Sunday, January 8, 2017

A stich, in time... (Part 1)

Since the invention of the sewing machine in the late 17th century, little has changed in how seams on our everyday clothing are held together. Thread continues to be the standard even today. Driven by a tiny needle, fabric of different shapes, sizes, colors are brought together thread by thread. Without the help of mechanized sewing, it would be hard to imagine manually stitching clothes for billions of people. Even with modern day machinery, a sewing needle is the focal point around which all other elements come together in creating a garment, as was the case in the very first sewing machines ever made. The imprint of a sewing needle is in every single stitch, and one needle can create so many different pieces of clothing. Consciousness may be compared to a sewing needle. Our lives are stitched together by its hidden hand, and it is reflected in every thought that comes across our mind space, in the words we utter and the actions we undertake. In every individual, the visible component of consciousness is evident in the body and the invisible part may be experienced as the mind and its various components.  

Although the body and the mind appear to be connected seamlessly, there is a hidden seam between them. The tangible link between the two that we can all experience is our breath. The posture which the body assumes influences our breathing pattern which in turn influences the state of mind. The opposite is also true. The attitude of the mind is reflected in our breathing which in turn impacts the body. Through the breath, the link between the body and the mind remains unbroken throughout our lives. The first breath is a deep inhalation and the last breath is an exhalation. Life as we know it, between birth and death, may be thought of as “one long breath hold”. For all practical purposes, the mind could be considered functional just as the fetus wakes up soon after being disconnected from the maternal placenta. It is a matter of great wonder that while the “breath is alive”, there is inherent harmony amongst the trillions of cells that comprise the human body. Cells responsible for growth of the body exist harmoniously alongside cells with great destructive power. We are conscious of the physical body that houses all these cells, yet cannot communicate with the cells of the body. Cells are master communicators, getting messages across silently. Without such intercellular communication, the survival of a complex machinery like the human body together would be impossible. This process could be considered one of the greatest miracles and it is going on right under our nose. Verbal communication, however polished, seems crude in comparison to how messages are precisely and discreetly sent between cells.

Without the faculty of the mind, there would not be a way for the miracle of human life to be acknowledged and appreciated. The mind is more subtle than space, yet it may at times feel dense, heavy and real as a piece of rock. The mind is pinned to an individual. Only its contents may be shared through our expressions but not its structure. Just as a monk traveling with no possessions barring a bowl used for collecting the daily bread, we have no real possessions to speak of except for the mind’s contents. Rather than sustain an important aspect of life, the function of the mind has been reduced to that of a begging bowl, seeking to be filled by sensory experiences. The mind is clean and empty not just at birth but also when we first wake up everyday. After birth, it takes a long time before the mind loses its “empty and open” quality. But after waking up, that quality disappears almost instantaneously. The mind is like a mythical bowl that never fills up no matter how much one may put in it. No matter what its contents, the mind itself is unaffected by it. What we see of it depends on how we operate it. Scientists are trying to “mechanize the mind” through advances in artificial intelligence, but the current way of how our lives are stitched together in our individual mindspaces with our thoughts, feelings and emotions will always be here stay. There will continue to be mysteries surrounding the mind as long as we are bound by its contents. To go beyond the mind is to be one with the deeper sense of being or the “observer” within. Information from the senses of sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing penetrate to that depth as “observable” phenomenon.

When the perfect troika of the body, mind and a deeper sense of being beyond the two come together, it creates the whole human experience. The body (physical senses) and the mind (psychic senses) are conduits to the “observer” within. All experiences are generated at that deeper level. It is unnatural for the inner “observer” to be in a state of misery or in a state of happiness conditioned by external circumstances. The nature of that inner “observer” is one of neutrality. Consider an electrical circuit with positive, negative and neutral wiring. Current flows when there is a difference in potential between the positive and negative poles. The neutral (or ground) wiring is for safety. Touching it does not result in a shock. But that is not the case with a live wire. The world (negative pole) provides input to the mind (positive pole). The movement of attention between the two creates experiences (the “alternating” current of worldly life producing joys and sorrows). Identifying with those experiences creates attachment, desires ultimately leads to suffering which may deeply affect us and “shock” the mind. But like a grounding wire, “touching” and being one with the “observer” within will draw our attention towards a place of safety. It takes us closer to inner awareness and the neutrality of that state takes away the pain and suffering that experiences bring.

The “current” of life that creates the world around us will remain long after we are gone. There is just a short span of time to realize the higher reality that hides in each one of us. There is a lot of energy that is used up by the mind to runs its various factions such as the conscious and subconscious parts, memories, feelings, thoughts, intellect etc. The mind is a busy intersection of these various streams of energy. Needless to say, like an iconic place such as the Times Square in New York City with all the people and traffic, there is bound to be a lot of activity in the middle of the mind. The “middle” is not a particular place in the mind, but any place where our attention rests. Thoughts that may beckon us may be just as attractive as well lit billboards catching our attention while walking through a place like Times Square. When our attention is concentrated on the mind, we become tired.. But that is not the case when our attention is one with the inner “observer”. This is a safe place from which to watch the interaction between the body, mind and the outer world. From here, one can live and enjoy life without being affected by it. Time makes life go by like a fast moving train. Just as the scenery is bound to change as long as a train is moving, time continually changes our perception of the world.

The body and the mind are subject to the vagaries of time, and in that changing environment lies the root of our suffering. But recognizing this is also the seed for our liberation from the cyclical nature of joy and sorrow. When the body changes for the worse and doesn’t function as we expect it to or is afflicted by a grave illness, it is natural to shut out the world and focus our attention on the body. The energy of the mind is predominantly on the body and how to heal it. Without the body, the mind is nothing but a roaming ghost. It needs the body for fulfillment of desires lurking in its midst. To put things in a different perspective, the body may be compared to a tree and the mind to a blade of grass. As a blade of grass is sheltered by a tree and not the other way around, the mind is sheltered by the body. The mind should be trained to have a humble attitude. Otherwise the poisonous weeds of ego will quickly take over. More the mind grows, greater must be the care taken to prevent the weeds of ego from sprouting. A 15th century mystic, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu lovingly admonished his followers with the following mantra, “be as humble as a blade of grass and as tolerant as a tree”. More than ever, this simple teaching applies in today’s world. If our mind can be trained to be both humble and tolerant, many of our perceived problems and difficulties would vanish entirely.

Generally speaking, the body is very tolerant despite the abuse it suffers from our lifestyles as well as negative states of mind. Our physical body is self sufficient, barring the need for food and water. If proper raw materials are provided, it has the ability to manufacture all the components needed for life. Imagine not being able to bring a fully functional television home, instead having to put it together part by part. The body has no such luxury of having ready made bones, muscles, organs and tissues. Everything has to be organically grown within. Needless to say, the body has a “level head” when it comes to respecting the process of life. The mind is totally dependent. Like a landlocked country that needs friendly and cooperative neighbors for access to the oceans, the mind needs the sense organs that are part of the body to reach the world. Yet it can be capricious, reckless and arrogant. The greatest threat to its existence is our will power and awareness. If the willpower is very strong or inner awareness has fully blossomed, the mind may be rendered non existent. Just as a flower continues to offer its fragrance whether it is still attached to a stem of a plant or plucked, with fully developed awareness we will continue to experience bliss regardless of whether the mind is dormant, active or extinct. We would not dependent on its contents for deriving joy.

As some of the key elements for enjoying the beauty of life, the value of the body and mind are rarely appreciated. Instead they are taken for granted and have become a means for attracting and accumulating misery rather than reflecting joy which is their true purpose. The body and mind need to be taken care of as one would an expensive piece of dress. In a clothing store, costly items of clothing are carefully kept and the shopkeeper will have no attachment when they are sold. Similarly, one’s inner awareness may be compared to that shopkeeper. As long as there is life in the body, it is enjoyed. The one with awareness will not cling to or suffer when death approaches. To such a person, death would seem like a change of clothing.

It is nature’s law that all living entities are highly dispensable. The body may be compared to a cocoon and our inner awareness may be compared to the wings of a butterfly growing within a cocoon. Just like a butterfly takes flight and leaves the cocoon when the wings are fully developed, only when our awareness is fully developed can we take that inner flight away from bodily identification and its resultant suffering. Just like new life emerging from a pupal casing, the body becomes the vehicle for the genesis of a higher dimension of life. This dimension can only be experienced when awareness is fully developed and totally in the present. Awareness when total and fixed on the present cannot be confined to the most expensive casket that houses physical remains after one’s death. Although awareness is not something that can be measured or proven by any presently known means, it is the word of the mystics from which this leap of faith (that awareness is deathless) is derived. Rather than accept as a belief, one must be willing to accept it as a challenge to go against the “worldly grain” and seek experience of this awareness. Money cannot buy it and it is not something that can be gifted. A simple daily practice of observing anything from a tree to a building and asking oneself, who the observer is will lead to that state of awareness untainted by our likes and dislikes.  

Bondage of our physical bodies to the earth is how the road of evolution has travelled as far as
the body is concerned. But there is no written or unwritten code confining us to an existence of psychic bondage to the contents of the mind. It is our own individual creation. Like the proverbial parrot screeching “freedom” while the cage door remains open, we seek the comfort of false freedom that objects bring while the way inwards has always been wide open with neither a door or window. The wings of awareness will be ready to flap when we are. There isn’t a single stitch holding the dark curtain we find behind closed eyes. It’s essence is that of the emptiness of space. In that emptiness, awareness takes the form of a needle that drives the thread of our individual consciousness inwards towards its source.

To be continued…