Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmness?

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.

Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmness?

Postby catlady2112 » Sun Mar 16, 2014 9:11 pm

I've never understood why our minds seems to be addicted to going "towards" activity and agitation, rather than feeling drawn towards calmness. I believe the relaxed mind is our natural state, so I would expect we would migrate towards that effortlessly and with joy. Yet, during meditation it can sometimes feel like the mind is continually "resisting resting" which does not make sense to me. Why wouldn't we be drawn towards resting like a baby being welcomed into the arms of a mother?

Distracting activities like watching a movie or playing a video game can "feel" at times like it is feeding a fundamental biological need or stimulation. I don't understand why resting the mind wouldn't feel just as good or as addicting as watching a movie. Perhaps a silly analogy, but I'm still baffled by this after 30 years.
Last edited by catlady2112 on Sun Mar 16, 2014 9:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby JamyangTashi » Sun Mar 16, 2014 9:13 pm

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby theanarchist » Sun Mar 16, 2014 10:01 pm

Because the evolution favoured individuals who were able to hunt and gather enough to feed themselves and their offspring while warding off all possible danger.

As a species that relies on brain, not brawn curiosity, cleverness, creativity, communication and anything new and exciting that might be a good opportunity were very important for survival and successful breeding.

But of course, this mindset was created for a hunter-gatherer society, not for our modern society. It was never meant to go completely out of control like it does nowadays, under our living conditions.
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby Wayfarer » Sun Mar 16, 2014 10:35 pm

catlady2112 wrote:I've never understood why our minds seems to be addicted to going "towards" activity and agitation, rather than feeling drawn towards calmness. I believe the relaxed mind is our natural state, so I would expect we would migrate towards that effortlessly and with joy. Yet, during meditation it can sometimes feel like the mind is continually "resisting resting" which does not make sense to me. Why wouldn't we be drawn towards resting like a baby being welcomed into the arms of a mother?

Distracting activities like watching a movie or playing a video game can "feel" at times like it is feeding a fundamental biological need or stimulation. I don't understand why resting the mind wouldn't feel just as good or as addicting as watching a movie. Perhaps a silly analogy, but I'm still baffled by this after 30 years.


Well, that's the Second Truth of Buddhism in action, isn't it?

"And this, monks is the noble truth of the origination of dukkha: the craving (tanha) that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming."


Saying it, doesn't necessarily make it any easier to disengage with, but I'm sure what you're experiencing is a fundamental drive that as physical beings we're all subject to.

I think that is one of the reasons why one's practice ought to incorporate aspects of physical culture, such as yoga, work, and exercise, which have a calming effect by dissippating energy and restlessness. But I don't think there are many easy answers, particularly in our push-button, high-distraction Western lifestyle, where we are constantly bombarded by stimuli, media and 'selling messages'. That is why it is useful to go on retreat regularly. But I wouldn't feel bad about it, or think that its something unique to you - I think it is an aspect of human nature, and the fact you're questioning it, might reflect an awareness of it that has come about through Buddhist practice, whereas most people will simply go along with it. Don't forget one description of the Buddhist student is 'one who goes against the current'. :smile:
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby Jinzang » Mon Mar 17, 2014 1:58 am

This is my personal opinion only, but maintaing the illusion of ego is a lot of work. Part of the work is bathing the mind in a continuous stream of emotions. We need this stream of emotions because they help maintain the sense of being other. And why do we work so hard to maintain the ego? We're so habituated to it that the least bit of doubt about it feels strange and threatening. Self-referential to be sure (nothing to threaten if there is no ego), but it that self-referential contantly feeding back quality that keeps ego going.
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby catlady2112 » Mon Mar 17, 2014 2:38 am

These are all delightful answers for me to ponder! I appreciate all the different well-thought out perspectives. Thanks.
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby Gwenn Dana » Tue Mar 25, 2014 2:57 pm

The world is in a state of constant reaction. Everything reacts to each other in some unquestionable flow.

The mind being drawn towards things is nothing more than a form of reaction.
However once we start to form terms and things in our mind, we disturb that natural flow.
The organization of stuff in our mind is arbitrarily made up, guided by our education and experience.
We then no longer react in flow, but disturb that natural flow with our mental judgement.
A problem comes in, when that mental judgement dictates our reaction.

These mental concepts have helped us survive, since we learned to handle tools and build vast, theoretical models.
It is ok, as long as we us them as mere tool to grasp better understanding.
But if we route our recognition of nature through this value machine every second of our life, we no longer react naturally.

There are many natural reactions:
- Our body gets flooded with adrenaline, the muscles relax instantly and our heart rate goes up when we see a dangerous animal that wants to feed on us in the wild. Its good that our body gets that reaction, because then we can run and act faster and on a higher time frame.
- We yawn when we're tired and there's a need to relax.

But then there are non-natural reactions:
- Changing sides of the street because there's a person of different ethnicity walking toward us.
- Valuing people based on their mental skills
- Rewarding one way of life a lot, and discriminate the other.

Those reactions live on conditioned thought. They have been programmed into us.
Those can be re-routed to bypass the conditioning.

Regards
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby neti » Sun Mar 30, 2014 7:29 am

Sure,
performance and agitation seem to be predominant in our western culture
from the beginning. But why ? Has there been a kind of manipulation which is still ongoing,
not yet realized up to the present day ?

Based on experience frequently used concepts like 'mind, thoughts, ideas, attention and so on'
are spontaneously connected with mental activity


... far away from stillness and meditation


This may be a secret well treasured in our own vocabulary
but as already mentioned, simply to unveil once made the experience of deep Buddhism.
We should be cautious now when reading a book or any other kind of literature.
And most notably, please beware of a dubious cult coming up in these days,
even pushed by a couple of so-called scientists on a broad public level
... the 'cult of attentiveness' which seems to be the wrong approach

Sure, everybody has to earn his daily bread anyhow
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby oushi » Sun Mar 30, 2014 8:50 am

Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmness?

It's not always the case. I think it all depends on the scale of importance we hold. Mind is drawn toward phenomena that we think are important. Some of those were enforced by evolution, some are elevated by society we are living in. Those are facts that cannot be simply ignored.
In other words, we are conditioned for agitation. Strength of this conditioning is proportional to the importance we give to certain phenomena. This importance is based on our world view, and the idea of truth we hold. To uproot this system, one would have to discard the notion of truth, which is far from simple.
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Mon Mar 31, 2014 3:01 am

catlady2112 wrote:I've never understood why our minds seems to be addicted to going "towards" activity and agitation, rather than feeling drawn towards calmness. I believe the relaxed mind is our natural state, so I would expect we would migrate towards that effortlessly and with joy. Yet, during meditation it can sometimes feel like the mind is continually "resisting resting" which does not make sense to me. Why wouldn't we be drawn towards resting like a baby being welcomed into the arms of a mother?

Distracting activities like watching a movie or playing a video game can "feel" at times like it is feeding a fundamental biological need or stimulation. I don't understand why resting the mind wouldn't feel just as good or as addicting as watching a movie. Perhaps a silly analogy, but I'm still baffled by this after 30 years.


Actually, the mind isn't really drawn towards agitation. It is in fact trying to return to its natural state all the time. But due to ignorance, mind goes about it all wrong. It looks in all the wrong places, engages in all of the wrong activities (except, of course, meditation).

Let's call what the mind wants: "peace of mind", meaning not striving for something it doesn't have, not trying to get away from something it doesn't want. This "peace of mind", this ultimate perfection of "peace of mind" is the Buddha mind. Enlightenment. Every being is striving for this "peace of mind", because this is the mind's true nature. So, it is said that ultimately all beings are buddha, all beings will eventually attain realization. So, even when the mind is looking to keep busy, it is in fact seeking stillness. It's like somebody with a TV remote control. It thinks, "if I can just find the right channel to watch, then I can put the remote down and not have to search any more". It's that "not having to search" which is mind's natural state.

The reason why, during meditation (shamatha), the mind experiences restlessness is because you are not indulging the thoughts and senses. They come, but instead of feeding them, you let them go, and return to boring old breath-watching. People sometimes think that during meditation the mind seems to get busier. in fact, the mind is always this busy. The difference is that in meditation, one becomes aware of that busy-ness, for the first time from the perspective of an observer. You observe the mind's rapid activity from the viewpoint of calmness. It's like the true nature of mind is looking at the confused nature of mind and thinking "what's all the commotion about?"

Mind's original nature (although I am using the term "peace of mind") doesn't specifically have the characteristic of "peacefulness". Mind, itself, isn't "peaceful", and it isn't "restless". These are just labels. It isn't anything. Original mind has no defining characteristics of its own, except that it is free from confusion, from striving. So, allowing the mind to rest in its natural state has nothing to do with conditions. It's like a bench at an amusement park. When the park is open, the bench is in the middle of noise and lights and people running around. When the park is closed, the bench is in the middle of stillness and quiet. But it is still the same bench, twenty-four hours a day.

When we talk about mind resting in its natural state, it's just like that. Whether you are sitting in a noisy area or a quiet one makes no difference. the mind is not striving to do something different. If the surroundings are noisy, it doesn't seek quietude. if the surroundings are still, it doesn't need something exciting to start happening.

If you think about what you want to do after a very busy day, or after a strenuous or hectic activity, you want to rest. You just want to sit down and take your shoes off and close your eyes for a few minutes, and just unwind. This is actually an example of what you described: the mind tries to "migrate towards that effortlessly and with joy." At the same time, if you are waiting a long time for something, maybe stuck in traffic or standing in line, you want just the opposite. You want to speed things up so you can get on with your day. So, the point is either way is still striving. But mind's natural state is comfortable with both situations. Mind's original nature isn't striving.

Usually, if you are meditating properly, then after some time the restlessness should pass. You no longer feel a sense of time passing. You can just sit and sit. But this can take a long time, maybe longer than 30 years, although there might be some adjustments you can make to your meditation.
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby dude » Mon Mar 31, 2014 3:50 am

catlady2112 wrote:I've never understood why our minds seems to be addicted to going "towards" activity and agitation, rather than feeling drawn towards calmness. I believe the relaxed mind is our natural state, so I would expect we would migrate towards that effortlessly and with joy. Yet, during meditation it can sometimes feel like the mind is continually "resisting resting" which does not make sense to me. Why wouldn't we be drawn towards resting like a baby being welcomed into the arms of a mother?

Distracting activities like watching a movie or playing a video game can "feel" at times like it is feeding a fundamental biological need or stimulation. I don't understand why resting the mind wouldn't feel just as good or as addicting as watching a movie. Perhaps a silly analogy, but I'm still baffled by this after 30 years.




Because we're used to it. We're used to suffering. It has become familiar. We have been doing it for a long time. Since time without beginning.
I did find practice addictive, at least when I started practicing Buddhism in earnest. I suffer when I don't do it, or even slack off a little. Not that I always feel like doing it or always find it easy to do.
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby Gwenn Dana » Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:09 am

A realist explanation:

It´s the default mode of the mind. A stimulus comes, you react. It´s what the mind developped out of.
But in those beings with less complex emergences the wave comes, and after the stimulus is gone, the wave is gone. The next stimulus comes.

Some sentient beings have faculties in their minds with which they can break those reaction patterns.
Our education to a good part only deals with stuffing the mind with a ton of facts, and building reflexes of even higher order instead of developping that skill to break them along with it.

That messes up the associative faculties in the brain, since feelings become linked to abstract concepts, the body starts to react to mere thoughts and stories we form in our mind. With those the process becomes self-reinforcing and feelings can therefore exist in time. Emotions become alive and persist, instead of feelings (or mere sensations) blowing through us.

But we can cease to do that. We can break those reactions, even if we cannot imagine that it works because we overloaded our faculties.
But we have to seriously do it. As long as we´re in hypothetical thought experiments, it does not work, we´re trapped in that conditioned self-reinforcement.

Best wishes
Gwenn
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby dude » Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:23 am

true enough
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Apr 01, 2014 12:42 am

Basically, it's a survival mechanism.

Our agitation, atavism, and general paranoia (in a grand sense) is what keeps us being able to go about our daily lives. Not coincidentally, our clinging to the agitated survival mechanism state rather than the state itself, is also what keeps us endlessly wandering.

That's my guess at least.
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby Adi » Tue Apr 01, 2014 2:22 am

"Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmness?"

Habit.

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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby ovi » Tue Apr 01, 2014 6:25 pm

Likely because we are born ignorant. As living beings, we have evolved from more primitive life forms through natural selection. Enlightenment is a characteristic that cannot be found in the non-sentient beings that we have evolved from, thus the process of evolution has not been guided by a true understanding of reality, but through the afflictions. For instance, bacteria have the property of chemotaxis, movement directed by chemical stimuli (such as food or poison). As we are born through the afflictions, we are bound by dukkha: we are averse to pain and crave pleasure. As sentient beings we also have the property of buddha-nature, the ability to transcend the ignorance that we are born with and see reality as it truly is, without attributing a self to dependently-arisen phenomena, without aversion to pain, craving for pleasure or greed for worldly existence. Enlightenment can be considered the natural and true nature of mind, since it reflects the whole of natural phenomena as clear as a mirror which reflects what is put in front of it as it truly is, without any distortion. Hope this helps.
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby neti » Sat Apr 05, 2014 8:37 am

sorry,
but wrong metaphors such as 'force, light, strength and so on'
are spontaneously connected with mental activity as well (we cannot do otherwise at all)

It is no wonder that we fail to calm down ...

And as mentioned cautiously those crucial concepts and metaphors
may be due to our agitated western cultural history
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Re: Why is the mind drawn towards agitation instead of calmn

Postby Gwenn Dana » Sun Apr 06, 2014 1:40 pm

When I'm sitting in meditation and on the verge of sleeping, then the mind is drawn into thoughts, as the other perceptions cease. Basic, repetitive patterns of thought.

I guess when the eyes are open just the same will happen whenever attention is not fixed otherwise. The more tired you become, the more often it will happen. As long as attention is fixed on the attention you're safe. Until you become too tired to do that.

Or you manage to detach. Or simply reattach your attention to the now as you notice it

Pipes sometimes don't burn we'll. An experienced pipe smoker was once asked what he does when his pipe ceases to glow too often. He replied: "Light it again."

Best wishes
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