in Cognitive Wisdom, Prism of Life

There was this famous person who used to have a super busy life. Every day there was a beeline of people to meet him outside his home. Even his office and outdoor space were not spared. People kept coming to have just a glance. They came looking for engagement with him as long as he allowed them.

He had full autonomy to decide the number of people he wished to see, yet every day he was meeting people in thousands. Can you even visualize his life?

Tough one…Isn’t it?

And if I say your own life is not very different from him.

Would you be surprised? NO, you shouldn’t.

Because the only difference in his life and yours is that instead of an obligation to meet so many uninvited guests, you are constantly engaged with a huge number of thoughts on the daily basis.

In fact, your mind has become a screen on which a movie is playing continuously without your permission — all day long.

If you are not in a position to have any control over what’s playing on the screen, I am sure, you wouldn’t be enjoying the nonstop movie.

If your mind is just a screen on which different thoughts and emotions are playing, does it make any sense for the screen to get affected by the content of the movie?

Absolutely ridiculous! Isn’t it?

Then why are you allowing the mind to get identify itself with different colors of thoughts and emotions?

Jon Kabat-Zinn — the famous mindfulness teacher, puts it well in his book Wherever You Go There You Are:

“If we are unaware of what we are doing a good deal of the time, and we don’t particularly like the way things turn out in our lives, perhaps it’s time to pay closer attention, to be more in touch, to observe the choices we make and their consequences down the road.”

Now…only you are in a better position to explain how you are managing this daily show!

There is no denying, we all are born with mind and body, but unfortunately, it doesn’t come along with an operational manual.

Does it bother us as a species? Not the least.

We are taught such a wide variety of subjects in our school, however, not a single subject on offer is remotely related to study of body and mind.

With the rapid growth in the medical field and pharmaceutical industry the incentive to promote the well being of the body has increased exponentially — and that’s about it.

The overall awareness about the body and its functional maintenance has grown but same can’t be said about the mind.

In the absence of any manual, we just learn to use this tool on our own. There is absolutely no guidance on its usage.

But despite these inherent limitations, there is absolutely no question mark on the widespread belief that we are intelligent enough to use the mind as a tool.

“I think therefore I am” — has become a culture in itself, where we take pride in being a thinking person.

You would say what’s wrong with being a thinker?

Really? Think again!

I for one started doubting this culture, since my late teens, as the answers to most of my basic questions were getting far more elusive with an increase in quantum of my knowledge. Few of the questions troubling me were:

Why am I such a compulsive thinker?

What’s the origin of my thoughts?

Why do I end up identifying with most of my thoughts?

Why do I get impure thoughts? Is it an indication that I am not a good person?

Who gets to define the goodness?

Someone might say, you are being naive if you search for answers through knowledge. But then the same philosopher doesn’t know whereabouts of those answers.

If you dare to do an objective analysis of the content of your thought you will soon realize that it’s nothing but an accumulation of all sorts of nonsense fed into your head in the guise of information — with the accessibility of World Wide Web the medium of information consumption has seen some unprecedented explosion.

If you can recall your moments of bliss, joy, and ecstasy (yes, including orgasm) — most of your experiences could be possible when you were not thinking about anything — you were just alive, devoid of your thinking brain.

One thing becomes clear though, that more accumulation of knowledge makes the matter more complex. Whereas, the beauty lies in simplicity.

This very search for simplicity exposed me to different forms of meditative practices — from concentrative to contemplative.

The transformation of mind from (restless to restful) through the path of meditation happens in following Three stages.

First Stage

You realize the talkative nature of your mind when you try to shut it up just before sleeping. At this stage the more you try to quiet the mind for meditation, the louder it becomes. The struggle may persist for the entire duration of the meditative session. But this is something inevitable if someone chooses to get into the practice of meditation.

It looks a lot like the unenviable job of air traffic controllers at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Second stage

At this stage, the frequency of thoughts starts decreasing with simultaneous increase in the period of meditation. You start getting the occasional glimpses of a mind free from thoughts. Subsequently, with more practice, you learn to decide when to let your thoughts enter your head-space. It may sound weird but when your thoughts become aware of the fact that you won’t be opening the door for them, they stop knocking. You are no longer dealing with the onslaught of endless thoughts.

It starts looking a lot like the somewhat manageable job of air traffic controllers at Moscow international airport.

Third Stage

At this stage, the practitioner learns to remain unaffected by waves of thoughts and accompanying emotions. The mediator’s mind starts witnessing unprecedented stillness. Which is often reflected in their behavior, speech, and actions. They have learned to channelize their thoughts at will.

It starts looking a lot like an air force strip in the hinterland.

After struggling at stage first for a long time, I was occasionally able to reach stage two. However, I couldn’t persist with the intensity for far too long.

As a result, there was the subsequent realization that — all practices are good as long as you are willing to devote the maximum amount of your waking hours on practicing the method — like any other skill (mastery demands in excess of 10,000 hours).

The problem was — as soon as I was re-entering the world of infinite stimulation — after my quota of the dedicated session of meditation — the serenity and calmness used to start waning rapidly.

This is the story of a yogi who spent years and years alone in a cave, achieving rarefied states of samadhi. One day, satisfied that he had reached the end of his inner journey, the yogi came down from his mountain perch into a village. That day the bazaar was crowded.

As he made his way through the crowd, the yogi was caught up in a rush to make way for a local lord riding through on an elephant. A young boy standing in front of the yogi stepped back suddenly in fright — stomping right on the yogi’s barefoot.

The yogi angered and in pain, raised his walking staff to strike the youngster. But suddenly seeing what he was about to do — and the anger that propelled his arm — the yogi turned around and went right back up to his cave for more practice.

The actual difference between meditation highs and trans-formative change is evidently captured in this short story.

If a seeker who is spending most of his waking hours in a meditative state is unable to bring inner transformation in his actions — how do you expect your twenty minutes of meditation routine to yield long-lasting results?

Life is full of uncertainty and if what you are practicing is not making you feel comfortable in unpredictable and uncomfortable situations — you need to revisit the method.

Is there an alternative to the traditional variety of meditation?

And how it helps in learning the skill of resting the mind?

While looking for a definite answer I stumbled upon this quote by Annamalai Swami…and things started making more sense.

Meditation is not something that should be done in a particular position at a particular time. It is an awareness and an attitude that must persist through the day.

Any action done with awareness is meditation. Meditation means to be fully aware of our actions, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Another name of meditation is passive awareness.

Watch your thoughts as you watch the street traffic. People come and go; you register without response. It may not be easy in the beginning, but with some practice, you will find that your mind can function on many levels at the same time and you can be aware of them all. — Nisargadatta Maharaj

The objective here is to free the mind from its usual dose of distractions.

Limiting the distractions require a sincere effort to modify the surrounding environment.

That is possible only if you are crystal clear about —

What is bothering you — at the deeper and subconscious level?

And what is it that you don’t want in your life?

It’s never a one-time affair. You need to keep investing some of your precious time on a daily basis to even get close to identifying your true emotions and underlying anxiety.

If you are not willing to invest some time into this daily exercise — be prepared to get interrupted by those uninvited emotions generally expressed through the stream of random thoughts.

The whole purpose of this exercise is to prepare yourself for the daily session of meditation.

After experimenting with many options, I found this two exercise to be of immense help.

1. Nonstop writing for 10 minutes (mornings)

2. Nonstop audio recording of your thoughts for 5 minutes (evenings)

The trick here is to identify a pattern in your thoughts. If some thoughts are getting repeated quite alarmingly, that’s an indication that you should start investing some time in finding their solutions.

Thanks to these exercises, now I am in a better position to prioritize everything and develop an audacity to say no to people and things without feeling any guilt.

This clarity brings an unparalleled focus on the things that I chose to do.

In the absence of any resistance built into my actions, more often than not I am able to bring some magical focus to my moments.

As a result, I am more present in the moment.

All of me and not part of me.

My mind and body become witness to everything that is there.

In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the objective here is to bring —

“An awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience.”

I am no longer relying on my memory of known and familiarity to get myself entangled in my thoughts.

Due to our evolutionary conditioning, we tend to notice an unusual thing just long enough to be sure it poses no threat, or simply to categorize it.

This simple process of habituation evolved through thousands of years makes sure that we conserve our brain energy by paying least or no attention to things that are safe or familiar.

One of the major drawback of this brain dynamic — we habituate to anything familiar — the known faces, even of our loved ones, the paintings & pictures on the walls of our home and office, the same roads on which we drive regularly.

Habituation makes life manageable but a bit pedestrian. The brain habituates using circuitry we share even with reptiles: the brain stem’s reticular activating system (RAS).

In habituation, cortical circuits inhibit the RAS, keeping this region quiet when we see the same old thing over and over.

In the reverse, sensitization, as we encounter something new or surprising, cortical circuits activate the RAS, which then engages other brain circuits to process the novel object.

And with due practice, you learn to see everything as if you are seeing them for the first time.

A study of a group of meditators who had clocked more than 540 hours of practice showed a significant increase in the activity of telomerase in their immune cells, even five months later. This enzyme protects the length of telomeres, the caps at the ends of DNA strands that reflect how long a cell will live. This along with subtle changes in neural pathways end up transforming you inside out.

Once you learn the art of being present — you start observing all those details of visuals, sounds, tastes, and physiological sensations that you have stopped to noticing long back — because you were so preoccupied in your mind.With regular practice, your — meta-awareness — that is awareness about awareness starts improving a lot. As a consequence, your attention to the things that you chose to focus witness an unprecedented enhancement.

Suddenly you realize that you have stopped doing those things that you were so used to:

  1. You learn to stop living in the world of your minds rather than processing the infinite details of proceedings unfolding in front of your eyes.
  2. You learn to stop experiencing things and events on the basis of your desires and expectations projected on the screen of your mind.
  3. You learn to stop constructing your experiences around a narrative where you are the star — The genuine path to complete transformation.

This transformation makes you reach the highest levels of the insightful path, where strong negative feelings like greed, selfishness, anger, and jealousy give way to positive qualities like equanimity, kindness, magnanimity, and compassion.

But you may ask — does this meditative practice answers all your existential queries?

Well, sorry to disappoint you because it doesn’t. And it is never meant to. Instead, it helps you discover your state of peace and bliss by transforming you into a person you would love to become.

The practice remolds you in such a way that you end up becoming a catalyst for positive change — especially in the lives of those who are connected with you.

Originally published in Thrive Global.

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