„The unreflecting mind is a poor roof“
Our mind creates the world we live in. It is responsible for our perceptions, behaviors and experiences.
Neuroscience distinguishes two kinds of mind functions that dictate our thoughts, emotions and behavior.
#1 AUTOMATIC PROCESS
This part of the mind is the reactive part of brain circuits. It constantly interprets the present due to past conditioning. It has no concept of time, so it can’t tell the past from the present.
Anger is often a result of an automatic response. Have you ever been really mad at somebody and you couldn’t really explain why? Maybe somebody just told you to be quiet. And you got infuriated and mad at him even though, if you are honest, it wasn’t a big deal at all.
The automatic process is triggered in the present, but the programming of the reaction happened a long time ago, when you were in a different, more vulnerable situation in your life.
Maybe your parents often told you to be quiet and when they did, you felt like you were not taken seriously. Today, when people tell you the same, you show the same reactions and you get mad.
Your present reaction is not a reaction to the actual situation, but a result from past emotional experiences.
This phenomena is called implicit memory. Explicit memory, on the contrary, recalls facts, events and circumstances.
The psychologist Daniel Schacter explained that the implicit memory is active „when people are influenced by past experiences without any awareness that they are remembering“. This is pretty scary. It means that you might be doing stuff that has nothing to do with your current life, only because you implicit memory is working. What was the last fight with your partner about? How was your response to it?
Your implicit memory can get you in a lot of trouble. Overreacting, but also overeating, abusing alcohol. It can all be caused by it.
So it would be great to get rid of that memory, right?
Well, as it is part of your brain it will be hard, or nearly impossible, to delete it forever. Fuck your implicit memory, right?
BUT, good news: There is still the other part of the mind, remember? And that is the impartial observer.
#2 IMPARTIAL OBSERVER
The impartial Observer has nothing to do with the past, or the future. It’s the present moment awareness observing your reactions.
It works through the brain, but it is not limited to the brain. For many of us it might be passive. But you can be positive that it’s always there.
It is the voice in your head telling you to stop yelling at that person that just told you to be quiet. It is the part of you that notices that you are overreacting.
Have you ever been eating chocolate to reward yourself? The impartial observer might notice that it’s a conditioning from your past. That your implicit memory told you to do that, because you always got candy and ice cream from your parents when you were a kid.
What’s the solution?
Pretty obviously it’s to awaken your impartial observer. Get it from being passive to being more and more active.
Do that on a constant basis and there will be no limits to your personal development.
Change will come easy.
In Buddhism the way to deal with the mind is to become a compassionate, impartial observer of it without an attempt to change it. By consciously observing your mind you are able to gradually let go of habitual, programmed, automatic reactions. Whenever you are seeking change, observe that you do, don’t fight it. Reflection, not willful resistance is the way to tame your mind.
How do you do that?
Get to know yourself by paying close attention to what is happening inside of you. Be consciously aware of your within.
If you gain self-knowledge through conscious awareness your mind will be strengthened to act on behalf of your impartial observer.
The simplest method, coming from Buddhism, is meditation practice of „bare attention“.
How to practice bare attention?
- Find a quiet place, where you know you won’t be disturbed for the time you want to practice. That can be 5 minutes or 50 minutes. If you have no experience in meditation I suggest starting with just a short period. The key is to do it regularly. If you do to much in one day you might be demotivated the next.
- Sit down straight or lay down.
- The easiest start is to focus on your breath.
- Notice every breath in, and every breath out. Feel the air coming inside your body, the natural pause in between, and how the air leaves your mouth again. Let that be your only focus.
- Of course, a bunch of thoughts will be coming up. Again and again. Just notice them. Don’t judge. And let them go. Focus on the breath again. It doesn’t matter if you can only keep your focus for a few seconds, or for a few minutes. Just keep coming back to your breath.
- If you don’t feel like sitting down or that seems just to much for you right now, there is a method you can use to remind yourself to being aware in your everyday life.
- Put little memos around your house, saying „STOP!“. Put them in places that you regularly use. For example next to your toothpaste, or next to your cupboard with glasses.
- Whenever you see the note, do that activity in really slow motion. So for example, when you use your toothpaste, unscrew the lit really slowly, take your toothbrush really slowly, squeeze the toothpaste really slowly, screw the lit on the toothpaste again slowly, than go on brushing your teeth as usual.
- While you do whatever activity you choose really slowly, focus on it completely. Get lost in the activity alone. Notice how it feels, if it smells, what you see, what sounds it makes. Fully observe your doing.
- If you get the urge of doing it quickly. Notice it. Stop yourself. And take your time. If you do this exercise only three times a day you will already notice the effect. So if you use your taste paste slowly three times daily it’ll just be about 3 extra minutes. You have three minutes right?
Of course you can do both exercises. Just try to integrate a little bit of mindfulness in your everyday life. Once you practice, you’ll be able to be more conscious in every area of you life. In fights, conversations, when being outside. Whatever it is. You will be able to tame your implicit memory.