I am giving these series of talks to help clarify the path of MIDL.
CLICK HERE Audio Version of this Talk
We can experience our mind during MIDL practice as functioning on two distinct levels:
The Surface Level and the Survival Level.
It is through the Surface Level of mind that we are interacting now. We can intentionally think, have a conversation and send signals to move our body around. We use this level to communicate and interact within the world; actually it is on this level of mind that the world around us first appears. The Surface Level of our mind lives and functions in this created world, the world after perception and within this world we appear to have some choice and control.
Below the Surface Level of our mind is a deeper level, this deeper level has one only task, to protect us by sorting the experienced world into dangerous or safe. So I call this level of mind – the Survival Mind. It sits at your Five Senses as they come in: Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch sensations through your body, and it looks out through these senses and tries to understand the world around it.
Its task is to sort every sense contact that comes in. It sees this one as dangerous, this one as safe and this one as ‘I don’t care’. It has a very specific sorting mechanism, a sorting mechanism that the Buddha called Vedana: pleasant and unpleasant feeling. If it judges an experience as safe, it then releases a pleasant feeling within your body to attract you towards it. If it judges an experience as dangerous, it then releases an unpleasant feeling within your body to drive you away from it.
We can understand more about how this works and its function within us by considering our ancestors. Imagine thousands of years ago, travelling through an unknown forest in a strange land with a friend in search of food. Many of the plants look unfamiliar and nether of you is sure whether they are safe to eat or not.
You come across some berries; they look nice and remind you of ones that you have eaten at home. Encouraged by this and the hunger in your belly you reach for a berry, pick it and look closely at it. It looks ok; you take the berry and bite into it, touching it to your tongue: it tastes sweet. You take a bigger bite, it tastes good, and you chew and swallow. You and your friend then eat the berries, feel full and happy.
What is happening within your mind during this time? When you first see the strange plants and berries your mind can not identify them, your mind releases a slightly unpleasant feeling within your body to signify ‘danger’, you feel cautious. The discomfort of hunger within your belly drives you to escape from it, you taste a berry and experience sweetness, your mind considers sweetness ‘safe’ so it releases a pleasant feeling within your body to encourage you to have more. You are now attracted to the berries and eat more enjoying the pleasant, sweet taste.
Your mind now stores a memory of these berries so that you can remember them as a food source in the future and attaches a pleasant feeling to that memory to attract you towards them. Now when travelling through this strange forest you recognise and are attracted to a particular plant and its berries – you know they are safe to eat.
You and your friend travel on full of energy, one hour later your friend starts to feel sick – the berries, it must have been the berries – the illness is painful. Your friends mind now removes the pleasant, safe feeling from the berries and attaches an unpleasant, danger feeling to that memory. From then on whenever your friend sees the berries in the forest they are repelled by the unpleasant feeling triggered by the memory and released by the mind, they feel sick when thinking of them. Whenever you see the berries, because you didn’t get sick, your mind releases the pleasant feeling to attract you towards them, you mouth salivates and you want more.
Your friend doesn’t like the berries, you like the berries; the arising of likes and dislikes. So next time you go to dinner with friends and they say “I like this, I don’t like that”, smile, because you know it has nothing to do with likes and dislikes but rather with their relationship to the pleasant and unpleasant feeling produced by their mind. The pleasant feeling that we experience when we see a beautiful flower, is not found in the flower – it is found within our body released by our mind. The unpleasant feeling we experience when we see something unattractive is also found within us, not within that which we are repulsed by.
This is why you can feel attracted to your partner one day and then after a disagreement feel unattracted to them the next – pushing them away. Your Survival Mind keeps changes the feeling from pleasant to unpleasant and back again that’s triggered and released within your body from contact with your partner.
One day they make you feel pleasant and the next you say “You don’t make me feel like you used to anymore”, as if they are responsible for how you feel. Of course they aren’t, it is just your Survival Mind changing the feeling from pleasant to unpleasant dependant on whether it deems something to be dangerous or safe. Our mind can change the feelings attached to memories very quickly and the feeling of pain triggered from one experience can quickly replace the pleasantness of another.
For example, suppose you enjoy flying. Taking flights around the world is exciting; it gives you a ‘pleasant feeling’ to fly. You make many trips around the world and all in all it is a ‘pleasant’ experience. Now suppose during one flight the plane hits some turbulence. The plane is shaking and you feel anxious - danger. The experience of the turbulence brings up old fears and is ‘unpleasant’ to you. The flight now seems to take forever. Your plane arrives safely; you have a wonderful holiday, but when it comes time to fly home again you start to feel anxious.
Why? Because the thought of flying now feels ‘unpleasant’ to you. You continue to react to this ‘unpleasant feeling’ through anxiousness and develop a fear flying. Reacting to this fear, reacting to this unpleasantness released within your body, you develop a fear of flying and find it hard to travel again.
Now we can start to see the trap, we can not trust the thoughts and emotions that the Surface Level of our mind produces because they are influenced by our attraction to pleasant feeling and aversion to unpleasant feeling produced by the deeper Survival level of our Mind. The Survival mind uses pleasant and unpleasant feeling in this way to sort the world into dangerous and safe – it does this to protect us. It does this so that we can navigate through life safely.
We can see this by observing memories; every memory of our life when brought to mind has been sorted by having either a pleasant or unpleasant feeling attached to it. If an experience we had in our life neutral to us then our mind does not attach a feeling to the memory so it is not placed into the memory filing cabinet.
Since our mind cannot perceive through anything other than what it thinks it already knows, it interprets ‘now’ through its past experience - through the memories in the filing cabinet.
Seeing this we can understand that the Survival Mind is producing these feelings through judgement based on our stored past experience. This is what the Buddha called Moha: Delusion, we can not trust what our mind is telling us or the feelings it is producing, because it does not know reality.
When an experience contacts one of your Five Senses, our survival mind dives into the filing cabinet and pulls out a suitable memory to identify the experience through. If this memory has a danger signal, an unpleasant feeling attached to it, then ‘unpleasantness’ will be released within our body and colour the current perception. If it has a pleasant feeling attached to it, safe, then a feeling of ‘pleasantness’ will be released within our body and colour the current perception. Every time you react to a pleasant feeling that arises by wanting “More”. Your mind goes “ahh safe” and increases the ‘pleasantness’ of the experience. Every time you react to an unpleasant feeling by wanting it to “Go away”. Your mind goes “ahh dangerous” and increases the ‘unpleasantness’ of the experience.
Understanding this the answer seems simple, all we have to do is ignore unpleasant feeling and encourage more pleasant feeling to grow, then the strength of pleasantness within our life will increase and unpleasantness will go away. It sounds good, this is how we live our normal life, the economy within Australia is based on this thinking, all advertising tells me this is where my happiness can be found – so it must be true.
We bring this same thinking to our meditation practice; we sit down in meditation chasing after pleasant feeling and avoiding unpleasant feeling. But if we deepen our practice in MIDL and we observe our mind clearly, free from distortion, we can see why this doesn’t work. This tactic of avoidance doesn’t work because we can not trust our minds judgement of ‘dangerous’ or ‘safe’. We can not trust the feelings produced by our Survival Mind or the thoughts and emotions on the Surface Level that arise in response to them.
Through observing this we can start to understand how we get trapped in our life and also what the Buddha meant by delusion. Just because our mind says something is ‘safe’ and produces a pleasant feeling within our body to attract us towards it, this doesn’t mean that the experience is ‘safe’. And just because our mind says that something is ‘dangerous’ by releasing an unpleasant feeling within our body to make us push it away, it doesn’t mean that the experience is ‘dangerous’. If our memories of our past experience have been flawed for example by a past trauma or pain, then the information that our mind is using to perceive now, to understand now, to work out what is happening in the world is flawed.
Through flawed experience and memories our mind can judge anger, alcohol, drugs, gambling, abusive sex as being ‘safe’ and produce a pleasant feeling to attract us towards them. Through flawed experience and memories our mind can judge a moth, elevator, tall building, open spaces, public speaking as being ‘dangerous’ and produce an unpleasant feeling to make us push them away.
Here is the problem that arises when we sit down to meditate or meditate within daily life. Everything we experience is pre-sorted by the Survival Level of our mind and this sorting is based on our past experience, this means every experience is tainted by a feeling produced by our mind signifying dangerous or safe. Since we habitually react to feeling we can not see reality, everything is distorted by reflections of our past. So how do we break free from this delusion?
The Buddha taught a meditation practice called Satipatthana Vipassana or what is more commonly known today as Mindfulness meditation. MIDL Mindfulness Meditation is based on the Satipatthana Sutta and follows the instructions given within it to create a viewing platform to see reality ‘as it is’.
Through practicing the Three Pillars of MIDL we have the ability to experience our Six Senses before Perceptional Overlay, before the judgements of the Survival Mind. We can then observe the Survival Mind sorting; creating perceptions and releasing pleasant and unpleasant feeling within our body. We can also see the Surface level of our mind grasp onto these feelings when released and see the arising of “I like” “I don’t like” within the mind.
Observing in this way in MIDL we notice the longing or tightening of our body, the change within our breathing and the agitation within the Surface Level of our mind in relationship to these feelings. We can observe the Surface Level of the mind producing thoughts “How can I get more of this?” “How can I get away from that?” As it searches for the trigger of these feelings, looking outward into the world around it.
We can then observe the arising of our minds defensive mechanism to unpleasant feeling, defensive emotions arise within our body as various sensations. We see these distort the perception of our Survival Mind, looking through the distortion of the defensive emotions it starts to misperceive the world and releases more unpleasant feeling to mirror what it sees. We noticed how its continued response creates our defensive personality traits.
We observe that this then feeds the whole cycle and it spirals, spinning out of control as we view the world through the nightmare produced within our own mind. We can then see others trapped in their own nightmare, crashing through life, desperately seeking happiness but leaving destruction in their wake. We can see Samsara, the cycle of rebirth and suffering.
Yet we don’t suffer and we are not reborn.
Through continued development and balancing of Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration we see these cycles clearly. We observe ourselves fall and become lost within these cycles time and time again, and then Mindfulness developed during MIDL practice pulls us free. We develop understanding through observing this reality and drop by drop, step by step Wisdom into the nature of reality arises.
This Wisdom is stored in the filing cabinet of our mind, and since the Wisdom has been developed based on observing reality it overrides the delusion within our mind, it changes our relationship to past attraction, trauma and pain. Our Survival Mind, then perceiving the world through the Six Senses, looks into the filing cabinet of memories asking “What’s this?”
It accesses the understanding developed through self observation and now interprets the world through that Wisdom. The Wisdom developed changes our relationship to perception, to pleasant and unpleasant feeling. It changes our relationship to likes and dislikes, to thoughts, opinions, and views. It changes our relationship to emotions, we see everything as a natural flow of experience; we no longer take any of it personally. We wake up from the nightmare and find peace within our life.
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, Meditation Instructor from Meditation in The Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you