How many ways can you use the word “mind?” What’s on your mind? I just don’t mind! Never mind that. Mind you’re self. I have a mind to help them. It’s a question of mind over matter! I was minded to take heed! It’s all in the mind. Mind how you go!
Are these uses or misuses of the word? When such a word is used so loosely over time, not only is meaning lost, but it becomes harder to develop an accurate awareness and clear understanding of what some describe as our most precious faculty. It isn’t helped by the absence of any exploration of the workings of the mind during our formal education. It’s a rare school that has the subject “what is the mind” on its curriculum. We were told and taught “what” to think, but not “how” to think. No one was able to show us how to use the full capacity of our mind because no one was sure what it was…exactly! At school it’s mostly mistaken for memory!
Yet we all know, from our own experience, that our mind is where everything “happens”…first! It’s where we plan, create, envision and generate our responses to others. It’s the place in the inner space of our consciousness where we think things through. Just as all our successes will begin in our mind, so all our stresses are shaped by what and how we think.
Most of us are now aware of the mind/body connection. Think “tense thoughts” and you will feel it physically in places like your shoulder muscles, or perhaps an ache in the head! Think “worry thoughts” and your stomach will send you a message asking you to stop! Think “fearful thoughts” and you will notice “the pump” in your chest start to work overtime. Think “angry thoughts” and certain areas of the skin will likely turn bright red and your blood will feel pressured…so to speak!
Restoring Mental Mastery
At a subtler level our thinking can trigger “feelings” long before they reach the physical. If we remember some previous loss, the memory shapes our thoughts which, in turn, trigger feelings of sadness. If we see someone we know and recall making our self-upset at what they said or did, we recreate the thoughts that trigger feelings of irritation or anger. If we are asked to speculate on some future situation we need to be careful not to trigger a memory of a similar situation when we felt we had suffered. That then shapes our thoughts which can become dark which, in turn, reproduces similar feelings of suffering.
Just about everything evolves through our mind, revolves around our mind and involves the use of our mind. That’s why it’s useful to check your levels of mental mastery. Is your mind doing your bidding or have you just surrendered to whatever arises, whatever is triggered, whatever arrives…in your mind? Are you the master of your mind or a slave to what’s on your mind?
For hundreds of years the primary practice for mental mastery has been the art of meditation. Over time various forms of meditation have spawned many so called “meditation techniques.” This includes the currently popular way of mind management known as “mindfulness,” a form of “attentive awareness” of what the mind is focused on at any given moment. More recently the “positive thinking/psychology” movement has arrived to teach us how to use our mind in consistently proactive and optimistic ways. All are useful. But perhaps the deepest is the art of meditation simply because meditation returns us to an “inner space” that is prior to the mind, prior to thinking. It is a state of consciousness where there is no need to think. However, our thinking is shaped naturally there by the wisdom of our heart and the purest vibration of the energy of our consciousness which we know as love. It’s also in this deeper inner space that we find our most natural states of being known as inner peace and inner power.
Levels of Reality
But it’s not possible to be in and consciously remain in these states until the mind is understood and mastered in such a way that it doesn’t get in the way! That begins with three essential insights or “necessary realizations:”
- You are not your mind. You are a being of consciousness and one of the “faculties” of you, the consciousness being, is the mind or thinking.
- The mind is like a window and a canvas. It is the “window” through which images of the physical world “out there” come “in here” to the non-physical awareness of consciousness i.e. you. It can also be likened to a “canvas” upon which you create “thought forms” which can take the form of ideas, images, concepts, memories etc.
- There are five levels of reality linked to our mind—the first level of reality is the world “out there” as in people and situations that are happening at all times, whether you are aware of them or not; at the second level are the particular aspects of world (people and situations) that you consciously “select” and “allow in” as images on the screen of your mind before you interpret them; the third is “your interpretation” and “thoughts about” those aspects that you have brought in; the fourth level is all the ideas, beliefs and memories that are already recorded within you and which you recreate, rerun, re-emerge from within by using your mind; and then finally there is the fifth level of reality which is “you” the interpreter, the creator, the rememberer! Cultivating a clear awareness and discernible difference between each of these “levels of reality” is essential to mental mastery.
In summary the five levels of reality are: (take a moment to see if you can see each level within yourself)
- The world as it is (without any selection or interpretation)
- What you consciously focus on in the world before interpretation
- Your interpretation of what you focus on
- Your inner world of beliefs and memories (close your eyes and daydream/remember/judge the memory of another)
- You (the one that is “doing” all the above, the one who is creating the other four levels of reality!)
Each level of reality is valid but each is progressively “more real” than the previous. The most real reality is YOU, the being of consciousness that is allowing the world into and onto your mind! But this reality of YOU, the reality of the self, of the “I” that says “I am,” is the reality that we all tend to be least aware of.
Your interpretation of what you see and bring into your mind from the world out there is real for you, but of a lesser reality than YOU! If you were to cease all interpretation then you would be an “innocent” and you would probably appear to others as stupid! From a state of innocence the reality we know as “the world” would appear to be clean and clear. It is an awareness prior to any interpretation. But that kind of innocence is not advisable as the world “out there” is filled with others who are not innocent, not clean and clear. And we need to be able to discern and decide how to engage with that world, with them, in ways that are beneficial to the physical health of our body and to the wellness of our being! For that we need not so much our mind, but our intellect. It is our intellect that allows us to interpret and discern what’s really “going on” out there!
Don’t Get Lost in the Movie!
Becoming the master of your mind, with the ability to discern the different levels of “reality,” requires the practice of “detached observation.” This is also the main/primary step in the practice of meditation. It is the practice of becoming aware of ones self as “the observer” of everything. It can be likened to sitting in the cinema but not losing the awareness of ones self as “the viewer” of the changing colors and forms on the screen. Not easy for most of us as we believe the whole point of going to the movies is to lose our self in the movie, to escape into the story being projected onto the screen.
In meditation the self becomes aware that, “I am simply observing whatever is happening on the screen of the mind.” We mostly develop the habit of losing our sense of self in the images and events on the screen of our own mind, like we do when we watch a movie. This is the moment when, what is known as “attachment,” happens. The practice of meditation gradually restores your ability not to lose the awareness of being the watcher, the witness, the observer, of what is occurring on the screen of your mind.
As a result you start to become aware of two things. The first is a profound inner peacefulness that brings with it a feeling of stability and serenity. The second is a growing awareness of yourself as the master of your life, where before you had more a sense of being at the mercy of others and events.
During the process of developing this practice of “detached observation” you will also start to notice how you automatically interpret whatever you see with your physical eyes, and feel with your subtle senses, according to previously formed beliefs and experiences. You will notice how you are filtering everything people do and say through an inner lens made up of your beliefs and experiences. This we know as “perception”. This is why we can all see the same scene, be meeting the same person, but have quite different “interpretations” and therefore have quite unique experiences of the same scene and person. In such moments we are creating our own reality of the scene and the person according to our own personal histories.
The more you “notice” this the more you will become aware of your own biases and prejudices. The more you notice this the more your thinking will slow and occasionally, for some moments, even stop. Eventually you will be able to maintain the awareness of “the self” as seemingly quite separate from the world AND from any interpretation of the world. That’s when you will start to restore your ability to meet others and engage with others freshly, cleanly, free of what we sometimes call the “baggage” of our past.
This of course is not so easy to do deliberately just because it sounds like a good idea in theory. Many people try to “do this” but struggle because they are trying to implement and achieve an “ideal.” But ideals are not real! At least they are not as real as the reality of you! Being the real you, free of the habit of losing yourself in what’s on your mind, will not be possible until the practice of “detached observation” is mastered. Only then will you start to notice how your past experiences, your previously learned, assimilated and formed beliefs, which are just subtle attachments within your consciousness, are interfering and skewing your perceptions and interpretations of the world and others around you.
This is why it is said, “your perception is your reality.” As long as we are filtering everything through our own personal experiences and previously create beliefs we will all see the world and people differently. Hence the saying, “I know I do not see the world the way it truly is, I know I see the world as I am!”
The practice of meditation and mindfulness are therefore essential to mental mastery i.e being the master of your first faculty which we call “mind.”
Being the Ocean
Here is a short meditation/contemplation which may help. It uses the ocean as the metaphor for consciousness, a metaphor for you, the being of consciousness.
The rain drop falls in slow motion from a cloud in the sky
As it hits the surface of the ocean it creates ripples
However the ripples do not ripple far across the surface, before they merge back into the ocean
The drop does not sink far beneath the surface before it merges fully with the ocean
Now sit quietly somewhere where you won’t be disturbed
Relax your body
Become aware of yourself being the being that animates and occupies the form of the body
Be aware of yourself being aware of yourself, as consciousness itself
You are the ocean
The “surface” of you, the ocean, is your mind
The drop falling into your being and onto your mind is the world “out there”
It’s one piece of information, one image, one event
As it lands on your mind it creates ripples
You “feel” the ripples, you feel the impact of the world on your mind
They don’t spread for far or long as they quickly merge into you
While the world as a drop of information (image/idea) penetrates “into” your consciousness it is quickly merged within your being which, like the ocean, is vast and deep
You are only momentarily and superficially affected by the incoming “drop” of information/image/idea
The peace, the stillness, in the depths of you, which IS you, remains completely undisturbed
Just as the depths of the ocean are undisturbed by a drop of rain on the surface
Even if the information coming into your mind is like a downpour of rain on the ocean, still it only touches the surface, before it is merged in the ocean
The ocean remains, in its depths, undisturbed, always.
As you do
Being is Deep
Being the master of your mind means not living in your mind. Whenever you are disturbed by something or someone “in the world” it means you are living on the surface of your consciousness, in your mind. Then, you are easily affected, disturbed and moved by what happens in the world. You easily lose your peace, your serenity, your ability to be loving and caring, to be available for others. Then you are not the master of your mind, you are the slave.
Meditation is essentially the practice of living from the depths of you, from the depths of your consciousness. From the depths of YOU, you can see and you can receive the world as it comes into and onto your mind. Yet, you are also able to remain calm and quiet, cool and peaceful, and therefore you are able to bring the wisdom of your depths, sometimes referred to as the wisdom of the heart, to bear as you consciously create your response to “what’s on your mind”!
What’s on your mind? Right now! Can you see? You will have to come out of your mind to see. But you’ll have to be very attentive to see, as what you see will instantly dissolve into insignificance when you return to the depths of you!
The world has enough surfaces. The world awaits your depth!
Question: What stops you from being in and living from a deeper space within yourself?
Reflection: Contemplate the five levels of reality and find an example of each level from your experience during the last week?
Action: Take five minutes every day and consciously detach yourself from what is going on in your mind. Notice exactly when you are pulled back into what’s on your mind.