Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Extraordinary Gift of the Mind : Part-2





Lost-Identity - Artist: Tomasz Alen Kopera

 

We have explored some basic capabilities of the Mind in Part-1 of this topic. We continue onward and explore some more of the extraordinary abilities and peculiarities a Mind has.

6.    Identity and Personality

Contents appear in the experience, they belong to no one, no one owns them. Yet the Mind has a feature that tags many contents as strongly relating with an entity called the Identity or a Person or an Individual. A person is the sum total of the experiences, a large collection of knowledge in the Mind, abstracted as a container (or owner) of those experiences and their structures. The Person or the individual is thus nothing but a Content, a structure in the Mind. It is also experienced.

Does a person has a Mind or does the Mind has a person? Very interesting question. There is no trace of any personality when a child is born, but the Mind is fully present. It takes some time to develop a personality, as the collection of experiences grows. Initially the child does not even own a name, he has to be told and reminded often, what he should answer when someone asks for “his name”. With more and more experiences, the Mind learns to separate the experiences into two – “I” and “not-I”, “mine” and “not mine” etc. Structures are formed which are strongly related to other structures depending on the importance of those structures for the sustenance of the Mind. More important a structure is for its sustenance, more is the “I-ness”. For example the knowledge of one’s name and one’s gender gets strongly related to his all other experiences, and is seen as “I – the name” or “I – the male” etc. This I is a container of the Contents, and the container is also a Content, since the container/I is also experienced.



 



Of what use is this function? One might ask. It’s a matter of convenience mostly. So instead of saying – “some huge collection of experiences caused a thought and the thought was converted to language and those words were converted by a body into sound”, one can simply say – “I said….”. The Identity is simply a higher level of abstraction. It makes it convenient to have conversations and to deal with others. The “others” are another abstraction, a mere concept, an assumption, that there is another Mind out there which is similar to the one here, which is referred to as You [1]. The You appears as a part of the physical world, belonging mostly to the “not-I” group, probably because both others and the world are not very strongly related to or are not owned by other experiences, and they have a will of their own (the contents belonging to the physical world or other individuals do not seem to be under direct control of the Mind).

Where does the I end and the other start? It is all very arbitrary and changes often. When the Self is presented with this abstraction, it appears in many forms. As a Self, in its purest form, everything is disowned, and there is no I, just this Self which is witnessing. In the next level, it is presented as knowledge, where the I is now an abstract entity with such and such experiences. For example, when a thought appears it is seen as related to many past experiences, the sum total of these experiences gets abstracted as the I and the thought is added to it as a new experience, and becomes “my thought”. This is just a structure, and so it is knowledge. One now knows the thought and that it is related to past experiences, a container of it, the I.

In the next level, the abstracted entity also includes the body, where the body is presented as the I to the Self. If there is a need to present the body as the I, for example, when describing an event related to the body (“I fell down”), then the body is the I. However when there is no such need, the body is seen as “mine” (my body), an entity owned by the I rather than I itself. It’s a matter of convenience. The presentation “my body” simply shows a strong relation of the body to the owner (the I), and when the relation is stronger (like when the body acts as intended by the Mind), the body becomes simply I. Same with the thought, they are sometimes seen as I. The I seems to slowly fade into not-I as the contents leave the boundary of the body, they then become “mine” and then gradually "not-mine", where the relations are very weak, and the contents seem to behave independently of the Mind.

However, some introspection will reveal that even the most intimate contents (such as thoughts, perceptions and emotions etc) are also independent in that sense. The Mind has no control over them, they just appear, the job of the Mind is to process them, arrange them into structure and present them to the Self. There is no I, there is no not-I and there is no actor or a doer separate from the Mind. These are all structures erected for organizing the incoming experiences in a certain way, the human way. Of course a non-human Mind may simply not produce an Identity and may deal with the experiences in some other way. What can be those and would some of them be better than the human way? That’s your home work for today, food for thought.

Since people are mostly preoccupied with actions and thoughts/emotions etc, the body and mental environment is I for them, and that is what they mean when they say I. When you disown everything, cut off all relations in the Mind, keep the knowledge aside, then you are the Self, the I in its purest form. The obsession with the I, the owner and doer of all the mental and physical activity is the cause of a lot of suffering. It causes some undesired experiences such the guilt (I did something wrong), victimhood (Others did something wrong to me) or hubris (I’m superior because I did something great) etc. Such experiences give rise to various beliefs and cause further damage. Actions happen, mentation (the mental processes) happens, knowledge happens, and these all are then associated (added to the container) with the I. Disowning them gets rid of them. Disowning is a knowing that the Identity is a virtual entity, no one owns anything, identity is there to serve useful purposes, and is not to be corrupted with associations with negativity, which might give rise to negative actions and worsen the corruption. This sense of corrupted Identity is unfortunately very common, and is often known as the Ego self, or Ego in short. Sometimes also known as the separate self, since people spend their entire lives identified with the Person and their bodies. This may be traced back to their experience that there are others with a body and a personality associated with it. The ignorant Mind simply projects an other on itself. More on that later, it is a vast and important subject, directly connected to the suffering.


“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
― Oscar Wilde

7.    Programs and Learning

The Fundamental Process creates algorithmic patterns that are a result of structuring of the incoming data through the senses and other mechanisms. These patterns determine how the incoming data is experienced and what actions it produces. These are almost like a computer Program. A program is a structure formed when a certain action results in certain outcome. Learning is a process by which deliberate actions are made in order to form a program or correct existing ones.

There can be a very large number of programs that operate independently or in concert with other programs. DNA can be thought of as a program in the Mind, that defines the physical body. Breathing, digestion and other such activities are programs devoted for maintenance of the body. Fight or flight mechanisms are primitive programs that are almost mental, but mechanical. Likes and dislikes are also programs that are formed later on in the life and are less mechanical in nature. Ability to count and do sums/multiplications etc are simple learned programs. Other skills like driving and language are a complex collection of learned programs.

Programs can be physically seen as entrainment of neural structures, formation of new neural pathways by repeated excitation of sensory-motor circuits and even higher circuits that are used for abstraction. Some programs are just direct connection of peripheral sensors with muscles, and act more like a control system (e.g. those used for walking).

A program is generally hidden and operates on its own. The person gets an impression that he is doing what he wants to do, but its usually a program that is executing even before the association of the action is made with the I. With concentration and practice it is possible to see many programs as they operate and shape our thoughts, actions and our entire life. So it is useful to know them and develop a skill to reprogram the ones that are unnecessary or have gone rogue. The reprogramming is a top down process where the goal decides what the program should do. Repeating a corrected action frequently and consciously reprograms it, or can simply create new programs. Some programs can be entirely removed if they are causing suffering, such as the ones responsible for hate, shyness or phobias etc.

8.    Choices

 
The Mind has an ability to execute a certain program out of a set of programs, whenever an input is presented that can trigger all those programs. The programs compete for execution and the Fundamental Process governs which of these will be executed ultimately. This process is known as making a Choice. Usually there are many programs and many options, so many choices can be made. However, the Mind can act on only one choice at a time - the winning choice.

The number of choices depend on the past experiences. More experience with a situation increases the number of choices available to deal with that situation. A rock has no choice. A plant has preprogramed choices (hard coded in the genes). An animal usually has very few choices that reflect a limited set of programs formed out of very limited experiences. A human being has significantly more choice, however, still limited. A very intelligent person has more choice compared to a less intelligent person, again reflecting the amount of experience one has.

The process of choosing gives an illusion of “free will”. No one does the choosing, it happens. The choice is later assigned to the I, giving it an owner, an identity. It is not possible to choose anything that is not in your experience already. This should be obvious, so the “free will” is not free, its limited. One is free to choose from an available set of options, and most of the time, that freedom is also taken away by solidified programs (habits and tendencies).


Less choices usually result in suffering, so it is desirable to increase their number. It is possible only by having more experiences. Not only that, those experiences must form proper programs, so that the resulting actions are effective and reinforce the choice. Thus, it’s a bad news that what you can choose is very limited and is determined by what experiences you had. The good news is that this situation can be improved via deliberate experimentation. There is no other way. Mostly people are under the delusion that they have an access to unlimited choice, or in other words, they can do whatever they want. This is just ignorance and it leads to terrible suffering. Seeing our limitations is 50% of the solution. As soon as you become aware that you have a limited choice, a door is opened for you which leads to a path of freedom. It’s a lifelong journey. More choices lead to more freedom, and therefore to more happiness.

Choosing happens automatically without much control. A choice is usually made before the person becomes aware of it and owns it. There is just an illusion of a choice being made. This illusion probably arises from seeing others perform an action based on their choice, which, since it is seen from an external perspective, appears to be a result of "free will". One must see how choice operates, not by observing others, but oneself. Choices can be seen via some practice and introspection. There are a few methods which bring to light this mechanism. The key is to be aware of the various choices you have. This is the only thing that is in your control, to be aware of things happening in the Mind [2].
 

At any moment, you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

Choose consciously and deliberately, fully knowing what actions/consequences it can result in, and fully knowing that you cannot choose something you do not know. When we do not know what to choose, it is best to turn to the Self, and let the choice happen from there. For this to happen, one must surrender the choices one already has and should not force his own choice. The Self, although having no qualities and no abilities to make a choice or execute a program, can still help the process by providing a refuge to the confused Mind. When a choice is made from this level, it is not a mental process as the Mind is out of the way. So it is as good as not choosing. This choice is a result of Experiencing and can be metaphorically said to be made by the Presence itself. Or you can call it the higher will. What does it do? Will it make me achieve what I want without making a choice of my own? The answer is most probably – No. It simply opens you up for new experiences, it does not do anything else. It is the new experience that broadens your choice, nothing else. One must still choose, actions won’t happen magically, though they may appear to happen in that way sometimes. This leads us to the concept of Grace, which is nothing but the positive results we may get if we surrender in certain situations that we clearly see are beyond our control and lie beyond the boundaries of our limited experiences.


“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives - choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”
― Aristotle


9.    Action

 
The genetic memory creates a body with certain functionality. These functions are there to interface with the physical world. We have already seen a major function – the perception. Another major function is the Action. An action is a change brought about in the Presence through the intervention of the Mind. The Self merely observes the change as it happens.

The body has specialized organs that cause the changes in its surroundings. Traditionally, the actions are five – Speaking, Grasping, Moving, Reproducing and Eliminating, corresponding to the five organs of mouth, hands, legs, penis/vagina and anus [3]. While perception takes in the impressions from outside the body, actions produce expressions in outside world. One can simply say that the perceptions are the inputs, and actions are the output of the computer called the Mind. The body is suitable hardware built out of physical stuff for interfacing with physical world. There is no sharp dividing line between the body and the world. The physical stuff is just another collection of structures in the Mind. How? It will require a full article to explain that.

I will override the tradition, as I usually do :-), and trash the organs of actions mentioned above. The body is capable of only one external action – muscular movements. The organs or body parts mentioned above are simply different configuration of the muscles governed by different set of programs. For example, speaking is simply the movements of the mouth and larynx and elimination is movement of lower colon and sphincter, all nothing but a special tissue – muscle, a structure under control of mental structures called programs. Hands and feet motions are more obvious muscular movements. Under this definition of organs of action, respiration, heartbeat, blinking, ocular movements and giving birth (etc) is also included, which are again nothing but movements of muscles in different configurations. These are also acts, and actually blur the boundary between external and bodily actions.

Why did I say “external action”? Body is capable of more action apart from muscular. The movements happening inside the cells, for example. The very complex molecular nano-machines performing the cellular functions are doing nothing but action. These include cell division and production of proteins etc. Digestion can be thought of as an action, so is ingestion. These again blur external and internal. There is a gradual descent of the action into physical world. Another important action is electrical activity of the nervous system. It is an action, and it is closest we go towards mental action. There is a very direct correlation between what we perceive as mental actions and electrical activity of various configurations of neurons and their networks. This should not be a surprise, they are all just structures in the Mind after all.

Another fascinating action of the Mind is reproduction. The memory and programs of the DNA are transferred into a new body (birth) and evolution of a new Mind begins. Mind copies itself, which is an essential trait of any Fundamental Process as we have seen earlier. Structures that do not evolve and produce more structures (e.g. copies) do not last, given the impermanent nature of Experiencing. How does the Mind do that? Isn’t it the body copying itself? It is a can of worms, I will leave the question unanswered here, but I will just say that it is also an action.

We can go on and on about the actions. The secretion of the chemicals, such as hormones and what not. It is better to save time and club those actions as “bodily actions”. These are obviously automatic most of the time, but mental activity does surely influence bodily actions. We are left with “internal actions” which as things like intention, thoughts and reasoning etc. Is perception an action too? We do not want to blur things too much, so we keep perception away, as it has a sense of direction from external to internal. But some thought will reveal that everything that happens is just Experiencing, nothing else happens. Actions are also experienced.

No one does an action, it happens, and later it is added to the container of the I, giving the experience of an action an owner. We do nothing and are capable of doing nothing. As the Self, we only experience. However, the Mind likes to own stuff and it also owns the actions, so there is at least something there to blame for everything that humans do. Else we will face troubles in courts when sentencing someone for some inconvenient actions that happened. In the end, we are responsible for our own actions. We do try to pass on the buck to others and outer happenings and blame them for our actions, but this is the height of the ignorance. If you are starting on a path of your heart, it is the right time to take full responsibility of your actions.

Knowing well that I do nothing, how can I be responsible for doing anything? That’s an age old question. Thankfully we have an answer that makes sense. Firstly there is no I and there is no action. This can be seen by a little introspection and perhaps with the help of an experienced teacher. So yes, the thing you call I cannot be responsible, but it does own them, doesn’t it? If you agree to own the actions then you are responsible for them. For example, a child or infant does not own his actions, because the sense of I and ownership has not developed yet, so all the acts of an infant (including the one of peeing on your favourite shirt) are forgivable. We do the same for mentally challenged (aka mad) people. The court of law does not punish a person who is crazy beyond repair for his harmful actions. This is a kind of common sense. In some parts of the world, the actions of holy men and Renunciates (Sanyasis) are forgivable, for example, those of being naked, not speaking (vow of silence) or leaving their families and sitting in a cave. People in those parts know that such a person is in surrender, and has given up the ownership of all actions.

Leaving aside all those auto-actions, it is especially the deliberate, well thought out actions that are to be taken seriously. The human world is a mess, simply because of rampant actions of humans. If your life is a mess too, then its only because of your actions. Taking responsibility of what one does helps to cure the suffering one causes to oneself and to the others. Once you are responsible, you become very aware of what you do, and you try to avoid any actions that may cause suffering.

Every action has a Consequence. This is the famous law [4]. So although its not your doing, you are unconsciously causing consequences via irresponsible actions. There is no law that prohibits any action, it is all Experiencing after all, anything goes here. But if you want your experiences to be of a certain kind, namely pleasant ones, then you must think about the consequences of your actions. Fortunately, it is possible to choose a proper action (as we have seen above in the discussion on choice) that will minimize the undesired consequences. What consequences one desires? The ones that lead to even better or pleasent experiences, obviously. It all depends on the previous experiences one had. For example, a thief will surely desire to own someone else’s property. It is his experience that the property/shiny objects bring happiness. However the desire disappears when he is caught and imprisoned (or probably beaten to death). So its our experiences that determine our desires (aka intentions). There is no other way to learn to produce better consequences. Acting consciously, utilizing our entire knowledge, even if limited, and doing so under all circumstances is the key to produce better experiences [5].




10.    Intention

 
An intention is a germ for an action. It is seen as a very brief rehearsal of the action itself. Who does it and where does it come from? No one does it, as we have seen above, but it does appear to come from and get assigned to the I, the person, the storehouse of all experiences. Complex processes in the Mind give rise to an intention, sometimes coming from the vast store of knowledge and impressions (memory) or triggered by a perception or other actions.

An intention is a very powerful thing. All human history, culture and individual behaviours are a result of intentions. Its powerful, yet subtle. You don’t even know what you intend to do, before the action has already happened. It is an auto-process most of the time. Intentions are somewhat like a preparation of what is going to come. They are seed actions and can be aborted easily as soon as one becomes aware of them. If you are hungry and see food somewhere, the intention of eating it appears. If you remember your enemy, the intention of killing him pops out of nowhere. When you see a child in danger, an intention to save him appears automatically. If you become aware of them, the intended actions can be halted or postponed or better actions can be planned if time permits.

Intentions are generated by the stored Programs in the Mind. At a given moment many intentions are being generated, but most of them are filtered out and the most relevant and important ones surface from the vast ocean of stored knowledge. An action is the result of allowing the intention to do its work. Most of the intentions result in action, if the person is not trained to abort them. Often the training is provided by the life experiences. For example, as soon as you know that you intend to approach a beautiful woman, and you see her mate standing besides her, you abort your action quickly, since last time it resulted in painful experience of getting hit and losing your front teeth.

Some people do learn from the experiences of others and also by simulating a scenario inside their local virtual world model. But most need a real solid blow of experience to get useful knowledge. It takes some practice to become aware of various intentions that are perpetually appearing in the Mind and it takes a little more practice to learn to abort the actions they produce. Why is such practice even useful? Many actions, being a result of Programs, are automatic and often unnecessary. If the action is repeated unconsciously and frequently, it becomes an impulse or habit. For example if you can’t stop eating even though you are overweight and do not need so much food, it is a result of the Program – “feed_the_body” running like crazy. If one becomes aware of the seed of that action, one can abort it and can cause more positive outcomes.

It is also possible to generate useful intentions to direct your life in a more positive direction. For example replacing your intention to sleep or play by that of finishing your work can bring you the much needed money and can make your life more comfortable to allow more sleep and play later (well that is an example from my own experience). So consciously made intentions are helpful in reducing the suffering.



There are other entities that are akin to intention, such as impulses, desires, wants, wishes and drives etc. I'd like to club all these into the word intention, since these are not much different. You must have noticed that the only difference is the duration for which they last, with impulses being the shortest and drives being longest, often lifelong.

Sometimes the word “will” is used for an intention. It’s a cause of much confusion with everlasting debates about whether it exists. So I’m intentionally avoiding that word. Yes, it exists, as we see it here, but it is mostly automatic. (A predetermined will??). But it is also possible to override it with less automated intentions that are a result of careful training directed towards happiness. The Mind is limited and cannot do anything other than that for which it is programmed for. But the drive of the Self towards happiness and bliss helps to direct the programs. You can call it the higher will. If you see closely, an option is always presented for choosing a proper action from a set of actions that lead to more misery and those that lead to more happiness and freedom. The trick is to see this choice clearly, and choose wisely.

Unfortunately our choice is a result of the programs and is often unconscious and automatic. So how can I choose something that I don’t even know I should choose? It comes by practice, there is no other way. A teacher can guide you a little bit, since he has more experience, but its only you who can improve the programs of your Mind and progressively choose better intentions. The freedom to choose is there, but the options are limited. The options grow as your experience grows. The degree of freedom increases as you learn more, the number of choices increase as you make better choices. It should lead to a situation where the choices seems to become infinite, the ultimate free will. So the only solutions I know of is to experience more, and choose an action consciously. The action should be such that it leads to more freedom, not less, more choices, not less and more happiness, not less.


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Notes:

[1] The others do have a Mind. This can only be inferred, cannot be experienced. But I’m pretty sure about it. Certain states of the Self may allow a broader perspective where all Minds are seen as originating from the Presence, painted on the canvas of Presence. I’m not sure about it though.


[2] I’m thankful to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev for this teaching. To be aware is the only real freedom we have. Rest is just picking from given choices using programs, all evolved out of experiences.


[3] Also known as Karmendriya. Looks like we have six then !


[4] The law of Karma. We will discuss that in detail later.


[5] The path of Karma yoga, as taught by Krishna. I’m grateful to him for the same.

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