Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mind or Matter - what are we?

The age old question of what happens when we die can most probably only truly be determined at that moment of reckoning.  Nevertheless we ponder and I'd like to share some thoughts on the subject.

Some people think the mind is the brain but that seems incorrect since the brain is physical, can be photographed, operated on in surgery and is clearly physical in nature.  The mind on the other hand is not physical which leads me to the belief that whilst the brain is part of the body, the mind is part of the spirit - something greater than the body and without the same physical constraints of life and death that the body experiences.

Some religions believe that our body and mind are separate entities, and so even though the body disintegrates at death, the continuum of the mind remains unbroken.  Instead of ceasing, the mind simply leaves the present body and goes to the next life.  As I have got older and improved my meditation practices I have grown to share this view.  Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains it as our mind in death leaving our body and going to the next life, just like a guest leaving a guesthouse and going somewhere else.

One way to gain an understanding of past and future lives Geshe Kelsang Gyatso suggests, is to examine the process of sleeping, dreaming and waking, because this closely resembles the process of death, intermediate state and rebirth into the new body.  The only significant difference he suggests is that after the clear light of sleep has ceased, the relationship between our mind and our present body remains the same, whereas after the clear light of death this relationship is broken with the mind forming relationship with a new body.

Some people remember their dreams whilst others have more difficulty.  For those who remember, the concept of waking in a new body and life without being able to remember may seem very unlikely.  For those who don't remember dreams, this may be a more easily believable concept. 

Is it important that we consciously remember from one life to the next?  Or is is enough that at an energetic and vibrational level we experience spiritual growth?  Perhaps too, the more we enhance our spiritual growth within our present physical existence, the more likely we will be able to reach a level of transference where we can remember our lessons and experiences on a conscious plane, from one life to the next.

A question that arises for me with this realization is why we can be prepared to spend so much time looking after our transitory physical being (I shudder at the thought of the amount of energy and money spent in plastic surgery) and so little time in meditation, looking after our eternal mind/spirit?  With the hustle and bustle of our every day lives, we often fail to take time out to connect with our own soul being.  Is it any wonder so many people find life meaningless, purposeless?  Is it any wonder the incidence of mental illness continues to increase at a rather alarming rate.  And yet the cure we offer is often a pill, a physical response to a spiritual problem.  No wonder drugs for mental illness have so many side effects and so relatively little success.

Personal development, the process of self awareness and understanding, is therefore essential not only for helping find our life purpose in this life and ensuring we create a life of meaning for ourselves, or for ensuring present day good mental health, but also as part of a greater spiritual development continuum.  So if you are not doing so already, make personal development, in whatever form it takes and works for you, part of your daily practice today!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Happiness Is a Choice

Tonight I snuggled my two eldest children (5 & 4) into bed with a wonderful little book entitled "The Short & Incredibly Happy Life of Riley" by Colin Thompson and Amy Lissiat.  It is a joyful tale of the happy simplicity of being a rat and makes some beautifully written comparisons to the lives of people, observing that whilst rats live a very short time, it is primarily happy, doing exactly what they want, when they want with whom they want to do it, while people can live an extremely long time being unhappy where they are, with whom they are with and their lot in general. 

The story made me think of my grandmother, who at 102 was finally unable to live independently any longer due to her growing frailness.  Today she has outlived all her peers and indeed many of her peers' children, she may even yet outlive her own and yet she has been a "martyr" all her life. Now don't get me wrong, she, like all people, has many wonderful qualities, but all my life she has told me how hard she's had it, all the things that went wrong, how she had to do everything and be responsible for everyone and that she married the wrong man and they never should have come to this country (Australia) when she was a child........ it goes on and on. To be honest, I am not sure I have ever met a more generally unhappy without being unpleasant to be around person.  The one sticking point for me is the "married the wrong man".  My grandfather who we lovingly called Grumpy, and who died 17 years ago, was indeed the LEAST Grumpy person I have ever known.  He understood what she never could, that happiness is a choice.  He CHOSE to think the best of everyone, to see the good in all events, to live truly and honorably and never have any regrets as a result.  He was a truly remarkable man, yet like the rat, he died early (compared to my grandmother) having lived a happy life, while she still endures, most of the time living with a permanent level of discontent.

At the end of the story my children asked me why lots of people are unhappy when they have so much while rats who have nothing are so happy.  And I thought about this for a minute when I realized something that I have been brewing on for a couple of weeks since the death of a dear friend (something I hadn't realized I'd actually been processing).  It's the fact that we can THINK that makes some of us unhappy.  Paradoxically, it is also the fact that we can THINK that makes some of us extremely happy.  So I said, "We choose whether we will be happy or unhappy by what we think, because it is what we think which ultimately determines how we feel.  And our feelings are very good guide posts to tell us when the thoughts we are having are poor and we should change them."

Let me explain.  If my partner sits on the couch at night, next to the freshly washed clothes in the basket but doesn't fold them, and this happens for a week on end, it's my CHOICE whether this bothers me (makes me unhappy) or not and this is simply the result of what I THINK about what is happening.  If I think, "bloody hell, how can he sit next to the clothes every night and not fold a single one and then every morning ask me where, such an such top or pants or whatever are", then I'm probably going to be pretty miserable!  I might even feel unimportant and neglected and even go so far as to see him not folding the clothes as being directly related to how important he sees me and our relationship.  I can actually carry that thought process a very long way down a very dark abyss IF I CHOOSE!

However, if I either CHOOSE not to think about it at all, OR CHOOSE to think how funny it is that he doesn't even seem to see the washing there waiting to be folded and still needs to ask where things are, then I might even find the EXACT SAME SITUATION a thing of great amusement.  Note, the factual event hasn't changed at all.  The only thing that has changed is HOW I SEE IT.

We CHOOSE happiness or otherwise by the thoughts we CHOOSE to have.  And as intelligent human beings it is our personal responsibility to actively choose thoughts that benefit ourselves, and our own well being as well as that of others.  As adults and parents, it is our absolute responsibility not to allow thoughts to become so habitual that we don't even actively realize we are having them and they are influencing how we feel.  We should never be caught saying "xyz made me feel ....."  or even "you are making me very angry", because it simply isn't true.  But even more importantly we must teach our children, what we now have to teach ourselves and what we did not learn as children; how to think ACTIVELY (by choice) rather than PASSIVELY (by habit).  It takes a lot of effort at first and we will probably always have relapses from time to time but it is our responsibility to think kindly on that and still persevere with the practice. 

So how are you thinking today?