Maximizing the potential of the mind
We are all here on a project. It is a lifelong one which involves trying to make something of the time we are allocated, between birth and death. The focus may be external or internal, but the essential tool is the mind. Whether we want to enjoy the world and accumulate possessions or venture into the depths of our being, the starting point is always the mind. It cannot be ignored or cast aside. The mind will not reciprocate and ignore us in return, but it will come at us with a much higher force than before if we try to push it aside forcibly. Life may seem like a long journey when the mind is not on our side and providing us with the happiness we seek. However, whatever we accumulate with the help of the mind exists only as long as it exists, including the pleasure we derive with the help of the mind. Both the mind and our identity which it holds within are fighting time. If we create conflict within the mind, we are in the squeeze between a hostile mind and uncompromising time. We will not be able to lead a fulfilling life.
No matter how much wealth we accumulate, all that will have to be left behind. Not at the end of life as we may readily conclude, but each night we go to sleep. Every day is an opportunity for a new start. The mind is fresh when we first wake up, and we can maintain its freshness if we are not quick to grab the mental possessions of yesterday. It is perfectly all right to keep the lessons we may have learned that have shaped our lives for the better, but why hold onto the tools that gave us those lessons? The means to determine life’s lessons are our thoughts. Instead of keeping the essence of that learning and discarding the rest, we do the opposite.
Life is a great storyteller. Embedded within those stories are essential clues which we can use to learn more about ourselves. Everything in life is a “real life” situation. Our waking reality is not a dream which we can put aside and quickly forget. A bee extracts honey from a flower leaving the rest of the bulb intact as if that flower was never touched. Similarly, if we extract lessons from any situation we may be faced with, both positive and negative, without “touching” the circumstances through identification with them, they will remain as harmless entities in the mind space. Moreover, we are left with the essence which will help build the bank of experience in the long run. Only when we try to pluck a flower do we have to contend with hidden thorns on the stem of the plant. Those thorns can do nothing to the eyes that see them. Similarly, witnessing thoughts without interacting or identifying with them will give us valuable information without them becoming part of our permanent mental baggage.
That baggage may contain precious thoughts and memories. However, regardless of how valuable they may be to us, they add to the overall “weight” we will have to carry in the mind wherever we go. We think of thoughts as easy to carry around since they have no physical basis, but the light of awareness will have to percolate through them. The perception of the mind being apart from our inner being dims with each thought that captures our attention. Ideas can bubble up at any moment. Even the subtlest movement of thought can violently shake a perfectly still moment. We think that just because thoughts remain hidden, they stay still. However, that is not the case with those buried deep within the mind. Just as ocean currents are active on the surface and in its depths, thoughts which we may have squirreled away in memory are active even if they are not available to the conscious mind.
Currents in the depths of the ocean have more power as they have to move a larger body of water under tremendous pressure exerted by the weight of the column of water. It takes less force, and it is much easier to move water on the surface. This example may help explain why we find it so hard to sit still. When we begin to practice stillness of the mind, through conscious effort, we can gently move aside thoughts that may be on the surface. Many of them are not attached to deeper threads and may seem random. With a little bit of attention on our part, we can cast them aside. However, our focus may not be strong enough to keep deeper and more anchored thoughts away from our field of perception. Those rise and make the mind busier than ever. Feelings related to distant and long forgotten events may crop up. Only by breaking our attention on trying to sitting still can we drive away those persistent thoughts of the past. However, where can they go? They don’t disappear forever. They go back to their resting place deep in the subconscious mind, to the storehouse where they wait for another opportunity to invade the conscious mind.
The mind had no depth when we came into the world. There were no hidden dimensions. If there were, we would not associate a genuine innocent smile with infants. They know of no past, and they don’t even know there is a future. They are just here as they are. If they knew about a future, they would also carry the same serious frowns that adults wear as their headgear. Just as space in the universe came about before it filled up with heavenly objects from space dust to gigantic galaxies, the area we associate with the mind had to have been there well before we started identifying with thoughts, picking and choosing amongst them and thereby allowing them to go into storage in the deeper layers of the mind. These thoughts form the foundation of our conditioning, and we layer additional knowledge we gain on that foundation.
No one comes into the world with pre-acquired knowledge. Some can accumulate it rather quickly and efficiently, and others may be on a slower track. Regardless of the speed and efficiency of our intellect, the acquisition of knowledge is always from an external source. Just as words cannot escape the paper they are printed on and are of limited use unless we transmute those words into external action, the knowledge that is acquired by the mind cannot leave the mind, and it is not of any use unless we apply that knowledge towards something useful.
Any knowledge we acquire and store in the mind, if used correctly, will leave a mark, however small or faint. This acquired knowledge is recycled in the mind and may be worked on and turned into a new creation. However, we cannot claim it as our own. The initial source is external, and someone else would have had a hand in it. When we use acquired knowledge to leave a mark on the world, any achievement that follows links to that information stream and by extension it becomes the property of the world.
We are quick to forget that. Once we achieve something, we stay with the achievement even as it recedes into the past. Once we slip into the past and cling to our successes, we can no longer remain open, fresh and innocent. Even the body and the mind are not our creation. We will have to return them one day. We cannot turn the body into the what it was when we first came into the world. Upon our departure from the world we can, with effort, return the mind as fresh, free and straightforward as it was on the day we were born.
At birth, the mind is like a lump of wet clay. A chunk of wet clay may be shapeless, but we can mold it into whatever form we choose provided we do it before the mud dries. Once it dries, we will have to crush again, powder and add water to make it a soft lump once again. Similarly, in children, the mind starts as soft and easily pliable energy which can take shape into a form that will become an asset not just to the one holding that mental energy but also to the world. The responsibility initially lies with adults, and subsequently, it shifts to the holder of that mental energy as children grow up. Conditioning causes drying and hardening of the mind. Chances are, most if not all adults have conditioning in one form or another. It may be close to impossible to find someone with a pure, uncontaminated and fresh mind. By imposing our will and fixed ideas on children, we cause the premature “drying of their mind,” and they become less able to soak up fresh ideas and insights.
Our limited existence is a long project which centers on building something. The desire to leave behind a legacy may not be in the forefront, but the desire to create a life of happiness which we can draw upon whenever and wherever we choose to do so is always there at the top of the mind. If we start with the desire to leave a legacy, contribute to the world or create something new we will not get very far. That desire will consume our mental energy. When the focus is on extracting the most out of the mind without aiming for a specific result in whatever endeavor we choose, that in of itself will be the greatest reward. All great things have been achieved through trial and error. Forget about great scientific achievements, cultivating the mind as our ally which supports us throughout life is itself a significant step. Befriending the mind is an incremental process that takes time, and we will likely make mistakes along the way. Lessons from every mistake we make will bring us that much closer to a lasting friendship with the mind.
When a lump of clay becomes a pot, it will need to be fired in an oven at high temperatures for a while, and once that is done, that pot can be used for a long time provided we take care not to cause it any damage. The potter does not hold onto to his creations. He or she gives it to others for their use. Similarly, to forge a friendship with the mind and motivate it to be an agent of good in the world will require us to burn our ego and subject the mind to the fire of our willpower and attention. The finished product, our achievements using the mind are best left for the world to benefit and enjoy. We must become like a potter who does not hold onto his pots but distributes them for others to use. We can become busy potters, shaping thoughts and creating new ideas through them however big or small. Any change is a change.
A potter does not cling onto his or her broken and unfinished pots. During the course of making pots, there may be several which may not make through as a finished product. That clay can be recycled and used again. Similarly, there are many not so useful and unfinished thoughts or thoughts of the past which are not beautiful, which bring us sadness and misery. Just as a broken pot can turn into unrecognizable bits and pieces of clay, we can convert that stored energy trapped in thoughts of the past into new mental strength, a new potential waiting to be shaped, baked and turned into something useful.
For that, we will need detachment with awareness. Detachment to let go of old thoughts, and knowledge to recognize that what we are letting go are old and broken forms which serve no additional purpose. Along with that, we need the awareness to realize that the change or destruction of the form of our thoughts cannot destroy the energy trapped in those forms.
When we talk of mental freedom, what we are referring to is freeing up mental energy. Detachment from our thoughts and awareness of the energy in which they come and go will free up time. De-identification from thoughts and awareness of the space in which they come and go free up mental energy.
The combination of time, patience, commitment, willpower, knowledge, and detachment from the outcome will turn the mind into a masterpiece that will remain with the world long after we have left the project site, our body.
Even without complete purity of mind, we can use what we currently have in the form of mental energy and maximize its potential by following a few simple steps and keeping these principles in mind.
1. Recognition of the energy we call the mind is not fixed, but we can transform it through our willpower.
2. Acknowledging that no one but ourselves can bring about change within ourselves.
3. Inner change is not a once in a lifetime event but a continuous process like our breathing.
4. There is no set method or prescription.
5. Every moment of delay makes it that much harder.
6. Whatever good we do is not for personal gain or the benefit of others, but we are just expressing what it is to be a human being, just as trees don’t scrub carbon dioxide from the air for personal gain or the welfare of the world.
7. Happiness is not a goal but a byproduct of human life that we lead in accordance with our place in existence.
8. There is nothing due to us, and there is nothing we can leave behind.