Slowing the Sixth Mind

I’ve mentioned the fairy tales class I’m taking, right?  It was only five weeks long and this week is the last week.  Right now I’m reading an essay by Aimee Bender called “Character Motivation.” She says,

In Murakami’s short story “The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day,” the main character is a writer.  In describing the act of writing to a tightrope walker, he says, “What a writer is supposed to do is observe and observe and observe again, and put off making judgements to the last possible moment.”  I think that is a beautiful description of writing; it lets the world be, but also there is a moment, finally of some kind of opinion.  There is that moment, but to hold it off is a lovely and worthwhile goal.

 Reading this brought to mind for me something that I actually think about not infrequently–in fact I may have mentioned it before. Back in 2004 I attended lecture by Soygal Rinpoche in Melbourne where he talked about the Eight Minds, or Consciousnesses.  1 through 5 are our sensory consciousnesses–eye consciousness, ear consciousness etc.  6 through 8, Rinpoche described as “Mental Consciousnesses,” and of these he said that 6 and 7 were active, while 8 was inactive.

The 6th consciousness he described (in my memory at least, I’ve never found it written or recorded in exactly the same way) as a consciousness of perceiving, of observation, of taking in. “It is broccoli. It is green, It has a texture, a taste.

The 7th consciousness was about judgment–but not necessarily in a good way–because it is about attaching a positive or negative value to the perceived thing.  “I hate broccoli. It tastes bad to me.”  The 7th consciousness inserts the “I” in a strong fashion.

The 7th consciousness is problematic.  When we are very attached to our opinions, and our identity as opion-havers, we can create our own little prisons, and make ourselves unhappier.  If “I hate broccoli” then I have created a world in which I must avoid broccoli, or at least have negative feelings whenever I am confronted by broccoli. My hatred of broccoli might even be so great as to poison my enjoyment of other things–a meal, or event in good company.

Soygal Rinpoche’s suggestion, then, was to elongate the 6th mind and thus delay the 7th.  If one can slow or repeat the perception–“It’s broccoli,” keeping judgment and opinion at bay for an extra moment or so, then we buy ourselves some time to be alert for the negative thought and perhaps temper it in some manner.  We exert a little more control over our own processes, and withhold some of that control from our wayward minds.

I believe, that with practice, I can sometimes retreat from the 7th and go back to the 6th–especially when I can feel the 7th exerting an influence that isn’t really beneficial.  It does not benefit me to hate broccoli, or feel aversion to the pain of going to the gym, or dislike talking to stranger at a party. So I try to go back to the state of perception I try to simply observe, again, in greater detail–the physical sensation that I have defined as pain: where do I feel it?  What is it’s intensity? What is the sensation of walking up to a person at a party, absent of the feeling that I myself have attached to it?  Sometimes it works, and, over time, certain things become less disagreeable to me, and I am able to then navigate the world in a way that is less encumbered by my own “baggage.”

So Murakami’s words reminded me of this. Is this what he or Bender is talking about?   I’d say the context is quite different and any the connection tenuous.  However, when I see a few paragraphs of keen observation, absent of opinion, I think it allows me, as a reader, some life and activity that would otherwise be confined.  As a writer,  it might allow one to reach a different conclusion than one might have, and perhaps, having come to a conclusion, the writer decides to leave the spaciousness, or perhaps writer goes back and uses the discovered information, threading it in earlier, depending on the case.  In this way, the writer is kind of like the mind that influences the process…

August 25, 2012

August 25, 2012

Things I am already doing to help my case:

Meditating again…  I once had a practice.  I had a tendency to act like I still had a practice, but I didn’t.  I do now. Twenty-five to thirty minutes in the morning and the evening, ten or fifteen minutes mid-day at work, and whenever I wake up in the wee hours of the morning buzzing with adrenaline–for however long it takes to calm myself down.

Ix-nay on the sugar-say… I did this the first time around for about a year after my surgery.  Everything I read supports that sugars and cancer do not play well together (or, more specifically, that they play too well.  The first time around there were days when this was really difficult and emotional.  Thus far (i.e. for the last five days) it has not been difficult at all to cut out recognizable refined sugars. Rice and bread are a little harder, I think because it’s harder for me to believe they are “as bad,” but I have pared them way down.

Juicing:  All veggies, all the time.  I haven’t actually been manning the juicer, as life is, per usual, a little crazy right now–but I’ve been hitting the Robek’s at every chance, cutting the juice with water at home when I can (to decrease the sugars) and keeping half in an air-tight container for later.

Pulling remedies off the shelf:  I guess I can say I’m “lucky” that the last time I had cancer, I was not employed, and I spend several months doing very little but researching supplements, various diets, etc.  I had a pared down “maintainence” vitamin regime that I was never going to quit.  I did.  just got busy and didn’t reach for the containers on the shelf.  But conveniently, they are all still there.  The enzymes, the IP6 /maitake mushroom extract, the Pau D’ Arco tea, the Chlorella (alkalizing)/Tumeric (anti-inflammatory) tablets.  Hot lemon-juice to flush the liver (and other stuff) in the morning.

I have scans happening this week, and an appointment with a gynecologic oncologist.  I don’t know what I will find out, and especially when I’m tired I get anxious.  But then I remind myself that no matter how dire the case may seem, I have met real people who have overcome worse, and I believe I can do as well.

Why I’m Being So Crazy

It’s 2:30 in the morning Los Angeles time, 5:30 AM Indiana time. I am at the Indianapolis airport with some time before my generous and early-rising friend arrives to pick me up. I am sitting at an empty gate, with my stolen airline blanket, contemplating my recent behavior.

Traveling is always anxious-making for me. I’m not scared of flying, but I am scared of packing. I have recurring nightmares where I’m running late, packing at the last moment, searching for lost items. In my nightmares, time is running out and I can’t find something, I keep changing my clothes at last minute, what I have on or have packed seems totally unacceptable, and I can’t keep myself from trying to alter it, despite the fact that those actions are self-sabotaging, and I’m making myself late and other people are waiting for me. I can’t control myself.

Life imitates nightmares. I tried to prevent it, even wrote on my calendar for Thursday night “pack for trip,” to save myself a Friday panic. But my plans were derailed as soon as I decided to pack electronics first. I had promised my mother I’d bring my digital camera, tohelp her take pictures and put some items on Craig’s list. I’d felt like the helpful, responsible got-it-together daughter. I envisioned snapping pictures with my shiny camera. I was such a good person.

Until I couldn’t find the camera charger. I checked every outlet in the house, every shelf, and un-used purse. I hoped it might be at my sister’s, I hoped it might magically be at my internship on Friday. I searched some more. By Friday evening I knew I needed to cut my losses and pack my things, but I waited too long. My packing was haphazard. Paul had to witness my obsession and my shame spiral, and still get me to the plane on time. It was too late to buy a replacement charger. I borrowed a camera from a friend–but instead of being comforted by this, picking it up on the way to the airport brought an irrational lump of anxiety to my chest. Then, arriving at the airport I realized, with a sinking sensation—I had left my sunglasses behind. I have light eyes, and am rather blind as a bat in the sun without a really good pair of sunglasses.

Surveying my domino-fall of bad decisions, and I felt a terrible sense of loss, regret, self-loathing, I felt keenly the cost of replacing lost items, then my lack of money, then my late stage in life for lacking money. Soon I was contemplating my grey hairs, and dissipating youth, my mother’s questionable health, my inability to provide for her as I’d like to do. In the car I was fighting back tears as Paul looked at me and wondered why I was being so crazy.

And as I sat in the waiting area for my flight, I too, thought, “Why am I being so crazy?”

I do not have big problems. Not even a busted hard-drive, or no money, certainly not a grave illness. I have a camera to use. I have a credit card, if I have to get new glasses, it’s not the end of the world. I could, if I had to, even squint for ten days.

My real problem is that, for this moment in time, I have lost my equanimity, my flexibility, my ability to emotionally roll with the punches.

And that, in fact, is probably because my life is going too well.

By this I mean that, despite my practical worries, I am doing things each day that engage me—working full days at my internships, seeing friends and shows and networking in the evenings. The drama of my own life is fun to get wrapped up in, I get swept away by the momentum and let my mind revel in visions of future outcomes—be these bad or good. At night I fall to the pillow, exhausted, and sleep almost immediately.

In other words, I’m not taking the time and space to step away from own drama. Simply, I’m not meditating. I’m not doing the thing that gives me perspective and distance. And with no distance, I fall into bad habits. I eat sugary foods that add to my emotional instability, I push away my emotional and spiritual work, saying I don’t have time, I rush around, I fall apart in little ways.

When I was ill, I had very little sense of the future. Because there was pain in the present, and so much uncertainty, I wasn’t so engaged with the future, and this made it easier to devote time to meditation. Not thinking was a pleasurable relief.

Not thinking is always a relief. I know it in when I reach that state, but it’s harder work to get there. It’s more difficult to convince my mind that this is what it wants and needs. Thinking seems like the more immediate pleasure, it seems like the soft sofa compared to the boring treadmill of working not to think. But in metaphors, and in reality, the treadmill pays off. So. meditation. I must return to it. Or I will make myself crazy.

Meditation 1 –My History

I thought it would be good to start with my history, and how I’ve come to the practice I have so far:

I was diagnosed with colon cancer at the end of 2003. My surgery happened in December, a few days before my birthday. I started a meditation practice to aid both in the emotional aspects of that experience, and in my physical recovery. One of my big influences and inspirations was an Australian man named Ian Gawler, who, in the seventies, recovered from a very progressed cancer with a combination of meditation, diet, and other therapies, subsequently starting a support group in the Melbourne area, writing the book “You Can Conquer Cancer,” and eventually building a Living Centre in the Yarra Valley outside of Melbourne. I read his book, and two months after my surgery, traveled to the center for their 10-day Life and Living Program. This intense program, geared toward those affected by cancer, covered several topics related to dealing with illness, and one of the main focuses was a daily meditation instruction and practice.

Interestingly, the Yarra Valley was not the first place that I saw Ian. Because I had some medical tests to undergo in Melbourne the week before the retreat, I found myself with a free weekend in the city. I happened upon an advertisement for a Friday evening presentation by Sogyal Rinpoche, followed by a weekend teaching on Healing Transformation, and I decided to go. When I arrived, Ian was volunteering, working behind the information desk. I found out later that he and his wife Ruth had been students of the Rinpoche for several years, although Ian’s workshop never pointed to Buddhism or any specific religious faith.

Upon returning to Alice Springs, I kept up my practice, and found other people to meditate with from time to time. One group that met on Sunday afternoons was a small Sangha group. It was held in the artist’s workshop out back of the house of one of the members. Although I was not really studying Buddhism, they were always welcoming, and it was a pleasure to sit with them for a half hour in that quiet room, and feel their energy.

Ongoing topic?

A few posts back, I mentioned that I was going to a meditation retreat at the local Shambala center. As I just finished a second weekend of training yesterday, today I had every intention of giving a report of the individual instance, but as I look at the screen, I am wanting to write more than that. As I’ve been exploring blog space lately, I’ve been noticing people who often use their sites to really explore topics that they are interested in from various perspectives, be it like my friends Sam’s blog that often refers to her ongoing exploration of things dance related…this girl who mostly writes about different kinds of games. These blogs make a really nice resource, and because their authors are out there learning and discovering things, it sometimes feels like you are walking alongside them in the process. So while I want to do a quick and funny post about, “how my weekend meditation retreat went,” I am also feeling like I want to attempt to talk about this subject of my interest a little more in depth. This is an idea that might lose momentum or completely backfire, but I can at least start it today anyway. It will probably happen in dribs and drabs, interspersed between random daily stuff, and if it starts to get too lengthy and boring for those who just checking in for the news, hopefully I will notice (or someone will tell me) and I can move it into a separate section of my blog (as if I technically know how to do that!)