The Importance of the Mind

einstein

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.

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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.

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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.

16 comments

  1. Such a great post! Meditation is the key for me in getting some relief from my mind working me – and that is taking some discipline, which my mind is of course resisting. I’m also trying to spend less time on social media, which is also a challenge because I love so many aspects of it. Practice practice practice. I do look forward to the meditation I mentioned in my post (the 40 day Kirtan Kriya). Having a structure – specific meditation for a set number of days – really helps keep me on track. Btw I loved what you shared in your comment on Elysha’s blog – about your aura pic being green after your heart meditation. Fascinating! xo Aleya

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  2. You never cease to amaze me in the way and timing you echo my-our thoughts… only yesterday the G.O. and I were discussing the hopelessness of people making thoughtful voting choices… sigh.
    And, your comment that bored minds may make ill-advised projects of things… well, I have been both the victim and perpetrator of that!
    I love looking at clouds, not as clouds but what they might be, as well as other natural phenomena… the G.O. and I both saw a dragon on the beach near Bundaberg but when we posted the pic to Instagram, someone else only saw rocks…

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    • Ah, it’s good that we are on the same wavelength Dale. I fear that the voters of Cowper did not heed my advice, or not enough of them, anyway! Oh la, politics!
      I hope you’re enjoying your journey…

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  3. This is such a deceptively simple concept that we all manage to complicate. Tolle has helped me so much to understand this and you have done well to further illustrate how we might experience our true selves. A good friend of mine calls it ‘the story’ when we begin to believe what our minds create, rather than that which is beneath it all. This is a very good series of posts you are sharing with us, thank you Sara.

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    • Oh, you’re a Tolle fan too Ardys ā¤ļø yes, all the problems in the world begin when we believe the story in our minds above what is actually occurring…which may not be much šŸ˜Š I am so glad these posts are interesting for you xo

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  4. Brilliant post. I love the exercise of looking at the flower and just experiencing it. As I’ve been peeling away layers of soot and muck from my self, it’s interesting to watch the messages that float through my mind change. Much less chatter and more kind thoughts towards myself. I’m enjoying this series of posts very much!

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  5. Interesting that voting is compulsory there Sara, but after our recent EU referendum I have a lot of sympathy with the thought that rational thinking and decision making is optional! I try to separate my mind from experience, particularly when enjoying the natural world, but I do have that need to ‘name’ things and it often frustrates me if I don’t know what I’m looking at – I’ll bear this exercise in mind šŸ™‚

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    • O yes, Andrea – there is nothing like an election to make a person question the thinking capacity of the general population! Brexit is radical, but we have had a very odd result in our election as well, with no result and the upper house filled with all manner of independents…
      We all have this urge to categorise and name things – and sometimes it’s necessary. Often though, it’s not, and it gets in the way of our experience…thanks for reading Andrea!

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  6. I know all about the stories the mind loves to create, and then tries to convince me they’re real! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the drama! Or projects as you say. Meditation has become an essential in helping me get clear. But just as the body gets out of shape with no exercise- so does the mind –which is what I’m dealing with now after returning from a vacation with no meditation. Slowly I will find my way back. Great post, Sara!

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    • I know how it feel to have to put your routine back together after a holiday – we should just meditate and do yoga on our holiday as well! Glad you enjoyed the post Elysha xo

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