Drawing on the spiritual philosophies and meditative practices of classical yoga, Hindu-ism, Buddhism, and Taoism, Jason Gregory explains how fasting the mind creates peace and calmness in your life as well as allows you to build a firm psychological defense against the increasing bombardment of distractions in our world. Applying psychology and cognitive science to samara-the cycle of suffering created by our attachment to the impermanent-he explains how overreliance on the rational mind causes imbalances in the autonomic nervous system and suppresses our natural spontaneity, feelings, and intuition. When we are unable to relax the mind deeply, we enter a destabilizing state of stress and anxiety and are unable to liberate the true Self from the impermanence and limitations of the material world.
Sharing Zen, Taoist, and Vedic practices, the author shows how to give the mind time to truly relax from stimulation so it can repair itself and come back into equilibrium. He details simple meditation practices that are easy to implement in daily life, such as open-awareness meditation and contemplation of Zen koans, as well as the advanced techniques of Vipassana, a Theravadic Buddhist discipline centered on seclusion from all worldly stimuli. He also offers methods for digital detox and ensuring a good night's sleep, a major support for healing cognitive impairment and restoring a state of equanimity.
The epidemic of our times is not a war on terror or a war among nations and religions, nor is it any conflict between opposites that we can conceive of. It is a war so subtle that we are not even conscious of the battle being waged. It is a psychological war: a war against our mind, a war on consciousness. But this war is not being waged upon us from the outside world-at least not entirely so. The deep-down truth is that you have waged war upon yourself.
We are not even conscious of this fact because we are asleep at the wheel of our own life. We often play the victim card, as if the world is against us. In truth this mentality eclipses the real problem, which is that you are against yourself-not intentionally, but rather due to your inability to be your true and authentic self. This true and authentic self should not be confused with who you think you are as a personality. On the contrary, to be your true self means to reside in that deep place within your mind and heart where thoughts, feelings, and emotions are observed as temporary phenomena, like rising and crashing waves of the great ocean of consciousness.
Actually this is a more ancient view of ourselves, which comes out of the Indus Valley region of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
From this region came the three great Hindu philosophical systems of Vedanta, Samkhya, and classical yoga. They gave birth to the two concepts known in Sanskrit as Atman and Purusha. Atman means the "Self"-with a capital S-in reference to the pure undifferentiated consciousness deep within us that is eternal, a pure state of awareness identical to the absolute ultimate reality of existence known in Sanskrit as Brahman. Likewise, Purusha refers to our original pure awareness that is untouched by anything the manifest universe produces and is essentially the eyes of Brahman.
We lose consciousness of our true self (Atman/Purusha) when we begin to believe we are the waves (personality) rather than the ocean (Brahman). The war we wage upon ourselves is from riding these waves of thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and ultimately the notion of separation. We believe these waves that we ride are permanent and lasting. Actually thoughts, feelings, and emotions are not really the problem because they are what color the world, making it beautiful or dramatic, bringing inspiration into the world when they are recognized in their truest context. That is, our thoughts, feelings, and emotions are temporary phenomena of sentient life, and they can be enjoyed if they are recognized as being temporary. So the real problem exists when we begin to identify with our thoughts, feelings, and emotions as if they are permanent and something that we can hold on to. We suffer as a result of this process. This suffering was one of the key aspects of human life that Gautama the Buddha realized. Buddha discovered that when we try to cling to our passing experiences, whether pleasurable or painful, we suffer. Armenian mystic George Ivanovich Gurdjieff had an interesting perspective and meditation on this matter of suffering:
The sole means now for the saving of the beings of the planet Earth would be to implant again into their presences a new organ of such properties that every one of these unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests. Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can now destroy the egoism completely crystallized in them.'
This is not to be thought of fatalistically. The real intention behind Gurdjieff's words is to liberate you from the impermanence of life and the illusion of this permanent ego, which you believe you are and which supposedly suffers from the impermanent roller coaster of life. Yet many people all over the world are addicted to riding this roller coaster, seeking pleasurable experiences without realizing that pain will inevitably come. People believe they are this "I," "me," "mine," and so on. As a result we become excessively self-interested. We try to sustain and maintain this permanent sense of "I," which in truth changes like the wind from moment to moment, with no permanent state. Trying to have the sense of a permanent self or ego in the face of the universal winds of change is a battle you will ultimately lose. No matter how hard you try to hold on to your idea of self, it can't be done.
If you remain the same person at sixty as you are at eighteen, that suggests that you may have some form of neurosis and psychosis. It is just not sane to believe you are this permanent person with all of these rigid beliefs about the world and yourself that drive the momentary pleasure you seek.
We may not recognize this, but the experiences we have that don't accord with our rigid beliefs can actually lead to a breakdown of our conditioning. We ignorantly call these experiences painful. Pain in this sense is actually a psychological shock to our ego that facilitates an evolution within our consciousness, a necessary dent in the armor of our ego that makes us realize-momentarily-that we are not in control of our life. We may be able to control the little incremental moments of our life, like where we left our car keys, but we cannot control what our personality wants, and it invariably gets what it needs, no matter whether we perceive that as a good thing or bad thing.
Sadly, many people believe they are in control of their lives, believing they are this permanent ego, containing all the dramas playing out within their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. As this tendency becomes stronger and stronger in our modern world, we see an exponential increase in mental health issues and psychological diseases. The medical industry doesn't seem to have any sort of cure for these problems other than medication like antidepressants, which only suppress the symptoms without addressing the root of the problem. As a result of how we orient ourselves toward the world, we believe the cure is some-thing we acquire from the outside world. We need to reorient our attention to where the cure really is.
You possess the cure within yourself. But it is not some form of magic, hypnosis, or trickery. It is actually a natural way of life that we must come back into resonance with. This is much easier said than done, because it requires discipline to resist what stimulates us. None of these problems are new; we've had them since the dawn of human civilization. And they were more recognizable in ancient times because the world was not as complex as it is today. This simplicity in ancient times is what allowed a cure for our mind and all of its acquired issues to arise. The ancient ultimate cure was born in the East, and it is a method of discipline and practice that we fear in our modern world.
THE ANCIENT METHOD OF MIND FASTING
The method and practice born in the East is known as mind fasting or fasting the mind. Mind fasting directly impacts the habits and tendencies of our subconscious, which in turn affects our lifestyle. This method was born mainly in the Indus Valley region on the borders of modern-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and also in the Yellow River valley of China, going back to at least 2000 BCE. I will discuss the origins of mind fasting later in this book.
The peoples of both ancient China and ancient India suffered just as we do from the excessive demands of daily life. It may appear that their
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