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We are considering the human being as having, so to speak, three intimately interconnected “bodies:” (a) a material, physical body of flesh, that engages in behavior and acts on other material objects; (b) a body that thinks, is composed of and acts on ideas (ideation), which we may call the “mind;” and (c) a body of emotions, or feelings or “affects” (all the same thing), which we may call the “soul”.
Our thesis is that a single set of disciplines, involving all three “bodies,” can yield a state of being I have called “peace of mind,” which is tantamount to what Jesus called “the Kingdom;” and, in short, maximize one’s opportunities for tranquility and happiness in life.
We have examined one of those disciplines, namely meditation.
In the second half of this chapter, we will look at where this all leads in the end.
In later chapters, we will look through the microscope at how this Way affects the cells, the ultra-tiny building blocks of every flesh “body,” whether human, animal or plant; with direct effects on the mind “body,” the soul “body,” and the “body” of society as well.
We will examine Jesus’ teachings and verify that this Way is really what they’re all about. We will find among them strategies and tactics for the application of this Way. Separate chapters will set forth the remaining strategies and tactics that I am aware of.
The foremost strategy is so important as to deserve examination now.
The previous chapter began with these words:
Meditation is not the whole of the Way, any more than flour is the whole of cookies. If you want cookies, you must also have butter, sugar, and perhaps eggs, in addition to flour.
If meditation is the “flour” for our cookies, then the sugar may be how one uses one’s mind throughout the day, outside of meditation; and the butter, how one chooses to feel.
Just as, in meditation, one has chosen an “affirmation,” an idea to constantly bring one’s mind back to; so also, throughout the day, there is a correct ideatic or mental focus for one’s attention, to constantly bring one’s mind back to whenever it may stray.
And that is, namely, the present, the here-and-now; in the most concrete, material things one may observe. I am sitting in this chair. I am sitting before this desktop computer. I happen to be wearing blue jeans, and listening to a classical music radio station. These are correct things for me to pay attention to, right now. There will be discussion later in this book, of why this is so.
So, what to think about in the here-and-now? The correct focus in that regard is what
do. Not what you can’t do. Not what others-can-but-you-can’t. Not what others-should-but-don’t-or-won’t. Or should’ve-but-didn’t-or-wouldn’t. Not even what you “coulda shoulda woulda,” or what others may say you “coulda shoulda woulda.” No. The correct focus: what
That’s one of the reasons one will correctly keep one’s attention on the concrete, material here-and-now: anything I can do, begins with those concrete, material things.
To be and become the best person one can; to have the best life one can; one must sidestep those things that tend to drain away one’s resources, one’s happiness, one’s energies. That is exactly what attention to things one can’t do, and places where one’s not, and what should or shouldn’t have been in the past or should or shouldn’t be in the future, does: it drains you.
In the midst of uncertainty about what to do or what may come, it can be tremendously reassuring and stabilizing to attend to those things of which one may be most certain. For me at this moment, I named a few above: a chair; a desktop; blue jeans.
Particularly when one is dealing with, say, an abusive boss or domestic partner — such a person is prone to wear down one’s sense of self until one feels as if one no longer knows “who I am,” let alone what one can do or what one is good for. Attention to what one knows for sure, can be a first step to regaining one’s identity. There are floorboards under my feet. My shirt is cotton. My skin is dry. Certainty — in the concrete, material here-and-now.
To deal as best I can with the circumstances that are before me here and now, I need to have my full resources available and focused on the here and now. If I am to deal as best I can with whatever may happen here and now, again, this is where my mind must be.
It won’t happen if I’m not paying attention.
By my estimate, 97% of Americans today, 97% of the time, have no awareness that one can choose one’s affects or feelings. The will, the faculty or ability to choose one’s feelings, is effectively asleep.
When you nudge a person who is physically asleep, you may get a response, but the response is unthought, sluggish, automatic. Similarly, folk whose wills are asleep respond emotionally to events and circumstances in automatic, unthought ways. One will make no progress until the will wakes up.
The principal tools to do this are meditation and the practice of presence or mindfulness — keeping one’s attention on one’s own activities, here and now.
If one goes through one’s day attending to the here and now, it becomes easy to be aware of exactly what one’s feeling, without necessarily acting on that feeling. Then one may have a choice to change how one feels, letting positive feelings replace negative ones.
Even if one is going placidly about one’s day, moments of bad feelings come. These are prone to take one’s attention away from the here-and-now; as rarely is there anything happening, in fact, here-and-now about which to feel bad. A person whose will is awake can easily choose either to just let those feelings go, let them pass, the same way one would do during meditation; or possibly change or replace the bad feelings with better ones.
“Normal” awareness in the United States today tends to assume, instead, that one has no choice about one’s feelings; that they are the inevitable response to events and circumstances, and therefore justified; that whatever thoughts come behind that are likewise justified, and whatever actions come behind those thoughts are justified also. Such folk wind up acting wholly on impulse. This is ultimately dysfunctional.
A shift in emotion normally happens first, all by itself, without any associated ideas. One whose will is asleep will then begin looking for ideas that correspond to those feelings — memories, facts or circumstances that justify the feelings. These are almost never hard to find. Indeed, for example, one’s memories are indexed by feelings: when one is angry, it is easiest to recall all the other times in life when one has been angry; when one feels joy, it is easiest to recall all the other times in life when one has felt joy.
A different way to put it: we all constantly see the world through “rose-colored” or other-colored glasses. As I have said elsewhere:
“Seeing red” is a real phenomenon. One sees the world through one’s own aura, the colors of which correspond to one’s affect; whether one is aware of it or not. As a result, colors of objects in one’s environment appear more or less vivid as they correspond (or not) to the current auric colors. We use this unawares in, for example, choosing the clothes to wear on a given day: an outfit that may be too quiet or too loud today may be just right tomorrow. Certainly in cognition [that is, thinking], like effects make some facts more prominent and others perhaps invisible in a given situation.
The most prominent example to me, of such invisibility of facts, pertains to the current state of black America; where many folk are unable to “see” any responsibility for one’s own actions, or any possibility that one may so act as to improve one’s lot.
When one feels angry feelings and thinks angry thoughts, one is prone to carry out angry acts — that are destined to bring angry results. If one feels loving feelings and thinks loving thoughts, one is prone to carry out loving acts — that are destined to bring loving results.
First come feelings
Happy plans are most likely to bring about happy results.
It is best to intervene in this process during that stage when one is aware of the untoward feelings, but no corresponding ideas have yet come. At this point, it is relatively easy to redirect or change one’s feelings. It becomes more difficult to do so once one is engaged in actual negative thoughts.
On occasions when untoward feelings come and carry my thoughts away from the here-and-now, to fix my feelings it’s often enough just to bring my attention back to the here-and-now; as very seldom is anything happening here and now that I deserve to be upset about.
Awakening the will, learning that one can consciously choose how one feels — and then actually doing so — is essential to obtaining peace and joy in one’s life. As one practices presence from day to day, one will become increasingly aware that these choices are available.
Related: The offering plate, part 2