Today, we go to gym, practice “yoga postures” (which is purely exercise, and not “Yoga”), participate in marathons/triathlons, etc. to stay healthy and/or to push ourselves to see what we are truly capable of, which is all well and good for our physical well-being. However, when it comes to exercising our mental health, we seldom give it any thought, let alone do something. The most we may do is sit in a lotus posture while listening to a guided meditation for a few minutes with candles or incense sticks burning, and soothing music playing in the background. Although, we may feel good about it, we only end up giving ourselves the illusion of “mental relaxation” through this pseudo experience.
While some of us may have reached the peak of our physical capacities by testing the limits of human endurance over time, we have barely scratched the surface of what we are capable within. All of the above to say, no amount of physical activities will ever compensate for our mental well-being, the lack of which is what keeps us from living to our true potential. Suffice it to say, it’s better to have an unsound body than an unsound mind.
The reason we talk much about mental health these days is because we are not okay inside, as evident through everyday anxiety, stress, burnout, loneliness, depression, etc. For instance, we talk about “managing” stress as if it were totally natural. Rather, it’s the most unnatural thing in the world. Stress is not something to be “managed or reduced”, but should have been absent all along. The question isn’t how to manage or reduce it, but to ask ourselves why is there stress to begin with. Despite what we might believe, all stress is self-induced. Now, we may be inclined to think it’s ironical that we have these issues in our everyday lives to begin with, given the conveniences of the modern life, which was supposed to make our lives easier, but our lives have never been more stressful. This just goes to show we can’t solve our inner issues with outer comforts/experiences.
On the contrary, we are constantly looking to change our situations outside, so we can be okay inside. It’s no wonder that we seek love, happiness, and peace in our lives through outer experiences (people, places, things, events), but relying on them alone only leads to disappointment, and yet we never learn. We simply delude ourselves by building outer castles in the air to keep our inner castle vertical at all times. Inevitably, something happens outside, and we fall apart inside. Relationship breakup anyone? How about being relieved from work abruptly?
Why aren’t we okay?
Why do we constantly change things on the outside to feel good inside? Because we are not okay inside. Well, why aren’t we okay inside? That’s because of our personal mind (more on this below). But, it’s not its fault. The truth is we have programmed our mind throughout our lives, so we depend on the outside to be comfortable inside (like when someone says/does something that runs contrary to our preferences (concepts, views, beliefs)). Suffice it to say, it’s much harder to live this way, and yet we persist (suffer).
Despite what others might have us believe, the reason we struggle with people and situations in our lives is solely because of our relationship to ourselves (more on this in another piece). For instance, there is no one who took their own life and/or others, whose mind didn’t tell them to. Not one. Case in point — there are many celebrities (actors, chefs, world leaders, etc.), who achieved fame and fortune through their work, but nonetheless took their own lives, because they were not okay inside.1
It’s almost hysterical how we continuously program our minds even as we spend our lives listening to it. There is nothing more tragic than being here (for a brief time) only to be enslaved by our minds. The thing is we are so addicted to our minds that we don’t even know what it’s like to not be so. For instance, we can hardly sit still for 10 minutes (much less 30 minutes or longer) without having any passive thoughts. We are like the fish who doesn’t know it’s in the water. Because we are living in our minds all the time, we are trapped in there. Not only are we living in utter darkness, but we are so accustomed to this darkness (that we call “living”) that we can’t even fathom seeing the light, lest it be blinding.
Plato rightfully said:
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
Come to think of it, it’s almost funny how we keep thinking every day about that which has happened (past) or that which hasn’t (future). No wonder we hardly live in the here and now, which is all we have anyway. It’s no surprise then that we are not okay, as we carry all of this mental weight at all times thinking and/or worrying about things past and future to ensure everything is okay outside at all times.
The fact remains we see the world not as it is, but as we are. As long as we are inside our mind, we’ll keep seeing the world through the lens of our mind. Until our mind keeps talking, we’ll be unable to live in the moment, because we are trying to experience the objective present through the lens of our subjective past. Until we remove those glasses, we’ll be unable to experience objective reality. What greater tragedy can befall our lives than not even knowing what it’s like to experience the world as is?!
What is the mind?
Our mind is a computer (tool). It’s more advanced than the most sophisticated computer we have created for ourselves. Just like how a knife is a tool, which we use to cut veggies or to harm others (because of our personal mind), the tool itself isn’t the issue, but how we use it. There are two ways we use our mind. We use our impersonal (rational/objective) mind creatively to define and solve challenges through our will (which is fine), and we use our personal (emotional/subjective) mind to keep ourselves enslaved through our past preferences about people and situations in our lives. There are two types of thoughts in our mind — active and passive. Active thoughts are the ones we manifest through our will (such as when problem defining and solving). Passive thoughts are the ones that we have stored in our mind in the past, which it keeps regurgitating in the present.
When we use our (impersonal) mind to define and solve challenges creatively, we are using it optimally. When we use our (personal) mind to resist or cling to experiences from our past to inform future ones, we are using it suboptimally. With the latter, we end up building an alternate personal self, which is based on our preferences (likes and dislikes) from a lifetime of experiences, which we collectively know as ego. This separation we inadvertently create since childhood is what keeps us from living from our true selves. Come to think of it, it’s tragic that 99.9999% of us will leave this world without ever knowing what it’s like to live without ego, much less transcend the personal mind, and live from our true selves.
What can we do?
All is not lost, however. If we can program our personal mind to be enslaved by it, then we can undo it as well, so we can let our egos melt, and transcend the personal self. That’s the first step towards true freedom.
Before we talk further about what we can do, let’s quickly discuss what this isn’t about, which is “quietening, caging, controlling, or energizing” your mind. Anytime you hear someone talk about the mind in these terms, run. This isn’t about controlling our mind, but relaxing behind it. We don’t need to be “strong”, but wise to it. The foremost thing to remember is if we can listen to our mind, we can’t be our mind. It’s just a thing in the universe like everything else out there.
Here’s what we do. We continue to use our impersonal mind for creatively solving our everyday challenges. We stop using our personal mind to keep us from being enslaved. For instance, any time our mind starts talking, we quickly realize that that voice is not us, rather it’s the passive thoughts we have saved in our mind that keeps playing like a tape recorder on loop. All we need to do is relax behind it, and give it space to pass through. By the way, there is nothing wrong with our mind talking as long as we don’t get involved with it. It’s only then, that it will cease to exist at some point like a child who is ignored when he doesn’t get what he wants. This is how we let go of our personal self over time.
Stopping to use our personal mind to keep us from being enslaved boils down to three things. As shared above, we slowly let go of stuff that we have accumulated in the past. By the way, there is only a limited amount of stuff we have stored inside that didn’t make it through us, because everything else did. This is good news, because it means it won’t take us forever to let go, lest we wait.
We stop adding more stuff inside. That means we accept everything the way it is including people and events in our lives. In other words, we surrender to the resistance of life. By the way, acceptance (or surrender) doesn’t mean giving up and doing nothing about the ongoing challenges in our lives. We can always show up to be (and do) our best, regardless of our situations. Here’s another thing we can do. Anytime we feel the need to react to something outside (based on what we have stored inside in the past), we remember to let go of our personal reaction before we deal with our situation objectively.
When we learn to accept everything, and expect nothing, we do away with our preferences in the form of hopes, fears, and dreams, which are merely ways of resisting the present. We stop thinking that we won’t get what we want OR we’ll get what we don’t want. For instance, we stop complaining about the weather and be grateful for everything that we get to experience. It’s the difference between “practicing gratitude” and living with gratitude.
We stop looking for “perfect moments” in our lives, and we realize every moment is perfect the way it is. The perfection is in the How, and not in the What. We stop trying to make things outside to be a certain way, so we are okay inside. Instead, we become okay inside with whatever presents itself outside. This is flowing with life rather than resisting it. We don’t have to suffer. It’s easier to live this way.
And third, we decide once in our life to stay open. This is the only decision we’ll make in life with lasting consequence. By the way, making this decision is much more consequential than all of our major life decisions combined including our career choice, whom we marry, or where we live. We realize nothing in life is worth closing to, irrespective of what happens (including death of a loved one). This isn’t to mean we don’t mourn our personal losses, but it doesn’t have to disturb our internal peace. This way, we end up becoming a fuller being from all experiences, because we let everything pass through us.
In the end, it’s not what happens to us (through people and situations) that matters, but how we respond. It’s the only thing that matters. Despite what we may believe, we can only ever be affected (upset/hurt/bothered) from the choices we make.
Despite the external human inventions and the progress we have made over time, most of us barely know what we are truly capable of inside. The truth is our mind is the most valuable tool, better than any personal computer (now or in the future). It can be a wonderful servant or a terrible master. How we use it makes all the difference. The truth is we are enslaved by our mind. In other words, we are suffering. We are all trapped inside our own little houses that we have built over our lifetime. We are so comfortable inside living in darkness, because we don’t know any better.
The truth is God (or Divine Intelligence) designed this world in order for us to simply experience (enjoy) it the way it is (and use it to evolve).2 But, we insisted on using our personal mind to create an alternate self by clinging to things we liked and resisting things we disliked, and in the process we ended up creating our own subjective experience, which in turn is keeping us from true objective experience. Make no mistake. We alone are responsible for creating this separation from the Divine. There is nothing more tragic than coming down on this beautiful planet and not even knowing what it’s like to live from our true selves, which is the reason we were sent here.
Contrary to what most believe, we don’t have to “do” anything, instead we need to stop doing what we are doing. In other words, we need to let go of what we have accumulated in our lives, and stop adding more stuff. Believe it or not, it’s no deeper than that, but easy to understand isn’t easy to apply.
No disrespect to the departed, but the way they lived didn’t embody true success for others to emulate. Sure, they were “successful” in their work (at the cost of their mental selves and/or their relationships), but that alone hardly qualifies for true success.↩
God loves us all regardless of our beliefs about Him, even if we are agnostic or atheistic.↩