Can The Mind Be Trusted?
February 4, 2012
One of the less appealing aspects of an examined life for me is this whole notion of ‘mind control’. It sounds as though you are being abducted by aliens. Even when it was explained to me that ‘mind control’ was about me taking charge of my own mind, I still didn’t care for it. It meant being on guard against every thought, every impulse, each spontaneous emotion. Live life as though an android, it seemed to me. I did try it for a while. And the predictable happened: there was an initial sense of peace and well being, but that peace was very brittle. It made for a rather disciplined personality which in turn was intolerant of the chaos of others. I saw this same outcome in other practitioners also, those who were attempting against nature to be orderly and ‘in charge’. Sooner or later, this artificial dam did burst in all cases. All the suppressed emotions and desires spewed forth with a volcanic vengeance.
As I became more and more sensitive to the temperature of my inner world, I realized that my mind was something I knew very little about. I began a journal to record this onslaught of thoughts that we call the mind. For me, objectively recording on paper this stream of consciousness, without editing or censorship, made for an almost clinic method of measuring the temperature and pressure of the mind. Soon the intricate network of desires, emotions and habits exposed their workings. It was at once uncharted and fascinating.
The mind appears to fluctuate between one of three states. It is either content, dynamic or withdrawn. While all three states in themselves have their uses, the problem occurs when they are out of synch with the optimal state required. At work I need to be dynamic, but if I am feeling agitated or in a lazy stupor, then I am not at my best. Similarly before bedtime I need to detach from the world and sink into myself in order to sleep, but what if I feel excited over a dynamic idea or am worried about something? Where is the rest? Further, the human mind is an expert time-traveller. It can beam itself on a whim to any point on the space-time continuum. Everyone has had this experience of sitting in an important meeting and the mind suddenly teleports to an unrelated daydream. Highly embarrassing! The problem is obvious: this mind is highly illogical! I soon realized how disintegrated my inner life had become. But how to integrate the mind without turning into some kind of compulsive-obsessive android/Vulcan.
The term ‘mind control’ was not just a matter of semantics, a by-product of poor translation by non-English speakers. I read several books on the topic that went so far as to describe the mind as ‘the enemy’. Who wants to live at war with such an intimate aspect of himself? By all means, one should tame the mind, but must I sacrifice the joy and the spontaneity?
I struggled with this issue for a number of years. The only thing that made sense to me is that with complex things, for example machines, knowledge is control. Consider your personal computer. Surely to master it you need to learn how to operate it, not subjugate it. This was the bridging concept for me. To control the mind all I need to do what is understand its functioning, its patterns of behavior, its switches. No need to do battle with it. Master is my observation, attention without condemnation, and that does not feel arduous or living like Mr. Spock. To live with greater sensitivity to the pulse and rhythms of my inner world feels natural and enjoyable, as the insightful life ought to be.