Mind Shafts

There were two monks walking along, an older monk and a young monk. They came to a shallow river, and there was a lady there who demanded that one of them should carry her across the river. So the older monk carried her across, and the two monks continued walking.

At the end of the day they decided to rest for the night. While they sat by their fire, the young monk said indignantly to the older monk, “I can’t believe you carried that lady across the river! She was perfectly capable of walking across, and she was so rude! She did not even thank you! I really don’t understand why you did it!”

The old monk smiled at the young monk and said, “I set her down hours ago; why are you still carrying her?”

This is how our conditioned thinking mind works: we carry a story with us for years, about how things should be, or how things should not be, and we suffer from that, and its re-imagined reliving, years after the experience has passed. Conditioned thinking connects something that happened a few years back, with something that happened a few months back with something that happened a few days back and makes a shaft of pleasure or pain (a shaft of “depression” or “poverty” or “unhappiness” or “happiness” or “regret” or “victimization”). Thinking-mind connects every moment, and says “the pain I feel today, and the pain I felt yesterday and the pain I felt a week back are all connected.”

The moment it is experienced that every moment is unique, unconnected to any other moments, an unspeakable amount of mental energy is liberated; the energy that conditioned thinking uses to mentally connect separate events, to project mind-shafts, and to keep them in place with the concept of time and memory and imagination.

Conditioned thinking connects things that happen in life to make either a shaft of pain, or a shaft of pleasure. We try to break a pain shaft and try to elongate a pleasure shaft, using external means. The pleasure shaft quickly becomes a pain shaft through fear of losing what is perceived as the source of the pleasure, or fear of not having that much pleasure again. Both types of mind shafts are a great way of generating suffering, but they’re not really useful for anything else. The good news is: mind shafts have nothing to do with actuality. Mind shafts are based in conditioned reaction, and conditioned reaction is never to a fact. Releasing attachment to the concept of continuous time (i.e. “this has been the worst year of my entire life!”), which projects the memories and imaginations comprising the mind-shaft is amazingly liberating. In 12 Step programs for recovery from addiction, they talk of living “one day at a time”, rather that struggling and suffering while mired in memory and imagination. In reality actuality is even better than one day at a time; actuality occurs one moment at a time. Have you noticed?

Conditioned thinking uses up a lot of mental energy (hence the mental tiredness, or depression, which come from these memories and imaginations, based in misperception of partiality), artificially connecting the so-called lows to make a fictitious shaft of one big low. When we stop connecting memories of low moments in our mind, we free up a lot of mental, emotional, and even physical energy.

The fictitious mind-shafts dissolve by simply seeing through them; seeing that they are based in conditioned thinking; that reaction is never to a fact. Just noticing that the source of perceived distress is almost always based in an imagined evaluation of something that is not happening now, is the key. Freeing attachment to this habit of conditioned thinking may not happen in a day, but starting out with small things, and developing the new habit of reviewing our day and watching for mind-shafts, a surprising amount of energy can be freed. Observing that living is actually made up of moment by moment by moment; a new moment now, and a new moment now; that each moment is free of the previous one (memory) and next one (imagination), helps dissolve these mind-shafts, and enjoy the very real freedom beyond imagination, right here, right now.

At first the shaft may be thought to be years long. For instance, conditioned thinking says:

“The past 10 years of my life has been nothing but sadness.”

Well the sadness that memory remembers that it felt 10 years ago, and the sadness thought to be felt as remembered 5 years ago, and the sadness thought to be experienced a year back, and the sadness memory imagines from 6 months ago, and the sadness memory imagines experiencing a week ago are not the same. In fact: they only have one thing in common: they are all thoughts held in mind, now. Yet memory, with its partner, Imagination, connect these incidents (conveniently forgetting all the happy moments, and fun moments, and generally okay moments) and make it one long shaft of a sad life.

For instance, conditioned thinking may imagine: “My best friend betraying me 10 years back, and my dad passing away 5 years back, and my boyfriend leaving me a year back, and my dog dying 6 months back, and me losing my job a week back are all connected, and they make a long shaft of sadness!”  All of those moments are long gone. When we see that each of those incidents were individual incidents and are only connected by the mind to make a shaft of a 10 years of sorrow, and that none of them are happening now except in memory and imagination, and that all suffering is tied to evaluation of, and reaction to, memory and  imagination, we can liberate a vast amount of energy that is being used to keep these shafts of suffering in place.

To dissolve the shaft, we can go back and identify the moments when we were not sad or depressed, or otherwise upset. We can remember how we enjoyed a party or a movie or a vacation or a night out or a book or a trip or a job, and see how these non-sad moments actually broke up the perceived depression of 10 years. So the one shaft of 10 year long depression is now broken into smaller shafts of sadness. It no longer is a huge monster, but little monsters that came up during those 10 years. And we realize that we did enjoy many more moments of happiness than our mind-shaft of sadness wants to let us acknowledge. In fact, we could just as easily remember a mind-shaft of imagined happiness! More importantly, though, we realize that living happens now and only now.

Letting mind-shafts control how we feel is letting the story write us.

We’re a lot more free, right now than conditioned thinking could ever imagine.

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