Mind-LESS-ness- The Doorway to Awareness and Peace
Updated: Jun 1, 2022
(For the context of this blog, the word 'mind' is used to refer to the intellect and not the many other systems that are also part of the mind.)
You are going for a walk by the lake and this Saturday morning is beautiful. You have just had your favorite cup of tea, checked all work channels, responded to all social media feeds and the lock screen is finally empty of notifications. It is sunny, warm, bird chirping and things are just right in your world. Walking, you gaze at the ducks swimming lazily in the calm waters, when all of a sudden you remember that your annual review at work is coming up and that you were denied promotion last time. Your manager had told you that you are getting there but needed to work on a few things and gain more exposure. To make matters worse, that damn Emily had recently gone and told him that you were not managing your team well and they had failed to deliver on time in this last project. This review is critical as you get more stock… oh the stock. It fell $15 yesterday and earnings are to be announced in 2 weeks. But you will be on a flight on that day and may not be able to sell it if it drops. And the flight… will it be on time as you have dinner with your friend that evening and you barely have time to go to the hotel, change and go to the restaurant. That stupid XYZ airline sucks and they have no food service and surly staff. Speaking of food, better remember to pick up some snacks for the flight, maybe some of those spicy chips. Wonder what spice they use to make those chips and if it has anything bad in it. Oh man, I really need to be more careful what I eat but during travel it is hard to stay disciplined. Need to look into some headphones as the ones I have are not great.
The sound of a woman shouting at her running child shatters your latest mental diarrhea episode and you realize you have walked almost halfway down the lake, the ducks and the calm waters long forgotten. As you re-focus on the lake and beauty in front of you, the mind keeps nagging you about the flight time and if it lands at 6pm or 621pm. Oh no, if 621, I won't be able to get to the restaurant till 8 and reservations are for 730pm. You pull out the phone in panic to check on the airline app but see a message from Bill; "The boyz are coming over for wine and cigars tonight and maybe some poker. You in bro?" You were planning to pack but cannot say no to wine and cigars… speaking of which, wonder if Cigar Hut has the latest Romeo Y Julietta that you can get. You quickly check their website and place an online order to pick up. You get excited as they have 4 in stock and the boyz love cigars. Even better, you are almost home and can go get them right now. Of the entire walk on this beautiful day, you maybe (maybe!) remember the first 1 minute.
Sound familiar? Such is the nature of the mind, which is little better than a drunken monkey, ever jumping from thought to thought. In its eternal desire to analyze, dissect and ponder things, there is never a break from the always-on mental diarrhea. Worse, even things you need to focus on get sidelined due to more interesting or exciting thoughts always interjecting themselves in never-ending movies that lasts till the day the body dies or mind fails in some manner. And this process is made magnitudes worse by the brilliant inventions of the Internet and Smartphone (I+S), as both give the mind what it craves; and endless supply of stuff to engage. From cat videos to shopping or social media, what can be accessed from the palm of your hand virtually anywhere is the exact potency and quantity of crack your mind has always craved for. I+S solved mankind's oldest problem which is boredom. Never again will you ever have to be bored as long as your smartphone has power. Even when Internet is not available (God forbid!), there are millions of apps like Angry Birds that can entertain you. As an aside, I feel so very privileged to have grown up in a time with neither I or S and hence was almost always outside playing in the dirt. But that is a blog for another time.
A big part of the problem is that the mind is a device that can only add and multiply, never subtract. Therefore, once a thought or input enters your head, it is stored in memory somewhere and can be accessed anytime, consciously or subconsciously. Any thought can be accessed, amplified, remixed, and modified a countless number of times for the entirety of your life if needed. Further, it is not possible to only think "good" thoughts and reject or avoid "bad" ones. The mind will only multiply and enhance the bad thought the more you try to avoid or not think of it. Try right now to NOT think of a pink elephant! It is impossible, hence trying to control the mind is not a solution to the problem. Some suggest mindfulness as a solution but that does not work either. What is called mindfulness, is simply trying to be in the present (as if you could be anywhere else) and mindful of it. But this too is not possible for any meaningful amount of time as thoughts interject themselves whether you want them or not. As I have said before, we suffer our two greatest facilities… those of memory and imagination, both supercharged by I+S. I know people who have tried mindfulness exercises and apps but not a single person has achieved what they seek. The heart of the problem is that we are unable to control our minds and have completely become a slave to whatever it fancies at any given time. Sleep provides temporary respite but there are always the dreams to analyze when waking up, assuming it wasn’t a call or message that woke you.
Is it possible to fix this?
Trying to control the mind is an impossible task and will lead many to even more frustration and mental diarrhea. It technically can be done but nor for any meaningful amount of time and probably not when you want to do it. No, what we must understand is that we are not seeking mindfulness but rather mindlessness. We want to reach a state where we can just be without having to analyze, remix or ponder something. In essence, being able to turn the mind off and be mind-less. Doing that automatically means you become aware of the moment which is where you (but not necessarily your mind) are to begin with. But, for most, the mind is a problem as it does not want to do what you want and keeps intervening with random thoughts. The process of thinking simply means you are exercising your thought process consciously, at least in theory. But, we have so become our minds that the process of thinking has completely taken over the process of living itself and is happening unconsciously without your control. You could be in the most beautiful setting but the psychological drama going on in your head has no bearing on the reality that is in front of you. Much of your life and mental energy is spent in worlds and creations that don’t exist in reality but only in your head. Hence, we are now trying to fight our minds but because we have become our minds, thus we are in fact fighting ourselves. How sad is it that it took millions of years of evolution to get a mind with such capability and now it’s become our enemy? Try to think of the past 24 hours and how many moments did you do something beyond your thoughts. Like really looking at the beauty of a flower just as it is or closing your eyes and deeply tasting a sip of wine? I suspect for most of you the answer is zero.
What is needed is to begin to develop a mind that does not react immediately and has the ability to reject input (or at least delay processing it immediately). This can be achieved is by developing equanimity towards all the input you receive and it goes a long way towards calming the constant thought stream. By learning to observe your thoughts vs. immediately reacting to them, you are able to partially distance yourself from the constant barrage. With enough practice, it is possible to get to a place where the mind is treated as a TV or stereo blaring in the background. Yes, the sound and images are still there but you are no longer directly entangled with them. While this is not a full cure, it will meaningfully reduce the symptoms so you can start working on a more long-term solution. The path to developing a more structural and long-term solution requires building a distance between what you think of as You and your physiological and psychological processes. And to realize that the You is not a combination of accumulated food which you call the body, and neither is it the accumulated memories we call the mind. You still exist beyond your thoughts and physical inputs and that is the You you need to discover. While this concept sounds simple, it is very complex and is a topic for a separate blog. The end result of doing this is to get to a place where the mind is treated like any other body part and not used when not needed. When we don't need to use our hand or legs, we simply let them sit at rest. Imagine if your hands were like the mind and required constant handling and action. You would go insane or try to remove them from yourself. A good analogy is bad traffic where it takes you an hour to get home after being stuck in a traffic jam. When you are driving, it is a terrible experience and leaves you tired and frustrated. But, if you are in a bar on top of a tall building having a nice glass of wine overlooking the gridlocked streets, it is beautiful and peaceful. Why? Because you have distance from it and not part of it.
The mind is a very powerful tool and probably the single best asset given to us by creation. But we have never even bothered to understand this super-computer but instead just go with whatever it comes up with. So rather than hate your mind or try to fight it, you must understand how it works and become friends with it. Acceptance that you cannot control or stop the psychological drama is the first step. Then, using a practice like meditation to experientially realize you are not your mind is the next step. Finally, being able to treat the mind as you would your hand or foot by not using it when not needed is the final step. From my own experience so far, I can say that the second step is possible, if only in short bursts. In the 6 months since my Vipassana course, I can unequivocally say that I have experienced mindlessness and am slowly able to increase its duration. It is a beautiful experience as the Awareness system of the mind becomes far more present which, paradoxically, actually delivers mindfulness. Just like we rest our body parts and body itself, so too must we rest the intellect system of our mind.