War and Peace of the Mind
August 27, 2012
I have a confession. I am an addict. I’m hooked on silence. I get high from sitting with an empty mind and I just can’t get enough of the stuff. One day, anxious for my daily fix, I rushed into my bedroom and slammed the door shut. Just as I closed my eyes, my stupid roommate burst in, “Get the f###! out, can’t you see I’m trying to get a bit of f***ing peace!”
Okay that never happened, well not exactly anyway. But it is a familiar scenario. Laughable when presented this way, but I wouldn’t be the first or last person to “strive” so hard for inner peace that in the process I trampled over whatever little calm there was to begin with. We all have known people who used be fun, happy-go-lucky and never passed judgement on anyone, that is, until they found religion. Now they are irritable, oh-so serious and slowly, imperceptibly, they start looking down their noses at most everyone (ah the vanity of piety). It doesn’t matter which religion people discover, we find this type of contrary behavior among devotees of all faiths. Why does this happen? It is one of the reasons religion has a bad rap (that and atrocities in the name of god). Isn’t religion supposed to make people joyful, more compassionate? Hey, I am the last one to condemn these individuals, for I have been in their shoes (but not the atrocities part). As ludicrous as it is, it is important to understand how this happens so I can avoid that pitfall.
Much of it, I think, has to do with being overambitious. At the start of any project you have high hopes, big dreams, grand plans. Plans perhaps not realistic with the resources, talents, time available at your disposal. But that never stops anyone. When we first begin to read about self-awareness, the unassailable essence of our own existence and other such impressive ideas, we are intellectually convinced. But our ability to experience them is, perhaps, lacking. Old habits are deeply ingrained. You feel their force only when you try to resist them. So perhaps is that the answer: more realistic goals? Don’t bite off more than you can chew? Perhaps. I found having smaller manageable goals more satisfying, more fulfilling. And a more fulfilled me is a more peaceful me, which makes reaching inner peace that much more feasible.
There is another problem with trying too hard. I remember being at a meditation retreat once in Northern California. Most of the students were Indo-Americans in jeans and tee-shirts, all except this one geek wearing a kurta, a saffron kurta at that, with large Shiva beads around his neck. Talk about trying too hard! That geek was me. I must have looked like one of those desperadoes usually seen at single’s events, you know the one: doused in cologne, shirt unbuttoned to his naval, hair greasier than a BP oil spill. You can just hear the women scream in unison, “Just be yourself, man. Don’t try so hard.” The same applies to meditation. It is about being. The act of trying, the fact of making an effort, shatters the experience of your natural being.
That is the golden dilemma: If you don’t strive for inner peace, you will always live with conflict, but the fact of striving will breed its own conflict. So what to do, you ask? There you see, what a reflex it is needing something to do. Don’t do anything, simply undo. Just be!
We are compelled to always do something. We are hard-wired to achieve a specific outcome. We go through our entire lives achieving things (or not, as the case may be), be it a good exam result, a successful job interview, a relationship. There are goals, there is the exuberance of striving, there is the rush of competing, the thrill of success. All fine and good for the material world. But for the inner world, it spells utter and complete disaster.
So what is the answer. No really, there must be an answer. All schools of mediatation (Vedanta, Zen, Tibetian) say to witness the stream of consciouness, but not to take part. Don’t get caught up in it, and don’t feel disgusted by it. “Effortless effort” is what my guru used to say. Sounded like an oxymoron, a near-impossible skill to master. But for me help has come from an entirely unexpected source: neurobiology. It is a booming science, new discoveries are happening daily. The equipment for looking inside a functioning human brain is getting ever more precise. Neuroscientists now know that it in within the left-hemisphere where focus-oriented tasks trigger neural activity. While the right hemisphere is designed to look out for new experiences, the left wants to relate them to known information. When I sit for meditation and find myself trying way too hard, you can actually sense the intense energy focussed in the left frontal lobe. Be aware of it and by this awareness alone, this ingrained, primeval habit of ‘doing’ subsides temporarily. I have discovered that by being sensitive to the areas of the brain that are being fired up, I am able to watch what is happening to the mind without condemnation. The brain is a physical organ, functioning exactly as it was designed to do. There is no need for self-blame.
The bigger question is what is the nature of the entity giving attention to this? Is this type of attention present all the time? Even during sleep? When did it first appear? At birth, or before, Or much, much later? Congratulations, you are now in deep meditation.