Martial Art of the Mind
There are far greater dangers than being shot, losing all your money or being injured in a road accident. Statistically that is. Surviving the good, the bad and the ugly that life puts in your way needs real skills, and one of the greatest of them is not the ability to drive safely. It is a master technique hardly known in the West, but mastered by many in the East.
Statistically you and I have very little chance of being shot or being crushed by a falling building. But there is every likelihood that we are already imprisoned, even tortured or manipulated by things we do not even acknowledge as being dangerous or capable of trapping us.
A friend, who is a good driver, manages a car like a professional until she gets to a main road with traffic on it. Then she completely loses control and freezes with fear. Even passing a large truck as a passenger does the same thing, and she often cries out in emotional pain. You might believe she was tortured by her fear, but it is her imagination that is the jailor and torturer. Inside herself she sees the truck crushing her. It is so real she reacts as if it were true.
People can, of course, believe what they wish, but such beliefs not only limit ones experience, they also create enormous conflicts, as with religious or political wars. More importantly they act as filters or blocks to a fuller relationship with other people and opportunities. A woman, Barbara, writing about the relationship with her father, says:
I did things that I knew my father would be interested in because I observed that he had a very strong filter: things he wasn’t interested in (e.g. art and music) he completely ignored and didn’t try to be interested in. He had decided that these were not productive uses of time partly because of the puritan work ethic that had been instilled into him by his mother, and partly because those things had never been encouraged in him. Therefore I felt that if I didn’t do things that fell into his areas of interest I would not get his attention or interest.
The other aspect is that if I did do things differently this would question the fundamental principles on which he had based his life. I feel that part of the shutting off to things like art and music is that they involve emotional involvement. My father’s father died when he was six. Everything was done to shield him from it. My grandmother showed no emotion (although privately she was devastated) as she thought this was best. My father was therefore not allowed or helped to deal with what he felt, and his strategy was to build a wall. I feel all these emotions are still there walled off. His mother is now dying, and it is interesting to see his reaction. He is very close to her, being the only child. As she gets worse, the wall is getting stronger. He doesn’t like witnessing his family distressed and often I’ve seen that wall come into place when he does, as self protection.
So Barbara is saying that her father is not only the prisoner of his beliefs, but also is enormously restricted by his inability to meet his emotions. Later in our communications, Barbara described the traps she herself is caught in and beginning to find freedom from.
Most of my demons reside in my head; i.e. I invent the possibility of rejection and abandonment and respond to my own imagination by trying to avoid it happening. The old reflex is to attempt to do what will please those I care for to stop them abandoning me. The other complicating element has been the strategy of cutting off feeling to cope with an emotionally painful situation that I feel powerless to get out of, because that would displease the people who love me and that would mean they might reject/abandon me.
These situations of imagining things we fear, of being trapped by what we feel others will not like about us; of twisting the nature of who we really are in an attempt to get love or acceptance; being imprisoned by what we are convinced is true about life and the world; denying pain and our own feelings; the awful fight some of us have with our basic drives such as hunger, sex and our need for love, are more prevalent evils than gunmen, terrorism or social upheaval.
What we believe or imagine about who we are, or what we are not, is for many people an incredibly potent torturer and jailer. But many of what Barbara calls her demons are unbelievably subtle, and capture us, restrict us, shut out the possibility of a full life, or being able to respond with our own creativity. The real problem is that we often accept this as normal or barely notice them.
If we look at Lisa this becomes understandable. Lisa is in her forties, was married for a few years but felt she received no love or support, so she ended the relationship. She had not children and went through a great many changes of lifestyle and employment after ending her marriage. A few years ago she had got deeply into debt to credit card companies and sold her small house to pay her debts. In trying to re-establish herself financially and in terms of personal achievement she worked very hard at what seemed to be a promising self employed opportunity. During this period she lived on the money left over from the sale of her house, and despite all the promise of what she was doing, after several years she had earned nothing, so survives on a part time job.
Lisa now lives in a state in which she is constantly tortured and put down by seeing that unlike her sisters she has never had a child, has not achieved any lasting success in her life and lives in a tiny bedsit which she might have to leave due to not being able to pay the rent. There is also an inner ghost haunting her through her feelings that she has not lived up to her father’s hopes. She longs to earn enough to own her own house, and to have a loving partner who closely shares her life. The lack of all of these pulls her down to frequent feelings of despair and hopelessness.
Prisoner in Your Mind
This is where mental martial arts can make its entry. All of what Lisa feels about her life – no child – no external achievement – no partner – no house of her own – not measuring up to her family – are all true, but only in a certain way. What is devastating is that Lisa believes she is what she feels. It is this point that is the fulcrum, the lever that can shift defeat into release. And that lever has nothing to do with repeating positive affirmations to fight the gloom. It has nothing to do with meditating light flooding her being to dispel the darkness. It has nothing to do with taking a pill or injecting a chemical to deaden the pain. It has everything to do with recognising who we really are, and emerging from the locked cell we have been a prisoner in.
Because this is so important we need to step back a little distance to come to the meaning slowly.
We must all at times have seen something or heard something that circumstances assured us shouldn’t be there or should not have happened. One that has occurred to me a few times is that I step into my house and see someone standing in the shadows who shouldn’t be there. My heart speeds up, and for moments I am frozen. Then with relief I see it is a coat hung on a door. All the fear drains away and my heart slows down again. Or it could be a sound of something or someone in the house when you are not expecting anyone, or can’t understand what the sound means. Whatever it is, until you understand the cause – recognising the coat on the door for instance – your whole body and emotions respond as if it is a reality. What you believe to be real is responded to completely as if it IS real. Thus African and Australian tribesmen would die because they believed the local witchdoctor had cursed them. The demon that killed them was not outside them, but in them. The demons that throw Lisa down are not in any of the external events but in her belief that she is a failure, unloved and unlovable.
For millennia shamans, witchdoctors, priests and witches, and now the medical fraternity, have tried to cast out these demons in one way or another. If we are to live free of them, free to really express our potential and meet change and opportunity with the best we are, we need to rid ourselves of those demons. And don’t for a moment think you are free of them. They lurk in shadows. They hide even in the positive things you believe about yourself; for they feed on beliefs as well as doubts. Their very energy is the stuff of thoughts and emotions.
Knowing this, we can see that much advertising attempts to call these demons into action – Are wrinkles making you look old? – Can you no longer make love like you used to? – Lacking energy, zest, confidence, take this fantastic new formula – What will happen if you die leaving your loved ones uncared for? – What is holding you back – why not completely change your life by signing on this $2000 guaranteed three day course? Defeat ageing, get rich, have fantastic sex, leave failure behind – you know the story. But what the adverts are reaching are the beliefs or feelings that you are ageing, you no longer or never did have fantastic sex, you are childless or a failure. They are grabbing hold of the imagination already working in us that tells us we are doomed, failures, unloved and lonely.
Another factor in this imprisonment is that many of us believe there is no difference between our body and who we are. If we look awful then it means we are an awful or unattractive person. Along with that it is almost impossible for most of us to gain any distance between what we feel and who we believe we are. We feel a failure – we are a failure. We feel inferior – we are inferior. Others of us have been told things as a child – you idiot, can’t you get anything right; you? – never amount to anything, etc. That stuff sticks, and if we believe it we are trapped by it and live it. It all becomes a habit. If we are to find our way out of its clutches we need a new habit, a new way of dealing with it.
In recent years I have been challenging people who are convinced you should feel grief and even great pain when someone you care for dies. I am not going to argue this point here, but when I talk to such people it is evident they are convinced they are right. As I say, I am not going to argue this, but read about the power of belief again. Or change the word belief into conviction. It seems that we live in convictions about who we are, what life means, what is a ‘normal’ response to events, and what is right and wrong. Think about it. What are your convictions? Again, read what belief and imagination can do!
Considering what was said about Lisa, the common argument says that Lisa IS in a bad place in life, and has every reason to feel a failure and depressed. And that is the argument that in fact leaves many of us in shackles, in a form of imprisonment that holds us back from giving all we’ve got to present needs and relationships. Of course she is in a bad place, but to BELIEVE she is a failure actually imprisons her in it more firmly.
How we move beyond killer beliefs
Now we come to the difficult bit, difficult because beliefs and convictions, our demons, may have such a hold it takes skill to undo the prison doors.
Let us start with the body. If you lost an arm or a leg would that diminish you as a person? Of course it would lessen your ability to physically deal with the events and activities as you once did, but would it take away any of your sense of existing as a unique being? Would it somehow cut out a chunk of your memories or certainty of who you are?
Moving on, if you lost your hearing would you become less a person than previously? Would losing your sight mean you would cease to exist to yourself or other people?
They would all mean you had less equipment to act and move in the physical world, but would they mean you are less equipped to imagine, to think, to know yourself or be aware of your feelings?
Well, in recent years I experienced major stroke in which a part of my brain was destroyed. At that time I lost the ability to speak and the use of the right side of my body. It was a wonderful experience in one aspect because having lost what most people think of as ‘them’, I could see that behind the brain damage I still was whole and happy. I did not identify with my speech or my body. Instead I saw something so important. I saw that the brain injury had injured the ability for me to express through my body. The brain was not ME.
Can you in fact imagine what it would be like if all your senses shut down so you didn’t even know you have a body, and no longer are aware of the external world?
Yes, this is what most people call death. But play with it for a while without brushing it aside with your beliefs or convictions. Try it out to see what you arrive at. It has been done lots of times with sensory deprivation experiments. Although it is unlikely that you will ever be in that situation, it is an important training exercise for mental martial arts.
Apart from sensory deprivation experiments in the west, explorers and philosophers of the ancient east gave enormous energy in trying to understand what it is to be human, and what the possibilities are. They explored what was left when all the sensation and experience of the external world was taken away, and they wrote about it at great length and with great clarity. It was what I met after my stroke. A wonderful essence of this is seen in the first paragraph of the Chinese classic The Tao Te Ching:
The Dao that is defined ceases to be the Dao.
The name that you can speak is not the actual name.
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth.
Naming is the matrix of ten thousand different things.
Those who live desireless know the mystery at its heart.
Those who live desiring know the separate, surface parts.
Both nameless and named (heart and surface), though named differently, are one. i
In those few words are volumes of information, and they give the whole secrets and practice of martial art of the mind. The word Dao indicates what you are behind the flood of impressions and noise arising from you senses, your thoughts and feelings, and behind all the words and concepts you explain life with. At the same time it is the foundation of the universe and life.
Again we must stand back a little way and come back to it slowly. So, returning to our experiment in dropping away the body and all its sensory experience, we do this every day when we sleep. Legs, arms, head, sight, hearing and touch are all left behind, switched off. Our sense of self diminishes almost to zero, but returns in dreams in a very special way. What we can learn from this is that in deep sleep all the beliefs, the convictions, the waking personality melt, leaving what might be called imageless, emotionless, existence. This is the Dao. This ‘nameless’ and formless you, existing beyond body and senses, is the origin of all you experience, yet lies beyond it at the same time.
Then in dreams we experience a half way house between what I call ‘naked awareness’ and waking awareness. In the half way house of dreams we clothe ourselves with a body similar to that we use in waking. We meet the hopes, fears, longings and ideas we stimulated or took on in waking life. Most importantly, we take into this dream world much of what is only real and true in waking.
And here we approach the martial art – in waking, if you are shot you could die. In dreams you can get shot a thousand times and still live to be shot again. All that happens – and these next words should be in flashing fluorescent lights – you feel over and over the fear or feelings and thoughts relevant to waking life. In this virtual reality of dreams you die a thousand unnecessary deaths. No matter what nightmare you meet in sleep, you still wake, and all that you carry with you are the emotions and fears that are only applicable to waking life. You carry with you what you believe is true. Yet buildings can fall on you and crush you, monsters can ravage and tear your flesh, demons can carry to hell, or angels lift you to heaven, and you survive to dream it all again if you so wish. Underwater there is no need to hold your breath in a dream, for no harm comes to you. But the convictions you carry inwards from physical life torture you, and you may wake struggling for breath, or fighting demons or monsters who threaten to devour your or posses your soul. But all you are dealing with are images and emotions – or perhaps in some extraordinary dreams when you pass beyond the struggle with images and fears, you might move on to wonderful creative ideas and insights.
The martial art of the mind and soul is to recognise that you do not have to live a thousands deaths and fears INSIDE YOURSELF. They are all groundless. Of course you need to respond to external needs and threats. But it is not helpful to do so out of imagined fear, terror, self criticism, negative comparisons, rigid beliefs or by deadening what you experience with drink and drugs.
Most of such fears are about threats of death or loss of self. The strange thing is, every night we go to sleep, we lose this self we are so terrified of losing through death or possession by some monstrous creature. Then the next morning on waking we have the self back again. What is so frightening about that?
As for being possessed, we are already possessed by the fear of death, injury, being unloved, lonely, failure, poverty, depression, terrible or distorted urges, we may be haunted by meaninglessness and being lost in life. Honestly, what else is there to possess us?
As for death, our present popular myths, stated by our modern wizards the scientists, tell us when our body dies that is the end of us. The contradictory nature of this statement stands out though. Scientists do not yet know what consciousness is. Whether
we survive physical death is not about the body but about consciousness. As scientists presently do not know what that is, how can they say it doesn’t survive?
Remember – ALL such ideas and statements are theories. None of us know what the ultimate truth is. So why torture or imprison ourselves, binding our arms and legs, our love, with half truths?
Moving on from that, here is a dream I had after learning how to live more fully in imageless consciousness:
Before waking this morning I had an extraordinary lucid experience that involved me in what felt like a real place. The clearest part of this was of being in a maze. The walls of the maze were made of hedges, as the whole thing was outdoors. But I realised, because I was lucid, that I had purposely created the dream image of the maze as an experiment. The point of the experiment was that the maze was complicated enough to make it difficult for me to find my way out. So, confronted by the difficulty of finding my way out, because of the lucidity, I could understand that this was a self created image, and in doing so I simply realised I was only trapped in ideas and feelings created by images and my imagination, and not actually in a maze. Realising this I was thereby free of the maze. Recognising the feeling as being things I felt rather than reality, I could escape the trap.
I then experimented again and again with this, moving to exist beyond the images and beliefs I had been, or could be, lost in. This was such an extraordinary experience and realisation it is difficult to put into words with enough impact to communicate what I felt. What it led me to see was that all dreams, all thinking and beliefs, involve us in an environment or situation of one sort or another. Usually we feel them to be so real, and the feelings we experience because we are immersed in them, to also be real, that in a very genuine way we are trapped. But we are trapped in the feelings and ideas. So if we were in a prison cell in a dream, or if we trap ourselves in beliefs or thoughts, then there would be no way out of that cell without a key. However, realising oneself as being the awareness behind the feelings, thoughts and images means there is no prison; there is no entrapment; there are no walls to hold you.
The apparent reality of the dream, the thoughts or the beliefs are then seen as simply pictures and feelings – stuff of the mind that we have conjured and become identified with and lost or trapped in. Even imagery with positive feelings is a form of trap if we identify with it.
The more I looked at the experience the more I realised that virtually everybody on our planet is trapped in a prison of their own emotions, thoughts and ideas. To recognise this in any reasonable degree leads to an extraordinary sense of freedom. To see that we live our life trapped in the world of thoughts, of emotions, of sexual drives, of fears or beliefs, is astonishing.
“The name that you can speak is not the actual name. The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth.” My dream explains something of that astonishing statement. The things we can give a name to are not who and what we are. The beliefs and convictions we are often possessed by are things we experience, but they are not ourselves. As I saw so clearly, I am the awareness of the scenes and images of my mind and my dreams, not the scenes themselves. As soon as I believe I am the maze, the belief or the idea I am trapped.
This realisation is life changing. Living as we do, trapped in beliefs, emotions, conditioned responses, we are not really capable of responding adequately to changing environments or present needs. Obviously there are real traps and dangers in our external world, but many of us are trapped in the dungeons created by our own inner fear, by past pains, beliefs and thoughts. Recognising and experiencing the nameless and formless nature of our real identity frees us. In the East this is called Liberation or Enlightenment.
Me – my brain – and consciousness
The great key to all this is RECOGNITION. Recognising the situation is the great power that sets us free, that liberates us from the prison cell of our own creation.
Research into how the brain works, and how this relates to what we see and know of the world around us, has shown that we really do not know what reality is. The eyes for instance receive wavelength of light – vibrations – that then pass along the optic nerve as nerve impulses – not light – which the brain then translates into what we believe is the external world. That is all fine, as this virtual reality the brain creates enables us to deal reasonably well with the external world – but it is not reality. It is not the external world. There might not even be an ‘external’.
In a way it is almost the same as what happens in a dream. Impulses are translated into a virtual reality we call a dream. Perhaps the only difference is that in the dream our eyes are closed and we are not receiving impressions from an apparently external world. Yet when we see something, we really believe we are seeing it, we believe we are aware of actual light, not a virtual reality the brain has created from nerve impulses.
Then we have another impression that we call self, me, or I. This impression of personal existence is made up of many factors; partly cultural and parental programming, partly the language we learn, and partly the way our body and its systems respond to signals such as sight and sound. But like the virtual reality the brain creates, this sense of self isn’t real in the widest way of measuring what actually exists.
Born into a different historical period, with a different language and social training, our sense of self would have been very different. What we call self can be very variable. Also, given certain drugs our sense of who we are can either be forgotten entirely, or radically changed. So who are we?
What I have named martial art of the mind is a way we can free ourselves from the traps of our sense impressions, beliefs and thoughts. In learning the steps of mental martial art – a way of relating to the world and events that does not trap us, defeat us, or cause more pain than necessary – it must be remembered I am not suggesting denial or repression. Some disciplines of the mind and emotions, such as some religious or ’spiritual’ practices, promote denial of sex and physical experience. Martial art of the mind is not about any form of denial. It is about recognition. Recognising sexual impulses as arising from instinctive and sometimes socially conditioned responses, does not mean we should then repress or deny them. What happens is that we can in fact enjoy sex more fully, without the heartaches and misery often associated with relationships arising out of it.
The steps to learning the Martial Art of the Mind are:
- Recognise that as much as you have learned about yourself, the world and universe, when you weigh that against what you do not know it amounts to ignorance.
- Within ourselves we create a world out of beliefs, feelings, and what we have learned or been told is true. This limited understanding can act as a cocoon in which we get trapped if we cling to ideas and information as if they are concrete and absolute truths. Label them within yourself for what they are – beliefs, assumptions, theories and partial information. As ‘true’ as a piece of information may be, it is only a tiny fragment of truth – truth being the actual universe, all in it, and its constantly shifting interactions. Recognising this must become a constant part of the way you understand and respond to things.
3. The way you respond to events and relationships is largely from conditioned reflexes or habits. Or if not that then the behavioural patterns gained from your parents, social behaviours or racial forebears. The conditioning firstly arises out of evolutionary responses such as the flight or fight instinct, and there are also many patterns set by early childhood experiences and cultural and peer group inputs. To think that these responses, responses that occur naturally and spontaneously, are you, and represent who you are, is a mistake. They are what you have learned or been programmed to do, and although such responses are programming set in place in connection with survival, they are usually not your best survival guides, being based on past events or situations. Many of them are infantile or connected with long past physical or social environments. To survive the needs of the moment you need to recognise and gain reasonable freedom from the old programming so you can act freely.
4. Our body/mind constantly tries to reprogram itself through the process of dreaming, or by painful or by meeting neurotic responses to events and relationships. If we can see dreams, nightmares and painful/neurotic responses to events as signalling problems to deal with, we can then work with the process of reprogramming. If we sedate the signals, see them as natural and normal, or name them as the real person we are, then they remain undealt with and will recur. Although the reprogramming is inbuilt and natural, we may need help from those practised in working with the process.ii
5. Identification with the changing aspects of our experience, such as our body and its appearance, external events, organisations, beliefs, thoughts or emotions, means we have no real stability. Those things are always changing. What does not change is your ability to be conscious of those changes. The ability or quest to know who you are behind the changing world of your senses, your body, thoughts and emotions is what brings stability.
6. Words, thoughts and emotions are never what they appear to be about. Just as a map is never the territory it depicts, so words and thoughts are never who or what they suggest. To take our thoughts or descriptions to be adequate reflections of a person or thing is to live in a world of illusion. Of course, words and thoughts are part of the world we live in and are useful in dealing with everyday needs, but they are hugely limiting if we take them as real indicators and reflections of life.
7. We may believe we are male, female, heterosexual or homosexual. We may hold on to the identity of being well known, loved, famous or a villain. We may be devastated by the conviction we are doomed to die, that our life is meaningless, that we have never managed love or creativity. Yet when we are in deep sleep we are none of those things. All of them are beliefs or convictions that can act as chains holding us back from the freedom of our own nakedness.
Those steps are a beginner’s course in the martial art of the mind. If they are applied the freedom they lead to unlocks the wonder of our own creative genius. You will find a new relationship with opportunity, with people and with yourself. Latent or unconscious abilities emerge. Talents that had been buried by past convictions or relationships come to life. A widening awareness of your existence in the midst of an astonishing universe grows, and senses beyond the physical show you a world, often called spiritual, which you are completely part of. In all, an old outdated personality you have believed yourself to be may die and fall away as a new self emerges.
This is a reference to psychotherapy and the many techniques that deal with transforming human nature. But reprogramming usually needs much more than talk therapy. It needs a deep remembering of our history; not just thinking and talking, but feeling and knowing. Human beings reprogrammed from tree dwellers to walking upright in open landscape. They reprogrammed from hunter gatherers to town dwellers. That was done slowly by exposure to outer environment and needs, but these show it is part of our skills. With self awareness we can speed such changes enormously.