Let’s face it, our minds are chaotic must of the time. Two things need to happen for our minds to become whole and focused.
- Disidentify from our minds, in stoicism, practicing objectivity. Removing you from the equation.
- Practice your focus on Quality.
“Quality…you know what it is, yet you don‟t know what it is. But that‟s self-contradictory. But some things
are better than others, that is they have more quality, but when you try to say what quality is, apart from the
things that have it, it all goes poof!…Obviously some things are better than others…but what‟s the
“betterness”?…What the hell is Quality? What is it?” (ZMM, p184)
As I woke up this morning and sat myself to meditate, I realized just how absolutely necessary it was for me to order my mind in some way (I’ve just arrived in Mexico city to live so my mind is all but silent).
As soon as I sat down, a constant influx of thoughts, fears, hopes and unrelated nonsense began to appear like an unquiet ocean and I wasn’t even very aware of it until I began to be able to get some distance and disidentify my sense of self from the thoughts and emotions and eventually became able to just look at them, without engaging in them, without becoming troubled by them. Peace, and a quiet ocean, were regained.
Step #1 Disidentify from the chatter, practice objectivity
The first step in making our minds whole is to detach from the combination of feelings and thoughts that endlessly ruminate our minds. To make some space.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
― Viktor E. Frankl
Stoicism and Buddhism
To better understand this from a stoic standpoint, it’s important to understand the ways in which Stoic philosophy and Buddhism are similar.
When you meditate, what happens first, is that you start to become aware of how the mind is and how it works, without judging it. An endless stream of thought and feeling starts to flow like a river and it takes a while to notice just how unrelated and chaotic it really is. But after a while, something rather interesting happens when you become aware, the chaotic river starts to calm down and you can start observing things for what they are, without judging them. You begin the process of detachment.
In Stoicism, a similar process develops when we practice objectivity. Ryan Holiday explains it just right:
The phrase “This happened and it is bad” is actually two impressions. The first—“This happened”—is objective. The second—“it is bad”—is subjective.
Take judgment away from the equation.
The nature of experience
We tend to think that our thoughts are just pieces of language in our heads but in reality, they aren’t just that. They are a weird combination of language, memory, and feelings.
Being alive and being able to experience is infinitely more complex than we can think.
You cannot understand the mind, in the level of the mind, you have to go higher.
The mind is a messy and dirty place, this higher intelligence emerges above from the mind. Just like the Lotus flower that emerges from mud.
When you start to observe your thoughts and emotions. You can begin to understand intuitively your mind and yourself. From a higher realm. I believe this is what Marcus Aurelius referred to when he said:
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The rational and talkative mind cannot understand, for instance, feelings.
This higher realm of intelligence is the only one we have absolute control of (this realm is the realm of response to reality).
It is mainly intuitive.
Thoughts and feelings are information.
They do not determine anything, they are there for us to function in the world.
When this is understood, there is no judgment anymore. How could you judge information? It’s way better to use it instead.
Practice disidentification and objectivity.
Step #2 Aim on Quality
The mind is a tool to function in the world. It has to have an aim to be whole and complete. It has to be focused on something.
Everything at every moment can have a better quality.
From the way we carry ourselves to the dirty dishes that could be clean. Quality is self-evident.
A chaotic mind has no aim
The brain has two modes of functioning.
The brain default mode
When we are focused on nothing, in particular, the brain enters in this default mode, better described as followed:
The default mode network is a group of brain regions that seem to show lower levels of activity when we are engaged in a particular task like paying attention, but higher levels of activity when we are awake and not involved in any specific mental exercise. It is during these times that we might be daydreaming, recalling memories, envisioning the future, monitoring the environment, thinking about the intentions of others, and so on–all things that we often do when we find ourselves just “thinking” without any explicit goal of thinking in mind. Additionally, recent research has begun to detect links between activity in the default mode network and mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Furthermore, therapies like meditation have received attention for influencing activity in the default mode network, suggesting this may be part of their mechanism for improving well-being.
Buckner RL, Andrews-Hanna JR, & Schacter DL (2008).
This is why you must not identify with the mind, (especially when it is in its default mode). The function of the mind is to be a creative machine, but depending on which mode of operation it is, it will either be a critic and function for essentially nothing, or it will be your tool and will provide you with an outstanding variety of ideas, creativeness, smartness and everything you might need.
If you focus your mind on quality you’ll achieve:
“If you are interested in something, you will focus on it, and if you focus attention on anything, it is likely that you will become interested in it. Many of the things we find interesting are not so by nature, but because we took the trouble of paying attention to them.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life
The mind is like a tool. It provides us with information depending on what it is that we intend to achieve.
Focusing on quality is focusing on making everything better. Practicing objectivity first with an aim on quality is what makes the mind whole and focused.
A life well lived, is a life lived with quality.
Freedom is the only worthy goals and it can only be achieved living virtuously. This is a great thing! The focus to be better all the time is readily handled. Therefore a mind that can be whole and focused can be obtained any time anywhere, with a focus on quality and on virtue.
To follow this advice I recommend reading next the principle of Askesis Askesis (asceticism) in Stoicism which is to practice all the time.
Stoic answers aim is to provide answers to the deepest human questions, which sadly, are almost always never asked.
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