Mind: Can It Be Tamed?
Top takeaways from this spiritual guide to mastering your mind.
The mind is one of the most important inner instruments that we possess. We use it to perceive the world around us, to store information and make decisions. The outside world may remain the same, but there is a completely different world that exists inside each one of us. The quality of our experiences is primarily dependent on the quality of our mind. By improving the quality of our minds we can use it as a stepping stone for good experiences. So, how do we improve the quality of our minds? Are our minds susceptible to change in the first place?
Yes! We can change. Why? Because our mind is not us. It is important that we get rid of the common misconception that we are our minds. When in fact, we are separate from our minds and we have the ability to change it. If we believe that our mind is us, we become a slave to our minds. We always have the power to step back, observe and control how we react in different situations. So, why is it important that we control our minds? Why does our mind need to be tamed?
In the book Mind: Can It Be Tamed?, our mind is fittingly compared to:
"an agitated, opium drunk monkey, bitten by bees, with his tail on fire, swinging from branch to branch".
It's a little unsettling to hear at first, but our minds do jump from place to place, from one thought to another like a wild monkey. Even in this exact moment, how many thoughts are passing through our heads? How many desires do we have in this moment? In a day, how many times do we replay memories from the past? And how many times do we daydream about the future? To improve the quality of our mind we need to learn to tame it. By taming our mind we can stay truly present and create the best experience for ourselves in the moment that we are in.
This book draws from ancient knowledge found in Hindu scriptures and explains how we can best tame our minds. It reveals the ways in which we can conquer our minds, so that we are the ones controlling it instead of it controlling us.
6 ways to master the mind:
1. Know the mind.
The first step to mastering the mind is seeking the necessary knowledge to do so. For example, reading a book like this one bring us closer to understanding what the mind is and what needs to be done to empower it. What is the mind?
Firstly, the definition for the mind, as found in my spiritual texts, is a continuous flow of thoughts. The mind is a not a group of thoughts or a singular thought. It is a stream of thoughts. Just as a stream of water flows endlessly in nature, our thoughts flow endlessly through our minds. Depending on the control we have over our minds, this stream can be cool, calm and collected or like a raging river.
Secondly, the mind is subject to three main moods: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. These words in Sanskrit don't have English-equivalents but there are a lot of words that can be associated with each one. Sattva describes a state of purity, calmness, and confidence. Rajas alludes to a state of activity, ambition and restlessness. Tamas describes a state of dullness, laziness and apathy. Everyone experiences all three moods but we have a dominant mood depending on the texture of our mind. The first step to empowering our minds is noticing how we experience each mood throughout the day and deciphering what our predominant vibe is. The goal is to make our minds at Sattvik as possible.
2. Put in what we need to take out.
Once we decipher our dominant trait, we have to put in thoughts to replace the ones that make us highly Rajasik or Tamasik. What do we mean by put in? Just like we pack a bottle of water preemptively because we know we will need it later in the day, we have to "pack" or prepare thoughts for all the different situations we may have to face. For e.g. a lot of the times when we are faced with a challenge we think: "I can't do this." The reason our brain might instinctively go to this thought is because we've been practicing saying this to ourselves. To change this, we need to replace it with an affirmative statement, like "I can do this. I'll figure it out." (Easy enough?)
There is a simple 4-step process to help us achieve this:
1. Detect: Notice what we frequently tell ourselves. What goes in our minds?
2. Evaluate: Analyse why we had those thoughts. Ask ourselves if it is true?
3. Negate: If it isn't true, then don't give ammunition to those thoughts and "delete" them.
4. Substitute: Brainstorm better alternatives and "insert" them instead.
This process doesn't have to be as surgical as it sounds, it's merely a way to help us expand our current way of thinking. The important thing is we need to know what goes in, because that's what is going to come out. (Garbage in, garbage out!)
Note: When we work on changing or improving our minds, it can't be done by force. If we force our minds to suddenly think in a completely different way, there will be resistance. We have to hold its (metaphorical) hand lightly and slowly guide it in the right direction.
3. Keep the right company.
Tying in with the previous point, we are strongly influenced by the people we surround ourselves with. When we frequently spend time with a certain group of people we adopt their habits, behaviors, and even their accents! We become the company we keep. Which is why, we should always be mindful of the company we keep. We should seek company that supports us, inspires us and helps deepen our understanding of the higher, more important things in life. We should keep away from company that pressures us to give into temptations and makes it hard for us to uphold good values.
Our company in today's world is not just the physical company we keep but also our digital company. We spend time with a lot of people online and consume a lot of media throughout the day. The type of digital company we keep heavily influences our mood. Who do we follow on Instagram? Who are we subscribed to on Youtube? What types of books are we reading? What types of movies and TV shows do we watch? Which podcasts do we listen to, if any? There is a plethora of content out there just waiting for our consumption. Consequently, the mood of this content also varies dramatically from lighthearted and inspirational to violent and vulgar. All of the images and sounds we experience leave a lasting impression on us. (What goes in, is what comes out!) It's important to be aware of the media we give ourselves access to and substitute to content that instills Sattvik attitudes.
4. You are what you eat.
The food we eat plays a key role in the stability of our mind. There are two basic rules to consider:
Firstly, the type of food we eat should be as fresh (or as Sattvik) as possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables are considered Sattvik because they nourish and calm us. Rich, spicy and heavily seasoned foods are Rajasik because they excite us. Fast and frozen foods are Tamasik because the food is not cooked properly, providing us with little to no nutritional value and instead weakening our health.
Secondly, we should always be conscious of the amount of food we eat. We have to strike a balance and consume food in moderation throughout the day. If we eat too much we become lethargic and if we eat too little we don't have enough energy to power our brain activity.
5. Wake up early.
Different times of day are more conducive for certain types of activities. Early morning around sunrise is the most conducive time for Sattvik activities, like meditation and yoga. The quietness and stillness experienced during this time of the day is extremely valuable for quality introspection. When the sun is at its peak is when you are naturally more energized so that's the best time for being active (Rajasik). After the sun sets, is when you are meant to slow down and prepare yourself to get some proper rest (Tamasik).
6. Tidy up.
Last but not the least, one of the most simple methods to purify our minds is by keeping the space around us clean and tidy. We should organise our environment in a way that brings beauty and structure into our lives. This process doesn't have to be elaborate. Taking care of our surroundings is one of the most understated ways to increase our mental calmness, poise and Sattva.