The Force is with You

 The mind is fallible. More and more this is being proven by science. Biases and cognitions which enable the mind to think quickly also disable the mind from thinking logically, rationally, and with accuracy. This is not all the time, but probably, most of the time.

            Many spiritual teachings speak to the fallibility of the mind. This is fascinating in many ways as most spiritual schools have been around for centuries and these scientific discoveries that prove the value of their teachings have only come about in recent decades. For example;

Yoga Sutra 1:8 Viparyayo Mithyananam Atadrupa Pratistham

Misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based upon its true form.

            A simple explanation of this Sutra is to consider a time when you saw a figure in the dark that looked like a person looming creepily in the shadows. In fear perhaps you recoiled, asked someone else to awake and go look at it, grabbed something to protect yourself with, and then hid. I have done this. Then perhaps you or the someone whom you awoke turned on a light only to find it was a coat hanging just the right way with a hat and shadows dancing to create the illusion of danger. This is an exaggerated example but I think you get the picture.

            In the world of psychology and behavioral economics cognitive biases are the realms of thought that lead to deviations from good and rational judgement, i.e. lead to misconceptions. The list of currently known and confirmed cognitive biases is too long to include here, but is easy enough to research on your own if you are interested. What is interesting about this research is the evidence that it is a part of the neural wiring of the brain to make jumps that lead to error. Even more interesting is the capacity of the brain to become aware of error and reset its course to clarity.

            This is where yoga or any mindfulness practice comes in. A consistent and committed pursuit toward more mindfulness and therefore away from failures or missteps of cognition can and will lead to less misconceptions. Patanjali's sutras recommend eight steps toward this goal.

  1. Yama :  Ways of being with community
  2. Niyama :  Ways of being with self
  3. Hatha Yoga :  Asana
  4. Pranayama :  Breathing exercises, and control of prana
  5. Pratyahara :  Control or withdrawal of the senses
  6. Dharana :  Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
  7. Dhyana :  Devotion, Meditation
  8. Samadhi :  Union with the Divine/ Ultimate Liberation

            The pursuit of step eight as well as the course set by all eight steps aw a journey away from misconception and disabling cognitive biases is a life long, or even multi-lifelong journey. How many successes you achieve, or how many times you misstep along the way are easy distractions, yet not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to know yourself. To know you are human and therefore fallible and imperfect, and to also know that in the company of your imperfections you are also Divine and perfect. To live in this world of paradox, misconception, and unanswered questions, and to find peace in the midst of torrent that is life. This is the ultimate aim as well as the gift of the work. 

With Love, always, in all ways, for giving, in joy!


Pain Free Mind

Though I do my best to not get caught up in conversations, which can lead to arguments, from time to time I inevitably find my way there. Less so than in years past, signifying my ability to learn new behaviors, but still a passionate person it does happen. Fortunately for me, more often than not, such conversations are with reasonable and rational people and no friendship is lost in the heat, be it ever so subtle, of debate. Yesterday I found myself in such a conversation, defending a position that was rooted in a truth of my own experience. In contemplation of the conversation in the hours since I acknowledge that I still hold fast to my truth, and yet I recognize that the other position was just as valid. As the position I was arguing against was also a truth.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are full of teachings that over time enable the practitioner to limit the kinds of thoughts that create such bondage in the mind in which a position of defense needs to be held. Yet the mind wishes to hold onto something. So the journey to a mind that is free from bondage is much like the journey to a life that is free from argument, it takes time. First there needs to be an acknowledgement that there is bondage, or a tendency to argue. Then there needs to come an attentiveness to the types of thought the mind wants to hold onto, or the personal truths that one will passionately argue about. After identifying the nature of the mind, and/or the argumentative behavior, comes the work of choosing correct action. With the mind, that is choosing to think the thoughts that do not cause pain and attachment. Pantanjali makes note that even pleasurable thoughts can eventually lead to pain and attachment. So in our quest to bring peace to the mind we must learn to identify which thoughts are pain free, not creating an infliction of bondage. Much like learning to choose thoughts that are painless, remembering that each human has a different perspective on truth will create the spaciousness that enables conversations that are challenging whilst maintaining respect for the other persons position. Until the mind is able to let go of it’s position on what is true or right, the mind will want to defend it.

In yoga sutra 1:5 Patanjali states, “There are five kinds of mental modifications which are either painful or painless.” This sutra is followed with the description of what these states are, yoga sutra 1:6. “They are right knowledge, misconception, verbal delusion, sleep, and memory.” As conscious beings we all experience each of these states. The most valuable for experiencing a mind that is unfettered is the quality of right knowledge. And what is right knowledge?

According to Patanjali, sutra 1:7 states, “The sources of right knowledge are direct perception, inference, and scriptural testimony.” This brings us back to the root of the subtle argument I got into yesterday. The truth that each side brought to the table was gained through direct perception. In many ways each truth was also supported by inference, in that we each not only had personal experience that supported our differing positions, we had also witnessed others experiences that supported our individual truths. Lastly, there is the quality of scriptural testimony. In many ways each of us had the basis of basic truths that have been rooted in the concepts of right knowledge for eons. My stance was that adversity exists in nature and learning to rise above adversity is a necessary component of personal growth. The other, that some systems create more adversity and that those systems need to be adjusted to create more nurturing and life enhancing environments. Each position true, each position valuable, each position a component in the greater web of experiencing personal peace and peace for the greater good.

Thus is one of the many paradoxes of this life. That right knowledge, or truth, changes from the position in which you choose to look at it. And until the mind has been trained to see a greater web in which many threads make up the entirety of the tapestry it will want to hold onto the threads it considers the strongest, most valuable, most important, most beautiful. And much like learning to not be argumentative as a reactive behavior, we must train our minds to be spacious in their understanding of truth and right knowledge.

I will stand by my position for now, as my mind is yet unready to let it go completely. However, I am already experiencing a chipping away of my stance as I contemplate the conversation of yesterday. And though it is slightly painful right now, I know eventually it will lead to a state that is pain free.

To your pain free mind, With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving,


Unraveling The Human Condition

  Who knows why the human condition is the way it is? It seems that no matter how many people contemplate, pontificate, philosophize, and analyze, it is still what it is. And much of the time what it is translates to challenging. In addition to the adversity we all face as humans experiencing life on planet Earth, we also have a shared experience of feeling alone or separate from one another on our paths to peace, and freedom from our suffering.

Many of the great spiritual practices all nod to this shared experience, and in many ways it is in dissolving this feeling of separateness that becomes the central focus of these practices. For in the spiritual realm there is ultimately no separation, and it is the individual journey to realizing this truth that is the aim of the spiritual path. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali the teaching that speaks to this aspect of our human condition, yoga sutra 1:4 “At other times (The Self) appears to assume the forms of the mental modifications” clarifies that it is our mental mind stuff, which formulates our perception of the feeling of separateness. This sutra simply states that ones perception of separation from the greater unifying consciousness (The Self) becomes that which one identifies themselves with. It is in learning to recognize that in our identifications with the experiences of our lives, or in the “I am” statements we make, that we create the impression of being alone. Therefor, in practicing self-awareness, or mindfulness, we can become attentive to the mind chatter that creates these experiences of separation and see them for what they are, self-imposed beliefs that are formed as thoughts. However, learning to identify these thoughts is not an easy task. This is why "the quieting of the mental modifications" has to be practiced, over and over. It is in our practice that we become more self-aware and more capable of dissolving the impressions of separation before they even arise.

It is the hope of a spiritual practitioner, much like a philosopher, and even a life scientist to garner more meaning in this often-confusing landscape of human experience. Who’s to say if this is the way to unravel the human condition and truly know peace? It is definitely one way, and of course there are as many ways as there are humans having experiences.

To knowing peace and joy, with love, always, in all ways, for giving,