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Month: October 2017

Seek Pleasure and Avoid Suffering: The Mind’s Trap

Seek Pleasure and Avoid Suffering: The Mind’s Trap

Pleasure and SufferingThere are several important concepts that I feel compelled to mention in order for you to understand how and why the mind seeks emotional pleasure and avoids painful feelings.

First and foremost is the concept that the mind records all of our experiences. In doing this it also analyzes through comparison of past experiences and/or learned values and beliefs, what experiences or situations felt good or bad or what our culture taught the mind is desirable or undesirable. In order to know what is pleasurable the mind must have an opposite experience to compare….what is not pleasurable. The mind lives in a world of duality.

Next is the concept that the mind always produces thoughts about the past or future. The mind has no thoughts about the present moment (view my post on The Present Moment is Unthinkable). The mind decides what was pleasurable in the past and the mind projects and anticipates that the same experience can or cannot be pleasurable in the future. The mind is not capable of knowing “truth” and makes assumptions given the data it holds in memory. It gives you its best guess.

In addition we should recognize that the mind does a better job in technical functioning areas rather than in the emotional functioning arena. The mind’s memories can consistently help the body to find its way home but the mind lacks the ability to provide us with consistent feelings of happiness or satisfaction. In a simplistic sense, the primitive mind is always seeking ways to protect the organism from danger and keep it alive and reproducing, while the more evolved portions of the mind work tirelessly to try and keep us satisfied, happy and provide us with a feeling that we belong.

Lastly, I offer the truth that we are not the body or the mind but beyond both. When I use the words “us, I, me, you or mine” in my writing I do this for convenience and common “human” communication. There is no separate me, self or us and if you perceive this to be true, this whole conversation about the mind and its pursuit of happiness and avoidance of pain comes into the light.

Utilizing these basic concepts we can now discuss how the mind gets trapped in its thinking. The mind and its motives are based on the principles of pleasure and fear of suffering. First let’s look at pleasure.

The mind seeks pleasure in a plethora of ways. We strive to feel self-important and successful according to the values and beliefs taught to us or to the values and beliefs we hold sacred. We look back on our actions and evaluate how well we performed. We are concerned about how much we have accomplished and we want to feel proud about our economic position in society and the type of important position or function we perform.

In addition we anticipate a feeling of pleasure in the future from our projection that our successes will continue to be satisfactory as life progresses. It is not important if these things we think in the past or future are acceptable to society, but they must be in some way acceptable to the mind operating in your body.

It should also be mentioned that we seek physical pleasure in the form of sexual satisfaction, we care about how the body appears to others and compares to the standards of our given culture and we gain pleasure through satisfactory physical exertion and accomplishment. When the mind feels pleasure our actions are evaluated by our minds and others as; happy, optimistic, positive, light and jubilant.

I can go on about pleasure but I believe at this point your mind will agree that we seek pleasure in numerous ways and this is the mind’s main emotional goal.

Suffering, which is the opposite side of the pleasure principle, is something that our minds are determined to limit and if possible, avoid. I use the word suffering instead of pain because pain is something that the body experiences. Suffering is caused by the minds analysis of circumstances and cultural values and beliefs not achieved. The mind then refuses to accept what is actually happening at the present moment. Emotional suffering can include the feeling of loneliness, loss, inability to obtain what the mind sees as pleasurable and so much more.

The mind is afraid of what it does not know and even sometimes what it does know. It dreads the unknown future and all that it might hold. It also fears the known facts of life such as the belief that no one can live forever and life is not permanent. Since the mind’s thoughts prompt our actions, suffering in the mind is displayed by the body and our demeanor exudes unhappiness, sadness, low or dark energy and verbal admissions of hopelessness.

Now it is the time to discuss the trap that is caused by the seeking of pleasure. Having experienced pleasure, our minds want this feeling to continue. The mind wants the future to hold the same satisfaction that it evaluated in the past. Because the mind cannot assure that the future will hold anything pleasurable it begins to experience fear.

The emotional feeling of fear is not something that just happens to the mind but rather it is always an anticipation (a thought of the mind) of something bad happening in the future that it does not see as pleasurable. This feeling of fear is prompted by the memory of things learned or experienced and can include past losses, traumatic experiences, physical injury, inability to know what will happen in the future and of course the anticipation of death and its accompanying suffering and annihilation of the self.

To further explain the trap we can look at how the mind attaches to things that are pleasurable. This attachment can be to the continuation of the self, money, family members, friends, a career, a belief or value or anything tangible or psychological that it holds to be important. The mind wants to hold onto these pleasurable attachments and keep them flowing but at the same time fears their loss or lack of continuation. So, with pleasure and attachment comes its opposite, suffering.

To simplify these concepts consider this…. thoughts produced by the mind, which is an analysis and response of memory involving both emotional and physical events, are recorded by your brain cells. The mind holds these memories and wants to re-experience what feels pleasurable and avoid what it knows or doesn’t know about the suffering possible in the future. The underlying trap is that the mind cannot give you assurance of continuation or continuity of pleasure and this causes the mind to feel fear. Fear in turn, causes suffering.

So why is this important to recognize? The answers to this question centers around the activity of awareness. By being aware of how the mind seeks pleasure and avoids suffering we can better understand the choices we are making and why the mind is driving us to take certain actions.

The more you recognize the functioning of the mind in this area, the more your mind will cease to automatically drive you in these directions. There will be a natural pause in your thoughts and this can give the mind an opportunity to reconsider the action it is prompting you to take. It will begin to question itself.

In essence, bringing awareness to this seeking and avoiding will educate your mind that it does not need to drive you with its old learned criteria of what is pleasurable and what is not. In addition, eventually the mind can learn that its seeking of pleasure is geared to alleviate a feeling it has of emotional emptiness. As an example, you open the refrigerator multiple times an evening not because you are really hungry but because you are feeling and seeking an emotional need for comfort.

Going back to the beginning of this post and reviewing the concepts that I presented might now give you some additional context and understanding about your mind’s need to seek pleasure and avoid suffering. Here are a few things that I suggest you can do to gain awareness:

  • Watch your behavior closely and learn what the mind is seeking and avoiding
  • Don’t judge the mind’s choices but rather take note of how it drives your actions
  • Take note of the specific areas that the mind is consistently seeking. Question why the mind is prompting you to take these actions
  • Observe others to learn what they seek and avoid
  • Choose one behavior you have that is “pleasure seeking” and explore how this eventually causes you to suffer

When you become aware you are seeking pleasure or avoiding doing something that causes you a level of suffering, immediately stop and notice what thoughts arise. This interruption will stop the pattern and give you an opportunity to evaluate your actions. In the beginning, the mind will fight this and if your awareness is sharp and you are persistent, you will see how the mind continues to move your actions in the direction toward the fulfillment of that pleasure.

Ultimately with a successful understanding and awareness of the mind’s abilities and limitations coupled with a non-verbal recognition that the mind or the body is not who you are, your true Self will come into the light! And that light is beyond pleasure, pain and suffering.

The Present Moment is Unthinkable

The Present Moment is Unthinkable

 

Do you recognize that your thoughts are always about the past or the future? It is easy for you to think about this important statement as your mind is wired to recall things that already happened. If you have not damaged your brain, memory is not usually a difficult task.

All of our dialogue and conversations with our self and others involve things that have already happened or our anticipation of what the future may hold. It may include relating events, ideas, thoughts and feelings that you have experienced. But the important fact here is that these things happened in the past. When we plan our actions, have thoughts about how life may unfold or have apprehension or fear about our ability to succeed or even continue to live, our mind is in an anticipatory or future mode.

Let’s now examine how our mind produces thoughts about the present moment. No matter how hard you try to do this you will fail. Why is this? It is because your mind does not have this capacity. When you are in the present moment there are no thoughts. You can perceive something but not think it. Close your eyes and ask yourself the following question, “what is happening now at this very moment”? Now wait for an answer to come in the form of a thought. In that split second, your mind is quiet. There is no thought. But, in most cases (unless you have practiced a “presence” technique such as meditation and have trained the mind to remain still) it will immediately resume producing thoughts about the past or future.

Let’s take another example. You are outside and the sun is about to fall below the mountains. The light of the sun as it disappears reveals a brilliant orange hue. You perceive this occurrence in nature and you are now…. in the present moment. You have no thoughts. Your mind is silent. You are “one” with the perception. Now, all of a sudden, and this can be a split second later, your mind is activated and a thought arises that says, “Wow, this is so beautiful”. At this moment you are no longer in “presence” but rather in the past. Your mind has registered the experience and is now categorizing it against what it has learned about beauty and ugliness. You turn to someone next to you and say, “this is so beautiful”. What you should really say is this was so beautiful. Because now you are no longer “one” with your perception, not in the present moment, but rather your mind has taken over and is relating an experience that happened in the past. At this point your mind which is always seeking pleasure and avoiding pain will likely say, “I would love to see this again and perhaps tomorrow we shall return to this very spot to view this magnificent event”. You are now anticipating the future. And, seeking more pleasure (which we can talk about in another future post)…..ops… there I go thinking about the future!

So, “Why is it important for you to know that the mind operates in the past and future and is not capable of thinking about the present”? Of primary importance is the fact that you are not your mind. You are beyond your thinking. You are the present moment that is one with everything and everyone. To fully experience this earthly life we must recognize that the past is no longer and the future does not exist. The only reality is the present. The past and future are held in memory. And memory, good or bad, does a great job in keeping you from perceiving the present moment.

Memory coupled with time also gives us a sense of the “self” that is separate and temporary and will eventually die. These thoughts cause us fear, suffering and loneliness.

I want to be clear that despite the lack of capacity of the mind to focus on the present moment, there is indeed a role that it plays during our time on the planet. The minds ability to remember and plan ahead is important for earthly functions and overall economic purposes. It has an important function such as helping you to know the way home, or how to work your computer, how to avoid possible dangers and any number of work-related technical tasks needed to function on this plane of existence. However it is important to realize that our mind is a tool and has its limitations. We must realize that it cannot bring us to a place of deep love, peace or connectedness.

Living from a place beyond the mind in the present moment with no attachment to what was or will be is the reality and truth that we all must realize. Living in this place is our true nature and we are at home there. But you may ask if this is possible? Can we really live in the present and still put food on the table? How would this work? What would this look like? Here are a few important benefits and realizations that might help us to answer these questions:

  • You can live more in the present than you think you can. With observation of how this occurs and making opportunities to practice, your mind will stay silent longer giving you relief from its musings about the past and present
  • Living from a place of presence more often will allow you to be more spontaneous and alive and will rejuvenate your energy. You will make better and more creative decisions
  • Being present leads to a deeper realization of love and connectedness and in this state you will operate with a more empathic and open hearted attitude in your daily living
  • Being present during an important work situation or during a crucial conversation with others will allow you to deeply listen without quickly evaluating or making judgments. This will make you more objective and successful at work and with others
  • Learning how your mind quickly anticipates the future by looking at its past experiences will give you valuable information as to why you feel stress and sometimes make poor decisions
  • Not taking the minds thoughts, which is always made up of old (past) information, as the truth will motivate you to stay more in the present which is the only place truth resides

Letting go of the idea that “you are your thoughts” is incredibly liberating and will help you get closer to the perception of what your true being is. You are not your mind and its thoughts. You are the ever-present. And the present moment is unthinkable!

 

 

 

The Lost Innocence of Childhood

The Lost Innocence of Childhood

 

When did I become a person, separate and distinct? When did I start to have desires and a need to be happy? When did I become fearful and experience feelings of insecurity? When did loneliness arrive in my life? When did my aggression and feelings of competitiveness come about?  And when did I start comparing myself to others and feeling good or bad about who and what I am?

So many questions and truly only one truthful answer. All this came about during my early childhood, when my developing mind was taught that life is all about being what our culture demands we be, despite what I was truly experiencing. These teachings ended my innocence and gradually propelled me into being a conforming member of my parent’s world. In essence my family and society taught my mind to adopt the beliefs, values, thoughts, hopes and desires of my culture.

I remember being a young child where every day seemed like an eternity. Time did not really exist and in fact I was totally unaware of any need for time.   Everything I perceived was new and I accepted all of it without a thought. I had a sense of wonder. I was interested in knowing more about this world I arrived in. I asked tons of questions and never doubted I would receive truthful answers. I had no real needs except a biological desire to eat and frolic. I was part of everything and everyone. I felt love in its purest form. It wasn’t something I had to cultivate or seek. It just was. My childhood was not unusual and I experienced hunger, the pain of being injured, and physically ill. But the psychological feelings of being adequate or inadequate, suffering, desire, seeking satisfaction, rejection and anger only surfaced as I assimilated and played-out the teachings of my culture.

Sure, throughout the years I modified or attempted to change these things that I was taught but the concrete foundation of what I learned was the underpinning of my life and these truths remained for many years as the only truth of my existence. I learned that this is the way things are supposed to be. This is the world as our elders teach us. If you want to fit in than you accept these things. However, despite this acceptance of reality I always had a intuitive feeling that something wasn’t right with these teachings.  I was determined to find the truth of my existence and along the way I experienced a different reality.

Here are 12 realized truths that I have experienced during my journey.  I will be writing about these areas and much more in future posts:

  1. We are born egoless and truly connected to everything
  2. Childhood innocence is forgotten when you become a separate self
  3. The mind is an interesting tool that we know very little about and we have little control over what it thinks
  4. Our mind has no capacity to define what we are. It really has no idea
  5. The education we receive from our culture is geared for us to survive and thrive in our world but not questioning these teachings is akin to allowing yourself to be brainwashed
  6. Memory can help or hinder our experiences and falsely confirms we are a person in time and space
  7. The mind lives in the past and anticipates the future. It knows nothing about the present
  8. Time is an illusion. It doesn’t really exist
  9. You can focus your attention on “what you are not” which will help you to realize you are beyond the body/self.
  10. Suffering is in the mind and comes from not accepting “what is”. This is different than physical pain which belongs to the body
  11. Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is a prominent theme in our lives and our mind is consumed with it
  12. Fear is mind based and is always of the unknown and this includes the fear of dying

It has taken me thousands of hours of spiritual study and meditation, multiple spiritual teachers and the passing of many loved ones to come close to a realization of “what I am not”.  I now realize that I am not what I think I am….. and definitely not what I was taught to believe. This has in turn brought me closer to my original childhood innocence.