On Sunday, I completed a 10-day silent meditation retreat. For the fourth time. And I loved it!
Because we cannot change what we don’t see. And I love change, especially the type of change that brings growth, development and learning.
A meditation retreat is a great way to disconnect yourself from the world around you, remove all external distractions and immerse yourself fully in your inner world. To create the time and space to have a thorough and objective look inside you.
Like it or not, you either master your mind or it will control you. There is no compromise. Your mind can be your greatest ally or your most troublesome enemy. It all depends on your understanding and mastery of it.
We can’t always change what’s happening around us, but we can change what happens within us. For this reason, learning how to master your mind and develop a harmonious relationship with yourself is the best thing that can happen to your life.
So, in this article, I want to share with you a few secrets about our mind. I trust you’ll find them of great value and that they will help you to get at least 1% closer to enlightenment 🙂
If this intrigues you and you are interested in reaching the next level of self-awareness and self-knowledge, I invite you to reach out to me. I’d love to connect and hear more about it.
The Human Internalization Process
Although the mind cannot be touched or seen, it seems even more intimately connected with ourselves than our bodies. Yet how little we know about the mind, and how little we are able to control it. How often it refuses to do what we want, and does what we do not want. Our control of the conscious mind is tenuous enough, but the unconscious seems totally beyond our power or understanding, filled with forces of which we may not approve or be aware.
In broad, overall terms the mind consists of four processes:
- Consciousness (senses);
- Perception (thoughts);
- Sensation (emotions);
The first process, consciousness, is the receiving part of the mind, the act of undifferentiated awareness or cognition. It simply registers the occurrence of any phenomenon, the reception of any input, physical or mental. It notes the raw data of experience without assigning labels or making value judgments.
The second mental process is perception, the act of recognition. This part of the mind identifies whatever has been noted by the consciousness. It distinguishes, labels, and categorizes the incoming raw data and makes evaluations, positive or negative.
The next part of the mind is sensation. Actually as soon as any input is received, sensation arises, a signal that something is happening. So long as the input is not evaluated, the sensation remains neutral. But once a value is attached to the incoming data, the sensation becomes pleasant or unpleasant, depending on the evaluation given.
If the sensation is pleasant, a wish forms to prolong and intensify the experience. If it is an unpleasant sensation, the wish is to stop it, to push it away. The mind reacts with liking or disliking. For example, when one hears a sound, cognition is at work. When the sound is recognized as words, with positive or negative connotations, perception has started to function. Next sensation comes into play. If the words are praise, a pleasant sensation arises. If they are abuse, an unpleasant sensation arises. At once reaction takes place. If the sensation is pleasant, one starts liking it, wanting more words of praise. If the sensation is unpleasant, one starts disliking it, wanting to stop the abuse.
Each moment that the senses come into contact with any object, the four mental processes (consciousness, perception, sensation, reaction) occur with lightning-like rapidity and repeat themselves with each subsequent moment of contact. So rapidly does this occur, however, that one is unaware of what is happening. Only when a particular reaction has been repeated over a more extended period of time and has taken a pronounced, intensified form that awareness of it develops at the conscious level.
The Cause of Suffering
If the mind consists of nothing but consciousness, perception, sensation, and reaction, which gives rise to suffering? Each of them is involved to some degree in the process of suffering. However, the first three are primarily passive. Consciousness merely receives the raw data of experience, perception places the data in a category, sensation signals the occurring of the previous steps. The job of these three is only to digest incoming information. But when the mind starts to react, passivity gives way to attraction or repulsion, liking or disliking. This reaction sets in motion a fresh chain of events.
“Whatever suffering arises has a reaction as its cause. If all reactions cease to be, then there is no more suffering.” – Buddha.
The actual cause of suffering is the reaction of the mind. One quick reaction of liking or disliking may not be very strong and may not give many results, but it can have a cumulative effect. The reaction is repeated moment after moment, intensifying with each repetition and developing into craving or aversion. This is what we can call “thirst”: the mental habit of an insatiable longing for what is not, which implies an equal and irremediable dissatisfaction with what is. And the stronger longing and dissatisfaction become, the deeper their influence on our thinking, our speech, and our actions—and the more suffering they will cause.
Some reactions are like lines drawn on the surface of a pool of water: as soon as they are drawn, they are erased. Others are like lines traced on a sandy beach: if drawn in the morning, they are gone by night, wiped away by the tide or the wind. Others are like lines cut deeply into rock with a chisel and hammer. They, too, will be obliterated as the stone erodes, but it will take ages for them to disappear.
Throughout each day of our lives, the mind keeps generating reactions, but if we try to remember them at the end of the day, we shall be able to recall only one or two which made a deep impression that day. Again, if we try to remember all our reactions at the end of a month, we shall be able to recall only one or two which made the deepest impression that month. Again, at the end of a year, we shall be able to recall only the one or two reactions that left the deepest impression during that year. Such deep reactions as these are very dangerous and lead to immense suffering.
The first step toward emerging from such suffering is to accept the reality, not as a philosophical concept or an article of faith, but as a fact of existence that affects each of us in our lives. With this acceptance and an understanding of what suffering is and why we suffer, we can stop being driven and start to drive. By learning to realize our own nature directly, we can set ourselves on the path leading out of suffering.
The Stock of Past Reactions
By ceasing to react from this moment forward, we may create no further cause of misery, but each of us has a stock of conditioning, the sum total of our past reactions. Even if we add nothing new to the stock, the accumulated old reactions will still cause us suffering.
Every reaction is the last step, the result is a sequence of mental processes, but it can also be the first step, the cause in a new mental sequence. Every reaction is both conditioned by the processes leading to it and also conditions the processes that follow.
The conditioning operates by influencing the second of the mental functions, perception. Consciousness is undifferentiating, non-discriminating. Its purpose is merely to register that contact has occurred in mind or body. Perception, however, is discriminative. It draws on the store of past experiences to evaluate and categorize any new phenomenon. The past reactions become the points of reference by which we seek to understand a new experience; we judge and classify it in accordance with our past reactions.
In this way, the old reactions of craving and aversion influence our perception of the present. Instead of seeing reality, we see “as through a glass darkly.” Our perception of the world outside and the world within is distorted and blurred by our past conditioning, preferences, and prejudices. In accordance with the distorted perception, an essentially neutral sensation immediately becomes pleasant or unpleasant. To this sensation, we again react, creating new conditioning which distorts our perceptions further. In this way, each reaction becomes the cause of future reactions, all conditioned by the past and conditioning the future in turn.
Reaction has a dual function: it is the immediate precondition for the arising of consciousness, the first of the four mental processes, and also the last in the series of processes following consciousness, perception, and sensation. In this form, it reappears, later in the chain, after sensation, as the reaction of craving and aversion. Craving or aversion develops into attachment, which becomes the impetus for a new phase of mental and physical activity. Thus the process feeds on itself. Every reaction unleashes a chain of events that result in a new reaction, which unleashes a new chain of events in an endless repetition, a vicious circle. Every time that we react, we reinforce the mental habit of reaction. Every time we develop craving or aversion, we strengthen the tendency of the mind to continue generating them. Once the mental pattern is established, we are caught in it.
For example, a man prevents someone from attaining a desired object. The thwarted person believes that man is very bad and dislikes him. The belief is based not on a consideration of the man’s character but only because he has frustrated the second person’s desires. This belief is deeply impressed in the unconscious mind of the thwarted person. Every subsequent contact with that man is coloured by it and gives rise to an unpleasant sensation, which produces fresh aversion, strengthening the image. Even if the two meet after twenty years, the person who was thwarted long ago immediately thinks of that man as very bad and again feels dislike. The character of the first man may have changed totally in twenty years, but the second one judges him using the criterion of past experience. The reaction is not to the man himself, but to a belief about him based on the original blind reaction and therefore biased.
In another case, a man helps someone to achieve the desired object. The person who received assistance believes that the man is very good and likes him. The belief is based only on the fact that the man has helped satisfy the second person’s desires, not on careful consideration of his character. The positive belief is recorded in the unconscious and colours any subsequent contact with that man, giving rise to a pleasant sensation, which results in stronger liking, which further strengthens the belief. No matter how many years pass before the two meet again, the same pattern repeats itself with each new contact. The second person reacts not to the man himself, but only to his belief about him, based on the original blind reaction.
In this way, a reaction can give rise to fresh reactions, both immediately and in the distant future. And each subsequent reaction becomes the cause of still further reactions, which are bound to bring nothing but more misery. This is the process of repetition of reactions, of suffering. We assume that we are dealing with external reality when we are reacting to our sensations, conditioned by our perceptions, which are conditioned by our reactions. Even if we stop generating new reactions, we still have to reckon with the accumulated past ones. Because of this old stock, a tendency to react will remain and at any time may assert itself, generating new misery for us. So long as this old conditioning persists, we are not entirely free from suffering.
To free the mind from all conditioning, one must learn to stop evaluating on the basis of past reactions and to be aware, without evaluating and without reacting.
By observing ourselves, we become aware of the conditioned reactions, the prejudices that cloud our mental vision, that hides perception has started to function reality from us and produce suffering. We recognize the accumulated inner tensions that keep us agitated, miserable, and we realize they can be removed. Gradually we learn to allow them to dissolve, and our minds become pure, peaceful, and happy.