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?

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.