The Mind is a Wonderful Tool
Noticing We are the Noticing
The thinking mind is a powerful tool. It can play an integral role in engineering magnificent buildings, solving complex problems, mastering multiple languages and writing and executing to-do lists. With education, the mind can learn how to think critically and logically and use deductive reasoning. Our thinking mind can even develop the capacity for creative or original thinking.
Moreover, if we’ve explored personal development and sought to make changes in our life, we’ve probably learned that adjusting our attitude and beliefs can profoundly impact how we experience and create our life. For instance, research demonstrates that gratitude can enhance our physical and mental well-being and how we function in the world. The Greater Good Science Center’s website is a compendium of such studies.1 Optimists tend to live longer and happier lives.2
And both gratitude and optimism can be cultivated.
In using all these wonderful tools, however, we typically overlook a key fact about the mind: it’s not what we are.
Because we are able to witness thinking mind, we cannot be thinking mind. Yet we usually identify with our mind, making living from thought a common state of consciousness most of us inhabit. This is a faulty, flimsy foundation from which to live.
With some reflection, we can easily become conceptually aware that we are not a stream of thoughts and sensation; that is, we can think we are not the thinking mind. With time and effort this can ripen to a fuller realization, and we can know and directly perceive we are not the mind. Then we can live from a firm foundation, grounded in truth. How?
One way is by contemplating the question, ‘what am I?’
A meditation practice is another tried and tested means of creating a strong foundation, built on insight into our true nature.
When we meditate, it will quickly become apparent that our attention readily gets mired in what we are noticing – thoughts, sensations, emotions, sounds, etc. However, this does not portend failure or show that we’re not capable of meditating. Rather, in noticing this, we expand in awareness.
Meditation can be seen simply as a practice by which we come to notice that we are the noticing.
In addition, through a concentration practice such as Zazen, we can train our capacity to volitionally give attention. This ability lets us focus on more helpful thoughts and let go of those we experience as troubling.
A concentration practice also lets us become more familiar with our strong tendencies to move towards what we perceive as good and move away from what we believe to be bad. We can see how we’ve been living in a kind of bondage, prisoners of an untrained mind.
In cultivating one-pointedness, we also develop the capacity to hold attention on our disturbances and discomforts, to remain with our fear and pain, rather than seeking to numb and avoid. By facing and embracing all our experience, we become free, at peace with whatever is showing up.
With practice, we notice we are this noticing. We discover we are awareness itself, and not that which arises in awareness, like thoughts. We see we are the seeing, rather than anything being seen. We discover we are not the mind, but that which the mind arises within. Fully integrated, this is the end of suffering. It is the beginning of living life as a joyful being, untroubled by phenomena.
Most of us require a regular and sustained concentration practice to allow this realization. A combination of sitting meditation and a body meditation, such as yoga, qigong, or dancing, may be optimum.
We can also practice throughout our day, bit by bit loosening our attachment to our mind and inviting the clarity of awareness.
We can begin right now.
Stop reading and take a deep breath.
There is stuff you are noticing – thoughts, feelings and sensation. Pause, and notice you are the noticing.
Pause once again. We may find it pleasant to simply be, to notice the mind rather than be swept up by it. Take a rest in the gap between thoughts.
We can create “trigger points for peace” throughout our day by anchoring this practice in frequent tasks.
Perhaps every time we sit or get up from our seat, we simply take a second to notice we are noticing. Or, we could do this mini-meditation every time we touch a door handle.
By selecting an activity that happens a few times every day, we can catalyse progress in realizing we are not our mind. We can bring the peace and ease of moments spent in meditation or yoga into our day-to-day.
The research into neuroplasticity shows how deliberate and consistent practice changes the physical structure and neural functioning of our head, heart and gut brain. Norman Doidge’s The Brain that Changes Itself is an accessible summary of such research.
Over time, these moments expand and become more frequent. Eventually, suffering–a function of the mind–may become no more possible than picking up a red-hot poker.
Ironically in moving beyond the mind we enhance many everyday human functions, including that of the thinking mind. It all begins with noticing we are this noticing.
➠ For a deeper dive into transformation through gratitude enjoy Will’s second book The Gratitude Prescription; Harnessing The Power of Thankfulness for Healing and Happiness – www.amazon.com
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