Saturday, 5 August 2017

Biscuits, Banking and Harmony - How self-regulation works

Doing what you intend turns out to be harder in the moment than at the time you made the decision

You’re sitting in a chair reading or writing and the thought comes to you that there’s a packet of chocolate biscuits (cookies to some of you) on a shelf in the kitchen. But you had already decided to save those biscuits for later.

Any chance that you are not going to go on reading or writing for some time, then you feel time slowing down, and then with that particular inner sensation, you get up, go into the kitchen, take down the packet of biscuits, decant the contents into a jar, put out maybe five on plate, make some tea and return to reading/writing.

After some time you might wander back to the kitchen, eat a couple more while you’re there and take a handful back to reading/writing without too much thought. You don't finish the packet, maybe get halfway, quite moderate really. But… you had decided save those biscuits for later. The biscuits are very satisfying but that contradiction somewhere in the sensibility is not. This is the nature of self regulation. And as we normally understand it in some/many/most cases - you decide - it turns out to be a contradiction and doesn’t work.

Take a look around

Any time, for example, the banking sector is involved in a scandal where something has gone seriously wrong and measures are put in place which are supposed to be self-regulating, you should hear the laughter all the way to the bank so to speak.

In the banking sector - briefly and in a cavalier fashion - one side of a bank lends money to try to make money on investment. The other side of the same bank analyses the market and is supposed to give a neutral forecast to the general public of whether investments are likely to move up or down in the market. Now here’s the thing, these two parts of the same bank are not supposed to confer - if they do it’s called insider trading.

Most banking scandals involve some kind of insider trading - in short, people doing what they know they shouldn’t. And in applying these rules the whole business is supposed to be self regulating. Which is really just biscuits-you’re-not-going-to-have-until-later on a majestically grand scale.

There are repercussions

So if you decide not to have the biscuits and then have them anyway, what kind of, admittedly very minor, repercussions does this set up? First of all there are things in life which are pretty harmless, like tea and biscuits, and then there are things in life you really shouldn’t do, like insider trading. And there’s a crossover point, where one becomes the other and we may find ourselves tested when we come to that point, where is the line of acceptability.

For example, do you do something just because you can, or when no-one is looking, which you wouldn’t do in front of others? Like, the wallet you find on the street, is it yours now or is it the time to try to find the owner? If you scratch a car and no-one’s around, do you leave a note or drive on? Well, you know the answers of course, but you get the point.

Anyone who practices meditation regularly knows that any inconsistency stays and will eventually prey on the mind. It is very difficult to be completely honest with oneself, which is where the trouble begins, and that becomes a cause of subtle conflict; we know we are not perfect and struggling to find the right way at every turn. It may help to look at this from two perspectives: how we relate to others in outer life, and how we relate to ourselves in the inner life.

Outer life

In outer life with any negative quality it is best to try to find and cultivate its opposite. Take anger for example. When anger rises some may say that anger should be expressed, but to express your anger outwardly at another possibly innocent person everyone knows is not acceptable.

There is real profit in considering the anger, the cause of the anger, the target of the anger, and then actively trying to realign the situation and consider the anger itself in a more positive light, by finding and consciously expressing an opposite quality, like tolerance if the other party is wrong, or perhaps humility if they’re right.

What goes around comes around
Anything that is fired out in the moment, no matter how justified it seems, does have a repercussion in the inner environment, possibly in hypertension for example, or after the anger has passed unpleasant sensations of guilt or regret, or just a lowering of the capacity to be happy. Or more subtly, what goes around comes around, like if you put anger out there you tend to attract it and it comes back at you another way. Any way you lose.

So taking the opposite, if you put out equanimity, by the same logic, that would be what is more likely to come back at you. This is pretty much obvious and well known, but in the heat of the moment, how easy is it to recall the intention to bring the opposite positive tendency to the fore and express that? But it is said that if we make the effort and try and even just imitate positive qualities then eventually, maybe by seeing the effect and our own response to them, those qualities tend to rub off on us. In any event there is more harmony within and around us.

Inner life

In dealing with a negative tendency in the inner life things tend to get more interesting but less certain. What happens when, in a quiet moment of meditation, out of the calm you're enjoying, you feel this force rising up inside, which you know is something strong, something challenging, but here it comes, there it is, what to do?

Do you suppress it? I don’t think so. Do you negotiate, If I do this, change that, will that deal with it? Will that work? I don’t think so. Do you turn away, stop practicing, and maybe find something better than meditation? You decide. Or do you accept it? And just let it happen? And how do you do that? What are the consequences?

Forget the mantra, forget the focus. You find you have no choice, as this will impose itself as the focus, like it or not. So make it real and fully present, let it be seen, known, understood. We’ve noted that there should be a way to manage in the outer life, but here in the inner life the rules are different. Expression must take place. Anyone can see that. If you squeeze a balloon here it bulges there, but the pressure doesn’t go away; similarly with a volcano, if there is no outlet for the magma from the core there will be an explosion.

Expression first

That force that is rising up must be allowed to be there, to be expressed and be experienced. But it’s not easy. Just as restraint in the market place may not be easy, so letting it express totally within the inner world, that’s not easy either. Just as it is not let out on the outside, it must be allowed to be itself on the inside. No suppression, no control - anarchy if you like - but at the same time closely and constantly observed, all staying safely within the parameters of the inner life.

Then the fear is that I might lose control and be overtaken by the force of it, then what? The temptation to control and then suppress can be very strong. But if the expression is allowed to take place without interfering in any way, you learn the nature of the anger, you discover the cause of the anger, and the more you know of the anger the less you are under its control and the less influence it has. Under the constant eye of awareness it eventually exonerates itself. And here’s the payoff, in the outer life the tendency to erupt diminishes by relieving the pressure from the inside.

As you know, it takes the presence of that one particular quality to be effective: awareness. You have to be fully present, to be there, to have the experience, and you have to remain the constant observer of your own experience all the while, those are the conditions. That takes time, patience and perseverence, to see it all through and not fall short with the self-fulfilling prophesy that it doesn't work.

Summary - two wings to fly
So self-regulation is of two types: in the outer life, management, discipline and control; and in the inner, expression, freedom, even anarchy. It’s knowing what you need to control and what you need to set free. But if the mind does not discriminate accurately there’s going to be confusion, even chaos - like when the idea of allowing the fullness of expression in the inner life crosses over as justification in the outer, or control in the outer leads to suppression in the inner.

The two should never be confused, letting one be a reason for behaviour in the other. If the two get mixed up and there is unrestrained expression in the outer life and/or control and suppression in the inner life, there will be trouble, ongoing trouble, and seemingly no way out of it. And we are usually more predisposed to one than the other, which has an influence, so you have to watch out for that. Overall there does seem to be an increasing tendency to express more with less control externally and deny and suppress more internally. Just look around.

But if you get it right they become like two wings that help to fly above and beyond what we have become so accustomed to accept as who we take ourselves to be, as distinct from who we really are. Who’s that? you ask. That’s another question, but one everyone has the opportunity to ask and search for themselves - once we know that such a question exists.


And a bit extra

That moment of collapse, when you go back on your decision, has an inner sensation, what happens to it? Is it completely missed in the moment; is it there as a kind of fuzzy presence, but quickly overlooked; is it known and recognised, but you look away because it's esier not to know; or justifications set in; or does it register, but is then denied in the interest of convenience? The sensation itself is actually kind of unpleasant, which is why these different reactions. But it’s the going for 'cookies' which is going to relieve the sensation, which is why they're so hard to resist.

Continual honest self-observation and balanced self-regulation is really quite difficult or even impossible. Which is why a bank needs a set of controls monitored from outside to curb what we have to accept as natural human behaviour. And why getting away from it all for the discipline of a retreat, or yoga or meditation course from time to time helps to recognise assumptions and reorganise priorities that have been made in the name of convenience.

If you do find yourself heading for the kitchen for the cookies so to speak, powerless to stop yourself in spite of the earlier decision, observe closely every aspect of the action: the mind reshaping to adjust the decision, the emotions and any conflict there, however small, and the action itself down to every movement following thought and feeling. (If you feel like it, and you’re absolutely sure there’s no-one around, you could even talk yourself through it.)

All this adds up to bringing the Outer into connection with the Inner, which is ultimately what we’re aiming for, so that thought, emotion and action are all in sync with each other. We have to go through stuff to get there, but this is the way. Same goes for everything, every moment if possible.






Wednesday, 26 July 2017

How's it going so far?

Welcome, or welcome back

Meditation is a delicate matter. It’s a mystery not a puzzle. It’s not like a ball of tangled string where you find one end and follow it through logically until it’s unravelled. It’s a mystery, sometimes coming clearly into focus and then, just when you got it all figured, sometimes moving into uncertainty for no apparent reason.

Meditation is at heart very simple, but quite complicated; and complicated but quite simple. There’s the mystery right there. Our wisdom lies a little deeper inside but it is there, it just needs tending, and quiet listening to be heard above the noise all around us. It requires great patience, not a quality easily found on the web, no matter how good the advice may be.

These posts are in the old fashioned way - longer, with a discursive line of thought running through them, and maybe sometimes a little cryptic or esoteric. Sometimes the connections are straightforward and sometimes they may be not so obvious, more like chains of impressions, meant to catalyse rather than explain.

But either way, they are intended to assume the wisdom of the reader to recognise inherent truth if it’s there. It would be easier and it would probably attract more readers if it were dumbed down a bit, but it would be absolutely missing the point.


We are not impatient are we?
So with these posts if you do get impatient reading right through, at least skip to the later parts and the end, that’s where the interesting bits usually are. The earlier parts often set up the point that is being made later on.

It may not be you or the post that causes impatience but rather the environment of the moment. I know from experience that reading a webpage or a blog on a computer or smartphone, when something much more interesting is only a click away, is a quite different experience from reading the actual printed word in a quiet moment.

Truth is that much of what goes into these posts has its genesis during meditation. And often later having written the piece I’m thinking, Oh you can’t say that, no-one will have the patience or care. But then I think, it happened, it’s accurate, pass it on. Trust the notion I say. Oh, and accept uncertainty.

So if you find something you think could be interesting, that could bear further investigation and even be worth a little effort, then print it out - or just keep it somewhere - and wait for the right moment when the mind is reflective and receptive. It’s a quite different experience because it can stimulate something which usually remains dormant most of the time, particularly in the mind-set of web browsing. To read and think about meditation it helps to find your way into your own meditation mind, internalise it there and be in harmony with that.


Read it later: cut, paste, print
And how to print it out? Don’t go looking for the print button, just copy and save the whole thing and paste it to a separate program (Word, Pages etc) and print from there as you normally would. And then also you may come across it after some time for a second read and that could strike you quite differently. Experience confirms you don’t jump into the same river twice.

As a suggestion, try going back to an earlier post, maybe one you remember resonated for you; or if new, have a browse and find something that looks likely, and before getting too far into it, print it out and save it for later. See if you can actually witness the experience of change between the mind in one state, web-browsing, and then calm, reflective, meditative. If not sure where to start try these

http://powerofawareness108.blogspot.in/2016/05/all-thought-is-illusion-isnt-it.html

http://powerofawareness108.blogspot.in/2015/04/when-past-is-too-much-in-present.html

http://powerofawareness108.blogspot.in/2015/01/releasing-samskaras-it-gets-worse.html

If you're playing the long game any change in the mind that you notice is always interesting and productive to observe and adjust to. And too, by that subtle quality of self observation that’s exactly how meditation itself keeps evolving.

Meditation experience is counterintuitive to just about everything we consider 'normal' - and it should be to be effective. Everyone has a kind of right at least to hear about it in this way, then make their own mind up about it. That’s what this blog is about.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Time to Explore the Heart More Fully

There’s a practice we do on the 5/7/9 day meditation courses which goes like this. 

Think of a question, something that is relevant in your life right now. It doesn’t have to be the Big One, but you should identify with it at a personal level. When you have it clear, watch the breath for a little while, a neutral space, leaving the question for the time being. 

First one

Then focus at the eyebrow centre and using the breath as a vehicle enter into the space behind the eyebrow centre. When you have found your way into the space you can drop the breath and begin to become accustomed to the space of the mind (known as chidakash) where you are now. The language of the mind is thought. See how the mind manifests itself in the form of thoughts. 

When you can observe the activity here as thoughts, drop in that question/inquiry you had decided on. Watch the mind react to the question without in any way trying to influence the outcome. Just be interested to find out where it goes. You may get an answer, you may not, but you will know what you think. That you can store quietly away to recall in a little while. 

Then you leave the mind space, and return to the neutrality of normal breath awareness. 

Then the other

After a little time again the breath becomes a vehicle but now the point of entry is a portal at the centre of the chest. You will then find yourself entering a different space behind the front of the chest, the heart space (known as hridayakash). Then begin to discover the language of the heart, which is emotion, pure and simple. There is no thought here, only direct experience of emotion. Get accustomed to the language of the heart. 

Then drop in the same question from the beginning, only this time feel the emotional reaction without any interference of thought. After some time you will know what the reaction has been, like it or not, and you can store that quietly to recall later. 

Leave the heart space and return to normal breath awareness without any distraction. 

What do you find?

Then leave the breath and in that neutral space recall the reaction to your question you had in the mind in the form of thought. Once you know that put it aside and recall the reaction in the heart in the form of emotion. When you have that, then put both side by side: reaction in thought, reaction in emotion and compare the two. Then ask yourself these questions. 

Are the two reactions the same, or different?

If different, which do you think more accurately represents you? 

And again if different, which one are you likely to act on when push comes to shove?

Here’s the point

Now although that’s a fairly lengthy description, it may not work at the deeper level the first time without some supplementary guidance. But here’s the point. A quick survey every time this practice is done shows that the large majority always say there is a difference between head and heart; and usually it comes as something of a surprise. And the majority always say it is the heart that most accurately represents Me. But there is some uncertainty as to which is likely to be influencing the action that will follow.

Also if the answer is the same you can rest assured that on another question on another occasion in nearly every case the division of head and heart will eventually show itself. So best to accept it. Those who consistently deny the differences in head and heart have invested too closely in one over the other for too long, usually the mind over the heart, but the other way round happens as well. Besides, seeing into the inconsistencies like this can act as a wake-up call to move toward a higher level of understanding

What we can conclude

So without lingering on why’s and wherefore’s, here’s what we can conclude. Generally speaking we do not know our own heart. We do not know, unless we stop long enough to look, what we really feel… about very much. 

This is because the mind is usually the predominant force in life - it’s what we hear nearly all the time, and in the end almost automatically follow. 

Because when the mind is that predominant we do not feel the heart even if it is aching to be heard.

When we do make the heart connection it comes as some surprise. And even if we do recognise it as representing Me more accurately we may have been in thrall to the mind for long enough to be unable to respond to the heart straightaway. 

What does heart actually mean?

One thing needs to be understood to remove any lingering ambiguity. When we use the word heart it can refer to a number of different levels of perception and meaning:

Heart as a physical organ, keeping circulation going and keeping us alive into the bargain. This obviously is not the seat of emotion. 

Heart as mind masquerading as emotion. They are not really emotions at all but thoughts looking emotional to achieve an end - like nearly everything on TV. Not the seat of emotion. 

Heart as emotion, but the everyday and mostly temporary emotions that we hope will smooth the way. Like 'I love you so much', which I do feel and mean… until something better comes along. Not very reliable and not to be confused with:

Heart as hridayakash, the space of the heart, the seat of emotion. These are the emotions in their original and natural state. 

Emotions in their natural state

It’s necessary to digress at this point to explain the natural state of emotion in the heart. Imagine original pure light, transcendent and perfect. Now imagine a crystal or a diamond. The light enters the crystal and refracts and breaks up the pure white light into all different colours. The spectrum of colours represents the spectrum of emotions. (And incidentally the analogy goes further because different emotions align with different colours being different frequencies of the same energy.)

Emotions are forces of energy. The original energy is pure and perfect, like the transcendental light. And when that energy is broken up as it were by our individual nature, like refracted light, the sum of those different emotions in a way express who we are. Like some of us have more red or orange, some less blue, or yellow or magenta etc. But although we take them personally, they should still be understood as different, less than perfect, expressions of the original pure energy. I hope that’s clear. The trouble is we are so attracted to the pretty colours that we miss the pure light from which they come: 

'The colors are appealing 
And nothing is revealing 
The pure light 
That comes from god-knows-where.'

What it comes down to is that in hridayakash all the emotions can have a measured expression. They can be felt fully, but also observed impartially, because all emotions have the capacity to return to their original pure state. In life there are positive emotions to express and negative emotions that need to be managed, in hridayakash all emotions are considered and can be expressed equally. And you can see there’s a certain kind of freedom in this.

Finally, back to where we started this digression, this can only happen with a clear and accurate connection with hridayakash, not with the lower expression of emotions in daily life, which are not consistent and really rather inaccurate.

Heart at the highest level

There is one more where Heart is used at the highest level (better with a capital 'H'). Here Heart is the place or space where all the mundane qualities are left behind, where there is no division, or uncertainty of conflicting emotion. It is still, at peace, at rest - the kind you'd never want to disturb. It is also represented in hridayakash, at the very centre, beyond the emotions that surround it, and it can be visualised as a beautiful transcendental golden flame. 

Summary

So exploring hridayakash loosens the somewhat tyrannical control of the mind, takes us nearer to how we more accurately perceive ourselves, gives a measured expression to lost or suppressed  emotions, as well as providing a way to see beyond this transitory nature through the medium of that most personal of all experience, the field of emotion. In the meditation courses this practice is just the introduction to others that explore the heart space more fully. There comes a time when it’s worth getting into.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Carpentry of Meditation

Meditation will only really work if you take the long-term view
 

Suppose a carpenter is to hammer in a nail. Consider these three elements: the intention - to hammer in the nail - requiring focus and awareness; the tool or tools of the job - the right size nail and hammer; and the carpenter to hammer in the nail, presumably you in this case. So these three: Intention, Tools, and the Carpenter. Of these three easily the most important is the carpenter. Without the carpenter there is no intention, and then the tools also remain inactive without the carpenter to handle them. But how often, for example, does the carpenter underestimate the intention, or more to the point think too much about the tools and not enough about the skill of the carpenter?