You are not your mind.
– Eckhart Tolle
This is the second part in a four part series focusing on the body, mind, heart and spirit. To read about the body, click here, or read on for a whole new perspective on your mind. Who would have thought?
It is election day here in Australia, a day when politicians from left, right, central and waaaay out there, all make desperate last pitches for the hearts and minds of the electorate. Voting is compulsory in our country, but I would argue that not all voters are equal, because rational thinking and decision making is unfortunately optional. The fact that there are many people who rely on 30 second election ads, tabloid headlines and five second grabs on the nightly news to select their candidates, should give a hint that their mind is not the primary instrument of their decision making process. In order to make good decisions, not just about who to vote for, but for the many choices that we face in our daily lives, we have to have a mind that is sharp. When we don’t use our rational faculties, we become superstitious and irrational. When we overuse them, we become blinkered, dismissive and judgmental. Again, it’s about balance.
Our mind is a wonderful gift. Using our mind, we can analyse, discern, differentiate and understand. We can determine good from bad, right from wrong and yes from no. Used correctly, our mind can be the sharpest tool in our toolbox, but if used incorrectly or not maintained, it can be blunt or dangerous. You can either work your mind or it can work you. If you work it, it can be an amazing tool, sharp and incisive. If it works you, it will be like you have a circus full of monkeys in your head all day and night.
The first thing to understand is that we are not our minds, and we are not our thoughts. Eckhart Tolle, whose wisdom on the power of the present moment has changed the lives of millions of people around the world, says that the single most important step on our journey to enlightenment is to learn to dis-identify with our mind. Most of us exist in a world that we have created in between our two ears. The thoughts that we have about our lives are more important than the reality of our lives. We think thoughts about people and give reasons for their actions without checking if our assumptions are true. We decide how something should be before we begin and then get disappointed when it doesn’t follow our arbitrary design. We label, dissect and analyse even the simplest and natural of events, like a sunrise, a baby or a beautiful tree, in the process creating separation from what is actually in front of us. This process of filtering everything through our mind creates an opaque barrier between us and our life, much like a raincoat. We don’t get wet, but we’re on one side and our life is on the other.
So, in order to break the mind circuit and re-route it, we start to play a little game with our mind (our minds love to play games – better you playing it than it playing you). Again, we start in very simple situations, preferably alone. This gets exponentially more difficult when we are around people and even more difficult when we interact with them, so start simply. Notice something with one of your senses: see something, hear something, touch something, smell something, taste something. Notice how quickly your mind jumps in to interpret, compare and analyse. Put a space between your sensual experience and your thoughts about that experience.
For example, look at a flower. Your mind will want to jump in, excitedly telling you the name of the flower, the exact colour shade, whether you like it, something that it reminds you of, how it grows and anything else it can think of. There is nothing wrong with these thoughts, except for the fact that you are no longer experiencing the flower, you’re now thinking about the flower. Do you see how there is now a barrier between you and your sensual experience? The idea of this game is to remove the barrier between you and your experience. When you first start, you may be able to manage a split second before your mind jumps in, which is totally perfect. Keep practicing, increasing the time between the experience and your thoughts about the experience. As you become more confident, increase the level of difficulty by bringing people into the equation; first with people that you don’t know, and then people that you do know. When you are people watching, catch yourself thinking thoughts and making judgments, and insert space where the thought used to be. Focusing on the breath is a perfect instrument for creating space in your thoughts.
Tolle says, “When you don’t cover up the world with thoughts and labels, a sense of the miraculous returns to your life that was lost a long time ago when humanity, instead of using thought, became possessed by thought.” To tame our mind, to put it back where it belongs, we need to focus on calming and sharpening. Think of your mind as a tool, that you pick up when you need it, and when you have finished, you put it back down. Our mind, unsurprisingly, is somewhat resistant to this concept. It will throw tantrums, you will feel resistance, doubt and anger. Don’t worry about it. Watch your thoughts, and remember, you are not your thoughts, you are the presence behind your thoughts. Say to your mind, lovingly, that it will work much better if it is not permanently switched on. If you have an active intellect, give your mind plenty to do, so that it is not bored and making trouble. In my experience, as an intellectually active person, it is important for me to feed my mind, to give it plenty to chew on, or it will make projects of things that don’t need to become projects, like my children or my husband for example! Know yourself, know what you need. If you are a critical thinker who loves to analyse and understand the world – great! Go and study and make sure your work uses your skills. Feed your mind, sharpen it, then put it down and rest it. That way, your mind will be a tool that you can use, consciously and appropriately.
Next: The importance of the Heart <3.