We left off last time with a question, “Are you your mind?”
For most of us this is a nonsensical question. Of course you are your mind. Was it not René Descartes, a great philosopher, who stated the principle “I think therefore I am.”? According to Wikipedia Cogito_ergo_sum “The phrase became a fundamental element of Western philosophy, as it can form a foundation for all knowledge. While other knowledge could be a figment of imagination, deception or mistake, the very act of doubting one’s own existence serves as proof of the reality of one’s own existence, or at least that of one’s thought.”.
Personally I think he got it backwards. In reality it should be “I am therefore I think.”, but let’s not go down the which came first the chicken or the egg path. It was this fundamental error in thinking that helped reinforce the notion that we are our mind. So here we are, nice body, mind in charge driving the bus down the road – let’s look at where this road leads. This will require a little exercise, not a difficult one, but a minor effort to take a peek at what this mind is doing. This is a relatively simple exercise, simply start watching your mind and paying attention to what it is doing. I believe that such attention will prove my point, but we each need to perform the exercise in order for it to have meaning.
Here’s what I see when I drop in as the observer rather than just blindly following the trail my mind wanders. It seems that I spend a little of my time in the past, I’m not really much of a ‘past’ kind of person, and the rest I seem to spend in the future thinking about what I need to do, what I want to do, what I plan on doing. In observing it seems to me that my mind is constantly busy regretting what’s gone or planning what isn’t yet here. I don’t seem to be paying much attention at all to the one thing that is real in this conversation which is the current moment. Instead of participating in the ‘moment’, my mind seems to be occupied instead in either the past or the future.
I’d like to mention a book at this point as it was this book that woke me up to this realization and much of what I’m saying now is just paraphrasing the authors lessons in my own way to help clarify it and give it a reality in my own thinking. The book is “The Power Of Now”, by Eckhart Tolle. It takes time for what Tolle is saying to take root and start to clarify for me, but after listening to the first 5 or 6 chapters a half-dozen times (I do the audio book as I walk in the morning) there is an underlying truth to what he says. But back to the narrative…..
So here’s my mind, the guy who’s driving the bus, and its crying over spilled milk or dreaming of some as yet unfulfilled fantasy off in the future instead of watching the road. No wonder the bus is heading towards a cliff and sideswiping a lot of innocent bystanders on the way! My mind, it seems on closer observation, needs to have its drivers license revoked and perhaps get shipped off to the funny farm or jail for the mayhem its leaving in its wake.
For clarity let’s define mind. Mind for me is the ego, it’s that part of me that has a name, a rank in society and a constant need to be either punishing me for some past misdeed or promising me a brighter tomorrow. It’s that part of me that considers my stuff, my accomplishments, my status and a lot of other ‘my’ things as critical to defining who and what I am. So where then in that definition is that ‘soul’, that ‘inner light’ that ‘being’ that all the religions of the world speak of? If in reality I am my stuff, my accomplishments, my thoughts all of those things are temporary and all will be gone when I die. Death, an interesting concept, your mind can understand that your body will die, this is an observed fact that cannot be denied. But try to imagine not being. No matter how hard you try your mind is not capable of imagining not being.I’m not talking about that intellectual ascent that ‘I just won’t be’, IMAGINE it. You can state it, you just can’t imagine what ‘not being’ would be. Ask yourself why is that???
Humm! So mind thinks that it is your essence and that it will survive the death of your body. So the question that presents itself is what is this ‘mind’ thing. Where does this ego come from and where does it live. We’re not born with an ‘ego’ really, we’re born with something inhabiting this body, but that something has a sense of wonder, a delight in the miracle of life that is all around it. The ego is built by the training and conditioning we receive growing up. That’s where we learn that we are our stuff, our accomplishments, our whole me/mine concept. So where do we ‘store information and learn’? We do that in our brain. Brain – an amazingly complex and marvelous computer that stores the lessons we’re taught growing up and then uses those lessons to postulate future behavior. So is your brain not made of matter? When you die will your brain not decompose like the rest of you?
Uh oh, now I have a problem as the answer to that question is obvious. I either need to accept that this ‘ego’ character is going to stop existing (die) with my body or find the flaw in my logic. Logic seems sound, so then what is that other something that’s going to survive if it’s not John, stuff accumulator and doer? Is there some essence that has been left out of this equation? Is there something that still has that sense of wonder, that joy in life? Who’s that in the back of the bus not striving for control, not a care in the world just watching the scenery?
My mind is not really ‘ME’, it’s a make-believe me. It’s the mad scientist in the lab creating Frankenstein and I’m the Frankenstein it’s created. “But I’m not Frankenstein”, my mind cries out. “I’m a nice guy!” it loudly proclaims.
Next time let’s look at humanity as a ‘nice guy’.
Challenge for the day: if you think you’re driving the bus find the on/off switch and turn your mind off for 10 minutes.