Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In and Out of Mental States

I talked elsewhere about how the continuity of mental states not only creates mental problems, but also creates in us our sense of identity, a notion of myself as a separate entity from others, the world and even from myself. It is indeed fascinating to see how this identity actually occurs.

Without our interference mental states have their own natural duration and then they fade out on their own. We pour life into them by either participating in them or resisting them and thus give continuity and permanence to them.

Take grief, for example. Like anger, fear, depression, loneliness or boredom it is a state of mind. Left to its own devices, it is a limited life and duration. Then it fizzles away, sometimes through distraction and sometimes naturally without any effort on our part. But our past experience works on it through our thought process and interprets it as something undesirable. In that very interpretation is the process of resistance. Since I, what I think about and my thought about it are not in reality separate entities, although I might presume they are, my very thought of it and resistance to it pours life into the mental stat e, gives it a continuity and a life. In fact, we have no way of looking at it the state of mind except through our thought of it. If we could, then we wouldn’t even know we are in that state.

Thus, in my mind a duality is set up between me and my mental state (of course, through my thought process). I keep battling the state and can’t understand why it continues despite of my resistance or trying to suppress it.

The mental state does not have any strength if I don’t participate in it or resist it. Just suppose I come to some terms with it by understanding that perhaps grieving is a natural process or that death is inevitable and so on. The state will have its natural life and die its natural death. The duration of the state depends mostly on the intensity of it. Of course, as long as the perceived cause of the state remains, the state has to remain, unless one turns his or her attention away from it.

Fear is another example of a mental state: Our initial attitude to fear is that it shouldn’t be there, i.e., we should not be afraid. And then whatever we do to address it will inevitably strengthen the fear, even if the attempt is merely to accept it. You cannot will to let it be. You just let it be. This is so, because the will presupposes a duality set between yourself and your fear and as long as you operate within the duality, the fear not only persists, but is multiplied and strengthened. But suppose you surrender to it. Cease and desist from any effort to change it. On many such occasions, which generally happened in my bed, in just a few moments, the fear not only fizzled away, but my organism relaxed and I fell asleep to wake up to notice I had no problem any more.

The discussion about mental states gives the hope that we can do something to change a given mental state. But unfortunately this essay can give no such direction or instruction. Even the instruction “Do nothing about mental states” can easily be taken as a direction. Then we tend to look upon a given state with a view not to change it. That too has the motivation of wanting to change it.

The reader can always ask: “Then what to do?” “Nothing,” would be my answer.

2) But this talk may sound all too easy. Actually, it’s more difficult than it seems, because we are so used to living by the pleasure principle of enhancing what has been pleasant and avoiding what is painful. As long as we fall headlong into pleasurable experiences and want to repeat them, improve upon them and seek further pleasurable experiences, we guarantee the continuity of ourselves. It is the same attempt to preserve the self that also automatically produces the negative reaction to some other experiences calling them painful. So, the learning about inaction regarding mental states has eventually to apply to the so-called pleasant or positive or pleasurable states of mind as well as the negative painful states.

It’s of course not to say that we shouldn’t enjoy what happens in our life. This is a far cry from preserving mental states as a way of perpetuating ourselves. But this does involve a fundamental overhaul of our systems.

What is the difference between letting a state be and being in a state? We are sometime in a state struggling in it (like in a depression) and there may seem to be no end to it. This is an inevitable question to arise. The answer is that when you are struggling within a state, either you are aware of your struggling in it or you are not. If you are aware, the fact that you are aware is itself in indication that you are other than that. And that awareness also implies that there is an attempt to become free from the struggle. Thus you are back to square one. If, on the other hand, you are not aware that you are struggling, then as such there is no problem. The state will wither away, unless, of course, it is generated by body chemistry or drug-induced. The solutions for such problems (which are observed by others) are not from within. You have to get help!

If by some means you can get out of mental states, say by just letting them be and surrendering to them, there is a “neutral” zone, a zone of mere consciousness. Here you are merely aware of the innards of the body such as the throat, the stomach or the mouth, and you are not within the mental world. Thoughts may arise and pass, but you are not them or in them and there is no reaction to them. It is indeed a skill -- not a skill which you can consciously and deliberately develop, as that requires a goal of changing the given and a will to change it – to just let the state be. Once you have a clear taste of the zone, then you can move back into the “neutral” zone whenever you find yourself caught in a mental state – you just have to let be whatever the state you find yourself – if it is fear, let it be; and if it is a hurt, let it also be. It is a skill of instantly freeing yourself from any mental state by letting it be and letting it last as long as it wants to.

I can only talk about when I am out of mental states; I cannot really talk about pure consciousness as such. Hence this may not constitute enlightenment at all. (As I said, I don't care what it is called anyway.) While I have sensations such as awareness of the throat, it is followed by some self-consciousness and verbal activity. The awareness of my sensation as well as the recognition of it through my verbal activity does involve duality and yet it is subsequent to the initial awareness where there may be no subject-object division. There is also no response to the sensation. Divisions and reactions enter into the picture only within mental states. The conceptual picture of this is not terribly clear to me, but this is the best I could come up with as yet.

You can say this zone of consciousness is self-luminescent, to use a Vedanta phrase. You know it exists because there is a built in self-awareness. I think UG himself talks about consciousness knowing itself (he says, for instance, in the Mystique that life knows itself.). You could call this a temporary state of enlightenment. On the other hand, you can say it is a shift in the brain. I am not so much interested in what you call it as the fact itself. When the ‘front’ of your brain is active, you are in mental states and you struggle within them. When you shift to the ‘back’ of your brain (or ‘head’ if you prefer that word), then you are in the zone of the body and awareness of the innards. There are no values here, nothing bothers you, and you don’t have to do or strive for anything. There are no relationships, including with yourself, no emotions, no love, and no fear of death. You can’t say it is anything. It’s not a nothing either. It’s just awareness.