The deeper one travels along the path of meditation and mindfulness, the more one becomes aware of the workings of the mind. The mind is responsible for how we relate to reality. It is the home of our perceptions, the interpreter of our senses and sensations, the vehicle of our memories, and the tool we use to solve problems. It is also the engine of our awareness, but paradoxically, one of our greatest obstacles to living in the present moment.
So why is this powerful tool which is so essential to our life experience also our biggest barrier when it comes to transcending our human limitations and expanding our consciousness?
Consider for a moment a young child of perhaps two years of age. At two, children are aware of themselves and their environment. They can walk, talk, and move about of their own free will. To a two-year-old, the world is a wild and fascinating place filled with new and interesting things to explore and myriad objects and creatures which beg discovery and interpretation. Place a child of two in almost any location with unfettered reign and they will immediately strike out to investigate anything and everything that intrigues them.
As parents, we are aware of their unbridled curiosity and spend most of this period of their lives keeping them from harming themselves. Crowded public settings are a parent’s worst nightmare owing to the very real concern that our youngsters might wander off and get lost. We exhaust ourselves with hyper-vigilance, making sure we are always aware of what they’re up to.
To preserve our sanity, we learn to manage their experiences, allowing them to satisfy their curiosity while maintaining safe and necessary boundaries. We are also conscious of how they will feel if they awake from their reverie and realize we are not close by. In an instant, their feelings of joy, excitement, or engagement will vanish and give way to fear and panic when they realize they’ve lost their connection to safety and familiarity.
The mind operates much the same way as a young child left to its own devices. Yet most of us do not exercise the same watchful care over our minds as we would a curious child.
Humans are creative beings indwelt by a fragment of Source which imbues us with a compulsion to create. We MUST create. It’s baked into our DNA. This creative predisposition becomes obvious watching children play. When left alone to amuse themselves, kids instinctively engage their imaginations. They make up stories, they build things with blocks, they become superheroes, they have tea parties with imaginary friends, and they nurse their dolls and stuffed animals back to health.
The mind’s job is to think, and solving problems is its favorite activity. Like that small child, the mind is also easily bored, so when it runs out of real problems to solve, imagination takes over and it starts inventing problems of its own and goes to work solving those. It is no wonder why it is so difficult to stay present when our mind is always projecting into the future, formulating solutions to problems which don’t yet exist and probably never will.
Worse still, these mental machinations are often driven by the most potent and pervasive of all negative emotions – fear – particularly fear of the future. Fact: of all the harrowing and terrifying outcomes we can imagine, the actual event is never as bad as we envision. In the moment, we deal. In the moment, we adapt. In the moment, we act and engage. The big difference between the adult mind and that of a playing child is the child is immersed in the moment, wholly unconcerned about the future and what might be coming next into their fantasy landscape.
All creation starts with a thought, with an idea. It is said that our physical universe began as a thought in the mind of God. As above, so below, meaning that here on Earth, all the reality we see also began as a thought. Understood in this context, the mind is a thought factory and the thoughts it produces infused with a powerful Godlike energy which creates reality. When properly harnessed, thoughts can result in wonders such as skyscrapers, art, airplanes, beautiful music, bridges, computers, miraculous cures, and the myriad other manmade marvels we enjoy and live amongst every day. When applied negatively, that same energy can create crime, weapons, evil, and sin.
And if our thoughts create reality, it stands to reason that our life expression is the sum total of our dominant thoughts. So, by allowing our mind to tell us false, imaginary stories, we are in fact asking the universe to send those very scenarios which we don’t want into our experience, simply because our bored busy-body-brain wants something to do. And if not interrupted by mindfulness, the untamed mind will continue replaying these fictional stories, causing us to experience the emotions associated with them until we begin to believe and integrate this false reality into who we are.
Consider this scene… you’re sitting on a lovely beach gazing out at the ocean on a trip with your aging parents with whom you are very close. The sun is warming your skin and a salty breeze keeping you comfortable. You fondly watch your parents walking on the beach, still enjoying each other’s company after so many years together. This warms your heart, and you smile. Your mind then takes you years ahead when your parents’ journey of this lifetime is over and they leave you. In a flash, your joy evaporates, sadness overtakes you, and you begin to cry.
Of course, this difficult thing isn’t real. Your parents are still walking on the beach and very much alive. Yet your mind has imagined a painful future event which produced a very real negative emotional reaction, and your body responded in a very real and unpleasant feeling way.
Although the child’s mind (aka beginner’s mind) is uncapable of imagining a negative future or detrimental future events, consider what happens when a child experiences disappointment. Take away a toy they’re playing with, and they instantaneously experience disappointment. They may cry, or shout, or stomp their feet. They might have a full-blown tantrum. They fully experience the negative emotion of their disappointment, but after a few minutes, they forget about how unhappy they were and move on to the next task, absolved of the pain they were feeling moments ago.
The adult mind doesn’t so easily move on. We tend to hold onto those negative feelings and experience them over and over, sometimes for so long that we develop actual physical ailments which require medical care. If it doesn’t feel good, it’s not good for you, so just as we wouldn’t let our small child touch a hot stove, nor should we let our mind dictate the state of happiness and wellbeing.
Like that two-year-old who is forever pushing his boundaries or vexing her parents to the point of frustration and anger, the mind is not some horrible monster which must be punished or beaten into submission. The mind is just doing what it is designed to do. The goal of mindfulness is to provide boundaries to the mind’s childlike curiosity and creative potential by gently taking its hand, leading it away from the cars zooming by on the busy street, and guiding it back to the playground where it can safely explore and create unencumbered by any fear of what game it’s going to play next or which marvellous creation it’s going to envision.
By Mark Layne