Expansion and dissolution are certainties of human life, which hangs in the balance between these two phenomena. Equity between the two is rarely, if ever achieved from the perspective of our limited, individual existence. An imbalance between the contrasting forces of expansion and dissolution, especially in the mind, is more common and is a major cause of stress in day to day life. At the physical level, these forces crest and fall, processes we call growth and ageing. The first half of life is a period of growth and expansion of the physical frame. Once this process peaks, the forces of dissolution gradually set in. In the mind, there is a more rapid turnover of these two processes. They happen in every thought. Desires result in expansion of the mind. Along with this there is dissolution of the awareness of our inner reality. Most people spend their lives moderating an ever-expanding mind full of desires. What little happiness that is obtained comes only through the fulfillment of a small fraction of a large bank of desires. When there is complete dissolution of the mind and awareness is set free, immense bliss floods in. Dissolution is the great leveler, especially when it comes to the human body. However, when applied to the mind, something which is rarely done, it can expand our awareness.
Nature, when left to its own devices, is a perfect example of a self-balancing entity. The technological revolution that we are witnessing is not only disrupting traditional ways of life and business, but it is also disrupting nature. Resources are being consumed faster than what nature can replace. Fossil fuel is a case in point. These natural resources that have taken many millions of years to form, can be burnt in seconds and cannot be replenished. Imbalances in nature being created by our generation cannot be easily restored. Life forms have evolved over millions of years and the number of species and the complexity of living entities has expanded along that time scale. The most complex of those living entities, human beings have ironically taken over the mantle of the force of dissolution. There is a reason for this, it is the mind and how we are using it.
Our eyes are witness to the contrasting time scales of evolution, both in the outside world and in the mind. It may take hundreds of thousands or even millions of years for genetic mutations to create an entirely new life form, but the mind mutates at a very rapid pace. In the fraction of a second that it takes from light falling on the eyes to the creation of a mental image, an interpretation is already made, which is based on our conditioning. These interpretations go through several iterations before the final composite thought form is set as an experience. Stored experiences are constantly overlaid over raw sensory input and interpretations are largely based on what comes from the mind’s storage rather than the pure sensory input. Through close observation, this process can be appreciated in real time. Understanding the process of creation and dissolution of thoughts is a form of introspection and inner enquiry. If this self-study is approached with a sense of dispassion, it can turn into a fascinating exploration of the world within. Instead of being free and unencumbered, our awareness has become limited to thought. It expands and dissolves with each passing thought form, the vehicles of enjoyment or suffering.
The mind quietly matures and becomes a “permanent” part of the inner landscape due of the imbalance generated by our efforts to expand of our “likes” and dissolve our “dislikes”. Just as a tall mountain cannot be erased from the background when we are standing at its base, the mind will always tower over us and we end up living in its shadows when desires are in the foreground. It becomes impossible to perceive what may be beyond the mind. Just as clouds can blur or temporarily cover a view of a mountain, the cloud of worldly distractions temporarily takes us away from the looming colossus that the mind may have become. Sleep may carry out the function of temporary dissolution of the mind, but this is quickly reversed upon waking up. The mind rapidly expands and is restored to its previous state within seconds.
Awareness becomes limited when caught between the rapidity of change within the mind and the slow, almost imperceptible evolution in the world outside. These contrasts frame the spectrum of human perception. Through the power of awareness, we can witness, but we cannot speed up or slow down evolution in nature. We are helplessly bound to its time scale. However, when awareness grows and is set free, it has a great transforming influence on the mind. The nature of the mind is to move at a very fast clip, while free awareness is static. To experience the world, awareness and the mind must mix. The pull of thoughts is great and the mind usually wins over our awareness which leaves its abode of stillness and silence. On one hand, we are pulled towards the world through the mind, and on the other hand, there is a subtle pull inwards towards our true nature. The pursuit of happiness links both, one obvious but short lived (world) and the other elusive but lasting (true nature). As we expand our search for happiness through the world, the path to our true nature dissolves. We then are at the mercy of the mind. The path to lasting happiness leads away from the mind.
A slower pace of mind equates with a happier state of being. We are not always successful in slowing down or stopping thoughts when functioning as “actors” within any experience. However, it is easier to do so when we step back and sit in the audience. “Sitting in the audience” signifies detaching our awareness and making ourselves more of a witness to everything that happens in the mind. A movie has many scenes and there are thousands of frames that comprise each scene. But members of the audience perceive the movie as one continuously running feature. Similarly, when we are “actors” within an experience, we are subject to thousands of changing thoughts related to an experience, while an observer sees one continuous stream.
Through witnessing, whereby we are not thrown from one thought to another, the transition from thought to thought appears smoother. This can also be understood from the following example. When we look at a mountain range from a far distance, the contour of the mountains appears smooth and uniform. From a good distance away, even the color of the mountains appears uniform, such as blue or grey. But as we get closer, the jagged peaks of the mountains and other features such as rock reliefs of various shapes and colors become apparent. Up close, we see portions of individual mountains, not the entire range. Similarly, as our participation in thoughts and experiences deepen, individual features of those thoughts start to stand out. Just as mountains appear to be uniform in color and contour from a distance, the transition between thoughts, the overall picture of the mind and the pace of each thought appears slower and more uniform when viewed from afar. From a distance, it becomes easier to slowly disconnect our awareness from thoughts. When awareness is freed and is independent of the mind, we can more easily nurture and guide the direction that the mind and thoughts take. This is important in the present day, as brute physicality doesn’t define success as much as how we are able to use our thoughts. Successful people can coalesce disparate thoughts and make them function as one unit, just as a car has thousands of moving parts within its engine that work together to power one drive train. Each of those parts individually cannot do move the car forward, similarly a few thoughts usually do not have the power to create something new and unique unless most of the flow of thought is employed in one direction.
Whatever that the human mind does, whether the intention and/or outcome is noble or wicked, is geared towards one ultimate outcome, that is enjoyment. The world today is careening towards an expansion of boundaries and a permanent dissolution of the inherent unity that underlies all of us. This happens when the goals and aspirations of others are not considered while we pursue our own happiness. The accident of birth should not be the cause for division amongst us. It should instead be the unifying factor as we all share the same beginning and end, although it is at different time points. The happiness that comes from meeting someone from another part of the world or culture ought to be the same as we would experience when meeting a long-lost brother or sister. When we honor the goal of enjoyment of the world and freedom from miseries as the one common aspiration of all humankind, irrespective of nationality, caste, creed, or gender, only then will universality become our life breath. Universality leads to expansion of awareness.
Expansion of awareness may be thought of in terms of a bird in free flight. A bird has freedom to move in any direction. Once aloft, a bird will not have to expend all its energies on flapping its wings. Winds currents do the rest, as exemplified by migratory birds big and small that travel thousands of miles seasonally. However, when awareness is limited to the mind, the movement of this conditioned awareness is typically patterned after the dominant thought in the mind at any given time. Conditioned awareness is more like sitting in an airplane, dependent on the engines, wings, and the pilot etc. unlike free flight birds experience. In both instances there is flight, one is free and the other is dependent.
Conditioned awareness can sometimes closely mimic the freedom of choiceless awareness. When it does so, it is usually the play of the mind. There is a major distinction between choiceless and conditioned awareness. There is complete freedom from the miseries in the former. Choiceless awareness is contemporary awareness in every moment, without needing to dip into collected experiences from the past. There is a difference between fresh and frozen bread. They may both have the same ingredients and baked by the same baker, but bread stays fresh only for a short time. To preserve and eat later, we would have to freeze and thaw it. Choiceless awareness is like freshly baked bread and conditioned awareness is like frozen bread that is thawed and consumed.
Like a popular bakery that sells bread faster than it can be baked, and nothing is left on the shelf at the end of the day, in choiceless awareness, all experiences are enjoyed and consumed to the fullest and nothing is left for the cold storage of memory. Conditioned awareness emanates from memory and ultimately leads to misery. When we start to employ what is stored in memory, we start to compare. Comparison may seem innocuous at first, but through comparison, the seeds of ego (“I must be better than another”), laziness (“Why am I working so hard when others around me aren’t doing so?”) and jealousy (“He/she has more than I do, why?”) are sown. These are the “bacteria” that can cause both an acute and chronic ailment of the mind we call human suffering. There is no external cure. This suffering begets more suffering. The mind is merciless in letting us suffer, ultimately it is our own doing.
With so much suffering we see and experience in ourselves and others in day to day life, a way out is to resign ourselves to the hope of heaven after the dissolution of the human body. Here the mind plays tricks. To offset suffering and to give it purpose, the prospect of heaven is dangled as a reward. Even heaven becomes conditional to the degree of our suffering on the earthly plane. But when identification with the mind stops, witnessing begins and awareness is set free, the notion of “I am suffering” ends. When the “I” is taken out, we can then start to think in terms of heaven on earth. In the mind, we have the power to create the heaven we want and the hell we would like to avoid. Rather than leaving it for the uncertainty of afterlife, we ought to instead manifest a heavenly state here and now and derive maximum enjoyment for us and others. There is nothing stopping us from doing that except our own thoughts to the contrary. Instead, creating hell on earth has become a the current practice through wars and strife. The common thread in the experience of heaven and hell is, “we create” our own state of existence.
Enjoyment of human life to its fullest is often decried as going against a higher ideal, as if the higher realms of consciousness are open only to those who experience great mishaps and suffering. Expansion into a spiritual realm need not mean dissolution in the material plane. It is not a cause and effect relationship. Ideally, both run on parallel tracks giving freedom of expression internally (spiritual) and the freedom to enjoy externally (material). At a much higher, albeit more abstract level, there must be complete dissolution of even the boundaries between the internal and the external. We create “internal” and “external” through the mind. The mind is like an office. Some aspects of life are “internal memos” and others are “external correspondence”.
In any office setting, there usually is a top down hierarchy of staff. But the people “at the top” and “the bottom” of an office ladder lose their differentiation the moment they step out of the office. Everyone is the same in the sea of people making their way home on the subway after office hours, furthermore the ticket prices don’t vary depending on whether one is a boss or an employee. Similarly, the differentiation between the spiritual (often considered as the “top”) and the material (“bottom”) or vice versa depending on who you ask, stops the instant we fall asleep. These “ladders” of high and low are put away in sleep. When any ladder is used (assuming it is not a step ladder), either end may be the top or the bottom. It is our perspective that creates the differentiation. Judgement comes into play when we start to consider the spiritual and the material aspects as a top down construct with a ladder in between that needs to be climbed. Through judgement, identification starts and sets off a chain reaction. If we see ourselves as “low down”, there is suffering, when we see ourselves as “high up”, there is false enjoyment which is the work of the ego. The “fall” or eventually suffering is greater when we consider ourselves “high up”.
Truly speaking, there is no difference between spirituality or materialism. It is an artificial division that comes about through identification with one or the other. Spirituality and materialism are two sides of the same coin. Just because a monetary value is written on only side of a coin, as an example, it does not give the other side of that coin any less of a value. As a witness, we may observe both spirituality and materialism as equals provided there is complete detachment and no lurking desires. Our spiritual feelings when combined with the instrument of money is a powerful combination that can mitigate a lot of suffering in the world. Money alone may buy temporary mental peace, but it cannot buy awareness. Awareness is a higher currency of peace and happiness independent of the mind. Only through awareness can we perceive the suffering of others as our own suffering. We will then naturally gravitate towards selfless work to make the world a happier place. For this, money becomes a tool not the goal.
Whether there is expansion or dissolution of the individual mind, the physical world does not change, but the perspective of the world dramatically shifts. When there is expansion of the mind through desire, the source of our happiness and suffering appears to lie in the world. Conversely, when there is dissolution, and the boundaries of the mind are transcended there isn’t an outside or inside. One is wholly immersed in awareness and happiness does not depend on something else. It flows spontaneously. Just as one cannot empty a bucket of water if the hands are fully submerged in the bucket, when our awareness is submerged in a state of being without boundaries, everything remains full and complete.
Most of our problems are related to a bubble called the individual mind. In this bubble, we identify ourselves as individual and separate. Once this happens, the “identifier” seeks a resting place. When the resting place becomes the mind, the “identifier” tries to expand and beautify that place by acquiring and storing sensory experiences. Just like private art collectors who may own galleries that only they can freely visit, our stored sensory experiences become sanctuaries to which we retreat, putting us further away from the truth. All this happens without us even realizing it.
The mind is a highly malleable space. Every day it goes through thousands of iterations based on our thoughts, which have two polarities – likes and dislikes. There is a constant struggle to expand our likes and dissolve our dislikes. In this endless loop, at times we feel we are succeeding when the balance tips towards expansion of our “likes”. Conversely, we deem ourselves failures when our “dislikes” take center stage. The problem further compounds when we start to compare ourselves with others. Everyone is on the same wheel but there is an appearance of differences, largely based on identification with our desires.
On the rotating wheel of desires, many problems arise, such as “I am losing control of my life”, “I feel helpless”, “I cannot get out of my current situation”. There are a couple of options in dealing with this. One involves moving our attention to the central hub from where we may focus our awareness on the endless march of desires going in different directions likes spokes on a wheel. Another option is getting off the wheel of desires and witnessing it from a distance. In both instances witnessing happens; one in the near field (central hub from which all desires arise and travel in different directions) and the other in the far field (away from the point of origin of desires and their movement through the mind).
The nature of pure awareness (static silence) is gradually realized when we move the needle of attention away from the dynamic periphery (plane of thoughts), which is the mind. At the center of our own true self, expansion and dissolution are perfectly matched. Here awareness is whole and not split into the factions of the observer and the observed. Where the observer and the observed merge, two things happen. One, an experience is created and it is projected into the mind. Secondly, the merger creates unity and silence which is reflected as our true self. Ordinarily our awareness is in the mind, hence we perceive experiences and not the true self. If awareness expands beyond the mind, in the merger of the observer and the observed we may ultimately reach unity.
The moment there is differentiation into the observer and the observed, space and time fill the gap in between. In this space, the ego originates and “stands” in front of the true observer (the silent witness within). The ego becomes the observer and starts to create layers of personality based on the experiences that are stored within our memory. It is perhaps feasible to put forth an argument that we are all part of the one same awareness at deepest levels of our being. From here, through the process of expansion of the ego and dissolution of pure awareness, the notion of the observer, the observed and the experience are continuously being interlaced every moment. The final weave at each given moment is the cumulative of the all the identified patterns of the past. The pattern is different for everybody, hence the differences that exist amongst us.
To turn the mind from a random experience generator to controlled creator of what we desire to manifest, we would have to start at the static center before awareness differentiates into the observer, the observed and the experience derived from that interaction. We have innumerable experiences stored in the subconscious mind, each a product of the union of the observer and the observed. They are stacked and interlaced with one another. The mind represents the microcosm of creativity. The physical universe being the macrocosmic correlate. Both are a product of the dance between static potential and dynamic movement.
When the mind is brought under our control it can be well ordered, otherwise it generally is disorderly. One cannot easily escape from a disorderly mind. Chasing experiences in the world as a way out only adds to the problem. The mind never changes this way. A better solution is to go within and understand the construct and workings of the mind, which is expansion through the principle of the observer, the observed and the experience, and dissolution when these collapse into one unit.
When the understanding of the fundamentally indivisible nature of the energy driving the processes of expansion and dissolution is established, then the process of filtering out the residue (conditioning) contaminating our awareness begins. Until this stage, the process of differentiation or the play of the ego continues unabated. The physical body is a good example of the differentiation of one life energy. Each cell of the body demonstrates electrical activity. This electrical energy is used to drive the functions of the cell which can differ widely depending on the type of the cell. But, the net product is life in a human body. Furthermore, it is the same energy that sets in motion repeated divisions of a single cell that has resulted in multi trillion cellular organism we call the human body. One energy is called by different names such as brain waves, heart rhythm, intestinal motility etc.
Through concentrated attention, we can focus on the concept of unity within this complex body. Just like junction boxes where electrical wiring in a house comes together for example, electrical activity of the body travels through the nerves into common areas called nerve plexuses from where they ultimately end up in the brain. We don’t have complete control over the incoming and outgoing energy streams to and from the brain respectively. The process of meditation involves series of steps that culminate in centralizing all the energies of the body through conscious control, especially from the five senses of sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. These energies may be thought of as a pyramid. The apex of the pyramid is concentrated awareness, in the form of undifferentiated energy. As we descend the pyramid, energy gets distributed throughout the body. A form of self-mastery is having complete control of the ascent of our energies into one single point and its descent to the various parts of the body.
By gathering the energies of the body and the mind in one spot through the process of concentration, we travel closer to purer awareness. From our perspective, there is a tendency for this energy to descend resulting in limited individual consciousness. Ascension takes effort on our part and effort is the core of any spiritual practice. This is not something that can happen with imagination or dreaming. The key internal aid which we have under our control that enables this process of ascension is witnessing thoughts without identification. Over time, divergent energies that have escaped through stored experiences are corralled into one place. Witnessing has the power to take us all the way back to pure awareness.
While witnessing without identification, the interaction of the observer and the observed will continue. When identification sets in, the experience is localized to a specific context. Without identification, the experience is generalized and this is felt as bliss. Eventually when thoughts run out, or the space between the thoughts progressively extends out, there is nothing to observe. The observer, the observed and the bliss experienced collapse into one pure awareness from where unified, ego less perception starts. At the level of pure awareness expansion is infinite and there is complete dissolution of all boundaries. Everything becomes one. Ultimately, rather than seeing these forces of expansion and dissolution as two separate entities, if they are experienced as one indivisible power that manifests differently, life may be better understood in the right perspective.