Monday, July 31, 2017

A Balancing Act

There is much to be discovered about life, perhaps even more so about the unknown echelons of the mind to which we pay scant attention. Any discovery adds to the knowledge bank of human civilization. Directly or indirectly, we are dependent on the intelligence and persistence of scientists in various fields. They are the visible hands of the divine in our lives. It is through their persistent efforts that modern day life has become one with great potential for comfort and happiness. For these comforts to percolate down to everyone and become a universal reality, the world would need to come together as one big family. Although technological advances have given us a great deal of comfort, it has brought in its wake unintended consequences. We are now more sensitive to the maintenance and upkeep of machines and gadgets than to the needs of our fellow human beings. Although the far corners of the world are getting more closely networked through the internet, a great gulf remains to be bridged between people’s hearts. Technology may be thought of as a glue that binds the mind. But old fashioned feelings and emotions which cannot be replicated by machines, is what truly unites the hearts of people from all parts of the world. When we forget the bridge that exists between the “ancient” heart and the “modern” mind we confine ourselves to the island of individuality or “I”, and operate chiefly through the mind. Within the confines of the mind, the resources available to us are relatively limited. Once we cross the bridge from the mind into the heart, we open ourselves to the greater instruments of expansive awareness.

At the level of the heart, the process of self improvement isn’t a struggle, unlike in the mind. When we turn our attention to the heart, the mind follows. But when we are focused solely on the mind, the heart does not necessarily follow. Heart is the seat of soft emotions like love and compassion. Even the heart’s physical nature is soft. There are no hard bones within it. The blood that flows through it conforms to the shape of the heart teaching us adaptability. It is in a constant state of action without resting for even a second, teaching us about tireless effort without expectation. When we tread the path inner transformation through the heart, we adopt those soft qualities which eventually become our nature.

The heart even teaches us about the fragility of human life, which hangs in the balance within the chambers of the heart and in between each heart beat. Even a few untimely heart beats may result in potentially life threatening consequences. Like the heart, there is fragility within the mind as well, a place where happiness is precariously perched. Indulging in even one unsavory thought can change the course of our lives forever. In the heart there is a wall that divides blood that the body needs and the blood that is full of toxins waiting to be expelled. Similarly, a division worth creating in the mind is between thoughts that result in actions leading to the betterment of the lives of others and those that are selfish and narrow. There is a balancing act in the mind and the heart, in the former it is between happiness and sorrow and in the latter it is between life and death.  

Happiness is absolute when it is understood as a state of being that is independent of external circumstances. Rather than create a field of boundless happiness, scientific advances have unfortunately turned happiness into an aspirational entity linked to material prosperity. This isn’t the fault of scientists who came up with these life changing inventions and discoveries. They have done their part, and it is upto the rest of us to use those gifts productively.  When happiness becomes a mental objective tied to fruition of desires it leads to suffering. Just as a hand or a leg is part of the body and not the body, the mind is part of and not the entirety of “our being”. Desires and happiness derived through their appeasement form an even smaller part of the overall picture. Absolute happiness comes as a complete package and not in bits and pieces. This package is within each one of us, waiting to be unravelled.

The urgency of reaching that proverbial well of unending happiness within cannot be overstated, time has never been in our favor. Every moment that ticks by, brings us closer to that natural switch which turns the body cold and plunges the mind into eternal darkness. Life and death hang in balance not just at the tail end of a grave illness or the age curve, but in every breath and in between each heart beat. By virtue of that natural switch, Mother Nature has made life as we know it temporary and death permanent. Experiencing the state of boundless happiness happens when there is a metamorphosis of the highly restrictive individual “I” to universal awareness. This is not a giant leap but the culmination of progressive steps in the right direction, which is within the reach of everyone. This process may be thought of in terms of a life cycle of a butterfly; going from a seed to a caterpillar and a cocoon before the wings of freedom are formed.

One may ask, why strive for universal awareness? When it almost seems to be a greater struggle than the one we are currently embroiled in, the quest for extracting happiness from the world. There is a big unknown about where universal awareness can take us. Deeper we go into the mind, more are the chances of running into sharp corners. When we turn away from those corners within the mind, our awareness drifts back into the world. In the case of the heart on the other hand the deeper we dwell on it, greater is the embrace and wider is the circle that we create. It is in the human DNA nature to strive for answers to unsolved mysteries. We get a taste for greater awareness when we practice compassion. There is a strong undercurrent of happiness that accompanies this. When that inner welling of bliss is being enjoyed, it is hard to pose the question, why pursue it? Afterall, if happiness is the goal of everything we do, here is one strategy to experience happiness that has no external cost either to us or to others. When we are enjoying our smartphones, we never question why scientists invented this instrument of communication. Enjoyment trumps all questions. Similarly, when the taste of bliss is there along with expansion of awareness, questions will end in that experience. Like sea turtles that always return to the same beach on which they hatched to lay their eggs, when we are adrift in the mind our instinct will eventually take us back to our true self which lies in close proximity to universal awareness.

The entity called the mind comes into existence when there is an awareness of it. In deep sleep, where conscious awareness is absent, the mind is also non existent. Furthermore, despite our awareness turning dormant during sleep, life does not stop. The body keeps functioning, perhaps even more efficiently, when there is no interference from the mixed signals of positive and negative emotions linked to our thoughts. The mind is intended to be a dynamic tool through which we channel our creativity, but we squander that potential when we start to misuse it. This misuse happens every time we identify and divide thoughts based our likes and dislikes. Then the mind takes over the mantle of “our being”, sometimes it is a reckless driver, and at other times it seems to follow the rules of the road, to happiness. The mind cannot be blamed. It is designed to follow our lead, not lead us. Sleep however is a great gift, it interrupts the mind, resetting and recharging it before we destroy its potential. The sense of oneness with all creation usually ends in the mind and the feeling of individuality starts in it. But the fact of life is that we are indivisible from nature, as exemplified by the the need to breathe air that is shared by all other creatures, not just human beings. We are complicit in carving out our individuality and this is enshrined in the mind. However, there is nothing wrong with this as long as as we don’t lose track of the seed of universal awareness that is present within us. That seed is precious and it never dies.

Inner growth takes time, just as a tree does not sprout from a seed and turn into a fruit laden tree instantaneously. Only when a tree matures does it yield fruits, similarly only when our thoughts and actions mature and have entered the sphere of the world around us do we get to taste the fruits of our work. Just as a tree cannot be turned into a seed, our actions cannot be reversed and turned back into thoughts that may be safely hidden in the privacy of our individual mind. Therefore, if we think and introspect and only select those thoughts that would be in line with the interests of others and geared towards the betterment of society, the fruits of such actions will be enjoyed not just by us but potentially by many others in the world. True enjoyment of life is to be found in the happiness of others.

The key to our inner freedom may be found within every thought just as the blueprint of an adult butterfly is contained within its egg. Each thought holds a portion of our awareness, however dim or bright a thought may appear to us. If thoughts are not consciously discarded, a portion of our awareness it holds will remain trapped within it. Holding onto the contents of thoughts as “mine”, labeling them as thoughts we like or dislike entrenches thoughts more deeply into the mind. Within our memory, there is a big hierarchy of “my ness”. Over the course of our lifetime, we add millions of thoughts to our memory, and much of our awareness becomes a trapped resource contained within those thoughts.

Thoughts can be thought of as “eggs” and boundless awareness as “butterflies” that may potentially emerge from eggs given the right conditions. Just as there is no space within a tiny butterfly egg for an adult butterfly to grow, there is not enough space within the mind for universal awareness to spread its wings. The mind although vast, is simply not large enough to hold something as comprehensive and all pervading as universal awareness. Just as larvae or caterpillars emerge from eggs, well before a butterfly spreads its wings, the pivotal step in freeing our awareness from conditionality of thoughts is witnessing the distance between “us” and our thoughts.

A caterpillar gains a certain degree of freedom of movement on the leaf on which it takes birth. Similarly, when we are a witness to our thoughts and not the “actors” within them, we start to gain freedom of movement within our mind. Just as the caterpillar hungrily eats the leaf onto which it is born; through the act of witnessing our thoughts which are the vehicles for our emotions, impulses, motivations, desires etc, we gradually “eat” them. Through witnessing without identification with the contents of our thoughts, they burn away for good.  Again like the hungry caterpillar eats the leaf that is instrumental for its survival, through witnessing we then devour the mind that is responsible for the survival of our sense of individuality. Just as a caterpillar cannot jump from tree to tree but can only crawl on leaves, we can only work on thoughts that are in our conscious mind and we cannot jump from the smaller tree of the conscious mind to the larger tree of the subconscious mind, let alone gaining access into the mind of another person. The work of freeing our awareness is a solitary and individual effort. The notion that someone can do it for us is a fantasy that plays into our inherent inertia and laziness, and is a ploy that the mind uses with great success.

Outward expression mirrors the orientation of the mind and our awareness. If the inner growth is negative and undesirable then the corresponding outward expression would reflect that. With the growth of detached awareness comes the objective expression of unconditional love, compassion and a feeling of oneness. The boundary line then widens from our limited circle of friends and family to encompass more of humanity. If the outward expression has no inner basis, or in other words it becomes an act that is put on, it will resemble a seedless fruit. It may be enjoyed once but it does not last and can never be replicated. A seeded fruit however has the potential to propagate the plant species that it belongs to. Similarly, the type of seed we sow within ultimately determines the course our life takes. Just as a flower’s fragrance does not diminish even if a thousand people enjoy it, the state of inner freedom will remain undisturbed even in the midst of constant outward activity.  

The house of nature is full of miracles and the radical transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly is nothing short of one. Although tiny, both a caterpillar and a butterfly are complex forms in their own right. When it is time for the switch to happen, the once ravenous appetite of a caterpillar is arrested and it suddenly stops eating. It then hangs from a leaf, spins itself a silky cocoon within which it then proceeds to digests itself. Only a few cells survive the fate of being turned into an amorphous soup of organic matter. A hidden intelligence within this little creature sacrifices that form in order for a butterfly to emerge, wings offering immense freedom of movement compared to the tiny legs of a caterpillar.

The transformation of the limited sense of individuality to universal awareness is equally miraculous. Just as the change from a caterpillar to a butterfly is irreversible, once we are established in full awareness, there isn’t any danger of returning to a limited state. Thoughts are like the legs of a caterpillar and awareness may be thought of as the wings of a butterfly. At the level of the mind, we “crawl” through existence by adopting a migratory lifestyle of moving from one thought to another. In this paradigm, it becomes virtually impossible to adopt a thoughtless state of existence. It cannot be imagined, as imagination also employs the vehicle of thoughts. If we were to drop everything from the mind, even for a few seconds, we would still be here, and that “being here despite not having thoughts” is a conscious experience of subjective awareness. Initially with great effort we may be able to keep that experience for a few fleeting seconds. With persistent practice, we may get established in that state.

Experiencing life without feeding on and living off the contents of the mind is vital to regaining self mastery and enjoying true freedom of pure awareness. Thoughts are one of many windows through which creation may be experienced. The rudimentary faculty of intuition bypasses thoughts and is another window through which we can experience the world. Most people may have had an experience of intuitive understanding without deductive reasoning (based on what is known) that thoughts generally follow. Unlike thoughts which lead to the interpretation of experiences filtering in through the sensory apparatus, intuitive understanding is direct and uncontaminated. The mind, in an intuitive experience, goes from being an input device to a tool waiting to be used. For the faculty of intuition to expand, like the courageous caterpillar that digests itself without concern for the permanent loss of its form, totality of all thoughts whether good or bad must be fully digested. As long as we hold onto our imaginary form of “I”, this process of digesting the mind cannot be called complete.

The concept of digesting the mind centers around relinquishing our identity with thoughts and their contents. When we ceaselessly witnesses our thoughts without reacting, identifying and participating with them, the inner paradigm starts to shift from “I” and nothing but the “I” to more encompassing awareness that does not stop at the gates of our prior conditioning. Like the caterpillar that abruptly stops eating, efforts must be made to arrest the appetite of desire and temptation. This ought to happen not through forced suppression but sublimation that comes from understanding the nature and scope of free awareness.

As our existence moves from the familiar confines of the mind towards the experience of full awareness, the intermediary steps of destroying our mental conditioning can put us in a state of vulnerability. We become vulnerable not to external enemies but the demons of negativity unleashed from within our own thoughts. What was once walled off and hidden from view comes out into the open without a filter. Just as the caterpillar spins a strong cocoon around itself before dissolving into a liquidy organic matter, a thick blanket of willpower is the only protection as we confront the outpouring of the contents of our thoughts. If willpower is not clubbed with dispassion, we may fall prey to deep seated desires and temptations that are brought to the surface through this process.

Just as the few cellular remnants of the caterpillar eventually organize themselves into a butterfly, when all thoughts are completely chewed up, even if a tiny fraction of pure awareness that is liberated in the process it can eventually organize all the energy that is freed up. This energy is experienced as an outpouring of bliss that cannot be traced to a definable source. It continuously wells up, like a river emerging from a mountain top. Just like there is a tremendous amount of energy locked into an atom that is invisible to even the most powerful microscopes, there is a release of the energy of bliss along with the conscious experience of even a few moments of pure choiceless awareness. This bliss can be thought of as the “wings of pure awareness”. The “I” then fades into oblivion as we settle into the universal heart of energy that underlies everything that we know and don’t know.

Like a fully formed butterfly that breaks out of the cocoon and has the freedom to fly far from the leaf that its former avatar (the caterpillar) called home, awareness when set free is not bound to the individual mind or body. Just as a butterfly returns the favor lent to it by Mother Nature by playing a part in propagating the species, those who have attained inner freedom will then have a natural urge to plant and nurture similar the seeds of change in other minds. Once that seed is recognized, life for that individual will then no longer be only about a balancing act between happiness happiness and sorrow related to the world. The impetus to build a  permanent bridge to inner bliss will surely follow.