I really think there is no harder task on Planet Earth than to go past mind-stuff to be in the present moment. Mind-stuff is all prevalent. I don’t know about you, but my mind is perennially in motion – recalling something, resenting something else, grieving over someone, having a dialogue with an absent friend (or foe), getting annoyed with the perpetually dripping tap or the lid that will not open, flying into a daydream about how nice it would be if people were less complicated, and so on ad infinitum. And while the mind keeps babbling, I become aware of a gradually building tension – the resistance to all this chatter. When the discomfort becomes too acute to ignore, I usually wake up, and dispel it by reminding myself that the mind-stuff is irrelevant. The moment I say this, for a precious moment I touch the present moment. I breathe deeply, my presence moves into the body, and life takes on such a sharp and clear focus. My energy rises, and joy surges. But in a few moments the cloud settles, the aimless chatter begins and so the cycle continues!
The task is like going up on a downward going escalator or straightening a dog’s tail. One can often wonder if one will get anywhere at all with this. But the evidence of nearly 30 years on the path comes to your rescue. Even though I have a long way to go, when I look back, I see that I have also come a long way. The past and the future no longer swing me about like a soldier whirling a baton. I still move between the two, but far less than before because regret and fear have both abated. Judgementalism is receding. Self-esteem, confidence, capability, happiness, and peace are increasing. The mind-stuff is much less dense. So yes, this infuriatingly slow process works.
Is there no other way? There are hundreds of paths. The most prevalent are ashtanga yoga (eight limbs of yoga), meditation, the Buddha’s eight-fold path, karma yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga, and jnana yoga. But you don’t choose your path. The path chooses you, just like that Hat in the Harry Potter books, that determines which House the student belongs to.
So jnana yoga, (with a dash of bhakti yoga), chose me, and part of its approach is to transcend the mind by using the mind. It is a conscious effort to dis-identify with the mind’s thoughts, feelings, and the body’s physical sensations, and to align with the Higher Self, which is who we ultimately are. J.Krishnamurti, Eckhart Tolle, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj are some of the world’s leading jnana yoga teachers.
What does it actually mean to go beyond mind-stuff? In a word, it is to go beyond thoughts. This would mean we would have to get free of the mind’s compulsive tendency to chatter. In order to do this, we have to heal of all wounds dealt to us this far, learn to love ourselves unconditionally (such a vital task and yet so completely neglected in Indian spirituality), to free ourselves of emotional and psychological needs, to overcome desires, to transcend our limitations and expand our strength. As the Katha Upanishad so beautifully puts it (Eknath Easwaran’s translation) :
When all desires that surge in the heart
Are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal.
When all the knots that strangle the heart
Are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal.
How do we do this? No matter what the path, I think the processes are the same. Deconditioning through awareness and acceptance, and reconditioning through affirmations (not all use this, but I have found it invaluable).
As the Katha Upanishad further says, the path is like a razor’s edge; any moment one can slip and fall. Staying aware of your dark side is incredibly painful, striving to rise above your habitual reactions is excruciatingly difficult, persisting in the face of constant failure is so hard. Working your way through your ego games is tiresome.
So yes, no easy matter and no one in the world would bother to do it, but for the bonanza of rewards that come with it. The Upanishads say that the happiness of even the most fortunate person on Earth is nothing compared to the bliss that pervades the enlightened soul. These are some of the gifts that we get:
• The happiness we are all in search of will be permanently ours only through enlightenment.
• Equanimity – the capacity to go beyond the human condition of craving for the pleasant and aversion for the unpleasant. We will develop the capacity to embrace the pleasant and unpleasant dispassionately.
• Razor-sharp focus and the capacity to be optimally effective in life
• A mind that is as tranquil as a lake. You can use it when you wish to, but it does not run you. You run it.
• An overflow of love, compassion, generosity and other noble virtues because that is who we really are.
So I am working on myself and will continue to do so till my last breath. Even if I do not attain the desired goal in this lifetime, there is nothing more meaningful in life than to engage in this work.
Suma Varughese has had a long and illustrious career as a writer/editor/journalist for 40 years. She was the editor-in-chief of Life Positive, India’s premier body-mind-spirit magazine, for over 12 years, prior to which she was the editor of Society magazine for five years and has also been a senior editor with Gentleman magazine. Suma is a popular guest speaker at many conferences and seminars and has been intimately connected with the rise of the spiritual movement in India.