The ultimate way to care for your self is to make friends with your own mind.
Why? Because the mind is the creator of happiness and the creator of suffering; the creator of goodness and the creator of harm. How you experience your world – your internal world and the external one – all depends on how you perceive.
[pullquote]“There’s nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Shakespeare, Hamlet[/pullquote]
Who’s the Boss?
Simply said, there are three avenues through which we create happiness or suffering for ourselves and others: the body, the speech, and the mind. But which one is the boss?
I’ll let you in on the secret right away. It’s the mind that’s running the show.
You might say, “Hey, wait a minute. I suffer because my body hurts. Isn’t it the body that’s the culprit?”
But it’s not the pain sensation itself that determines how we perceive it. A prime example in mainstream medicine is the way that pioneers like Jon Kabat-Zinn are teaching mindfulness meditation as a highly effective pain reduction technique. You don’t have to be a meditation master to see the beneficial effects. Mindfulness meditation is a safe form of medicine that works extraordinarily well when it comes to pain reduction and improving other types of illness for ordinary people like you and me.
Biofeedback is another mechanism through which we can manipulate physiological functions and control processes like brain waves, muscle tone, skin conductance, heart rate, and pain perception with the mind.
So it’s not the body that’s in control. The mind is powerful and can indeed transform our perception of physical experience. But it does take training.
When it comes to speech, what you say is entirely up to you and is determined only by your mind – unless you happen to be controlled by demons! Your words are the result of your thoughts and emotions.
Of course, there are times when you “speak without thinking.” But even so the words didn’t appear out of thin air. They’re the result of your own habitual patterns of thinking, emoting and responding which have created specific neuronal circuits in your brain. Exciting breakthroughs in modern science show us that these confused neuronal pathways can be redesigned as we consistently change our patterns of thought and action.
So back to mind.
Although it may not always feel this way, the mind is fundamentally flexible and pliable. In the Tibetan Buddhist teachings, the mind is called the universal ordering principle; the king who rules all. This same idea is found in Western literature:
[pullquote]“The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell and hell of heaven.” John Milton, Paradise Lost[/pullquote]
Can we agree then that mind is the boss?
It is incredibly important to embrace this truth; to really take it to heart. Of course, that will take a little time. But as long as you think happiness depends on other people and external circumstances, suffering is inevitable. The only way to find true happiness and freedom is to fully realize that mind is the key determinant of both your happiness and your suffering.
The Two Aspects of Mind
So the way to truly care for yourself is to make friends with your own mind. That means getting to know your own mind – all its habitual grooves and standard thoughts, emotions, and reactions. But you are not your brain or your thoughts, emotions, and sensations.
Mind actually has two aspects. There’s the essence of mind and the appearance or projections of mind.
The appearance of mind means all the transitory thoughts and emotions that flow through your mind seemingly like the continual flow of a river. It’s said that we have 15,000 – 50,000 thoughts a day. Amazing, isn’t it?
It’s all these thoughts that create your experience of the world – for better or for worse. Usually, our mind is turned outwardly lost in all these projections of mind. One minute we’re happy, the next we’re sad, angry, anxious, irritated. . .you get the picture and probably know the story all too well.
Then there’s the essence of mind. Open, vast, luminous, unbridled potential.
The essence of mind is like the sky – always there, unchanging. The constantly changing thoughts, emotions, and experiences of mind are like the clouds. Sometimes, they hang around for awhile, but in the end they always pass by.
If you take a plane and fly above the clouds, you’ll only see a vast blue sky that has never been touched by cloudiness.
Our problem is that we take the thoughts and emotions to be real. In other words, we mistake the clouds for the sky. Even worse, we take them as our real self. Then we solidify them further until life becomes one reaction after the other. Or simply operating on automatic with no notion of who we truly are.
Making Friends with Your Own Mind
So how do you get to know your own mind and free yourself from all these limiting projections? Through meditation and inquisitiveness.
[pullquote]“Always have a sky inside you.” – Dudjom Rinpoche[/pullquote]
Basic meditation – quietly allowing mind to settle into a state of calm abiding – is the first method for clearing thoughts and emotions and slowly getting a taste of your true essence. When you let mind just be – instead of following after every rising – you will naturally find peace and a sense of contentment. You begin to see there’s actually space between the thoughts and emotions!
There’s a tremendous sense of freedom, openness, relaxation, confidence, clarity, warmth, and love that spontaneously arises when you leave your mind as it is. Your habitual emotional patterns no longer seem so alluring or overwhelming. There’s a little space between you and all the “stuff”. And because the mind and body are inextricably linked, when you relax your mind an extraordinary transformation can take place in your body too.
Inquisitiveness is another way to get to know your own mind. On an ordinary level, you can approach your mind with a sense of curiosity. Slow down and take a look to see which emotions dominate your mental landscape. You can ask, “Am I stuck with this pesky emotional response forever?” Or, “Is this defeating emotion the real me?”
On a more profound level you might ask, “What is mind, really? Where do these thoughts and emotions actually come from? Is there something more to mind than this incessant thinking and reacting?”
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that care for the body is unimportant by any means. At an appropriate level, care for the body, can enhance your ability to relax your mind. And some traditions actually use the body as a vehicle for realizing the true essence of mind.
The important point to understand is that you can take a million bubble baths, and as nice as they are, without going to the root of your problems – the mind – you will stay locked in a circle of suffering forever.
Getting to know your own mind by calming its turbulent streams through meditation and investigating its true essence is the ultimate source of happiness, joy, and freedom. It’s the best way to feel comfortable in your own skin, as the French say. The best way to feel well in yourself on the long run.
As such, it’s the ultimate form of self-care
Sandra Pawula is a freelance writer and inner explorer. Her aspiration is to help others find true happiness and freedom. She writes about personal transformation on her blog Always Well Within.