A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

More Thoughts On Thinking

My study of Krishnamurti has led me back to Buddhism. Alan Watts, an English philosopher, who was an expert on Zen Buddhism and Indian and Chinese philosophy, tried to clarify for Western audiences the nature of Eastern philosophy. He wrote a somewhat famous book called The Wisdom Of Insecurity in the early 1950’s. I bought that book just before I moved to Western New York in 1989, got part way through it and put it down. Now, almost twenty years later, I have picked it up again. But what does he mean? Why is it wise to be insecure? Perhaps because most people think that aiming to be secure is the wisest and most logical pursuit. Watts is flipping the conformist perspective around and taking a fresh look at what many of us take for granted.

What we take for granted is the illusion that we can exist in a secure state. Life is insecure. If it weren’t insecure, it would be static, dead. No matter how much we try to make life predictable, it isn’t. The present moment is always new; we are forever stepping into the unknown: “For most of us this conflict is ever gnawing within us because our lives are one long effort to resist the unknown, the real present in which we live, which is the unknown in the midst of coming into being. Living thus, we never really learn to live with it. At every moment we are cautious, hesitant, and on the defense. And all to no avail, for life thrusts us into the unknown willy-nilly, and resistance is as futile and exasperating as trying to swim against a roaring torrent.” (p. 94-5)

When we resist the torrent of life, we become conflicted and anxious. Basic logic would indicate that if we go with the flow, like water, which takes the path of least resistance, we would lose much of our conflict. Krishnamurti said that our thoughts were the source of all conflict. If this is true, then thinking is an unnatural process and a way of resisting life instead of embracing it. Meditation is a way of acknowledging the compulsive nature of thoughts then letting them go while returning to basic awareness. Basic awareness does not rely on language. Basic awareness is greater than language. Awareness doesn’t cease just because thoughts have temporarily stopped. If anything, life becomes more vital, more in your face. I’ve been meditating and I notice when I keep returning to an awareness of my breath that my anxiety begins to diminish. This is a physiological reaction to slowing down and deepening the breath, but it illustrates how breath is connected to our state of mind. When we are anxious our breath is shallow, when we are relaxed it is deep. Sighs can be very satisfying, a release of built up tension.

Each breath is real and life sustaining, but thoughts are not real. And yet we latch onto thoughts as if they were real. We are always thinking, planning, assessing, investigating, but while we do all that we often miss what is right in front of us. We stop seeing and experiencing what is. I know I am not mindful of my breath throughout the day, not mindful when I eat or bathe. Right now, I am fixated on the computer screen and the rest of the room is out of focus. I am trying to live in my thoughts rather than live in my life. I write for the same reason that teachers teach, to pass something on to someone else. But the something that I’m trying to pass on is elusive, not solid at all; it is passing memory that is fixed and objectified like a photograph. My thoughts are turned into things. These words on a computer screen are abstractions; they are symbols, echoes of an experience of thought in a particular time and place.

“Intelligence is the door to freedom and alert attention is the mother of intelligence.” ---Nisargadatta Maharaj

Mind, awareness, intelligence all wrap around each other in mutual support. Why then do thoughts attack and distort them? Aren’t thoughts the products of intelligence? The more I look into it, the more mind seems separate from thought. Mind is a presence and thought is a construct. To be in your right mind is to be in harmony with yourself and the world around you. To be out of your mind is to be ruled by delusions or false thoughts. Thoughts attach themselves to beliefs and beliefs lead to conflict. For instance, many people believe in a higher power in one form or another or several forms, but there will always be those who don’t believe at all in a higher power. These two groups generally look askance at one another, each group believing in the superiority of their position.

There really are no good people and no bad people, there are just people who have done good and bad things and have good and bad attitudes based on various thought/belief systems. Human beings are complex. Thoughts generally oversimplify, reducing the lushness of experience into it’s skeletal frame. Language can be a marvelous tool for expression, but there is always a compromise. It doesn’t represent reality; it’s an approximation, it points in a certain direction, it paints a picture. The problem is we mistake ourselves for our thoughts. We are much more than our thoughts. Mind is as vast as the universe, thoughts are a few stars with their solar systems.

Of our five senses, sight is the most dominant sense and the other senses often fall into the background, coming in and out of focus throughout the day. For those of us who can see, we rely on our sight and in relying so heavily on it, we also take it for granted. We see superficially and selectively. I know I pass by so many objects in my house and rarely stop to look at them. It’s the same with language; we rely heavily on our ability to communicate with each other. We forget that language is a by-product of intelligence, of mind. When we focus on words, we disregard our greater awareness; we divorce ourselves from our experiences.

If intelligence is “the door to freedom and alert attention is the mother of intelligence” it makes sense to remain alert. Buddhist call this alertness mindfulness practice. The first step is bringing the focus of your attention on your breath during the day. If you’ve ever been to the ocean you’ll notice that it is in constant motion. Metaphorically it breathes, in and out. When you are sitting or standing, aware of your breath, it is as if you are the ocean but instead of waves there are breaths. They never stop and yet, unlike an ocean, you can slow the rhythm down. Watching the breath seems to do that. If you can watch/feel your breath while you wash the dishes, fold the laundry, eat your food, bathe or do any number of things, you will find that your awareness gets clearer and you become calmer. This calm, clear awareness is intelligence. If intelligence is like the sun and the sky, thoughts are like passing clouds. Sometimes the clouds block out the sky and the sun, become dark and foreboding and other times they are light and beautiful. They dissolve and reform and change shape. As a meditator you watch the passing display, but you rest in the expanse of the sky and the warmth of the sun.

1 comment:

Chris said...


What a beautiful blog entry on mindfulness.

I will come back to it later tonight to read again.

Keep writing. You inspire me.