The mind's climate
Natural regulatory systems at play help temper climatic conditions in the macro environment. Unlike the cyclical nature of the seasons, in the microenvironment of the human body there are highly evolved and sophisticated mechanisms that help maintain a fairly constant body temperature at around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The same temperature and humidity levels found under our skin, when replicated in the outer environment becomes uncomfortably hot and steamy. The living breathing barrier which we call skin, whatever may be its color, separates the inner from the outer environment and helps maintain the temperature of the human body at a specific point regardless of our race, nationality, religion or wealth. External factors such as wealth however, can influence our mental environment. When we tie our inner peace to our external circumstances, we set ourselves up for an unpredictable ride. The mind feels pleasant and comfortable, and appears “lush and green” with increasing wealth and luxury; in contrast it may feel dry and arid in poverty, despite the fact that we cannot physical transport our wealth and resources into the mind. Just as the ability to enjoy bodily comfort depends on our capacity to spend money, the ability to enjoy peace and happiness depends the mental climate we create.
Time keeps us moving along the train of change, keeps our physical reality transitory. We try to add a semblance of permanency to our physical experiences by storing them in the mind. Drawing on our memory, the mind creates the necessary imagery with which we again try to relive prior experiences. A lot of effort is expended in sustaining and replicating experiences which by nature are transitory. There is no dearth of experiences to be had. If we let some go from memory, there will always be new and fresh ones. Our awareness, which originates neither in the body nor the mind, flits between the body and the mind, and within the mind between the past and the future. Rarely is there synchrony and harmony between the mind, body, awareness, which can happen only when we are “present in the present”.
When the mind carries little or no residue of the past, it feels weightless. Only when we store, recreate and strive to experience what is old and dead does the mind feel weighty. In contrast, we rarely feel the weight of the body during our ordinary daily lives even though it is a gross physical entity. Whether the mind is peaceful or agitated, calm or restless, we have to carry it wherever we go, no one can separate themselves from the mind. The physical body is shaped according to the DNA blueprint that is embedded in every cell of the mind. The mind is more of a free form entity. We have the freedom to shape and sculpt it to our liking. Unfortunately, using the canned responses of prior habits and mental impressions, the mind has been turned into a “mass produced entity” based on our collective past. Every mental habit seeks expression through the physical body, which has become a tool for enjoyment. The mind tries to squeeze unlimited enjoyment out of the body. The mind’s scope and potential is infinite, but through limitations we impose upon it, the mind becomes narrow, limited, burdensome and heavy. However, it is never too late to change. Awareness which bubbles up from our true nature from a place deeper than the mind, is a giant airbrush that has the power to wipe out old scrawlings and make a fresh slate.
Just as the sea bed bears the weight and pressure of vast, inexhaustible quantities of water, our hidden inner nature supports the mind and its infinite variety of thoughts. Even though much of our seas are unexplored, we can still access the seabed with appropriate instruments. Treasures in the form fossil fuel resources lie under the sea bed and not in the waters above it. Similarly, we don’t need to unravel every mystery of the mind before we get our true nature. Just as oil is hidden under the sea bed and not in the waters above, unending bliss is only found when we tap into our true nature. The surface currents in the mind create relative happiness through our interactions with the world. No one is truly satisfied with the happiness that the mind provides, as shown by the constant search for new sources of happiness. Like gravity that sinks an object to the bottom of the sea, our quest for lasting happiness ultimately draws us inward. This can happen only after we have satisfied ourselves that that world cannot offer permanent happiness. The submersible that takes us to our inner depths is contentment. We don’t normally question why the earth is the size it is or why there is so much water in the seas. It is taken as is. Similarly when one is fully content, the world is taken as is and we don’t try to change, modify or create a new experience.
An ocean going research vessel with sophisticated instruments can uncover lots of information about the depths below the surface compared to a small fishing boat from which a thin fishing line dangles in the water. Similarly, the instrument we all share, which may be employed to explore our own hidden dimension is the power of awareness. Just as a research ship may carry a small remote controlled submarine through which we can explore the seabed, we can remain on the surface of the mind observing and interacting with the world while our awareness explores the depths of our being. Awareness functions like a radar. A radar can penetrate deeper when the medium is not very dense and there is space between objects. Similarly, the depth to which our awareness can penetrate depends on how cluttered the mind space is. More the noise in the superficial layers of the mind, less is the power of awareness. Expecting happiness from thoughts, we start to identify with and end up possessing thoughts.
Every thought we identify with creates a new space in the mind. Once any experience exits our conscious perception and turns into memory, it leaves a void. This void is quickly filled by another thought, the space thus created becomes like a permanent parking space in which different thoughts come and go. In due course, with repeated thoughts of similar kind, habits will set in and run autonomously without even us being aware of them. Although thoughts may temporarily occupy these space, each thought supplies the roots that start to grow deep into the mind. Even though thoughts can be shaken off easily, the roots that they have help cultivate cannot be easily removed, just as trees once fully grown cannot be easily transplanted.
Just as the world is not uniformly populated, with places that are a few square miles in area inhabited by millions of people, and other areas where there are no people in the vicinity of hundreds and thousands of square miles; the mind also has busy areas full of thoughts and not so busy areas which are more peaceful. The trick lies in finding parts of the mind that are not populated with thoughts and are more peaceful and quiet. It is not possible to identify these spots in the mind as we wade through dense foliage of thought. Only an “aerial” view akin to a satellite can gives us a clear picture of the topography of the mind. Awareness is the “satellite” that can take us high above the mind. We can direct our attention to parts that we can safely zero in on, a process we may term, finding our happy place. There is no one universal method of doing this. Each one us may have a way of making this happen. Just as when we are in the midst of an expedition such as a jungle or a desert safari we leave the notion of shopping behind in the busy marketplaces of cities and town; when we are in our “happy place” we are not transacting with thoughts. Bargaining for a great deal can be taxing and tiring. We do this all the time with thoughts, in the hopes of extracting maximum happiness with minimal effort. In reality, it rarely works in our favor, especially in the long run.
The retail world of shopping is undergoing a sea change these days. People are increasingly buying online and using brick and mortar stores mainly for window-shopping and price comparison. In the mind, the idea of shopping isn’t new. We have always been customers of thoughts that sweep through our mind. Just as goods and services don’t come free to us, there is a price to be paid when we “buy and possess” thoughts that are to our liking. The more thoughts we “buy”, the more we impose limitations on ourselves. Our awareness and attention become narrow in scope and limited to certain ideas. It is hard to resist the pull of thoughts when the mind is like an attractive bazaar. Thought streams are like vendors who vie for our attention. Unlike the retail world, where there is money back guarantee and a warranty, once we identify with a particular thought, we own it for good. It cannot be returned to the anonymity of the unknown space from where they originated. Thoughts we end up “buying and owning” are the ones we hope will give us a generous return in the form of happiness. However, the same thought that may carry the potential for giving us immense happiness can quite easily turn and produce misery; hours, days, months or even years later. At that point, there is no warranty in place to return the thought, we are left to pick up the pieces and fend for ourselves.
We wear the thoughts that we identify with. Unlike fashion trends that change once every season, thoughts are never in fashion for more than a few moments at a time. We are constantly changing in and out of our thoughts. The mind facilitates this like an expert salesman, in the wink of an eye we are sold on a thought that may potentially shape our destiny. Just like the clothes we wear, our thoughts are exhibited to the world through our words and actions. Unlike the body, we cannot easily disrobe the mind. We fall asleep with one set of thoughts in the mind and wake up and wear another set on top of the previous one. Unlike the body which is washed and cleaned daily, the mind rarely gets bathed. Regardless of the price of a piece of clothing, if it is left unused for long, it starts to smell musty and old. Similarly, once we identify with a thought, even though it appears to be forgotten, that initial act of identification with it makes it stick to us and a collection of these old forgotten thoughts can turn the mind dull and stale.
A stale mind is a peculiarity of adults, whereas children manifest vibrancy in their thoughts and actions. Their approach to life is refreshingly spontaneous. Like an old car engine that groans, creaks and sputters into life, it takes a lot of effort to manifest action through a stale mind. Just as a room may be freshened up by opening doors and windows to let in fresh clean air, we have come up with artificial methods to perk up the mind. The doors of relaxation are generally opened, not inward but to the world. We cannot control distractions that enter into the mind from the world. Although the outside “air” we let into the mind may alleviate some of our immediate stresses, it brings in an impurity in form of dependency. We lose the ability to create our own happiness, instead we end up shopping for it in the world. It is easy to succumb to temptation when we allow the world to bring its gifts to the mind. The latent power we hold over the mind becomes powerless in face of the brightly packaged experiences that the world has to offer.
We have a choice where our attention can rest, but it can only go in one direction at a time. Our conscious perception can either be of the dazzling allure of the ephemeral world or the deep stillness of the inner world. Only when the mind becomes a pure reflector and not a generator modifier of experiences (positive or negative), will the door within reveal itself. Like a lakebed that is easily seen when its waters are clean and undisturbed, the lap in which the mind rests may be revealed when our awareness is able to fully penetrate the depths of the mind. Through our awareness we have a greater chance of diving deep into a passively active mind, wherein the mind’s activities stem from inspiration from deep within. Generally, the mind is actively passive, in other words dependent on surface ripples that create a sense of activity and purpose but the mind as a whole is passive and is unable to to take us deep within ourselves. The senses become the anchor and keeps the mind tethered to the world.
The sense organs function as doors to the world. It takes little or no effort to keep them open to the world, but it takes great effort to keep those same doors closed. On the other hand, the doors of inner perception may take almost superhuman effort to open, but once opened they remain easily accessible. The strength of a door is not its outer veneer but in the toughness of the material from which it is made and the solidity of its lock. No matter how tough a door is, it can be easily opened if one has the right key. Hinges may be small, but they if they are flexible and strong, even the heaviest doors can be opened. The key to the doors of the senses is our identification with thoughts, through which we let all our energies dissipate into the world. On the other hand, the key to the doors of inner perception is willpower. The hinge on the doors of the senses is expectation, more the expectation from the world easier it is for the senses to reach out into the world. The hinge on the doors to inner perception is contentment. Greater the contentment, easier it is to open ourselves to the unknown within us, especially if we disregard knowing when and how we would encounter the inner well of unending bliss. Willpower may be thought of as the door frame which allows the door to open only one way, either in or out. How we construct this door frame is up to us, whether we want the doors of perception to be open to the senses or to the inner world. When we start to witness and not identifying with thoughts, there may come a day when the senses lose their grip on us. This shifting tide is the harbinger of great transformation.
Sea water is undrinkable but when the same water evaporates, forms clouds and water rains down on us, it becomes fresh and drinkable. Similarly, we cannot assimilate the raw input from the senses. Only when the mind processes these inputs by putting them into context does it become palatable to us. The context varies from person to person and depends on our likes and dislikes. Attachment to these experiences makes us become slaves of the senses. Will power helps stop this recording and replaying of experiences by switching to a view only mode, where we are merely witnesses to everything that is happening in the mind. When we decline an invitation to interact, but remain as witnesses, the mind begins to operate as a passive lens. A lens of a camera only acts to focus and magnify or widen the area of the picture being shot. Similarly when the mind is used as a lens, we can use our power of awareness to sharpen the picture by changing the focus and the angle from which the mind views the world. The picture that the world presents remains unchanged, but the perspective and meaning are put in better contrast.
When awareness is the primer driver and mind functions as a passive lens, the mind does not consume much energy, just as a camera lens does not need a separate battery to let light filter through. Our power of awareness is connected to an inexhaustible energy source. We may not be able to harness this energy easily, on account of our awareness being tied up in the mind. Just as the blades of a wind turbine need free space to work, for awareness to be effective in taking us deeper within ourselves, it needs space. Even if one blade of a turbine malfunctions, the entire turbine will not work effectively. Similarly one sticky thought can impede the free movement of awareness. Such sticky thoughts make the mind take over the role of the “perceiver”. When the mind becomes the primary driver of perception, we become subject to the fluctuating energy levels of the mind. We know that our perception is primarily run through our power of awareness when we are not disturbed by thoughts of the past or the future, and we effortlessly remain in the present. It is only in the present that the mind rests and when it does so, thoughts gradually die out.
Agitation of the mind results from a two step process of identification and attachment, both of which make the mind function as a magnifying glass. Identification and attachment may result in either sorrow or happiness depending on whether our desires are fulfilled or not. Both sorrow and happiness are magnified and as a result, the perception of the world is then distorted. We experience the world in relation to the products of our attachments (memories of the past or aspirations of the future). The interaction of identification and attachment in the mind creates friction and heat. Just as when a piece of metal is heated, its constituent atoms are agitated and to accommodate their movement there is expansion of the metal; whenever there is friction in the mind, thoughts move around more rapidly there is expansion of the mind. Into this expanded space, other complementary thoughts enter and soon enough the mind becomes a crowded place.
To reach a state of a calm, peaceful mind one method is detachment. Ordinarily, detachment is taken to mean running away from the world or our responsibilities, but it is far from the truth. Detachment in its finest form is not from the world but from identification with thoughts. It is possible to be detached from identification with thoughts, yet be fully involved with the world. Since we are not held back by our attachments, we can give more to the world. When there is attachment, our perception is primarily on the mind and as a consequence we are focused on our individuality. When there is detachment, our perception on the mind loosens and we are able to accommodate a lot more “individuals” other than ourselves in the mind’s purview. We then start to think in terms of the welfare of others and not just ourselves.
Detachment engages and ignites the mind’s inbuilt regulatory system of maintaining a calm, peaceful inner climate. This is accomplished mainly through strengthening the power of witnessing and awareness. Just as we carry our lungs with us wherever we go, our awareness is a constant companion. Choice less awareness keeps the mind from going too cold wherein we begin to lack empathy, or too hot wherein we are burned up by our desires. Similar to the uniformity of the body temperature regardless of where we come from, the human mind can be made uniformly compassionate when we become aware of the strength of the threads that bind us rather than the sharpness of individual strands that divide us.