Everyone wants to be happy and free. Free from stress and anxiety. Free from the need to acquire this or be that. Yet it is our vanity to believe that because we have choice we are free. Choice is no more than a thought process based on conditioning. We choose according to a formula that is born out of our past knowledge and conditioning. This conditioning drives our thoughts which drive our predetermined idiosyncrasies. So are we really free?
We are pure Awareness, identified with a bundle of thoughts (the ego). These thoughts are the conditioning. Therefore one can say that we are nothing but conditioning. All the efforts made by the conditioning, can only produce more conditioning. This is the built in flaw in all spiritual practices. Think of this bundle of thoughts as a psychosocial sandcastle.
“You are what you think.” –The Buddha
What is a sandcastle? No matter how elaborate or complex, in the end it is merely millions of pieces of sand. In the same way, our self-concept, while elaborately constructed, is also comprised of countless thoughts, feelings and impressions held together by the force of our ego. In order to maintain a sense of continuity, the ego is constantly constructing and reconstructing something which, by its very nature, is always in the process of changing and falling apart. We confuse this continuity (which is a product of perpetual construction) with permanence and solidity. In truth, there is no solid “me” apart from the construction. The sense of solidity in turn creates a feeling of separation–mine vs. yours, me vs. you–and an impulse to protect what appears to be “my” territory. This basic confusion–thinking something to be solid and lasting which is actually fluid and changing–is the cause of stress and human suffering.
According to scientists we have over 10,000 thoughts per day. Most of these thoughts are similar. When we allow these of thoughts to drive our actions we can easily become attached or addicted to their objects. Our egoic sandcastle requires more sand to keep its form. We therefore attach ourselves to external objects of the senses to add meaning to our contrived self-identity. We can reduce this behavior to two things: The attachment to objects or ideas that give us pleasure and the avoidance of objects or ideas that bring displeasure.
“The body is the battlefield for the war games of the mind.” –Brian Luke Seaward
Our thoughts lead not only to aberrant behavior but also to poor health. It is a biopsychosocial phenomena that causes what we refer to as stress. Our thoughts about a real or perceived threat to our sand castle produce a neurohormonal reaction in the body that results in increased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, immune system abnormalities and numerous other physical ailments. Called the “fight or flight response,” this process over time takes a toll on our physical well being. When we identify with our thoughts we simply react to them as if they were real threats yet they are real only in our minds. These thoughts may be about our self-identity or the collection of pleasurable objects and sensations we are presently ruminating about.
Most human behavior is nothing other than the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure. Whenever we experience an event, whether it’s a visit to the dentist or going on a joyride at the carnival, our mind registers that experience internally on a spectrum with great pain at one end and extreme pleasure at the other. Once completed, the memory of that experience is tagged to either pain or pleasure, and it continues to exist in our memory. Memory is useful because it gives us a sense of continuity. But memory is also imprisoning because it conditions us in predictable ways. The great yogi Lord Shiva said, “I use memories, but I do not allow memories to use me.” We have to use memories; otherwise we wouldn’t find our way home.
When we use memories, we are creators. But when our memories use us, we become prisoners. Meditation allows us to step out of the prison of memory and conditioned responses into the experience of freedom? We are free when observe our thoughts and behaviors without judgment. When we judge we define ourselves and separate ourselves from others by adding more mental sand to the walls of our sand castle.
An extension of our thoughts is our reactive and often impulsive pursuit of pleasurable sensations. We become attached or addicted to objects that produce physical sensations such as food, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. We also become addicted to psychological objects such as work, sex, television, shopping, appearing young, suffering, anxiety, melodrama, perfection.
Why are we addicted to all these things? We are addicted because we are not living from our source; we have lost our connection to our soul. The use of food, alcohol, or drugs is essentially a material response to a need that is not really physical at its foundation. Drunkenness, for example, is really a forgetting of personal memory so we can experience the joy of the non-personal, the universe. What we are looking for is pure joy rather than mere sensation, or even oblivion of sensation. Self-destructive behavior is unrecognized spiritual craving. All addictions are really a search for the exultation of spirit, and this search has to do with the expansion of consciousness, the intoxication of love, which is pure consciousness. We hunger for the ecstatic experience, which is a need as basic as the need for food, water, or air. Ecstasy, or ek-tasis, literally means stepping out. True ecstasy is stepping out of the bondage of the time-bound, space-bound world of the materialistic ego. We long to step out of the limitations of the body. We long to be free of fear and limitation. We hunger for the oblivion of our ego so that we can experience our infinite Being.
When the ego or the image of the self overshadows the unbounded Self, we feel cut off or disconnected from infinite consciousness, our source. This is the beginning of fear, the onset of suffering, and all of the problems of humanity, from our minor insecurities to our major catastrophes, such as war. Fear results from a deep feeling that we are not our ego. We fear that our sandcastle will fall apart and the grains of sand (our memories, thoughts, judgments, and sensations) will be washed away by a sea of insecurity.
When we meditate we transcend our conditioned thoughts and their antecedent behaviors by observing them without judgment. We witness our thoughts, our moods, our reactions, our behaviors. They represent our memories of the past, and by witnessing them in the present, we liberate ourselves of the past. By observing our behaviors, we observe our conditioning. And when we observe our conditioning, we are free of it, because we are not our conditioning; we are the observers of our conditioning.
Observe the silence between your thoughts, actions, reactions, and you will feel the presence of spirit in the stillness of those spaces. In the mere observation of yourself, you begin the process of healing and transformation. And if you keep practicing ever-present awareness of your own self, then insight, intuition, and imagination will begin to blossom. Whenever we meditate we touch that place of stillness that we share with all creation. Instead of a sand castle of things it’s an ocean of unity of pure consciousness. Over time we learn to live from this place instead of thoughts and reactivity. Instead of reacting to life’s events like a pavlovian dog we naturally create space between stimulus and response. In that space we find the happiness and abundance that is our birth right.
None of us are the roles we play. By recognizing this truth, it is easier to forgive all perceived transgressions. We don’t feel compelled to label, evaluate, analyze, or judge ourselves or others. When we have no need to label or judge, it’s easier to relinquish the desire to control and manipulate others. Harmony results and in harmony abundance is created.
In this very moment, we are all surrounded by a field of pure consciousness. Pure consciousness illuminates and animates our mind and body, and it is powerful, nourishing, invincible, unbounded, and free. By knowing our true nature, it is possible to go beyond stimulus and response and the suffering that results. This knowledge is freedom. Freedom from reaction, reciprocal violence and fanaticism of any form. It is freedom from the karmic need to expend our lives building a sand castle that will eventually be eroded by the winds of the changing world in which we live.
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. – Lao Tzu
Take time every day to sit quietly and let go of every false self-definition, of everything you think you know about who you are, and then “BE” what is left, what remains is the untarnished presence of who you’ve always been and still really are. This untarnished presence manifests–shines as pure, clean awareness and unconditional love. In this place anxiety, fear, stress and anger do not exist. This is a place of pure possibility. This is freedom.