Controlling the Mind
Recently I had an intense discussion with a friend about dealing with our own minds, and helping others deal with theirs — makes it sounds rather like have pets, or children doesn’t it?
Occasionally over the years I have been offered cute kittens, and I have always said no my argument being that if I was going to have kittens I might as well have kids. At least you can travel with children. Then one day I saw an offer on my work intranet offering to give away a worm farm. I considered the level of responsibility required to keep worms as pets, and decided I could handle that! If you don’t feed them for two weeks they survive fine. So now I have a worm farm and my veggie garden loves me for it. But although the worms are quiet and undemanding, my declining the responsibility of anything needier still left me having to handle a raucous and demanding companion – my mind! It is a grasshopper one that jumps from one subject to another and tries to pull everyone along with it. Some people speak of “the monkey mind” because of this general tendency that all minds have, but mine is a particularly hyperactive one.
In addition I was so under its control that I spend years ruminating on life’s problems and becoming sometimes angry and almost always depressed that more socially acceptable, but often unconscious version of anger.
In the yogic texts we find the message that there is no greater enemy than the uncontrolled mind. And there is also no greater friend than the controlled mind. The question is, how to control it! You can take your dog to dog training school. And your children, well, hopefully you are able to train them before they grow up and it becomes too late, they now have to deal with their own training. But your mind is always with you, and if you don’t train it, you become its slave. In fact that is how most of us live, most of the time. Our mind puts up the pictures, the images, the desires, and we follow them, “Let yourself go to Pizza Hut” was a last century’s advertiser’s way of harnessing our slavery to our mind so they could money out of it.
And it’s not even consistent in its desires. It hosts myriad conflicting options, and switches from one to the other with no concern for the fact that you may have to double back on your tracks to follow its commands. I really want to get married… now I really want to get divorced.
Or it demands two things at once, but you cannot fulfill both demands.
Command 1: Be slim, be skinny, it’s so important, no one will love you, or even like you if you aren’t.
Command 2: Eat chocolate; I want more chocolate, more chocolate. But I feel sick already. Command 1 again: I don’t care, eat more chocolate.
Another conflicting set of desires:
Desire voice 1: That girl is giving you the eyes… go for it man.
Desire voice 2: You care about your girlfriend, don’t blow it man, you’ll lose her.
Desire voice 1: You’re not married yet, you’re free man, do it while you can, what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.
Or it may not be that blatant, that conscious, your mind may be sneakier,
Suggestion 1; The poor girl is really depressed she needs someone to talk to;
Suggestion 2: You don’t want your girlfriend to feel threatened and jealous
Suggestion 1: She’ll understand, I’m just helping a drowning soul, I have to help her.
A side point, but still related: Isn’t it amazing how it’s always the young good looking ones that men are impelled to help in this way? I watched a ridiculous scenario playing out on a documentary once, about a supposed tantric yogi (that is a whole other subject) who would give counseling to the young and pretty distressed ladies, which included sexual activities. An older overweight distressed woman was counseled without the extra activities… she was given a pillow to pound instead. This person, supposedly a yogi, was so unaware of how his mind and desires were playing him like a patsy. (Please don’t take this as a sexist stand, one could give examples of women using men in synonymous manners… as in, isn’t it amazing how the young women, who just happen to like being a support to an older man, seem to run into the wealthy or famous ones…)
The mature yogi is aware of the tactics of the mind, and is very aware of the difference between him/herself and the mind. The mature yogi is not a slave, a fall guy, for the desires of the mind. The mature yogi is aware that there is a higher facility, the buddhi, or intelligence, which should be used to control the mind and the activities of the body. If one wants peace and happiness, and if one wants to advance in yogic maturity, the mind may be used as a tool, but should not be a master.
How then does one come to this point? Well, I’m not a great example, except that, having come from such a low base line, some improvement is evident. I am no longer prone to eating 2 king size bars of chocolate in one sitting, perhaps with a sugar drunk sleep on the floor in between. Nor do I spend my life, as I did for many years, bemoaning my miserable state, depressed, blaming God, angry that I even existed. The hold my mind has over me has somewhat lessened.
There is more than one method capable of loosening the binds the mind has over the atma, the self, the living entity, me. In the past the process of ashtanga yoga, (not the athletic version of gymnastic style dynamic asana classes, but the very exacting and demanding process of developing control over the body and mind by technical means) was possible for some few very determined yogis. But in today’s age of turmoil and urban living this is beyond difficult, and those fool hardy enough to try are pretty much doomed to failure.
So the process recommended for this day and age is to take shelter of mantra yoga. It still requires discipline and determination, but the tool of mantra yoga is so powerful that the mind becomes gradually tamed. In the process of ashtanga yoga there are guiding principles but the work must be done alone. In the process of mantra yoga the mantra itself has power. It is analogous to trying to wash dirt off your hands. You may rub and rub your hands together, and eventually over time perhaps the dirt will come off as the skin rubs off, but if you run your hands under water while rubbing, they will be clean very quickly. Even if you don’t rub, but just leave them under running water, it may take longer than if you do some work yourself, but it will still be faster than just rubbing your hands, working hard without water.
So work must be done, and you must go to the water, or bring it to you, but you are not reliant on your own will power, determination, strength and bodily prowess. Imperfect and incomplete though my progress is, I know what I am speaking about when I say, try it, it works.