Sunday, December 2, 2012

No Regrets. Part 2

I have no regrets and the world has no regrets.

This is the second in a series on living without regret

The way the mind processes and allots information to us leaves us, and the world as we see it, filled with regrets–the “I should have done thats” “It would have been better ifs,” etc. The goal of our spiritual path is for us to have no regrets and for the world to have no regrets, not blindly surrender to the directions of the amygdala, that almond shaped mass in the center of our brain which makes us stressed and full of regrets. 

Our goal is to learn how not to be forced to surrender to the neuropeptides that the amygdala releases into our mind and body ramping up our stress and anxiety in a variety of physical responses and psychological responses and reflexes, all of which leave us with regrets. Our goal is to train our mind to process and allot information to us in ways that leave us settled and peaceful, with no regrets.

Understanding that this is what happens, and then learning how to stop it has been the work of Buddhist monks almost 3000 years. The most prominent monks who wrote and codified the workings of the mind so that we could understand it and retrain it for the benefit of all beings were Asanga and Vasubandhu, brothers in the fourth century. 

Today neuroscientists are starting to unpack how all this happens, “empirically” to use their word, to test what Asanga and his brother observed “subjectively” It is abundantly clear from both the “empirical” and the “subjective” sides here that our mind doesn’t function to make us happier and healthier, which is the way it presents itself to us, but rather to leave us regretting either not having enough of some things (the ones the amygdala attached an affinity to) or regretting getting too much of others (the ones to which an aversion was assigned). The question is no longer about the validity of the teachings; the questions is simply one of experiencing them in a way that allows acceptance: acceptance of the Two Truths, acceptance of the Five Aggregates, acceptance of the Four Dharma Seals, acceptance of Dependent Arising.

The goal of our path and our practice, which comes from this acceptance, is to live a life without regrets, to live a life in which the world too has no regrets. We do this in three ways. First, we learn to understand that the information our mind is sending us is false and foolish, mostly pre-cognitive nonsense. Second, we learn to act in ways that make us mindful and aware instead of reflexive and reactive. And third, we commit ourselves to a regular meditation practice so that we can off-load four millions years of fictional beliefs and stories (sankharas) that are driving us and the world to regret.

In a phrase, this is “changing our karma.” As we become practiced and successful at this in the short term, we gradually become more and more peaceful and less and less regretful. As we succeed in the long term, we end our karma, the negative and nonsensical thrust that pushes us forward. Although we don’t usually write in such traditional and blunt phrasing, the goal of our practice is to end regrets by ending our karma. Ending our karma simply means ending the ability of our sankharas to drive our behavior. Without the amygdala in charge we become present to what is really happening, fully engaged with the world as it is. We become open to whatever arises, with a warm and respectful heart. We are awake, mindful and aware, which is our true nature, and then it’s over.