Monday, November 28, 2016

Mastering the mind (1) - the role of no's

How many thousands of no's do young children hear until they are six years old? 
Don't do this. Don't touch that. Don't talk back
Even the word infant means the one who doesn't speak - sort of shuts up and sulks in a corner. Silently we go on building up a resistance to no's even as we get into trouble when our curiosity gets the upper hand and we end up disobeying our elders. Hearing a no later on becomes a problem. 

Most religious traditions also have their commandments. 
Don't steal. Don't lie. Don't commit violence or adultery. 
Even then, we don't realize that establishing lists of moral and social rules, doesn't guarantee that people follow them. The first commandment of loving God before anything else is mostly put aside according to the convenience of the moment. He's often the last One we think about when things go wrong and we begin to suffer. 

Once a very good contact became the president of the São Paulo city council. He told me that his objective was to reduce the 11,000 municipal laws to 8,000. Even though in his mandate the number decreased, it doesn't seem that people's behavior has changed significantly. They still throw rubbish in the street and park in the wrong places. So much so, the so-called industry of fines has become an important source of the city's income. 
In essence,  progress has meant more laws, more judges and lawyers and yet more law-breakers and prisons. The pattern repeats. 

Many years ago I had just returned from a long trip overseas.  During my absence, the president had made a disastrous attempt to curb the country's rampant inflation, something I vaguely knew about. While visiting the south of Brazil, I was invited to participate in a live TV panel discussion about current affairs. Very quickly the subject became attack the president. When it came to my turn, without justifying what the president had done, I mentioned that I felt compassion for any leader in this chaotic world who tried to control what people do, when individually hardly anyone makes an effort to control their actions, let alone their minds. This more spiritual position was immediately jumped upon vehemently by the other panelists.  

Perhaps if someone early in our lives had taught us how to control our minds, all the chaos and the innumerable regulations that attempt to contain it would be much less. The problem is there are few candidates to teach us. Our elders hadn't learned this art either. Someone simply telling us no, or setting up rules and regulations was never a substitute for natural understanding and control of what to do and what not.
So we grow up with very flaccid mental and emotional muscles. Many who take up meditation claim that it doesn't work. They forget that, except for the lucky few, their minds have never really been working at an optimum. 

We learn to talk, walk, sing and even cook. No one has ever taught us how to think. Attention just flits around like bees in a field of flowers. We can be subject to up to 100,000 bits of mental flotsam and jetsam in one day*. Thoughts, sensations, memories, inspirations, ideas, feelings and desires all jostle for a prime position on the screen of our minds, as we observe the kaleidoscope that this lack of control produces of reality. Attempting to see things clearly through all these bits of our life floating around haphazardly is a permanent challenge. That's why sitting down, going inside only to come up against an uncontrolled mind, discourages many from meditation practice.

What to do? Learn to master the mind or just allow it to have its way? Is there a way to create an inner state in which control of the mind is a natural consequence?

In the next blog I will talk about this and also compare what is called mindfulness with more ancient forms of meditation.

* See a previous post: Think less, think better (1) - Learn to meditate