“Embracing the path to freedom and transformation is the deepest calling within the heart of every individual,” I write in my newly published book, Discover Your Free Mind. But how can we honor our heart’s calling if we are in the grip of certain emotions that are hard to shake off? If you’re like most people who feel pain at an emotional level, then you’re probably aware of what it means to be stuck in a negative state of mind.
I am not referring to the more obvious emotional outbursts such as anger or panic, which all of us must find ways to deal with before it harms others and ourselves. I am referring to those emotions and thinking patterns that seem to inwardly possess you, disturbing you from within. These could manifest themselves as anxiety, resentment, doubt, mental conflict, or as some sort of addiction that you unconsciously yield to.
To understand this better, consider these two anecdotes:
Ross felt perfectly normal one morning. After all, it was the beginning of summer and the fading spring season had painted the landscape around his office with greenery and colorful flowers. Turning his attention from the trees outside to his smartphone, Ross glanced across a posting on social media by two of his close friends. It was a picture of them having a good time at one of his favorite places. He felt the rush of emotion surge, a sudden twinge in his heart: He’d been left out.
Before he even realized it, his thumbs hammered out a sarcastic comment on their posting (the danger of instant electronic communication). But soon after he had typed out his stinging one-liner, he was beset with feelings of shame. His “critic” had now shifted from his friends onto himself. For the remainder of his day, he was riddled with self-critical thoughts, like a catchy tune that plays on and on in your head without any conscious control.
On the other side of the city, Dorothy, was happily packing a lunch for her husband of 20 years, who was on his way to work. She became aware of a text message beeping on his cell phone, which he had left behind on the dining table as he was getting dressed. As she glanced at the phone she noticed that the message was from his secretary, a lively young woman. It struck a tone that seemed to Dorothy more personal than professional. Instead of risking another argument that would create a rift in their relationship, she saw her husband off that morning with a hidden heartbreak. But all through the day, Dorothy was seized with anxiety, fueled by imagining her husband’s extramarital relationship. No amount of diversion, or gorging of sweets, could shake off the undercurrent of gloom and foreboding she felt over their relationship.
The stories of Ross and Dorothy play out in all our lives, with varying scripts and intensities. While some people seem to effectively engage in repeated acts of anger and conflict with others without ever having to suffer any inner torment, it is not necessarily a sign of mental health. For the human brain to undergo physiological and psychological evolution, it is natural to feel pain, especially when we inflict it on others. The development of empathy in the human heart that brings greater “self-awareness and other-awareness,” as neurologist V. S. Ramachandran points out in his book Tell-Tale Brain, can present another challenge: Awareness of our actions and mental patterns causes many of us to shift the conflicting attention from without to within. Our minds are then “dis-eased” by this inner conflict or possessed by a self-judgmental and raging inner critic. In modern and psychological definitions, these are referred to as stress, anxiety, depression, and other states. These states obscure the heart and mind’s openness.
In Discover Your Free Mind, I explore these “dis-eased” states of mind. I point toward the possibility of finding inner freedom not by intensifying the fight within ourselves, but by inquiring into their nature and into our own mental conditioning imposed by our cultural and social environment. Building on the essence of ancient Eastern and Western philosophies and teachings, I present their relevance in the modern context:
- What is the nature of these emotional states we find ourselves stuck in?
- Why is it so hard to free ourselves from these states of minds?
- What are the interior impulses and external influences that bring us toward such dis-eased states of mind?
Many of us have found comfort in different approaches from psychology, spirituality and self-help for dealing with such inner challenges. Through these, we seek a permanent state of mind where we never again have to deal with these mental patterns. If you have faith in such a notion, because of what someone else has said or experienced, then you are likely going to mentally cling to the distant future in the present moment. It is the ground where “having hope” becomes your only hope.
But if the nature of your faith is propelled by your own glimpses of freedom or through your own unfolding realization, then you are probably ready to give up these ideological fantasies of a future state of mental freedom and instead reside in the present state of the mind’s unknowing. You may then be open to seeing that the heart of all our problems lies in the very seeking state of mind (in the present) which looks to the future for a permanent state of freedom and joy. I ask in my book, “Can we learn to look at life unmasked, without attempting to manipulate it, so that we may understand its true nature, without the layers of intellectual concepts and cultural and social beliefs?”
When we can shift our perspective in such a way, we even step out of any spiritual or philosophical concepts that we have subscribed to, and move toward realizing our own solo path. As long as we are committed to this kind of moment-to-moment discovering of inner freedom, we can see for ourselves that Free Mind is not to be found elsewhere, but right where we are and right within the situation we are faced with.Because such a path to freedom is unchained from the “beginning and ending” dimensions of time and space.
The grip on the mind by any emotional state relaxes as we bring the inquiring attitude not just to the difficult situations in life, but also to every comforting thought pattern the mind grasps at. It is only then that we are able to truly find inner freedom, no matter what our life situation may be and no matter what state of mind we find ourselves stuck in.
Discover Your Free Mind is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions.