Sunday, August 17, 2014
Mind (the gap)
The mind has two fundamentally different functions. For the sake of simplicity, let's say we have two minds. (This is about mind; nothing to do with the "left brain-right brain" split.) Rarely do the two meet. Sometimes people never connect with one of their minds at all, at least, not consciously while awake.
The other mind we all know about. It is an ambassador to the brain. It deals with sense impressions captured by the organs of perception, thought, and memory. Today most world views are based on this mind, whether or not the individual thinks about it or just accepts the going cultural ontology.
All these sense perceptions can be dazzling to the mind, or at the least attention-grabbing. The almost incredible pull exerted by the senses, especially moving images, is shown by the absorption of so much of the population so much of the time in entertainment. The film critic Stanley Kauffmann once pointed out that if you put a TV screen showing a program in a store window, lots of people would stop to goggle at it -- half a century after TV made a commercial breakthrough, and when almost everyone had one set or more at home.
When you add thinking and memory (most of it based on senses raining on the mind), it's easy to see how the mind (one mind, in our metaphor) could be filled to the brim. What could be left over for anything else?
But the mind, in total, that we each possess is potentially capable of two entirely different processes. A crude analogy might be a garment designed to be turned inside out so it is in effect two items of clothing in one.
So what is this other mind, or other use of the mind?
With sufficient practice or training, and in a few people as a natural gift, it receives impressions from non-material, ordinarily imperceptible states of being. People with such capabilities have been known throughout history, described by many different terms: oracles, mystics, psychics, clairvoyants, and mediums are maybe the most common. That isn't to say that their abilities are the same or work the same way: the more you learn about them, the more you're tempted to say each is unique, like snowflakes. Their one thing in common is that they are in touch with non-material beings (spirits) or realms unavailable to those who are purely sense-driven.
Most people with psychic gifts maintain that we are all able to develop such talents, albeit not necessarily to the same degree, if we work at it. The best method of development varies by individual. Most, however, involve shutting down the sense-enamored mind and concentrating on one particular thing or idea to the exclusion of normal daily consciousness. It's kind of like switching channels.
The formula for, literally, changing one's mind generally goes by the name of concentration or meditation. (Some teachers of the psychic and spiritual arts insist they are not the same, but despite my best efforts to understand what they're on about, it seems to me a distinction without a difference.)
As a meditator for several decades, I can assure you it has not been easy-peasy, and I think the same will be so for many practitioners. There have been occasional moments (sometimes quite isolated in time, occasionally frequent for a short while) when I believe I experienced a state qualitatively different from any other, and with a touch of ecstasy about it. Mostly, though, it's frustrating, tedious, or seems impossible.
Probably the trouble is that we're trying to use the mind in a totally different way from what we're used to during every waking hour. (Sleep is a special state of mind, but I'll cop to being still confused about how it works.) The "other mind" keeps trying to step in and take over. You can't force it to back off. You have to learn not to pay attention to it.
Should you wish to explore the "other mind," be prepared for a bout of learning that's like becoming an expert in any skill. (If you happen to be one of those "naturally gifted" ones I mentioned earlier, it may develop more quickly and easily -- some say that's because there are people who made considerable progress in earlier lives -- or you are already doing some form of psychic activity.)
A mind is a terrible thing to waste, they say. Two minds, perhaps an even greater waste.