Saturday, January 30, 2010

Believing the Conditioned Mind

Through years of habit, we have been conditioned to believe our thoughts. This conditioning has also been taking place over the countless lifetimes of our ancestors, creating a “collective trance,” as though we all signed on to the agreement that our thoughts are real. 

Actually, our thoughts have no reality beyond the electro-chemical reactions in the brain. These thoughts lead to chemical/emotional reactions in the body, and these reactions lead us even deeper into believing what our mind is telling us. We insist on seeing our thoughts as the only moment-to-moment reality, but they are only part of the story, and should always be seen as merely one arising event in the midst of many interdependently co-arising events. The thought, however, is what we most often choose to believe.  

“Believe” is an interesting word, dating back to the Proto-Germanic language, and meaning “hold dear, love.” It also has origins in a Proto-Indo-European word meaning “to like or desire.” Now we have something we can work with in Vipassana practice: clinging and desire. “To believe” contains both of these components. The things we “believe in” we do not necessarily investigate – we merely take them on faith – and yet we cling to them dearly, just as we do any desired love-object. We cling to our beliefs the same way we cling to life: habitually, mindlessly, and fearful that it will be taken from us. We place great credence in our thoughts, meaning that we cling to them as being true and real.

In Vipassana practice, we become incrementally desensitized to our thoughts by opening the tight clinging fist, and allowing the thoughts to just be. It is the same process in which we sit with physical sensations, such as an itch: we simply allow it to arise, abide, and subside without doing anything about it. 

The first time we encounter an itch in our practice we might habitually reach up and scratch it before we are even aware that we moved our hand. The next time we feel an itch, however, it may go something like, “Oh, here’s an itch again. Hmmm…I’m not going to scratch this time.” We may find that it is very hard to resist because we are so conditioned to the habit of scratching. Gradually, however, the more we do not act out on the habitual, conditioned impulse to scratch, the easier it is to sit with the itching sensation, and we are becoming desensitized to the sensation. 

Becoming desensitized to our thoughts does not mean that we are become less sensitive to events and experiences in our daily life. We may actually live life more fully because we are more present with life as it's being lived. On the other hand, the experiences that used to really bug us before, don’t seem to matter as much. Like the itch, unpleasant events are allowed to arise, abide, and subside on their own.

Meanwhile, don't believe everything you think.


1 comment:

  1. I really enjoy your writing Roger. Today's reminded me of the time we presented on Yoga and MS together in Estes. You had researched the etymology of the word "facilitate"...Spanish I believe (yikes...believe!) meaning to "make magic"....I've used that many time since. Please keep writing...I'm learning. matt