Attachment and the Mind

“The nature of the mind is to interpret nonessentials essential. The mind creates artificial needs, believing it cannot live without them. In this way we carry a great burden of attachments throughout our life. Attachment is itself a great burden on our minds. We may never understand the extent of the burden till we’re free of it. But if we find joy within, we can live a simple life, free of endless complications.”

– from The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami –

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Screen Savers

“Computers have a very clever device called a “screen saver” which comes on after the screen has been idle for a certain number of minutes. Rivers, flowers or even flying saucers move across the monitor in order to prevent the idle screen from literally imprinting permanently upon the fibers of the monitor. If we didn’t have screen savers, our screens would be rendered useless quite quickly because wherever we stop for too long, it would permanently fix upon the monitor. The same is true in our lives. If we get stuck with a desire, an expectation, a grudge, a fear, a misconception, it imprints upon our consciousness, preventing us from seeing that which is new with clear, pure vision.”

– Swami Chidanand Saraswati –

Meditation Struggles

When I am determined to sit in quiet meditation or engage in a meditative session of Yin yoga, the bombardment of thoughts that come rushing at me, more often than not, catches me off-guard. When I am busy I am hardly aware of my thoughts, and I often fool myself into believing that I do not have that many distracting or negative thoughts. That is until I place my body in a position of complete stillness and close my eyes. A sudden rush of awareness reveal thoughts that come in a variety of shapes and sizes that vie for my attention. It is then, that I have to remind myself of the following:

“Don’t become a prisoner of your thoughts, and likewise don’t attempt to master them. They come and they go. They’ll always come and go. Let them. When you hang on to a thought, you’re breaking the flow of that thought’s path. You’re keeping it from doing what it is designed to do – arise, pass through, and disappear. Make no mistake; you hold the thought. The thought does not hold you.”

– Laraine Herring –

Mind Stuff 2

We all know that it is a struggle to change our habitual thought patterns, but it is perhaps helpful to first understand how these patterns are created in the first place, as they are responsible for creating our experience of life.

The following words of Mahatma Gandhi perhaps sum up best how we create this experience:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts

Your thoughts become your words

Your words become your actions

Your actions become your habits

Your habits become your values

Your values become your destiny”

The basic beliefs and attitudes we hold were taught to us by all the significant people in our lives. First by our parents, and later by our peers, school system, religion and the media. When what we have been taught gets reinforced through our own experiences in life, we start to create specific thinking patterns that just get stronger and stronger with time.

What we believe will influence what we think and how we perceive the world.  Our perceptions are basically how we receive, process and interpret information. Information is received through the senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste and proprioception, which is the sense that provides us with information about the internal state of the body, like the muscles, skeleton and movement thereof. We then ascribe meaning to this information that is based on our past experiences, our personality, and our needs, motives and interests. This will in turn influence the way we interact with the world through what we say and do. Next we throw expectations into the mix. Our expectations of ourselves, others and situations stem from our beliefs. When our expectations are met we are blissfully happy and content, as the world is functioning in harmony with our belief system, but if not, we often find ourselves in a place of hurt, disappointment and negativity. Our expectations fuel our emotions, and when we get overly emotional we tend to make choices that result in behaviour that is not only impulsive, but often lead to consequences that hurt us.

As we keep on reinforcing the same thought patterns, words we use and things we do, we create habits that become automatic and unconscious. And so we build our value system which leads us to our destiny through the choices we make. If we are not aware of the above, but function in this world by simply reacting to our circumstances, we will feel like victims with limited choices. Yet, if we become aware of how we create our own destiny through what we think, say and do, we can start interacting with our world in a much more meaningful way. Our choices will suddenly become more powerful, as we consider the consequences of our words and actions and how they will create our future.

The consequences of our choices can be described as karma. Everything we do, say or think are like little seeds that we are planting and watering, that, when grown, yield the fruits of the energy that created them in the first place. Karma is the universal law of cause and effect that helps to create our present reality. It is not punishment or reward. Something that at first glance may look like a tragedy can be a blessing in disguise and vice versa.

One of the best choices we can ever make in life is to engage in Karma Yoga, which is according to BKS Iyengar “the achievement of union with the Supreme Universal Soul through action”. This is the yoga of selfless action or service. Just imagine what life would be like if you first think of giving or serving without expecting anything back. Try this and see how it impacts on your beliefs, thoughts, words, habits, values and ultimately your destiny.

Mind Stuff

A simple truth is that whatever our minds focus on, tend to expand and grow. Instead of thinking that we are worthy, confident and loveable human beings, we often focus on our insecurities and perceived shortcomings, and as we do that, we grow them into monstrous proportions. Needless to say, a single thought can often spiral out of control and leave a path of destruction in its tornado-like wake. As the mind starts to obsess about something, the emotions are aroused, and the moment they get involved our thinking rapidly starts to spiral downwards.

And so starts our love-hate relationship with the mind. When we become aware of the negative thinking patterns we have created over many years of habitual thinking, we beat ourselves up for being useless and without willpower when we are trying to force our minds into thinking uplifting and positive thoughts. We try to ‘fix’ the problem in a week or two, but something that has been in the making for years, can hardly be rectified within such a short period of time. We have to accept that it is not so easy to simply change the way we think; and doing battle with the mind will get us nowhere near where we would like to go. Change can only come when we make peace with our minds, and understand that we are not our thoughts. Thoughts come and go, and by not attaching to them or identifying ourselves through them, we can start to free ourselves from enslavement.

A mindful practice of yoga where we slowly break the bonds of our thinking patterns is the best way I know of to befriend your mind and to stop treating it as if it is the enemy. Try the following: lie on your back in corpse pose (feet more than hip-width apart; arms away from the body; palms facing up) and close your eyes. Focus your mind on your breath and the sensations of air moving in and out through your nostrils. Gently start to deepen your inhalation and exhalation until you have created a deep, slow rhythm of breathing that still feels natural. After a minute or so of this, start to focus just on your exhalation. Every time you exhale, feel how your whole body is relaxing as it is slowly letting go of all physical tension. Keep your mind on this task for as long as you need to start feeling relaxed, before focusing exclusively on your inhalation. This time, with every inhalation, you should connect with a sense of peacefulness, calmness and complete relaxation. Again keep your mind on this task for as long as it is necessary to feel calm, peaceful and completely relaxed.

What you will find is that your body starts to move into a state of complete surrender and deep relaxation. As you keep your mind on your breath, you will also find that your thinking will slow down as you draw your mind into your body. See if you can stay in this relaxed state for about ten minutes. Every time you become aware of thoughts, instead of berating yourself, or forcing yourself not to think, you simply acknowledge the thought before allowing it to slip away, while you bring your mind back to your breath. Inhaling a sense of peacefulness and exhaling all tension. If you repeat this every day, you will eventually notice that the pauses between your thoughts become longer and longer, and your mind calmer.

You will also start to realise that you are calmer during the day, more focused, more aware of your breath and its ability to influence your thoughts, and able to consciously choose a state of peacefulness when life becomes stressful. You will also find that the general quality of your thinking will improve. And so, when you choose to focus your mind on connecting with the peacefulness and calmness within you through your breath, you will grow and expand these, and in the process become more centred and in touch with your true nature.

50 000 Thoughts

It is said that we have around 50 000 thoughts per day. No wonder I am exhausted at night. And even then it is often a battle to get the chattering mind to quiet down and go to sleep. There always seem to be a list of things to remember for the following day, or something that happened that the mind is still obsessing about. And just as I think there is some reprieve in sleep, the mind gets all exited again and so I get tied up in dreams.

Osho, one of my favourite writers, says that the mind is the subtlest part of the body, and that when you influence the mind, the body is affected, and when you influence the body, the mind is affected. The easiest way for me to get to my mind is through my body, and that is why I like to be on my yoga mat so much. If I try to say to myself to stop thinking certain thoughts, they tend to multiply. When I try my best, through sheer willpower to change the quality of my thinking, I find that I obsess even more about certain issues, and they have the tendency to grow bigger and more ominous as a result. So willpower and ‘putting my mind’ to changing my thinking, is simply not an effective method for me.

When I cross my legs in easy pose, bring my hands to my heart in anjali mudra, close my eyes and rest my mind on my breath, I know that I am training my mind to relax and to be less attached to the thinking process. And as I flow through my practice, from one asana to the next, I can feel my mind calming down, and sighing out a soft ‘thank you’. And every time my mind wanders off and get caught up in thinking, I simply coax it back to my steady, calming breath that dictates the rhythm of my being in that moment. It is through the repeated practising of this, that I can find inner peace and calm. And as I bring my body and mind back in alignment I can feel contentment within myself and an acceptance of my circumstances.

It is true that whatever the mind focuses on expands and grows. So isn’t it better to choose the calming rhythm of breath over the tiny irritations that grow into insurmountable obstacles and obsessions? It certainly is, and I think all of us will choose that without a second thought, but it is not always that easy or simple. I recently went through quite a dark couple of days during which my mind not only dwelled on what was ‘wrong’, but entangled my emotions in such a way, that I felt like a helpless victim of my mind. Not even being on my mat could break the chains of enslavement! Within this time I went to see a homeopath, and low and behold, the tests showed that my endocrine system was taking enormous strain, which resulted in my estrogen and progesterone levels to be extremely low. So my body was influencing my mind in a not so uplifting way. And once, through treatment, my hormone levels started to rise again, I could suddenly feel how my emotions started to stabilise and my mind, once again could start to think clearly and calmly.

We are often too hard on ourselves by thinking we should control our whole world through our minds, but we forget that the mind is a subtle part of the body, and the body a very complicated and intricate organism. . .