Many human beings live in a state of bondage and do not know it. I am not referring to a physical bondage but to a mental prison. In this blog I will describe the three states of consciousness and a pathway to achieve liberation from this stressful mental prison. First, I would like to start off with a story that highlights what I mean by this dreadful, self-created, mental prison.

Long ago there were twin brothers raised in a small village. They were best friends and raised in the same household. Once they were young adults, they were ready to move on and experience a new world. The first twin left and was going to the nearest Village but at the entrance was a wise old GateKeeper. Upon arrival, the Gatekeeper had one question that would determine if he was allowed to enter the new Village.

Then, the Gatekeeper said, “How were the people in your village?”

The first twin said, “Oh, they were kind, gentle, friendly, and compassionate. I will miss them dearly.”

The wise Gatekeeper said, “That's exactly the people you'll find in this Village, please come in you are welcome here.”

Shortly thereafter, the second twin came up to the wise old GateKeeper. The Gatekeeper asked the same question, how are the people from your village.

The second brother said, “They were mean, cruel, hypercritical, judgemental and I am so happy to be leaving that Village.”

The wise Gatekeeper said, “That's exactly the people you'll find in this Village, you are not welcome here.”

Then the twin brother said, “But I understand that my twin brother was allowed in why can’t I be allowed in?”

The wise Gatekeeper said, “There are many forms of prison, you seem to carry yours with you wherever you go.”

This story highlights how our inner world colors our perception of reality and creates suffering and unhappiness. Humans can consciously generate joy and experience peace.

Let's describe the three states of human consciousness. These three states can be simplified as agitation, dullness, or lucidity. (Also known as rajas, tamas, and sattva in the ancient Three Gunas philosophy) The goal to inner peace and happiness is to have a lucid cognition. Drugs, alcohol, stimulants, pharmaceutical drugs, and heavily processed animal-based foods lead to dullness and agitation. Under the influence of this heavy cloud we cannot experience true freedom. With this heavy burden of agitation and dullness we succumb to severe mental stress that may lead to hallucinations, delusions, active suicidal ideation, homicidal ideation, severe depression and anxiety, etc that require immediate help and may require hospitalization. Sometimes this happens through involuntary psychiatric hospitalization to protect the patient from harming themselves or harming others. A minority of humans are suffering from this extreme form of mental stress that leads to bondage, both mental and physical.

Most humans are stable enough and don’t need hospitalization. However they are bound by a mental prison, and although they are physically free, they experience great suffering and anguish. Therefore, we should all aspire for a lucid cognition or a sattvic consciousness to experience true freedom, happiness and contentment. The serenity and contentment that comes with a lucid cognition promotes liberation, both physically and mentally. Some know this as self-actualization. This is not some Shangri-La, near impossible to attain state of Nirvana or Enlightenment reserved for a chosen few. This freedom, self-actualization, is accessible to us all. It is instructive to view these three states on a happiness continuum for ease of understanding. For who amongst us doesn't want to experience more and more happiness to the point of true satisfaction, equanimity and contentment? I can express a simplified version of these three states of human consciousness on the One to Ten happiness scale seen below.


In this scale a 1 represents those unfortunate individuals who are actively suicidal, homicidal, delusional, and need immediate hospitalization to prevent self harm or harm to others. The vast majority of others are vacillating between the number 2 through 10. Some are living mostly from number 10 on this scale and thus have liberation. To be clear, all humans usually experience 2 through 10 on the happiness scale during life, and sometimes within the span of one day. The goal to living a full and free life is to experience mostly a 8, 9, or 10, the majority of the time. Research shows that happiness is a choice. Those self-actualized individuals may experience a 2 or 3 and feel sadness from a loss. But after fully experiencing the sadness they let it go without resistance. On the other hand, those that are constantly vacillating between a 2 and 9 with resistance are experiencing a form of slavery and suffering. They are slaves to their thoughts and emotions, thus are caught in a mental prison. They are prisoners to likes and dislikes, cars, consumerism, politics, social media, name and fame, smartphone, the weather, and the volatility of the stock market. They are trapped on the hedonic treadmill that leads to unhappiness and dissatisfaction in life. This is also known as Dukkha. How is it that some humans can experience complete inner freedom and others carry a prison with them wherever they go? The answer comes from our evolutionary neurobiology and understanding that our brains are hard-wired for suffering.

The default mode network (DMN) of the human brain and the negativity bias are the driving factors that generate severe mental stress and create bondage. In the jungle, the DMN and the negativity bias allowed us to survive and propagate our progeny to the next generation. The DMN of our brain allows us to think about the past and plan for the future, it is our wandering mind. In the jungle, we remembered a time the saber tooth cat jumped from the tall grass and killed a tribe member. Then we plan for the future and avoid walking near the tall grass. In modern times, we ruminate about the past and this generates pain and sorrow. We fantasize about the future and this causes fear and suffering.

The negativity bias allowed us to survive the many perils confronted in the jungle. While foraging for food in the jungle if we sampled 20 different plants in one day and one was bitter and made us sick it made an indelible imprint in our memories. Our brains are hard-wired to remember the negative. This conferred a survival advantage, hence humans have long almost photographic memories for negative experiences. In modern times, we have 20 great things happen to us throughout the day but one mean email in the morning and the day is ruined. Therefore politicians use negative ad campaigns.

Our negativity bias and our wandering mind leads to uncontrolled chronic mental stress. Uncontrolled chronic mental stress leads to disease. This activates the sympathetic adrenal medulla axis and the hypothalamic-pituitary axis releasing adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. Over time, this cascade of stress hormones leads to damage of every organ system in the body. See diagram below.

This chronic uncontrolled stress also leads to a mental prison. The diagram below explains how this phenomenon happens.

There is a stimulus, then without conscious thought a reflexive reaction. This is compulsory and reactionary living. The stimulus could be self-generated by a feeling of sadness or anger then an explosion in the form of road rage or domestic violence. The stimulus could be a self generated thought from a memory or an anxiety about the future that triggers a cruel reaction in the form of hurtful speech, overeating, smoking, doing drugs, and any countless form of self-sabotage. The stimulus could come from an external source such as a spouse, co-worker, or email that produces a harmful reaction without thought. In its most extreme example this stimulus reaction cycle can lead to self-harm or harm of others. In its most pervasive manifestation people are slaves to their thoughts and emotions. They are at the whim of external factors and live life as if robots without choice. On the other hand when there is a stimulus and we consciously choose a healthy and nurturing response we have freedom. Living mindfully with intention creates a spaciousness to choose your response in any situation. This is liberation.

How can we get out of this vicious reactionary cycle that is influenced by our evolutionary past? The key is found in meta-cognitive awareness or thinking about thinking. The first step is to become aware of our thoughts, emotions, and actions. In Eastern wisdom this is known as witness consciousness. When we witness our restless mind ruminating about the past and fantasizing about the future, we could direct our thoughts back to the present moment. When we find ourselves being negative, we could highlight all the positive things in our lives. The secret lies in our behavior. We can witness our restless monkey mind and our emotional turbulence and choose not to react. Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves recognizing how our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interrelated and how we can consciously influence one to positively affect the others.

The problem that leads to bondage, suffering, and a mental prison is an uncontrolled wandering mind and the negativity bias that leads to unhealthy behaviors. The solution lies in understanding our evolutionary neurobiology. To combat our negativity bias we practice the Loving-Kindness meditation every morning. (A Prayer or Gratitude practice engenders similar benefits) This sets the intention for the entire day and allows us to highlight all the positive things in our life. This will allow us to experience happiness with the simple pleasures in life and generates joy with being alive. Then when we notice our mind wandering on the past and future, we bring it back to the present moment. The present moment is the only place that true happiness exist. By doing a Loving-Kindness Meditation or gratitude practice every morning to set the intention for the day and witnessing the moment-to-moment awareness without judgement we generate happiness and well being. With this practice we promote a spaciousness to choose our response in any situation. Therefore we become the conscious choice makers to create our health destiny. Furthermore, with this practice our behavior becomes spontaneous right action that is nurturing, healing, and free. Let us witness our thoughts and emotions instead of being a slave to them. This practice leads us from bondage to liberation and the experience of true freedom and happiness in 2019 and beyond.