What’s the point of baking that mouth-watering cake if you aren’t going to eat it?
Suppose you love cake, and being so busy eating it, you hire a robotic helper to go, explore the world, find the best cake recipes and make them for you. This helper whom you hire is good at its job, but sadly for them (and luckily for you), they don’t eat cake. They’ve never eaten one, nor do they ever wish to. Think of them as your personal mindless robotic cake hunters.
All well and good, but what good will it be if this hired help never lets you enjoy the cakes it bakes for you? In fact every time you’re about to take a mouthful of one, it interrupts you with information about yet another delicious recipe it’s discovered or how that cake in the oven is doing. It’s always distracting you with unnecessary information like this, or else it’s reminding you of that cake it baked for you a while ago and how delicious it was, even though, mind you, it has no idea WTF it means by delicious. It’s just made of a bunch of circuits in which connection weights have been tuned over the years based on input from you on what tasted good and what didn’t. But that was a long time ago – Now you don’t even remember having trained this helper to identify cakes you like. You simply and blindly trust that their neural net functions the way you once trained it to.
So most of the time these days, you’re either half awake or drowsy (from all that cake you’d eaten mindlessly) and so you don’t really mind your help’s constant and harsh intrusions. But one time when you’re fully awake, you realize what a bother your help has become. These cakes don’t really taste as good as the ones you ate a long time ago – that was the original source of information you fed to your robotic slave helper to train it. But now, all you want is to be let alone to enjoy your cake – To savor it as you once did, and not be bothered by your help who has no idea what a cake actually tastes like. You see, your help has been your trusted servant for so long that it’s been taking liberties with you for quite a while. Only you didn’t know it.
“It’s time to get that help under control,” you think. “It’s time they know who their master is.”
Speaking analogically and metaphorically, the discriminative mind often gets carried away and believes itself to be the the king of the castle. Rather than serve its master, it considers itself a protector, and even more arrogantly, the gatekeeper who decides which sensations and feelings to let into the inner chambers where the master lives. And it keeps up the illusion that it’s doing a fine job with its constant stream of interruptions and status updates.
As long as the feeling mind is asleep or half awake, it doesn’t realize what’s going on. But when it wakes, it realizes that its once humble servant – the analytical mind – has overrun its authority. It has taken over the running of the castle and all decisions regarding precisely what pleasures the master can and ought to experience.
Hence, you now begin the arduous task of retraining your robot helper. You initially try to silence it just long enough to get to taste your cake once again. It’s a hard job because your trusted helper, though it has now become annoyingly garrulous, is still your trusted helper and will remain with you for life. And you want to keep it sharp and discriminative as always – only not so intrusive. So you retrain it a little bit at a time. You first try and silence it for a few seconds while you enjoy a single bite, but gradually with predictable and steady repetition of this routine, and gentle increases in its scope, you manage to regain full control over your robotic helper so it does precisely what you tell it to and no more. One day in the near future, you hope to have that cake and eat it in peace, feeling and enjoying every mouthful because the network weights in your helper’s circuits would have been completely retrained. Henceforth it will only act only upon command from you.
You see, ultimately all cerebral activity is geared to one purpose only – that of generating positive experiential responses in you, the experiencer. To that end, your analytical mind (also called the discriminative mind) filters your sensations and variously tries to make sense of them, evaluating them constantly. The most important thing to keep in mind is what really matters, and to what end we do what we do. The discriminative mind is a servant of your feeling mind. It’s only the feeling mind that, duh, feels. That’s who we do things for. The discriminative mind simply sets up the conditions for the feeling mind to have a good experience. That’s all. Never lose sight of that, and don’t let the discriminative mind get annoyingly intrusive, or you’ll end up passing through life without actually feeling it, planning for that day that may never arrive. That, in a nutshell, is essentially what the practice of mindfulness helps you do at first.
A slight change in our schedule (Feb 1, 2017-)
Ok, so you didn’t have time to read the rest of the blog. I understand. Based on requests from those who attended the first few sessions, I’ve made a small change to the process. Rather than start cold at each sitting with no instruction, I agree that it will make sense for me to give you an idea of what we should be trying to do.
I’d still like to keep the talking minimal and the doing maximal. So after a very brief introduction soon after 7:45am, I’ll talk you through the first minute or so of the sitting. I’ll tell you what to do and what to expect. The idea here is that you’ll be settled well into your practice by the time 7:50 rolls around and the timer starts. We’ll still make it a point to sit in absolute unmoving silence between 7:50 and 8:00am.
The reason I realized that a little information might indeed be useful is related to the amount of misinformation on the Web. I mean you have videos about eating your breakfast mindfully that tell you to pick up each raisin and examine it before eating – To see it, smell it, feel it and hear it (yes, you read that correctly – hear it!). How much more ludicrous can it get? And all this before any background is given as to what the subject ought to be looking for, or what the goal is. No wonder some people are likely to think that this is all some kind of subjective unscientific mumbo jumbo. No wonder many who try it give up too soon thinking it’s not for them.
Part of the problem, as I see it, is with people who teach mindfulness without themselves having any idea of what it truly is. They’ll end up confusing it with some kind of an intellectual game, exercise or challenge when the ultimate goal of mindfulness is exactly the opposite – to consciously disengage our prying intellect and rational enquiry process so we can calmly understand the masters they serve – to feel rather than to think.
In our little exercises in class, that’s precisely what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to silence the analytical mind by practicing a baby activity (feeling the sensation of your own breath). During the sittings, your analytical mind will constantly intrude and you’ll patiently, without annoyance or anger, tell it to quiet down by ignoring it. More importantly, you’re not giving in to the temptation of running with the intrusive thought.
In this way, you’re denying the intrusion the positive reinforcement it needs to feed the neural circuitry that keeps it strong. With constant repetition of this simple activity you’ll eventually find that it comes easy because the neural pathways that elicit undesirable reactions to stimuli gradually atrophy to the benefit of other pathways that allow you to have uninterrupted experience. At some point, you will be able to summon your inner feeling self to experience sensations at will. That’s our first stop once you get on this train.