31 Jan 2019

What I have learnt: How lost in thought we are


When you reflect on your year last year, do you see that much of the unhappiness or discontent that you experienced was due to getting lost in thought?

How much do you place a pleasant Pollyanna layer onto where the body and feelings might be, telling yourself and others, “I am good, it is alright’, while your heart is weeping? How much do you place a black cloud layer onto moments and miss nuances of beauty, kindness, warmth or delight? In effect, how much do you kid yourself? How much do you live in a mind-defined world disconnected from how it is experienced?

On a morning walk at Rushcutters Bay, a young woman about ten meters in front of me is obviously feeling ill. It looks like she is going to collapse or vomit and she is leaning on a lamppost. I go to her and get her to sit down, head between the knees, tell her to follow the breath and gradually she calms down a little. Her partner comes up and says: “She always does this, overdoes it.” Eventually she looks up through hazy eyes and says:”Such a great way to start the day!” Really?!

We celebrate mind over the body, mind over matter. This might have been useful when giving pep talks before battles, but we have taken this hero babble into our day-to-day lives where not giving in to the needs or aches of the body is being tough, winning behaviour. There is a line somewhere: for those of us who find it hard to get up in the morning, if we let the body decide we may never get out of bed, but there is another side and that is our complete disconnect and disregard for what the body is saying to us, for what the body needs. I was thinking how insane it is that we have something called ‘organic’ food. All food should be organic, our bodies are organic, when did it become ok to put chemicals and other toxins into a living organism? Only a disconnect and separation from our body as a living organism could lead to this.

We certainly suffer from poor body, mind and feeling integration. Or is it delusion of the separation?

We think that sorting out our emotional pain and past is a thinking matter. Interestingly, after 9/11 free Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Psychoanalysis was offered to the victims. Two years later someone decided to ask the survivors what had worked. No one had done more than one session of CBT or psychoanalysis, everyone attributed their healing to body-based therapies.

Even mindfulness is being high-jacked as something that can enhance a cognitive process, usually for the sake of productivity and efficiency. This is partly due to a cultural cataclysm between our western culture and the culture context of the Buddhist writings making good translations almost impossible.

To English speakers the word “mind” is usually associated with intellect, with thinking, and that is seen as separate from emotions and body sensations. We don’t easily think of feelings and body sensation as part of the mind. Mind referenced in the sutras often includes all of our sensory and psychological functions, including subconscious ones. The cultures that produced the great sutras and other teachings did not separate intellect and emotions, mind and body, the way we do.

There were originally (from Pali and Sanskrit) three words for mind, Citta being one of them. Within some schools of Mahayana Buddhism, Citta is associated with the ‘storehouse consciousness’, that which contains all the impressions of previous experiences. We know that the subconscious part of this is accessed through body awareness. Interestingly, the Danish word ‘minde’ means memory, so perhaps the origins of mind did encompass it all?

Thinking dominance is old. Descartes said: ‘I think therefore I am’. Check in, is there not an ‘I am’ beyond and below thinking? Who are you when free of thought or thinking? Zen Koans have for millennia been a practice used to transcend the thinking mind in order to access greater wisdom.

The cost of the separation – living in delusion. Experience is a dance, an integration between the body state, feelings, thoughts, and all that is around us. What happens when we only pay attention to one domain of this? We get lost living in disconnection, our labels are inherently limited in representing our experience – ‘all descriptions of reality are only temporary hypotheses’.

You are a being below and beyond thought. Reality is a vast, very vast moment-to-moment unfolding. Your very best accomplice in realising this and living more integrated with body, feelings and thoughts is kind curiosity. Holding the experience of your past, fears and desires; greeting this moment in kind curiosity about how that shows up in the body, as feelings and as thoughts. Through this we realise there is no self, just a pulse of dependent arising. They truly are not your thoughts……

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