As humans, we experience all kinds of emotions, but we rarely wonder how these thoughts and feelings come about. The modern scientific view says that mind and consciousness originate from the brain phenomenon.
But the question is that how something finite can give rise to something infinite, how a group of cells within the brain create a conscious experience.
This mechanism is easy to understand from a scientific perspective, but what it falls short of is – explaining the cause that creates the very phenomenon, i.e., the conscious experience itself.
Therefore, science alone cannot explain the cause, and this has been famously or infamously known as The Hard Problem of Consciousness, which, to this day, confuses many researchers.
However, a spiritual inquiry into the nature of consciousness reveals something very different. What it essentially says is that we are neither our body nor our mind. We’re the ones who witness the body, mind, and world.
Whatever we experience through our senses is interpreted by our mind, and the mind further generates corresponding thoughts and emotions. Let’s try to simplify this discussion and understand it through examples and analogies.
We all are aware of our emotions, and every emotion has an origin in the form of a thought. And where do these thoughts originate? The answer is – our mind.
The only way you have known your mind is through thoughts. There’s no other way you can acknowledge its existence. But here’s the thing. You are not your mind. You are the knower of the mind.
The Nature of Your Mind
Your mind tricks you into believing that you are it. That is the way it manipulates and controls you.
When you give in to your thoughts, you lose yourself – jumping from one afflicting thought to another, without realizing that it’s just your monkey mind playing with you.
An area of the brain known as the Default Mode Network or DMN gets activated when our mind starts wandering, thinking about others, remembering the past, or planning the future.
These thoughts repeatedly play within your mind forming a pattern. These patterns are nothing but unconscious acts that train the neurons in your brain to form groups that simultaneously fire electrical impulses.
Hence the famous phrase, “neurons that fire together wire together”.
It is not something you acquired by birth. It is a learned behavior that becomes ingrained within our subconscious through repeated action, i.e., a repeated thought with an accompanying emotion.
And now you complain that your thoughts torment you. And that your mind keeps working overtime.
The first lesson that we learned is that we are not the mind. But then, who are we? Well, we are the one that observes the mind. This knowledge gives us the missing confidence and indicates that we are the master, and the mind is the servant and not the other way around.
However, in modern-day living, we have become so compulsive in our behaviors. Every day we expose ourselves to many mind-numbing stimulations. All in the name of consumerism.
When we become compulsive consumers, mental health problems come as a natural consequence. They appear as symptoms within our physical body, and that’s a warning from nature that the commander (us) has lost control of the ship (the mind).
A big mistake that many people commit is that they try to control their thoughts forcefully. That is a futile exercise. The mind is too powerful, and any attempt to control it will result in the mind rebelling.
And there’s no chance you can hold up against the mind’s strength unless you have sufficiently practiced the art of being present in the moment.
If you want to tame your mind, you have to learn to let go of the control. You have to trick the mind. For example, there are days when I don’t feel like doing a workout. Even getting out of bed becomes a challenge for me.
So what do I do? Simple, I lie to my mind. Yes, you heard me correct.
I tell my mind that I’m going to work out only for five minutes and then go back to sleep in those soft cushy blankets.
But what ends up happening most of the time – I get started, do the warm-up, and a couple of minutes later, I’m really into it. I start enjoying it. One hour later – mission accomplished.
Had I given into that false feeling of laziness that was projected and amplified by my mind, I wouldn’t have been able to get out of those cushy blankets.
If I had forced my mind to work out for an hour, it would have rebelled, and I won’t have gotten started in the first place.
Please note that you may be successful every time you try to trick your mind, but that’s okay. You’ll get better with practice.
The same tactic I use for my writing. Whenever I start writing something new, I tell myself that I am just writing 500 words. As I get into the flow, I end up writing much more than that.
Whatever task you have at hand, break it down into smaller chunks and give your mind the impression that you have to work on a small piece instead of the whole task.
This simple technique breaks down the initial resistance (which I know is a problem for many people) and makes going easy.
Training Your Mind to Deal with Stress and Anxiety
Now that you understand that you’re not your mind, we will look at a powerful self-observation technique that can help you deal with mental health issues like stress, worry, and anxiety.
As I mentioned earlier, every emotion has its roots in the thought that generates it. It’s important to observe the thoughts we are creating, which can be very effectively done through self-observation.
This process is not easy, and it requires some effort on your part. But once you grasp this concept dealing with every challenge will become easy.
So when the thought originates within your mind, just observe its nature. A common pattern I see amongst people is that they lose themselves in their thoughts.
Sometimes the flow of thoughts is so strong that it’s difficult to stand your ground, and it’s tempting to give in to the flow. And over time, this becomes our default behavior – the result of unconscious programming.
Let’s understand this with the help of an example. Suppose somebody in your office comes up to you and tells you that the company is planning to lay off some staff to cut costs.
Now, this is very likely to create anxiety. And it’s okay to be a little bit anxious in this situation.
But understand that this particular thought and the possible scenarios (sub-thoughts) arising out of it are only playing out in your mind. The layoff has not happened as of now.
To better understand, imagine yourself standing near the riverbank where the water is at the level of your hips.
You can feel a medium level of water current down in your feet, but it’s not that strong as yet. You are Anxious, but you’re still holding your ground.
This thought about the layoff keeps lingering within your mind for the rest of the day, and very soon, another thought appears where you imagine yourself without a job, or filing for bankruptcy.
A couple of minutes later, you imagine yourself homeless with your family out on the streets.
These thoughts keep getting worse one after the other, forming a chain, and they generate different emotions within you, especially the anxiety.
As these thoughts crop up in your mind, the water current in the river starts getting strong.
Eventually, it reaches a point where you have completely swept away, i.e., you have entirely disconnected your awareness from the present moment and have lost yourself in the river of thoughts.
Whenever our mind is anxious, we generate a chain of thoughts and start visualizing worst-case scenarios that are never likely to happen.
As our anxiety becomes intense, we start feeling physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, breathlessness, sweating, and much more.
So what do we do to stop forming this chain?
Recognize the Gap
If you notice carefully, there is a small window of opportunity between the thought and the resulting emotion you invoke.
Through mindful practice, one can be aware of that small timeframe where you get to choose your response.
When you miss that opportunity (mostly the case), it’s easy to get lost in the barrage of afflicting thoughts. And that further creates unpleasant sensations.
It will be hard initially because of the past conditioning of the mind, but when you learn to calm the mind, you also eliminate the previous conditioning.
This new mind has a small window of awareness or pure wisdom, also known as the gap, where you can choose your response to a particular situation.
Let me explain this with a real-life example. You must have often come across a situation where you’re driving, and abruptly someone cuts ahead of you to take a turn, and you have to apply breaks suddenly.
If you are in your usual programmed mode, you are more likely to respond impulsively with either anger or rage. You might even roll down your window and hurl abuses at the person, escalating the situation further.
We often behave like this because our primal animal instincts are awakened under such circumstances where we are driven primarily by our ego.
However, if you are mindful, you will quickly identify the gap created (for a few milliseconds) between the moment that person cuts you, and the negative thought you create as a result.
If you have a high presence or awareness at that time, you will easily be able to recognize that gap and any unconscious impulsive reaction will be replaced with a conscious response.
In situations like these, the very first thing you observe is your physiology. The moment that person cut you and you applied the brakes, there was a shock absorbed by your body.
This shock might result in excessive sweating, a fast heartbeat, or even breathlessness. So if you’re already in the gap, you know that you don’t have to react impulsively to this situation.
And your first step would be to calm yourself by grounding in the present moment and taking a few deep breaths to relax the nervous system. After that, you will check if the other people sitting in your car are okay.
Even if you have to confront the person who cut you off, you will do it consciously instead of allowing the ego to take over. This kind of mindfulness can prevent a lot of life-threatening situations like accidents and road rages.
When you practice self-observation, you learn to notice everything from a third person’s perspective. It feels as if the person with whom the situation occurred, and you are different. You will see your calm self watching over the anxious self.
The gap is where the magic happens. This split second of wisdom enables you to separate yourself from your ego. There are no thoughts, feelings, or emotions within this gap.
It is where your intuition is at its max. You gain access to the universal divine knowledge that is ever-present and ever-lasting.
Some might confuse this with introspection, but it’s far more profound than that, because the one that observes does not create any further outcomes in the form of thoughts, but observes without judgment.
It’s like a parallel thread of higher consciousness has been spawned, and you view your limited self (the one that’s playing out the emotions) from a higher perspective.
The situation described above may sound like depersonalization disorder, but it’s not, because you are in complete control of the situation, fully present. And it all happens when the presence within you starts growing.
If you act unconsciously and lose yourself to your emotions, the outcome of the above situation may be very different.
You might engage In a verbal or a physical fight that might be fatal and create a psychological trauma that can last for years or even decades.
So how do we train our minds and learn to recognize the gap? Well, the most effective practices I have come across are mindfulness and meditation. If you’d like more information, I suggest you read the following articles:
These techniques can help you train your mind to deal with various situations related to interpersonal relationships, work pressures, stress, anxiety, depression, irritation, and much more.
By sufficiently training the mind, you can increase your presence. As presence increases, the mind steadily starts becoming quiet.
A quiet mind leads to better decision-making and creates an atmosphere of overall peace and happiness.
When you have this realization that you’re not your mind, it becomes effortless for you to learn skills that significantly improve the quality of your life.
Many people approach me to complain that they are not in control of their minds. They want to do great things, have grand plans, but they cannot follow up on the execution because their mind is always full of fear. They’re constantly thinking all the time.
The problem is that you try to train the mind just like you train your physical body. But the mind is not a part of your physical body. Hence the techniques used to calm the mind are different from that of the physical body.
It’s easy to relax the physical body. Activities such as yoga, resistance exercises, stretching, etc., will relax your physiology, but that has a temporary effect on our minds.
Don’t get me wrong. Our mind and body have a very intricate connection. If our body is not relaxed, the mind can never be calm. Therefore, working on the physical body is extremely important.
If you have inflammation in any part of your body, it’s crucial to fix it. Otherwise, your mind will keep you anxious all the time.
But in addition to taking care of your physical body, working on your mental and emotional body is also very important.
Please note that by no means I’m trying to downplay the role of the mind. It is because of the mind, and its critical thinking capabilities that we have achieved so much.
All the scientific advancements and technological breakthroughs that we create today are a result of brilliant minds.
The power of thinking that enables imagination has given us the greatest inventions of our time.
Thinking is a mechanism that enables the human experience. Put to the right use; our mind can do wonders and make us experience dimensions that we cannot imagine even in our wildest dreams.
Even if you want to progress spiritually, you need the mind. Your mind creates the barrier between your perceived self and the true self.
Your true self is far beyond the identities and the personality you have formed. It is even far beyond your emotions.
You are not the body, you are not the mind, you are Pure Consciousness, the all pervasive Self. Pay your attention to that. Be aware of it all the time even while you are working – Ramana Maharshi
But let me clear a misconception here – you cannot bypass the mind to discover your true self. To realize your true self, you have to go through the mind itself. There is no other way.
Unfortunately, there is a limitation with the mind. Every thought that you create has a cost associated with it, and it is your soul that has to bear that cost.
Therefore, it’s imperative to put your thinking to the right use to achieve your goals in life.