Monday, June 19, 2017

Exercise in charity

Physical exercise is generally about the individual self, where the “I” factor predominates. Some of the reasons people exercise include” feeling and looking good, staying healthy, relieving personal stress etc.” Each of those is prefaced by “I desire…”. There is no doubt that regular physical exercise has great benefits, but it can turn into a selfish action when the focus is purely on the body. Physical activity may be transformed into an act of giving when undertaken as a platform for raising money for a cause, such as running, biking or walking for charity. This however, is more of a ceremonial activity as it is generally not done as a daily routine. Exercising, like breathing cannot be done away with, and must be practiced regularly to keep the bodily engine humming in optimal condition. By changing our mental attitude towards physical activity, we can use it to reshape the “I” into a bigger or smaller version of its current state.

Strenuous exercise can have an effect of rendering the mind one pointed. Generally, we feel relaxed mentally after a workout. A scattered and distracted mind is brought in line and disturbing and negative thoughts are diminished while exercising. The tune and lyrics of any music we may listen to when exercising tend to penetrate deeper into our being as the mind becomes softer and more pliable during such activity. This transforming quality of exercise may be employed for a higher goal such as transcending the body and the mind. One way of achieving this is by invoking any positive affirmation while exercising. The blank slate of a mind that exercising creates can be filled with positive and up-lifting thoughts.

The power of loading a positive affirmation on a one pointed mind cannot be underestimated whether the mind’s one pointedness is derived from exercise or through other means. The important point is identifying that one pointed state of mind, as it is only from such a mind we can more effectively transmit our thoughts and feelings to others. Continuously sending out good thoughts and feelings to both loved ones and strangers is a high form of charity that everyone can practice without having to invoke the medium of money. There is a link that enables silent communication between people, which may be further strengthened through concentration. For example, if someone is looking at us even if we are not directly facing them, we feel the other person’s gaze upon us and we are prompted to turn and look in that person’s direction. There is no verbal, visual, auditory, or tactile cues that make us do that. On similar lines, when we think deeply about someone even in their absence, we may be silently transmitting our thought energy to that person, however weak or strong our transmitting power may be. When thoughts about another person are positive, we are also uplifted and the process becomes enjoyable, especially if done without any expectation. When there is no expectation of a return, the result of a positive thought is returned to us instantaneously as a joyful experience which helps keep our momentary focus alive and sharp.

Charity in its true sense is not just a physical act of giving, but more of a mental attitude one must adopt. Otherwise charity becomes an act for only those with the means and resource. We come into the world with empty hands. What is acquired later, truly speaking, cannot be called as ours. In fact, every human being is the recipient of a highly charitable act done by an unknown hand. Without that beneficence, we would not have had this lucky chance of inhabiting a body and experiencing the world through the mind.  Being recipients of this act of charity ourselves, there is hardly anything we can we offer in return that is ours. The products of our predominant mental attitude are perhaps something that we can call our own, as we are the creators of it. The positive thoughts that are sent out out from a pure mind is the highest act of charity we can hope to perform. An easy way of quickly purging and purifying the mind is having deep gratitude as the base energy for every thought. Being grateful has the magical quality of tamping down the ill effects of the “I”. Once as sense of gratitude pervades all our thoughts, it will naturally percolate into our actions including a mundane activity such as physical exercise. Rather than think, “look how good I look after all these hours in the gym”, we may then reflect, “I am so lucky for this chance to enjoy and inhabit a healthy body” if gratitude is predominant on the mind’s radar.

It is a well-known fact that vigorous aerobic exercise such as running releases endorphins which are responsible for the “runner’s high”. Endorphins blunt the pain response and it creates a sense of euphoria. This addicting sense of pleasure makes people return to the same physically demanding activity repeatedly. Apart from the physical and physiological changes that intense aerobic activity brings about, during such activity the load on the mind is also taken away. Its contents, good and bad, recede into the background and we experience a feeling of expansion into emptiness. This dimension of exercise is enjoyed as a momentary pleasure, but if we are skillful it can be used as a door that opens to higher awareness. For many, it is not easy to sit still and simultaneously experience stillness of the mind. It may be easier to accomplish stillness of the mind indirectly through physical activity.

Apart from vigorous activities such as running or biking, a similar experience of mental ease may also be had in less physically demanding activities such as golf. Perhaps it is the combination of stillness of the greens, punctuated by the occasional rustling sound of leaves on trees on either side of the fairway, and a gentle wind which has a calming influence on the mind. Mother Nature is a great hypnotherapist, especially when we allow the experience of nature to flood our senses. The game of golf has an advantage that it is set in nature; the grass, trees, sand in the bunkers, the blue sky, and the bright sun all appear to be in quiet meditation. The sound of a golf club hitting the ball in the that silence can be an exhilarating experience, more so if the contact occurs on the sweet spot of the club. Perhaps it is that sound of a perfect strike that makes a golfer return to the tee box repeatedly. This experience could be termed as a “golfer’s high”.

Whether it is a physically exhausting sport such as running or a more meditative one such as golf, we are connected to those activities through the mind. When we indulge in activities such as running or golf, and the experience is not left on the pavement or the fairway, it is absorbed internally and replayed in the mind. Every time it is replayed, however, spontaneity is lost and the “I” comes into play. “I” is an imaginary construct that divides thoughts into the “new and old”. Old thoughts are those from memory, past experiences etc. The new ones are those related to fresh experiences that come in moment to moment. The aggregate of all the “old” thoughts assumes the role of the experiencer (“I”) and the “new” thoughts become the experienced. It is the “I” that creates and sustains this division, and ultimately only awareness that is pure and unattached can dissolve the line separating the experiencer and the experienced. When two opposing teams play a game of volleyball, without a net that divides the two teams, there can be no game. Similarly, without the “I” that divides the field of thoughts into the experiencer and the experienced, the perspective of us being unique and different from the world around us can never arise. Straddling the division of the mind into the experiencer and the experienced is awareness that sits atop a perch, just as a referee keeping track of a game of volleyball being played between two teams. The referee must be nonpartisan and cannot determine the outcome of the game. Similarly, awareness is not partial to either the experience or the experiencer and remains unaffected after the artificial divide in the mind dissolves.

When the arbitrary division of the field of thoughts into “I am the experiencer, and I am separate from everything else (the experience)” dissolves, the awareness that remains amid a field of thoughts brings us close to our true inner nature. Life as we know becomes a game when we realize it is not just due to the mind and the body coming together but it is also a result of the marriage of the “I” with pure awareness. Even though the body is tangible, we cannot consciously control most vital internal functions such as the heartbeat, brain wave activity or the process of digestion, absorption, and elimination. The mind however, is not something that may be measured by a physical instrument, but we can consciously control it to a large extent. Through the mind, the bodily functions may be greatly influenced. World class athletes knowingly or unknowingly harness this power of the mind. Body and the mind complement each other and when both are synchronized, the power of awareness can be unlocked.

Ordinarily, the mind goes in one direction and the body in another. An example is eating. The goal of the mind is taste and quantity regardless of nutritional impact, and that of the body is health which comes through limited portions and nutritional value that is a result of good food choices. But through the power of awareness, we can unify taste, health, and nutrition by focusing on a collective need of both the body and the mind as opposed to their individual needs.

Besides eating, breathing is another vital life sustaining activity that can harmonize the body and the mind. By becoming aware of the breath (without influencing its pattern) even for a few minutes we become an impartial witness to both the body and the mind. With every breath, the balance between the inward pull and an outward push of air is maintained. The inward movement starts only when the outward movement has stopped. In every breath, both are given an equal chance. We cannot say we are going to only breathe in one day and will do all the breathing out the next day. Similarly, in every moment there is both the inward-looking awareness and outward looking “I”. Just as the incoming and outgoing air meet in the lungs, awareness and the “I” meet in the mind. When “I” predominates, awareness recedes and vice versa. For the body, incoming oxygen rich air is life giving nectar and outgoing carbon rich air is poison. Similarly, for maintaining a state of unending happiness, awareness is the nectar and “I” is the poison. For the bodily cells to function properly, generation of waste in the form of carbon is inevitable. Similarly, for the experience of individuality in each moment, the genesis of “I” is unavoidable. But the load of the “I” must not be wholly imposed on each passing moment. Awareness must also be given room to occupy a place in every given moment. The secret to enjoyment in all we do is maintaining a healthy balance between the two. The body is unattached to the air that sustains it. Similarly, we must be unattached to the “I” that creates a sense of individuality.

Awareness is associated with surrender (chiefly the sense of “I”) and “I” is associated with attachment. Although our body is part of and an offshoot of nature, through lack of constant awareness the mind is unattached and often indifferent to nature. In contrast, even though our bank balance is not physically part of us, through attachment the mind feels deeply connected to a bank account we call our own. Awareness implies submitting to universal oneness. In that oneness, there is no fear or loss or gain, a basic requirement for unconditional happiness. In contrast, “I” is limited to our possessions, whether it is physical objects or thought forms. There is always a fear of loss and a constant hope for a gain, the seed forms of misery.

The exhilarating feeling that comes to a golfer when the ball is struck perfectly or to a runner the moment endorphins are released, although lasting only for a fraction of a second, it gives a glimpse of pure awareness. In these examples, awareness peaks at the moment of impact of the golf club on the ball or at the time of release of endorphins. In that heightened state, the “I” temporarily disappears. That momentary experience is savored as whole without division into “I” the experiencer and the experience or a dilution through interpretation or recall from memory. For that instant, there is unity through which great bliss is generated. The taste of those unique moments of bliss gives an idea of what it would be like to be in constant state of complete awareness without the artificial construct of the experiencer and the experienced. To make this awareness permanent, we must be completely charitable in giving away the possession of the “I”. Ordinarily when it comes to charity, everything but the “I” is given away. When the “I” of the “person” performing the charitable act is relinquished, there is no giver or taker. Things come and go in the field of pure awareness. When identification does happen, it is only a temporary phenomenon on the permanent canvas of awareness. When gratitude finds a permanent home in our awareness, we naturally become charitable with everything that comes following the “I” or “my”, without us needing to exercise our choice in the matter.