Compare:Moving Between Thought Worlds
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
We've all had the experience when we're asleep of finding ourselves in a dream and, for a while, believing that what's happening in the dream is real. Then something alerts us that something is wrong with the dream, and finally to the fact that we're dreaming. Usually that's enough for us to wake up, to pull out of the dream.
That process is very similar to the way we create mental worlds and emotional states during our waking life, because our picture of the world around us is always partial. It's always stitched together out of bits and pieces of what we've encountered through the senses. We have a notion of what makes sense, and as long as it makes sense and seems to be real, we can stay stuck in that state of mind. Then something strikes us as incongruous, as not fitting in. We realize, "Oh, that was an imaginary world." That's when we pull out. But then we find ourselves in another world, which may be better, and may not.
The ability to recognize what's incongruous, what's wrong with a world: That's an important skill. Without it, we get stuck in states of mind — what the Buddha called bhava
, or becoming — where we can suffer very intensely. We focus on certain things in the world around us, certain ideas about who we are in that world, and everything else gets filtered through that particular picture. Other people's actions, for example, get filtered in this way, so that someone acting with perfectly good intentions may seem to be evil, sneaky, unreliable. Or vice versa. They actually may be evil, sneaky, and unreliable, yet we see them as being perfectly reasonable, perfectly trustworthy. But because the mental world we inhabit has its own inner coherence, we think it's accurate and real.
So we have to watch out for this. In a healthy mind, it's easy to switch from one world to another, to recognize the incongruities so that one state of becoming can actually pull you out of a less healthy state of becoming. There's a certain fluidity. And the fluidity comes from your mindfulness, your ability to remember that you take on different identities and inhabit different worlds, and some are more useful than others. Some are more beneficial, less stressful than others. If you're skillful, you can adopt whichever state of becoming seems to be the healthiest at that particular time, given what you want to do in those particular circumstances. The people with real problems are those who can't get out. They get stuck in a particular thought world and everything gets interpreted in its light. They can really do themselves a lot of damage because there's no porousness between the different states of becoming. There's no connection — either you're in it, or you're out of it. The different identities you take on, the different worlds you inhabit, seem to be very radically separate.
Usually for people who are stuck in a very unhealthy state like that, their only hope seems to be some outside power. This is why so many programs dealing with addictions rely on the idea of an outside power. Addicts get stuck in a particular idea of who they are, the world they're in, what they're capable of, what they're not capable of. And given the definitions of their little worlds, they're helpless. They need somebody from outside to come in and straighten them out. This comes from getting thoroughly trapped in a very fixed sense of who they are.
One of the purposes of the meditation is to get you out of the trap, so that you realize you have many different identities, you inhabit different worlds, and they can best be used as tools, realizing that no world that you inhabit is totally real or a totally accurate idea of where you are, in terms of your surroundings outside or what's going on inside.
William James made a lot of this point: that our idea of truth is pretty sketchy. How could you possibly know the total truth of the situation in which you're located? It would require a knowledge down to the sub-atomic particles and out to the edge of the universe — maybe even beyond the edge of the universe. That would be impossible. So to deal with possibilities, the mind lives by its sketches. Recognizing this fact is a useful step. "This sketch that I'm living with: Is it a useful sketch? Is it helpful?" It may have certain true details here and there, but you have to realize that no idea of your surroundings is going to be a totally adequate representation of what those surroundings are. The best you can do is ask if your sketch is adequate to your needs, your healthy needs, and in particular to your desire to put an end to suffering.
To learn how to pull yourself out of unhealthy worlds and into healthier ones first requires an understanding of how the mind creates these worlds, and then a development of the skills you need to move fluidly and beneficially between them.
Both of these skills are developed in meditation. In other words, you get hands-on experience in creating worlds by trying to create a world of concentration right here: inhabiting your body, staying with your breath, having a focal point. This is what these worlds are built around: a focal point based on a desire. In this case, you take the breath as your focal point, and your desire is to stay there as continually as possible. To help carry out that desire, you want to learn how to evaluate the breath and your concentration, to see how well you're doing. ...
Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Meditations 5http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ughtworlds