I have been watching my mind ever since I can remember. It is one of the most fascinating and perhaps the most rewarding occupation that I can recommend to those reading my post. There was a time I was experimenting with the art and science of reading minds (my own as well as those of others). One thing I have learnt is that being watchful of your own mind can give you instant insights into the mental life of another. (Scary, you might think! But there is truth in this). The discovery of ‘mirror neurons’ in our brain structure makes the case of empathic understanding of someone else’s mind scientifically verifiable. There are several recorded evidences of Indian yogis doing this with effortless ease!
The ordinary mind is a mob. It is an unruly march of thoughts that have no real connection with each other. You can look at a pumpkin and think of an atom bomb. Then from an atom bomb your stray thoughts can lead you to Japan. The thought of Japan can swiftly take you to the thought of a sumo wrestler whose face resembles a pumpkin. The thought of sumo might bring back images of a Sumo car that you last saw. Although a pumpkin and a Sumo car have no apparent connection with each other, your wandering thoughts jump from one context to another. Author Sam Harris reports a study that asked participants to record if they were thinking something unrelated to their present experience. The participants reported being lost in wandering thoughts 46.9% of the time. In short, half of our waking life is spent on mindless existence. Mindless existence disconnects us with our friends, colleagues and others.
Success in any profession depends on our ability to mentally connect with others. Such a connection is possible only when our minds are rooted in real-time experience. When you are listening to someone, your thoughts should be around listening. Instead if you get lost in your own thoughts, while listening to your friend for instance, you are not listening at all.
All our perceptions of the world are manufactured in the factory of the mind. When we see a beautiful mountain peak out there and point our fingers towards what we see, we certainly suffer an optical delusion. The mountain peak is experienced nowhere else but in those specialised centres in the brain such as the visual cortex. I was pointing out to a large number of educators and school principals that more important than the curriculum is the attention state of the learner. The curriculum makes sense only if the brain is alert and agile in processing data by way of information, insight and emotion.
When we start watching our mind, we realise that it is polluted with neural noise. This kind of noise emanates from the relentless buzz of thoughts that often have nothing to do with our reality. Yet, strangely, this noise tends to subside as we begin to watch our thoughts. There comes a time when the mind can be completely empty of thoughts like a clear sky without a single cloud. Such a state can also arise in extreme ecstasy such as when you are in love. Conversely, you can experience the full mind at times of grave danger, for instance when your life is threatened by an earthquake! This is when our entire attention is concentrated on a single point of thought or experience. A mind emptied of all its content becomes a full mind. Paradoxically, a full mind has minimum thoughts and maximum awareness. A full mind can see reality directly without the screen of thoughts. A full mind can read another mind easily because it has deeper awareness.
A full mind is also a beautiful mind. It can receive the first impressions of the world out there without psychological distortion. Think of your first ever experience of looking at a star-studded night sky or the first time you were inspired by someone or something you really, really loved. Like a child stands enraptured watching a feather fall in gentle gliding motion, the full mind can discover beauty in the most mundane events around us. This discovery has the enchantment of homecoming. My favourite English poet T.S. Eliot describes this homecoming so well:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.