Thursday, February 9, 2017

A stich, in time... (Part 2/2)

Journeying through life is like riding on a magic carpet. Life magically happens without us asking or seeking it. All we can aim for and work towards is a pattern of weave that makes life a uniquely rewarding experience. Our innate tendencies determine how we keep that carpet; clean, dirty, protected, careless, well worn or unused. That carpet is nothing but the human body and the weave is the mind. A “mass produced life” in which we lock steps with the rest and follow the dictates of sensory experiences may give us a pleasant existence; but if we look deep within, there will be a silent longing for something more from life.

A superficial existence, no doubt has great utility and keeps the bills paid and the debt levels low, both from an individual as well as from a societal perspective. Within these man made boundaries, answers to deeper questions such as the meaning of life can never be found. If we venture into deeper depths, we would become more, and not less proficient in carrying out duties and responsibilities in life. For those who are able to swim in the deep waters of an ocean, wading in a shallow pool becomes very easy. But for those who are afraid of water, swimming even in a small swimming pool seems like a dangerous exercise to undertake. Just as we learn the alphabet in kindergarten and use that basic knowledge to express ourselves throughout our lives, how we learn to adapt and deal with mundane outer circumstances has a great impact on one’s inner journey. In this regard, the world is a great teacher. One’s daily life experiences, ordinary or fascinating is the “alphabet” with which the book of inner wisdom is written.

The basic fabric of the inner and outer life is the same, what differs are the boundaries within which we operate. The outer life is guided by the five senses. Experiencing life through them is highly regulated and may be compared to a highway with many lanes and a speed limit. As long as we are within the boundaries of the laws and the posted signs, we are considered safe drivers. One cannot easily veer off such a road on a whim. Vehicles designed for driving on smooth asphalt are ill equipped to handle off road conditions. What we see of life through the senses is limited. Much remains unseen and waiting to be discovered. This “off road” journey within requires an entirely different vehicle than the senses. The senses are designed to be operated at a certain optimal “speed”. We routinely break those limits, and we are surprised when there are “accidents” in the form of disease, misery, unhappiness etc. The way out is not to seek more from the world, but to judiciously use what is within easy reach for our needs and save bulk of the mental energy for the demanding drive within, to the core of our being.

A great untapped resource is our own inner self. The space within that lies between our superficial mental awareness and our true self offers a great amount of “cloth” to work with, compared to the limited fabric of life perceived by the senses. From the beginning of life we have always had the free choice of patterning our life in whatever manner we see fit. We can either fashion it like an intricately embroidered piece of clothing or make it like one sewn with simple lines. Greater the complexity of patterns we create within the mind, greater is the effort that will be needed in dismantling such mental conditioning. An expensive dress or one made of cheap cloth both serve one purpose, covering the body. An inexpensive piece of clothing may be discarded without second thought, but not so with something that costs a lot of money. The time and effort in keeping such expensive dresses well preserved eats away at our mental energies. Similarly, with mental conditioning. Simple conditioning of the mind with just enough to function in the world and offer something in return for all the great things life brings us can easily be stripped away when the time comes to do so. But if the platform on which the mind is erected is full of pomp, show and flair, that will be harder to give up. A simple existence in the mind is the most valuable gift we can give ourselves. The rewards will outlast any other material gift. The mind could also be compared to a traveling circus. Everywhere a circus goes, the tents, props and other details will have to be reassembled. Similarly with the mind. Everyday, layers and layers of conditioning will have to be reinstituted in order to maintain the inner and outer “show” we and others have become accustomed to. These will have to be dismantled at nighttime if we are to get a good night sleep. Each subsequent day is like going to a new place where the same acts are replayed.

To go within oneself, all the props of the mind become an encumbrance rather than an aid. We will have to “freestyle” it with or without the aid of the mind. There is no one method or prescription for the inner journey. Methods may be compared to a runner’s shoes. The size and fit vary from runner to runner, but it is the legs of a runner rather than the shoes that power the running. Stronger the legs, greater is the endurance. The two “legs” for the inner run are our attention and concentration. Both should be equally strong and like a runner’s legs must be symmetrical and coordinated.

Unlike driving on a highway in a particular lane at a set speed, there is greater freedom of movement when flying in the open skies or sailing the high seas. But there are rules to be followed in the air as well as water. These are mostly laws of nature and they have much larger boundaries. When the mind becomes a destination, as in a place where experiences are enjoyed or feared, it has tight boundaries. But when it is instead turned into a vehicle to explore the inner world, casting aside experiences contained within it, its boundaries enlarge and in that space we experience a greater sense of freedom. Whether one pursues the outer world through the senses or the inner world through understanding and introspection the goal is the same, which is freedom. The is no greater freedom than one that is self earned. A gift of money or goods brings happiness. But that happiness is dependent on something been given and received in the first place. Inner happiness is quite different. There are no conditions imposed. This happiness cannot be gifted. Access to it has to be earned by each and every individual.

In one sense, we are all free to begin it, there are no strings attached to life and we are not born clutching a contract that stipulates what is expected of us. We are free to shape our lives any way we want to. Our self inflicted mental conditioning is the “contract” we impose on ourselves and we foolishly hold ourselves to it. Apart from societal rules, there is little or no expectation placed upon us by nature. We may beautify or destroy our planet through collective human action, but universe is far too big and complex for this have any impact on the cosmos. What we do here comes back to us here, not in the heavens of outer space. Some parts of the world are put together like heaven on earth, whether manmade or natural. Other parts have been turned into living hells through the actions of man. Freedom from the mind gives us an experience of heaven we can carry with us at all times. We mistakenly pursue freedom within the mind, this is limited in scope. Identification with positive experiences is one form of limited freedom that is experienced in the mind. External comforts create space and freedom in the mind but do not offer any means of complete and total freedom from the miseries of the mind. When one is free of the mind, one can pick and choose its good aspects and discard the undesirable parts. Without that freedom, one is subject to the ups and downs of life.

Even though our actions may have no impact on a universal scale, it should not deter us from action. Thoughts create a vibration and actions turn those thoughts into reality. That reality we create is perceived as foreign by the senses and this in turn triggers more thoughts and actions. This process is potentially endless. We cannot create a pleasant outer environment without having corresponding thoughts. Similarly unpleasant circumstances are underpinned by undesirable thoughts that have somehow escaped into the world through action. Acting without expectation is being in line with the rest of nature. Stars silently glow in the far reaches of space, and one or more of the thousands of stars seen in the night sky may be the source of oxygen that sustains our life at this very moment. Those dim flickering stars may not light up the sky as brightly as does our sun, but they indirectly have a vital role in maintaining life on earth. From this perspective, the entire cosmos is acting to prop up our little, insignificant lives. What a gift!

The least we can do is to accept life whichever way it is presented to us. It’s colors may vary from one period of our life to another. The ups and downs of life are inevitable as the salty taste of sea water. But just as the net sea level stays constant overall despite the rise and fall of waves, there is equanimity that may be found in life if one is unaffected by waves of success or failure. In that equanimity we can choose how our life’s experiences are painted. For equanimity to take root, our awareness must first coexist contemporaneously with the current moment. Awareness is easily lost in the mind, and through effort we can create an egress in our mind through which our awareness can actively reach every moment that passes by. We block access to the present moment whenever we confront miseries as punishments rather than as teaching aids. Similarly, pleasures and comforts also become obstacles when we embrace them as just rewards rather than seeing them as clever distractions. From the perspective of the sea of undivided consciousness, all life is equal. Each breath seems to whisper that. The goal of life is reaching that sea of undivided consciousness. With each passing moment, the drops from that sea, which are our individual lives, are slowly drying up.

If looking at life as a string of infinite moments is difficult, then opportunities to carve out a path through the confusing spectacle of the mind comes in two instalments every day. One is the experience of daytime and the other is the experience of nighttime. Each day that goes by without us learning something new about ourselves is a lost opportunity. During each of those two contrasting time periods in every 24 hour period, the mind changes its garb. These are very different experiences, diametrically opposite to one another.

We are well versed with the daytime version of the mind. It holds all of our different identities. Depending on perspectives and circumstances, we may be parents, siblings, employees, friends, enemies etc. Our personalities are shaped according to these changing identities but our sense of being is a witness to all this. That witnessing aspect of our being is unaffected by the different roles we play each day. The same mind from which sprung up these various identities swallows them all during the stage of deep sleep. Wealth and fame are also assumed identities which have nothing to do with our sense of being which is a dispassionate witnesses to everything. We readily trade in our daytime identities for a good night’s sleep. Even though we attach great importance to those identities which have come to define our lives, at a subconscious level there is an understanding that they are not important. Otherwise we would be clinging onto them and fighting sleep from setting in. If we can let go of them in sleep that easily, it should be possible to let identification with those roles go during the daytime as we enact them. It may take some effort to get the process started. But it will be worth it in the long run. Just as every season, clothing stores clear out their racks to make room for the new styles coming in, by routinely clearing the mind, new experiences may be enjoyed in their native flavor rather than through the that of prior experiences.

If we can successfully be a conscious witness to our different identities during the daytime without becoming fully identified with them, only then is there is a possibility that a conscious witnessing can happen while the body is asleep and the mind is dreaming. A conscious experience of our sense of being which witnesses everything during the three phases of the mind, which are the waking, dreaming and deep sleep stages may seem impossible. But so was the thought, a few hundred years ago of a metal object weighing thousands of pounds flying in the sky and carrying hundreds of people. The inner realm is a questioner’s paradise. Beliefs, whether raw or well baked cannot survive those questions and they cannot explain the mind. The mind can only be explained by being a witness to it day and night. If it is constantly watched, pretences and put ons will fade at some point, revealing its true nature.

It is a great wonder that every night, the same mind that may have troubled us during the daytime gets completely disconnected at nighttime. Without a conscious mind, we are completely cut off from the world, which may be a scary thought indeed. But this may come as a relief, especially when the mind is deeply troubled. At other times, we are indifferent to this separation. The walls we put up during the day seem to dissolve at night, only to be reconstructed the following day. Imagine living on an island and having only one boat as a means to travel to the mainland. One would do everything possible to ensure that the boat would not drift away during the night. The mind may be compared to this boat. It is our only means of communicating with the world. All of us have have to surrender our grasp over the mind with the faith that it will come back just as we left it the night before. It is almost magical that we are able pick up and move ahead from where we left off just as the body and mind drift off into sleep. We take for granted that we will wake up each morning and we won’t forget a thing. Conscious awareness of the mind at all times will turn it into a lifeline that takes us to our true inner self.

The contrast between how the mind operates at daytime and at nighttime during sleep is so sharp and distinct, that even a little degree of attentiveness as one slips into or slips out of sleep will reveal a lot. This is one method of divining the secrets of the mind. In this technique, one must closely observe the mind as it unclothes its layers of conditioning in the moments before we fall asleep. When we wake up, there is a brief period of time, it may be a fraction of a second or more, when the mind is completely naked stripped of its cloak of preconditioning. These are extremely brief and fleeting moments. But if one is able to tap into those, it is like being given a key to opening the treasure house of the self. If one misses a sunrise or a sunset, one will have to wait for another day. Similarly, those precious moments before we fall asleep and right after we wake up can never be recreated during the daytime. However, practicing deeper awareness of every passing moment during one’s waking hours will offer sufficient experience in getting proficient with this exercise of observing the mind just as we fall asleep or wake up.  

Sleep forces us to practice detachment from the mind. But this passive detachment does not lead to higher inner awareness and the realization of one’s true nature. Our real nature cannot be explained by the mind and it does not originate in the mind. The nature of a solid object is based on that of its constituent atoms, that of the atoms is based on the configuration of its individual electrons, protons and neutrons and so on. Similarly, the outermost layer of our personality is based on the deeper layers until we get to the nature of the mind which is based on something distinct and more subtle than the mind itself. Just as scientists are trying to extend the limits of our knowledge of matter by studying subatomic particles, we can extend our understanding of our true nature by going within ourselves layer by layer from gross conscious thoughts to more subtle subconscious thoughts and beyond.

Only with introspection combined with active detachment can we hope to let go of the “old and ill fitting clothes” of desires, past joys, expectations of the future, sorrows and miseries; the sum total of which describe our lives. When wading through a muddy river, we naturally expect our clothing to get wet and muddy. As mud soaked clothing dry off, mud separates from water and some of it sticks to that clothing. If it is washed right away with clean water and detergent, there is a good chance of removing those stains. Instead if the same garment is soaked in a muddy river day after day, layers and layers of mud that accumulate would irreversibly change that piece of clothing and those stains can never be removed. The mind may be compared to that cloth and the muddy river to desires, attachments, and negative qualities such as anger, greed, jealousy and envy. Every day, the mind wades through these qualities and the “dirt” that is filtered out sticks to our individual consciousness. The body may be bathed and cleaned daily, but the mind is cloaked in the same soiled garment every day. Sleep offers a “cleaning service” provided we set that intention in motion right before we drift into its clean and potentially calming waters. Each night, there is an opportunity to hit the reset button on the mind. The intention just before we fall asleep and when we first wake up must match. Just as the body wakes up in the same place as where it drifted into sleep, the same must happen for the mind. The mind can then be programmed to help us in the hunt for our true nature.

Our true nature is neither negative nor positive. The mind is a patchwork of both. The “outer garment” of our personality is determined by the mind and is the net product of all the negativity and positivity within us. If the mind is full of positive qualities, our awareness is able to drift inwards, in other words, we can be happy within ourselves and external sources of happiness are just a bonus. However when the mind is full of negative qualities, our awareness is forced outwards. When awareness is mixed with the “neutral” world, the negativity within gets diluted. A room that has been locked for a long time with its windows closed will likely have a stale smell when reopened. But if the windows are left open for a while, the room freshens up. Similarly, when one is in a highly negative frame of mind, the windows of the mind (mainly the eyes, but also includes the other four senses of taste, touch, smell and hearing) when left open to natural surroundings, will gradually freshen the mind and makes it more balanced. Most of our efforts and energies are spent keeping this inner balance between negativity and positivity. But if we are identified with neither, then our awareness can drift deeper inwards and the mind will sort itself out. The unseen force of gravity keeps the atmosphere tethered to the earth like a cloth canopy on a picnic table, counteracting the vacuum of space pulling it in the other direction. Similarly, the thread of consciousness keeps the mind tied down to the body. Less the identification with the mind, the more transparent it becomes. Only then will there be a chance to make our deeper soul stirring qualities visible to the world. Those qualities are not be visible through the muddy waters of our conscious thoughts.

What makes an expensive suit a desirable piece of clothing is not just the thread or the quality of cloth, but how it is all put together. While the tailor focuses on how the individual pieces of cloth that make up a suit fit with one another, the world sees the finished product as a whole. Similarly, we are the “tailors” of our mind. We stitch together our various qualities that are cut from the cloth of habit. An invisible thread holds all the pieces that come together as the mind, and all we have to focus on is finding the right pieces to go with one another. A tailoring shop may have many discarded pieces of cloth on the floor, but the finished products are carefully hung on racks high off the ground. Similarly, the mind may have positive and negative qualities. What the world sees of our mind is what we “wear”, not what is discarded on the “floor” of the mind.

When we are full of positive qualities, we tend to naturally attract people. When all the mind has to show for is negativity, we unconsciously repel good and well meaning people. An invisible sign seems to proclaim, “we are not open for business, go away.” Negative personalities can bind themselves to others only through fear. For fear consciousness to take root and succeed, it must tap into a vein of fear within ourselves and in that preoccupation, the flaws of the personalities or circumstances that induce that fear are ignored. Dictators that the world has seen come and go employ this tactic, knowingly or unknowingly. A beautiful flowering tree need not travel anywhere to show people its beauty. Its fragrance will attract people to it. Flowers in bloom are always in full display, unlike thorns. Like a thorny bush that keeps its thorns hidden and camouflaged, negative personalities do their best to keep their negativity hidden.   

Positive qualities may be displayed without fear. The inherent beauty in those qualities will attract others. Love is a great example of a positive quality. It is a well known scientific fact that romantic interactions between people trigger the release of the hormone oxytocin which in turns increases dopamine, a chemical messenger that has a “motivational effect” in the brain by creating a pleasurable sensation. Negative qualities will have to be disguised if we are to have any hope of maintaining friendships and relationships. The efforts that will have to go into keeping these hidden create friction and unpleasantness in our own mind, let alone in the mind of others. This will eventually wear us down. When one is stressed and experiencing negative emotions, there is a release of cortisol, the “flee, fight or flight” hormone. In contrast to oxytocin resulting in a pleasurable feeling, cortisol kicks up fear.

Fear when mixed with ego eventually turns into outright hostility. First we end up disliking ourselves and this then extends to others. Before we hate the world, we first start hating ourselves. The ego prevents us from seeing this. Just like a pot of milk boils over when left on a hot stove unattended, when our awareness of our inner nature and its potential is forgotten, hostility boils over and burns the landscape of the mind. This leaves barren scars of hatred where no love can sprout or flourish. In a mind that has harbored such feelings, long after those thoughts have departed, the mind can never be returned to its natural state. When such ill feelings spill into the world, opposing powers will inevitably clash resulting in war and destruction. Such conflict zones are not confined to some corners of the world far away from the comfort of our homes, but they exist in plain sight in one’s own mind. The place where we need to be most attentive and aware is not on land and resources that we commonly fight over, but in one’s own mind.

A forest may appear beautiful during daylight hours, filling one with feelings of peace, expansiveness, calmness, joy and positivity. But at nighttime that same forest may become a frightening place. Darkness and unfamiliarity promote fear. The mind may be compared to such a forest. When our awareness probes the mind amidst familiar thoughts, we enter a comfort zone. That comfort zone may be compared to daylight. But when our awareness is distanced from familiar thoughts or recedes into the darkness from where thoughts magically emerge from, fear may be a natural consequence. Just as the eyes need light in order to be effective instruments of vision, awareness when detached from thoughts needs the light of wisdom in order to penetrate deeper within. Books can provide knowledge but not wisdom. Experience provides wisdom and only with the practice of detaching awareness from thoughts can we hope to gather some wisdom about our true nature.

The mind does not reveal much about itself and it keeps our sense of awareness in the dark as far as its inner workings are concerned. But just as one need not know the intricate details of a car’s engine in order to drive it, it is unnecessary and perhaps a waste of valuable time to unearth and study all the contents of the mind. Fear of the darkness that envelops the mind keeps our awareness in the shallow reaches of the conscious mind. Our precious awareness is kept busy refereeing the endless battle of good and evil qualities that exist within the mind. The foot soldiers in this fight are thoughts. One set of thoughts wear the uniform of “good” and another set of thoughts wear the uniform of “evil”. Armies of different countries have uniforms with distinct insignias. But underneath those uniforms, soldiers are human beings similar to one another. Similarly, thoughts may also be stripped to their essence when we don’t pay much heed to what uniforms they wear - good or evil. It is hard to pick sides when the entire mind may be held in the palm of awareness once it is sufficiently developed in an inward direction. Then, the fear that the mind brings up will be seen as false fear.

When fear is experienced, it envelops the entire mind just as dark rain clouds may cover the sky from horizon to horizon. Those rain clouds holding millions of gallons of water may be pushed around by the wind, but the same force of wind cannot move that amount of water once it reaches the ground. Similarly when negative thoughts are just thoughts and have “not rained” down on the external world, they may be coaxed aside by the power of our awareness. But once we materialize those thoughts into harmful actions, no amount of awareness can undo them. Just as we don’t get wet as long as the sky continues to hold onto rainwater, our peace of mind will not be affected by negative thoughts as long as we keep nudging them aside through dispassionate awareness.

When awareness is freed from the clutches of the mind’s conditioning, the body and the mind will be seen in their true glory. The two together form a self sufficient machine that comes equipped with everything at birth. Everyone from a pauper to a prince have three things in common; birth, the need to breathe air and death. Just because one is of high status, one cannot walk without one’s feet touching the ground. Gravity impacts everyone equally. Similarly, everyone in theory, has the same great potential. How we use the instruments of the body and the mind determine how much of that potential is realized. The mind is best used as an aid and a protector of the body while our awareness ought to function like a bodyguard, always on alert without actively interfering unless the situation requires it. In that state of constant awareness, the body becomes the staging ground for great achievements, an indispensable tool for anyone wishing to make a big positive impact on the world. The mind becomes a tool of deliverance from our limitations, miseries and unmet desires and not the source of them.

When the body and the mind are in harmony with one another, it brings great comfort to our being, just as a fireplace offers warmth on a cold winter night. But the same fire can result in painful burns if we get too close. Or if one moves far away from the fire, one may see the flames but cannot benefit from its warmth. Similarly, our awareness once unentangled from the body and the mind ought be held neither too close nor too far away from them. Too close and identification may set in and we ultimately become the source of our own misery. Too far, the warm companionship of the body and mind is lost and neither are we one with our true inner nature nor are we one with the world. In that no man’s land, many aspiring seekers are lost. It is best to stay close to what we know best, respect and benefit from it. By doing that, our inner nature will come to us and we need not go in search of it.

The thread keeping our bodily garment of atoms together also runs through the mind. The two seemingly disparate entities, the body and the mind are remarkably well coordinated with one another. As long as we don’t step in the middle, life will be one long harmonious procession from ignorance to wisdom. Realizing and accepting one’s ignorance is the birth of a great journey. That journey dies the moment we “know it all”. The death of changing awareness is wisdom. When a telescope is pointed to one part of the sky and bolted in place, the heavens seem to revolve around that one spot as they come and go in the field of view of that telescope. The relative motion of the stars and planets will then be better appreciated. It becomes hard to study the relative movements of the heavenly bodies if a telescope is made to constantly dart from one part of the sky to another. It is virtually impossible to control the movement of the mind and thought as it is against their nature to be still. But if our awareness is fixed on one spot in the mind’s inner sky or on one aim, the relativities of life come into better focus. The changing nature of the world is better understood. One may quickly come to the realization that much of our struggles emanate from bridging the disconnect between our true nature which is unchanging and the world which is constantly changing. Awareness is trapped in between and is constantly pulled in different directions. One need not retreat to the forests or mountains to fix one’s awareness on something. It is best done in the midst of activity. Here there is constant live feedback on our progress and one day awareness will spin off from the turntable playing life’s title song which speaks of the never ending journey from joy to sorrow and back.

Our bodies come from the same “cosmic spool” that constitutes matter in every corner of the universe. We as humans are expression of that force, but we can also can stand apart from, study and analyze this grand cosmic show. The human body even contains a small amount of gold. Just as we can turn gold that is mined in far off and difficult to reach places into ornaments that are treasured for generations, there is “gold” to be found in our hearts in the form of love. That golden love is our only true ornament and worth infinitely more than dusty ore found in mines or even pricey jewellery found on store shelves. Everyone is seeking that lost gold. Few find it, not because it is rare or difficult to find, but most look for it in the wrong places, ignoring the most obvious place which is one’s own heart.

Raw materials for life such as oxygen and carbon are abundant in the universe. Although it is tempting to say that we are here through random chance, our physical bodies are the product of the hand of evolution. Humans have taken a multi million year journey from the oceans, having evolved from fish. Although there is no trace in collective human memory of our aquatic ancestors, human embryos early in their development carry evidence of our “fishy” ancestors. Our lips, jaw and palate for instance, started off as gill like structures while were tiny embryos. Even though early human embryos look very similar to embryos of other mammals and birds, we have turned into humans and other similar embryos turn into birds, cows, elephants etc. Just as train tracks spread out to different destinations from the same regional train hub, there is something in common between us and other living species. The hidden thread of life that runs in all directions meanders through every life form from one common source. Finding that source will solve the mysteries of life.  

Without the garment of the physical body the mind and our sense of awareness would be invisible to the world. They have no tangible material qualities that can be perceived by others. The quality of the stitching speaks to the quality of the tailor. Our mind, body and awareness are separate from one another yet coexist harmoniously in each individual. This seamless fabric seems to be the work of a divine tailor. We crudely mimic this fine tailoring by stitching days and nights into creating the fabric of our individual life, based on our likes and dislikes. The fabric of the life we create binds us closely with events and experiences unique to us as individuals. But there is a flaw in that stitching. The remembrance of even one negative event can easily unravel hard earned peace in our entire being. Recollection of a positive event no doubt fills us with good emotions, but takes us away from the present. The thread of individual consciousness is held in great tension when it is tethered to the past or the future. If we remain in very close proximity to the current moment, there will not be any tension on that thread. When tension fades, relaxation sets in. A relaxed state of being is the most suitable fabric on which to paint a picture of a wholesome life.