How much does your mind matter? A question for mental health month

It’s Mental Health Month – this is a topic that’s really very close to our hearts at this Centre.  As the keeper of our mental health, our mind matters greatly.  So this month I’m going to revisit a topic I explored some time ago about the concept of ‘mind’. In the interest of your mind, please read on …

Do we ever stop to think about what we’re thinking? Are the thoughts that we’re thinking relevant, useful, productive, reactive, peaceful or distressing? Even more importantly, do we stop to think that we might be thinking too much?

In a gorgeous conversation with my eldest granddaughter on one rainy day we began to dissect the mystery of that amazing treasure contained within the brain – our mind!

We pondered that ethereal gift: is ‘mind’ our spirit? Is mind everlasting? Is mind the product of our physiology – or the other way around? Are we, in fact, our mind? And what would we do without our mind – for mind in itself, perhaps is life-giving. Our mind is the receptacle of our entire life experience, the keeper of our secrets, thoughts, wishes, hopes and dreams. Our mind can contribute to conversation and discussion … the mind is our communicator and our communication.

Our mind gives rise to action and reaction so therefore our mind can enrich or debase our humanity. Our mind analyses and discerns; it allows us to see the world both visually and emotionally and to make moral or immoral decisions. The major five senses – in fact all sensations – within the body are delivered by our mind. Our mind can appreciate art and beauty and dismiss those others that it’s already ‘made up its mind’ to dismiss.

From our mind can come imagination, creativity and experiential phenomena. Our mind monitors our body, speaks to us in our dreams and permits times of peaceful reverie, without attention. Great minds produce insights and discover facts that can change the world. Some great minds have produced terror and suffering. Some great minds may never reach that level of potential or be empowered to contribute to the wider world as meaningfully as they might. And of course, as with our entire being, our mind can fail us, too.

Perhaps the earliest tabled examination of mind comes from the Greek philosopher Plato (429-347BC). Plato identified the mind with the soul, arguing that the soul pre-exists and survives the body through the process of reincarnation. Within his ‘theory of forms’ (that everything in existence has a perfectly corresponding form) Plato argues that the soul/mind obtains knowledge through recollection of these forms.

The basis of Buddhist philosophy is to understand the function of the mind – as quoted by the Buddha – ‘all things are preceded by the mind, led by the mind, created by the mind.’

Here is one Q & A relating to Buddhism:

  • “What is the mind? It is a phenomenon that is not body, not substantial, has no form, no shape, no color, but, like a mirror, can clearly reflect objects.” Lama Zopa Rinpoche
  • And another … the 1800 year old ‘one-liner’ by Nagarjuna: “Without the discipline of guarding the mind, what use are any other disciplines?”

In Christianity, Jesus’ greatest and first commandment (Matthew 22:36-38) is quoted ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ The emphasis of heart, soul and mind as living experience beyond the physical is noteworthy

Much later and among those great minds who have pondered the mind, is of course, the ‘father of modern philosophy’, Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes primarily concludes that the nature of the mind is totally different from that of the body and that it is possible for one to exist without the other. Yet others argue that if mind and body are different – or separate – then how is it possible for the mind to cause limbs to be activated … or how can reaction in the body cause sensation in the mind … ?

Much later Carl Jung (1875-1961) goes a little further, coining the term ‘collective unconscious’ which he believed to be comprised of instincts and archetypes. This ‘other’ state of mind, for Jung, largely explains the meaning of life as it is symbolically lived through experience.

Now, leaping even further forward, what about the marvellous Dr Seuss and “Oh the Thinks you can Think”. What a mind! What an imagination – and what connection he makes with all age groups as he colourfully explores all the possibilities of mental activity … and way beyond. Using puns and visuals that trigger the imagination, Seuss invents ‘thinks’! And through his illustrations he seems to have done the impossible: created the perfect visual image for the related descriptive language – a feat that for me anyway, is rarely fulfilled when books are translated into film.

Currently, David Anderson (The Mind Project, Illinois State University) researches among many interests, what it takes to be a ‘person’. He explores the possibility as a “valuable educational enterprise to do our best to simulate minds and persons. In the very attempt, we learn more about the nature of the mind and about ourselves. At the very least, it forces us to probe our own concept of personhood.”

He asks: what are the properties necessary for being a person? “Many properties have been suggested as being necessary for being a person: Intelligence, the capacity to speak a language, creativity, the ability to make moral judgments, consciousness, free will, a soul, self-awareness . . and the list could go on almost indefinitely. Which properties do you think are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for being a person?”  Something else to think about?

With just a glimpse of the many amazing minds who have considered the mind, conjured up ideas, reflected upon its source, object and purpose … to delve further is, in fact, almost mind-blowing!

And then another wise man, my mentor and our inspiration at the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre, the psychiatrist and scholar Ainslie Meares, tabled that, as the body needs rest, so does the mind. Meares isolated a style of mental relaxation (aka ‘meditation’) to permit the mind to utilize one of its many natural states. Rather than following the concept of mindfulness which has become popularised today, to care for the mind Meares originated the concept of pure stillness: mental rest, or reverie, to re-establish mental homeostasis and help people restore mental health.
Here’s a valuable thought from his little book titled ‘Thoughts’:

To think
Without thoughts in our mind;
And we come to know
What we did not know before

So!
Do we ever stop to think about what we’re thinking? Even more importantly, do we stop to think that we might be thinking too much? Maybe it’s time to give your mind the rest it deserves.  After all this thinking and all this interesting exploration, that’s certainly my next step right now!

Pauline McKinnon ©
Melbourne, October 2019