Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox. The Dhammapada Verse 1.
We tend to think that the most powerful forces are either those of technology, perhaps citing your smartphone. Or maybe Governments and the rich classes because of all the wealth and power they have. Or possibly religion or the media because of the ideas they spread around.
But I question that notion because we know of their existence, we fight for them and against them. We study them, fear them, use them and can reject them Becuase of this they are not the most powerful. They are often overlooked but never forgotten.
No, the forces that we should worry about more are the forces that we don’t see, the ones we can’t detect. They can have a power over us that governments and the media try to influence but can’t always succeed.
I’m talking about your own mind. The complex collection of assumptions, feelings, perceptions and ideas that influence our behaviour.
Our minds are influenced by other powerful forces in this world. The aforementioned media, culture, authorities have their power, but it all get gathered together in our mental landscape.
They inform how you behave and most of the time you don’t even notice. We’re all far too busy with our jobs, going through the motions to have time to contemplate what we are doing, thinking, and why.
This is the power over us, the part we don’t see because we are so trapped within them.
I like to think that philosophy is an attempt to try and see these ideas. A way to perceive something normally beyond our vision. Rationality, reason, critical thinking are ways bring the subconscious patterns into the light where they can be examined. This enables us to spot the flaws in our thinking.
It’s also the aim of practices like meditation, mindfulness. Which is the attempt at observing the workings of our own consciousness. Seeking those moments when extreme emotion hijacks our mind. Understanding how we are caught up in a false ideas. The aim is to seek a stillness of the mind but also to gain knowledge about ourselves.
Both are attempts at perceiving what’s going on within us. By such practice we can help free ourselves from the grip of this power. So we can live better, happier lives. To become less caught in prisons of our own making.
To give you some idea of what this prison is made up of I will outline three ways we can become slaves to this force.
For example Confirmation Bias. Here it’s the tendency to only seek and accept evidence that supports what we already believe. It’s a dangerous bias because our ideas can be wrong and the only way to check is to find contrary evidence.
This bias can lead us to form conclusions that are not based upon reality. With such faulty ideas our actions are unlikelty to be effective.
Poor reasoning can come in many forms but one example is the Sunk Cost fallacy. When resources are poured into a failed project we have the idea that the solution is to spend even more resources in a vain attempt to turn a failure into a success. It doesn’t work because money alone is not sufficient to turn a bad idea into a good one. Yet we persist in throwing ‘good money after bad’ because of it hard for us to accept failure. It the reason why so many projects overrun in cost and time and why a lot of waste takes place.
Extreme emotion is another example. Our brains can be overcome by emotion that rational thought is very difficult. In some circumstances it useful even life-saving, as fear compels us to run away from a threat to our life. But circumstances have changed however, we’re no longer threatened by wild animals or other tribes. So those same emotions circuits can get us to be angry, afraid, upset when no existential threat exists.
It’s not that we can ever be free of this prison. But armed with the knowledge of our weaknesses, and how our mind works. We can be better prepared and act in a manner more conducive to our own wellbeing and those of others.
This is one of the biggest ideas in Buddhism. The illusions of our mind as Buddhists describe it are what cause us to suffer and what causes us to act that creates more suffering in others.
When we act out of spite, anger, greed, hatred and envy. The illusions that create emotions are created by are the power we need to be aware of and work to free ourselves from.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques are the more modern interpretation of Stoicism. Where reason is used as a way to correct negative thought patterns.
We should all learn more to perceive our minds better and work to reduce our suffering. Then work diligently to overcome its problems is a necessary step or rather process, that never ends. To free ourselves of the most powerful compelling and invisible force that governs us.
The reminder here is that the biggest forces that shape our lives are often the ones we don’t notice or are unwilling to admit. There are others but the biggest and most important is the working of your own mind, It’s also the one you have some influence over.
‘Our life is what our thoughts make it.’ – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
My call to action is not so much a request for you to sign-up for my newsletter, though I do want you to.
It’s more of a plea, to take these forces seriously. My own growth as a person and in life only took place when I started to address the causes of my suffering and unhappiness. It’s a reminder as Plato wrote with the words of Socrates, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’.
Give your mind and it’s contents the respect and attention it deserves.
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