Removing the Cloud of Doubt

Our emotional and mental states, as well as our physical condition, all affect the way we breathe…

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Conscious Breathing

Yoga teaches us that mind, body, emotion and breath are all intertwined. Our emotional and mental states, as well as our physical condition, all affect the way we breathe. The good news is that it’s a two-way street. The way we breathe affects our emotional, mental and physical condition as well, so we can positively influence all three by conscious breathing. Being conscious is the key. Without conscious self-awareness, we’re powerless and at the mercy of internal and external conditions.

Of course, there are times when we gladly limit our self-awareness. Sometimes we decide, consciously or unconsciously, to turn our self-awareness off so we can mindlessly enjoy intense sensations; but we do this at great risk. Willfully subverting or disregarding our awareness can become a dangerous habit. Surprisingly, we often deal with suffering and pleasure in the same way. We willfully limit our awareness. Many use intoxicants or drugs, not only for physical and emotional pain, but for entertainment as well. We accept very limiting states of mind for the sake of intensifying or blocking sensations.

Flower Petals

We invoke mental and emotional states in much the same way, with or without the use of drugs. Self-pity, for instance, can be seen as an attempt to minimize or ‘normalize’ pain by rejecting hope and adopting a numbing concept of ‘fate.’ As an outside observer, it is easy to see how futile this approach is. It is more difficult when the process is internalized and we are observing ourselves; but the ability to be self-observant is our best defense against a host of dangers… if we know how to employ this skill.

Breathing is an autonomic function of the body. We breathe unconsciously but by becoming conscious of our breath and consciously practicing breath techniques, we can realize the great healing power of breath. The beauty of yoga is that through regular practice we grow, by a very natural and pleasant process, into greater states of self-awareness. Becoming aware of and learning to control the breath is one of the principal teachings of yoga. If you would like to explore the yogic science of conscious breath, you can follow this link to an introductory talk and some simple breath exercises: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrAEr8EiK64#t=18. With practice, you will be able to invoke positive mental and emotional states to replace negative ones, increase your enjoyment of life and alleviate much discomfort and suffering through conscious breathing.

Building Self-Confidence

My teacher, Sri Chinmoy once wrote this about the mind, “The function of the mind (in one’s spiritual practice) is to remove the cloud of doubt.” He went on to say “We all know that the mind plays an important role in our outer life as well as in our spiritual life. Therefore, we must not disregard the mind, rather what we should do is be always conscious of the mind.” So, we need to be conscious of our own thoughts and feelings, of our habits of thinking and a variety of other personal influences as well. This is self-awareness.

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A critical practice for the development of self-awareness is meditation. When you’re sitting quietly and breathing calmly, you become aware of your mind’s movements and the factors that influence it. But don’t try to control your thoughts or stop thinking, just put a little distance between yourself and your thought processes. Being able to look at your thoughts objectively is a big first step toward deeper self-awareness. Regular meditation and conscious breathing will enable you to remove what Sri Chinmoy calls, “the cloud of doubt” from your life.

What is doubt? If we examine the word, we see that the word ‘doubt,’ like ‘darkness,’ refers to an absence of something rather than to a thing in itself. Darkness is the absence of light. Doubt is the absence of self-confidence or faith. Sri Chinmoy used to say faith in God and faith in oneself is the same faith. You cannot have faith in God if you lack confidence in yourself. To have faith in the meaning of your life is to have faith in God, regardless of how your mind defines or denies, perceives or fails to perceive, ‘God.’

Our life problem is not to discern between systems of belief, but to establish a deep and abiding confidence in ourselves. Faith-confidence nourishes and empowers; doubt starves and debilitates. Thus, Sri Chinmoy says the true purpose of the mind (like every other organ) is to strengthen and support the life force within us. The mind does this by removing self-doubt from our life.

One of the best health practices for the mind is allow it to relax and become quiet for brief periods of time. Hours of sleep do not provide all the rest the brain needs. The brain never attains a deep state of quietude in sleep. In skilled practitioners, a few minutes of meditation can do what hours of sleep cannot – deeply relax and refresh the mind. Unlike sleep, meditation requires practice but once this discipline has been established, we will realize the many benefits that come from regular meditation. One benefit will be the growth of self-knowledge and self-confidence as the ‘cloud of doubt’ is gradually removed from our lives.

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Week 06: FAITH

As long as the good times stay that way, we don’t even think about asking God for help…

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FAITH

 
As long as the good times stay that way, we don’t even think about asking God for help, since we are doing fine on our own. Then, when we hit the inevitable rough patch, the best prayer we can muster is: “Lord, I don’t know if You are real or not and even if You are real, I don’t know if You can hear me or not. And even if You can hear me, I know that You probably have a lot of other, more important things to do than to listen to me, especially since I haven’t talked to You, even thought of You, since Granny went overboard in that shuffleboard accident. And, being upset, I may have taken your name in vain, as they say, and more than just once or twice and naturally I still feel really, really bad about it. But if You are real and can hear me and can spare a couple of minutes and be a man about what happened there in the heat of the moment (Did you have to send the freakin’ sharks?!!) I need to tell you that I’m in a horrible mess. Okay, it’s my own fault, which I already know so I don’t need a big lecture, but what I really do need and pronto is some major help . . .”

Not exactly a Psalm of David.

David-Icon

By 18 century icon painter – Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia, Public Domain. (Via Wikipedia)

When our problems miraculously solve themselves and practically overnight, at least we do the right thing and give credit where credit is due, offering thanks to our own awesome cleverness.
 

Life Here on Earth

 
Because life here on Earth almost seems to favor godlessness, with multitudes of nonbelievers doing fabulously well; there seems to be no urgency to decide whether or not to have spiritual faith, to believe in God. Then when life’s seemingly insurmountable problems like death, the Big One, start knocking on our door, we are forced to reconsider the issue. But it doesn’t have to be so worrisome, as Pascal’s Wager, the famous philosophical argument, illustrates: “Better to believe in God,” it postulates, “for if you are wrong and there is no God, then no harm, whereas if you do not believe, and there is a God, then you could be cruisin’ for a bruisin’.”

PYO

(I paraphrase, of course.)

Much of life is unknown. In fact, you could say that practically all of life is unknown. We sometimes say of someone, “They don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” which is certainly the case for 99.9 percent of the natural world and billions of our fellow human beings as well. And even when we do know, even when there’s food in the fridge and money in the bank, many dangers still lurk about menacingly. So understandably, we would like to believe that we are not alone in our struggles, that someone else or something else is as concerned about our wellbeing as we are. And this is where faith, as it is most commonly practiced, enters the picture.
 

Faith Enters the Picture

 
Yes, faith in this form is the belief that someone watches over us, loves us and cares that we do well; that something in the universe is on our side, assisting us in our struggle.
 
Screenshot from IMAX® 3D movie Hidden Universe showing the Helix Nebula in infrared
 
Animals know that they must be proactive, even ruthlessly so, in order to survive. That they must not only fight and kill to eat but even fight and kill preemptively, simply to avoid being eaten. They are not, like us, thinking that if they behave virtuously, if they are good and kind, then some higher power will be pleased enough with them to see that they are well taken care of. An exception, perhaps, being the family dog who—though he should by now trust that his bowl will be filled every night; should have some faith that his master still cares enough about him to take care of him—can never be absolutely sure and so remains fearful that his next meal may be his last; that the caring may stop. And should his master show any displeasure, he becomes very anxious that he will be put out; be made to suffer and perhaps perish.

Because our fundamental problem is also survival and survival always tries to avoid suffering—not only because it is uncomfortable but also is often a prelude to our demise—we, too, look to a higher power to save us, especially in times when our wellbeing is threatened. And much like the character at the beginning of this essay, we make impulsive appeals to a higher power when we find that our own resources, even those potentially available to us (the rich brother-in-law, for example) have become exhausted or are now simply sick and tired of us.
 

Struggling to Survive

 
I’m not saying that all believers, all those who have faith that there is a higher, benevolent power lovingly watching over them, are dogs, but rather that because life is in an epic struggle against death, it naturally seeks every survival advantage and will pray to a higher power if it believes (has faith) it is in a position to help. And in our human case, will further believe that the higher power it appeals to is the Ultimate One, is the immortal Creator of life itself, and therefore if pleased with us (okay, like the dog’s master) will grant us an eternally blissful life. (Or if displeased, will condemn us to suffer, also eternally, it is believed.)
 
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Every cell in us, indeed, every atom, is struggling to survive and notwithstanding the fact that everything in the physical universe is mortal (even the photon, the building block of light itself, born at the beginning and as old as the universe itself, will ultimately perish in creation’s final act), all kinds of notions are entertained and to the degree that they appeal to our survival instincts, are more likely to be believed. Even to the extent that if someone is certain that his God has given him, and him exclusively, eternal life, and someone else comes along who is certain that his God has given him, and him exclusively, eternal life, both will feel they have the divine right to fight, even to slay their adversary. That’s how powerful and potentially aggressive this survival instinct is!
 

One Immortal Life

 
So while religious faith, the way it’s most commonly practiced, is often nothing more than the belief that our beliefs and only our beliefs will give us a more fortunate life as well as bestow upon us a unique immortality, there is another type of faith: the simple belief that life, or the Life, is conscious, loving, and aspires in and through us to goals which are good. And further, that It will assist us in our struggle because we are in a position to assist It in Its Struggle.

That there is only one immortal Life in the universe and all are part and parcel of this one Life and our struggle is therefore Its Struggle, is the tenet at the heart of this type of faith.

 

Look for the next topic, Gratitude, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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