I want to give you a different model for the mind. Why would I do this? Because I like to challenge current paradigms and set people free from limiting beliefs. Including my own.
One of my limiting beliefs is that I shouldn’t propose certain paradigms. I should keep topics in a common-sense format that is understandable and doesn’t make people uncomfortable. By the time people look into changing their beliefs, they are already emotionally uncomfortable and are looking for relief from their pain. I shouldn’t make them more uncomfortable, and by getting into the abstract, I lose my credibility and believability.
Well, I’m challenging my limiting thoughts this week by sharing some less common models for the mind. These are not novel ideas, just not often expressed by me.
So, please indulge me as I move past my own feelings of limitations of what is safe to talk about and offer a different look at belief systems, the ego, and the suffering mind. I think this is a useful model at times.
False Belief: The mind is inside your body.
Imagine applying what I share to others, and later to assume this paradigm for yourself. It will be easier to imagine and adopt this way. The first assumption that I want to challenge is that the mind is inside the brain. Assume that it is not. Let’s assume that the mind exists as a bubble of ideas (thoughts), emotions, and beliefs surrounding a person. You might also think of it as a cloud around a person.
Ever heard the expression, “It’s like they’ve got a dark cloud around them.” Or “They live in a bubble world,” meaning that they live in a realm of illusions that surround them. What if this is more literal than figurative? What if the mind, which isn’t visible, exists as a cloud of beliefs surrounding a person? I think the movie “The Matrix” depicts this well with the pods’ people lived and dreamed in.
Seeing is not the same as understanding or proof. We actually only see a small part of the spectrum. We don’t see infra-red, ultraviolet, radio waves, magnetic waves, gravity, emotions, or electrical signals. The belief bubble cloud could exist outside of a person, and we don’t pick up on those wavelengths with our eyesight.
False Belief: The mind is fixed
The second attribute I want you to apply is that the mind is alive. This isn’t a stretch either, but it is unlikely that a person holds this thought long enough for the ramifications to go deep enough. Individual ideas and opinions, as well as whole belief systems, are alive. Characters like the judge and victim are alive. Fear, anger, and impulses of jealousy are alive and pulse through your neural pathways. Each idea is alive and connects to other thoughts and beliefs, creating systems of beliefs that are alive.
Your organs are alive. An organ like a kidney could be removed from a body and transplanted into another person. It is self-sustaining on its own for hours. All the cells within that organ are alive in an independent way also. You could remove bone marrow or stem cells, and they would grow in another person. By alive, think of a living organism that grows on its own provided that it has enough nutrients and a supportive environment.
An idea can grow in the mind if it has fertile soil. A person susceptible to fears is more open to accepting a fearful suggestion. A jealous person will have a mind that is fertile ground to believe a suspicious thought or that some investigation needs to be done. Faith nourishes thoughts. Giving faith to an idea strengthens it and turns it into a belief. It is like watering a seed, and it grows roots. Once an idea takes begins growing in the mind it starts to work independently for its survival.
False Belief: Ideas and thoughts are static
The third component of this model for the mind is that it is adaptable. Organisms adapt, and the mind does too. You want to get rid of some of those negative self-judgments, so you start a gratitude practice. What does the mind do? It gives you a few days of encouragement, and then it begins with thoughts like, “You aren’t practicing gratitude as much as you should.” Or, “you should be more grateful than you are.”
What has it done? It has taken the tool of gratitude and adapted the concept to be used as the foundation of self-judgments. It wants food of your faith for this new judgment. This is what living beings do. They adapt. And the mind is very quick to reposition new concepts in ways that produce the same emotions from the same types of narrative stories. It’s still a self-judgment narrative but has adapted to survive your new approach for change.
What is the Mind?
The mind is a living cloud of fog surrounding a person that adapts to new ideas and thoughts for its own survival. It is intent on surviving and does so by keeping its same narrative, emotional cycles. It is nourished by the faith you invest into it, and it produces emotions as a response.
This model for understanding the mind is not new. In some schools and traditions, it is very old.
Eckhardt Tolle describes it as a Pain Body. It functions to squeeze emotions of suffering from the human being. You have a suffering mind, and it draws out emotions. It isn’t you but something attached to you.
My mentor, Miguel, would describe it as a parasite. A parasite is a life form that draws energy from the host and doesn’t give anything useful in return. This is unlike a symbiotic relationship where both parties benefit. This is how the Toltec shamans of Mexico saw the mind. They saw it as a cloudy entity attached to a human, keeping them from seeing with clarity and thus trapped in a state of suffering from stories and lies. It gets nourished by the personal power of faith that the human invests into their stories. This is how the ego, pain body/parasite gets its energetic food.
In Carlos Castenada’s books, don Juan would refer to parasites with names like inorganic beings, flyers, and mud shadows. It tricks the human into being controlled the way a parasite tricks its host. The mind suggests ideas that serve the cycle of the drama of the mind. The parasite fogs the human’s ability to see and choose an action in their own self-interest.
The many-headed hydra
In the Self Mastery work, I invite you to become aware of the different stories and see the many-headed hydra of the mind telling them to you. Some of those different voices are the Judge, Perfectionist, Victim, Pleaser, Fixer, Princess, etc.
If you agree with the characters of the ego, you invest faith into the parasite that is asking for your energy. You feed the pain-body, and it gets stronger.
What happens when you are skeptical, and you don’t believe their thoughts? (Notice that I did not say “your ” thoughts.) We’ll how would you feel if you didn’t get fed? You would be upset if you didn’t get the regular meal you are used to receiving from your host.
When you don’t believe the story your parasitic mind offers, it gets upset. It wants to eat, and it sees you as the source that feeds it. It is dependent on you and fears that it might starve if you don’t invest some of your faith in the Judge and Victim. So it gets afraid of starving. You feel its fear. Maybe you mistake the fear of the parasite being afraid to die as your own fear. You feel you need to do something. But maybe you are feeling the pain body’s “need for you to do something.” The difference is whether you are identified with the emotion or calmly observing your emotions. Attention and Perspective are keys to your freedom here.
Your mind suggests that your need to get angry, jealous, afraid, criticize, or withdraw is “your” need. Because that’s just the kind of thing a parasite does, it takes over the host’s perception and thinking and tricks the host into doing things against its own self-interest. In this state of non-awareness, the host does things on behalf of the parasite instead.
Your skepticism of a judge and victim thought is withholding food from the parasitic mind. It is starving it of its food. You need a ruthless and disciplined attitude to starve the life out of a living being, even an idea, particularly when you can feel its anxiety and anger at dying while you do it.
Warlike Adversary or Compassion for these Characters
These names, like parasite, pain body, and inorganic entity, set up an adversarial paradigm. It’s this language that had me adopt the attitude of a Spiritual Warrior. I saw fear as an adversary to be defeated. It is a war for our freedom from the parasite.
The upside of this approach is that it fit my cultural conditioning. I grew up in a competitive culture. In the military and I was conditioned to marshall all my resources and full intent to win. That’s good. You need that kind of unbending intent to challenge the ego-mind. As I got further along my journey, my consciousness expanded, and I saw the value of incorporating compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, and love for all these parts of the mind. I stopped trying to “beat” my mind into submission as a foe in this approach. I changed my relationship to my mind, making peace with it and turning it into an ally that works for me.
This compassionate and accepting approach is more common in Buddhism and therapy methods early on. The upside here is you don’t have to drop the adversarial war-fighting stance later. The downside is that one typically goes gently into the process and perhaps underestimate the task at hand. Maybe you don’t marshall enough intent and resources to wrestle yourself free from the living and adaptable ego-mind of suffering.
The paradoxical challenge
Here is one of the challenges. To take obtaining your personal freedom seriously, a matter of life and death, as if you were going to war, and to be compassionate and gentle with yourself.
I learned to treat things that were going to be hard as a fight. Being kind with yourself was something soft and gentle. In the beginning, I didn’t know how to be ruthlessly kind in a big disciplined way. These would have seemed to contradict. Now they don’t. Perhaps you don’t have my same limitation in perception and can seriously and ruthlessly apply gentle compassion early on.
When beliefs or characters in the mind are dying, you need to be ruthless. You need to be present with the fear, anger, and emotions and resolutely not believe a word of the thoughts. You will withhold every ounce of your faith and let the dreams in the ego-mind starve to death. That’s a transformation process. It’s tempting to misconstrue being “gentle with your self” as giving in to something comfortable like a distraction or appeasing a dying belief by feeding it some supporting faith, so you don’t have to feel the emotional process of death that is happening to the pain body.
The paradox of progress involves being completely ruthless and disciplined and being kind, gentle, and compassionate. At first glance, they may appear to contradict, but they do not when applied with awareness.
The mental picture I have as an example is doctors during the civil war. They would be without morphine or pain killers. A soldier would have an injured arm or leg that was infected. To save the human being’s life, the doctor would saw off the limb without painkillers. That’s an example of ruthless disciplined compassion.
When parts of your fearful mind or the whole parasite is threatened because you are letting it all go, it will thrash about with loud, emotional stories. It will push many thoughts and emotions through your awareness, hoping that you will believe in something it says. It doesn’t care what. It is just looking for food of your personal power, faith. You can believe that you are miserable and that this emotional pain will never go away. Or you can believe that you are kicking its ass, and better than it. Both stories are from the ego-mind and will distract you from being present. Both could feed it some faith for another day if you believe them. The hydra of the mind has many heads and many ways to be fed faith.
Maybe this model is helpful, sometimes. There may not be a war going on with a parasite, but sometimes it can be helpful to think of it this way. Maybe the ego-mind isn’t a living being that tricks us with false thoughts and quickly adapts to our new practices, but it sure appears to behave that way.
To transcend the mind, you need to cultivate a blending of discipline, patience, cunning, kindness, compassion, humor, and ruthlessness. You are the doctor that will cut out a lie, or starve a story of faith, even when it is screaming. Simultaneously, you are the human you are saving from your old past patterns, beliefs, and stories. You are the healer that approaches painful emotional memories with empathy, gentleness, forgiveness, and compassion, and you won’t believe a lie because that will infect the human you are saving.
Allow yourself time to develop the mastery of all these new roles. But also make the time to practice the skills you need to gain your personal freedom.
For guidance and the skills needed to free you from your mind, see the lessons in the Self Mastery Course.