Sunday, October 23, 2016

A void filled: On finding life's purpose - 2

The prevailing theory of our universe is one of cosmic expansion. According to this theory, popularly known as the Big Bang, at a finite time in the past, the universe as we know it today was of infinite density and temperature. The expansion of space that resulted in the universe we live in today, did not however originate from a single point as would be the case with a conventional explosion. This may be illustrated by the example of blowing an air bubble. As the bubble expands each point on the surface of the bubble moves away from other points on the bubble as it fills with air. There is no particular center from which the surface of the air bubble expands. Relative to any particular point on the surface of the air bubble, all other points appear to moving away as the size of the bubble grows. Those points on surface of the air bubble may be thought of as galaxies; and as the three dimensional universe expands, each galaxy moves away from other galaxies. No matter where we are in the universe, it appears that we are at the center of that expanding universe due to the fact that other objects are moving away from us. We have a similar experience in the mind where each thought can appear to be at the center of an ever expanding mind.

As the physical brain develops, there is an inflection point (impossible to pinpoint) when the conscious mind comes into existence. At that instant, there is a very rapid expansion of the mind which extends to virtually infinite dimensions. Similar to the birth and expansion of the physical universe, the mind also does not come into existence from one definable point. Wherever our attention travels to in the mind, that becomes the center from which we come to “view” the vast expanse of the mind. Just as we cannot define the outer boundary of the physical universe from earth, we cannot see the point at which the mind ends, from within the mind. Mankind had a new appreciation of the oneness and beauty of the earth when pictures of our blue planet were first beamed from the surface of the moon. Just as there are no distinct boundaries visible when the earth is viewed from the moon, the divisions and differences between individual thoughts vanish when the mind is witnessed from a distance. The boundaries of the mind are more likely to come into better focus when we are witnessing the happenings in the mind as in watching a movie rather than be an active participant. Here participation is not physical participation but a psychological one through identification. For instance a thought may arise that resonates with a deep seated desire. Desires are given wings and freedom to grow and fly all around our mind space when we link thoughts with underlying desires. Then thoughts go from being just like passing clouds to highly personal entities which we feel must be owned.

Space enables us to get a unique perspective of our surroundings, whether it is of the outer world or the mind, by creating distance and separation. Both matter and the mind expand into space, one geometric and the other psychological. The nature of space is not fully understood. We are not certain what creates space. Space can be described, but it cannot be defined in absolute terms. Quantum mechanics is upending our current notions of spatial distances between objects and their interactions in geometric space. Although currently these observations are made in the microscopic world, they may apply to the world of matter in general. Psychological space as we all experience in and around the mind operates very differently from our current understanding of physical laws. For example, spatial (near and far) and temporal (past, present and future) distances between thoughts can be distinct, but their interactions can often mimic non locality. As the understanding of quantum mechanics grows, the lines between matter, geometrical space, thoughts and psychological space may be blurred in the future.

By conventional wisdom, if matter did not exist, including our physical body, then there is “nothingness”. In this sense, “nothing” is the absence of something, which makes it a relative entity. Furthermore, the concept of nothing cannot be described in absolute terms. When space is empty it cannot be called nothing. The container which that space is, is still very much present. Absence or presence of matter in geometrical space and thoughts in psychological space is relative. The concept of nothingness when applied to the mind usually implies an empty shell of the mind that is devoid of thoughts. This is often erroneously thought to be the goal of meditative practices. Holding onto the the shell of the empty mind is a subtle form of ego or individuality. If the shell of the mind is present, it can easily be filled again. Reaching that state of mental nothingness, however is an important step in uncovering a bridge to the beyond, a state where there is no ego or individuality. Any trace of individuality, however faint implies the presence of the conscious mind. Distinct compartments with contents that pertain to the past, present and future are some of the defining characteristics of the mind. Where the illusions of the past, present and the future end, the mind ends. It cannot sustain a purpose when there is no concept of time. In the mind, space and time appear distinct and beyond the mind, space and time become one. Einstein said, “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."

When the concept of time, hence divisions into the past, present and future are erased, the foundations of the mind crumble. But our awareness of the space that envelops and contains the mind does not disappear. If anything, that awareness will be strengthened. The mind dissolves when we are able to stand apart from it as a witness. Through habit, we consciously meddle with the mind, and consequently we are subject to the relativities that are associated with the passage of time. But in the state of pure awareness that is not commingled with the mind, a far greater space wherein the mind may become a tiny speck in a vast expanse of space may be experienced. Similar to the view lunar astronauts had of the earth from the moon, the mind may in fact appear very beautiful from a distance. Awareness opens up space, unlike the mind which deploys an army thoughts to fill every bit of the conscious component of the mind.

Awareness does not have a temporal quality to it. In its purest state, it exists independent of time and it does not enhance or degrade with time. Further away from the mind, and hence the temporal quality of time, greater is the expanse of awareness. Awareness is purely subjective. It cannot be observed. Everything is observed from a state of pure awareness. Anything that can be observed is objective. The mind is the beginning of the objective world as it can be observed. The space in between pure subjective awareness and the observable is subtly linked by a form of energy we can refer to as consciousness.

Consciousness can be thought of as the bridge that links the space between the subject and the object. That space isn’t dead space but a highly potential space. What becomes of that space and hence consciousness depends on the interactions of objects on the backdrop of subjectivity. In the objective world, awareness does not disappear but becomes limited, conditioned and tied to the object of perception. As awareness becomes more and more limited, consciousness also becomes limited. Consciousness and awareness do not create the world of objectivity rather, they serve as the stage on which objectivity is created. In this sense, the objective world is illusory, coming and going in and out of awareness. Subjectivity can exist without objectivity, but not the other way around. An example would be, soup cannot exist without water but water can exist independently and does not need to be turned into soup to exist. Consciousness is like pure water. It assumes the characteristics of whatever it is associated with, just as clear water is imparted color when mixed with a pigment. The interaction of the energy of consciousness with the mind creates the inner environment we live with day to day. Our intention drives that interaction hence the experiences of happiness and sorrow in the mind. In this respect we are the creators of our own mental atmosphere. There is no one or thing to blame or thank for our unhappiness or happiness respectively.

If the mind is saintly and pure, our individual consciousness reverberates with that quality and fills us with peace. If the mind is wicked and cruel, consciousness becomes bound to that lower state of expression and makes us restless. To quell restlessness in the mind, thoughts are frequently turned into actions which help dissipate that energy and restore balance. Our attention is usually trained on the content, which is the mind and less so on the container which is energy in the form of consciousness. The content (mind) is highly personal and the container (consciousness) is impersonal. Consciousness is inherently untainted even though it mixes with the mind. An example of how to differentiate consciousness and the mind is as follows. When our attention is with the happenings in the mind, we drag consciousness into the mind. But if we take a step back we are able to create a separation between us and the mind (best done as a silent exercise with eyes closed). “Taking a step back” involves becoming aware that one is a witness and not a participant. Consciousness then retreats from participation in the activities of the mind to becoming one with the witnessing aspect of our being. In that state, the mind does not immediately disappear but with no active participation, it gradually fades and for all practical purposes it ceases to exist. If we can agree that pure consciousness is impersonal and universal, then by training our attention on it rather than the mind we could end the feeling of being separate from everything else in existence even though outwardly there is physical separation.

Existence may be viewed from the perspective of body consciousness which provides a ground level view, or from the vantage of pure consciousness which is like a 30,000 ft view. Just as water flows from high ground to low ground and ultimately finds its own level, our awareness flows from higher to lower consciousness and finds its level in accordance with our mental propensities. This leakage of awareness into the mind cannot be easily plugged. Purpose generally drags us into the mind, but it can also be used to turn towards a higher plane of consciousness away from the mind. Like booster rockets that are dropped once a satellite is put in orbit, once our awareness is entrenched in a place other than the mind, the intention and purpose that served as vehicles to disentangle awareness from the mind should be dropped. If we are able to return “home” to that higher plane of consciousness, we don’t lose the option of willingly reentering and engaging the mind as a tool that could be used for the betterment of mankind. Even though there may be extraordinary inner transformation, there may not be much by way of outward manifestation. But the fragrance of that transformation will be sensed by the world.

Just as flowers naturally bloom when the season and the conditions are right, the mind opens to the world in an entirely new manner when inner transformation occurs. Ordinarily, even though our mind is open to the world, it is mostly for the intake of information. What is exported out is a byproduct of our likes and dislikes. Purity that exists at the core of our being has no outlet into the mind, let alone into the world. Each one’s mind is unique and like flowers that bloom in different colors and shapes, every individual’s mental proclivities are best suited for uniquely different purposes. This “blooming” of the mind is a great mechanism to bring about change in the world. Inner power comes down this cascade- the power and energy of higher consciousness moves into the mind which acts like a water turbine that generates electricity; the mind turns this energy into a form that is useful for the world. Due to our attachments and desires, the blades of the mental turbine lie idle. Everyone has equal potential to be a conduit for bringing about change in the world. In order to be that change agent, we must move our awareness from being choice-prone to choicelessness.

Turning our mind away from the contents of the mind towards consciousness which is the container may seem like a daunting task. The difficulty lies not in the process of turning away, which can be done in an instant but in keeping our awareness from flowing back to mind and getting entangled again with attachments and desires. We have three tools at our disposal. These are the force of will, pursuit of truth using introspection and the power of feeling. Depending on the method, the mind and its contents may be altered which in turns influences the plane of consciousness from which we operate or the consciousness itself is freed and disentangled from the mind without changing the contents of the mind.

To be continued...