By Bill Harris / Featured Speaker at Engage Today 2009
In previous articles, I've been describing the difference between what I'm calling "the world of the mind" (a reality you create with your mind, and what most people take to be THE reality) and a more fundamental reality beyond that created by the mind.
I have characterized this "other" reality as being the background, with the reality created by the mind being the foreground. I've also described it as being what is termed "non-dual" reality, as contrasted with the reality based on duality, the chopping up of the whole into separate things and events.
I've made the point that any division into separate things and events is arbitrary and that all such divisions are conceptual rather than real. As such, the world of the mind is a clever illusion.
There are a couple of levels, then, to what I've been talking about. First, there is the world of the mind. In that world, the challenge is to harness the mind in such a way that you learn how to create what you want, rather than just letting your mind run on automatic, creating whatever it's been set up to create by your past experiences.
Your mind is already creating your life, but if you're like 99% of people, the whole thing is happening automatically, without your conscious intention. It is possible, however, to direct this process -- what yogis call the development of siddhis, or powers. And once you can control your mind you do have tremendous power. For instance, you can create whatever internal state you want, when you want it. You can be motivated when you want to be motivated. You can go into problem-solving mode when you want to solve problems. You'll be able to become relaxed when you want to relax, energized when you want to be energized, and so on. And, by controlling your internal state you'll be able to control your behavior. What's more, this control allows you to attract, and be attracted to, the exact people and situations that will facilitate the creation of what you've focused your mind on.
The secret to this first level, the level of the mind, is what you focus on. The second level, though, is one where you remove your focus from the mind and what it creates. For those of you who are eager to be enlightened, let me just let you in on the secret of how that's done. All you have to do is take your attention off of the creations of the mind, off of the world created by the mind. (Yes, I know that this isn't easy to do.) When you do this, however, you perceive a different reality -- the reality spoken of by those who are enlightened. As long as your attention is on what the mind creates, you miss this other reality.
Now it's not really accurate to call it "another reality," because it's actually THE reality. It's the mind-created reality that is illusory, ephemeral, flimsy, and constantly changing. What we think of as "reality" in fact exists only in your mind. We're just so used to it, and there is such strong social convention confirming for us that this is the only reality, that we buy into the idea that it is THE reality.
Desire creates the world
In Eastern meditation schools they would say that each seeker has what are called samskars, "unburned seeds of desire." These seeds of desire pull your attention back to the world created by the mind -- the world of suffering and change. When you say to yourself, "Wow. I want to be enlightened," and you start off to meditate or do some other spiritual practice so as to become enlightened, these samskars continually pull you off-track and keep you from seeing and experiencing the Oneness experienced by those who are enlightened.
For instance, you want to make money, so your attention goes to money. You want to be respected, so your attention goes to being respected. You want the love of other people, so your attention goes to that. You want pleasures, such as food, sex, excitement, and so on. Or, on the other side of the ledger, you want to avoid pain, or something else. These desires grab your attention, and that keeps you in the world where all these things are created. It's as if your attention was so riveted to the movie you were watching that you totally forgot about the world outside that created by the movie.
Only when these seeds of desire have been burned away, they would say, will you be able to take your focus off of the world of the mind, off of what I have called the foreground, and allow you to pay attention to the background, the non-dual world beyond the mind.
Another analogy used in the East is that of a mirror. The mirror of your awareness, it is said, will reflect reality (non-dual reality, that is). Unfortunately, if your mirror is covered with dust, you won't be able to see this reflection. The dust represents all the desires (and aversions, the other side of the desire coin) created by your mind. To see reality directly, you must wipe the dust from the mirror--in other words, you must stop focusing your attention on the creations of the mind. This is what they mean when they say "Desire creates the universe."
The creations of the mind aren't real, you'll remember, because they are representations of reality, conceptualizations of reality, a map of reality. Non-dual reality contains no conceptualizations, no maps, no representations. It is, instead, the thing itself. If non-dual reality is the meal, the world of the mind is the menu.
The desire to get rid of desires
The problem with this approach was that it rarely worked. Part of the problem was that pushing away desires was just as much a desire as having the desires in the first place. The entire existence of these ascetics was about desiring to get rid of desire. Buddha was, in part, trying to say that there was another way to be free of suffering, and that you didn't have to be an ascetic to do it. Pushing away the mind and its creations and desires wasn't the answer, because pushing away the world of the mind was really just the flip side of seeking it.
This brings me back to what I've been advocating, which is being in the world of the mind, but realizing that it's just something you're creating. I've used the metaphor of a movie or a play numerous times, because this third approach is a lot like the posture you adopt when you watch a movie, where you become absorbed in the story, feel the feelings, and identify with the actors as if the whole thing was real -- while at the same time, in the back of your mind, you know it's just a movie.
That isn't Brad Pitt up there
In the same way, the world of the mind is a function of the way your mind processes what comes in through your senses (which, if you've read what I've written about your Internal Map of Reality, could happen in an infinite number of ways). What's more, your senses, as we discussed last month, only perceive a tiny amount of what's really there. Because of the sensory equipment we have, and the way our Internal Map of Reality has been constructed, we create our own particular kind of movie, but it's not the ultimate reality any more than Brad Pitt is actually there in the movie theater with you.
As you become consciously aware of how your mind creates the reality you're experiencing and, as a result, see what your mind does that causes this self-created reality to seem to be THE reality, you begin to see the relativity of it all. You begin to realize that it's the relationship between what's really there and what happens in your mind that makes whatever happens, or seems to happen, unfold in the way it does.
Imagine someone so immersed in a movie that they really think the movie is real. This is the way most people are with the "reality" created by their mind. But if you can change your perspective to one in which you say to yourself, "Ah, it's a movie, my mind's creating this, and I can watch it and enjoy it, but it isn't real," then everything changes.
Such a person plays along with the world of the mind, but knows there's more. They're aware of the foreground AND the background. Now you might be wondering why anyone would care about any of this, and if there's any practical application to all of this.
Here's why you should care: as long as you're caught in the idea that the world of the mind is THE reality, as long as you're caught up in the world in which things come into being and pass away -- where you sometimes don't get what you want, and where you sometimes get what you don't want -- you suffer. You're subject to the Four Noble Truths -- or at least the first two. But once you're experientially aware of the background, the nothingness out of which everything comes, you can relax. Then, the movie of your life becomes fun -- or whatever you want it to be.
I've gone a long way around to get to my point, which is that there is a price to pay to live this way, and it involves being willing to see the world of the mind in a different way. You don't have to totally withdraw your attention from the world of the mind, but you do have to take a new perspective. You have to look at the movie screen and remind yourself that that isn't Brad Pitt -- it's a projector and light and a screen creating an image that looks like Russell Crowe.
In fact, all evolution, all growth, is a process of learning to see things from an expanding and increasing number of perspectives, instead of the one you're currently immersed in.
Focusing on what you want versus witnessing
On the other hand, I also encourage people to adopt what I call the witness posture, to step back and watch themselves with awareness, and with no agenda other than to watch. Sometimes people become confused between the two. This usually happens when someone is feeling bad or experiencing an outcome they don't want, and is looking for a remedy. Many people have interpreted focusing on what you want and witnessing as being two different remedies for those times when life goes sideways, and then they wonder which one to use.
I'm going to go into the topic of witnessing in great detail in a later article, but I'll just say for now that these two topics are not mutually exclusive. The question isn't one of focusing versus witnessing. However, this is a great example of what I've just been discussing: the idea of operating in the world created by the mind, but at the same time knowing that you, through your mind, are making the whole thing up.
Since so many people are struggling with bad feelings and outcomes they don't want, let's review for a moment why you might be feeling bad, and why you might be getting an outcome you don't want. Actually, this is an easy question to answer, because there's really only one way to feel bad or to have some part of life not work, and that is to focus on what you don't want.
When you do that, you get a kind of "two for the price of one" deal. First, you get what you don't want, since when you focus your mind on something, your mind does everything it can to create it or attract it to you, and your mind is very good at creating whatever you focus on. Second, as a bonus, when you focus on what you don't want, you instantly feel bad. In fact, there is no way you can feel bad except to focus on what you don't want. So changing your focus to what you do want is definitely a remedy for feeling bad or for experiencing outcomes you don't want, because you can't get what you don't want without focusing on it, and you can't feel bad without focusing on what you don't want.
Witnessing, however, is on a different level. When you're witnessing, you're in that space I've been talking about where your mind isn't any more real than the moving light on the movie screen. If you step right out of the world of the mind and just watch, you don't really care what happens, in the same way that what happens in a movie doesn't really matter (as long as it's entertaining, of course). So what if a moving image dies, or breaks up with his girlfriend, or is captured by pirates?
So, on a more ultimate level, witnessing is just stepping out of the whole drama and looking at it from outside, with no agenda for wanting it to be any certain way, because from that perspective it doesn't matter.
The witness is who you are
In a movie, there's really no one there. It looks like a doer, but what looks like a doer is just changing shapes of light projected onto a screen. In the world of the witness, it's all one, and the only doer is the universe as a whole.
So when I talk about witnessing, it does seem as if I'm talking about a technique, something you do, but it's really just a shift in your attention away from being taken in by the creations of the mind. It's seeing the movie as a movie instead of as reality, it's noticing the background instead of the foreground, it's just watching the mind do its thing, but without any agenda for wanting it to be a certain way. It's the ultimate "Let Whatever Happens Be Okay" perspective, because from that perspective everything IS okay.
So when you feel bad, or you're getting an outcome you don't want, the solution, on the level of the mind, is to change your focus to what you want. On the level of Reality, it's just shifting your perspective to that of the witness. Once you do that, the feelings and the outcomes have no more impact than do those in a movie you're watching. At that point, you may see other people who think the movie is real, and you may have compassion for them in that they're suffering because they're asleep to the fact that the world of the mind isn't real, but you don't have to suffer with them.
When you adopt the witness posture, many times whatever was going "wrong" straightens itself out, because you can't keep doing something that isn't resourceful and do it consciously. When you adopt the witness perspective, any unresourceful ways of thinking or acting become obvious, and when this happens you lose the motivation to keep doing them. In this sense, witnessing could be seen as a method of ending bad feelings and bad outcomes.
It should be clear, however, that you can focus on what you want, and be the witness. The two aren't mutually exclusive. You should do both, all the time, though this takes some practice to achieve.
What do I do about my ego?
Many people have the idea that in enlightenment the ego disappears, and that if you're on a spiritual path you want to get rid of the ego. First, let's get clear about what the ego actually is. The ego is your concept of yourself. Your ego is your Internal Map of Reality I have written so much about.
Your ego is the activity of your mind as it creates concepts and chops the world into separate things and separate events. The ego is your mind, filtering what comes in through your senses, making internal representations of what is left over after the filtering process, using tens of thousands of varieties of submodalites to make these internal representations, making unlimited numbers of distinctions between these supposedly separate things and separate events, and then stringing these internal representations into strategies. These in turn create the internal states and the external behaviors and results you experience.
So this ego, this map of reality, is your concept of yourself and how you fit in to the rest of the universe. Now stop for a moment and think about concepts and what they can and cannot do. Take the number three, for instance. The number three is a very useful concept. But can it do anything? No, it can't. And, you can't put it in your pocket, or hand a pile of it to someone else.
Take another concept, that of the equator. The equator is a very handy concept, but it can't do anything. You also can't wrap up a package with it, or tie your dog to a tree with it. Concepts are maps, and maps can't do anything. They represent something, but they aren't the thing they represent. As I've said before, you can't swim in the blue oceans on a map, and you can't camp on the little triangles that represent mountains. Thinking that a map is what it represents is like climbing up the street sign to get to the street, or eating the menu instead of the meal.
"So what?" you say. "What does this mean to me in real life?" Well, here are a couple of things it means. First, everyone in the spiritual growth community seems to want to get rid of the ego. But I've just demonstrated that there's nothing to get rid of. That would be like getting rid of the equator, or the border between the United States and Canada! What good would it do to get rid of an imaginary line?
So you can all relax about the problem of the ego, because it's a bogus problem. There's nothing to get rid of. This would be like getting rid of Brad Pitt--the Brad Pitt on the movie screen. It makes no sense, because he's not really there.
The map is not the territory
Second, you can't get rid of the ego because who would do it? The "you" you think you are, the you that would get rid of the ego is the ego, and how can something that's just a concept get rid of itself?
This confusion of the ego with the real self is why some of you are so tied up in knots over a lot of what I've been sharing with you. You think there's something you need to do to get to somewhere other than where you are now, and that there's something that needs to be changed. But the truth is that what you think needs changing is like the equator, and how would you change the equator? You can't, because other than being a concept, the equator doesn't exist.
So if you are trying to change yourself spiritually in this way, you're like a dog chasing its tail, or someone trying to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. What you want to do is realize that the ego, your Internal Map of Reality, and the separate self you think you are, is just a concept, an idea. Once you see it for what it is, everything changes. This is why they call enlightenment self-realization.
I know this is baffling to many of you. If it's any consolation, it's been baffling to seekers for several millennia. At the same time, making the shift in perception is actually very easy. For now, I'll just leave you with the big clue that you can't kill the ego with the ego, because the ego doesn't really exist. It's just a concept, and as such cannot do anything. You can, however, see the ego for what it is. This is no different from seeing a movie for what it really is, and you do that, don't you?
It's important, as you read these articles, to actually do something with the information. This information can change your life, but only if you put it into practice. This means beginning to notice the difference between concepts and what they represent. It means noticing how you divide the whole into bits and pieces, considering how arbitrary these divisions are, and how they exist mentally but not in reality. It means noticing what you are focusing on, and noticing how your results change as you change your focus. It's noticing the background instead of unconsciously placing all your attention on the foreground. If you will play around with these ideas and principles, and notice how they work inside to create your reality, a whole new world will open up to you.
Related Article: Become the Creator of Your Reality
Click here to grab your FREE VIDEO TRAINING with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dr. Stephen R. Covey, Tony Hsieh, Eben Pagan, Bill Harris, Barbara De Angelis, David Wolfe, Les Brown, Brendon Burchard and many others...