Friday, September 5, 2008

Ending the Downward Spiral

The build-up of thought: whether it is a positive or negative thought, memory, impression or sensation, our mind builds on them, making the positive ones more glorious and rosy. These are forward-looking. We do the same with the negative thoughts. We build up on them, turn them into nightmares and try to avoid them at all costs. These two are forward- looking. In fact, many memories we have, just because they have an emotional charge, they look toward future for fulfillment, and repetition, annulment and annihilation, revenge and what not, if they are negative ones. In other words, as we get older, it may seem like we are only repeating and reliving our past, but we are really trying to resolve them in the future.

As we get older, we tend to emphasize the worries and the negative thoughts more, although we do too reminisce the positive ones a lot. Of course, it all depends on the occasions when we see the threat of negative thoughts; that’s when we tend to dwell on them so much. Indeed, we build up on them so much that we panic and terrorize ourselves with them, turn them into nightmares and start trembling at their occurrence. And we become paralyzed. The downward spiral never seems to end. Every symptom or sign we read we turn into something huge and start dreading it. An itch or a rash somewhere on our skin is turned quickly in our mind into the threat of a cancer, for instance. We become mentally and therefore physically sicker and sicker. If this is not hell, what else is?

We don’t question our positive thoughts, because they give us pleasure. We tend to avoid the negative ones, because they are painful. But there is no rut which we cannot extricate ourselves from. To do so it may not be enough to become aware of our conditioning or attachments and let them go, as they keep recurring. At times, we may have to consciously and deliberately say to ourselves, “I will accept the worst, and I am not going to go into this any more.” We have to make a conscious decision. Like a young fellow saying to himself, “I am not going to be intimidated by this kid any more; what’s the worst he can do to me?” or “I will work this out.” It’s not that you are using your will, which is generally based on identification with something. But rather it is that after seeing getting into the same rut repeatedly, you decide consciously not to slide into it. Buddhist meditation Vipassana meditation recognized the role of such a decision. (Also, in the eightfold path, part of Buddhist meditation consists in encouraging our minds to think wholesome thoughts and discouraging it to think unwholesome thoughts. The Buddhist realized that our minds do have a tendency to build.)

When you once again confront a symptom and start reading its meaning, you catch yourself before or right at the time when you fall headlong into the thought-habit pattern and stay or step out of it. It doesn’t matter if you have to do it repeatedly and it doesn’t even matter if you have already been caught in the spiral. The moment you are aware of the rut, you step out! And you can.

The trouble with stepping out of things is that when you are involved in some thought process or state, you are within it and as such you don’t even think that it’s possible to get out of it, let alone make any effort to get out. But when the pain is great, and you see no way out, it might just occur to you to “surrender” to you or to drop the whole process. Or you might just say to yourself that you have had enough of the rigmarole, it’s time to get out of it. Anything is possible. Unfortunately, there are no rules.

The stepping out of things is a very unstable state. Consciousness, as Sartre would say, constantly seeks a foundation. In other words, it seeks content. If there isn’t any, it will try to find some. Being without foundation is indeed a heroic task. But if you could be there from moment to moment (unfortunately there is no continuity here, because it’s not a mental state), then you stand alone. In some sense, you are always there catching the beginning of sliding into a mental state. I don’t know if this is called freedom, but it surely can end the downward spiral and the descent into hell.