Managing Our Mind-stuff
We have a physical body, but we are enveloped by, and exist in, mind.
The mind is not the brain. It is subtle matter of a finer vibration than physical matter. It is mind that mediates between our experience of the physical world and spirit. It may be invisible, but it is the single most powerful force or energy that we have to deal with, and it must be treated very carefully.
There are ways of living in the world that agitate it and make it an impenetrable barrier, and there are modes of living that settle the mind and help it to experience truth. Learning to manage our mind-stuff through right living creates the ideal conditions of mind that enable a connection to be made with spirit in the midst of turbulence.
Let us look at four ways to help manage this mind. First, in order for mind to be useful, under control and able to connect with the Real, it must be centered. Before a potter can shape a heavy lump of clay it must first be centered on the wheel, otherwise it is impossible to form anything of value or beauty. Initially this takes a lot of effort and technique (but never force). The currents of mind must be brought to stillness and harmony. The centre is a very real place in the mind and each of us must find it, make it a reality, and function from here.
We have to slip from the rim of the wheel to the axis where there is stillness amidst turbulence and activity. And this we do through the practice of simran, the repetition of words which help to focus the mind currents in this place of stillness, our invisible home in the world. When scattered and overstretched, we lose touch with the inner spring which feeds us with life energy, and we suffer pain and confusion.
To lose some money or your health is irritating, but to lose your centre is devastating. The centre, the axis, becomes a portal that opens and connects us to the Real. Only here can we exist in the divine presence; outside of here we are simply lost in the world. An agitated and exhausted mind can never find the stillness required to catch that divine note of spirit vibrating in our being – the Shabd, which not only created and sustains all that exists, but is also that essential part of us which is connected to divinity itself.
Second: mind loves the extremes, because at the extremes there is maximum stimulation. Only in the middle does the mind stand still. Stillness is the death of the mind, and it avoids it at all costs. All the ancient sages spoke of the ‘golden mean’ and the ‘great middle way’, and for good reason. Avoiding the extremes soothes the mind. It may be exciting as we swing through the senses, but it is also agitating and unsettling. Happiness and sadness, pleasure and pain are born of emotions at the extremes. Joy is of our deeper being and is found only in the middle.
It should become a new habit for us to adopt a moderation in all things. Initially the starving mind screams for stimulation and action, but in time it discovers that in the middle there is an indescribable sweetness – a taste so subtle and sublime that the mind gradually starts to avoid the crude stimulation of the extremes. Lives that have balance, ordinariness and moderation may be unspectacular, but they facilitate the condition of mind necessary to tune into and ultimately merge with the One.
Then, we should cultivate simplicity – keep life simple. The mind, in a word, is complexity. Anything over and above needs veers toward wants, and adds a layer of complexity, action and reaction which we have to deal with. The mind also loves to turn simple problems and issues into complex ones: molehills into mountains. Complexity is mind-food, which it craves.
Simplicity pulls the carpet out from under the complex mind, giving it little to hook on to and get entangled with. Complexity is like walking through creation with a coat encrusted with fish hooks, while simplicity is a smooth velvet coat. Being un-simple in one’s living and dealings bleeds precious life energy from where we need it most – centering, meditation and service. Being around un-simple people is physically and emotionally draining. The truly simple souls carry an aura of fullness and completeness, as if nothing in the world can stick to them. They also seem connected to an abundant reservoir of invisible energy. Simplicity is close to divinity.
A fourth key would be to awaken our witness consciousness, which has its deeper roots in our supreme self. This silent observer is able to separate itself from its vehicle – the body and mind. It watches the performance of our imagined self, our ego, as well as our thoughts and emotions. It knows: ‘I am not that. I am the deep flowing river of being, not the sprightly bubbles on the surface.’ In this state we can respond but not react. We don’t take ourselves too seriously (the ego’s favourite pastime).
The witness is able to open up small spaces between itself and the world around us, which makes life’s journey that little less painful. The detachment of the witness ushers in a lightness of being, as opposed to heaviness when attached to everything that pertains to ‘me’ and ‘mine’. A watchful consciousness enables clear thinking: ‘I am not my thoughts and don’t let them take me over.’ Instead we learn (through our meditation) to first observe, and then control our thoughts and put them to work efficiently. Ease and simplicity come to replace tension and confusion.
With the help of these four keys our mind stuff can reach peace. Our mind then becomes open to Truth.