Sunday, August 26, 2012
Freedom is Beyond the Mind's Construction Zone
A year or so ago a friend of mine posted this on Facebook: "There is always unconditional happiness present when one is going through personal suffering. You just have to awaken to it. Feel inspired..."
To me, this was a neat way of expressing the idea that most of our suffering is directly related to what we think, or more precisely, what we think we are experiencing. It was especially poignant to me at that time, since I had just lost my parents to conditions of aging beyond their control.
If pain or loss in the moment overwhelms our sense of being, then all we have in that moment to experience is the misery of pain or loss. If we can remain present, the suffering becomes one level of our experience but not all of it. This leaves that little bit of leeway, or breathing room, to feel alive beyond the pain or the loss, and become aware of other options. Sounds a little other worldly, but it can be quite a surprise to find that there is still a layer of being that is not consumed with the conditional and reactive part of life.
We excel at constructing a mental world in which to live, each of us serving the continuously running mind. It is a bit as though our lives are all about walking our heads around, or even just sitting on the couch swimming in mind soup. Sometimes watching TV or engaging with the computer can really bring this out: the body sits for hours and hours, but the mind is running along with whatever is in front of it on the screen.
Stubbing a toe brings up the immediacy of reactive nature, yet we continue standing on the other leg (there's hope for life beyond the sheer pain of the moment). Perhaps there is a thought strand about "what should I do for this toe right now?" and also perhaps a strand that triggered an emotional line of "stupid idiot" thinking aimed towards the self or the leg of the chair or the person who left that rock in the path. Meanwhile, the body goes on standing or hopping, and the digestion creates an appetite for lunch, and part of the mind is remembering why one was walking in this direction anyway.
All of this can simply be left to happen on its own, and there we are, a constant construction site with louder aggressive moments when the jack hammers or circular saws are going, as well as quieter ones more like plastering or even laying cement for the brick or tile work. All active, some by choice others by condition, yet our awareness and possibilities go far beyond all that. Even with jackhammer in hand we can feel temperature on the skin, smell the blooming clover wafting in from the empty lot next door, and even softly hum a song remembered, or a rhythm that supports our activity.
Past all that is equilibrium, the part of the self that knows even in the moment of loss that we will keep breathing when our loved one stops breathing. We can strengthen our ability to tune in this way, to get past the construction zone into that more open space of mind. With practice through meditation, and yoga, we can learn to allow ourselves to detach from reactivity while still reacting; we can create a structure of acceptance that is not judgmental so that we are free from the good-bad aspect of the situation and can actually just feel fully; and we can lean in towards the deeper understanding that we exist beyond just feeling the intensity of this particular moment. Just as with the stubbed toe, or the dying parent, that moment will be intense, but freedom seems to come from being present fully in that moment, not clutching at nor shying away from what is happening.