I am new to Vedanta, new to James Swartz, new to computers, and new to shiningworld, but only blessedly so! I am going through a second reading of “How to find Enlightenment”. I confess to reading it the first time like inhaling chocolate, but this time am savoring the fine details. I am already hooked on Vedanta as I was completely unaware that a scientific study had been made of consciousness in such a complete and thorough manner. I read Shankara’s “Crest-Jewel of Discrimination” about 20 years ago and even though I found his writing compelling, I foolishly rejected him as an anomaly of human nature, not realizing that his findings were based on the illustrious foundation of Vedanta.
The reason I am writing is because I have post-traumatic stress disorder and a mild dissociative disorder. I know intellectually, that they are mere appearances and that is not who I am, but when they rear their ugly heads, they can be overwhelming, sometimes more than others. Thankfully, my mind is normally fairly quiet and I am able to practice then. I am wondering if you might have any tips for how to maintain conscious awareness during stressful periods. I have no one to support me in my practice, except for the precious knowledge that I am the one on whom I do depend and that gives me great courage!
Thank you for your time,
Nice to make your acquaintance via cyberspace (since you’re new to computers, that’s a cool term for through the computer that makes it sound like we’re convening about a covert operation or some such affair 🙂
. . . and that’s a smiley face to let you know that I’m making a joke and most likely being less “professional” than you imagined a Vedanta teacher would be). So, okay, down to business.
First, let me say that if you’re looking for moksha (freedom), you’ve definitely found your way to the right place. James’ book is a lifesaver. And your approach is commendable. It sounds like you are a mature seeker who knows that mystical visions and transcendental states — amazing and perhaps even inspirational as they may be — are not the answer. Vedanta is a science and the object of study is you. The weird part about it, however, is that you as awareness are not object you can see. All you can do is set the cat of knowledge (i.e. Vedanta) loose in your mind, and let it kill the rat of ignorance that has been gnawing away at your peace and happiness. But you know this.
The reason I use the cat and mouse analogy is to emphasize that ignorance is not the big, scary monster we sometimes fear it to be and almost universally treat it as. In other words, it is not some insuperable opponent that we cannot overcome. We need to wield the right weapon, however, that is suitable for delivering a deathblow. And, for us Vedantins, that weapon is knowledge. So it is great that in light of the challenges you are facing in the form of PTSD and mild dissociative disorder, you at least draw your chariot onto the battlefield armed with the intellectual understanding that the “moods” these conditions inflict upon you are nothing more than appearances in you, awareness, but have nothing to do with who you really are.
I am not familiar with the symptoms of mild dissociative disorder, but I know from my experience with people suffering from PTSD that the intensely negative emotional states that it can provoke are difficult, if not altogether impossible, to quell while they are occurring. The best advice I can offer is to maintain constant vigilance with regard to your state of mind. When you come to Chapter 12 in James’ book, pay special attention to the various methods he describes through the application of which you can enjoy a direct reflection of your true nature as limitless, ever-free awareness. Also pay close attention to Chapters 10 and 11 in which he discusses the ropes (gunas), which are the three basic qualities that constitute all of creation and color our experience of it. Cultivating a clear and balanced mind and a healthy body can be very helpful in preventing the chemical imbalances that manifest as the symptoms of the disorders with which you are dealing. Probably sounds like common sense, but to be honest that is basically what a lot of Vedanta boils down to. We use common sense to cultivate a clear mind that is capable of assimilating the teachings concerning our true nature that are quite honestly counter- intuitive (e.g. The world really seems like a dualistic array of various objects even though the truth is all of the objects are nothing other than you . . . though you as awareness are not the objects in the sense that all the objects are made of you, consciousness, and appear in you, consciousness, but you are ever free of them in the same way that a dream world appears in you and seems quite real to you, the dreamer, while you sleep but upon awakening you, the waking state entity, find yourself untouched by the events of the dream).
In order to transform your intellectual knowledge into direct or immediate knowledge, you need to consistently dwell on and apply the teachings. There really is no other way. The more you think from the perspective of the self, the witness, which is quite honestly the ordinary awareness in which all Amelia’s experiences, both “inner” and “outer,” and indeed Annie herself appear, the more confident you will become in confidently, unreservedly, and fully assuming it. It is after all your true identity. This will take some time — or not — depending upon how ripe you are, but you just have to stick with it. As James’ often urges, you’ve got to fake it ‘til you make it. Though this advice may sound a bit flimsy, I assure you it is not. The truth is that is simply an exercising the very trick whose effects you are currently suffering. That is, due to its own self-imposed apparent ignorance (for the self has never actually forgotten who it is), the self — you, not Amelia — have faked being Amelia for so long that you have come to believe she is who you really are. But in the same way that you know the emotional turmoil that roils your mind due to the disorders is not you, so you can come to know through the repeated application the teachings of Vedanta to your daily experience that you are not the apparent individual you have taken yourself to be but rather the pure awareness that witnesses all objective experience, both in the “surrounding” apparent reality and within the mind, but remains ever untouched by it.
The more you remain conscious of your true identity when you in a balanced state of mind, the more you will prevent negative symptoms from arising and the better you will be able to deal with them if/when they do. It is a matter of prioritizing what is most important to you. If what you want is liberation, lasting peace and happiness, then the price you will have to pay for it is to remain vigilant and if you find yourself in stressful circumstances either extricate yourself from them or, if that is not an option, apply the teachings to the best of your ability within the situation. Practice discrimination (separating what’s real — you — from what isn’t — all the objects appearing in you as awareness) and dispassion (letting go of the results of your actions and accepting whatever comes as a gift from the universe). I realize the dispassion bit might sound bizarre, especially if it would be asking you to consider a PTSD symptom, for instance, as a gift. But the truth of the matter is that you have no control over what happens to you. You only have control over your reaction or response to whatever happens. And this is where the teachings come in. Let the teachings respond for you. Amelia’s tried long and hard enough, seemingly to no or very little avail. Why not take a load off and let a ten-thousand-year-old science of self-knowledge do the work for you?
And feel free to contact me at any time if you have any further questions.
All the best to you, Amelia.