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What Watches the Switcher?
Bernd: Dear James, I had to collect my ideas because this month in Tiruvannamalai was very intense. Every day for one month I went on with self-inquiry. My mind is pretty monothematic. When I direct it with strong intention towards something it tends to go on a loop so I became a little inquiry machine, staying around discrimination, contemplation, self-observation all the time (sometimes also in the dream state!), and when you didn’t see me at satsang it was because I was too much caught up in a thinking process. I think I got a lot of confidence and I clarified most of the doubts and subtle points of the teaching.
A big point which was blocking my inquiry was the understanding of vasanas, and it helped me a lot when you told us about the story of a very rich man who was your student and he had the misunderstanding that if he got enlightenment he would have to become like you and renounce to everything he had, the same belief I had about all the good and beautiful things in my life and in the world and my ego was struggling with this point and it was interfering with the inquiry.
Furthermore, as you told me in your last mail, my biggest ignorance was still about the location of the “I.” About this I have to say that Julia helped me so much, answering impeccably and patiently my almost daily questions. In fact I was totally missing the teaching and the understanding on how “mind” works, how thoughts are created and how the “I” thought constantly grasps to the self (I found this teaching very clear in Path to the Pathless).
However, I have to say that this insane inquiry regime maybe brought me to a point which I can hardly get past. My very analytical mind tends to get totally stuck in concepts and it would like to understand things more subtle than it can reach, bringing me to literally wear out in paradoxical and unsolvable thoughts.
So at the end of the month, with an apparently rock-solid knowledge, I REALLY COULDN’T SAY FOR SURE IF I WAS IDENTIFTING MYSELF WITH SOMETHING, AND WHAT THAT SOMETHING WAS, lost in a maze of ideas and concepts.
Knowledge was there, but my mind to be satisfied and not to generate doubts every moment wants to be totally clear on every point, even those too subtle to be understood. Particularly remains one doubt if what I think to be awareness and I am trying to identify with is actually another “trap” and I am still identifying with mind calling it with another name. Or the opposite, I have a good self-knowledge that is bringing me to identify with the self, but because of too many mental concepts I call it “mind.” I understand that seems to be nonsense, but I really cannot get clear about this.
James: Forget the mind and knowledge for now. Ask yourself who is having this problem. Is it the mind? No, it is you. You are not the mind. Look now for the one that knows the mind. Let the mind think what it wants to. Let it be confused, obsessed, whatever. You are leaving you out of the picture by focusing too much on the mind and what it knows. As you proceed with self-inquiry you should have fewer and fewer thoughts. Knowledge just takes away your ignorance, it does not leave you with an “idea” of who you are. You are who you are. You are here behind the mind watching it.
Bernd: However, recognizing that my mind was totally struggling with itself, bringing no more understanding, I decided to stop with this intense inquiry for some time and go back to everyday life. As one might easily expect, right in that moment knowledge got more strong, the doubt is still there, but the sense of separation is getting smaller and smaller, and constantly everything seems to be appearing in me (me, mind, or me, self? ha, ha).
James: That’s right. The knowledge is there if you relax. Your ego is a bit obsessive.
Bernd: I usually never talk about it because the whole thing needs too much explanation to be clear; however, I am affected since I was a child by a neurological disorder called Tourette syndrome. From a scientifical point of view it consists of a wrong organization of neurological areas, due in part to genetic predisposition, in part to some trauma in the first stage of life, that brings at a chemical level a hypersensitivity of dopamine receptors (a neurotransmitter involved in many cognitive dynamics). On a practical level, it turns on in a CONSTANT STATE OF ANXIETY AND INNER TENSION, a kind of energy that is constantly built in the nervous system and manifests in the form of nervous tics, obsessive-compulsive disorders and panic attacks. In Vedantic terms, I think it’s something like having something that constantly pumps rajas into the subtle body.
James: Yes, it is intense rajas.
Bernd: People affected by this syndrome usually have a mind which tends to be anxious, obsessive, restless, but on another side creative, intuitive, hyper-sensitive, hyper-emotional. I will not list every kind of problem and suffering that this energetic disorder brought me in the various stages of life, under nearly every aspect, social, emotional, scholastic, working… however, I think my inquiry had begun just after my tenth year, when with my back to the wall in life with this continuous suffering and struggling, I started to observe my mind, starting with the assumption that it couldn’t be “me” which was generating all that kind of obsessive and anxious stuff, and easily recognizing that it was something external (gunas) which was dominating my mind.
James: That’s right. It is just an object, known to you.
Bernd: As often happens in life, the biggest suffering and torture is at the same time a great gift. I discovered that this big energy if constantly and consciously tamed and channeled becomes an immense resource of life, creativity, energy and joy. Moreover, the rajas has forced me to forge a steel-strong personality with the understanding we really have nothing to lose in life. So it keeps me constantly in touch with my deepest nature and definitely builds up most of the qualifications for Vedanta.
However, at present, although I gained a very good control of my mind and the managing of gunas makes me successful in nearly everything I do, my life still appears as a CONTINUOUS EFFORT DEVOTED TO MANAGING THIS INNER TENSION that constantly arises nearly every few seconds.
James: I am sorry to hear that, Bernd. My ex-wife had something similar and she spent all her time just managing her mind.
Bernd: You can understand how in this bioenergetic environment a lifestyle totally consistent of quietude and self-inquiry doesn’t fit so well… and although I benefited a lot from it and I didn’t expected all this sattva could really take place in me, it is like my ego or energetic equilibrium is constantly rebelling if it doesn’t get his “daily bread” made of things and activities in which rajas can be channeled.
James: It is best then not to fight it if you have no control of the source. You may just have to go with it.
Bernd: An assumption I made about this is that my mind is capable of all the Vedantic knowledge, but because of this intricate chemical or energetic conformation it is impossible for it to take place in solid way.
James: Yes, it needs sattva. However, there is another solution. Let the mind be and let the body move here and there, and abide in the self as the self.
Bernd: For this and the fact that the insane rhythm of inquiry was literally fucking my brain, I thought that the best solution is going back to my life, despite it is full of situations and events that could also work against the peace needed for inquiry, and keep on with a balanced inquiry. I feel the knowledge pretty solid and I think the most important thing for the body-mind is now to handle and fix more and more this energetic equilibrium.
James: Yes. Good idea.
Bernd: Concluding, it looks like knowledge is having a strange effect on the ego: from one side, knowing the “I” is actually the self and no action or object can give to or subtract anything from him, it brings a sense of meaningless, and the ego cannot sometimes function with the same motivation as before in the apparent world, stuck in a sense of absolute and dissociated from “reality.”
James: Yes, this is the natural effect of assimilated self-knowledge. It is okay. It means the ego is getting dispassionate. But it is a negative evaluation.
Bernd: On the other side, there is a total sense of freedom, which brings infinite joy, which brings enthusiasm and devotion to do things in the world.
James: That’s right. This is how to look at it. You can let the world be and just enjoy the freedom.
Bernd: Sometimes it’s like the ego was expecting something so big and maybe experiential from enlightenment that he remains still not satisfied from the knowledge.
James: Oh, yes. This craving for some big enlightenment experience is very hard to let go. But when you understand the nature of experience you let it go and are content with what you are. Experience does not change you. The ego may think it does, but it doesn’t. It washes over you and leaves no trace.
Bernd: I inquire also into these effects, but the continuous switch between these states is pretty frustrating. Any suggestion to get out from this?
James: Look for the one that does not switch states. Who observes this switching? That one is you, awareness. Identify with it, not with the experiencer, the one that changes states.