Retraining the Mind

I know that I am awareness.

And yet, I’m not okay. That is what I think. I think I’m not okay because I’m anxious. I think I’m not okay because I’m depressed. I think I’m not okay because I’ve been devoting myself to spiritual practice for many years and even decades, and there is no end to the “not okayness” of me. What is wrong?

What is wrong is that I am allowing my mind to be lazy. I am allowing my mind to revert back to its ingrained patterns of thinking, which tell me that the world is real and I am a person interacting with that world.

Is that true?

No. I know from my Vedanta study that it is indeed not true. I know that the world is not real, but only appears. I know that I am not this small one with a sense of doom crushing in around her.

What do I know? I know that I am that pure, limitless consciousness in which this world and this mind and body are known. I know I am the light by which all emotional states appear. As this pure consciousness, there is no interaction, no overlap, no transaction at all with the unreal world that appears. It is free to appear, and I am untouched by it. I am the One Self, already free.

But the ignorance is aggressive, it is dynamic. It will relentlessly hijack the thoughts and return them again and again to repetitively telling me that I am small, I am alone, all these objects in the world are real, and they are against me.

This will happen even after the knowledge “I am awareness” is firm!

So it seems that, although the knowledge “I am awareness” takes care of everything, something else needs to be done by the apparent person – the mind needs to be retrained to return to the Self.

I will include here some excerpted transcription of
James Swartz from a 2011 Atma Darshan:

“Expecting the world to be real is a habit.

“No experience is going to change your thinking patterns. (James is referring here to the samadhis and epiphanies that seem they will change our thinking forever – clearly he is saying that they don’t.)

“You have to pull back and get your thinking going in the right direction again. Otherwise the mind just keeps thinking the old stuff!

“So I’ve got to monitor my thinking, that’s the point.

“You’ve been taught to think properly. How? Scripture! It encompasses the apparent contradiction between your limited nature and your unlimited nature. But that’s not easy. It takes a long time to get your understanding purified. Once that happens then you can apply that understanding on a moment to moment basis.

“Ignorance is dynamic. It’s persistent. It’s very intelligent. It’s hard-wired. It’s not gonna let up. So the greatest qualification is determination. You need continuous devotion. Total determination and patience. It’s an uphill battle. The doer is taken to be real.

“Mind goes out to objects. Mind has to be arrested and turned back to here, to the Self. Not to the objects.

“That takes a tremendous amount of persistence, because all the thoughts keep running out to objects. They’re not rushing back to the Self.

“It’s a long hard slog.

“[Eventually] The thought patterns change. Once that gets going, then it’s easy. But you’ve got to work at it.

“Reconditioning myself. Reading scripture. Slowly I could see the mind coming around. I could see little by little the thought patterns changing. Once that’s there, it’s a straight shot. But to get it going you have to work at it.”

I’m including all this because it’s not talked about much.
Christian Leeby addresses the issue of mind training really beautifully, but James doesn’t address it all that much. And it seems by what James says here that training your thoughts to stop going out to objects is a key factor, even after the knowledge is in place. We want the mind to turn to the Self, but it will not do that on its own. It will not do that just because you have the intellectual understanding that you are awareness.

So take your quest for knowledge, at whatever stage of that you are currently, and then add to that an intentional practice of re-training your mind.

Christian Leeby offers some good techniques for this.

I promise this will be very helpful to you.

When is the Search Over?

When do we stop searching? When is it over? Is there some definitive sign? Is there some kind of dramatic shift or change in perception to let us know? Is there a subtle but unmistakable “click,” as we sometimes read about? It’s certainly an appealing notion, and it keeps us striving for that finality, but I don’t think it holds water, and does us harm in the end.

Is there a final door through which we walk, which when we turn around to see where we came from, we see that there was never a door to begin with? In my experience, there were dozens of those doors. Every door felt like the final door, but there was always another door. Why? Because it is the nature of the mind to look for doors, to look for mysteries and try to solve them.

When does it end? I found that it ended when I stopped looking for doors. Of course, this took a lot of preparation, but I believe that if you are reading this website, you yourself have already had years, perhaps decades, of preparation. It may be that for you, the only thing standing between you and the end of seeking is simply not knowing you can stop.

The act of stopping is an important one. Stopping is letting go of resistance to what is, right now. Resistance is painful, and yet we hang on to it, in the belief that there is more, there is better – some final, perfect, permanent knowledge or state, and we will find it, if only we keep looking. And we feel we are close – oh so close!

But “close” is the epitome of the pain of separation. Just out of my reach. “Close” says “I am not that.”

It’s important to stop feeding this painful misconception. Stopping is an act of faith. It’s stepping off the edge of the cliff, and seeing if our wings will carry us. It may be that this is not even a choice that we make ourselves. We might get pushed.

It’s funny that when we jump off this cliff, we’re actually jumping back into the world. What we are is evidenced here in the world. The holy Presence that is our true nature is here, in the infinite variety of expression, and we are privileged to enjoy the fullness of this expression in every moment. It is in this fullness that our true nature is known, when the resistance to it is abandoned. Our wings are fully extended, are proving themselves to be strong and trustworthy, and are carrying us to new heights indeed.

There is an irony to this, and a sense of coming full circle – what we wanted so badly to transcend in the first place becomes the heaven we were looking for all along.

Free by Nature

I am awareness.

I alone am real.

When I think, "I can't find me right now," that
is me. I am always present. A thought cannot appear without me.

I can never be lost. I can never be hidden.

The insentient thoughts appear in me, and the "I" mistakes itself for that. But only sentience — me — makes that possible.

Whatever is going on in the mind does not distract the mind from me.

Mind appears in me. Mind comes and goes. I am, free of mind.

Experience appears in me. Experiences come and go. I am, free of experience.

I remain pure, as an ever-changing world in thought appears on the movie screen of my mind. The world in thought appears, but is not real. I am the only reality.

Everything I know and experience, as an apparent person, is known because of me — awareness — the singular reality.

Whatever thought appears, how is that thought known? It is known because of me, awareness.

The thoughts are free to come and go. The awareness they appear in is ever-pure, never touched by a thought.

This awareness is who you are.

You are free.

Inquire and learn what can be negated as not real. What remains — you, awareness — is revealed as the one and only reality, free by nature.

Check out the
Vedanta page for my recommendations on how to accomplish this inquiry.

Understanding Ishvara for Liberation

Who is working “you”? Are you the operator of “you”? Are you doing your actions and thinking your thoughts? Is it “you” suffering?

If you have been studying Vedanta for a while, or are a follower of any non-dual teaching, you know that all there is is awareness. There is only one reality, and a little investigation reveals this reality to be consciousness. The bottom line of Vedanta, and any non-dual teaching, is “I am that,” or “I am awareness.” Since awareness alone is real, and you know you are real, how could you be anything else?

But where the bulk of the self-inquiry work comes in is actually taking the sense of “I,” your normal, everyday sense that you exist, and understanding that this “I” is pointing to awareness and not to the individual being that it feels like you are.

This is where Ishvara comes in.
Ishvara is a term in Vedanta that describes that which operates the field – “the field” meaning the entirety of that which appears, commonly called “the world.”

The field is only apparently real. It isn’t
really real, because only awareness is really real. But undeniably, stuff appears, and the stuff that appears is apparently real. But even though the field is not really “real,” it still operates under a totally consistent and logical system of laws. The field does not behave in a random fashion – actions are followed by reactions, and they’re usually pretty predictable, even just by casual observation.

Ishvara operates the entire field. That includes you. That means your body, your mind, everything. We think we control our body and our mind, but Ishvara actually does that, down to every last detail. There is nothing in the appearance that is not totally Ishvara’s realm.

So there is no actual “you” that exists in the apparent world! Would you still call this entity “I” if it were clear you had no control over it at all? It’s Ishvara’s job to keep you thinking that entity is you – to keep the dance of duality going, to keep you involved and playing along. But unfortunately, this role-playing robs you of the knowledge of your true identity as inherently free and limitless awareness. The real fruit of self-inquiry is putting an end to the mistaken placement of the “I” sense onto a body and mind that is appearing in the field. Goodbye and good riddance to the apparent bondage!

If you were actually controlling the body and mind, then it would make sense to have your “I” attached to that. And that’s what we generally keep thinking, for years and years, even after we have heard and assimilated the knowledge “I am awareness.” There is a tendency to try to keep both identities afloat – both “I am awareness” and “but I’m still in a little bit of control here in the body, I’m still in a bit of suffering, I still need to fix things here,” etc.

There is a reluctance to let go of the idea that I am the person appearing in the field, because it’s not readily apparent how the suffering is going to finally end unless I stay here in the world and get rid of it myself! But you can’t get rid of the suffering by arranging things in the world – not in a million years. Only the understanding that the “I” you actually are is already free ends the suffering. That means knowing without a doubt that the “I” appearing in the world with a body and a mind is not you.

So when we say “I,” there are a few tests to run through your mind to challenge your thinking. It’s just a habit of yours (Ishvara’s habit!) to associate the “I” with the person. But if you have looked into it, you have seen how there is really no control there on “your” part. Thoughts come without your willing them. Feelings arise in response to the thoughts. Actions happen based on the thoughts and feelings. Physical laws are obeyed. There isn’t any choice about any of this. It’s all just happening, according the rules of the apparent matter, and we call that Ishvara.

So if Ishvara is running the body and mind you think of as “I,” that takes away the “doingness,” doesn’t it? Not thinking, not feeling, not acting – not doing anything at all. Just being. And I’m still here, even though Ishvara is running the body and mind. Knowing that Ishvara is in charge does not take away the “I,” does it? So then, what
is the “I”? If there’s no doingness going on, and yet there is beingness, what am I?

There is only one possible “I” – it is the awareness within which all this activity appears. I am awareness. There is nothing I have to do in the appearance to make myself more full, more safe, more satisfied. The appearance will never provide the mind with a sense of safety and fullness, because the mind is a duality machine, operated by Ishvara. The job of Ishvara is to keep this appearance going. Ishvara gives your mind a duality banquet every second, and for every step towards liberation in the appearance, there is a step away. As long as your “I” is planted there, you believe you are not free.

Place the “I” in the right place – that’s all! The beingness you know right now, just pure beingness, conscious presence – take this, see the logic in taking this non-doing, non-controlling beingness as the real “I.” This is liberation.

* * *

As always, I recommend checking out
James Swartz’s Vedanta website, Shining World. My deepest gratitude to James and his tireless work of teaching Vedanta for forty years.

Is Your Freedom a Feeling?

You are already free. This you know from all your spiritual literature, from Vedanta, from your own insights and epiphanies. You, awareness, are already free. So why do you not feel free?

Is it that you have not attained
moksha yet? And that you will feel free when you have attained moksha?

What if you’re never going to feel free? What if it’s not about feeling free?

What if the “free” that you already are has nothing to do with feelings, or with anything else that you usually associate with the word “free”?

The freedom that we are used to thinking about is the one that we find in the dictionary. It’s a noun – a thing – and it is defined relative to other things. But nothing about the Self can be put in relative terms. All relativity is duality, and the Self is non-dual, not made of parts – there is no duality in reality. So the dictionary definition of freedom is not applicable to the Self.

A person can feel free – that’s possible, of course – but only relative to other things. A feeling of freedom comes from all kinds of experiences we can have in the world. Which means that the objects, the circumstances, the thoughts, all have to line up a certain way, and this causes a feeling of freedom. This isn’t a very free freedom, is it? When I have to make sure that all the objects in my experience behave according to plan, and then I’ll get my feeling of freedom for a little while, until the objects move on and don’t line up anymore? That sounds like a lot of work and aggravation for a small payoff that doesn’t last. And that certainly can’t be what
moksha is.

So what about
moksha, liberation, the freedom that the rishis talk about? What kind of freedom is this?

It’s a freedom that doesn’t involve objects at all. And it doesn't involve feelings. Nothing in the world has to be – or even can be! – lined up to produce this freedom. It is already the nature of reality, the nature of you, the Self. There is no way to draw this freedom closer to yourself, since it is already the essence of everything. There is no way to increase it, and no point in even trying. And incredibly, it's not something that you feel. You cannot feel this freedom. It is more subtle than your feeling apparatus, and is beyond the reach of feelings.

It is difficult to conceive of this indefinable freedom – impossible, in fact. Freedom, being a word we associate with objects, is not an accurate word for it. There is no accurate word. Nothing about the Self can be conceived of or put into words, or even known by the mind.

And yet, this is what you are.
Moksha is very simply the knowledge that this non-relative, eternal, unchanging limitlessness is your true nature. This knowledge removes the compulsion to try to make freedom happen in the world, and removes the bondage to chasing a feeling of freedom. Removing this bondage leads to a nice experiential state for the jiva, but this is due to a loss of false belief, not a gaining of "freedom." Moksha is a dropping-off, not an adding-on.

Just knowing who you are – not feeling it, not experiencing it, but
knowing it – reveals the ever-presence of this “freedom” which is no kind of thing you’ve ever thought of with your mind, nor can you. And yet, here it is.

How to get this knowledge?
Vedanta and James Swartz! And self-inquiry, of course.