Learning to manage one’s mind is the highest form of spiritual practice. The ultimate aim is to have a mind with no thoughts, a mind where we are at our most objective. Here I will share how we do this by managing the 4 aspects of the mind drawn from the teachings of Vedanta.
Thoughts are stuff that occupy our mind space 24/7 and they are the product of a process that goes on non-stop in our mind. We call this process ‘thinking’. But what are we really thinking about and how much of it does matter to our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being? What is the thinking process? How do we manage it so that our mind is always clean, clear, and bright like a mirror that only reflects back what we see without any editing, coercing, influencing, biases, or anything else that detracts us from being as objective as we can? The answer lies in meditation.
As we sit more and more, we will come to develop a capability to know how we function in terms of how we think. It trains us to become more and more of an objective observer of the mind’s processes. Hopefully, this will lead to a spillover effect into our daily interactions with the world at large minus the filters and blinkers. This is such an important skill that I wished more folks would take to the cushion. In a world that has hijacked our mind with non-stop visual and other sensory input, what are we doing to hit the pause button to check where we are going with our thoughts? Because if we don’t then our world would just become an increasingly impersonal place where the spiritual matters less and less.
The intellect aspect is probably the most scary if we aren’t careful how we use it. It is most susceptible to filters and blinkers. This is the thinking aspect of our mind. It is the part of our mind that discriminates, analyses, and make deductions. Like when we work out the sum of 1 + 1 = 2. If only it was always this objective. In reality, our thinking creates conclusions that can make 1 + 1 = maybe 3 or no, it has to be 4. Therefore, the question is whether the deductions and conclusions the intellect makes are in harmony with what is spiritually balanced or is it skewed to the personal ego. Which is why we are what we think. Herein lies all our illusions and delusions. We have a great capacity to think ourselves into anything we want to believe. Even if the evidence showed our conclusion is skewed we still won’t let go of the bone and the reason for that is the identity aspect, the ego.
The identity aspect is the part of the mind that says this is who I am and it is based on what the ego says. If you swore by Freud, it would be made up of a Superego, Ego and Id. Whatever it is, the ego is a scary thing because it can be pretty fragile and therefore can be quick to get personal. It can be a self-centred and manipulative thing and therefore can create a lot of grief for self and others. This is the part of us that says, “I, me, mine. Don’t mess with me.” This pernicious ego aspect is pretty much about “what’s in it for me” and to satisfy its self-centredness, it has no qualms influencing the intellect as it pulls in feelings and emotions from past experiences to colour our deductions and conclusions. Now we know why the ego has to die. It is like the self-serving eunuch or concubine forever whispering in the emperor’s ear, planting doubts of loyalty and goading him to chop someone’s head off. That’s so Salome and St. John’s head on a platter, a painting that captured my attention when I was at the National Gallery in London.
Thoughts are processed by the processor aspect of the mind which is said to be the only part of that is really neutral as in it does not try to influence or colour. It just does its job without offering an opinion. The processor aspect receives input from our interactions with the world, our communications, and sensory stimulations and outputs it back to intellect and the other aspects of the mind. In this way, thoughts are created and stored which brings us to the next aspect, the memory. Let us pause here for a moment and ponder on whether the processor aspect is really as neutral as it seems. Like a computer chip, wouldn’t our thought processes be programmed and coloured by our upbringing and the values, beliefs and norms we inherited? I personally think we can return this processor aspect to its original intended neutral state by developing mindfulness and awareness through the process of becoming an objective observer at all times. The silent witness is allowed to come to the fore.
Memory bank aspect
The memory bank is at most an ephemeral thing yet we all cling to it like a life buoy. How wrong we are to say memories are all we have. Instead, we should aim for how glad I have no memory of this or that. Imagine a mind that is able to let go of all memories and clinging to the past. What past? There is no past or future but only this moment. Life is like standing in a fast flowing river of water where you never stand in the same water twice. So how come we can’t let go and memories keep returning to haunt us and colour our thoughts in the present? It’s like decades have passed and you still hold a grudge. It’s even crazier when you have actually forgotten why you were so upset in the first place!
So you can see why the memory aspect is probably the most troublesome after the ego, as it has immense influence over our thoughts. It’s like an over-flowing cupboard, cellar or attic just because we feel the need to hang on to things and our identification with those things. There’s usually way too much stuff in there as memories build up from the past, present, and future and we don’t discern which are keepers and which are not. Stuff gets put in with each new experience or sensory input and gets dragged out when we are triggered. And then we come to grief and pain when it reminds us of our horrible parent or that teacher who humiliated us and made us feel small, etc, etc.
As we think, we become
By now you can see how all our mental states are a result of the way we think. Understand these 4 aspects of the mind so that you don’t allow yourself to be thought into a corner or into a downward spiral. Aim to lift your mind up by holding off the old biases. Sit more and become more of the see-r, the objective observer, letting the silent witness within us come to the fore. Be willing to let go of the part that is quick to judge because it won’t lead us anywhere but to pain, anger, hurt, and upset.
In time you will begin to see that 99.9% of our perceptions are wrong anyway. And this is the beginning of seeing the truth for what it is, that we have been wrong all along. We will then start a new life by asking always, “What if I stopped thinking this way? How do I realign this thought with spiritual values? Can I be kinder?” At the end of the day, we need to be honest and humble enough to ask if our mentality serves us or not. Does it help to put us on the path to being a better person? Or, is it simply keeping us where we continue to spin around the same old issues and dwell in the past or worry about the future?
Meditation is beautiful because what happens on the cushion should flow over to help us manage our lives off the cushion. We manage the 4 aspects and make them work towards giving us a positive mindset that gets us to where we want to be, literally, a beautiful world to live in. There’s no other way about it. If we want a beautiful life with purpose and meaning, then we need to take stock and identify where change is needed followed by action to create the change we need to see. Our mind is our best tool and we need to make it to work for us and not the other way around, stuck in its churnings and chained by its tyranny. Only then can we become the difference that we want to see in the world.
Related article: 96% of your subconscious is running your life.
Related article: Life’s vexations – manage them and set yourself free.
Related article: The story of Chicken Little – respond or react.
Note: If you are interested in learning more about the teachings of Vedanta, you can order a course book from the Dayananda Ashram in Rishikesh.
~ ॐ ~