Our mind collects countless garbage, in the form of impressions, inclinations and tendencies, over a period of millions of lives. While most of these remain in our subconscious mind, some surface to the conscious mind, from time to time, causing untold psychological sufferings in the form of restlessness, agitations, miseries, frustrations, depression, disappointments and discontentment. There is not a single person who does not have some deep-rooted complex, fear, phobia or conflict. Anyone who thinks that he has no psychological problems is only deluding himself and at the same time preventing his progress into higher awareness and happiness in life, for while the problems definitely exist, without acknowledging them, no steps can be taken to remove them.
There is absolutely no stigma attached to admitting one’s mental hang-ups, though there has always been a feeling of scorn, or perhaps fear, associated with those people who suffer from more obvious psychological problems, such as schizophrenia and melancholia. The reason for this is not certain; perhaps it is because we all fear the possibility that we too could easily become a psychiatric patient. There may be a lot of truth in this, for, as far as Yogic Science is concerned, there is not really any difference between obvious psychiatric patients and everyone else; only that in the former, underlying problems are more intense and have consequently manifested with greater force. Therefore, according to Yoga, there are only two mental conditions; either it is normally unhealthy or abnormally unhealthy. Normal state of mind is restless, unhealthy and when a disease manifests in such a mind, it becomes abnormally unhealthy.
Hence, barring a few realized Masters, who have transcended the mind itself, all others fall into the category of one of the two states of mind — normally unhealthy and abnormally unhealthy. The vast majority of us have normally unhealthy mind. From the majority point of view those rare Masters who have transcended the mind itself as well as those who have abnormally unhealthy mind are both branded as insane as neither of their behavior conforms to the majority behavior.
The people who know that they have some deeper problems only have to remove them. This is not so easy, but not impossible and at least they have accepted that problems do exist, which is the first step. There is a very convincing test that will tell us whether we are free of mental problems as we think we are. We need to ask ourselves “Am I happy or miserable?” If we are miserable then this indicates that we have mental problems, for if we are completely free of any mental disturbances then we would continuously emanate happiness and joy like an ever-flowing river. The more unhappiness and dissatisfaction that we feel in our lives, the more mental problems we have. We need to ask ourselves this question and give ourselves an honest answer. This doesn’t mean one should not be angry or have other strong emotions, for one can still act out these emotions and also feel a sense of happiness.
If we say that we are happy then we need to answer the next question, “Am I happy 24 hours a day, every moment or is my happiness fleeting, ephemeral or temporary, i.e., it comes and goes interspersed with boredom?” If it is only a fleeting happiness along with long spells of boredom, then we have mental problems, we are imperfect.
If we say that we are happy 24 hours a day, every moment, then we need to answer the third question, “Is my 24 hours happiness depended on any specific, favorable and conducive place, time, object, financial status, people, relationship, condition, situation, circumstance and environment or independent of these?” If our happiness is dependent on these factors then we are imperfect. Since everything is impermanent, whenever there is any negative change in these factors there will be a loss of happiness. Moreover, any kind of dependency is a cause of bondage and any kind of bondage is a cause of misery.
If we say that we are happy 24 hours a day, every moment and that it is independent of any specific, favorable or conducive place, time, object, financial status, people, relationship, condition, situation, circumstance and environment, then we have transcended the mind and attained the highest perfection. We have attained the highest purpose of human existence, the acme of perfection. We have nowhere to go and nothing further to achieve.
To live in a continual state of Pure Blissful Awareness, one must always remain in a relaxed and receptive state. All the conscious and subconscious problems must be eradicated.
Yoga realizes that one must pass through the unhappiness associated with mental conflicts etc., before one can see the rainbow on the other side. No matter what terrible traumatic experiences one faces in life, there is always something beyond which now seems impossible but is more likely to be unthinkable. Numerous people have called it variously as joy, bliss, truth, infinity, etc. So, one should walk through the haze of meaninglessness, persevere and transcend the problems that make life, as it seems now, hell on earth.
The most basic mental problem with most people is lack of meaning. When conscious life has lost its meaning and its promise, then it is as though a panic breaks loose. This sums up the state of most people’s life. They are living an empty, meaningless life, without hope. So, if we are in this position, then we have a mental problem. If we forget the present emptiness in our lives, then we are having an escapist attitude; if we try to cloud the question over with dogmatic assertions that there is meaning without knowing it from the depths of our being, then we are still in an escapist mode. The problem of lack of meaning in life will automatically drop away and dissolve as one evolves to higher levels of awareness.
When we attain higher awareness, then we can bear anything in life. We will be able to swim through the ups and downs of life with perfect ease.
Though normally not recognized as a mental problem, conditioning can also be classified as one. In other words, those people (in fact everyone to a great degree, some more than others), who are attached to dogmas and fixed concepts, have a mental problem. Pride in one’s country, skin color, status, religious beliefs and intellectual ability are all mental problems in that people are fixed in their ideas. The mind has ceased to be a reservoir of spontaneous ideas; instead, it is a repository of fixed, rigid and stereotyped thought patterns. This is a major block and an obstacle to higher awareness. Also included in this category is the tendency to accept ideas without reflection and personal experience. In fact, blind susceptibility to ideas and attachment to already accumulated ideas are a major mental problem. One should certainly be receptive, but not blindly naïve.
The most common manifestation of underlying mental problems is dissatisfaction with the present. We continually tend to relive the past, or project into the future with anticipation of events to come because of escapism and attachment to intoxicating experiences. Because we are dissatisfied, we try to escape by re-experiencing high points of happiness in the past and by anticipating possible ecstatic experiences in the future.
Over-identification with the body, emotions and mind leads to painful and undesirable physical, emotional and mental experiences. We will be giving our most valuable contribution to our environment by sorting out our own problems. This preoccupation with our own mind is neither antisocial nor escapism.
Due to the vaasanaa-s / impressions accumulated in the past millions of lives and a sense of incompleteness, we have a desire for fulfillment. Then the mind projects how to gain a sense of completeness from the outside world, where actually it is not. Desires lead to action and depending on the results of action, we develop likes and dislikes leading to attachments and aversions. With the attachments come expectations and possessiveness. All these are bound to cause frustration, disappointment, sorrows miseries and pain.
A passage in the book ‘Living Zen’ says, “Humanity could be compared to seven billion greyhounds rushing in pursuit of a mechanical hare on a racetrack. These human greyhounds are taut, over tense, avid and violent, but Zen (yoga) tries to teach them that what they think is a real hare is only a mechanical hoax. The moment man fully realizes what is implied by this truth he ‘let’s go’ and the bitterness of his struggles and violence are succeeded by relaxation, peace, harmony and love.”
So, cleaning out the mind is the first step in progressively seeing life as it really is and not as we imagine. Yet this requires courage, for the subconscious mind is the repository of basic fears and it can often be quite frightening to see their root face to face. We need to be fearless and determined to face them and eliminate them.
There are various techniques that we can adopt for this cleansing process. We can start with being a witness to the contents of the mind, rather than identifying with them and getting carried away. Then it will have least impact on us. The mere fact that we are conscious of the subconscious manifestations with a detached attitude is in itself a powerful weapon in eliminating the hold they have over our lives. The mere recognition of them with awareness is sufficient to remove the underlying, mental disturbances from our mind. Other techniques to clean the mind include japa (bhakti yoga / path of devotion), Karma yoga (selfless action), maanduki mudra (hathayoga), pratipaksha bhavana / seeing defects in the objects of desire (jnana yoga / path of knowledge or inquiry) and chidaakaasha dhaaranaa (awareness of the inner space of consciousness).
Many people regard anxiety or mental dissatisfaction as the first step, as the prelude to seeking higher awareness or spiritual life. It is only when one feels discontentment, emptiness and unhappiness that one seriously starts to look for something more meaningful in life.
So, our unhappiness or dissatisfaction is, in a way, doing us a favor. It is giving us a kick or a jolt out of habituated routines and patterns of thought and giving us the incentive to direct our interest elsewhere. It will force us; push us to find new levels of experience that are at present completely beyond our comprehension. They will impel us to seek realms of being that are now totally unimaginable.
When a mind is problem free, each response will be perfectly appropriate to the given situation. The external events will be the same, but one’s relationship to them will be totally different. Instead of being continually upset by the ups and downs of life, one will glide through them with a feeling of joy. Ideas which were previously seen to be mutually exclusive, irreconcilable or antagonistic are seen to be a part of a whole and really in unison with each other. Each philosophy or belief is seen to be partially true and no more than an incomplete explanation of something that is beyond words and conceptions. Each creed or a set of concepts is seen to be applicable at a particular level of awareness and understanding.