Talking Dharma – Talking Worry
A helpful way of exploring worry is by understanding the six psychological mind states that are presented in the wheel of life. These are: 1. Pleasure and contentment 2. Jealousy and power 3. Unsatisfied Want 4. Physical Pain, Emotional Turmoil and Psychological Imbalance. 5. Ignorance and Unawareness 6. Potential Awareness. They represent the experiential worlds we create out of the confusion of the conditioned self-biased mind. Each of the six mind states has its own dominant preoccupation, its own pattern of hope and fear, and its own form of worry. But even when we are caught in one of these mind states, there are ways to break free from the fixations that entrap us and perpetuate our worries.
Pleasure and contentment, or as it is known in classical Buddhism, the God realm, is the worry of perfectionism. It is a mind state of refinement, meditational bliss, material pleasure, or psychological satisfaction. It is fueled by confusion led pride and ignorance, which allows you to dwell in a self-absorbed haze of me-ness. In this mind state it is like a dream come true. But just when you finally think you have everything you ever wanted, you worry that it might all be lost. Some people create their own hiding places, whether in the form of retreat centers, gated communities, or the psychological la-la land of placebo led spirituality. But to maintain such islands of perfection, you need to divert attention away from the actuality of worry. Since you don’t want your bubble to burst you have to ignore anything that threatens it. On the surface it might seem that this mind state has very little worry but when you peel back the layers and take an honest look at what is happening you will discover a fear that it will come to an end. As a result it creates a tension when you try to prolong your special experiences and try to stop them from ending. You forget that all experiences are impermanent and transitory and this prevents the mind from being at peace with itself, others and the world around it. The problem is that as soon as you create a protected area and surround it with a wall, whether it is a literal wall or a psychological wall, there will not only be constant tension but also the worry of realizing that your experience is a manufactured one, not real. When you find yourself in this mind state the work in progress is to let go of the striving, let go of the clinging and then something fresh arises. The more you pay attention to such gaps in your scheming, the more expansive is your perspective. When the more spacious and creative mind is present, that mentality of striving and clinging begins to melt away of its own accord.
Jealousy and Power, or as it is known in classical Buddhism, the Titan realm, is the worry of the rat race. It is a mind state of envy and competitiveness. In this mind state you are never satisfied with what you have as long as someone else has more. You are striving all the time, afraid to ever stop, afraid you might get passed by. You have no sense of yourself except in comparison to those who are ahead of you and those who are coming up from behind.
Once you step onto this kind of treadmill, you cannot get off. You are always competing and see everything in terms of winning and losing. Fueled by envy, you are caught up in self-interest that never slows down. If you continue to be obsessed with success and failure, with winning and losing, your physical, emotional and psychological experience will be constricted and the mind will never be able to find peace. When you find yourself in this mind state the work in progress is to bring yourself into the present awareness of that fact that living on the basis of simplicity is actually more helpful to you, others and the world around you.
Unsatisfied Want, or as it is known in classical Buddhism, the Hungry Ghost realm is the worry of never having enough. In this mind state you want more and more, yet never get enough. No matter how much money you have, you still think you are poor. There is always more money, more power, more things you can have. It is fueled by want and creates a sense of hunger in the mind that is experienced as a sense of emptiness. Without all your things around you, the things that define who you are, you can never be complete, so you pile on more and more. There is a kind of delight in having the most and the best, but there is no stopping point and no real contentment, no matter how much you have. In this mind state there is a painful contrast between inner poverty and outer wealth. The need to satisfy that inner hunger can come to dominate your life and when in this mind state the work in progress is to explore helpful ways to break that pattern and bring the inner world and outer world into greater balance, so that your appreciation of outer wealth is matched by the recognition of your inner richness.
Physical Pain, Emotional Turmoil and Psychological Imbalance, or as it is known in classical Buddhism, the Hell realm is the worry of internal warfare. In this mind state, you are always enraged. You find enemies everywhere, and you are always fighting. You are always on edge, ready to defend yourself or to lash out. You are afraid that if you relax, you will be threatened or destroyed, so you strike first if you can. You are either red hot or ice cold. Fueled by ill-will, you create wars and conflicts both large and small. You are fearful and in pain, like a cornered rat, and all you can do is attack. This mix of resentment, pain, and anger makes it hard to even breathe. Seeing the world in terms of us and them, for us and against us, keeps fueling this anger and warfare. When caught in this mind state the work in progress is to fall back into kindness for yourself and opening up to the actuality of interconnectedness.
Ignorance and Unawareness, or as it is known in classical Buddhism, the Animal realm is the worry of Habit. In this mind state you establish habits of stability that are boring and repetitive, but you lack the imagination to do anything else and are afraid to change. You are set in your ways and find new ideas threatening. You might have glimmers of inspiration to change, but laziness and inertia drag you down. You would like not to be stuck, but you keep doing the same things over and over again nonetheless. You are fueled by confusion and are afraid to rock the boat or to venture out from what is familiar, even if it is unhelpful. You create bureaucracies with incomprehensibly mindless regulations and procedures. Although a person in this mind state may appear to be calm and stable, it is more than likely an act to buffer them and protect them from facing the energy and intensity of life. The stuck quality of the ignorance and unawareness is a refuge of sorts. However, it begins to be experienced as very heavy and depressing, and you are afraid that this will never change. The worry in this mind state is not sharp but dull. Your habits of body, speech and mind seem completely solid and invincible. There is a frozen, mind-numbing energy. When you find yourself in this mind state the work in progress is to intensify your ethical practice and meditation.
Potential Awareness, or as it is known in classical Buddhism, the Human realm is the worry of insecurity. This mind state is one of passion and longing for relationship. You experience yourself as imperfect and incomplete and look for ways to fill that emptiness. When you are lonely, you try to connect, but once you make a connection, you can experience claustrophobia and disappointed. When you choose one person to connect with, you wonder whether you could have found someone better. Whatever you do, you think there might be something better that you have missed out on. In this mind state, you are fueled by want. You worry about how you are perceived by others and are somewhat obsessed with your popularity. Although you create shifting coalitions of relationships, none of them is all that stable. You are always insecure, and your mind hops all over the place. On top of it all, you think too much, which complicates everything. In this mind state you long to experience more substantiality and are afraid of your own vulnerability. If you are always looking outside yourself for some kind of confirmation, you will be worried all the time. When you find yourself in this mind state the work in progress is introspection in order that moments of spontaneous insight may arise that will show you that you need no external confirmation. You find that you do not need to second-guess yourself. You can appreciate what you are experiencing whether or not there may be something better going on somewhere else.
Underlying all our worries is the engine that keeps them going. It has the three component parts. The first and most important is the confusion of the separate self-biased mind. The second is our pre-conscious reactions of like and don’t like and then there is our habitual patterns of thinking, speaking and acting. If you look into your anger, poverty mentality, competitiveness, or greed, you will find them there. If you examine how you continually cycle between hope and fear, you will find they are the cause. It is an internal Mafia to which we pay protection money in every moment of existence. Once we lose our sense of interconnectedness of all things and identify with this one little part, which we label “me,” “myself,” or “I,” there will be conflict and struggle. In order to prop up and defend that “I,” we need to apply our arsenal of unhelpfulness, our grasping, ignoring, ill-will and all the rest. And once those energies are unleashed, we start doing stupid and unhelpful actions. For those actions, we reap consequences, and once again the cycle is set up, as we react to those consequences in the same unhelpful manner.
Fundamentally, until we penetrate these deeper supports for the worries we experience on the surface of life, we will continue to be tossed about by hope and fear and bounce back and forth within these six basic psychological mind states and the mind will never be at peace with itself, others and the world around it. There will be what we call the good times and bad times, but there will continue to be an undercurrent of worry in whatever we do.
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