Materials needed: Journal, 2 X 4 X 12' board, Tarot deck if available
Books and articles needed:
Mental Development in the School Years
Our educational system is grounded in rational thinking and scientific methodology. This is no news to anyone. However, it may surprise you to discover how much you have paid for this orientation. Most of us know that we have two hemispheres in our brains and that their functions differ considerably. The left side is given to verbal skills, analysis, rational and linear thinking. The right side is more intuitive, metaphoric, spontaneous, global in cognition, simultaneous and creative. To add to this, most of us are right-handed and left hemisphere dominant. Dominance is finally established sometime between ages five and eight with males slightly slower than females to complete the process.
One of the dualisms that has been created by our education is that between intellect and intuition. Because of the emphasis on rational thinking, the intellect becomes more finely tuned than intuition. In fact, intuition is relegated to the background and almost entirely discredited as a cognitive modus operandi. A few hardy souls manage to retain some of their innate abilities at the conscious level, but most of us do not. Or, if we do, we may be ridiculed. I remember once, when I was a college professor, making a very positive statement to the Dean about how something was and his query, "How can you be so sure?" I had no response since I was unwilling to say it came from my intuition. I knew that in the halls of academe that would not be an acceptable source of information.
There is a proper role for rational thinking and the other left hemisphere functions, but they need to be balanced with similar development of the potential skills in the other hemisphere. It is too bad that many children must go through school and later life branded as retarded or "merely" normal in intelligence because of the biases that are built into the system. Our intelligence tests measure a rather narrow band of skills most of which are based upon verbal facility. So people who are right hemisphere dominant even with the verbal center in the left hemisphere are probably going to be labeled dyslexic, and their legitimate talents may never be uncovered or optimally developed.
Exercise: Magical Child
Read chapters 16-19 in The Magical Child. Make a list of the potentials that a child sacrifices during this period to our educational biases. On the other side of the page, note down what parents, caregivers and teachers could do to reverse these trends so as to foster a more fully developed and balanced mind in their children. You may use Pearce's ideas as well as your own, but be sure to keep track of which is which.
When you are finished, make some notes about your own elementary school experience. What do you feel like you lost? Was there a time in which you realized that something was being lost or was going to be lost? Or were you aware of having to hide something you knew that was valuable to you but seemingly not to others? What were you able to salvage or develop on your own? On the other hand, what skills you learned then have been to your advantage as an adult? What would you do as a teacher to change your education during that period if you could go back and do it over? Are these things you can do now to improve your education? Have you supplemented your education since elementary school by learning or otherwise accessing intuitive skills, learning more about the arts, developing your creativity and your integrative skills?
If you are a parent, what can you do to supplement your child's education so it is more balanced? Same question for teachers of young children.
For more details about concrete operational thinking, please consult Appendix A.
The form of mental activity with which we have been concerned here is called a cognitive structure. Cognition comes from the Latin words co meaning "together" and gnoscere meaning "to know." We are talking about a coherent and integrated cognitive system that we use to organize and integrate the world around us. It is composed of content and operations. The content includes a set or sets of elements to be handled or thought about such as bits of information, sensations, perceptions, ideas and feelings. Operations refers to how these elements are manipulated or combined mentally, i.e., how they are put together or what we do with the content. These functions become increasingly logical as they are divorced from simple perceptions. Operations provide a way of dealing symbolically with many different aspects of reality. So we have something to work on (content) and the way in which it is handled (operations). Operations become increasingly sophisticated and "elegant" as we grow older, and they probably continue to do so throughout life, at least as long as we continue to use our minds. For more information about concrete operations, see Appendix A.
Focal awareness (Sullivan, 1953, 232-243) is an important bit of learning in middle childhood, and it applies to children's social activities as well as to schooling. It is a form of selective attention that restricts the incoming information to what is relevant to the current focus of attention. Focal awareness works through a kind of cognitive filter that results in the loss of the direct perception of reality that is available to smaller children. This selective inattention is the result of increasing self-conscious control over intellectual and perceptual operations. An example of this is the fact that most of us do not see auras around the human body. This is not because they are not there, but because we have learned that they are not relevant to anything, that others do not see them and, therefore, they are not important. In fact auras do exist; and people in other cultures, including the Amish, do see them, value the information inherent in them and teach their children how to use that information for healing purposes. Focal awareness has its uses when we are solving problems or attacking a serious learning challenge because it fosters concentration.
This way of approaching learning deals with how we manipulate information (or content) also, but it takes a different perspective. It views the brain as a kind of computer into which information is fed, something happens inside, then the information comes back out to be given to someone else or to solve a problem. This may sound very familiar to those of us who crammed for exams, and it is probably no accident that it is a model conceived by intellectuals.
This model depends upon the person's ability to code information, usually into concepts but also perhaps into images of some sort. There has to be a unit of meaning or a concept to work with. What we discover is that there is a sort of double coding process going on, one related to external communication and the other to internal memory storage. The external system brackets the internal one. Again, verbal mediation is very useful though some information processing can take place using images and sounds.
In action, the first step would be to decode the incoming message (e.g., a teacher's lecture) to see what it means. Next the message is encoded (as a word, concept or image) for memory storage and stored (preferably hooked up to something the person already knows). When faced with a question on the exam, the student goes into memory, finds the information, decodes it for its meaning and to see whether it matches the question, then re-encodes it into language or whatever other form is required for its transmission to the teacher. The process might look like this:
The coding process is essential for efficient information processing, and children learn how to do it during their first three years in school (Fraunfelker, 1972 ). Coding involves grouping things together on the basis of some similarity, then assigning a single symbol or word to the group that represents the meaning of it and that serves as a handle, so it can be manipulated. It is a process very similar to concept formation and is essential to it.
Problem solving is what we have to do when there is a gap between where we are (the givens) and where we want to be (the goal). The givens, the gap and the goal are the three main factors in problem solving. To solve a problem, therefore, we must first take note of where we are. Then we set a goal. Or we could reverse this process if a problem demands our attention. Then we might set a goal, followed by addressing where we are in relation to it. Either approach shows us the gap, i.e., what is missing in order to reach the goal. We then set about filling the gap. Various strategies can be used to do this. We search for more information. We think about the problem using inductive and deductive reasoning. We engage in trial and error manipulation of the givens. We bring in more tools, more resources. We ask for help. So the model would look like this:
Cognitive structures, unlike machines, have the flexibility to change and adapt, often rapidly, to changing circumstances. They can start and stop themselves, change direction, regulate internal operation to maintain integrity, and they are also able to grow and organize themselves. We call something that can do all that an open system.
An open system has the properties of self-regulation, wholeness, ability to transform itself and negative entropy which means a tendency toward increasing self-organization. So we see that the mind is not static, but dynamic. It is ever growing and changing in much more complex ways than have been depicted in the descriptions above. However, the concepts given here do rather accurately refer to formation of the intellect which is only a small part of the mind as we shall soon see.
Manas: The Yogic Perspective on Intellect
If you have ever gone to Great Britain or Bermuda, you know about the anxiety that may come over you when you are required to drive on the left side of the road. And you may have had the experience of finding yourself in jeopardy of imminent collision saved only by the oncoming car's headlights and horn. You may have even engaged in a little swearing to relieve the tension. Or you may have made a left hand turn into the right lane and had a near miss. This is an example of the kinds of problems caused by conditioning the mind.
The example shows the force of habit. Habit is the result of lots of practice with knowledge of outcomes, i.e., reinforcement. We call that process conditioning. When a lifetime of habits is created and organized into a cognitive structure, we have a marvelous tool for solving problems and simplifying our lives. This structure is called intellect, or manas by eastern philosophers and psychologists.
In Yoga, there are two levels of mind, you may remember from Book I. Review Figure 3 for an illustration. Manas is the sensory-motor mind that is developed through learning and experience in infancy and childhood. It corresponds to intellect. (Note that Yogis call Buddhi intellect and I call it intuition. The Yogic concept of manas is closest to what we call intellect in this culture.) It is that part of our mental apparatus that is conducive to habit formation. Of course, habits are very valuable in our everyday life since they enable us to give more attention to the changing aspects of life to which we must adapt. However, we do tend to get stuck in our habits. And the ego gleefully watches the intellect develop because it knows it is being provided with the tools to control our lives. Notice the close association of ego and manas in Figure 3. You see that ego governs the sensory-motor mind. What might this mean for our spiritual journey?
Manas depends upon the senses for its information as we have seen. The senses provide the content for the mental operations. They feed the mind. And, as you can discover through meditation, as long as the senses are being attended to, the mind works constantly. When we shut off sensory imput, the mind quiets down. Otherwise, the mind is an obstacle to clarity of perception, to perception of things as they really are. All of the habits of intellectual performance we learned in school run continuously with all of the focal awareness given to the stream of consciousness with which we are all familiar. Buddhists call it discursive thought. It never occurs to us that we could have mental silence, we are so used to the chatter.
Manas is a serious protagonist on the spiritual journey because it takes center stage and refuses to yield to intuition which is what we need to gain access to higher states of consciousness. Our habits and habitual thinking are responsible for maya: the whole idea of separation, individual existence and our constructions of the world and universe. Manas only knows what it has been taught and because it is grounded in the senses, it is incapable of flight.
Exercise: Yoga on the Intellect
1. Read Yoga and Psychotherapy, pp. 64-84. Notice the two different approaches to study of the mind. We have already met the eight rungs of Yoga in Book I. This guidebook will deal with the fifth rung, pratyahara, as a method of controlling sensory imput. Notice also what the authors say about emotions and how they are related to manas. We will come back to emotions in Unit VI.
2. Read Chapters 1-8, 10, 11 and 14 in Return to Shiva. Be careful that you understand at what level the author is using the term "intellect." These readings will give you a deeper understanding of the ideas being presented here.
Should you get stuck because the ideas seem so foreign or seem to contradict what you have learned about the way things are, ask yourself what habits in your mind are being attacked. You can also keep in mind that the Hindus have a long cultural history that goes back to before written language, so many of their constructions are symbolic. What, for example, does the sun represent? Spend some time with the yantras (the symmetrical drawings), gazing at them and allowing your mind to space out. What do you experience? Yantras are visual mantras, designed to lead your mind into other realms. If you allow yourself to think symbolically, you may find the text has more meaning for you. When you have finished reading the book, or as you go along, make notes in your journal of the ideas you would like to remember.
Mind as mediator
The aspect of sensory-motor mind we are talking about is right in the middle of our cognitive system, what we usually just call "mind." Because it is in the middle, manas is in an ideal spot to mediate between other aspects of mind such as the senses, memory, ego, and the discriminatory aspect called buddhi. We have already seen how verbal mediation undergirds the intellect. Well manas supports the higher aspects of mind in a similar way by furnishing the information received by the senses from the outside world. It also has access to memory as we saw in the section on information processing. So, under the direction of ego, it can route information from the internal as well as the external worlds. It can also store information, and the ego can repress that information. In the guise of intellect, manas uses a cognitive filter and/or a perceptual defense to limit stimulation to manageable sizes and to defend the ego's repressions and suppressions. It has other skills as well.
Mind as Interpreter
The fact that our minds also interpret our experience can create some of the most serious problems on the path. In this role, the mind is continually making inferences and judgments about the meaning of what is going on and then setting us up to respond more or less automatically according to our conditioning or habits. For example, I am feeling guilty because I hurt someone's feelings and made them mad. My phone rings and, without taking so much as a breath, I assume it is that person calling me to add insult to injury. So my tone of voice is irritable when I say, "Hello." However, it is my daughter instead, so I sheepishly have to explain.
For some activities such as driving, washing dishes, mowing the lawn, etc., it helps to have built-in responses all ready to go. However, when we get into more complicated arenas, we often make mistakes and run off an already practiced scenario without checking out our facts first. After the educational conditioning just described, we come into adulthood fully armed with endless assumptions, opinions and preconceptions about the way things operate and are prepared to deal with them instantaneously if not automatically. This is one of the primary disadvantages of intellect because things are not always what they seem. So we make mistakes and hurt each other.
Exercise: Mindfulness Meditation
For an entire day, from the time you arise until you settle into bed for the night, pay exceptional attention to everything you do and say. This will rapidly become very taxing, but try to hang in there. If you are brushing your teeth, give it your full attention. Do not even think of anything else. Likewise with your shower, breakfast, driving to work, each task you work on during the day, etc. Zero in on your body to help the concentration. Watch each tiny movement of your hands. Notice each thought that comes into your mind unbidden. Exercise all your senses. Hear everything others say to you. Watch and listen to your replies. Hear all the sounds that surround you as long as you can stand it. Taste each bite of food, smell the odors of food cooking before meals. Feel your clothes, the dog or cat, the seat covers, the kitchen counters, your partners skin, your own skin and hair. Make it a very sensual day focusing on all of the various sensory imput. Slow down what you do so you can get into all the details. Maybe it would be wise to choose a day off from work to do this. If it is not too distracting, you might notice what your mind does with all this. Does it cooperate, resist, distract you, get bored or sleepy, carry on a running dialogue about what you are doing, or what? If you can get into the rhythm of this practice, it will become a meditation. In fact, it is called mindfulness meditation. A variation on this would be to focus on only one sense per day and go more deeply into it.
At the end of the day, make notes about what you learned about your senses and their connections to the lower mind. Continue the practice as long as you like. It is a good training tool for the mind.
Mind as Creator
There are some who say that thoughts create reality, or that you must be careful of what you wish for because you might get it. There is truth in both of these statements. We do create our own reality just as the Mind of the Creator made the world and all that is in it. And wishes are thoughts, so it follows that we might get them too. However, this process somehow does not always seem to work well in helping us gain our desires. Perhaps that is life-saving in the long run.
We created our perceived reality or maya from scratch as we were growing up. It is composed of all the ideas, concepts, perceptions, cognitive structures, hierarchial classification systems, expectations, habits, assumptions, attitudes, etc. that we have learned how to construct. Our cognitive filters and perceptual defenses hold it in place and our social consensus and consensual validations support the whole system. Have you ever noticed when you tell a truth like the Emperor's nakedness in the famous children's tale how everyone reacts. Most of us have found that the real truth about the way things are is more often unwelcome than welcome. "No, Johnny, grandmother's hat doesn't look like a bird's nest," as mother frantically tries to distract Johnny from pointing and to make him close his mouth. By the same token, we do not tell each other the truth about the way we feel especially if our feelings are "negative." Everyone plays the game and those who do not understand the rules are put in mental institutions.
Our minds are extremely powerful tools and it behooves us to learn how to manage them in order to make full use of their potentials. Incidently, you will not lose your mind if you attempt to discipline it. And you should not let anyone else try to control it for you. You must do it yourself or you risk becoming a robot or a slave to someone else's program. All of the lessons in this series of guidebooks are designed to help you explore by yourself all of the obstacles to enlightenment, most of which are mental and egoic. And,of course, you are free to do it your way. However, keep in mind that self-discipline is essential even though it may not be a popular concept at this moment in time.
Belief vs Knowledge
If you do not know something through your own experience, then you will be forced to believe it. However, you do not need to believe anything anyone tells you, about God for example, if you have a personal experience of the Divine Reality. Swami Venkatesananda once pointed out that the word "belief" has the word "lie" in it. When you believe something someone else tells you, how do you know it is not a lie unless you test it out for yourself? This may be why so many college students and church members get so restless. They are being told how it is most of the time and rarely given a map to follow, so they can find out for themselves. And something in them knows and resists that coercion. Belief is in the head, knowledge is in the cells. The Buddhists insist that we trust our own experience and question everything. We can, however, learn some things through careful observation - which is experience of a sort, of course. In other words, we can avoid some very unpleasant events if we watch carefully while others are learning something from their experiences.
Make a list of your beliefs. You might want to stick to the more important ones to limit the scope. Why not start with the spiritual journey? What do you believe about that? This is an exercise you can use from time to time to clarify your thinking about something. When you have a list, draw a line down the middle of the page and go back to look at each belief. Make a note on the other side of the line as to where this belief came from and whether you now think it is true. If you are not sure, and it is an important belief, mark it with a red pen as something you need to experience.
Be careful not to attribute everything to intuition because, although it is certainly possible to get information through intuition, there is a certainty about knowledge that is gained that way, and you would not list it as a belief. Knowledge is rock bottom Truth, and it has a characteristic feeling of certainty to it. There is a truth center in the middle of the heart center, and you can ask it whether something is really true or not and receive a definitive answer. Check this out for yourself. If you cannot get in touch with it, that signals that your layers of conditioning may be pretty thick, and your items are probably beliefs. Your body knows, and you can ask it questions. Beliefs are in the head, Truth is in the heart. Try this with something you are not sure how to classify. Ask yourself where in your body it is located. The body will answer if you allow it to.
It might be interesting to follow up this exercise by making another list about what you know, where that came from and how you know it is true.
Incidently, if you are getting tired of writing and listing exercises, consider that they are a valuable tool for self-reflection because you can get the ideas down on paper where they do not flit away from you, and so they can be manipulated more easily than when they are just floating around in your head. In addition, your paperwork provides a record of your journey. It can be very reinforcing to go back several months later and reread your work to see how far you have come. This is especially true of dreamwork.
Working with the Mind
Consider these mental ruminations. "My driveway is iced up and has been all week. When am I ever going to get out? If I don't get out soon, I won't be able to get the food I need. What if I slip and fall and break something when I go out to see how it is. It's such a job to put sand down the whole way down the hill. What if a delivery man slides into traffic at the foot of the hill and is hurt? I have to do something about it. I wonder if the rain will melt the ice. What is the temperature now? Is the ice melting? I should get an update on the weather report. It's dangerous to go out. But my neighbor came in my driveway the other day without too much trouble. I'm such a sissy. Yeah, but the only reason he could stop at the bottom of the hill was because I'd put some sand down there. I'm such a dope. All I need to do is go out once and I'll find out I can do it. Everybody else is going about their business except me. I think I'll wait another day and see what happens. . . "
This is a true excerpt from manas. It is a partial record of my stream of consciousness during the last week here in New England where we have been having one ice storm after another. I offer it to you as an example of the aimless and useless mental activity we all engage in. Furthermore, it is not harmless. This kind of self-talk, if persisted in long enough, can paralyze a person and it reinforces a negative self-image. [I did go out this morning and survived.]. Because it is based on a legitimate need for caution, I can easily justify to myself why I am doing it. However, if I do not test it out within a reasonable time limit, it constitutes a kind of negative self-brainwashing.
Whenever we do not have something for it to fix attention on, the mind has this tendency to run on and on without any given goal except to keep on running. It is partly just the way the mind works, but it is also our social conditioning that says we have to be exerting ourselves every minute or we are not worth anything. So we keep the motor running, just in case. It has become such an ingrained habit that we find it nearly impossible to turn it off. Some people take this a step further and say everything that is running through their minds as if there were a direct connection between the wanton mind and the speech mechanisms. I am sure you know someone like this, and you probably try to avoid them.
So, you may well ask, what can I do about it? And do I want to? There is a great deal that can be done about it, and you may not want to because it takes a long time. Also, finding out how little control we have over our minds is rather frightening. This is what makes meditation difficult. It is so hard on the ego and our self-images.
Let us look at some of the gifts we have from eastern traditions on the subject of mind-training.
Training and Stopping the Mind
"Who am I, standing in the midst of this thought-traffic? - Rumi
We have already mentioned pratyahara. It includes all techniques that help to withdraw attention from the senses. Since the senses provide fodder for the mind, if they can be shut off, the mind will eventually quiet down, after the internal stimulation stops as well. But let us begin with the external stimulation since we all already know how to do that.
Imagine you are watching your favorite program on television, or your favorite ball game. The action is reaching a climax. Someone speaks to you and you respond, "Yeah, yeah, OK, I'll be there in a minute." You probably did not even hear what the person said. The action continues to build and you are truly engrossed. Your siblings or children have a fight, but you do not notice them. The phone rings and you do not hear that. Then the advertising comes on and you sit back in your chair and take a deep breath. Suddenly all the chaos going on around you is right there "in your face." What happened? Why did you not notice it before? You were exercising your focal awareness to direct attention and screen out all extraneous, irrelevant stimulation. Pratyahara. In this case, not full pratyahara since you were allowing in the television action. However, the method is the same.
Now, let us suppose you are meditating. You use a mantra to focus your mind and to help quiet it. Gradually all sensory stimulation begins to recede until you are left with just your thoughts in the foreground. The mantra may be going internally. You may be making a marketing list or musing over a personal problem, but still you are not responding to what is going on outside you. This is truly withdrawing the sense. When you begin to practice concentration (dharana), the mental uproar will also begin to subside. And, eventually, all internal stimulation will disappear.
1. Read pages 268-272 in The Science of Yoga by Taimni (1975). This is an excellent presentation of Patanjali's Sutras, the source of the eight rungs of Yoga. He shows how withdrawing attention from the sensations blocks perception. He says, "Pratyahara interposes, as it were, a shutter between the sense-organs and the mind and isolates the latter completely from the external world" (p. 270). He then reminds us that success in this practice depends upon having mastered all the previous steps of the eight rungs of Yoga.
2. First, if you are taking a Hatha Yoga class and know how to do it, practice the tortoise pose. This will give a message to your body to go within.
Then light a candle on your altar and sit for meditation. Take several deep breaths then allow your breathing to settle down. If you are too jazzed up to quiet down, do the Microcosmic Orbit exercise you have already learned. Once you are relatively quiet, just watch the candle until you notice that you cannot see anything beyond its flame.You may even feel as if you are being drawn into the candle. When this begins to happen, close your eyes and imagine that you are looking up at the ceiling through the third eye, the space between your eyebrows. Do not strain, but keep your mind focused on maintaining that position of the eyes. If you have picked a time when the house is rather quiet, you will find this easier. Meditation is also easier at or before dawn and at dusk when the light is changing.
If you are successful, all external stimulation will fade out. However, your mental activity may surface. Keep your composure by just watching your mind run through its routines without holding on to any of its presentations. If you maintain your visual focus up through the third eye, you may find yourself even beyond the mind.
Clarity and Rational Thought
There is a legitimate role for the intellect.
In some of the spiritual "hotspots," and I use the term "spiritual" advisedly here, a person can find a "spiritual" helper in almost any area of life we could imagine. There are healers of all descriptions and stripes: massage therapists, Tarot readers, acupuncturists, chakra manipulators, etc. There is an endless roster of those who would help you on your spiritual journey, for a fee, of course. Part of the reason for this is due to the burgeoning ranks of those who want to adopt a spiritual life and give themselves to it entirely. But they must make a living, and they want to do it in the field of spiritual health preferably in a hurry. So, they go to a few workshops, perhaps spend a few weekends in an ashram or do a training program of several weeks with a well-known teacher. Then they hang out their shingles and wait for the trade to come in.
Aside from the fact that one cannot prepare to be a healer in anything like the short periods of time most of these "helpers" spend, it creates a great deal of confusion in the minds of those who need the help. There are hosts of seekers looking for a safe haven where they can be taught how to manage their lives in order to get control over their suffering. They go from teacher to healer to swami to therapist, from workshop to workshop in a desperate and usually futile effort to get on board the enlightenment train. And given our American penchant for advertising, there is a lot to choose from. But because most people tend to give up too soon or because they have chosen unwisely, they do not get the results they hope for. So, when nothing earth-shaking occurs in a few weeks, they are off to seek another placebo.
Why am I saying all this?
Because there is a way to avoid the traps. Use your intellect. Rational thought has its uses. One of them is to discriminate the real from the pretender, what is valuable from that which is useless. Discernment is an old-fashioned word, but it is one that we need to think about. What is it you truly want? Where can you find a teacher? How will you know if s/he is qualified? It takes discernment to figure all that out. In order to discriminate, we need some standard against which to measure something. So you need to know something about your goal and what qualitites you need in a teacher. Certainly s/he should have personal experience of your goal and be impeccable in dealing with you.
One way of looking at a problem is to use both hemispheres in your brain. Let us say you have found someone you think can help you. Your intuition vibrates in resonance with that person, and you are ready to sign up. Wait. Use the other side of your brain to evaluate their credentials before you put yourself into their hands. We would not go to an unlicensed doctor, but we blithely give up our wills to the first spiritual teacher to appear on the scene if they have a bit of charisma.
What is needed is clarity. Until we can get rid of most of our excess baggage, there is no way to tell whether a healer is legitimate or not. Of course, by then, we probably will not need a healer. Case in point, each of us is our own best healer. Clarity is the ability to walk the tight rope between the either..ors. Nothing, for instance, is ever all good or bad; usually it is somewhere in between. But where is it in between? We must know that when dealing with the future of our lives.
Maybe finding a teacher is not your issue. Then consider whatever is problematic in your life right now, a difficult decision, a crisis, stress; you decide on something to provide a focus for clear thinking in what follows.
The spiritual journey depends upon having clarity in all parts of our minds. It depends upon absolute honesty with ourselves. We can fool others most of the time, but we can never fool ourselves. And if we keep trying to maintain a structure of lies or defenses against the truth, we are sabotaging ourselves and blocking our own way to the goal.
It has been said that confusion is an ego defense. It keeps us from seeing something we need to see but that the ego does not want to confront. If that is true, then, when we feel confused we should take that as a clue to look more deeply into whatever seems to be causing the confusion. When we do this, we may find a new insight about our condition and often a release of new energy.
Our lives are confusing enough by themselves. But when we add in the spiritual journey, complications multiply. We come face to face with all the ways we fool ourselves, all the defenses the ego has constructed, all our conditioning, all our wishes and dreams for the future and all our illusions. It is essential that we try to unravel all the escape routes that keep us from the main path. Clear thinking is a necessary tool in order to do this.
Exercise: Clear Thinking
1. Set aside a section of your journal for self-reflection. This will be a place where you can set down your confusions and work with them. You might begin with a list of things that you feel confused about. Or you might want to draw some images that represent your feelings of confusion. If you do not feel confused, it may be that you do not use that form of defense. Still, you can probably benefit from an exercise in clear thinking.
2. Get a piece of 2 X 4 lumber that is at least 10-12 ft. long. (If you are elderly, get a 4 X 4 piece of lumber as you are going to have to walk on it. The lumber yard will deliver it to wherever you want to put it. Or you may walk on the 4-inch side of a 2 X 4 if it is not warped.) Set it up on a flat surface on the side that will give you an optimum challenge and place it where you can be undisturbed for about 15-30 minutes. You may need to brace the board so it does not tip over when you walk on it. Set a timer, so you do not need to consult your watch. Stand up on the board and walk back and forth, turning at each end to retrace your steps and being careful not to fall off. If you do fall off, simply get back on again, but keep track of how often this happens.
As you walk, watch your mind and try to remember what you notice and think about. At the end of the time, sit down and immediately write down all you can remember about what you experienced. When you have finished, go to the end of this unit for instructions on how to process the paper. Do not read the instructions before you have done the exercise or you will prejudice your experience by either becoming self-conscious or by trying to make something happen. That will deprive you of the potential in this exercise.
Mind in Buddhism
The Buddhist masters have studied the mind for centuries and are probably the most sophisticated teachers of mind control in the world. Their explorations into mind include intuition as well as intellect and they have been able to make extremely useful distinctions between those two forms of cognition.
What you are about to read is a short manual that introduces you to the basic tenets of Buddhism including the Four Seals, the Four Noble Truths, Bodhicitta and the six Paramitas. These are followed by an abbreviated version of Lojong or mind training. There are two practices you will be asked to do over a period of time, both are Bodhicitta practices, relative and absolute. As you go along, make notes that help you integrate this approach to what you have already learned.
Read Way to Go edited by Holmes (see References for full citation and address of publisher). This book should be available in any Buddhist bookstore or can probably be ordered by a bookstore near you. If not, there is a list of sources for Buddhist books and materials on the Internet at:
I got my copy at The Naropa Institute Bookstore in Boulder, CO, 80302. Phone: 303-546-3544. URL: www.naropabooks.com.
When you come to the practices, please attempt them over a period of several weeks until they begin to come alive for you. Tong len in particular is very important. You may feel that you do not wish to take on the negativity of others. But, with practice, you will find that you do not actually do that. Rather, it is as if your system acts like a magnet that can realign and cleanse the energy as it travels through you. Take the practice slowly through the stages and do not force yourself. Rather find your edge of resistance and gradually try to push it further and further away. Pace yourself just a tad beyond comfortable to make sure you get a good stretch.
If you have trouble with taking refuge, give some thought to what buddha, dharma and sangha might mean to you personally. Buddha is your inner, radiant, divine nature that is complete, perfect and good. Dharma can mean the teachings or it can also mean the plan your soul set for you in this life, your soul's work. The Sangha is the whole body of dedicated seekers like yourself, your spiritual community so to speak. These people or souls need not be present to your senses, but they are always there in spirit. So you need not feel lonely or devastated on the journey.
When you are finished, write a paper on what you have learned about the mind.
Instructions for Clear Thinking Exercise on pp. 18-19: We are going to use this exercise as a metaphor for your journey through life. What an exercise like this does is to create an opening through which information in the unconscious can come. This can give you important data about your intuition and feelings, that side of your mind that may be neglected most of the time. The walking creates a waking dream. And the walking, per se, symbolizes a link between the past, present and future. If we clarify the past, it gives us more clarity about the future as well as shedding light on what is going on in the present. We need two points to chart our direction - from here to there. You walked a straight line because it is the shortest distance between those two points.
To process the paper: Treat it like a dream and work with the symbolism as has been described before. List the key words, free associate to them, substitute the new meanings and then rewrite the paper with the substitutions using your feelings intuitively to help you select the right substitution.
Then question yourself as follows:
Feng, G. & English, J. (Transl.)(1972). Tao te ching. New York: Vintage Books.
Fraunfelker, B. (1972). Phonetic compatibility (PC) in paired-associate learning of first and third grade children. Developmental Psychology, 1( ),
Holmes, K. (Ed.) (no date given). Way to go by Khentin Tai Situ Pa. Dumfriesshire: Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Centre. ( this is apparently published in the far east. The full address is: Eskdalemuir, Nr. Langholm, Dumfriesshire, DG13 OQL)
Iyer, R. (Ed.)(1983). Return to Shiva: From the Yoga Vasishtha Maharamayana. New York: Concord Grove Press.
Pearce, J. C. (1989). Magical child: Rediscovering nature's plan for our children. New York: Bantam.
Rama, Swami, Ballentine, R. & Ajaya, Swami (1976). Yoga and psychotherapy: The evolution of consciousness. Honesdale, PA: The Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy.
Rilke, R. M. (1996). Rilke: Poems. New York: Knopf.
Sullivan, H. S. (1953). The interpersonal theory of psychiatry. New York: Norton.
Taimni, I. K. (1975). The science of Yoga. Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House.
In Unit III. Development of Intellect and the Blocking of Consciousness, we have seen how social conditioning in the form of schooling and the focus on intellect over other cognitive functions has crippled people in our society because we have lost touch with our intuitive and contemplative potential. In Unit IV. Social Roles, Conformity and Subordination, we will find an analogous process happening when the false self/personality matures and when interpersonal relationships are strangled by conformity and social roles.
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