The World as Samsara (Illusion)

Each human being creates from infancy, an internal mental world of what the world is – what is good and bad – safe and unsafe; what the names of  the ‘things’ are ‘out there”, and how the world works . And where do those judgements come from?- they come of course from our experiences after birth. Are they reality?-in one way they are- they are our reality. Some pieces of that reality will be shared- what we like to call ‘culture” or ‘norms’ or any other excuse to define the world other than by its real aspect- but they are simply the random experiences we have acquired since birth.

But in a more fundamental way they are of course, completely fictional. This construction of the world from our thought processes has almost nothing to do with reality, and all to do with our mind’s interpretation and synthesis  of the random events of childhood and later life we are exposed to. We are conditioned to believe we are no more than the patterns of thoughts we have acquired, (i.e. my thoughts are ‘me’) but we are in fact much more than that.

Zen Buddhism asks :” who was I before I was born?’

Or perhaps the master Osho described it with more clarity, by saying (paraphrased)  “our minds are a tool which you can use with care and attention to assist you; but they are not ‘you’ ”.

“Reality” the way our minds perceive it, can therefore be anything we choose it to be- but that choice is based on the narrow possibilities of our earlier experience till this moment.  Beyond (or under, or behind) our thoughts is pure being- our essence, or as Maori of New Zealand put it -‘Mauri’ –  which is inescapably interconnected with every other living ( and not so living) thing. That mauri is within us from the day we are born till the day we die- and long before and after that. It is always there, but shrouded by man’s constant thoughts.

How to experience that space of pure joy and oneness that is always with us? The techniques of the ages are there for us to use. -meditation is the primary and most direct path- but prayer, mindfulness, fasting and many other techniques also have that capacity to progressively strip away the mind chatter to expose the essence of ourselves and the universe within.

Our thought patterns -what many describe as our ‘ego’- are intensely malleable. We believe we are a constant person -’me’ -but in reality we shift from moment to moment in our thoughts. In addition, because we are individually defenceless primates who rely on our fellow community members for safety, we have an intense need to agree with the thoughts of other members of our primate community. ‘Group think’ is more pervasive in human society that most of us would like to think!

Individually and collectively, humans are also very good at providing self-justifications for their thoughts and actions. Our age-old justification for the use of violence  is just one proof to that!

The joy and peace is within us: we need merely to retrieve it .

As the Buddha said: We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.

The Mythology of Emotion

Over the millenia  humans have celebrated the power and pleasures of emotions; the  bliss of love, the power of anger and revenge, the  truth  of duty  and many others. And along with that  celebration, has gone the malediction of less favoured emotions;  jealousy, uncontrolled anger, fear and cowardice to name just  a few.

And over the millenia,  emotions of all  kinds have been  seen to be spontaneous uprising s of something deep  within  the psyche of that  person. But what  if all  those feelings were simply productions; simply artefacts of a  sentient  being’s process of thought?.

Many  philosophical  religions like Hindusim, Taosim and Buddhism  have long argued that meditation  aims to reduce the ego  so  that  one can obtain  at  least  a glimpse of the eternal. Rarely is it  stated that  the ego  is in  fact  simply the productions of thoughts. Without thought; simply being,  there is no  ego; but a state of no-thought  that  very  very  few human beings have attained.

Most  consistent meditators know that  as their practice deepens, they become calmer, less ruffled by  the buffets of day  to  day  events, and less prone to  consequent  unfortunate actions. Too  often  this state of calmness is portrayed as some mystical  state of entry  into  spiritual bliss and   enlightenment, rather than   simply a gentle reduction in thought processes, and an  opening for the mind to see how it always directly connects to  the world without  grasping or judging..

What  if, for those of us who  have endured adverse childhood events in  our lives, some negative thought-patterns become entrenched and circular, leading the person  to  view all  future events through  the thought processes of the past? A ‘lens of discontent’ if you like. One can  hypothesise that  if we had mental  health  clinicians who  were skilled in teaching their patients how to  break out of those circular thought processes, to focus instead on the everyday  joys of life in the here and now, many mental  health patients would be able to live fulfilled and even contented lives without psychotropic medication. Those who  were suicidally depressed and hopeless could also  learn those skills, leading to  a huge reduction in  the trauma and further suicides in   countless families and communities around the world.

Of course, being content with  what  one has, being happy simply to be here and now and not need to  buy the next  thing, visit the next  place of the bucket list  or compete with others, would mean   our  acquisitional   global  culture  would start  to  disintegrate. Product  advertising would be laughed at  for the myth  that it is. You  must be sold something you dont recognise you need- capitalism  would largely disappear, and we might begin  to learn to  co-exist  with our fellow species.

The power otoadstillinthegrassf government fear campaigns, ideologies, corporatism  and  divisive religions , will begin to  fade away.

A revolutionary process indeed!

Will  we see the end of love?  While the romanticism of love  would be seen for what  it is;  simply powerful  thoughts, often   drawn automatically  from  deep  within  the childhood thought patterns of the person, our species capacity to love both our own, and  all  other living things, will  be greatly enhanced.

Love therefore will be seen for what it is- a state of mind, rather than  something mysterious and sublime.  The 4000  year old Chinese I Ching, or the Book  of Divinations puts it beautifully:

No matter how close to them he may be, if his center of gravity depends on them, he is inevitably tossed to and fro between joy and sorrow. Rejoicing to high heaven, then sad unto death-this is the fate of those who depend upon an inner accord with other persons whom they love.

Here we have only the statement of the law that this is so. Whether this condition is felt to be an affliction of the supreme happiness of love, is left to the subjective verdict of the person concerned. I Ching; Hexagram Chung Fu ( Inner Truth), six in the third.

The mysteriousness of ‘falling in love’ can be ascribed to  the mysteriousness of our thoughts; their source, the pool of thoughts that  populate our unconscious and dreams, but arising directly from our formative experiences and those who  wielded power over us when we were young impressionable and vulnerable, and the consequent thought patterns that   were  cemented in  place at  that time.

To  be continued…..

Return to simplicity

Understand that all your emotions are directly related to what you think. Think angry thoughts and you feel angry, think happy thoughts and you feel happy….

Is this real? No, these are just thoughts fashioned from the accumulation of your life’s experience since you were born. The way you think about something is completely conditioned by all the previous experiences and thoughts and messages you have had.

So who are you really behind all that?

That, is your mission in life to find out! – and thinking about it won’t get you there!)

Formalised religions won’t get you there either- their doctrines and writings  are simply accumulations of someone else’s thought patterns – they are no closer to the truth than you are now. The more they tell you their path is the only path, the more you know they have no path at all.

flower budsThe truth is within you-behind that veil of thoughts where, even now, your being absorbs and is part of everything around you in a complete and total way. Where simply being in the here and now is total truth.

Does that mean you lose your senses to get to the truth? No, you are simply able to recognise your thoughts for what they are: your mind racing off once again on another wild goose chase to nowhere- let it run!

All those plans, those bucket lists, those important futures you need to work on – throw them away: let the world come to you when it needs to; and be open to its requests. Acceptance is peace; and takes discipline and openness.

So how do ‘you’ get there?- to this place of peace and truth   where simply being is pure joy?

Find the meditation tool that ‘feels’ right for you and stick to it. Meditate regularly every day. Meditation teaches the mind to focus, to gently and progressively still the incessant thoughts that chase each other around your brain.

It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen at all if you don’t discipline yourself to stick to it regularly. This is not about thinking yourself into a quiet space- that’s impossible, and you will tie your head up in knots trying to achieve that. This is simply gently bringing your thoughts back to that one thought you have agreed upon, over and over and over again, until you find that still place… (in another year or two or…?)

You’re using a thought to catch your thoughts!

And don’t pretend when you sit there, that you can keep that one thought while your mind rambles everywhere else- it doesn’t happen: you’re either in that one thought space, or you’re not. Simple as that!

Go to it!

Mindfulness, Trauma and Suicide Ideation

Recent  emerging research  indicates a strong correlation between  Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) and  risk of suicide (see Links  below)

Current mainstream  interventions  often focus on counselling to  work  through  those childhood traumas  using CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapies) .

However, there is increasing evidence that  mindfulness programmes ( provided the practice is sustained after the initial training), is extremely effective in   reducing suicide ideation in young people at risk.  Part of its success is that  mindfulness training reduces the risk  of uninhibited (spontaneous) dangerous responses to  new adverse events . Research  has indicated that  young people  exposed to  ACEs have reduced inhibition  and higher anxiety, and are more likely to  “wallow” in  historical adverse circumstance, which  in turn increases the likelihood of responding to  further adverse events in  a negative and immediate way, as well  as increasing the likelihood of chronic alcohol  and drug use to   anaesthetise the  psychological  pain. Other researchers believe that  specific  traumatic responses to severe ACE  experiences- eg violence and sexual  abuse,  and the consequent flashbacks and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms  that  subsequently  impact  on  the victim,  are the primary   causes for suicide ideation risk.  Other research  indicates that simply damaging and  dysfunctional family dynamics are sufficient to  result in   brain changes in young children exposed to  that  trauma which  can  result in  increased suicide risk in later life.

Note also  that  exposure to  ACE decreases the capacity to   interact  in positive ways with  peers because of  fear of  further negative social  encounters, and also reduces the capacity to  interact  positively with  people in positions of authority ( those who  have been in  positions of authority with  the child in  the past may  have often been  damaging to  that young person’s physical  or emotional  wellbeing) .  People exposed to  ACE face a double whammy: increased social  isolation combined with increased internal  risks: (the extrinsic and intrinsic impacts).

Interventions that  improve parenting skills, reduce bullying and sexual  and physical  abuse and family violence are therefore  core preventive measures to  reduce suicide ideation in not just  our young people, but people of all  ages.

However, mindfulness training offers  an opportunity to   significantly reduce the risks once negative experiences have occurred.  The core component of mindfulness and meditation is extremely simple: a reduction in random  thoughts by  focusing on an  external  point. In the case of mindfulness, that might be  focusssing on the breathing or doing a body scan or  focussing on sounds or an image.

Meditation techniques tend to use words or phrases repeated repetitively to  increase the “strength” of the mind to  focus and also  the capacity  to  easily move away from negative thoughts or patterns. Meditation may for instance  use  repetitive prayer,  or a mantra  or koan.

While the principle is simple , the challenge is to  achieve that state of focus. Many people for instance say “I cant do  mediation”, which  is a bit like saying ” I cant exercise”.  What  is required is a commitment to  continue the practice in  a meaningful way- never forcing the focus  but always returning (without blaming oneself for the lapse!)-  to  the focus when the mind inevitably wanders . Just  like exercising the body, exercising the mind through  mindfulness  or meditation strengthens the mind to  stay clear and focussed more and more frequently, with  the added bonus that  it becomes possible to  “acquire” moments of simply being in the moment and experiencing that joy ( ‘wherever I go, that’s where I am’).

However  moving from  a state of anxiety to  a state of bliss or even just  a measure of occasional  tranquility, will  obviously be a harder and much longer journey , and require greater tenacity for one who  has come from  a childhood of trauma and anxiety than  a person  who  has come  from   experiences of peaceful  acceptance by  those  who  love them.

There is also  some preliminary evidence that mindulness practice substantially  improves outcomes for people bereaved by  suicide and other traumatic loss. The ATTEND  mindfulness bereavement  programme  is one such  model.

CBT and other similar therapies rely largely on  an assumption that  it is the persons thoughts (their cognition)  that  directly influences their emotions. Work  through  the cognitive processes say  CBT, and you can  change the persons emotions for the better. Mindfulness simply says, increase the capacity to  focus on  whatever the person  wishes to  focus on (rather than their negative mind chatter) and you immensely improve their mental wellbeing.  A  researcher recently quoted one of her   research  clients as saying ” I think  therefore I feel” ( a little ‘play’  on Descarte’s spurious statement  “cogito ergo sum” -“I think  therefore I am”) . What  she meant was; whatever I think  about ,  my emotions follow after.  And this is largely, but not completely true. Our bodies have  for instance  strongly imbedded physiological responses to  threat . In humans (as with other primates), that  imbedded threat  response is strongly correlated to  being alone. To  be part of the group, is to be safe. To  be part of the group  we must  therefore have a meaningful  role in  the group-otherwise we are an  outsider  and  an outlaw who  no-one cares to  protect  and keep  safe.

However , while no-one has as yet  established the  percentage , my guess is that  80% at  least  of all of our emotional  responses relate  to  the things we are thinking  at  that moment.  And the things we think  are entirely and directly related to  what  we have experienced in  the past. Our sense of self is simply  the accumulation of those experiences, and our interpretation of them  based on  earlier experiences!

Lastly  ( being a Buddhist –  but this is not about religion or theology – this is about the nature of our internal  realities);  I would like to  relate  a   simple Zen  metaphor….

Two  Buddhist  monks  come to  a river where a beautiful  young woman  stands, but cant get  across the river safely . These monks  have sworn never to ‘defile’ themselves with touching a woman; yet one of the monks  simply picks up  the woman in his arms and carries her across the river to  safety on  the other side and puts her down. Many many miles later the other monk finally says to  the  “pickup” monk  – ‘you have defiled our monastery and our names with your actions today by  touching that  woman”-and the other monk  turns to  him  and says ” are you still  carrying that young woman?- I put her down  2 hours ago”.

Steady   personal  application of mindfulness and meditation  will enable us all  to  leave aside  all  those memories and experiences    that  our thoughts  tell us defile us.

In summary: thoughts trigger feelings, and feelings communicate vital information on how to best live your life to survive—and thrive.  Developing a stronger mental  focus allows you to  build  your awareness of what emotions and sensations you experience in response to certain thoughts,  and you may develop a stronger understanding of  the intimate connection between your words or thoughts (self-talk) and your emotions and physical sensations and your consequent actions.


Suicide Prevention Links

Childhood predictors of lifetime suicide attempts and non-suicidal self-
injury in depressed adults.

Childhood adversities and risk for suicidal ideation and attempts: a
longitudinal population-based study.

Incidence and course of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in the
general population.

Association between childhood adversities and long-term suicidality
among South Africans from the results of the South African Stress and
Health study: a cross-sectional study.

Effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on self-reported suicidal ideation: results from a randomised controlled trial in patients with residual depressive symptoms.

Mindfulness tempers the impact of personality on suicidal ideation

Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Reduces Anxiety, Depression, and Suicidal Ideation in Veterans

Between suicidality and self : effects of mindfulness on college students’ entrance into and progression along the continuum of suicidality

Mindfulness and the Aloha Response

Selah: A Mindfulness Guide Through Grief

ATTEND: toward a mindfulness-based bereavement care model

Suicide: Finding Hope/ Mindfulness