Discovering My “Free Mind” (An Interview with C G Mayya)
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know how my life has transformed through the practice of mindfulness. It’s been a solid 6 years since I began my dedicated practice, and I’ve come a long way… But, I recently started feeling like I’ve been bumping head-first into a giant brick wall. Like the path I’ve been traveling along just doesn’t go any further…. Intuitively, I can tell there’s something on the other side of that wall for me to explore. But, how do I get there? And, where do I go once I’m on the other side?…
To explore these questions, I decided to seek some guidance from author and meditation & mindfulness coach C G Mayya….
An executive and entrepreneur who left his career behind in search of personal transformation, C G has dedicated 15 years of his life to training and serving in monasteries in the U.S., Thailand, Myanmar, and India. His guidance emphasizes the importance of finding our own unique ways of discovering what exists beyond our respective “brick walls.” And, after a little over a month of working with him, I’m starting to get a glimpse of what’s waiting on the other side of mine…
You were an executive and an entrepreneur who left your career to train and serve in monasteries around the world. What prompted this change in your path?
Seeing the potential of inner freedom! I was exposed to different cultures and traditions growing up, and I was also fortunate to be introduced to meditation early on in my life. Yet, in each of the environments where I lived—particularly in the East—questioning tradition, philosophies and religion was not well tolerated. The longing to inquire and understand was interpreted as being rebellious. And, because of this, I learned to conform and restrain myself to not allow my inner doubts and inquiries to take shape outwardly.
After completing my education, I followed the ways of the world and committed myself to finding success in the corporate world. For a period of 7+ years, I worked in Singapore, Australia, and the United States and was involved in a couple of start-ups. Despite pursuing a path that held lucrative financial rewards, there was always a sense of inadequacy in the back of my mind. And during this period of trying to cope with the external stress of a busy life, I went back to seeking meditation for mental balance.
In my entrepreneurial role, I tasted both success and failure, which helped me see the transitory nature of material wealth better. And, in my early 20s, I lost my mother rather suddenly, which added to my growing insecurity on the nature of life itself. The game changer was a momentary seeing through into the overwhelming sense of inadequacy and dichotomy that was making me miserable.
What eventually prompted me to change my path were several instances of seeing this potential of inner freedom as something that’s available in any moment of our lives. I write in the closing lines of my book, Discover Your Free Mind, “Just like a bird that can spread open its wings and fly at any moment, so too can we rest back in the awareness of Free Mind at any instant.”
At that time in my life, the intensity of seeing this freedom was so strong that I lost all interest in pursuing any kind of worldly life. I realized later, it was not necessary to live in monasteries to see the nature of this transformative inner freedom. The necessary change is, instead, one of reversing our perspective and of training ourselves in appreciating the nature of this inner freedom.
What is “Free Mind?”
A reviewer of my book summarized it well: “Free Mind is a mind free from our social and cultural conditioning, a non-grasping mind that rests in an attitude of ‘let it be.'”
At a social and cultural level, we’re all subject to influences within the environment we live in. The problem occurs when these opinions of others and their beliefs becomes our truth. Of course, many philosophers and spiritual teachers have spoken about this danger, from Socrates to Buddha. In recent times, Richard Dawkins and Susan Blackmoore have written about this “meme” effect and how replication of ideas spread like viruses.
At an internal level, our mind and consciousness harbor impulses and patterns that we don’t seem to have conscious control over. We chase after experiences and states of mind that lead to “bliss” and “avoidance of pain.” Once we experience a certain exciting state of mind, whether through a glass of vodka or while kneeling in prayer, we then condition our mind to cling to it—chase after it—again and again.
These notions are what prompted the philosopher J. Krishnamurti to question, “Is it ever possible to have a totally free mind, free brain, not shaped by influences, by experience and the vast accumulation of knowledge?”
Living up to such questions is, itself, a process of discovering Free Mind. Along with certain secular practices, the quality of having an inquiring mind helps to shift our perspective and releases us from our mental conditioning. Such a shift away from our egoic impulses is liberating, and each of us has experienced it to some degree. Using such momentary seeing as our path to freedom is an independent journey into Free Mind.
How does mindfulness play a part in freeing the mind?
My answer to this varies, depending upon the type of audience I’m addressing. In my role as a mindfulness coach, I acknowledge that mindfulness in its current secular model in the west is perhaps the best form of training in freeing the mind. In the deluded state of mind that most of us are in before we turn to some form of mindfulness practice, the help of teachings and teachers/coaches can be invaluable.
But then as you get deeper into it, you soon realize that it’s hard to get a consensual agreement on what mindfulness is and how it helps to free us… No matter what we relate to in forming a conceptual understanding, at a personal level, mindfulness has to be discovered on a moment-to-moment basis for oneself. The benefit of this is a greater ability to be anchored non-judgmentally into the present moment experience rather than into the narrative of the mind—which for many of us is self-critical. Mindfulness can thus be a therapeutic practice, and thanks to researchers, it’s getting widely embraced within scientific circles as well.
But you asked, ‘how does it play a part in freeing the mind?’ My frank answer is that, although mindfulness has outward benefits and can be a great training ground for many to begin with, it does not lead to the unconditional freedom of mind. I would even go further to say that for many practitioners of mindfulness, and certain forms of meditation, it has become another mechanism for “wanting” to be in control of their lives and their minds. This is the duality trap of mindfulness practices, which reinforces our sense of self and egoism. Ultimately, we must go beyond these concepts and practices of mindfulness to discover the true nature of inner freedom.
I can see how mindfulness has become a mechanism for me to attempt to control my mind, and I do believe this has served me—up until now… But, perhaps the “brick wall” I’m finding myself up against is part of the duality trap you mentioned. There’s a part of me that’s looking to release my egoism and sense of self through meditation and mindfulness practices, yet that egoism and sense of self continues to be reinforced through those very practices. Hence, my feeling stuck…
Most people are not able to see this right away. They get frustrated when the practices that once worked for them don’t work anymore, and so they try to “muscle” their way through it.
Part of the challenge exists because most mindfulness practices are about training to anchor ourselves in the present moment or working with body sensations until getting better and better at it. The analogy I use in my book is: “Like a skilled martial artist or the power-hungry Greek god, we then believe ourselves to be superior to others while continuing to be caught in the grip of new mental patterns.”
What are these mental patterns? They’re the same patterns that organized religion has relied on throughout human history to give people a sense of faith (and identity). And, prior to the mindfulness revolution, these patterns were also what many psychologists were nurturing through self-acceptance therapies. Although there is a place for faith and self-acceptance, it is this aspect of “getting better” at it which is at the core of the duality trap.
While such a sense of superiority and progress is satisfying to the ego, it leaves an underlying sense of feeling stuck, similar to what you describe. This is because you may be intuitively aware that the natural and freeing quality of your awareness has been compromised.
How can I start to work through this conundrum?
First, acknowledge and probe into the nature of conundrums with a sense of integrity. You only make it worse if you ignore this or try to control your mind to suppress conundrums.
Now, regarding your current conundrum – let’s suppose you grew up in a small town, and the time has come for you to leave for college or a job, and you experience pain, conflict and uncertainty. But you’re also looking forward to the greater opportunity and the adventure that lies ahead of you.
Similarly, if you can cultivate an attitude of adventure in facing your challenge – rather than one of dread and fear – then this could be a great opportunity.
Your book delves into various forms of inquiry practice. Would building an inquiry practice be beneficial for me at this stage – and would it be beneficial for readers of this blog who resonate with my present situation?
In general, tapping into the inquiring nature of our mind is the safe ground on which anyone can build their practice and discover their path to freedom. But here, again, you need some kind of framework to start with — otherwise you can remain deluded within the limiting structures of your own thought patterns. So, in that sense, what is beneficial for you at this particular stage in your practice may be different from what is beneficial for another individual. That’s important to keep in mind.
That said, if your readers are interested in exploring inquiry, my book provides model questions to show its practical application for addressing everyday complexities. Within the range of challenges — anxiety, stress, depression, conflicts, and addictions — one can find common patterns of “dis-eased” conditions that most of us are subject to and begin to work with them.
Who is Discover Your Free Mind written for, and what can readers expect to receive from it?
I feel like the book appeals mostly to the intelligent general audience with some background in meditation, mindfulness, or spiritual practices. I don’t expect people who hold strong religious beliefs or those who believe ONLY in the potential of science to be receptive to its message and arguments. To really gain benefits from this book, I encourage readers to come back after the first reading and try out the inquiries and exercises.
However, I do caution potential readers that despite its promising title, Discover Your Free Mind is about the process, rather than the promise of freedom. Some may find this process too daunting. But in reality, stepping into inner freedom is the simplest practice once you discover its potential. If it’s difficult, it is only because our minds are trained to appreciate complex and complicated approaches…
Although certainly daunting, I’m committed to the process of finding out what’s on the other side of the wall I’m facing right now. Whether or not I’ll be able to move through it to ultimately discover inner freedom is yet to be revealed… My guess is that myriad more “brick walls” will appear once I’ve moved through this one. But, I’m ok with that. Because, no matter how stuck or lost I might feel along this serpentine path of self transformation I’ve chosen for myself, I know there are seasoned spiritual sherpas like C G out there who can help me find my own way…
For more information about C G’s Mayya, visit his website, www.cgmayya.com. Discover Your Free Mind is currently available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon, with different formats of the book becoming available within the coming weeks. Check C G’s Facebook page:www.facebook.com/cgmayya for regular updates.
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