Tag Archives: Mind

Talking to the mind

We are today what we were thinking in the past and we will become what we are thinking today (see also).

Our plastic mind makes this possible. It always takes on the form of what we are thinking. When we think of an apple, our mind is an apple; when we think of a dog, our mind is a dog; when we think of light, our mind is light.

This experience can teach us how to change our character. Whenever I think “I don’t want to be an angry man”, my mind creates this image of an angry self. Only when I think of myself as being peaceful, my mind becomes peaceful.

I observe, that every thought is preceded by a concept or a term, which I create, through previous experiences; this ends up creating pattern, pattern of the mind that repeat themselves.

Can I use  prayer, acceptance, training in positive thinking to create new pattern, a positive mind frame for myself?

Advertisements

Raja Yoga and the 8-fold Path

Raja Yoga, one of the four main paths of Yoga, is considered the royal path, the Yoga of the mind or of self-discipline. It is a more integral and scientific approach to Yoga.

Raja Yogis believe that the mind needs first to be tamed in order to be purified. Patanjali, composer of the Raja Yoga Sutras writes the famous description of yoga which says ‘yogah chitta vritti nirodhah‘: chitta – thoughts; vritti – thought waves, modifications of the mind; nirodhah – to find tranquility, to control; a common english translation is ‘yoga is the slowing down of the modifications of the mind‘. If we slow down our thought waves we become able to observe them and acknowledge our mental patterns. This is the first step towards consciously changing them.

Every thought that comes up in our mind leaves a lasting impression, called sanskara in sanskrit. The more we repeat a thought, the deeper this sanskara becomes ingrained in our minds, so that it forms a thought pattern, a habit. You can imagine this like a river, the water flows down the same lines over again and leaves a valley. The deeper the valley, the harder it is for the water to find a different flow next time. When we here the name Michael Jackson, we think of music and when we hear the name James Bond we think of movies – these are our thought patterns, categories that are put together by the self-organising function of the mind. We use these categories in daily life to work more efficiently. In the same way however when we buy a piece of delicious cake at a bakery, we create a sanskara. Next time we walk past the bakery we think of that piece of cake. We buy it again and the sanskara becomes deeper. With repetition it becomes a habit, habits form our character and the character determines our destiny.

To free ourselves from these pattern, to look into the categories and consciously reorganise them, we need to slow down our waves of thought. For this purpose Patanjali put together the eight limbs of Raja Yoga which compromise elements from all of the main yogic scriptures.

The eight limbs consist of four points that deal with the external and then four that deal with the internal:

The Yamas represent the code of conduct and are practices of self-restraint, like Ahimsa, non-violence, Satya, truthfulness, Asteya, non-stealing, Brahmacharya, abstinence from sexual misconduct and Aparigraha, non-covetousness or non-possessivness. These Yamas are behavioural norms and are said to be essential to slow down the movements of the mind. If we are possessed by greed or violence our mind will not be able to concentrate.

The Niyamas are the five observances and are more of a spiritual practice to train the mind and control the emotions. They are Saucha, internal and external purity, Santosha, contentment, Tapas, austerity, Svadhyaya, study of scriptures and self-reflection, Ishvarapranidhana, self-surrender to God.

Asana is defined as a posture that one can hold effortless for some time observing calmness and breath. 84 asanas are considered to be the main ones while the most important one is padmasana, which is the lotus pose and helps us in meditation. The practice of asanas effects us physically (blood circulation, flexibility, inner organs, glands, muscles and nervous system), psychologically/emotionally (developing emotional balance and stability, inner harmony), mentally (improving our concentration, memory) and on a consciousness level (purifying and clarifying our awareness).

Pranayama is the control of prana, the life-force or energy which we achieve through regulation of the breath. The breath is what harmonises the mind, the prana and the physical body. Pranayama and asanas, often referred to as Hatha Yoga,  are the external practices that prepare the body for the internal following four practices.

Pratyahara is the control of the senses and teaches us to go inside ourselves and not be disturbed by what is going on outside of us. It is considered a prerequisite for the further practice of concentration and meditation.

Dharana means concentration. This is where every meditation starts, in focusing the mind, becoming-one pointed and not being distracted.

Dhyana is meditation, it goes beyond concentration. It is here where we are able to consciously alternate our mind and mental pattern, being awake, free from distractions and desire.

Samadhi is the final stage, blissful awareness, the superconscious state.

Mindfulness

Facing East, I’m calling the element Air into the circle, asking for the power of the sun, sharp precision and focus in my undertakings. I find peace through clarity, the innocence of the infant as the wind blows through the deepest valleys of my being. May purity and truth guide our inspiration and intuition in every moment, in every step.  

It is a miracle to walk on water. The Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says that the real miracle is to walk on the earth. We all can do that, can’t we? But have we ever actually been present walking on the earth? How do the feet feel on the ground, the wind on our skin? Have we ever been aware of that… and appreciated it? Are we aware of the sensations that a smile brings to our bodies? Have we ever fully listened to one of our fellow human beings, our friends, our children? Have we ever eaten a tangerine?

Adding a handful of loving kindness and compassion to awareness gives us mindfulness – the Buddhist dharma of being lovingly present in every moment and in whatever we do. Visiting Buddhist temples inThailandandCambodiawe often encountered stair steps that are leading to the Buddha statues double or triple as high as the ones in a normal house. Why? I asked. It is not an easy walk to reach the highest, the Buddha, I was told – it is a walk done in full awareness and participation. Every step is a step in mindfulness as we climb the steps of realisation. Every step is of equal importance, is the next possible step, the present moment, … every step is peace.

Only in realising the universality, the interconnectedness of every step in life, only when we put our feet in front of each other in full awareness, in full participation, we’ve actually done a step.

In this way mindfulness is not an idea that is practiced in meditation alone – mindfulness is the tool that lets us be, that makes us live in every moment, that connects us to our surroundings, the world and the people. We can practice mindfulness in every moment: when we breathe, breathing in, I know I’m breathing in, breathing out, I know I’m breathing out; breathing in, I’m here in the present moment, breathing out, this is a wonderful moment. It is the breath that in a subtle way connects us to the outside world, from the moment we’re born until the moment our body passes away. We can practice mindfulness while walking: I’m breathing in and I’m breathing out, I have arrived and I am home, in the here and in the now, I’m breathing in and I’m breathing out.

When the Buddha explained the idea of mindfulness to a group of kids, he gave them a tangerine and made them feel it with their hands while peeling it, feeling the sensations on their tongues while eating it, every sensation in the mouth and through the body. How does it feel to eat a tangerine in full presence and participation?

Another way to practice mindfulness in the modern world is through listening – what Thich Nhat Hanh calls deep listening. Deep listening is practiced by his followers and others all around the world. In our modern world of distraction and individualism can we really deeply listen to each other? Are we able to hear what another person is telling us without building our personal opinion in our heads, already thinking of what we’ll say next? Can we hear what our friend says, can we hear what our bodies say, what the earth says with every movement she makes? To listen is to understand. Can we breathe in understanding, walk in understanding, be in understanding? Can we walk the earth in peace, reconciling with every step we make? Can we be in loving awareness, in full participation, in mindfulness?

The Self-Portrait


“Watch your thoughts; they become words. 
Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”  – Lao Tzu

Who am I and who do I want to be? That is probably a question we ask ourselves quite rarely in our daily lives filled with sensual sensations, movement, media, adverts, daily news, etc. Our restless mind is constantly looking for distraction because that is its nature and the only thing it is used to.

According to Lao Tzu, who we are today is the result of our actions done in the past. The actions we do are the result of our thoughts. So basically we are today what we thought yesterday and become tomorrow what we think today. Are we aware of what we think? Do we observe the processes in our minds? How many actions happen consciously? Is it our will directing us or rather our habit? Did we know that we shape our future self in every moment?

“I shouldn t have done this”, “I m such an idiot”, these are expressions of regret, ignorant of the fact that all of us are evolving being, making mistakes as we go and as we grow. We are constantly moving to the edge of our own being, pushing it, moving through friction to pass into new levels of consciousness. It is there where it happens often unwillingly, unconsciously and effortless. Often however we move away from our potential, into a world of more regret and suffering on different levels of our being. We fail to have our needs met, to identify our feeling and speak them out, to ourselves as well as to others.

Approaching the edge with mindfulness however makes us realise, move on and shape our next step, our next being that evolves out of ourselves. Regret is replaced with patience and effort, ignorance with intention and assertiveness. We know that a positive being evolves from positive thought; affirmative thinking is the force that is pushing the edge. We draw the picture of our new selves as we go with every thought that enters our mind, every word spoken by our mouth and every action done by our hands.

‘A Rose is not a Rose’

The Buddha said to Subhuti: “In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If you can see the signless nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagata.” – Sutra 5, Prajnaparamita Diamond Sutra

The other night, full moon on the Thai island Samui, my family and I saw a more or less informal fireshow. Afterwards, we sat with the artist who turned out to be a slide of hand magician. The morning after, I woke up, realising I dreamt that I was present in a Sufi prayer ceremony; something I had never (at least not knowingly) witnessed before.

I don’t know how the slide-off-hand magician and the Sufi ceremony are interrelated, but yet the two incidences have something in common: they are both showing aspects of our minds; limitations and creativity resp.

The slide of hand magician uses his finesse to deceive our perception of reality, bringing us out of our usual thinking patterns: our minds, conditioned in a particular way is unable to classify these new experiences into one of its pockets and leaves us marvelling with wonder. Once we realise what is actually happening it feels like a leap in consciousness when in reality it is a simple insight, a quick restructuring of the patterns. In the dream I must have found refuge in a part of myself that hides in the subconscious and is far more creative and sophisticated than my mind in the waking state; still, in the end it must have been my mind that reorganised, restructured, or reinvented available patterns to reconstruct a conception of an already existing perception.

The Buddha in this little verse from the Diamond Sutra talks about the ‘signless nature of signs’. What he mentions is the emptiness of our preconceived concepts and ideas (signless nature) in the perception of objects, people or experiences (signs). Only by seeing this emptiness in all things, we ‘can see the Tathagata’ (‘coming from nowhere and going nowhere’). Our mind however is used to categorise all different perceptions according to previous experiences. The language that is used verbally or by the thinking mind is a static one, simple, insufficiently sophisticated to describe an ever-changing world of process, complexity and interrelations. (Rosenberg 2003)

In different situations, we call people lazy, stupid, bad or good; all judgements that say very little about who the persons really are and have little relation to the situation that made us cast this judgemental evaluation. In the same way we call people cooks, maids, diplomats or policemen; some of these generalisations like the latter one are often connoted with negative judgements that don’t need to be said, but are often heard. What these static labels, or the expression of these apparent signs don’t do, however, is express the totality of another person’s being. (Rosenberg 2003) In this regard, Thich Nhat Hanh describes, in his commentary on the Diamond Sutra, our perception based on signs as inaccurate and erroneous. The reason why they lead us into deception is the conceptualisation that takes away from reality and fails to describe the interrelations, the interbeing of everything. When we evaluate our observations or our perceptions, people tend to hear criticism instead of the intended message because they don’t feel sufficiently or rightly represented in our expression. (Rosenberg 2003)

Looking deeply into another person, we see that he/she is not self-existing. He/She is the environment, the culture, education and heredity that he/she was born in. There is an uncountable number of things that contribute to someone’s being. Only when we are able to see all of these interconnections we can say that we truly know a person. (Nhat Hanh 1992)

When we observe what we see, hear, or touch in the spirit of signlessness we are able to confront people and situations without evaluation them; then we can express clearly what affects us in a descriptive way based on time and context; say what actually happened instead of deliberately labelling perceptions; we can protect and cultivate the good qualities in us and in others. The slight of hand magician can leave us in wonder but not deceive us and the reality in the dream becomes the wonder of reality.

‘When the Buddha sees a rose, does he recognise it as a rose in the same way that we do? Of course he does. But before he says the rose is a rose, the Buddha has seen that the rose is not a rose. He has seen that it is made of non-rose elements, with no clear demarcation between the rose and those elements that are not the rose. When we perceive things, we generally use the sword of conceptualisation to cut reality into pieces, saying, “This piece is A, and A cannot be B, C, or D.” But when A is looked at in the light of dependent co-arising, we see that A is comprised of B, C, D and everything else in the universe. “A” can never exist by itself alone. When we look deeply into A, we see B, C, D, and so on. Once we understand that A is not just A, we understand the true nature of A and are qualified to say “A is A,” or “A is not A.” But until then, the A we see is just an illusion of the true A.’ – Thich Nhat Hanh, The Diamond that cuts through illusion – Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Diamond

Empowered education

Empowerment of the people will happen through education. However, this education can not happen through the absobtion of information alone but has to take place on different levels:

1 It is important that the instruments of learning, the instruments we use to take in and absorbe, process and memorize information, the mind and the senses, are trained and strengthened to enable and facilitate our learning process. We can train the mind by practicing concentration. As long as our mind cannot stay focused we ll have a hard time making a noteworthy progress. This might seem normal to all of us but it s mostly not something we re thought to do. Our senses are closely connected to the mind, as they pass on information. We can develop our 5 known senses in training them and we should be aware that there are many more senses than the 5 we learn about: our sense of balance, our sense of temperature, pain and inner senses.

2 An emotional balance, which is connected to a healthy physical body and a flowing vital energy are all crucial assets. A human being shall learn to deal with his/her emotions. For this purpose he/she has to understand their essence and dynamics. He/She has to know how to keep his/her body fit, clean and healthy and be aware of the vital energy flow in his/her body to be able to perform effective actions. Some meditation techniques are powerful tools to learn to observe your own mind and your emotions. A regular practice will enable you to make similar observations in real life situations. Yoga asana as well as the practice of pranayama are one way, but surely not the only one, to keep your body healthy and your vital energy flowing. They will help you increase you concentration as well as staying balanced in different situation.

3 Another important point for empowerment is our social capacity. A person can learn and understand how characters are formed and how we can change our way of thinking and acting. As members of a society, we are dependent and interrelated to others and their actions. Social values – that exceed human relations – are of importance. We live in an eco-system and are through our actions and needs substancially connected to this system. It is our duty to gather the needed resources to survive but also to make sure they are available for coming generations.

Proper education shall enable human beings to keep a balanced mind, know themselves and create a culture based on life, living relationships with the environment and the earth.