Society Magazine

Training the Mind

By Berniegourley @berniegourley


Left to its own devices, the mind is like Indian traffic: chaotic, noisy, slow-moving, relentless, and brimming with latent rage. Meditation is a tool to help unsnarl the traffic jams so that one can observe the mind as something other than indecipherable chaos.


Meditation isn’t the end game. If one goes to the gym daily to lift weights, but one has no interest in–or use for–putting one’s muscles to practical use, one is engaging in an act of vanity more than one of personal development. In the same way, if one builds one’s awareness of the mind, and doesn’t use it for betterment in one’s daily life, what is the point? What do I mean by betterment? I mean defeating the petty elements of one’s nature that cause oneself and others suffering and that keep one living in a world of delusion.


Meditation trains one to take note of the daydreams and obsessive thoughts that run through one’s mind, and to do so progressively sooner—before they can coalesce into a full-blown avalanche of negativity and delusion. In meditation, we observe these errant thoughts and then let them float on down the river. As one lives one’s waking life, however, one may take time to consider what these thoughts and daydreams are doing for one. Often one can remain ignorant of the purposes these thoughts serve, realizing only that they make one feel better temporarily.


A few of the purposes that these errant thoughts may serve are:

martyrdom (i.e. thinking the world is against one so whatever goes wrong is the result of outside forces)

-ego-boosting (imaging one has the confidence to do something one doesn’t in reality)

-empowerment (fantasizing one has power in the face of feelings of powerlessness)

-wishful thinking (imagining a perfect life just a PowerBall ticket away)


So, if these thoughts make one feel better, why shouldn’t one let them fly? For one thing, they keep one from seeing the situation as it is. The fantasy or obsessive thought becomes one’s reality and one remains ignorant of what is real. The problem is that if one wants to fix the problem, one must know what it is (i.e. have a true view of it.) If one imagines that one has no role in the problem, then how can one fix the problem? If the problem is one’s unhappiness, one can always do something—even if one can’t change the external situation.  One’s unhappiness is a function of one’s mind, and is, therefore, under one’s control.


Second, by giving into obsessive thoughts and fantasies, one becomes dependent upon them as crutches, and becomes stuck in a cycle of helplessness.


Third, when one removes oneself from the problem, one denies one’s power to change the situation—or the emotional result. One makes oneself vulnerable to manipulation. If one doesn’t recognize the ability of another person to “make one mad,” one denies them that power. (But this requires accepting that one has a responsibility for one’s emotional state, a sometimes uncomfortable proposition.)


I have a theory that the steadfast pursuit of an enlightened mind will either result in enlightenment or insanity. Why should it result in insanity? Because, the process involves stripping away the coping mechanisms that got one through each day. If one has the internal confidence (i.e. fudōshin, or immovable spirit) to stare in the mirror and see one’s flaws and weaknesses, one may achieve an enlightened state. If one lacks such confidence, seeing those flaws and weaknesses may be depressing. Of course, fudōshin  is just one side of the coin, it also matters whether one has the relative freedom from stress to lead an introspective life or whether one feels the constant pressure that propels most people back into old habits. It’s easier to make positive changes when one’s life radically changes, then the power of routine and habit lose hold.


The challenge is that the pursuit of an enlightened state of mind is a constant job. Some branches of Buddhism and other mystic religions suggest that enlightenment is a tipping point, and that once one achieves that state one is forever enlightened. I’m not in a position to refute such beliefs, but it seems that it’s more like being a sober AA member–there is an ever-present potential to revert to old habits of the mind. So, one must be ever vigilant. There’s no rest until one is dead… as far as I know.

By in Commentary, Essay, Life, Meditation, mind, Philosophy, Spirituality, wisdom, yoga on November 7, 2013.

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