Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Only Way To Control The Mind (Probably)

Most religions (and now psychology also) agree that it is essential to regulate one's thoughts and emotions in order to live harmoniously. We are surrounded by umpteen stimuli and media which exhort us to unbridled enjoyment.

The result of such enjoyment is always negative--disease, unhappiness and/or premature death. It also brings along loss of personal freedom, dishonour, and poverty.

We can see this demonstrated every day in the lives of successful people who after achieving their goals, descend into a life of depraved indulgence, giving up all their previous discipline. The newspapers celebrate stories of celebrities' fall from grace.

It is an inevitable tradeoff- one can't have both.

This establishes the ancient's wise saying:

Master yourself, and you can master your destiny.

But how?

One needs to realize that its almost impossible to control the mind. We do not know where it is, and its complete nature. Often we are so caught up in the unfolding events of life that we fail to observe the mind diligently. This gives it more than enough opportunities to go one up on us. Whether we acknowledge it or not, it is there, inciting us to do actions and to bear their consequences.

So it is essential to control the mind, and yet, we do not have a means of doing this.

The ancient philosophical treatises on Yoga have dwelt extensively on the subject of mind control (self mastery). However, man almost always misunderstands their purpose. It's for winning freedom, not for grovelling further into worldly enjoyments.

Secret of mind control (self mastery)

The ancient texts reveal desire to be the root of actions. With each desire, humans think that it will bring the final beatitude, that they will be happy and at peace. But of course it is not so. Just as addicts try to rationalise 'just this one more time' , the pursuit of happiness through fulfilling desires is never ending.The ancients have several analogies for this pursuit: the mirage of water in the desert for the thirsty traveller; the musk deer that searches everywhere for the origin of the fragrance, without looking in its own body which is the actual source,...

If you observe long enough you will find that every desire starts with a thought. When you repeat it, this thought creates a tension in your entire system. And when this tension possesses you, you must find a way to relieve it. At this stage of development, there is only one way to do that---fulfill that desire.

This pattern has been engraved in our DNA over countless repetitions.

Hans Selye, the authority on Stress, observed: Stress is the result of involuntary thoughts.

This tallies perfectly with our previous theory.

Which means that a mind which has thoughts running through it all the time, will develop stress (tension). It is easy to see how the mind picks pleasures as stress-relievers. Thus various desires take birth.

Constant Engagement-the only way to control the mind

So involuntary thoughts lead to stress or tension, and the mind adopts desire fulfillment to defuse that tension and restore the equilibrium. Advertising operates on the same principles. Ads are strategically designed to sow the seeds of desire in our minds, sufficient number of times to create the tension, forcing us to relieve it.

So how to master the mind? Avoid letting the mind get tensed up.

How to avoid tension in the mind? Traditionally, various meditation techniques address this very issue.

However, we face a tricky problem. The vulnerability to tension is present 24 hours. And it is not possible for most of us to sit and meditate all the time. Our minds are too restless.

The mind is like a cat. However much we feed and stroke a cat, the moment we divert our attention, it will steal food...----Mata Amritanandamayi

The simplest strategy has been coded into this very familiar proverb from days of yore:

The idle mind is the devil's workshop. If you rest, you rust.

Which means occupying oneself all the time is the easiest way to control the mind.

When one has made constant engagement a habit, he/she can incorporate further practices like moment-to-moment awareness. 

Further thoughts

Do we need to control our minds?

Anybody who wants to achieve a positive goal would want to devote more time and energy for it. Controlling/regulating our other desires is key to free up this time and energy. Also those who are trying to recover from crippling addictions of any kind would need these techniques of mind control.

Further ways to do it

Most of us try to overcome the mind by battling it head on. This is a mistake most neophytes on the spiritual path make. They are horrified at the kind of thoughts arising and think: I shouldn't be thinking like this and struggle against the thought. Those trying to recover from addictions also struggle in this way.

Unfortunately, energy goes where attention goes (As The Secret told us). So the end result of your struggle would be to reinforce that which you wanted to get rid of. There is the story of the monkey demon Bali in the Ramayana. Bali could not be overcome by normal battle because he was able to appropriate half of the energy of his opponent. He had a boon to that  effect. So Sri Ram shot him stealthily from a hiding place. Bali is symbolic of our lower mind that holds us back.

Instead of directly fighting with the mind and its thoughts, why not address the stress in the mind? As we discussed above, desires result from tension in the mind. If we maintain awareness of our actions, thoughts, and feelings, the tension cannot sustain. Our focus shifts away from the undesirable thoughts.

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