Inviting Stillness

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Beach of Maratua Island – north coast of East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Eddy Halim, 2014

In the post Perception vs Reality we explored that we have this filter or perception and often we forgot that we have them. Like we forgot we’re wearing glasses because it’s in front of the eyes all the time. And one way to remember there’s that filter or perception is by reflecting, and in order to reflect there has to be enough stillness.

It’s difficult for us  to be still. We are born to move, because if we don’t move we die (not moving means not finding food to eat, not running away from predator etc). We are so used to moving all the time that at the beginning it’s quite challenging to become still. We even move when we sleep.

How do we invite stillness?

Meditation is a form of inviting stillness. Becoming still physically in a position that we can sustain for a while. As the body become still, the five action senses (karmendriyas) become still – and that’s something unusual for them. What are the five action senses? They are the organs for eliminating, reproducing, moving, grasping, speaking – the digestion, genitals, legs & feet, arms & hands, speech organs respectively. In addition to that, the five cognitive senses, the sense for taking in inputs from the external world (jnanendriyas) – also receive limited stimulation from the outside world. The five cognitive senses are the organs for smelling, tasting, seeing, touching, hearing – the nose, tounge, eyes, skin, and ears respectively.

When we become still, when we are not doing anything (the five action senses are still) and receiving minimum stimulation of the outside world (the five cognitive senses are quiet) – the mind have three choices:

  1. Interpret this as time to turn off, take a break, and get some sleep
  2. Try to find something to keep itself busy, entertaining itself by thoughts of future (planning), past (remembering), or new thoughts (noting/ideas/insight)
  3. Become still and rest in awareness itself

We are training the mind to take the third choice.

For some of us the mind often goes to the second choice – the mind jumps around, agitated, like naughty monkey jumping all over the place, and we have no control of it.

For some of us the mind often goes to the first choice – the mind decided to take a break, shut down, and we drifted to sleep.

We are training the mind to take the third choice. It’s not easy. Just like everything else it takes effort & consistency. In other words, practice, practice practice.

Supporting practices

Many people think that meditation practice is only during the actual meditation itself. Actually there are practices that builds foundation for meditation. Sage Patanjali codified this in his Yoga Sutra as the eight limbs of yoga (ashtanga):

  1. yama
  2. niyama
  3. asana
  4. pranayama
  5. pratyahara
  6. dharana
  7. dhyana
  8. samadhi

I will not go into detail about these eight limbs of yoga on this post.

Just a brief recap, the first two limbs yama & niyama are ethical & moral conduct, that when we don’t follow them we’ll tend to have ‘unfinished business’ so to speak. Example – we stole something from someone, and during meditation probably that thought will arise (I feel guilty / he has so much more so he deserves to be stolen from / I need that thing, that gives me the right to steal / I’m sorry I stole I know I shouldn’t have / and so on). These ethical & moral conducts are guides for us to live our life in such a way that we have peace of mind, so that when we meditate we have less worries, less disturbances.

The third and fourth, asana & pranayama, are ways to keep the body fit, limber, and the energy moves freely, so that the physical body can be still in meditation.

The fifth, pratyahara, is about turning the senses inwards, not letting the mind drawn to the outside world through the senses.

The last three – dharana, dhyana & samadhi are different types or levels of concentration / focused attention / awareness.

To be continued.

 

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Uncoloring the Filters

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This is a continuation of the previous post Seeing the World Through Filters.

We discussed about how we perceive the world through the mind lens and we have some filters in front of the lens that provides meaning and context that affect on how we interact with the outside world.

We touched on how some of these filters were products of human evolution. Having a stand of either liking or disliking to something was crucial to survival. Humans survived by knowing what to like, or attracted to, and what to dislike, or repulsed to. Attraction towards sweet food – because it is a source of energy (important during hunter-gatherer times). Repulsion towards decaying things – because it potentially could bring disease.

This like-dislike, attraction-repulsion is called raga & dvesha and is two of the five kleshas. Klesha is often translated as mental afflictions, is described in Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2:3. The other three kleshas are ignorance – lack of awareness (avidya), I-am-ness (asmita), and clinging to life (abhinivesha). Kleshas prevent us to see things as they really are, and bound us to endless cycle of suffering (samsara). They are like filter in front of the mind lens, afflicting the way we understand the world.

Attempting to end this endless cycle of suffering can be done by reducing the intensity and eventually destroying raga & dvesha. It’s like reducing the coloring of the filter until it’s clear. How?

The first step is by acknowledging them, realizing that it’s all perception. It is us that attach value to things in order to understand the outside world. Things in themselves don’t have inherent value. Good/evil, beautiful/ugly – they all are, literally, in our head. Like the saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” – change the word ‘beauty’ with other adjectives and ‘eye’ with ‘mind’.

Everything has two extremes – negative/positive, too much/too little, black/white, yin/yang, light/dark, hot/cold, heaven/earth, good/evil, and so on.

But is that true? Is that reality? Or is it perception? Our perception? They way we perceive things?

The weather is just the weather… We attach our perception to the weather. When we say “The weather is hot today” – actually it is more correct to say “I’m perceiving the weather as hot today”. I may perceive the weather as hot, but someone from different environment may perceive the same weather as cool. So it’s all in the experiencer’s perception. And the weather is just the weather.

Because we forgot about the “we perceive” part – we are making a shortcut. Because of this shortcut we forgot that it is us that perceive… and then we forgot that we always have the option how to react on that perception… and then we play victim. This is difficult to explain…

I remember one scene from the movie Instinct – Anthony Hopkins’ character were sitting in the rain with the gorilla. The gorillas were just sitting there, Anthony Hopkins was using a big leaf as umbrella. Then he realized that he doesn’t need the umbrella. So he put down the big leaf and sat there getting wet just like the other gorillas. That’s when the gorillas accepted him as part of the family. In the context of what I’ve been trying to say here, when he uses umbrella he was still thinking in the duality mode.. eg rain is bad for me so I should take shelter. When he let go the umbrella he no longer think about rain as negative. Rain is just is.

From my personal blog post Duality & Perception (2012)

With understanding that it is all perception, we stopped reacting and start responding to the outside world. This is crucial in the uncoloring process. If we keep on reacting, the color of the filter gets more and more intensified.

To be continued with more on how to reduce the coloring.

Picture: Orange sky as it is (no coloring nor editing) – Pelabuhan Ratu, 2005

Seeing the World Through Filters

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We function like a black box. There are inputs from the external world, get processed, and there’s an output. Example: I saw a something long, coiled, on the ground (input). In my mind (manas) I compared this image with thousands of images stored in my memory (chitta) and concludes this is potentially a snake (process), recalling that snake is potentially dangerous (process). I steer clear of that long, coiled thing (output).

Mind takes input from the outside world through the senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste – also called the jnanendriyas). Imagine the mind like a camera, the lens is the input receiver.

If the lens is clear without anything in front of it, the mind will see the world as it is. With the snake example above, there is a filter of aversion to snake and filter of survival that may have prevent me to see the long coiled thing as it is – probably a rope. This filter color the way we interpret the world.

The snake/rope example above is an oversimplified example and relates to survival. The point is we receive input from the world the world through the mind lens, with many many filters in front of it. These filters color our understanding of the external world, and make us not see things as they are.

The mind often err on the side of caution because evolution favors those who are paranoid and steer clear from potential danger. The ancestors who weren’t so paranoid may got bitten by poisonous snake before finding a mate, have children and passing on the genes. These filters are part of evolution and survival in the past, and humans can become as they are now because of the filters.

Another example of how this filter works. I meet a person from a certain race. Growing up with parents that went through times where they were strongly discriminated by people of this certain race, I have a filter of race preference installed. This made me not act the same way to this person. Of course it is subtle as I have to consider my social status as well – I don’t want to be called racist. But there are internal processes that are different – eg more cautious, less trusting, less friendly, and so on.

This filter of race preference color my view of the world – not seeing every person, every human being, as what they are, another human being.

Yoga is a process of reducing the intensity of the filter – until it becomes clear – and then the mind lens can see things as they really are. In Yoga philosophy, this filters are called kleshas. How to make it clear? To be continued in my next post.

Image source: Color through lens filter by Ryan Haddad