What is ‘Mind’?
Spiritual literature often uses the term ‘Mind’ to point to the fundamental problem which all of us face when we approach the spiritual path. We are told that ‘Mind’ is the true veil of darkness which obscures our vision of reality and which reduces us to the kind of karmic suffering we all seem to endure. I use the term ‘Karma’ here as it is generally understood in the mystical traditions, implying a kind of law against which all our actions are measured and which applies itself not only in this life but which also reflects our actions of past lives, thereby determining our present life, as well as greatly influencing our future lives, based on their theory of reincarnation.
And as is the case with many of these kinds of spiritual misconceptions, we often find a truth (or truths) hidden somewhere in such speculative projections. In this case, a reasonable question we could ask is: from a purely humanistic perspective, what, if anything, may be true about the notion of ‘Mind’? Is there any meaningful and realistic way in which we could approach the notion of ‘Mind’ in order to come to a integral insight into ‘Mind’?
If we approach spiritual life, not from the point of view of having to rid ourselves from an enduring and seemingly endless series of karmic consequences, but rather from the perspective of removing the obscurations to our natural condition which we ourselves bring to our life from moment to moment, we may come to a rather interesting understanding of ‘Mind’. First of all, it may occur to us that ‘Mind’ is not some mysterious force beyond human life, acting in upon our destiny in the same way God is supposed to be a controlling or modifying force beyond our human capacity or volition. The spiritual traditions have quite readily portrayed mind as a kind of external force, resembling much the notion of the devil in the Christian tradition. But ‘Mind’ is nothing of this sort. ‘Mind’ is a human phenomenon which is as much potentially working material in our quest for freedom from it, as every other aspect of our potential. We are not controlled by ‘Mind’ because it is ultimately beyond our volition. Rather, we are controlled by it because we have not inspected and understood it for what it is.
It is perfectly true that we are under the sway of ‘Mind’. It is also perfectly true that the single most effective component within human life which prevents it from fulfilling its destiny as spiritual being, is ‘Mind’. However, there is nothing written in the universe which suggests that this situation is eternally beyond our control. In fact, once we gain insight into what constitutes ‘Mind’, we may realistically set out to transcend it and leave it behind. Ultimately, there is no spiritual life without the transcendence of this thing called ‘Mind’.
So, what could be considered ‘Mind’?
In its broadest description we could say that ‘Mind’ is the entire psycho-physical instrument we use in the course of our daily activities. If this sounds hard to believe, we need only to consider the uncomfortable truth that because we use the subtle instruments to our disposal so indiscriminately and unconsciously, we have created a structure with which we interact with reality which more or less completely misses the mark in terms of functional efficiency. And because of this greatly challenged way of response, we create a subtle field of resistance to the truth of the living moment which disempowers us to live fully in the moment of challenge. And it is this veil of obscuration which we could rightly call ‘Mind’.
‘Mind’, as a binding, limiting and destiny-creating force, is therefore not only thought used inappropriately. It comprises how we use thought and attention (a dilemma I have described in my books as the Thought-Attention knot), how the interaction between these create disequilibrium in our emotions and how these thought/emotional disturbances negatively impact on the body’s physiology at all levels. We simply cannot discuss the problems associated with ‘Mind’ if we do not remain sensitive to the subtle interaction of all the above components of our human potential. If this interaction is dysfunctional, or greatly challenged, the signals from our deeper (spiritual) nature cannot emerge as intelligent participatory messages to guide our actions. We have to get our house in order, if we are to develop any sense for participatory and realistic spiritual existence.
Thought, attention, emotion, intellect and the body should ideally be one self-regulating system. But for such self-regulation and self-correction to take place continuously, awareness, insight, openness, and a participatory attitude is necessary. In our enlightened condition we continually tend to move toward the holistic maintenance and operation of the body-mind. The organism as a whole needs to function in a coherent and non-divisive manner. All our instruments have their place in human functioning, but if they operate out of synchronization with one another, they become like an automobile engine which timing is out: the cylinders will fire, but because they are not synchronized, the performance of the engine is greatly compromised. And it is this inner compromise we live with which effectively obscures the truth of our already fully functional holistic potential.
Other than what is the case with the automobile where the problem could be fixed by some expert, we have to realize that we are in fact fully responsible for the inner disconnections, disharmony and contradictions we have come to accept as the way human life functions. Our life *is* the problem we are trying to solve. And for this we need self-knowledge, introspection, self-awareness and insight. These are all readily available to us, if only we could develop ways by which to encourage these to bring clarity to our confused state of inner and outer turmoil.
From what we seen above, we could say that ‘Mind’ is not only a state operating in isolation from other inner and outer states and conditions, but in fact present us with a coherent system of division, fragmentation and presumed eternal separation from our natural disposition. When the instruments indicated above function as mere habit, in a state of profound unawareness of what they are doing or even that they are operating in any present moment, our entire psycho-physical being comes under they sway of their influence and disorder. When we discover how to bring awareness into our conscious experience, this brings our deeper intelligence into play with which orders and regulates these powerful human instruments. This implies that awareness has inherent intelligence with a capability vastly more subtle and reality-orientated than the limited vision of the intellect which merely operates within the field of conditioning, habit, unawareness and ultimately profound unintelligence.
In my books I describe ways for getting in touch with our deeper intelligence in order to break the spell of ‘Mind’. This short essay is not the venue for again explaining in detail all the subtleties of the inner activities which obscure our natural intelligent and compassionate condition. Human life as we presently experience it has largely lost contact with those aspects of ourselves which is not dominated by ‘Mind’. We live a deluded life, continually hypnotizing ourselves into states of ‘Mind’ which distort our clarity, mis-guide our activities and create the kind of inner and outer confusion which cares little for clarity, insight and ultimate freedom from the entire paradigm of fragmented living we call life. What is deep and pure and good within us are not given the opportunity to surface through the fog of our misapprehensions.
We are lost, and we don’t know it. Ours is a severe case of mistaken identity. We have become identified with a lesser condition of human potential, mistaking this for our true identity of undivided wholeness, intelligence and love. This places us at war with our only hope which is to find a way out of our present dilemma created and sustained by our dedication to the deliberations of ‘Mind’. We have become so habituated to the limited intelligence which functions within the broad sphere of ‘Mind’, that we feel threatened by any suggestion for us to move beyond the self-imposed bondage we create for ourselves. Our security is based on what we know, and not what we are.
What we know is the limited and fragmented field of habitual behavior. This has become our only reality and we cherish this state of unawareness, unlove and unintelligence as though it has true and inherent value. But this ‘Mind-condition’ is as dead to the truth of our human potential as any waking state is to a dream. The dream has become our reality and truth. And any suggestion for us to wake beyond the apparent reality of the dream gets interpreted by the force of habit as a direct threat to the entire condition of the dream. This is why our lives are fear-based, and motivated towards the ultimately impossible task of protecting the false – the false being a state of delusion mistaken for reality.
What we are in truth can never be threatened. What we believe we are in falseness is always open to demise. The choice is always ours: either to live from the simple condition of our natural disposition, or to function fearfully from the state of ‘Mind’ which has only the false as its source of information, inspiration, sustenance and guidance.
Sedgefield. South Africa.
July 2nd. 2011.