Ideas, tools, and techniques for a happier life.

One with everything

We talked yesterday about the notion of being boundless, which we described as an innate longing built into our very DNA.
The danger is that this can begin to get all ethereal, floating off into the stratosphere.
Let’s bring it back down to earth. The way we know a thing is a thing is because it has given boundaries. We know where a table begins and ends, right? And we define where WE begin and end by our physical shape.
But nevertheless there is that part of us longing to be more. What else does falling in love mean than wanting to include another person as part of our essence, our existence?
Beyond just the person we love lies the whole world. And those who have reached far greater heights of consciousness understand what it is to feel that sense of inclusion about not just another favourite being, but all of existence.
Hence the idea of “Make me one with everything”, as the Dalai Lama famously said to the pizza guy.
That’s what happens when we begin to dissolve our sense of personal identity, intellect and memory, and perceive all of existence, and all other people, even our “enemies”, as part of ourselves.
Again, certainly not something we’re taught to do. Almost alien to our Western individualistic culture, but nonetheless essential if we are to grow.
I’m sitting as I write this in the vehicle licensing centre in Barcelona. Surrounded by crowds of people I’ve never met. All ages, men and women, a dozen different ethnicities and a smattering of languages.
So can I feel them as part of me? Can I dissolve the boundaries? Yes of course. And not just the boundaries between people but between me and the uncomfortable plastic chair, and the fluorescent strip lighting,.
It begins, as we’ve seen, as a concept. But with practice it becomes a reality, something we feel in our bones.
Now for the whole of next week I will be away (more about that tomorrow) but when I get back we will begin to piece all this together: how do we move towards this sense of oneness? What mental or physical techniques or practices can help us get there?
And perhaps above all, what actual changes will all that make in my daily life, as I put the bins out, or drink my coffee?
In other words, why bother?
I think you’ll find it’s worth it…

The search for freedom

We saw last week how our body and our minds are essentially accumulations of food and impressions. And that living a fuller life at least to some extent, lies in moving beyond our body and mind to experience a state that’s less confined: one that’s not narrowly tied to a single person, or a single identity. It’s the state the Indian tradition has long described as “chitta”.
So in fact we’re in search of the boundless. Of freedom.
What lies beyond the physical is of course spiritual.
Imagine you were locked in a 5mx5m cell for a week, then taken to a cell that was10mx10m. Initially you’d feel freer, but then you’d soon became aware of the limits again. Even if the cell was doubled, or the walls flattened, but a barbed-wire fence stood in the distance, you’d start to feel imprisoned once more.
And this applies to everyone on the planet.
The only difference is that most people long unconsciously for that freedom, and seek all kinds of solutions to provide it, from shopping to drinking and from sex to drugs.
We, on the other hand, are making it a conscious pursuit.

Jam jars

Towards the end of last week, we discovered the separateness of the body and the mind from ourselves.
As we’ve said, this begins as a concept, the kind of thing you can nod at, and grasp, if only intellectually. It takes time for it to seep into your blood, your bones, your way of being. But it can happen.
Traditionally, when people sit down to meditate, they have to strain not to think. It’s a bit like when someone says to you “Do NOT think of a purple elephant” and you can think of nothing else. When you try to stifle the mind, it keeps fighting back. Mystics down the ages have talked of the “monkey mind” because of its capacity to keep generating new thoughts, ideas, and images when you’re trying your hardest not to think of anything.
But realising that the mind is not you puts an end to the struggle. The mind can go on thinking – that’s what it does. But by creating a little space between you and it, it’s as if you’re putting it in a big jam jar, like a bee, and firmly screwing the lid on. Then taking that jam jar into a forest and hurling it into a thicket. It’s still buzzing, but you’re a long way away. Then put your body in another jar and leave it behind.
The “mantra” ‘I am not the body, I am not even the mind’ might just help anchor that and help the idea on its journey from assent to assimilation, from endorsement to embodiment.
Imagine what’s left as a quiet clearing, full of light.
Now why not return to this week’s challenge and see if you can do it in this new light?

You and yours

Somewhat cryptically, I wrote yesterday that “We have a mind, we have a body. They are not us.”
Let’s unpack this a little.
First of all, in linguistic or existential terms, if we talk about “my mind” or “my body”, much as we would also say “my phone” or “my shoes”, who or what is it that they belong to? Who or what is the mysterious possessor of both these tools?
This suggests an essential self, an abstract entity that is actually distinct from both those possessions. A thing cannot belong to itself, right? My shoe can have laces, but it cannot have a shoe.
(Hope your eyes aren’t beginning to glaze over or cross at this point).
In yogic thought, both your body and your mind are seen as “accumulations”.
Basically you’re born as a tiny tot, and you accumulate and grow your body by eating food. Whatever you ingest, from jelly beans to potatoes and from bananas to ice cream, the miracle that is your body has the knowledge and memory to turn it into more human body, whereas a cow could eat the same things and become more of a cow, not more of a human. Your body, far from being the essential you, is in fact just a heap of gathered food.
In similar vein, your mind is essentially an accumulation of memories, impressions, perceptions, inherited ideas, and the like. It starts off pretty unpopulated, but then you keep adding bits and pieces you pick up over the years, like a palimpsest, until it becomes an incredibly detailed map of your past, rather than of the future. It is 100% made up of your own experience, your own reading, your own learning. Once again, it’s just a heap of input.
So now you have two heaps: a heap of food and a heap of input. They are yours, but they are not you. The you is the part that is able to look from a distance at the pair of them.
Once you begin to perceive that simple but fundamental distinction, the idea of working with these two tools becomes a whole lot clearer.

Two key tools

Our aim here is both simple and ambitious. We have a mind, we have a body. They are not us (more on that in tomorrow’s post), but they belong to us. They are both tools, bits of technology. It has always been the understanding in certain cultures that the way we use our mind and body is up to us, not a given, or a fait accompli handed down from the heavens. It follows that there are some people who are using their own minds and bodies to good effect, and others who are using them against themselves, albeit unconsciously. We have probably all done that over time – allowed our own minds to turn against us, and our bodies to rebel. The challenge before us is therefore to begin to understand how both mind and body work, and to inch forward, making tiny improvements. We’re not talking about a flash revelation, about waking up as someone else. But minuscule adjustments, chipping away until our life gives us a feeling of pleasantness. Once we see them as tools, we can begin to learn how to use them better. For that, we need to create a little distance between us and them. Tune in tomorrow for more on the subject!

Time and energy

In yogic thinking, human life is often seen in terms of two dimensions available to all: time and energy.
The thing is, time is rolling away for all of us at the same pace: old or young, asleep or awake, male or female, black or white, rich or poor. We have no control over it (at least not until time machines become as widespread as mobile phones).
However, our life energies (we being made up of mind, body, emotions and life energies, or “prana”) are very much within our control, through the various ideas and practices we’re beginning to learn about here.
The trick is simple: to get to the end of your life with enough energy to spare, rather than running out of energy while you’ve still got time left. How many old people do you know who have sort of given up, or crumpled? They’ve run out of energy before they’ve run out of time.
Our aim is therefore to do the exact opposite: to run out of time well before we run out of energy. Or more positively put: to have enough energy to spare when time decides to give up on us, as it inevitably will.
I’d rather drop dead one day with all my faculties buzzing than slowly decline into decrepitude or senility (both signs of failing energy and purpose).
And the time to start thinking about working on those energies is today…

Challenge no. 4

Today’s challenge is a sort of revision of what we’ve talked about this week. Take a look at this video, but before you do so, gently rid yourself of any prejudices you may have about the way people look. I know Sadhguru initially comes across as your typical magic-carpet mystic, but he’s a huge inspiration to me, and perhaps even the reason I suddenly came up with the idea of The Spark! A man with an profound intellect, an organisation of 9 million volunteers (no less) and several education, reforestation and village renaissance projects in the poorest parts of India. A speaker at Davos, the UN and just about everywhere else, and a genuine yogi. He’s also witty, approachable and sharp as a tack in his thinking. When you’ve seen the short video, jot down a few notes in your journal on the relevance of the four terms for mind that we’ve studied to your daily life. What difference does it make to know this categorisation? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHvHMiPiKao

Fourth dimension

When we talk of a dimension beyond intellect (buddhi), identities and ego (ahamkara) and memories (manas), the idea is of course not to belittle or discredit these things. You won’t get far in your job without an intellect, you need to act like a mother, a professional, a husband or a social liberal whenever the situation calls for it, and without your memory you wouldn’t remember how to brush your teeth, or your pin code, or what it is you came into the room for (although the last one happens to me quite a bit already).
The problem arises when we spend 100% of our time in those three dimensions, and are simply unaware of the fourth, which is known as “chitta” and can be translated here as “awareness” or “consciousness”.
But there’s a difference: whereas your intellect, identities and memories are clearly person-specific, when you dip into chitta you’re stepping into a space that’s universal, (see our earlier discussion of spirit and soul). For that reason it has no trace of “you” in it.
It’s a space unaffected by intellect, unidentified with any particular person and unsullied by memory. A vast space of pure awareness which has as many doors as there are people on the planet – only that most of those doors are left closed much of the time.
But it’s a place that’s easily accessible from everyday reality. You just have to know it exists, where to look, and how to enter.
As we saw last week, knowing a word for something, or discovering a new concept, is a vital first step. So now we have a word, where previously there was nothing. The next step is making it a part of our lives. We’ll come back in weeks to come to discover ways of adding a little drop of chitta whenever we can.
As for the effect, well, imagine a huge vat of crystal clear water. Add two drops of red food dye and there’d be an immediate change in the colour of the water right from the beginning, even though the proportion of food dye to water is infinitesimal.
In practical life, tuning into that non-personal space opens up a dimension which also colours your day. It pops up now and again in your mind as you’re about to launch into an argument, or complain, or do any of those habitual things… and the more drops of chitta you add, the more you find it subtly influences the way you think and feel.
It’s a pretty simple idea, and simple to access, with a little practice and discipline. But one thing at a time… We’ll come back to it next week.

Memory lane

So if the intellect (buddhi) is largely conditioned by the identities (ahamkara) we assume, those identities are in turn largely based upon another dimension of mind, known as “manas”, which we can translate – for the purposes of this simple introduction – as “memory”.
So many of our responses to stimuli around us are memorised, habitual, even compulsive. We react to others in habitual ways, we think habitual thoughts (as may emerge in this week’s challenge). And if we manage to forget who we are for a single day, and seek to live in ways that are fresh or spontaneous, all it takes is a return visit to our family to remind us exactly who we were before we managed to forget. 😀
But manas refers not only to memory in the sense of remembering things mentally, but to a variety of memories within the body itself, all the way down to cellular memory.
So on any given day, we are a walking bundle of buddhi, ahamkara and manas, using our intellect to look at life and try to understand it, drawing unconsciously on our various identities to tell us who we are, and retrieving information from a vast bank of memories in order to shore up those identities.
But there’s a fourth dimension to the mind that lies beyond all three – never replacing them, but adding an extra layer of depth and offering a different way of approaching our lives.
We’ll come on to that tomorrow…

Mistaken identity

Yesterday we saw how in the Indian tradition one dimension of mind is known as “buddhi” and can be loosely translated as “intellect”.
Of course we’re looking at this in simple terms to begin with for two reasons:
1) My own discovery of these ideas is relatively recent, so I’m not steeped in the stuff.
2) If we go much further into the complexities, we’re going to have to deal with millennia of extremely subtle philosophising. Check any of these terms on an Indian discussion group and you’ll soon get lost in the maze of intricacies.
So “simple” it is, for now. I’m proceeding on the not entirely unreasonable assumption that if most of these ideas are new to me, as a reasonably informed Westerner, then they are probably also new to you?
Nevertheless, you’ll come to see very soon that all this is extremely practical and relevant to our search for happiness. We’re not just exploring exotic terms for the sake of it – they all feed into daily life. We just need to explore the terrain a little first.
If, as we saw yesterday, buddhi is comparable to a knife, cutting, dividing, dissecting and breaking down reality, then the hand that wields the knife is “ahamkara”, (pronounced aHAMkara, same stress as aMERica), loosely translated as “identity”.
Now we all embody several identities at once: as I write this, I’m white, a man, a husband, a son, a brother, an employee, a social media writer, a leftie, middle-class(ish), a vegan, a Brit, a Welshman, a European (yes, still!), a feminist and so on and so on. I’m sure you too can conjure up at least 15 similar identities in no time.
Now where it gets interesting is that, when you think about it, we use our intellect very much as an instrument of our identity. If you’re a woman, it’s likely you perceive a good chunk of reality through that identity. If you’re a Remainer or a Brexiteer, your whole outlook takes on a different tinge. If you’re a professional writing in a forum, your identity – how you see yourself – will not only determine what you write, but how you write it, and how aggressively you defend what you’ve written. Sometimes you identify so strongly with a single point of view that you personally feel offended if someone so much as takes an opposing stance…
Here’s the thing: the discovery of happiness is directly conditional on the extent to which we can shed our identities, because each of those identities is in fact a form of ego.
That goes against everything we’ve ever thought and done of course. It means unlearning a lifetime’s work. Not something we can do overnight, but we find that, even if we chip away and remove just a few specks of dust from the various walls represented by our identities, then we begin to make – and feel – progress.
And like everything else on this journey, even the slightest progress begins to show up in surprising and delightful ways.

About the project

The Spark is an exploration of ideas, tools and techniques for a happier life, based on the conviction that happiness is the cause and not the consequence of success, fulfilment and whatever else we may be seeking on our journey.

It was launched on 1 January 2020 by Andrew Morris and its members come together to discuss the ideas on a daily basis on Facebook.

About Andrew Morris

Andrew is a writer, educator, translator, vlogger and lifelong seeker, with a knack for bringing people together around ideas, projects and common goals. Tirelessly enthusiastic, he exhausted his teachers on his first ever school trip to France, who wearily reported to his mother: “He didn’t sit down once all week”. He still hasn’t sat down.