Mastery over the mind - Overcoming limitations
To get a glimpse of the limitless, we need not look any further than the body or the mind. For instance, the number of atoms that make up the physical body is virtually infinite. Correspondingly, thoughts which are the building blocks of the mind are also countless. Through our thoughts, almost instantaneously, we can travel to any corner of the world. The power and reach of the mind are astounding. We rarely realize the full potential of these two beautiful gifts, the body, and the mind. We are conditioned to using them as the means of deriving of temporary happiness, neglecting their real purpose as the instruments of creativity and outward expression. We as human beings are part of nature and not apart from it. Existence is like the root and stem of a plant, and human beings are like the flowers. Instead of flowing with life and expressing our inner beauty, we are attempting to uproot the very support offered to us by existence. Through misuse of the body and the mind, we create significant impediments for ourselves and others. Every individual is equipped to be a vehicle for the limitless expression of the everpresent human spirit.
The mind can either be the gateway to the limitless or the impenetrable wall of limitations. We may not be able to walk to the ends of the world, but through the mind, we can explore the unknown universe within. The portion of the mind we call the conscious mind may be tiny. However, even in this relatively small space, there is a great scope to learn about ourselves which may eventually help in accessing a window to the limitless. It requires a broad study of thoughts, not their contents our interactions and reactions to their contents. Our mind is probably the best book we can ever read. It shows us a hidden aspect of ourselves that the world cannot see. Without a basic understanding of the mechanism the mind, we can never hope to become expert handlers of this very intimate, powerful and far-reaching tool that has the potential to shape the destiny of our civilization.
Rather than be responsible stewards of this power, we have become good servants of the mind. The constant and prolific flow of thoughts into the conscious mind resembles a never-ending pile of fresh laundry waiting to be folded and put away. Just as we cannot wear, at the same time, all of the clothes in a large pile of clean laundry, we cannot indulge in every thought that comes to us. By scanning them en masse, even without consciously dipping into thoughts, many thought forms escape into the deeper recesses of the subconscious mind through the periphery of our awareness. Here they remain dormant and can be dusted off and brought back into conscious perception at a later time. Not being vigilant and in control of our power of awareness, we grant the mind the upper hand.
Ceding control to the mind starts with us being curious about the content of thoughts. This curiosity drives us to interact with them, and thereby we quickly get enmeshed. Numerous thoughts and ideas filter in from various directions. Many of them vanish without leaving a mark on our psyche. When we start to identify with them, they get pinned to our awareness. Being curious can be useful, and it comes naturally to children, helping them discover the world and their nascent creative potential. For children, much is unknown. What may be considered routine and boring for adults is new and fascinating for children. Rarely do we see or hear of young children getting bored. Boredom is a quality of an adult mind that has lost freshness and creativity. Apathy is the consequence of becoming less curious about the great unknown, more serious about ourselves and being strongly conditioned by what we know.
Through numerous such curious explorations into the contents of thoughts, we begin to “wear” many of those thoughts just as wear clothes to cover our bodies. Through this process, our free awareness gets cloaked in layers upon layers of ideas and dreams. Awareness is central to every conscious interaction and place from which we perceive. It is more profound than the mind and thoughts. When covered by layers of ideas, those layers become the lens that wedges between pure awareness and the external world. For instance, when we are engaged in a conversation, our capacity for listening is limited by the competing chatter of thoughts. There is constant feedback, analysis, and comparison happening as part of that chattering. Any experience we identify with becomes a composite blend of internal background mental chatter and external input that comes in through the sense organs.
It is possible to put aside heavily conditioned thoughts, not intellectually but with a level of high intensity from a deeper place within. Without the interference of conditioned views, there is a greater likelihood that experiences will not stick, and they will always be fresh. Conditioning suggests the past which is stale. Indulging in such thoughts may create an alternative experience which can linger as memory or projected into the future as hope or fear.
Thoughts weave an intricate web, and our awareness cannot easily escape their influence. Like a spider web that depends on anchoring supports for the intricate weave of interconnecting strands, four hooks are fundamental to the survival of the mind. Within this framework exists every thought that troubles us or brings pleasure. These are:
1. The desire for physical comfort
2. The desire for wealth
3. The desire for recognition
4. The desire for freedom from any limiting factors
The patterns of interactions we foster with our thoughts is essential to understand. The interactions we have with our closely held personal views are where limitations may begin, and these limitations will eventually have a bearing on external relationships. Boundaries form when we start labeling thoughts as good or bad, likable or disliked. The duality that results from labeling thoughts as liked or disliked forms the basis of our personality that we usually refer to as “I." When we wade through thoughts looking for a source of happiness which is lasting and also personal, such views no matter how trivial, tend to stick. Each of them can become a focal point around which other thoughts accumulate. These accumulations captivate our awareness which then begins to stagnate. When awareness becomes stagnant on specific ideas or thoughts, it makes our personality rigid which in turn forms the foundation of our character. Thoughts which form the basis of a rigid personality may become impossible to uproot, just as we cannot dismantle the foundation of a building without destroying the building itself.
Unlike children who generally don't have fixed ideas and opinions making it easy for them display their innate joyful nature, adults wear their ideas and opinions like thick and leathery weatherbeaten skin. Peeling away layers of fixed ideas and conditioned thinking to uncover our true nature may cause extreme psychological pain. We cannot anesthetize the mind during this process. Deconditioning of the mind is a conscious undertaking. A less painful and perhaps a more effective way is to focus on our awareness and be an observer of the personality we have fostered through identification with thoughts.
The process of identification with thoughts serves a useful purpose of creating a temporary foundation, which serves as a reference point. From this reference point, we can have meaningful interactions with other ideas, people and the external world. Identifying with a thought is like placing a bookmark. It helps us return to a prior reference point quickly. Just as clothing serves as a temporary cover over the body, identification with thoughts is also meant to be transient. However, there is an unconscious refusal to remove the bookmark of identification once applied to a thought.
Life starts off as an empty page which gets filled rather quickly and each day, a new page gets added. By the time we reach adulthood, what we call as our life becomes encyclopedic in scope. A portion of the subconscious mind turns into a “bookshelf” to accommodate volumes upon volumes of life experiences that we may have bookmarked. Everywhere we go, we carry this bookshelf full of thoughts, and we are constantly adding to them. We can arrest the growth of the personality that has become the “I” by not collecting more thoughts and experiences.
Once the process of collecting thoughts and ideas through identification and hence building what we call the past stalls, the next step is dismantling the complex web of thoughts and ideas. However, it is very time consuming and requires the aid of the mind which may not be a reliable ally. There is a more straightforward way which involves becoming a witnessing entity. Witnessing is like looking through a glass wall wherein what is happening on the other side is seen, but that glass wall prevents a direct interaction. Similarly, since the primary consumer of our time and attention is the mind, we can create a slight separation between “us and the mind” through this process of observing and witnessing.
When we begin the process of witnessing, at least initially, most of our awareness will likely remain on the “other side" trying to engage with thoughts and ideas. Awareness is the source of light for the mind. When identified with a particular thought, awareness “lights” up that thought. Just as the midday sun makes all the millions of stars invisible to our eyes, a selective focus on one thought form can make the rest of the stream of thoughts disappear from our awareness. This selective concentration is the principle used in many meditational techniques, which involves focusing all of one’s attention on a thought, image, idea or form. There are inherent limitations in this approach. Through practice, we may achieve one-pointedness of focus and concentration. However, where next? The very object of concentration could become a limiting factor and a dead end. We may become conditioned to think that the state of one-pointedness is the goal and it becomes difficult to drop. We may continue repeated forays to that state to get away from our usual state of awareness in which various thoughts pull us in many different directions.
Another approach is turning the intensity of our attention and concentration away from any one particular thought, idea or form. In this method, we remain equidistant from every thought form. Imagine being the center of awareness and no thought can penetrate the immediate vicinity of the area around that center. With time and persistence, stepping away from close interaction with thoughts results in an ongoing experience of an impenetrable circular void around the center of our awareness. From here we may see many thousands of thoughts at a distance, just as we see millions of stars on a clear night sky. Like the distant flicker of the stars which are not distinct, thoughts seen at a distance will be blurry and indistinct, and their contents will not come into clear enough focus to arouse our curiosity and trap our awareness.
By holding our attention on the center of awareness not linked to any particular thought and without direct interaction through analysis, projection, and recall, we slowly free our awareness. We then begin to separate from the personality propped up on a bed of thoughts and ideas. Ultimately like a snake that slithers out of its old skin, we shed our false personality. Once that happens, our true nature cannot be far away.
Along with witnessing, even the smallest shift in perception regarding the mind, considering it as a great asset instead of an impediment will be of tremendous help in our internal inquiry. It is well worth the effort to befriend the mind. The mind can be either a great ally or a persistence hindrance. The latter may be the case for most of us, and we become rebels in our mind. When there is a friction between us and the mind, we have no recourse but to dive into the world of objects looking for solace. Awareness moves even further away from our center. Worldly attractions serve as a distraction for a little while, but soon we begin to tire of it, and we are forced to seek rest. Awareness is dragged back into the mind, where we find another form of escape, which is moving towards the past or the future. The barrier of time then becomes a persistent limitation.
Timelessness does not apply to the mind. Being a slave to time is perhaps our most significant limitation. Time being a dimensional quantity is limited. Everything that is meaningful to us in life, especially happiness, is measured against time. We ask questions of ourselves such as “how long will it last?”, “ Will I be ok after?”. The concept of time, when applied to the body, shows us it is very limited in that after a few decades the human instrument will be dead and long gone.
When we apply the concept of time to the mind, it shows that the mind is also very limited. Time creates the past and the future. Both are nonexistent in the now but appear very real. The human spirit is beyond the illusory limitation of time. It cannot be arrested or confined. Its energy is infinite, and it cannot be limited to the events of the past or sought in the future. We cannot describe it, and it is meant to be an ongoing experience. Everyone may tap into it without limitations. Like thoughts and atoms, which do not need food or water to survive, the human spirit lives regardless of what we load in our stomachs and the mind. We cannot touch the eternal quality of the human spirit through a belief. It happens through effort, and that experience becomes our truth. All limitations will then fall away without any further effort on our part.