‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ Hamlet act 2 scene 2
The power of our thoughts in shaping our reality is greater than we can ever really fathom. In its infinite scope, our minds are capable of conceiving of almost anything, even of infinity in a finite world.
Our mind is a meaning-seeking machine, an organ of becoming. A piece of rock becomes a potential tool, a series of three notes becomes a tune, a comet becomes a portent. We create reality via acts of interpretation.
In the West we have become used to regarding the mind in broadly Freudian terms. The conscious is informed by the subconscious. The subconscious mind is beyond our reach and yet is feeding our conscious mind the whole time. I have two main hesitations around this:
- It views the mind as a zone of potential danger
- It takes no account of the influence of the physical on the mental
How can we live well if our principal life tool can become our worst enemy and we never know when it’s one and when it’s the other? Are we to be tossed from the crest of a wave to the trough of despair without having any sense of our progress from one to the other? Is hope inevitably to show itself to be hollow, a glimmer that turns out to be nothing in the space of a thought? Via what mechanism does joy become misery? Courage become fear? Pleasure become pain? In the seemingly endless layering of thought and motivation on which Western psychology is based how can we have any real chance of actually just enjoying our lives? Or have we stopped hoping for that?
On the physical side, our experience of ourselves in the world is influenced by many processes, principal among these the endocrine system. Our major glands secrete and metabolise our hormones in a network of chemicals of feeling. Feeling fantastic and feeling shit are not just perceptual experiences in our mind as it reacts to external events. Substances like serotonin, endorphins and adrenalin are rising and falling in us all the time, contributing and reacting to what’s going on in our heads. It’s not just about the brain but about the whole of the body.
Ignoring the bodily aspects of our reality and being convinced of the unfathomable yet decisive influence of the subconscious makes us vulnerable to the whims of the mind and blind to the relationship between it and the body. We go up diddly up up and then down diddly down down. We think something, then feel something, then look for the hidden, subconscious motivation behind that thought, have another thought, then wonder whether there’s a subconscious motivation behind that thought, have another feeling, another thought, like a wheel within a wheel within a wheel within a wheel… dizzy? So busy thinking we forgot to live.
Meditation and mantra exercise the brain via action on the waves of its electrical activity. They comb the mind. Attention to the chakras helps balance the endocrine system. Regular practice helps us see things for what they are as opposed to what we think they mean. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes a good thing is just a good thing.