The Art of Meaningful Living-8: Managing your Mind

The mind is like a computer. It is the most advanced of all computers ever devised. Just like a computer has hardware and software, our mind also has its own hardware and software.

  • The hardware of the mind is the brain. This includes both the structure of the brain and its function.
  • The software of the mind is of various kinds. Some of it is preloaded – like our temperament( easygoing, anxious or mixed). Some of it develops as we interact with the world around us. How we connect to others and how we see the world and ourselves are things we develop and change continually, initially from our parents and later from our life experiences and new relationships that we form. We challenge old assumptions and programs, discard some for something new, but shadows often remain.

This mind works as follows:

You have a stimulus( either external or internal). Then you react. You can react impulsively or you can react in a meaningful way. To react in a meaningful way you need to understand that you are not the mind and need to do the following:

  • experience a stimulus
  • see your mind’s internal reactions
  • mull over your possible responses
  • reflect on your knowledge from past experiences
  • choose a considered action

In other words, you need to Pause and Reflect.

  • Pausing to stop so that you have time to collect your thoughts and feelings before choosing your action.
  • Reflect on them by being curious about what responses arise and not being judgmental, and see if you can make purpose choices as you move towards a meaningful life. You cannot control the thoughts and feelings you have, but you can choose their meanings.

You also need to reflect on your mind itself. What does this mean?

The mind can be thought of three layers:
conscious: thoughts and feelings that you are aware of
preconscious: thoughts and feelings that enter your awareness with a cue
unconscious: thoughts and feelings beyond your awareness

It can also be thought of as the rational and emotional mind:
rational: reasoning and problem solving
emotional: feelings and intuition

The wise mind is one which takes into account all the above, uses your head and the heart and allows the preconscious and unconscious to come forth while deciding.

Reflecting on your mind, using your wise mind and pausing and reflecting means you have to monitor the mind. Mind monitoring is listening for the five ‘products’ of your mind.Listen to them, interpret them and only then act.

  • Thoughts can be rational or emotional, spoken or written, images or pictures, monologues, dialogues or full conversations,valid or invalid. But they are just thoughts. They are not facts.
  • Feelings: It is said that there are six feeling families: Happiness( joy, bliss, gladness, amused, entertained, pleased), Anger( annoyance, irritation, rage, hatred), Fear, Disgust, Sadness and Surprise. You need to be able to describe and discuss your feelings. However you should not become overwhelmed. If a feeling seems to overwhelm you, you need to distract yourself by doing something else and then describe and discuss your feelings. Another important thing is not to have the goal of being happy. It is an unreliable goal. It is ephemeral in one sense. Your personal passions are more reliable destinations and happiness is only a by-product on the way
  • Memories: past experiences stored as thoughts with feelings attached. The way to deal with this is to understand that these are only thoughts and their meaning is what you give them. Assign new meaning to memories that do not help you
  • Sensations are physical expressions of emotions. Be aware of them and be aware of the emotion that causes them.
  • Urges are conditioned responses due to a trigger from an external environment or within yourself. Do not think of them as good or bad and reflect on what it means and assign a new meaning if needed.

Let us summarise what we have said so far. To develop skill in mind management we have to do the following five things:

  1. Notice: Neutrally notice external events, internal experiences, products of your mind( thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations and urges) without automatically believing in them. Just be aware, monitor your mind, observe your mind.
  2. Reflect: Develop and consider different meanings for the products of your mind. See the situation from different points of view.
  3. Assign meaning: Choose what the experience means according to which interpretation works best for you.
  4. Pause: Do not react immediately and impulsively, especially with intense experiences. Pause till your mind is under control, then act.
  5. Using the wise mind: Access both the emotional and the rational sides of your mind to make important life decisions and make a decision only when your emotional and rational minds agree on a choice together.

Once we become skilled in mind management we automatically start leading a more meaningful life.