Mastery over the mind - Fear and its relationship to the mind and awareness
The origin of thoughts is not fully understood. Thoughts represent forms of energy, they are nonmaterial, and in all probability, the physical brain does not produce them. The brain’s functioning, however, has a profound influence on the movement of the energy linked to thoughts. The brain, housed in a hermetically sealed cavity within the skull, is the central processor receiving input from our eyes, ears and other sense organs which in turn are received by the mind. In contrast, the mind is a free and open space, with unlimited bandwidth for the movement of thought. When the air is still, we don’t feel it’s presence as we do in a breeze.
Similarly when there is no movement of thought we don't feel the mind’s existence. When the mind is restless and full of opinions, the movement of thoughts may be random. When we are engaged in productive and meaningful mental activity, the flow of the energy of thoughts is coordinated and controlled. We can observe the mind and the flow of thought whether it is random or controlled. This power of awareness is a potential force that may lead to total freedom.
In most people awareness is limited to thoughts prevalent in the mind and the body and its immediate surroundings and hence, freedom gets limited. Conditioned to what we have acquired as “knowledge” which varies from individual to individual, we lose the potential to explore the unknown through new ideas and insights. Freedom from the mind’s conditioning is an individual quest, and we cannot outsource this to another entity. The rewards of that struggle are great happiness and absence of fear.
In infancy, the first experience of awareness is that of the body. That awareness is narrow in scope and serves to facilitate survival through a primitive form of communication such as crying when hunger or pain is perceived. Later in childhood and adult life, expansion of awareness helps us integrate into the world as thinking beings. We cannot, however, view the inner workings of the body directly through the senses. We are limited to sensing life within, as a “shadow” cast by the aggregate energy imprint of the cells of the body. When we lose awareness of this energy, we call it sleep in which there is a temporary loss of consciousness or death where we lose it permanently.
The notion that our awareness is limited to our body is ingrained very profoundly within our psyche. It is the fundamental root of our limitation. When we don't challenge it, no matter how expansive we may feel in the mind space, a portion of our awareness remains tightly tethered to the body. This tethering of our conscious awareness may play a role in the survival mechanism. Our existence revolves around the physical body, a highly delicate instrument, and fear of loss of the physical body is the foundation of conditioning that limits our awareness. Without the context of the body, fear does not exist. Even in dreams, we use a “virtual self” through which we experience anxiety and fear.
Awareness can exist independent of the movement of thought. The flow of thought creates an experience within, and when we react to this experience, our awareness gets trapped. The reaction then temporarily becomes the center of our perception. In this manner, we get bound to the perpetual experience-reaction cycle. We get a glimpse of our true state of being by putting aside thoughts through noninteraction. In the beginning, it may take considerable effort not to associate with ideas whether it is of the past, present or future. Thoughts create separation and distance, taking us from “is” or “being” to “becoming, wanting to become or have become.” Direct awareness of our being, not through thought, experience, knowledge or the mind, is a broad and present experience. It cannot be imagined, and it has to be experienced. To hold our attention to our presence in the present takes extraordinary effort. In every moment, we have to carefully watch for any reaction on our part to thoughts and the movement of our awareness into the past or the future.
The thought current creates a perception of space in the mind. The sense organs facilitate intake of knowledge from the world. Being anatomical structures, our eyes and the other senses have limited perception. For example, the eyes can only see so far into the world, is dependent on light for perception and the eyes cannot be turned in to look inside. We cannot perceive the space we call the mind through the senses, and therefore should not have the same limitations as imposed by the sense organs. However, this is not the case. The mind can be a highly limited environment, and often we find ourselves trying to escape its limitations.
A limitless state cannot be perceived through the mind as each thought functions as a virtual sense organ as soon as our awareness interacts with any particular thought. There can be a subtle mental perception of seeing, tasting, hearing, touching and smelling that happens in the mind even without external input. It is evidenced in dreams where we can taste, hear, smell and see while the body is in a state of sleep. At this time the anatomical sense organs are shut off from the world and temporarily delinked from our thoughts. Our interactions with a mental experience lead to the labeling of these images within the context of our desires, likes, and dislikes. By doing so, we interrupt the natural flow of thought energy. That trapped energy crystallizes into a mental object that may linger in the conscious part of the mind or it gets stored in memory for later recall. All in all, they remain anchored to us and go with us wherever we go. In the mind, the field of awareness splits into various categories such as inside the body, outside the body, the mind and so on.
Limited awareness by itself, however, does not bring about suffering, borne out by the great joy experienced by infants and young children, despite having limited knowledge about themselves and of the world. As infants and children grow, awareness is free to expand to any dimension. Internal forces do not curtail this expansion, but external factors greatly influence it. We are conditioned early in life by various sources including books, people and societal norms related to our present way of life. This external conditioning can lead to suffering. Awareness gets trapped within such imitations, which expand outwards in concentric circles.
Fear is a primordial form of conditioning and is the innermost ring of limitation around our awareness. When we come into the world, the body may be thought of as the hardware and the rudimentary mind as the underlying operating system. Life experiences come later, and the ones which we closely identify with become “apps” added to the mind. The basic “app” that is inbuilt and innate to the rudimentary mind is fear. We can recognize fear in its raw state when the body we inhabit faces a threat to its survival. In such a circumstance it is a valid and much-needed survival mechanism. But there is no need for fear have any association with our awareness which has no cellular basis to protect or shelter. Since fear links itself to the body, it keeps our awareness close to the body.
Fear has a dramatic effect of narrowing the scope of awareness to one body, which we call “my body.” Consequently, the mind also takes on the label “my mind.” Fear influences all aspects of our lives. Broadly speaking we define life through the highly relative entities of success and failure. These mark two significant milestones of life, we seek to avoid one at all costs and strive to attain the other. Fear influences both success and failure and gets embedded within every thought.
When fear contaminates awareness, it becomes the basis of the personality we identify with as “us.” Overcoming fear allows our awareness to expand freely. Just as the physical body cannot transform from that of an infant into an adult overnight but must pass through stages, limited awareness cannot instantly turn into a permanently free and unlimited state. Overcoming fear is the first and fundamental step, which may take some time. When fear remains like a ring around our awareness, it creates many other entanglements. For instance, to distance ourselves from a fear of loss we seek to possess. To maintain our possessions, we crave power and so on.
On a recent a trip to Nepal, the writer had an interesting conversation with a cab driver who maintained a very joyful demeanor despite his significant material poverty. During the discussion, the relations between Nepal and its neighboring countries, India and China came up; the cab driver remarked, “we have excellent relationships with both our neighbors. Nepal is a poor mountainous country with few or no resources; we are left alone by our neighbors as we have nothing material of value to offer to them”. When we focus on the word “material,” the wisdom in his statement is readily apparent. No one seeks to conquer another for spiritual treasures, only for material gain.
Where there is a potential for a material gain or a loss, there is fear. A gain or loss is related to ownership of the reflection of external objects in our thoughts. The mind gains its strength and resources by enticing our awareness into identification and entanglement with our thoughts. Wearing the uniform of fear, the army of thoughts ensures that we don’t stray from the mind and the body. It keeps us close to the mind and the body lifelong. When we step outside the ring of fear, the mind becomes powerless, and awareness gains strength. We can do this through a detached witnessing state where fear becomes an imaginary boundary which we can easily cross.