Life is probably the only journey in which each individual can choose any path that an individual wants to but the destination remains the same for everyone. The length of our journeys is neither known to us nor is it easily controllable. During the journey, one is put into situations without choosing them; we do not choose the family we are born into, our nationality, the society and its multiple values/customs/constraints. What we can choose is the way we lead our lives. This is based on a mental structure that includes our beliefs, goals, priorities, values, likes, dislikes and our effort.
More often than not, an individual develops a certain mental structure at a young age without even realising that constructs are created in himself. These solidify over time. As life goes on, there are situations which conflict with these constructs. We see them as problems or conflicts. We endure stress or pain, the ego gets hurt, we undergo emotional turmoil and suffer.
The situational trigger
This is what I experienced about a year or two ago. I was severely affected at an emotional level on a daily basis and this, in turn, affected my routine activities and outlook on life in general. However, I did not take action on time to change the situation since it conflicted with my mental structure. I finally got out of it but the suffering left a deep scar.
The situation was quite simple; my job environment did not suit me, due to which I experienced tremendous and traumatic suffering mentally and emotionally every day. All that I had to do was quit, take a break to heal from the ordeal and find a more suitable environment when I was ready. Getting back might have been challenging but certainly not impossible in my early twenties. While an unsuitable job environment seems like a simple issue, the emotional impact on me was devastating and I contemplated suicide.
A self-constructed cage
I finally quit my job but why did I let the problem grow to this extent? Why did I not quit earlier and free myself? The primary reason was my own notion that I had set in stone. I defined myself and my life based on my career. This was the solid structure that I had had in my head. I believed that holding on to a solid corporate job, which was my prized possession at that time, was important even if it was killing me. When the time came to choose between my life and my job, I was unsure because of the value I attributed to it and not due to any external pressure. Problems arise because something external challenges the structure which is constructed in our mind.
Where do these structures come from?
How do value systems get embedded in a person’s mind so deeply that they can even overshadow the value of life itself? As mentioned earlier, these structures are built over time but they start at a very tender age. They are derived from seemingly minor incidents, observations during childhood and ideas that have been implanted at a young age. Over time, the summation of all inferences and ‘lessons learnt in life’ form a person’s mental structure.
Early on in my life, my parents (mainly my father) ingrained the importance of being career-oriented. I attended my first career counselling session when I was 12 years. During my teens, I kept listening to and internalising the idea that establishing and having a flourishing career is what makes life meaningful. At one stage I began living by this principle and started making decisions based on it. Everything went well up until the point where this mental structure was questioned by intense suffering. Was there nothing more I valued than a good job? Was I ready to lose anything, even my life, for it? Was I living a life or building a resume? Why am I enduring this?
An interesting start to my spiritual journey
It was at this point at which I decided to quit my job. My journey until then had been fairly linear. It was after taking a leap of faith that my life began meandering; I wanted to reassess myself, gain a renewed perspective on life and change my approach. Luckily, I became aware of the Divine presence in and around me by way of a workshop I attended. Simultaneously I read more, I tried new things, I indulged in activities that I had once trivialised and I met different people. One such person is the inspiration behind this blog post. Little did I know that a right swipe on a dating app will bring direction to my spiritual progress. The ways of the Divine are truly wowing.
What I have written so far probably puts mental structures in a very negative light. However, they do have their functions. Each individual is a part of society and cannot exist alone on an island. Going by established conventions can open up avenues to learning and growth. Early on, these structures instil a moral compass and a sense of responsibility. They also enable us to be well-adjusted members of a social group. If I had not had the urge to study and work, I might have slacked off and become a burden to society. If I did not have the urge to do something productive, I might have not have had experiences that led me to spirituality. This leads us to a key question:
How does one deal with mental structures?
If a person ensures that they do not act based on their own preconceived notions or emotions, they are mentally free. Becoming aware of one’s mental structure can help. I found the answer to the question ‘where is a particular notion coming from?’ in the works of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. They also discuss mental silence. Allowing peace to descend into one’s mind can quieten it. Filling the mind with peace instead of trying to stop the incessant flow of thoughts can pave the way for the Divine to flow.
Being completely present in the moment, without carrying baggage from the past or worrying about the future can help us live freely. As we traverse along different paths leading to the same destination, let us live each moment fully instead of suffering due to our self-constructed cages.
What is one belief that drives your decisions and actions yet causes suffering? Can you free yourself from it?