Kṛṣṇa, one of the beloved main characters in the Bhagavad Gītā, is the most brilliant psychologist my teacher shares, and this ancient text can teach us about how our minds work as well as how to work with the mind so we are not at its mercy.
The Ladder of Fall
In Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gītā Kṛṣṇa shares with Arjuna, his devoted student, that our senses bring our attention to objects of the world. Through this attention, we become attached to the object. Through this attachment we experience desire, and anger arises from that desire. From anger, our judgment is clouded and our memory is affected. When the memory is confused our intellect is destroyed, and finally, we are ruined. When we are ruined we fall down the ladder to the very bottom.
I’ve been noticing how this “ladder of fall” happens regularly. Last night as I went outside I felt the warmth of the sun on my skin. I saw the blue sky and the sun. I became attached to the warmth, the sunshine, and the comfort in my body. I started to desire more time in the sunshine and more warmth. As the evening progressed and the sun went down I could feel a slight chill and with the chill a slight irritation. I wanted to be warm still, and I was agitated at the temperature change and sunshine fading. For that brief moment, I forgot that I will be warm again, that the sun will come back and that nothing lasts forever. I went down the mental path of, “I am always cold” even though just a few minutes earlier I was warm. I lost my intellectual understanding in this moment of the impermanent nature of everything. Everything comes and goes, but my mind was stuck and I was “ruined” at that moment.
This also happens in relationships. For example, your friend or partner says something you don’t appreciate. Attachment and aversion are 2 sides of the same coin. If you are feeling an aversion for an object (words from another person can be seen as subtle objects) it is because there is an attachment to a different object (i.e. different words that might offer validation or support). As the words come out of their mouth you register speech with the sense of hearing. Our past experience can create an attachment to words of encouragement or words supporting your point of view. When we don’t experience this, there can be a strong desire for them to change their words. When you experience something other than the fulfillment of your desire, anger arises. “How dare you talk to me like that,” you might say internally or externally. When angry your focus can be solely on ways this person is disrespectful. The memories of when they have been kind and loving erased at this moment. Your intellectual understanding combined with this person saying something unskillful temporarily displaces your love for them. It is at this instance when we complete the fall.
Does this ladder of fall sound familiar to you? How do you experience it? I have gone about my day noticing the ladder of fall in small and big ways. Awareness of this ladder is helpful. I am learning when I use, “always” and “never” I am usually on the ladder of fall. My memory is clouded in those moments. I can go back up the ladder by focusing my attention on the senses. When I take a step back and witness my senses, I can notice a gap between the sense experience and the attachment (or aversion) to that sense experience giving me a chance to potentially avoid the fall.
Look around. What do you see? Can you notice the experience of seeing before you are aware of the thoughts about what you see? For instance there is a red pillow in front of me. When I look at it it brings up thoughts of my dog, and I feel happy and softening. Before the narrative popped in, which happens so quickly, I just saw the color red, a rectangular shape and a soft texture. What do you hear? Can you listen to the sounds without the stories about the sounds? What do you smell? How do you experience the smell before the stories of arise? What do you taste? What do you feel? Can you put the experience of feeling in words that are not rooted in good/bad, right/wrong, or like/don’t like? As I type I feel pressure in my wrists, tightness in my throat and softness in my back. When I go to label the tightness is bad and I want less and the softness is good and I want more I have started down the ladder of fall.