Previously I wrote about the many layers of the Self as explained in nondual Tantrik philosophy. Each of these layers – your body, your mind and feelings, your energy, your awareness, etc. – is considered an expression of the oneness that is the real You. When we find ourselves wrapped up in just one layer – struggling with a body issue, for instance, or carried away by obsessive thinking – we forget that we’re all of this, more than the mind is capable of grasping. When we lose sight of our vastness, we experience a loss of freedom. Instead, we’re at the mercy of a body which will inevitably age, or at the mercy of a mind which will inevitably fail to see the big picture.
As I explained in that article, the mind/feelings layer is the most common for people to get stuck in. It’s hard not to have your attention monopolized by a machine that generates so much drama, such strong sensations, that has so many facts and answers, that helps you navigate life as a human, and that keeps score on how you’re doing. But your mind is just a tiny fraction of all that you are. This is why mental discipline is important not just for things like martial arts and meditation, but also for reaching your potential in any arena – from sports to finance to scientific research – and for being as happy, peaceful, and free as possible. The scientist Michael Faraday said in an 1854 lecture, “That point of self-education which consists in teaching the mind to resist its desires and inclinations until they are proved to be right, is the most important of all.”
The alternative is what I referred to as “bondage” in last week’s article. Your mind takes the driver’s seat and steers you to distraction and negativity, or just toward pursuits that aren’t really aligned with what your highest self wants. My friend Andy Dooley, who teaches people to be happy, calls this cycle “lousy and lazy thinking.” Lousy because of its disempowering nature, and lazy because of our tendency to let it take over – often without even noticing – rather than doing the work to heal and clean house.
Some years ago, I found myself in a period of chronic anxiety. I had at my disposal a wide range of herbs, supplements, and pharmaceuticals, most of them designed to do the same thing – tranquilize the mind. Although they made me feel sleepy and cloudy, these substances never fundamentally changed the anxiety, and often, they actually made it worse. To my surprise, some of the worst experiences occurred with herbs. Eventually I realized these pills and teas were robbing me of my mental edge, which made mental discipline more difficult.
When I discontinued all the meds and committed myself to healing, I improved rapidly. Though, I must admit, whenever I felt normal for a while, I would get “lazy” again. I would assume that I didn’t need to keep an eye on my mind. And it would eventually sneak up on me with a relapse. I learned that it needed to be a continuous practice, and when I added meditation and mindfulness to my regimen, it was much easier. It was a valuable experience, and it changed the way I treat patients with mental health issues.
During the process of relearning mental discipline, I remembered an earlier time, in my 20s, when I felt horribly despondent after the end of an intense romantic relationship. In the midst of despair, a fleeting thought visited me. It seemed almost as if it didn’t come from my own mind – as if it was inserted into my stream of consciousness from a more intelligent Me that was removed from the emotional intensity of the situation. The thought was, “You’re faking it.”
Being swept up as I was in the tragedy of the breakup and enjoying the commiseration of my friends, a part of me felt indignant at the suggestion that I might be faking it. Faking it? Outrageous! Why would I be faking this? This is what humans DO when something like this happens. This is serious! Why would I choose to suffer?!
I can now advise in hindsight that anytime you find yourself mentally protesting and defending your point of view – particularly one that makes you feel bad – you’re standing on shaky ground. You’re not allowing the truth to come in because it would invalidate your story. Probably you have a lot invested in being right, which is often in direct opposition to being free.
Anyway, that one thought – you’re faking it – burrowed into my consciousness and started to take hold. Novel thoughts arose: What if I were able to skip the whole grieving process? What if I could just be light about the whole thing? I would have to sacrifice all the sympathy I’ve been getting. I wouldn’t be able to tell the “woe is me” story anymore.
I discovered that there was a more enduring, more neutral, more authentic Me that didn’t really feel terrible or dramatic, but just watched the whole thing impassively. Since then, in the midst of all sorts of other strong emotions, that disruptive thought has returned: You’re faking it. The real You is okay. What happens next is a matter of whether I apply the mental discipline to stick to the truth.
Try it. Even if you feel hopeless. Watch what’s happening in your mind and body. Don’t ignore any unpleasant thought or feeling. Turn your attention toward it rather than away. Learn what’s really there. Be curious. What is the actual thought behind the unpleasant feeling? Feel the feeling without resistance. Don’t deny it, reject it, or bury it. Welcome it. Experience it with your whole self. Let it open and spread over you. Breathe into it. Forgive yourself and anyone else who’s connected to what you’re feeling. And let it go. Then choose something else: Choose light. Choose to reclaim your power. Choose freedom. Choose to embody your expanded sense of self. Then keep choosing, keep forgiving, and keep letting go.
If you believe this is overly simplistic, just give it an earnest try. Sincerely commit to healing. I’m just talking about work. I’m sure you’ve done hard work before – whether in the form of cleaning, exercise, studying, or whatever you do for a living. Hard work isn’t bad. People generally don’t like to work hard unless there’s a payoff – something objective, like a clean house, a hot body, a gold medal, or a paycheck. In this case, there’s not going to be an obvious carrot dangling in front of you, and what’s more, there’s really no end to it. You don’t get weekends or your birthday off.
But once you experience the value of it, you will never want to take a break. And even though it’s hard work, it does get easier (then it gets harder, and then easier again). And even though you will never want to let your mind get away with grabbing the steering wheel and driving you into illusion, over time you’ll notice that your mind doesn’t try to pull that crap nearly as often.
Dr. Peter Borten