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.