Hidden Reefs – Recognising the Intricacy of our Mind Patterns
by Rob Nairn
So far we have covered a few basic areas such as why we meditate, what meditation is, and the motivation for meditating. In the first chapter we looked at the method and the effect of meditating and I focused quite a bit on the importance of being clear about the attitude we bring to the meditation and the importance of learning to accept ourselves and come to terms with what is there. I made the point that meditation isn’t technique because if we get into the mindset of thinking of it in that way then we expect to achieve results and to have success, and then we fear failure.
Another problem arises if we work with technique: we work with something which is manipulating the mind, whereas the purpose of meditation is to release the grasping action of the mind so that the inherently enlightened qualities can manifest. That can’t be done through the application of a technique. All technique does is rearrange the existing mind patterns. Although it is not difficult to understand the method in meditation, it is difficult to understand what we need to bring to it in terms of attitude. The basis of that is complete openness. An open acceptance of ourselves the way we are.
That’s easy to say and we hear it a lot in life but what it means is recognising the intricacy of our mind patterns. The extent to which we are continually judging and evaluating the contents of our own inner environment. How the thoughts, the feelings, the sensations, the moods, whatever they are that arise and pass within the mind, are under continual surveillance. That surveillance is there because we want to check it out and know whether it’s what we want or what we don’t want. If it is what we want, we grasp it. We try and hold it. For example, if a mood, or a mind state arises that we like, we want that to stay. We want to be like that all the time. And the mind says, This is how it should be.’ So we try and grasp that but the very act of grasping destroys it. So the joyful clarity of the mind, which is inherent within the non-grasping mind is continually lost through the egocentric grasping action.
Conversely, if mind states arise which we don’t like, we try and push them out. We want to get rid of them. We don’t want to feel them. We don’t want to know them. So repression, suppression, projection, denial, all those psychological mechanisms come into play. These are the means by which we keep ourselves in a continual state of unrest, tension and dissatisfaction. While those non-accepting mind states are present, the mind cannot rest because it is in conflict with itself all the time. If a thought or a feeling arises that we don’t like, then we try and push it out. We then not only have the negative emotional state, but we have the conflict of trying to be rid of it. If, in meditation, we are not aware of this — which most people aren’t — instead of meditating, what we will do is engage in a semi-conscious unseen war against our own mind states. We’ll try and use the meditation as a means of continually avoiding what we don’t want to be with and continually trying to nudge thoughts and feelings out of the mind that we don’t like.
What that will produce, in the initial stages, is tension. A sense of not achieving or of failing. A sense of struggle. If it goes on a bit longer it produces a rigid mind. If it still goes on after that it produces a paranoid mind. So our meditation goes into reverse. We aren’t meditating; we’re just tightening the bolts. Making the mind tighter and tighter.
This is why it is so important to look at this issue of attitude right at the outset. We say to ourselves, This is it. This is what I have to work with. Let’s find out about it. Let’s be clear about it and come to terms with it. A full, unqualified acceptance of the way I am.
We are told that what a growing infant needs most is unconditional love. If we develop this attitude of acceptance, we develop unconditional love towards ourselves. We let go of all the conditions where we accept ourselves if this, or we don’t accept ourselves if that. This then is the basis of compassion. Acceptance produces an extremely resilient mind because inwardly the mind is relaxed and OK about itself. Then whatever arises in the way of thought or emotion can be accepted and worked with comfortably without fear or reactivity. That is why the first issue we always focus on is our attitude.
Motivation then is the next big important thing. Within the Buddhist system, the fundamental motivation is to transform our own minds in order to be able to help others. That is the primary concern. If we can sort out our own minds and develop the inner qualities, then we will be able to help others. Although meditation is often seen as a selfish activity, because we are continually working with ourselves, it is the most altruistic thing we can do. This is because, what is within the mind is what we will express in the environment around us. If our mind is loaded with secretly oppressed negativity, that is what we will inevitably express in the environment around us. There is no option. If however we learn to come to terms with all the negativity and learn to transform it, then what will automatically be projected into the environment will be love, compassion, clarity and wisdom.
The basis of meditation, then, is the method of mindfulness. Bringing the mind into the moment. The first consequence of training in mindfulness will be tranquillity, when the mind begins to settle while being released from the causes of inner turbulence. In Sanskrit, tranquillity is called samatha. Out of the tranquillity arises the capacity to see what is really going on within the mind and this is called penetrating insight. The Sanskrit word is vipassana. This is where the mind, through its clarity which comes about due to tranquillity, develops its inherent power to see and know and understand exactly what is happening within it. Through this we begin to gain true understanding about ourselves.
The big distinction between meditation and learning is that meditation leads to wisdom and compassion because there is a process of true understanding through direct experience and observation of our own mind states. Learning is acquiring information and adding it to the mind. Learning will never penetrate to the depth of meditation because it is simply acquiring new concepts. The more we meditate, the more we realise that concepts are superficial. They only have to do with the rational, conscious, logical intellectual mind. There is a very definite point in meditation where we have to let go of all that. So it’s a case of moving from fixation on the conceptual, rational mind and learning to move inward and trust ourselves and our own instinctive understanding that arises through insight and self-perception.