Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Hidden Life of Minds

I read a book years ago called The Hidden Life of Dogs. The author followed her dog around the neighborhood for some months as he went about his doggie business, sniffing, marking, and impregnating. Nowadays you can buy little digital cameras that you can put on your dog’s or cat’s collar and sit in the comfort of your living room watching Fido and Fluffy do what they do. The idea is that by watching them, we can gain some insight into their lives. We can understand them better.

We can do the same with our minds. My mind seems to be busy all the time, but I spend little time really paying attention to what it’s up to. So I followed it around for awhile. This is what I observed.

Mostly, I couldn’t keep up. In a very short period of time, I caught my mind rehearsing, reliving, planning, judging, complaining, criticizing, worrying, regretting, thinking, anticipating, wishing, hoping, missing, enjoying, caring. And feeling anxious, content, happy, tired, angry, sad, excited, lonely, resentful, loving.

After this brief exercise, I came to some conclusions. My mind wastes a lot of time and energy. It does not know how to rest. Harnessing it to focus is understandably challenging. It is like a wild horse. In fact, it is very much like a young horse I once trained. Instead of training the filly to accept a halter and lead when she was very small, we waited until she was an adolescent and very strong, and not at all keen to being directed by anyone else.

I wonder what the Dalai Lama’s mind is like. His mind has been trained since he was a toddler. He meditates for hours at a time. What must it be like to have a mind as powerfully focus-able as that?

I have made reference before to training our minds like we train a puppy – with gentle repetition and time for play and rest. My mind is long past the puppy stage, but I am nonetheless motivated to make some effort to train it. I hope old dogs can learn new tricks! I think they can.

This 10 Steps program is my way of trying to train my mind to develop habits that will grow a joyful spirit. The first step of changing any bad habit is to become aware of it, so I hope that attaching the digital camera to my mind and watching from time to time will help me understand what my mind spends so much of its time doing. My version of reality TV.

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

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