This week's post comes from Sam, a young adult living in New South Wales, Australia. In this post, Sam describes how he grappled with big questions and how the book Conquest of Mind set him on a life-long spiritual journey with passage meditation.
I begin this blog post by asking myself a simple question, how do I best describe my experience with the book, Conquest of Mind to all you wonderful readers? I arrive at the conclusion that I must attempt to depict the journey in its entirety and let you (the readers) draw your own conclusions and learnings. So I begin in earnest:
This is a picture of me and my wonderful wife who I am fortunate to share a life with.
My journey began when a long held idea was comprehensively challenged: the idea that professional success is a universal panacea. At the time this caused considerable turmoil and doubt, if this was not true what else was untrue? What forms the foundations of a meaningful life? What was I meant to be doing for the next 50 years? Questions that I had never stopped to consider were demanding to be answered. While this was happening the challenges in my professional life showed no signs of abating, the demands of work were constantly increasing, the economic climate was weighing down what until then had been a joyous experience. I was increasingly finding I was short of answers.
I took to a form of mindfulness meditation in the hope that it would help me claim a restless and turbulent mind. It worked to an extent but it only meant that as my mind calmed, I desired answers more than ever. I asked my mother, a very spiritual person, who encouraged me to broaden my reading in the hope that I may find peace and joy. One evening as I was browsing through my eBook reader, I chanced upon a peculiar book Conquest of Mind. I found that it had a lot of positive reviews and thought maybe it would help me answer some of these burning questions. So within a matter of minutes, I set about reading the book and it is suffice to say that my life hasn't been the same since.
As the pages turned themselves, it was like Eknath Easwaran was talking directly to me, the picture of intentional living painted in this book took my breath away. It kindled hope that the limitations of mind and self-will could be transcended. It vividly described the challenges of the journey to the summit and how it was the adventure of a lifetime. It established in my heart what the gentle author of this book had done was in fact within the reach of all! It described the mental process as fluid and dynamic, something that could be changed with consistent effort. It illustrated the role of attention and the will in transcending the body and mind. How could anything have a hold on you if you were the sole custodian of your attention?
So I resolved to embark on the journey and began meditating and practicing the other points in the eight point program. This was in September of 2014. So what have I discovered since then that might be helpful to all of you on your journey?
There is a stark difference between knowledge and wisdom. If knowledge is to become wisdom, it must be applied and learnt experientially. There have been numerous examples where I've revisited the book and had an eureka moment! It just showed me the value of practice and reflection.
There is subtle difference between fighting distractions and focusing on the important things. There are days where I've felt like I am not one pointed at all, where I am somewhat floating away from the chartered course without realizing it. But it became apparent that this might not always be the case, especially when I tried to stop and ask myself 'What is it that I have been focusing on today?' If I can't come up with a satisfactory answer, I have an inkling that I might have been strengthening distractions instead of focusing.
Modern neuroscience does not distinguish between thought and emotion centers of the brain. This is congruent with Eknath Easwaran's teachings. It is amazing how often I've judged my lived experience based on feelings, at this point the horse has already left the gates. I am slowly learning that the thoughts you choose, result in the feelings you experience and color your overall experience.
We were looking for a change of pace and moved to a scenic town where I can take my mantram walks.
It takes a bit of getting used to this mode of working as you have no tell-tale signs when choosing between two thoughts. However, this has shown the importance of cultivating will power. It is what allows you to choose selfless thoughts instead of selfish thoughts without vacillation or doubt. My will is significantly weakened if I am not temperate in my eating, procrastinate on what I need to do, and allow my mind to work in conditioned ways of thinking.
The absence of something does not mean the presence of its opposite. Absence of suffering is not presence of happiness, absence of fear is not the presence of courage and absence of hatred is not the presence of benevolence. The practical application of this for myself is to constantly cultivate and nurture these qualities by choosing to focus on their corresponding thoughts. I try to structure my passages to counter negative thought patterns whilst also developing positive thought patterns. For example if I am meditating on a passage on anger I also try to memorize another passage on love, the same goes for fear and sense craving and jealousy and non-competition. I alternate between passages during my morning and evening meditation. This way I try to follow Easwaran’s guidance by constructing a dam against the flow of consciousness in one direction and trying to make it flow in another.
Looking after the minutes will mean the hours look after themselves! Can one judge the quality of his/her spiritual experience? If my own thinking is clouded how can I objectively measure my progress? Rather is it more helpful if I cultivated a beginner's mind-set? Every day I begin afresh with no attention given to day before or the day after. This is an ongoing challenge as my mind hasn't been trained to rest blissfully in the present instead it runs away to the past or the future.
Living in the country allows us to spend time with injured animals that are being given love and care, it reminds us of the joy of simply cuddling another living creature. On the bottom left is our dog who takes us for walks!
Lastly if my thoughts can influence my feelings, can I cultivate positive feelings to influence my thoughts? This is a work in progress, but it is showing encouraging signs at this early stage. Reflecting throughout the day on the many wonderful and positive attributes of people does allow the formation of more altruistic thoughts, which, if chosen, perpetuate the whole cycle of selfless concern for others. This is an extension of the first strategy of freedom which is replacing one thought for another but doing so in advance to reap the benefits as the days progress.
I cannot express in words how fortunate I feel to have discovered Eknath Easwaran's writings, it has given me a destination and a map. I must now sincerely do the walking putting implicit faith in god and his will. I wish you all the very best on your journey!