Why is controlling a restless mind such a struggle?
The multitude of physical forms, both living and non-living entities, are reservoirs of energy with finite boundaries. Our senses can perceive those boundaries, such as the surface of a stone, the outline of a leaf, or the visible parts of the human body. The mind is also a reservoir of energy. Its form is subtle, we cannot perceive the boundaries of the mind as a whole, but we can experience the distinct separation between one thought and another. When thoughts are numerous, and in continuous movement, it becomes hard to keep up with individual thought forms. There is attention fatigue, and we perceive the mind as being restless.
The mind uses time to create space for movement
A fundamental requirement for the existence of physical matter is space. Time is of lesser importance. For the mind, time is of greater importance. Using time, the mind creates space by spreading out into the past and the future. It is through movement that the mind exists. A restless mind is in constant motion. Achieving stillness of mind implies arresting its natural state of movement.
Movement is the foundation of the mind
Movement is fundamental to the mind, just as action is central to the functioning of the heart. Each heartbeat is a whole sequence of movements of the heart muscle, its valves, and the blood that it circulates through the body. Without this motion, life would not be possible in the physical body. The mind may be considered as the heart of the psychic body. Unless the mind moves, our psychological persona cannot exist.
The physical and psychological aspects of our being go hand in hand. They are inseparable. But the mental aspect causes us more disturbance than the physical. Medicines and surgeries are available to treat any malfunction of the physical body. However, no medication or external intervention can offer lasting peace of mind.
Actively arresting the function of the mind cannot result in peace of mind. It would be like chaining the body in one position. How uncomfortable would that be? Even in sleep, the limbs are free to move. The only freedom the mind gets is when we are asleep.
Does the mind disappear in sleep?
During the day, the mind has no freedom. The ego controls it. The mind, in turn, has a hold over us through thoughts and feelings it brings up for us to experience. In sleep, the ego loses its grip over the mind, and the mind seems to disappear completely. No one can be sure it vanishes during sleep. Unless we can maintain an awareness of our deep sleep state, we cannot say if the mind truly disappears or not.
The dream state - In between ego and awareness
The dream state is in between the waking state and deep sleep state. There is awareness in the dream state, but the ego is missing. Consequently, we don’t identify with the happenings of a dream. We quickly forget both good and bad dreams upon waking up. However, we are deeply identified with the happenings of the waking state. We don’t carry our dreams from one night to another, but we take experiences in our waking state from one day to the next.
This identification with the waking state comes about due to the ego. Time influences the ego, and hence, in the waking state, we identify with a past and a future. The dreaming and deep sleep states have neither the past nor a future. The ego exists in the waking state in the present. The ego is tiny compared to the magnitude of the present. To illustrate this, consider a wooden stake that is placed in a large field. The wooden stake serves as a point of reference in the field, but it cannot become the field. Similarly, the ego is pitched on the ground of the present. Within that ego, resides awareness.
What is stilling the mind? The role that the ego plays
The whole exercise of attaining ‘peace of mind,’ ‘stilling the mind,’ and stopping the movement of thoughts through the mind involves releasing awareness from the ego and allowing it to spread across the entire field of the present. Unless awareness is detached from the ego, expanding awareness will spread like concentric circles from the point of reference of the individual ego. We may feel like we are becoming more aware and free, but the ego ultimately has the last say. If it decides it can pull the rug from under us and ‘we fall from grace’ or the grace of free awareness.
The ego is the axis around which the mind moves. The ego provides the loading force, which drives the movement of the mind and thoughts. This is similar to the principle of a wheel and an axle. Consider the mind as the wheel and the ego as the axle which supports the motion of the wheel. The points on the circumference of the wheel move faster than the points on the axle.
The surface of the mind with rapidly changing thought forms is like the outer circumference of a wheel. The rate of change is high on the surface of the mind, compared to the center, the ego. The next layer outside the ego is the subconscious mind, followed by the more superficial layers of the mind and finally, the plane of changing thoughts. The ego, being at the center around which there is movement, does not appear to change with the rapid turnover of thoughts.
To stop a fast moving wheel, it takes a significant amount of force that is relative to the speed at which the wheel is moving. When the wheel stops spinning, the axle also has to stop. Similarly, we cannot arrest the movement of thoughts in our surface of the mind unless we arrest the subconscious mind and the ego itself. This may explain why it is so difficult to stop the movement of the mind and thoughts.
A wheel and its axle cannot spontaneously move. There is an external force that generates the power for its movement. In a car, it is the engine and the drivetrain that move the wheels. Similarly, there is a force that generates the movement of the ego, mind, and thoughts. That force is awareness.
Relationship between awareness, ego, mind, and body
Awareness by itself cannot move, just like the engine of a car cannot move by itself. A car needs a running engine and tires to run. Similarly, with just awareness, life as we know, cannot happen. We need the movement of the ego, the mind, and the body. Just like we are neither, tires, brakes, engines, or the axles of a car, we are not the body, mind, thoughts, or the ego. A driver of a vehicle doesn’t depend on the vehicle to live and breathe. Similarly, awareness does not rely on the mind or the body. Just like we may get attached to a car as a possession, we get identified with the mind and body.
Once we realize the separateness of awareness, ego, mind, thoughts, and the body, we begin to understand their functions and how they work with one another. Rather than trying to stop the movement of the mind and thoughts, our focus should be on building the power of awareness. With awareness, everything else comes under control, including the ego, mind, feelings, and thoughts.