the seconds of inhalation and exhalation and create a balance, it is better to simply be aware of the breath. Awareness of the breath automatically establishes a rhythm to the breathing. Electromagnetic waves travel in a sinusoidal manner. The wavelength of electromagnetic energy is fixed in a given medium such as air or water. When the awareness is fixed on the breath, the mind and thoughts also move with this awareness. Since the mind is in “one medium”, not oscillating between the happenings of the world outside or thoughts deep within, it starts to move in a rhythmic manner with the breath. This quiets the mind, which in turn makes the breathing more subtle. If one is seated in a comfortable posture with minimal or no aches and pains, the body will easily cooperate.

In everyone’s experience, three things can be readily observed. They are the body, the mind and the breath. When one is strongly identified with the body, the mind cannot be still and when the mind is busy with series of thoughts there is restlessness felt in the body. But when one practices breath awareness, something very different is experienced. A buffer is created.  It is like a “green belt” of peace between us and the body-mind complex. A byproduct of breath awareness is a sense of bliss. Most people tend to stop here after quenching their thirst in these waters of peace and bliss. Being peaceful is our natural state and not the end goal of breath awareness. The state of peace can becomes the necessary staging ground for deeper exploration with ourselves. The mind lays down its arms and stops fighting if one has a reasonable degree of mastery over breath awareness. The mind fears consistency when it comes to our efforts. If we are inconsistent, the mind gains an upper hand.
Even if one is able to keep the body is perfectly still, even the tiniest ripples from thoughts quickly disturbs that stillness. Maintaining stillness of the body is highly dependent on the degree of stillness in the mind. Imagine the situation when the mind is restless all the time while we are awake. Even in sleep, that mental restlessness can create movement in the body. One cannot have a restful sleep when tossing and turning all night. Trying to hold a restless mind within a very still body is trying is like trying to contain boiling water in a pot that is bubbling over. If the pot is open, the contents eventually evaporate. If the pot is tightly closed without an escape vent, the pressure within will find a way to escape, usually in a manner that may be dangerous. Stillness of the mind starts with mastery over the senses. The body is the outer boundary of our individual consciousness. The same consciousness pervades both the body and the mind. When our mind and body are restless, this consciousness reflects that restlessness. When the two are very still, so is the consciousness. Consciousness is like a lamp. A lamp cannot read and interpret a book. But by its light, a book is read. Similarly, consciousness does not interpret, it provides the light by which we see life in the body and in the world around us. It throws light on the inner state, but does not create it. One cannot read in a dark room, but once there is light it is possible to do so. Light has not created the book. It simply illuminates it for the eyes to see it.

The source of consciousness is the sense of awareness within. That awareness is a state of being. The mind cannot see it. Logic cannot reach it. The enquiry that leads to the state of awareness is simple. But that enquiry is colored by all the complexities in one’s mind. One can step back and feel this awareness. It may last only a second, but that feeling comes instantaneously. It cannot be reached through the mind, as the mind must run through its lists of questions and doubts prompted by prior conditioning. That awareness is ever present and is not subject to time. It does not age. The quality of that inner awareness is the same whether one is ninety years old or just twenty. Being one with that awareness for even a few minutes creates a sense of freshness in the body and the mind. Awareness is beyond the mind and hence cannot be conditioned.

Consciousness that flows from inner awareness may however be conditioned and shaped. Through this we create a mental image of ourselves. This conditioning takes us from “being” to “becoming”. This transformation to “becoming” is a result of identification. When we strongly identify with something, we become one with that, not in a physical sense but mentally. The “being” does not change. “Becoming” is subject to change, for example, we say we have become a teenager, an adult or an old man. But the underlying being is the same. Our consciousness takes on our persona through the process of habit and identification. This persona is a projection and it exists independent of the mind and the body.. This process starts at a very young age. A mind of a child is like a piece of wet clay. It can be shaped and molded into any form. Once the clay dries and sets, it cannot be changed. Rigid minds are like clay that has already set. One cannot reshape a clay figurine that has been baked in an an oven without breaking it. The mind cannot be easily broken. However, if one is maintains an open outlook, a previously rigid mind may be softened and reshaped as and when new ideas and experiences filter in. Being open to new ideas implies a non rigid mind.

Our persona is not the physical body but an idea of who we are. It changes depending on our perspective. What others think of us may be very different from what we think of ourselves, just as a three-dimensional projection of an image appears different from various angles. When we eat, we feed that persona, when we dress us, we dress up that persona, This happens when simple things like eating and dressing up are not done with full awareness. If there is full awareness of what is behind all the projections of the mind, this persona disappears. Simple acts of daily living offer ample opportunities for developing that awareness. It is alright to keep that persona as long as one remembers that it isn’t who we really are. Everyone is doing the same thing, which is building up this persona, and we are either get along or fight with each other based on fictitious projections of the mind. Behind this veil lies the uniform foundation of existence on which we all depend. If the mind is constantly engaged in outward acts, it cannot be turned into a lens to examine the inward reality which is common to all. The body does not stand in the way of this exploration. The real culprit is lack of full awareness as we go about our daily lives engaging in thoughts that prompt our actions.

Awareness is expansive and has no boundaries. Consciousness in its purest state is as expansive as awareness and is merged with it. There is no duality of being conscious and being aware. Both become one and the same. When consciousness merges with awareness, the proverbial wave has merged with the ocean. Paths to this ultimate union are found in various religions of the world. The Hindus call it samadhi and the process of attaining this union is through the various branches of yoga. Christians refer to it as the mystical union. Buddhists call it nirvana. The Kabbalah is the major means to attain this union in the Jewish tradition. In Sufism, a branch of islam, a devotional act of mental repetition is practiced to attain that state, which they refer to as visal. All the major religions of the world have explored this concept, however the methods employed vary. However, one need not be religious at all to experience this union of awareness and consciousness. But just thinking about it will not make it happen. Thinking is a process that is separate from awareness. Just as one goes in front of a mirror and the reflection is instantaneous, similarly when one experiences total awareness it happens in a flash. That flash, like lightening, may not last long initially, but with putting awareness into practice as we go about our daily routines will turn it into a steady light like that of the sun.

Just as the meeting point of all rivers are the oceans, the meeting point of all humanity is at the union of consciousness and awareness. The human body is the only rung in the evolutionary ladder from which this union can be experienced. No other creature of this planet is capable of this. For humans, no further evolutionary changes in the physical body are needed. It is already the perfect springboard. These genuine reflections that everyone has equal access to through their own efforts and experiences are unfortunately wrapped in religious dogma. Indeed one does not need to have faith in any particular religious tradition to experience this union. One can simply sit back, witness and be one with that sense of awareness within.

Consciousness can be compared to water and awareness to elemental hydrogen and oxygen. Oxygen, hydrogen and helium are the most common elements in space. Yet there is very little breathable oxygen and drinkable water in space. Water takes on the properties of whatever it is mixed it. In the rain clouds, it is very pure. When that rain falls onto an ocean, it mixes with salty water and it becomes salty. When pure water is put in a cooking vessel and spices and vegetables are added to make a stew, water takes those qualities. One cannot drink molecular hydrogen and oxygen separately even though they are the constituents of water. Similarly, consciousness is the vehicle for life and pure awareness is the source of that consciousness.

The movement of awareness creates consciousness which we experience individually. As our individual consciousness is projected into the world it gets narrower and more specific. Like an arrow striking a target, consciousness moves outwards through the portals of perception hits an object of interest that grabs our attention. When our consciousness strikes an object of perception, it comes alive as experience. But that experiencing happens within, not at the external object. In order to have that experience, our consciousness then has to move back through the organs of perception and through the mind back to pure awareness. Images are created in the brain but are perceived from the level of pure awareness. Since consciousness is identified with the mind and the body, every experience is erroneously understood as happening in the mind and the body. The experiencing happens beyond the mind and the body at the level of awareness. This can be argued by the simple fact that the mind-body complex and everything that happens within that realm can be observed.

Deeper awareness dawns when our attention is consciously withdrawn from the happenings in the mind. By doing so, one becomes more of an observer of the mind rather than a doer. Greater the attention, greater is the sense of awareness. Indeed attention is the only skill one has to practice and develop. The rest follows. Religious beliefs or just self belief may be used as tools to dig deep within oneself. Once an experience of pure awareness is found, those tools have to be set aside otherwise awareness cannot be called total. It becomes partial and conditioned. If one wants to dig a well, the required tools must be put to work and directed in a certain direction if water is to be found. It will not yield water if they are simply kept as ornaments. Once water is reached, tools used to dig a well serve no further purpose. That water can be used to clean the tools. Total awareness cleans the mind of all beliefs and prejudices and sharpens it. Through that process, the higher mind is accessed with which immense contributions to the world may be possible.

The process of duality or “fall” from the union of awareness and consciousness starts when the choiceless expansive awareness travels through the portals of perception into the world. Christianity’s concept of the Garden of Eden may be thought of as pure awareness and the forbidden fruit may be thought of as the identification with the mind and the body. When this happens, we move from pure awareness (expelled from the Garden of Eden) to individual consciousness. When there is movement of awareness through the narrow channels of the physical senses, it generates individual consciousness we experience in the mind and the body.

The mind acts a refracting medium which continuously turns energy from pure awareness into limited individual consciousness. Somehow we have come to fully identify ourselves with this limited consciousness. This identification creates the ego which is then shaped according to our persona. Once consciousness is trapped and colored by our persona it cannot be set free by anyone other than ourselves. The door is open all the time, but we don’t want to leave the confines of our conditioning. It is seen as a loss to give up all that we have acquired through the mind. However, it can never be lost, as deeper awareness is larger and more encompassing than the mind. Everything that is seen within the mind will still be visible, but will be understood in a very different light. Nothing becomes personal. Joys will be purer and sorrows that we have experienced cease to hold the same value.

While going about our daily lives, fulfilling all our duties and obligations to our family and society, it is possible to expand our limited consciousness to match the unimaginable breadth and reach of choiceless awareness. Consciousness when limited to the body and the mind is subject to the opposing pulls of the sensations of pleasure and pain. These in turn generate likes and dislikes which are stored as memories, creating grooves in the mind through which habit patterns form. Limited consciousness coexists with absolute awareness. But since we are identified with limited consciousness, we have no access to absolute awareness. When we come across any experience, we have the choice to either be identified with that experience or go through it as if one is a silent observer. As an observer, we can learn a lot more from any given experience. Through identification, what we learn is limited as it is usually based on past experiences stored in our memories. When there is greater awareness, background talk in the mind is limited or non existent. Based on what we “hear” from this background talk, we draw conclusions. When life is experienced through the lens of awareness, one does not usually jump to quick conclusions. It is a more “real life” experience than living through limited and conditioned consciousness.

The barriers between limited consciousness and absolute awareness are internal and they are invisible. Endeavors that aim to lower and remove these barriers need not necessarily be cloaked in religion or spirituality. Words can not define something that cannot be limited by a definition. Removing the barrier and experiencing the state of pure awareness is simple, but our approach isn’t always right. Usually we approach it from the complexities of the mind and this prevents us from reaching the truth that awareness is quickly. Bliss is a byproduct of this inner work, just as money may be a useful byproduct of honestly performed work. It may not necessarily be the goal. There is always the temptation to indulge in this inner bliss. Just as one may slow down to get a drink of water while running a marathon, one can partake in this bliss as a temporary respite until one is permanently established in a state of pure awareness. What we seek lies behind this curtain of bliss. The body and the mind as an expression of consciousness emanating from this pure awareness will continue to function, and the work done through its functioning will be of a very high quality. Since there is no identification with the consciousness that acts as a medium between awareness and the work performed, one tends to be more of a producer of new ideas rather than a consumer and enjoyer of experiences that come and go.

The body is a tangible interface where the movement of consciousness from within to without may be experienced. The body is like a river bed and this flow of consciousness is like that of the river water flowing. Without water, the river bed dries up and without a river bed, there is no river. Just as flowing water encounters rocks that create rapids, the flow of consciousness through what we call the mind creates “turbulences” when it encounters likes and dislikes we identify with. Getting from one bank to another where the water is rapid and turbulent is difficult as is getting across the wide mouth of the river where it joins the ocean. But at its source, one can just step across it. The stream of consciousness is easily traversed at its source, the unmanifest awareness. It becomes more difficult to get across that stream at the mind, which can frequently be turbulent and unpredictable. Life in the body is dependent on that flow of consciousness. It’s mysteries cannot be solved by examining the cells and tissues of the body, just as the origin of a river cannot be seen from the delta where it meets the ocean. It is easy to flow with the current of consciousness into the world. It is hard, but not impossible to flow against the current to its source. That is the inner journey that starts at the body. Just as a dive becomes effortless when the technique is mastered, similarly, when the technique of stilling the body is mastered, one can effortless dive into the mind and beyond.