Sunday, 10 May 2015

Pollution of the Mind

I notice that I get more and more scattered as time goes on. The moment I get back to KL I fall into a restless, urgent treading of water, unable to move forward, unable to stand still. I know what the infection is and I know that to deal with it, I have to slow down and shut out the pollutants.

As I write this, my phone is switched off or rather, it has run out of battery because I have left my charger in Bali. I am supposed to run out and get a new charger but I have been delaying because once I go out I would have to tackle a whole bunch of other groceries etc (which would mean getting a list from my father. Elliott is sleeping semi peacefully in his room. There is work going on that has been going since I got back which means I can no longer rest at ease at home. (Well, I could...I could go into the third room, turn on the aircon and rest on the rock hard bed that Ivan bought). I have three books, no make that four, scattered around me. I yearn for the times when I used to read only one book at at time.

If I didn't need my phone to do various banking transactions, I wouldn't bother.

But I do. And so, out I will go, in search of the needful. But before I leave, I leave you with this excerpt from Art and Mindfulness by Christophe Andre which I took to Bali with me but I had difficulty concentrating on. A sort of testament to just how scattered my mind is. I would read a passage without registering a word. Or, fall asleep.

Here goes:

There are chemical pollutants that contaminate our food, air and water. ad there are also psychic pollutants that contaminate our mind, violate our inner being and disturb our inner stability. These include slogans, advertising and other commercial manipulations. Many studies have been conducted into this psychotoxic materialism, and they tell us that it causes many different types of damage -- for example, stealing our attention, awareness and internality. What state is our mind in when its attention is constantly drawn, segmented and fragmented. It becomes addicted to all that is noisy, flashy, easy, pre-digested and rethought. What state is our mind in when its awareness is constantly stolen? It is cluttered with pointless thoughts, actions and content -- reading the advertisements that surround us, exercising consumer choice between the "cheap" and "cheaper," expending large amounts of energy looking for a "bargain," being crammed full of information that loops and repeats from one day to the next. what state is our mind in when its internality is constantly stolen? We are submerged by more and more external attractions and distractions. Our mind and body are tied up in empty activities. Yet, just as words need silence to be heard in, so awareness and internality need mental space to emerge in. The hard disk of our awareness is crammed with too many useless things.

For awareness is internality. The more we run after external things, the less awareness there is. So thefts of attention and awareness lead to an internality deficit. They also lead to the curtailment of our thoughts. As Tiziano Terzani says, "Today we are constantly being solicited, so our mental world is never at peace. There is always noise from the television, the sound of the car radio, the ringing telephone or the advertisement on a passing bus. We are unable to have long thoughts. Our thoughts are short. Our thoughts are short because we are very often interrupted." Our thoughts are short and seldom turned inward. Instead they seem to be held captive by the tumult and shimmer of the artificial world. They are outside us. In the end our thoughts cease to be our own; they are no more than stereotypical mental content coming to us from outside, echoes of a soulless world. In the words of writer Louis-Rene de Forets, "Superabundance has nothing to do with fertility." Our minds lose their fertility by allowing themselves to be too often filled by the emptiness of this external racket.

So of course, when we try to think and practice introspection, in other words to think in a sustained way by ourselves, in peace and silence, we can't, or have forgotten how. Worse, as we have lost (or never acquired) the habit, we fall prey to anxiety, boredom or circular ruminations. So we quickly leave the world inside us to return to the outside, with its reassuring, space-filling tumult. Consequently, we suffer from a generalised internality deficit. For our society is lacking in everything that enables introspection, rendering us deficient.

Sickness due to a deficiency is insidious. If wee are deficient in Vitamin C or D, omega 3 or selenium, at first nothing happens. We aren't in pain. we don't have breathing difficulties, we don't fall over backward. There's no immediate effect. But gradually the deficiency causes symptoms to appear. Often we don't understand why they are there or what is causing them. Deficiencies always manifest themselves gently, slowly and insidiously. Never noisily.

Our society of multiple forms of abundance also creates multiple deficiencies within us, and the two are linked. Think of diseases of excess, for example, those modern maladies of too much -- too much food that makes us obese, too many possessions that make us morose. Too much of something is always a lack of something else, and excess always generates deficiency. We know, for example, that industrially produced. refined, aseptic food, are not only unhealthy because they are "too much" -- too present, too accessible, too sweet, too stimulating to our appetites, leading to diabetes and obesity -- but also because they have "not enough" of many vitamins and minerals. Contemporary deficiencies also apply to our psychic needs, such as the need for calm, slowness and continuity. We must strive to ensure that we obtain these in order to stop ourselves falling ill (from stress, emotional instability and mental fragmentation).

Combating a lack of slowness means taking our time, not flitting from one activity to the next, not doing several things at once. Instead we must act calmly and gently whenever possible, restoring ourselves with a dose of doing nothing, drawing on the healing powers of simplicity, calm and one activity at a time. We must learn to identify timetable fillers --- the packed activity schedules we sometimes adopt at weekends or on holiday -- and avoid them wherever possible. We must combat tranquility deficiencies and flee assaults and requests, desensitising ourselves to all the "too much" in our lives -- the constant music, images and screens. We must unplug. As an act of freedom, we can just close our eyes and stop watching the screens that steal our attention, constantly eating into our brain time and moments of rest. Combating deficiencies of continuity means identifying and becoming more aware of the endless interruptions that punctuate our days, so that we resist the temptation to look at our emails and texts, make a phone call or go on the Internet.

Mindfulness helps us to become aware of all this hidden pollution of our minds, and protect ourselves against it. It enables us to restore our capacity for introspection and reconnect with ourselves, rather than sustaining ourselves with a constant drip-feed of external orders, distractions and activations.

Mindfulness suggests we do nothing but just be here, at our observation post, alert to introspection. Practising mindfulness helps us disengage -- we're not seeking anything; there is no goal. We take time, we freely decide to do things slowly. We take the time to sit down, observe and feel.

Even if we do this for just a very short time, a few moments, we are in mindfulness as soon as we close our eyes and stop being active. We are already free.

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