Making the Most of Our Minds
It is said by many that all we need to do is identify what makes us happy and then work hard to get and keep those things.
Unfortunately, this is where anxiety and excess can get in the way ..…again! We fear losing what we have, or we become bored and start looking for something else.
What we want is happiness itself. What we know, and what we seem to have forgotten, is that we have an everlasting source of happiness to tap inside ourselves already. Please, for those of you doubting this one, just trust me on this …..for now……
If we can feel happy eating a delicious ice-cream, clearly our taste buds have been triggered, which means the origin of this happy feeling is not in the ice cream, but it must already lie somewhere in the mind for it to be triggered in the first place.
It is also true that you can be happy for no particular reason at all. There doesn’t have to be any identifiable cause triggering feelings of happiness – a neutral state of contentment already exists within us. For instance, there are times when someone in pain has good cause to feel unhappy. The pain is felt, but despite this, they feel happy instead, the person’s own equanimity remaining intact.
Equanimity implies a positive balance between painful and pleasant emotions. It also implies resilience, a rapid and sure return of a person’s emotional state towards equilibrium after any strong emotional experience (whether painful or pleasant). The thing for us to note is that equanimity is itself free of pain – a happy state, even though the word makes it sound neutral. We can actually feel good by aiming for this neutral zone, because feeling neutral actually feels good! Remember, it is also possible to feel too good, which probably explains why this is something that is so hard to sustain!
So, let’s consider the purpose of sitting still, and in silence, to simply experience consciousness…..to begin to experience it as something distinct from the content of our consciousness.
Consciousness is impersonal but, for some reason, we experience the content of consciousness as if it were somehow our own. This may seem a little strange to follow …..so, once again, I ask that you please go with me on this one…..
The human mind is a marvellous piece of kit, truly remarkable in its capabilities. Happiness is an emotion, but alongside emotion there are three other major basic mental processes all going on at the same time. There is input in the form of our five senses, and output in the form of impulses that generate action. Between this input and output, there is also our capacity for thinking.
These four dimensions of simultaneous mental activity are integrated and interwoven seamlessly within the healthy mind. These activities, however, cannot all be held distinct from each other within our consciousness at any one given moment.
If we imagine a stage in the theatre upon which a scene has been set, we can see how consciousness might work if we think of it as a floodlight. The latter illuminates a lot, but it highlights nothing. Whilst useful to a point, there are still many places left in the dark, places further away in shadow, which can’t be seen.
Similarly, consciousness can also act as a spotlight, focused and highly concentrated, capable of moving over the scene or landscape so that whatever it hits stands out clearly. This is good, but of course whatever is not spot-lit by consciousness will seem to be more in the dark, less distinct and so all the more easier to ignore.
Sitting still and observing the changing content of our minds, without judgement, allows us to appreciate how consciousness works, enabling us to make better use of it. It helps us, too, to realise that at no one time can we be aware of everything going on in our minds, even in floodlit mode. Fortunately, it really helps to know that we have no need to! Just as we trust the very beating of our hearts, we are totally free to trust the continuous and seamless integration of sensation, thinking, emotion and action within our most marvellous minds. Learn to put your faith in this invisible life force and watch your fears melt away!