Of what significance is ‘the mind?’ We normally inhabit a mental space which surges with incessant thoughts and feelings. It is a battleground upon which the events of our daily lives play themselves out. We seem to jump from event to event, thought to thought, feeling to feeling often without any sense of coherence or direction. We desperately cling to the familiar–the patterns we have established upon which to hang the flow of our consciousness.
Often these are habitual ways of living, eating, thinking. Our minds are untrained, uninhibited, out of control. This chaos in itself is a source of anxiety. The harder we try to exert our will, the more illusive is the coherence, the equanimity. Perhaps we are trying the wrong approach.
Meditation may be the solution to the contemporary dis-ease of the chaotic mind. As old as human consciousness, it is a haven of peace in a sea of trouble. Although there are many forms of meditation, it seems to me that MINDFULNESS or Vipasana meditation from the Buddhist tradition may be of most help.
There are many contemporary practitioners of this approach but Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D. head of Stress Reduction Clinic in Massachusetts is one of most articulate. He describes the method which centers on an awareness and focus on the in and out flow of the breath. Ideas and feelings which are the residue of the restless mind are allowed to float into consciousness and then to leave the same way. When one becomes aware that they have been entertaining a thought or emotion, they can then redirect their awareness to their breath. All this is done with a sense of peace and calm. One is infinitely patient with one’s own inability to maintain the concentration on the breath. Practice improves the performance and the state of calm that ensues.
The attitude is one in which the meditator is the witness of these disparate thoughts and emotions. One does not attach to any of them. Merely observe them as one would a series of floating clouds. The metaphysical implications of such action is profound.
In our usual state of consciousness, we believe ourselves TO BE our thoughts and emotions. We find it difficult if not absurd to comprehend any other state of awareness. If we can, however, assume the position that mindfulness meditation calls for, we can open ourselves to a new and deeper state of equanimity and peace.
If we are not our thoughts or emotions–then who are we ? Buddhists would insist that our Higher Self, our higher consciousness is beyond description in terms of thoughts or feelings. It is a pure, incarnating, evolving Self. Buddhists deny the existence of the Soul. Although this may be more based on their assumption, through their Hindu heritage, that the soul was somehow fixed and inflexible.
A more open, spiritually enlightened understanding of the Soul allows for an ever evolving, conscious and intelligent entity which manifests in the physical body during incarnations and persists between lives.
How does the Mind and Soul differ? This is a profoundly metaphysical question which defies easy answer or understanding. My friend and medium Artie, upon deep insight and communication from a Higher Intelligence told me, ‘the Soul manifests and observes, the Mind creates and reacts.
You have to know Artie to realize that this is not his usual mode of expression. There is something profoundly true about this statement. The Soul manifests in human form and observes the actions of the Mind. The Mind is the active participant in the consciousness of the living being. It is creative. It exhibits free will. It chooses. It reacts.
All these are the characteristics of our personality, thoughts and feelings in this lifetime. It is a gift as well as a burden for us. We are given the opportunity in any lifetime to face our challenges, to create and heaven and hell for ourselves and to react to our environment.
To understand this metaphysical truth if a tremendous gift to us. It allows us to take control of our lives, or at least mollify our reactivity to the events in our lives. Meditation may be a valuable tool for transformation and ultimately healing.