What Constitutes the Stability of Our Mind?
So in this blog I wanted to go into a little bit more about the subtle energetic architecture of the body so that you understand the mechanism by which we accumulate a charge around the experiences we have in life that then goes on to condition how we react to what we experience in the future.
One of the ways in which ‘how you react’ gets registered within you is through electromagnetism. Consciousness is electromagnetic. Consciousness produces an intelligent electromagnetic field and it is this living electrical field that keeps you alive. The presence of this field within and around us is the mark of being alive and when it’s gone we’re dead. The moment this consciousness withdraws, you are dead.
It’s not your heartbeat that keeps you alive. Your heart is kept beating by the electromagnetic field that is produced by consciousness. We are electrical and magnetic by nature. And we accumulate charges dependent upon the quality of the consciousness that is moving through us. Depending upon the quality of that consciousness we accumulate impedance in the physical system that interferes with its natural rhythms and functioning. The real intelligence behind life is a pure intelligence and a pure awareness that keeps everything in balance perfectly until it is impeded or interfered with.
So it’s not our intelligence that is keeping us alive. Our intelligence is actually interfering with that intelligence that keeps us alive. The interfering intelligence being that intelligence that prompts us to react and think and form all kinds of ideas about these experiences that we are hanging. The way that we react to our experience is the interference that is accumulated as impedance in this electromagnetic field.
The current of life moving through us becomes impeded to a lesser or greater degree the more we interfere with our experience. When we get out of the way and allow things to be what they are it just moves through us in a balanced and life supporting way. So at one level, we feel the psychic charge of our anger or our craving interfering with the balance within us as disturbances in the electromagnetic field of energy around us.
At a more subtle level, every time the mind arises it produces materiality. Mind does not arise without producing materiality. There are very subtle fluctuations in the subtle material field every time the mind arises.
Now certain types of consciousness produce certain types of materiality. In particular volitional force that prompts us to act think or speak i.e. karma, produces certain types of materiality that are fundamental to the integrity of our body.
Material states don’t just happen to come into being. This isn’t a material universe in which consciousness is a by-product. Consciousness is the basic ground of life and materiality is a by-product of consciousness. When you break this body down in great detail in your meditation you will see the arising and passing of it. In this way we come to see how the mind is constantly producing and re-producing new material states in the body. And the quality of them is indepinned by the very qualty of our mind itself. When we are angry the body becomes hot, when we are full of craving it becomes cold, when we are restless or anxious its vibrations become excessive and uncontrolled, when we are confused or full of ignorance or dullness the flow of life becomes blocked. All of these changes in the state of our mind change the state of the body in subtle ways.
All of our sense bases (of sight hearing, smell, taste and feeling, for example) are produced by subtle material elements within the body that support the actual physical structures. In the back of your eye, for example, there is a clear transparent element that we call the eye base. It is like the software that allows the optic nerve the retina and the lens to work together and produce the faculty of sight. And without it we are blind, even if the physical hardware is in tact. There are many people born blind for example and yet there does not appear to be anything lacking in the hardware of the lens retina and optic nerve. It is not the hardware itself that gifts us the faculty of sight. The hardware is only a carrier or support for the software or subtle material basis, which itself is produced by karma. When the software is dysfunctional our faculties become dysfunctional. When the software becomes defunct we lose our sense faculties. It is the consistent arising of consciousness within the body that supports these subtle material basis and the quality of our consciousness determines their integrity.
I ask you to meditate in the lower part of the heart and to feel the subtle charge there. In fact even if you do not meditate you can place your attention in your heart area and you will be able to get a sense of how it feels. And more importantly how it is making you feel. When we are anxious for example there is a very palpable feeling tone to our anxiety and we can feel it within the body itself. With skill in meditation, we can feel with great detail the way we are disturbed physiologically by our mind. If these disturbances continue for a long time the actual physical body will start to break down.
Think about it. Your mind is appearing within your body 24 hours of every day, and the quality of it has a huge impact upon the quality and integrity of your body. We are all well informed about how important it is to nourish ourselves well with food. We understand how eating poorly breaks down the body. But we eat only a couple of times a day and what we eat changes all the time. But the mind never stops arising within the body. Why would we think that this has no effect upon us? In truth when we really look deeply into the body in your meditation when our insight and concentration faculties are strong and stable we will see for ourselves that there are more disturbances and sicknesses caused by the mind than there are caused by our nutrition. Yet how much care do we take of the quality of our mind? There are many of us obsessed with what we eat in our efforts to maintain our body, but it is possible that the obsessive nature of the mind can cause more damage than occasionally eating food that is not of the highest quality.
Our mind is infact such a disturbance to us that is it necessary for us to spend up to a third of our life unconscious in a state of sleep, just so that we can recover from the destabilizing effects it has on our body. We do not sleep simply because we are physically exhausted, we sleep because our mind exhausts and depletes us at every level by interfering with the innate intelligence that is maintaining our life and how it functions. We all know this if we think about it. When was the last time you went all night without sleep? What about two nights or even three without sleep. After only three nights without sleep the whole system starts to back up and our physiological functions become highly dysfunctional.
So make no mistake about it, your mind and the quality of it is the single biggest determining factor in the overall quality of not just your life but also your body. In part two of this blog I will explain in a little more detail exactly how we accumulate the charge that we produce in our mind so that the way we have reacted to things in the past is conditioning how we will react to what we experience now. And how you react now, is conditioning our experience in the future. This is the very mechanism by which we accumulate and experience one of the strongest conditioning factors in our lives; or what we call Karma.
Part 2. (This is a much more technical piece designed for those who really want to go down the rabbit hole!)
In part 1 I discussed, in general, the way that our mind is conditioning our body and its capacity to function coherently. In Part 2 I want to explain in more detail the way that this conditioning is accumulated so that we can demystify the notion of Karma and the way it functions
In your heart, as indeed there is throughout your whole body, there is also a subtle material element that is produced by a certain aspect of consciousness. It is this aspect of consciousness that we call Karma and what we mean by it is the volitional forces behind our mind that are prompting us to act and react to our experiences. When we act in anger or aversion, greed or craving it is these volitional forces that drive us that are the karmic force behind our actions. As I explained in part one every time the mind arises it produces subtle material states within in us that constantly change the way we are feeling within ourselves. For example, how we feel at the end of a hectic and anxious day, or how we feel when we are restless and impatient, or angry, or craving something, all of this has a feeling tone to it that underpins the very quality of our experience moment to moment and over time. How we feel after a long period of stress is profoundly different to how we feel after a period of calm and rest. And our body also is profoundly different in significant if not physically obvious ways.
So all throughout our body, we have this subtle material field through which we are experiencing the effects of the quality of our mind and how we react to our experiences. This is one of the most fundamental ways in which we experience the effects of Karma; as our overall sense of well-being or otherwise.
But in our heart, there is an even more significant subtle material element that supports the arising of consciousness itself. In Pali (which is the language of the Buddhist teachings), and in Sanskrit, this subtle element in the heart is called Hadayavatthu, translated it means the base of your mind. And it is significant to note that in these languages the word for heart and mind is the same because, as the yogis of the past were well aware the fundamental state of consciousness, as the simple awareness of our experience itself, arises through the heart. This awareness is what then produces the electrical currents of life which then fire up the whole of our body including our brain. While our thoughts may well be generated in our mind which itself is generated in the brain, consciousness itself as the basic ground of our experience, including our experience of what goes on in our mind, arises within and is generated through the heart.
It’s not the brain producing consciousness. Consciousness is the basic ground of everything. It is through the heart base and this subtle element we call Hadayavatthu, which is produced by karma, that the arising of consciousness is supported.
Now within each of is there is a subtle tone that’s constant in you that gives this flavour of you-ness to you and this we call Bhavanga.You could call this your unconscious if you like, if it gives you a familiar term to associate with. But basically, this Bhavanga consciousness arises through the heart and is the support for the arising of this subtle material element and it is the karmic flavour that is the root of Bhavanga. So for example, there are three basic roots to the mind. Each time our mind arises it does so with these three as its basis. So there is the root of greed or non-greed, the root of aversion and non-aversion, and the root of ignorance and non-ignorance.
There is a subtle flavour to the karma that has supported our life, and that has a certain tone to it, which basically determines the stability or instability of our heart base. So our heart is stable by nature or unstable by nature depending upon whether you are non-greed, non-aversion or non-ignorant rooted. Or greed, aversion or ignorant rooted etc. Whatever they may be, the unwholesome roots of our mind great within us the tendency towards instability of our heart base. And that degree towards which you are inherently unstable will be your tendency towards greed and aversion. So you’re heart is disturbed by the way you react to what you experience. Your tendency to react to what you experience is basically conditioned by how stable or unstable it feels; Itis a feedback loop. And all the time moment to moment and through out your life, your heart base is arising with its own vibration to which we add with the way in which we react to what we experience. This vibration and the feeling tone of it is the single biggest and deepest underlying factor in our overall sense of wellbeing and stability. A stable heart base produces a stable mind and mental constitution. And unstable heart base produces unstable mind and unstable mental contitution.
So this is the feedback loop between your heart, and how you’re feeling, and how you react. Having reacted with aversion to something, the aversion is what registers at the heart, and now we have accumulated more charge around our aversion that makes us even more prone to aversion in the future.
The heart base is extremely crucial because this is your mental constitution or lack of it. The heart base itself is like water. When you become disturbed it is Bhavanga (or your unconscious) that you are disturbing, in the way that a pond becomes disturbed when you throw a pebble into it. And so the heart base starts to shake when we react to our experiences Small reactions are like pebbles in a pond. Strong reactions are like rocks!. The more strongly you react, the more you are disturbed and the more unstable you feel. Likewise, consciousness is everywhere in the body, or awareness is everywhere in the body, and there is a similar transparent element all through the body that also shakes when we react strongly to our experiences. This element we call the base of the body, and we are not talking about the base chakra. It is another subtle element throughout the body that like the heart base is produced by Karma.
Whether it’s the eye base, ear base, tongue base, the base of your body, everywhere in your body is this transparent element body and the stability or the instability of that is what gives you your physical constitution. So it is in the heart base that we expeerience and fruit mentla karma as stability or instability in our basic state of mind, and it is in the base of the body that we experience and fruit physical karma as stability or instability in our body.
We either support our stability or instability of our mind, or we undermine it in the way we continue to react to things that happen through the life. So you basically have your standing state of strong or week mental and physical constitution. Somebody may have poor mental constitution but strong physical constitution. Another may have strong mental constitution and week physical constitution. You may be strong of both or weak of both but what you have, this is it! This is your starter pack, we all come in with different levels of support depending on the karma that has fruited for us coming into this life. This is not something we can change. It is what it is, some of us are fortunate in the support to our lives, others are less so. But thereafter you’ve got to decide whether your going to look after it or whether you’re going to dine out on it.
Now some people can dine out on life more than others because they have a very strong physical constitution and even when they don’t take care of themselves very well and they can still soldier on, but eventually there comes a time when it starts to get very unstable and the body breaks apart. Likewise some people’s mental constitution is very strong. They can handle no end of stress and strain and pressure and challenge and they don’t fall apart, until that is, when there comes a time that they take too much out of life and the heart base starts to become too unstable and then the mind becomes unstable. Some people are not so robust and with just a little bit of stress and challenge at a physical level and they start to fall apart. Those people have to be very careful about the way they guard the mind and the way they react to what they’re experiencing because not only are they they weak by nature but they also tend to be irascible by nature, and because they are inherently unstable their tendency to react is strong.
That’s when it’s very important to practice Vipassana. If our mind is volatile, intolerant, and unstable, or if we find we are oversensitive and cannot manage life’s challenges well, then we have a choice. We either seclude ourselves from the challenges of life, which is a little like trying to cover the world in carpet so that we don’t stub our toes, or we build a more stable and robust mind by re-conditioniing the way we react and behave in the face of life’s challenges. This is why we might want to practice insight or Viapassana meditation. Because although it is much more challenging that ordinary serenity meditation, it is the doorway through which we can rewrite our programming and conditioning and free ourselves of our inate tendencies for both expereince and cause suffering for ourselves (and eventually others). This is the difference between seeing your daily meditation practice as time our from a busy life, or seeing your cushion as a palace that you come to to do the work that fundamentally changes the basis of how we function. It is deep and challenging work, but equally rewarding and enriching if we have the courage and tenacity to do it, for it in effect constitutes the refinement and development of character. When we feel ready to do this work, I usually encourage people to go away and do it in the supportive and secluded environment of silent retreat.
So this explains why some people can cope with a lot of challenge at a physical level and other people can’t, and some people can cope with a lot of challenge at a mental level and other people can’t. And then what you throw in the pond will determine whether you are making yourself more unstable, or maintaining your stability, or building on your stability to become more robust. Gradually through our Vipassana meditation practice we can turn an unstable body into a stable body and an unstable mind into a stable mind, if we take care of it.
How does this relate to Sickness?
So what does this mean when looking at things like mental and physical degenerative sickness? Well I would suggest that 50 percent or more of them will be improved or even removed if you learn to take care of the quality of your mind. What do I mean by taking care of yourself? I mean by keeping stable and by guarding the bases of the heart and body, which means guarding the way in which you behave. Because regardless of how well you may try and nourish yourself, this is the way you make stable both the base of your body and the base of your mind.
So if you start throwing all kinds of stuff at yourself that you can’t actually land in a balanced way then you are undermining you own stability. Sooner or later you‘ll become a little bit heavy, or unstable or worn out. What you are actually doing when you learn to meditate is you make the foundation that you are landing these experiences on strong.
Why? So lets look at it like this. Say you have a charge around a really traumatic experience from the past that is held at an unconscious level somewhere in the heart base, or more specifically in Bhavanga. And because it’s so traumatic its so far below the surface of awareness that you hope it never show its face. It has so much charge that to land it would be like trying to landing a 747 airplane on on a grass airstrip in a field. Basically it is too much for you to manage with your current level of mental constitution. You know inside that you can only land a 747 on a very sturdy runway. If you were to try to land in a field you’d have a catastrophe on your hands, and therein lies the rub. This is the very reason that most of us keep buried our most challenging expereinces.
So if we are taking on lots of experiences that are extraordinary and overwhelming without the foundation to land them, the only way we can cope with it is to keep it buried beneath the surface of our awareness, and so we have to shut our awareness down so we don’t feel what our experiences are doing to us. This is what we mean by ignorance. This is what I mean when I talk about smothering our experience with ignorance so that we don’t feel the effect of that experience. We do it because somewhere inside we know that the runway in our heart is no more stable than a grass airstrip in a field. You can land a little airplane there. If you know you are unstable by nature then the way to build your stability is gradually…You land the little things that irritate you mildly. Maybe you can deal with not quite getting what you want for lunch. Or Ben not ringing the bell loudly enough on retreat so that you sleep through the afternoon session. Having your buttons pressed a little bit is all you can manage, but that is the place to start if your mind is intolerant by nature. So you start to develop a little bit of equanimity towards the things that normally irritated you, and as you develop your equanimity towards more and more challenging experiences, the heart base becomes more robust.
As the heart base becomes more robust you are more equipped to land those 747’s, but you don’t want to land them until you‘ve built the runway that is robust enough to land challenging experiences. And that is why we practice Samatha or serenity meditation before we practice Vipassana. Samatha imeditation is the momentary purification of mind for the purposes of building enough stability at the heart base in the moment. We do it in preparation to start to land the challenging experiences that we’ve taken on in the past.
So when you take out more than you can handle, you always create instability in your system. When we take on these great big experiences that we crave, we always cause ourselves to shake, and we end up feeling at the end of the day less robust. So you have to take care of yourself. Get enough sleep and don’t go out large on the town every night. Don’t cause your body and your heart to shake and try not to over stimulate your brain and get too stressed, and try and do too much, think to much, solve the worlds problems, argue the cuss with the next guy all the time. All of these things are bombarding this poor heart of yours and eventually it gets exhausted and eventually it just can’t cope any more and then it just starts to shut down. And gradually you go numb.
Remember the importance of simply learning to be with how you feel and learning to leave everything completely alone. Stop messing about with it but running it through your mind 100s of times are spinning in your reactions to things. They are all pebble, stones or even rocks thrown in the pond. Slowly build you runway so you can bring in the bigger experiences and one day you will be able to land a Boeing 747 every 90secs without batting an eyelid. That’s what they do at Heathrow airport. That’s what we do when we do the work on our cushion in the right way. Done in the wrong way you’ll exhaust your heart or feel even more exhausted than when you started. But if you do it in the right way you will build not just your serenity and your equanimity, but your robustness and your ability to go out there and live life boldly. So it’s very important that we learn to meditate in the right way with the right understanding. It’s not the case that if you just sit on the cushion you’ll eventually just arrive there. It’s not a linear process. You have to do what you need to do to lay the ground for what you need to do next, and then you need to do that work they YOU need to do now. And then that becomes the ground for what you need to do next. And its not the same for everybody.
You will all have different amounts of work to do in different areas to get to that place where you’re landing 747’s at Heathrow airport. And then one day perhaps no more 747s to land! Fabulous! Then you will know you can dance life without fear. And that would be great wouldn’t it?