Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Hidden Life of Minds

I read a book awhile back 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 a little digital camera 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 – my version of reality TV. 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 have made reference before to training our minds like we train a puppy – with gentle repetition and time for play and rest. 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? See, there I go again, wandering off.

My mind is long past the puppy stage, and long past the adolescent horse stage, but I am nevertheless motivated to make some effort to train it. In fact, I have been working on this for awhile now, and I’m convinced that old dogs can learn new tricks!

If you are so inclined, attach a little video camera to your mind, sit back, and see where it goes when it doesn’t know you’re watching. Remember not to judge – be a neutral observer. You might be surprised. We did this exercise in my monthly discussion group last week, and we were all surprised by how different our minds were. It was very clear, for example, that an artist’s mind goes to different places than a lawyer’s mind. We had lots of fun, so if you have a chance, try this with some other people.

In the next posts, we’ll talk more about the training part. For now, just get to know your mind a little better. Relax and make friends.


  1. Galen: I figure I was given a two hundred year life span. I'm planning to rest the second hundred.

  2. Oh I really am excited for the next posts covering some training for this! Sometimes when I go to be I end up thinking so much about doing this and that and how I could do this, or should...so much thinking can just wake me right up.....but it's true, our minds works far faster, and can do multiple thoughts faster than we can do one thing! Great post Galen!

  3. Hi Galen,

    Oh gosh, I am amazed to read about your findings after following your mind. Mine is no different from what you've shared, although tracking and comparing to a date about a year ago has shown that my mind is now more positive, at peace and loving.

    What you've shared about your discussion group is very interesting indeed. I am grateful for your sharing :-)

    I will be interested to read about the training part!

    With love,

  4. i like the Analogy Galen
    you are so right, we must become conscious of the way our minds wander , that will certainly help us live better lives

  5. Well, a mind is a terrible thing to waste---so yours is doin' good!

  6. My wife is an artist and I can confirm that her mind works much differently than mine. I'd love to put a camera inside her head. It would help me tremendously.

  7. Such a good post Galen and I like the exercise you did on following your mind. I plan to try it too! Thanks for stopping by my blog...always nice!

  8. Thanks! What a good idea, one I'll definitely try today...looking forward to some training tips in the future also. (:

  9. JJ--Ha! Well, your mind clearly has more energy than most. My mind sometimes wears itself out like a puppy chasing its tail. I would like to put a little camera on your mind for a few hours! Thanks for commenting.

    Karen--Belly breathing at bedtime is a great habit, as I described in the last post. When my mind is on its hamster wheel as I'm trying to go to sleep, conscious, deliberate belly breathing slows it down and eases me into sleep. Thanks for your comment.

    Evelyn--Interesting observation. I would say that my mind, like yourse, spends less time fretting and worrying than before. That's good. Thanks for commenting.

    farouk--A little training can make a big difference. Thanks for your comment.

    Clint--Well, it certainly wastes a lot of time and energy! Thanks for commenting.

    Bob--I was so surprised after the exercise by the differences in where our minds went. That was a real eye-opener. Maybe you and your wife could try this together and see what happens! Thanks for your comment.

    Cynthia--Let me know what happens. I bet you'll be surprised. Always nice when you stop by, too!

    Nan--Let me know what happens. You might be surprised. Thanks for your comment.

  10. My mind is wandering too much, this is sure and make me think about things I should never think about cause they are just my imagination creation.
    But I will follow your advice, sit back and look at it from another angle. Thank you and have a lovely evening.

  11. What an awesome thought to watch what your mind thinks. Mine should be interesting. I am going to do this one for sure. This was a very enlightening post and I loved reading it!
    Blessings to you and keep on enjoying your moments.

  12. I feel as if you have been following my mind. As stated by others, the training is welcome. My attempts are not working. LOL Another view point, way of action is needed!

  13. Marie--My mind wanders, too, much more than I realize. This little exercise is fun and revealing. See what you learn! Thanks for commenting.

    LeAnn--Yes, it will be interesting! Enjoy! And thanks for commenting.

    Barbara--Well, let's see what we can do. Thanks for your comment.

  14. Oh fun idea here Galen, I think therefore I am? no longer such a good idea.
    I reviewed a book not long ago YOU ARE NOT YOUR BRAIN and it talked about all the deceptive messages are brains pop into our consciousness...and how to retrain and re-frame one's thinking...because one's "gut feelings" are more important messages to be listening to.

    I just used their techniques - my brain was saying you are hungry very loudly...but my feelings were saying you are cold. I hiked off to take my shower and change out of my walking clothes. I now feel contented, warm and not the least bit hungry.

    I think awareness of what I am thinking is vital. Yes I often even those monks who have had a lifetime of brain work...
    most creativity comes when a faulty brain message wrongly attaches to a felt concept...
    Hmm...now my braining is racing!

  15. Ahhh the restless mind.......I have often made the comment that the "mind has a life of its own.....without my help!" Taming it can be quite a daunting task.....and I don't know if I ever will be able to fully tackle it....but I do keep trying.



  16. I have thought about how much my mind wanders...but putting an age or stage to it is a new concept for me. I know it needs training. Looking forward to hearing more on this from you.

  17. Hi Galen,
    Yes you can teach an old dog new tricks. I'm forever learning. I like you have been 'actively listening/checking' on my mind, the thoughts, reactions etc
    I try to stay in the present moment, absorb it & not let my mind get too far ahead.....keep trying
    be good to yourself

  18. Patricia--I got that book on your recommendation. Very helpful! Thanks for your comment.

    Jo--I'm going to suggest some methods we can incorporate into our daily lives, so don't give up yet! Thanks for your comment.

    Alida--We'll work on it together. Thanks for your comment.

    David--Lifelong learning is the key, isn't it? Thanks for commenting.

  19. This is an interesting exercise Galen, I do alot of imaginary stories in my head.. keeps me occupied away from the constant worry.
    I look forward to reading those methods.

    Thank you for your kind words on my blog, I truly appreciate it. I'm trying to clear the baggage in my head a little at a time, facing it down in print somehow solidifies it and makes it trashable.. does that make sense...

    Thank you

  20. hello galen
    how are you?
    it's a wonderful exercise you've suggested here and i would be honest there are days and times my mind just wanders all over the place. i must say i am a bit grumpy, mentally stressed out during those periods but i've learned and is still learning to give my mind a rest sometimes.
    there are things that cause me to jolt , worry, become anxious, ... and at the same time things that bring a smile on my face, give me joy....
    sometimes it's not worth me making a fuss over certain things because things just turn out smoothly and i wonder why i expended so much energy worrying.
    i guess one cannot undermine the importance of training ones mind.
    take care and enjoy the rest of the day

  21. BM--That's interesting that your imaginary stories keep worry away. My stories tend to increase my worry! Your idea of writing it down as a way of getting it out of your head makes a lot of sense. Thanks for commenting.

    ayo--I'm fine, thanks. How are you? I waste a lot of time worrying over things that don't happen, too. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day as well. Thanks for your comment.


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