This chapter presents a version of the fifth paramita, called in Sanskrit dhyana, which is usually translated as meditation or mindfulness. However, in the context of Wisdom Living, here we do not separate the practice of meditation from everyday life, as it is sometimes done in Mahayana.
The primary purpose is the attitude of stabilizing one’s mind, was presented earlier as an indispensable part of basic (it was called earlier preparatory but the word basic better expresses its purpose) training of resting mind in wisdom. However, the goal of that attitude is more ambitious: the resting mind in wisdom extended on all life situations requires the same level of stability as in the preliminary phase. Its purpose is stabilizing the mind independently of the situation, so the name stability of this attitude seems to express it better than usual translations of the paramita dhyana as mindfulness or meditation.
The concept of stability plays an enormous role in many branches of science, where we roughly distinguish to kinds of stability: static and dynamic. An object is stable in the static sense implies that its center of gravity is low. However, dynamic stability is much more complex, it means that a process describing the behaviour of a system has negative feedback. It means that a disturbance does not increase but is directed towards the state of stability.
Our individual and social life is a dynamic process, and in the context of Wisdom Living, its stable state is resting in wisdom. Consequently, the role of the attitude of stability is to assist our mind, in regaining its stability.
In our modern world, the stability of mind is more and more challenged by the destruction of the balance of our natural environment, degeneration of political and economic situation fundamentally due to the increase of obsession and attachment to the two poisons: possessiveness and domination. It is assisted by a very fast development of technology which, in spite of being basically neutral, increases the instability of our minds and the world around us.
Stability and Wisdom Living
As far as our life is concerned, without the attitude of stability, we continue to be on the mercy of emotional upheavals. They manifest as “attacks” of fear, anger, desire to own, depression, and so on.
In the basic practice mind rest, described in two earlier chapters, in spite that it takes place in a protected environment with minimal exposure to vicissitudes of the world around, our stability of mind we already challenged. During this practice, we may indulge in various fantasies based on our memories of the past and fear and hope relating to the future. If it remains unchecked, it destabilizes our mind, and returning to the state of rest becomes increasingly difficult.
However, maintain stability becomes much more challenging when we are expanding the state of resting on situations in which may get us excited (forgive me this Americanism). Depending on our situation and the world view, life provides us with an enormous amount of reasons for that.
The leading role in producing our excitement is played by the media. Media, which just not too long time ago, were restricted to movies, newspapers and TV, now “follow” us everywhere on our smartphones, tablets, notebooks, etc. And it is not only information provided by them what can make usually angry and occasionally happy; the media entice us to such activities as buying this or that, going on vacations here or there, joining a manifestation against this or that, and even killing someone or other.
The information provided may lead us to the sudden realization that the world, as we know it, is soon going to end, fills us with hope and fear and ignorance manifesting as the effort not to see that.
So far we were talking about “classical” media. Destabilization becomes more acute when we deal with interactive media like email, FB Messenger, Tweeter, etc. There we have opportunities to respond and express our views in an emotional way as such media permits. This further destabilizes our state of mind, particularly when our reactions are distributed not to just one person but to thousands.
But it is not only media to blame. Our competitive interpersonal relations when we want to prove that our concepts and views are superior to others are, as a rule, filled with emotions (apparent or hidden), there is no moment to reflect, and we react instantly. All these factors destabilizing our minds affect our relations with the world around us and even our bodies, which are inseparably interconnected.
But one of the most destabilizing situations comes from thinking and worrying about oneself. Here we can use any logic we want to put ourselves down since there is no feedback from the outside.
I could continue further and further, but I think that what is already said is enough to realize that Wisdom Living without regaining our stability is totally unrealistic.
Before finishing this section, I would like to mention that stability of mind does not preclude changing our views, decisions and course of action, as long as it is preceded by a reflection based on openness and discernment.
Regaining the mental stability
The leading causes of our lack of stability are our tendency for various forms of indulgence and impulsiveness. Therefore we must include the attitude of Dignity into our work on regaining our stability. Dignity, as we already said earlier on, is mostly focused on reducing our indulgence in general while the attitude of stability deals more with our tendency to indulge in our overreacting and impulsiveness.
Since we already talked about how to deal with indulgence, the main topic here will be the issue of over-reactivity and impulsiveness. But here we must be clear that we do not suggest suppressing our mental activities. The reason comes from the fact that all our thoughts are results of reactions of the energy of mind to a variety of factors such as perceptions, flashes of memory and, of course, previous thoughts. Therefore, any attempt to suppress basic mind activities is not only useless and hopeless but may be harmful. Emotional over-reaction is very different because it happens when a thinking process encounters a concept, belief or idea with which it very strongly disagrees. While reacting, we experience a pleasure similar to the one which promotes indulgence but is more explosive and energetic. It happens even when it only concerns ourselves without the involvement of the outside world. After it loses the original power, it still colours our mood and behaviour.
When our impulsive over-reaction involves others, the negative results may be more serious. It, as a rule, provokes other party or parties to over-reacts, and the process continues. During this process, we may say hurtful things which do not really mean, but afterwards, when it seems to be over, it may be too late to repair the damage.
Another component which the attitude of Stability addresses is impulsiveness appearing during decision making. It is rooted in our tendency to avoid prolonging the discomfort of being in situations of uncertainty. It has not only a destabilizing effect on ourselves but on others whom such a decision affects.
It is important not to confuse impulsiveness with spontaneity, which, in spite of superficial similarity, are fundamentally different. Spontaneity refers to numerous phenomena present in physics when a process enters a critical state like one when water in 1000 C temperature is changing into a vapour. In such a state, it is impossible to predict where a little bubble of vapour will appear. Spontaneity in human behaviour may be a manifestation of wisdom. Here is an example of that: when a group of people, after some discussion, spontaneously comes to an identical decision. Again, so far, there is no acceptable neuro-physical model explaining this phenomenon.
Regaining stability requires furthering the basic practice by focusing more on integrating perceptions into the state of resting in wisdom. The next aspect of practice requiring increased attention is not forgetting that emotions are nothing separate from thoughts; they are simply thoughts carrying stronger energy than others. Developing the ability not being swayed by emotions during the preliminary practice is a precondition to retaining stability during everyday life.
After that, we can practice stability while facing the non-interactive media. It is a safe ground because of our potential reactions to whatever we see and hear, do not go beyond ourselves. We have time to return to stability without the seduction to respond.
As far as interactive media are concerned, the situation becomes more challenging since we have an easy opportunity to respond. Therefore, it is even more important to restrain ourselves by looking at the reasons which are prompting us. We invariably discover the seductive easiness to react. This discovery may break the spell, and we are able to return to the state of rest in wisdom.
The most difficult and challenging is exercising our attitude of stability during face to face interactions. In such situations, we have less time for reflection, than for example, while responding to an FB Messenger message addressed specificity to us. It is the most advanced test for our stability and retaining it is never guaranteed. But there is no choice – life constantly provides us with situations where our stability is challenged.
The last field to exercise retaining our stability is the experience of a drive to do get involved in some activity beyond responding to others. The rage of possibilities is wide, from impulsive buying something which we do not need to join a protest march.
The attitude of stability is interwoven with the last of six attitudes Discernment, which will be discussed in the following chapter. Both are necessary for decision making, particularly if there is more than one person is involved in the process, and if the results concern several people.
Before we end, I would like to emphasize once again that the essence of attitude of Stability is not static as one could expect but dynamic. It means that its main goal is to help our state of mind, after being perturbed, instead of continuing it, to return to balance. For example, we may get angry at someone but we do not continue it by holding a grudge. Also, it is important that it happens before our reaction inflicts damage to ourselves and others.