Mastery over the Mind - Experiencing Happiness
Every day we drink out of the well of the mind seeking the enjoyment of the taste of thoughts which give us hope and a promise of a better future. Such thoughts may temporarily quench our thirst for happiness through imagination and other means. Even in our dreams, which are a spillover of the mind’s contents, the enjoyment continues when we identify a dream experience as pleasant. However, simply linking our awareness to certain uplifting thoughts alone may not bring a state of lasting peace and joy. Like our physical body, thoughts have a finite lifespan. Although we can develop and use the power of concentration to hold onto thoughts which bring us happiness, this process takes up significant time and energy. Investing valuable time, which we don’t get back, into the mind to mine happiness may not pay off in the long run. Like the stock market, one piece of bad news may be enough to crash a carefully built up store of happiness in the mind. It may then take days, weeks, months or even years to fully recover the prior state of happiness. Having enslaved our awareness, the mind has an inherent conflict of interest and consequently, we cannot turn to the mind for neutral and unbiased advice on how to achieve lasting happiness.
The mind keeps our awareness constantly engaged in a sea of disturbance we call thoughts. When trapped by the mind, our power of awareness is tremendously weakened. The energy of incessant waves of thoughts is too great for us to change their course, putting us at the mercy of the mind which then dictates our happiness. Early in life, the mind gets established as the main channel through which we see and experience life. By the time we are aware of the mind as a distinct entity by itself, distinct from an awareness from which we can observe the mind, we are already fully dependent on the mind. Moreover, the mind usurps the body machinery which it keeps at its disposal to bring us experiences through the faculty of the senses. The mind isn’t a neutral zone where we are free to explore our inner being. Any freedom is conditioned through our prior identification and ownership of certain thoughts. There isn’t a pathway to freedom using the mind as we invariably become entangled with the noose of desire which leads us out into the world and the false belief that happiness is an external thing.
The undercurrents of deep-seated desire are long lasting, compared to the ever-changing waves of thoughts that create their own distinct patterns. Our awareness is trapped between the surface waves in the mind comprising of thoughts and the more persistent undercurrents of desire that lurk deeper in the mind. Our awareness shuttles between the two. To get away from the incessant chatter of thoughts, we attempt going deeper within using various techniques such as closing our eyes or other means of decreasing sensory input such as retreating to a quiet place. Just as we cannot hold our breath underwater for long, we become overpowered by the deeper currents of desire when we try to move away from the surface of the mind. Struggling to stay focused in the depths of the mind we again we resurface bringing along latent desires which latch onto our awareness.
Sandwiched between thoughts on the surface and desires that live deep in the mind, one option is putting the mind on pause. This “stilling the mind” may be achieved through mindfulness, which may be thought of as maintaining awareness of all the mind’s activities. This is a fairly intensive practice, watching and following the mind wherever it goes, and there is always the hidden hazard of the mind recoiling the moment we let our attention on it slip. However, just as a swimmer in an ocean is powerless to hold back waves or change the direction of the ocean’s current, we cannot really still the mind while our awareness is in the mind. The architecture of the mind is very robust and it is difficult to make it function against its fundamental nature.
Acceptance reflects humility and when we accept that we cannot truly control or overpower the mind, we take the first steps towards freeing our awareness from the mind’s clutches. The road to freedom starts when awareness is not bound to the mind. “Walking away from the mind” does not imply defeat at the hands of the mind. Just as fire always rises up even if the source of the fire, such as a candle is pointed down, awareness once freed will always rise and expand. The mind will continue to remain as we left it, in a dormant state and we have the freedom to return to it any time of our choosing. When we give ourselves this reassurance about the mind, the fear of the experience of the unknown outside the familiar confines of the mind can be overcome. The mind may be “locked and parked” in place as we explore deeper aspects of existence within ourselves, just as we lock our cars in the parking lot with the faith that the cars cannot leave the parking lot without the keys in our pocket. Our awareness represents the “keys to the mind” without which the mind is a powerless entity. Just as cars cannot enter buildings, thoughts cannot enter an inner building where only our awareness is allowed entry.
This “inner building” is a neutral buffer zone between the mind and the place where no thought has ever existed. Here, ego or individuality is not permitted entry and awareness is as free as air and is not tainted by even the subtlest forms of the ego. Just as we may freely enter the common lobby of a secure building but may need permission from security to go to a specific floor, through a witnessing state our awareness can freely enter a quiet zone that lies just beyond the reach of thoughts. To go further, the security guard who from whom we need permission is our own ego. When we leave the mind behind and enter a witnessing state, the invisible thread that keeps us tethered to the mind is the mind’s loyal ally, the ego. Even though we are witnessing but not participating in and identifying thoughts, we are tied to the mind through this observer-observed relationship. To go further, the ego will have to be left behind, it will never drop us.
Ego is like a mud stain on a white shirt. The stain or the ego travels with the shirt. The shirt represents awareness. Just as a stain on a shirt does not add to the weight to it but is clearly evident to the eye; the ego, which is the subtle essence of the mind, may not feel “heavy” like certain thoughts but it cannot be easily washed away. During deep sleep, when we slip out of body consciousness, ego is temporarily non-existent. In this state, there is no observer or the observed. This is an example of complete egolessness. Since there is no “I” or “we” there is only pure awareness. Skin and thoughts are no longer barriers at the level of the body and mind respectively. There is no inner or outer, the connection between the two implies distance and distance is absent in a state of complete egolessness.
Humility ultimately leads to the truth and where there is humility, awareness expands and the ego diminishes. It is hard for the mind to play a controlling role when there is humility. For example, inside a house we own if the thought of ownership is very strong, our awareness becomes limited to the four walls of the house. The house represents the mind, the walls of the ego. Once we step out into the open and look up at the sky full of stars, there is no sense of ownership over the sky or the stars. There is an inescapable feeling of being an insignificant speck in the grand scheme of the universe. Naturally, the ego rapidly diminishes and our awareness has a chance to expand. Perhaps this is why so few people actually look at the sky on a daily basis. The narrow confines that we put ourselves in through the ego prevent us from enjoying the sight of expansiveness that the sky represents. In moments of expanded awareness that comes by peering into the window of the sky, we forget all the possessions that are added to us after birth, including material objects, thoughts, and experiences. We experience the happiness that is not weighted by thoughts. We don’t need the mind to experience this happiness, it is lasting.