“Do you give yourself and others safe passage through your mind?” This question was recently posed in a meditation forum I belong to. Often times, we do not.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the labels we use, not just for things but people as well….stereotypes, to be more specific. We define most of our reality through thoughts, words and labels. The whole of our experience is described through the words and meaning we give to color, texture, feelings, thoughts, and moments about ourselves and others. “Words have power, use them wisely” the saying goes. How many times have someone said something to you that stung as if they had slapped you in the face? Or better, said something that warmed your heart and filled your soul? Words can unite or they can divide. More and more, we seem to use words that divide. We do not seem to give ourselves, or anyone else, safe passage through our own minds.
In Sanskrit – one of the first languages ever recorded to have been spoken on this Earth, the mother of all Indo-European languages, a vibrational language – name and form are the same. When spoken (or, more likely, sung), the word and the meaning are identical. There are no double entendres, no hidden meanings, no sarcasm, no anger when you speak/sing Sanskrit. It was a language designed to bring the singer closer to the Divine, closer to God. The ancients would never have used anything that would further divide us from true joy, then.
Interestingly, Sanskrit has many words to express stages of enlightenment: peace, joy, happiness, contentment, love, union, and God. Yet, there are no words that would describe hate. What the ancients used were words to express degrees of suffering (the opposite of enlightenment) like fear, hoarding, darkness, ignorance, attachment, untruth and death, but they had no word for hate. It is easy to draw the line of where these stages of suffering can lead us to feelings of hate, especially when one is not taught how to face suffering. True enlightenment has no space for things like anger, division, darkness, fear, ignorance, or hate, so suffering must be recognized and resolved.
In fact, true enlightenment has no space for labels….period. Liberation, as the ancients believed, happens when you transcend suffering. And, anything that keeps you from God (like words, thoughts, and labels) only creates more suffering – these things are seen as distractions from the attainment of union with God. I am not a big believer in God, but I resonate with the idea of “sweetness of mind”, something that the ancients use describe as an outcome of skillful meditation. I don’t buy into the theory of heaven or hell, either, but I do believe that suffering feels like hell and being liberated from suffering sure as hell feels like heaven.
One of the final yoga sutras – written 5,000+ years ago as a prescribed path for enlightenment – states, “The actions of the Yogi are neither white, nor black, good, nor bad. The actions of others are three kinds: white, black, and mixed.” In other words, part of reaching enlightenment means you have to train the mind to no longer classify anything as good, bad, so-so, black, white, happy, sad, etc. Things are just as, or what, they are without all of the other stories we add to them.
For example, the term “Vrksasana” is Sanskrit for “Tree Pose” [vrik-sah-suh-nuh]. One word is used to embody the essence of a tree in Sanskrit – and everyone agreed. We have evolved, over time, and now have many words to describe the species, height, type, color, leaves, and names of trees. Keeping track of all of this information means that our minds are focused on other things and not on the task at hand – enlightenment. With more classifications we also open ourselves to greater opportunities for misunderstandings. I may be describing an oak tree to you because I like oak trees, but you may be thinking of a walnut tree instead, because you prefer walnut trees. Preferences lead to attachment, dislikes to avoidance, and either create equal suffering. The less we judge what is good or bad, the less chance we have of becoming attached to something or trying to avoid something else.
The ancients thought it would be better to create an easy path to understanding, to connection, to Union. Thus, they decided that a tree could simply be a tree, it didn’t really matter what kind of tree it was, because it didn’t change the fact that it was a tree, and the mind didn’t need to get so caught up in liking one tree better than another because of one reason or another…..so much storytelling about a tree really wastes a lot of time, doesn’t it?! It’s exhausting, and that was just one tree! The human mind does this about every f**king thing we come into contact with, in every moment of every day. We classify, judge, layer, and assign labels to every thing, person, thought, feeling, or idea we experience.
By adding all of these layers of classifications we foster more ways to misunderstand one another and only further separate ourselves from others, from nature, and, ultimately, from God. Can’t we just be satisfied knowing that we have trees to climb, to nap under, to simply enjoy, without having to be inundated with unnecessary data like what kind of tree it is?! The analogy of the trees can be applied to every other experience, in each and every moment, we live. We label our thoughts, ourselves and others, and then we layer on stories and judgements about each label. By classifying ourselves as black, white, brown, male, female, straight, gay, Catholic, Baptist, Atheist, and on and on and on, the stories add up and the judgements increase exponentially. We grow more divided, more rigid in our beliefs, less connected, less understanding towards others, and ever farther from true Union.
The ancients prescribed meditation to rid ourselves of these karmic impressions in the mind. Meditation is the practice of observing our thoughts. As thoughts arise, we practice no longer labeling the thought as good, bad, so-so, or tell ourselves a story about the thought, rather, we say to ourselves, “thinking”, or “thought”, and that’s it. The ancients knew that it would not be easy and advised that we meditate diligently, each day, to master our thoughts. “Yoga is Skill in Action”, according to the Bhagavad Gita – yet another ancient text that shares the story of a warrior on his path to enlightenment. To be skilled at something, anything, it must be practiced with zeal, every day.
I have worked on this practice for nearly 12 years now and it does get easier. I can honestly say, when I look back on the person I was ‘pre-meditation’, I am more tolerant than I used to be. Meditation has taught me how to meet someone with a clean slate, to view someone without all of the cultural and societal bias. For me, people are just people, it doesn’t matter what color they are, if they are male, female, straight, gay, or otherwise, it doesn’t change the fact that we are all human beings. Now, what matters to me is that we take care of each other, take care of other beings on the planet and treat the world with the utmost care. We can even strip away the label of ‘people’ and simplify it even more by saying that we are all living beings and we all have a right to be here, to experience joy.
The only way to foster real understanding between people, communities, and nations, is to continually work to eliminate labels. Rather than trying to understand anddefine each and every label, just stop trying to label everything. If are to live together, we must find ways to relate to one another. Labels, stereotypes, biases, judgements divide us from one another. Stop seeing others differently from yourself, but see the fundamental similarities, and you will create a safe passage through your own mind to experience greater joy.