Navigating the mind. How not to get lost within the mind.
There is an old Eskimo saying - the outer sky is big but has stars in the night sky which can tell us which direction we are going. The inner sky is vaster, and it is easy to get lost as there is no way to determine the direction in which we are traveling. It is undeniable that the mind space is considerable and accommodates thousands of thoughts every day. Navigating through such a vast area within the mind is difficult without a point of reference. There are two general points of reference in the mind. The first is our thoughts which are transitory and in constant movement. The second is relatively fixed, and it is our ego (“I” or the assumed identity) which is involved internally in our relationship with thoughts and externally in our contact with the world. Thoughts and ego weave a complicated web, and for the most part, our awareness cannot easily leave this web in the waking state. When the going is good, and thoughts and experiences are pleasant, we seek to remain with the mind. At the first sign of a downturn, we look for a way out, which suggests that the real home for our sense of being or awareness is not the mind. We may be able to escape the pull of individual thoughts, but it is tough to create a separation between our sense of being and the mind as a whole.
Once we get identified with any given thought, it temporarily anchors our awareness. Thoughts have no fixed location within the mind. They are like clouds moving in the sky. Based on our past conditioning, desires, likes and dislikes we turn our attention towards thoughts corresponding to our conditioning. When attention lingers long enough on specific thoughts, and we begin to interact with them, they become “heavy” and fall into the sphere of our awareness. Just as rainwater that falls to the ground cannot immediately return to the clouds, the thoughts we identify with cannot easily go back to the free “cloud-like” state they existed in before they were tagged and identified. We imprison thoughts through identification with them and in turn thoughts imprison our awareness. Once raindrops fall on the ground, they lose their form and disappear. Similarly, once thoughts fall into our perception through interaction with them, their original form disappears.
The form of any thought may be altered through our identification with them. There are two components to every thought. The structure of thought is modified when these two components split apart. One part is energy, and the other part is the information a thought contains. When our awareness interacts with the contents of thoughts, the energy associated with those thoughts are released. Newton’s law (every action has an equal and opposite reaction) holds, and our act of identification with a thought results in a response manifested by the release of energy that is keeping that thought together. This energy manifests as emotions we can readily experience. Every thought we identify with evokes a feeling, whether it is gross or subtle. Thoughts are indexed in our memory according to their energy signature and the corresponding emotions they may trigger. They are retrieved at a future date and time when a different set of thoughts evokes similar feelings. It is not possible to interact with thoughts and have absolutely no emotion. However, it is possible to perceive thoughts from a distance in their native form without interacting with them through a witnessing state of consciousness.
Emotions are part and parcel of human life. Too much or too little emotional energy may be disturbing for both the one harboring sentiments as well as people around that person. Hence, the right amount and the right kind of emotional energy is required. To maintain emotional stability and have the right type and amount of this energy with us at all times, we cannot use thoughts as anchors to orient our awareness in the mind. That stability cannot depend on the flighty nature of thoughts. It comes from someplace deeper than thoughts. Just as tree roots hold sandy soil together, deeper awareness is the root which can keep everything together including mind and thoughts. Through awareness, we can identify and pursue elevating thoughts, and as a result, the energies of such thoughts become part of our emotional aura. That deeper awareness is not found in the mind. The mind will have to be transcended to enjoy the anchoring support of deeper awareness.
GPS signals blanket the world we live in, and it is hard to get lost as long as we carry a suitable instrument that can use signals emitted by GPS satellites. Unfortunately, there is no inner GPS satellite that can aid us in the mind. No matter how far our awareness travels in the mind, the mind cannot be easily transcended. Deeper we go into the mind, the more helpless and lost we may feel. It can appear to be an endless journey. Just as gravity holds us captive on earth, the mind holds us captive in its sphere of influence. Unless we have an experience of traveling in the microgravity environment of space, which only a handful of humans have done, we cannot describe the experience of weightlessness. Similarly, unless we are in a state of conscious awareness without the influence of the mind, we cannot describe a no-mind state. To be “weightless” in a no-mind state, the ego must first disappear.
We carry the ego or “I” everywhere we go. As long as the ego is present, the mind remains in existence. The glue that binds the two is hard to break. The ego cannot be seen, and it is like a shadow moving behind us. Just as the physical eyes have a limited field of vision and our eyes cannot turn on themselves to look back, the virtual eyes of the ego also tend to look forward. It is notable that when we close our eyes, thoughts appear in front of us and not behind on or on either side. We don’t typically look for thoughts behind us. Our vision is pointed ahead even in the mind. This directionality that we are accustomed to is hard to change. There are no physical barriers within the mind. Then why should we “see” thoughts only in front of us with eyes closed?
The perception of thoughts being in front of us is related to the “I” which is a fastidious point of reference. We carry the “I” or ego at all times in the conscious waking state. All the conditioning we have received relates to the “I.” It has grown to reasonably large proportions which we cannot easily overcome. Many spiritual practices are designed to limit and ultimately reduce the influence of the ego to trace amounts. All such methods aim in freeing our awareness from the confines of the mind.
As the sense of individuality and ego diminishes, the need to get from one place to another within the mind also decreases. Like a swinging pendulum, we alternate between happiness and unhappiness in the mind. There is a constant movement between the two states, and the speed of the transition varies widely depending on many factors such as external input, conditioning, the magnitude of desires and so on. A happy or an unhappy state is pinned on the ego which is the false projected self. Without the ego, there is nobody to experience happiness or unhappiness. The transition to a no mind state involves spending time in a neutral state of equipoise.
When the ego is not present, the physical body does not disappear. Neither does awareness. In the dreamless state of sleep, for instance, ego is not present even though the physical body is present. Awareness is dormant but not absent. If we can leap from being egoless in sleep to being egoless in the waking state, then the feeling of being lost in the vastness of the mind may begin to disappear. Being egoless means there is no reference point from which to relate to the mind and its contents. Everything is seen as is and contemporaneously. When there is a fixed reference point, events in time behind that point of reference become the past and events imagined and yet to become the future. Without an ego, there is no past or future.
When there is little or no ego, the mind shrinks and will no longer occupy the entirety of the inner sky. In the dreamless deep sleep state, there is neither the ego nor the mind. We don’t remember an experience of this no mind state as our awareness slips away when we fall asleep. But if we were to maintain consciousness as the mind disappears, inner silence emerges and occupies the space previously held by the mind. It takes a lot of effort and practice in keeping awareness and observing this transition as silence fills the space formerly occupied by the mind and thoughts.
We cannot hold onto silence and hoard it like thoughts we identify with, and it cannot be partitioned, unlike the mind and thoughts. Silence, once it emerges is everywhere, and its quality is uniform for any given depth of inner calm. Directionality disappears in silence. With true silence, we cannot perceive a spectrum such as less or more silent. When there are relativities in silence, this indicates comparison and which has to then emerge from the mind. Just like thoughts, silence travels with us everywhere we go. Unlike the mind and thoughts in which we try to navigate from one thought to another depending on what we are seeking, there is no need to navigate silence. It brings deep bliss, contentment and it helps build and fortify our awareness. When we remain alert in a state of deep calm and silence, we are no longer lost in the vastness of the mind. The inner voice can be heard everywhere in that silence, and we discover the true inner guide. With that inner guide, we will never again be lost in the enormous caverns of the mind.