Monday, February 22, 2016

TAMING THE MONKEY MIND – PART 1 – “Name that Monkey!”

Last Fall (2015), I held a one-night class on the subject of “Taming the Monkey Mind.” Suffice to say, one class was far too little time to work with the meditator’s (seemingly) greatest obstacle. At the time I promised (something of a sop, I’m afraid) to write a few blog articles to make up for the woeful lack of time. As it has been many months, they may have thought I forgot, but I have not.

Where does one begin? Well, it wouldn’t hurt to be introduced to that monkey. We find quickly that he’s not just one; he’s a whole family of monkeys. They inhabit our brain and are in constant motion. 

Practical, playful, even mischievous, at times. Our first acknowledgement we must make is for the debt we owe to the monkey brain family for keeping us alive. Of the family tree identified by Charles Darwin, this family of monkeys is highly trained at protecting us from threats, both seen and unseen, and helping us to develop many useful skills.

It is axiomatic in metaphysics and Yoga-Samkhya-Vedanta philosophy that the source of all matter is consciousness. Chapter 1 of Swami Kriyananda’s excellent book on the subject of meditation, Awaken to Superconsciousness, dedicates its first chapter to this precept (much to the dismay of its unsuspecting readers—for it is intellectual and abstruse). Similarly the thrust of the entire and vast body of Indian thought is that it is our soul’s destiny to transcend the delusion of material existence to contemplate and to become one with this ever-present, eternal, and omniscient reality (Consciousness). Our destiny it is because our brain and nervous system have evolved over eons of time for this very purpose. Slugs and snails, indeed, monkeys themselves, are not fully hard-wired to transcend the brain-body-nervous system!

While we are thus (seemingly hopelessly) body-sense-ego bound, we also, as yet and simultaneously, transcendent.  While that which binds us (brain, nervous system, senses) is as yet and simultaneously that which can free us. We are, thusly, existentially conflicted. We have two directions, seemingly, to pursue: the one, at once familiar and the other seemingly foreign and distant.

Even at the expense of reason (which tells us our life is short and our fate uncertain), we can pursue —intensely or lazily — whatever life in the body offers us, complete with its joys, sorrows, pleasures, pain and predestined demise into oblivion. Our monkey-ness keeps us so busy that most people don’t even consider there’s a choice in the matter. For those upon whom nature showers its gifts, most slumber in the forgetfulness of the moment, unheedful, ignorant or indifferent to the vast majority of others who are not so benighted.

The other path is towards transcendence. This is the path of Buddha, Jesus, and the prophets and masters down through ages. The panacea of lasting happiness and freedom from suffering, whether in heaven beyond, or in our hearts here and now, is the path of Light. In our age a new dispensation has been given to all people, regardless of status, race or nation, who seek the path of transcendence. It is the practice of meditation. Never mind that at first, millions will use meditation for its physical and psychological benefits, as if to only improve their circumstances during their predestined and brief sojourn in their human body. This is the stage of awakening such as one sees in the life of Jesus when crowds sought him for his healing powers alone.

Once a taste of monkey-less-ness is achieved, the monkey-less-MIND exercises a magnetic call to “Be still and know that I AM God.” (Psalm 46:10).

Samkhya darshana (philosophy) identifies four aspects of the monkey mind: its functional ability and purpose to interact with the body and senses; its ability to make rational or intuitive conclusions and connections (whether in the abstract and conceptual or in relation to the senses); its tendency to identify personally with either strata of mental activity; and, lastly, its embrace or rejection.

In the first, it is valuable to know that fire can burn your hand; that there’s a difference between a rope and snake; that spoiled food looks and tastes a certain way. In the second, our intelligence, whether merely logical or inspired from unseen heights, equips us with great power, good, bad or neither. In the third, we are able to identify mental activity (thoughts, emotions, actions) in its relationship to “Me.” This allows for selectivity, prioritizing and ownership or detachment. This me-function is closely related, then, to our emotional life for herein lies our tendency to identify with and desire, or reject in repulsion, the circumstances, people, or ideas that engage our daily life.

To list these characteristics, then, they are: manas, buddhi, ahamkara, and chitta. Transcending each of these aspects takes specialized tools of meditation. (We’ll come to these much later.)

These four aspects of our ego-mind can play out unseen by us in their subconscious functions, consciously, or superconsciously. It is the superconscious mind that is closest to the transcendent mind. The subconscious mind is but a domestic servant whether programmed by pre or post-natal tendencies. It holds the key to the function of habits; it serves to protect the ego by looking for threats even in the nuances of the words of other people; it reacts by instinct according to “fight or flight;” and, lastly, it is, by itself, passive and generally uncreative. It can be re-trained by the conscious intention and efforts of the conscious mind, guided by the innate and intuitive wisdom of the superconscious mind.

The conscious mind, being awake and aware of the world around us, sees mostly foes everywhere; or, at least obstacles and problems to overcome but it is too often seeing the world through subconscious filters of which it is, well, unconscious! It tends to be cautious, analytical and even wary. The conscious mind can also be insensitive to others or to more subtle signals and realities, as it is so focused on only what is right in front of it and related to "Me."

That which first filters the transcendent mind is the superconscious mind. Being in touch with a larger reality and not yet gated by subconscious filters and past actions, it sends us, to the degree we draw from it, answers, solutions, new ideas, and inspirations. It is filtered at least to this degree: Einstein didn’t hear symphonies in his head nor did Beethoven see a beam of light shooting through space. We receive the guidance apropos to our needs.

I’ll end this part with the link between body-mind-spirit: the breath. The “Holy Ghost” (or ghast, breath) signals the appearance of life in the new born and the disappearance of life at death. In between it acts as a direct link and reflector of the state of consciousness on which we sit at every moment. “The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge.[1]

[1] “Autobiography of a Yogi,” by Paramhansa Yogananda, 1946 edition, Chapter 26: The Science of Kriya Yoga.