December 2, 2022
In all my musings about the nature of the mind this month, including here with you, there’s been a question nagging me in the background I’m hesitant to even ask aloud: Why would the mind be wired for negative states and emotions, like doubt, when in its pure state it can access all the joy and contentment of enlightened consciousness? It’s the kind of question that I can hear my teacher responding to with the non-answer of: Sit with it. I hope you don’t mind my sitting with it (in writing) with you, in this last letter of the month on doubt.
My first instinct was to treat the question like any question in Ayurveda: observe the gunas that are out of balance and apply the opposite. In this approach, we might say that doubt has the gunas of instability, darkness, rigidity, and grasping. In a state of doubt, the mind is in protection mode and clinging to what it thinks it knows to be true, any alternative posing a threat to its established worldview. The dis-ease comes in because there’s something inside that knows the status quo isn’t everything, or that it’s time to change the perspective on what we knew, in the past, to be true. So we are sort of caught in between states of certainty, as hesitant to let caution to the wind and embrace something new as we are to stick to our story and keep ploughing forward.
The opposite gunas—stable, light, soft, and receptive—are all what we might assume to be something like certainly—the opposite of doubt. Like turning on the light to ascertain that what you thought was a snake is really just a rope, and the relief-filled exhale that soon follows, certainty (which we gather through the direct perception of our senses) seems like where we’d want to be most of the time. It’s certainly what my mind wants most of the time—to know, with absolute confidence, that my PT will end my hip pain once and for all, that my work will be valued and make a difference, that I’ll have enough money and food to survive, that I’ll have a life of love.
The thing is, certainty, as received through the senses, is not a thing to be trusted. At least, not exclusively. When we allow ourselves to settle for what the senses offer by way of scratching the itch of desire to know, our energy is still directed outward. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita:
When you keep thinking about sense objects, attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire, the lust of possession that burns to anger. Anger clouds the judgment; you can no longer learn from past mistakes. Lost is the power to choose between what is wise and what is unwise, and your life is utter waste. But when you move amidst the world of sense, free from attachment and aversion alike, there comes the peace in which all sorrows end, and you live in the wisdom of the Self. (II.62-65)
Certainty may balance doubt, but it keeps an imbalance alive in the mind. The answer to both imbalances is not in the mind at all, but in the heart.
We are in an era of “mindfulness,” where people pay money and spend lots of time trying to rein in their monkey minds and achieve a mystical enlightened state. This is not wrong, since if the monkey is left to its own devices, let loose to roam and make chaos throughout the kingdom of our reality, we’ll be in bad shape. I’ve been there, and I bet you have too.
But mindfulness is not enough. (Sorry.) The mind, by the very nature of its place in the universe (per Samkhya philosophy), is inherently tied to the material world, where doubt serves a real function as much as its quest to banish doubt does. When the mind finally quiets, though, what we discover is a place where knowing and not-knowing is replaced by something else. There, in the heart, is the Truth, the deepest Knowing that reveals the simultaneous emptiness and fullness of every moment, the totality of ourselves beyond birth and death.
They say that when the body incurs a severe trauma, it will protect itself from the intensity of the pain by blacking out or, in the case of emotional pain, suppressing the memory or dissociating. I wonder if the mind is doing a similar thing for us all the time, sort of in reverse—interjecting with distractions of emotions and sufferings of various types to shield us from the totality of our being. Like staring at the sun, it might be too much for us to take in in a continuous manner. But Knowing that this place, this state, is available to us always might be enough to keep the doubt-monkeys at bay most of the time.
At least, that’s what the sliver of quiet in my mind revealed to me today. I wonder what further Truths will banish the doubt of my mind’s validity the longer I sit—maybe even the point of not caring about such questions at all.