thinking

Psychology, Stoic advice

How to make your mind whole and focused


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Everyday work…

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 Cy_Medmind 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.

Holiday, Ryan.

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,3756898604d4543011b2069bcb20986b 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.

 

Book-and-pen-top-10-wallpaper-hd6

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:

Flow

“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.

 

MN21A_1

Conclusion

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.

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Stoic advice

Gain power, peace and perspective by questioning first


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Question

Put things to the test. Put your fears to the test. 

Question your fears, question other people fears, question yours and other people suffering and also question your fortune, question everything. First, question. Then make your decisions and assumptions.

In order to gain power instantly, ask more powerful questions.

Why not? , How can this be better? , Does it have to be this way? How would this, ideally be managed? If I could make the most out of this, how would I do it? , What is the good in all of these? , How can I use this to my benefit?

I had a serious relationship recently.

I loved her, a lot. I am single again now. At first, I wanted to drown the feelings with alcohol and trust me I did try. Painfully and obviously so, it did not work. Now that I look back, that was a seriously stupid decision. What you do not want to do in a breakup is grieve and immerse yourself in a hole of alcohol and self-pity. A breakup is improvement time. 

You see, here is where questioning helps.

The mind is either with you or against you.

After the breakup, I began to ask myself better questions. By doing this I began using my mind to gain power and peace.

I asked myself. Is there anything good at all about this? The answers started appearing from nowhere and I soon was moving again. 

One terrific exercise is to write it down. Write the solutions as well and then take Book-and-pen-top-10-wallpaper-hd6action.

By doing this, you, first, keep your mind busy and give it something to work on, which is what you need to do at the moment and second, you begin to dispel the chasm of the breakup and start realizing that you will find someone else again. Second, you start to appreciate more what you are doing for yourself, and that is invaluable.

I told you this short story, first of all, to give you some real-world advice if you happen to be in that situation and second because it relates profoundly to what I’m trying to say.

I’m trying to say that perspective is everything.

Stoicism is the practice of rationality and perspective. Epictetus warns you to be careful of other peoples state of minds or calamities because, just as I had the power to grieve with alcohol and self-pity (and actually did the first time) or with self-betterment and new enjoyment of life, so does everybody in their life face the same situation, it’s on your shoulders how you are going to take your circumstances. 

See, whatever happens to anybody, is not the situation itself what causes sadness or joy or anything in them, but their views upon it.

Although it seems at times just unthinkable to think or rationalize yourself into a more empowering state of mind (like when a loved one dies) it is possible with practice. 

ASK BETTER QUESTIONS, SIT DOWN AND WRITE YOUR SOLUTIONS FOR YOUR PROBLEMS AND THE SOLUTIONS WILL BEGIN TO APPEAR.

This is why, as a stoic. You have to be always on the lookout for the right perspective. Put things to the test, put your fears to the test, put people judgments to the test and you’ll start to develop power. The power of perspective and of correct action. Just as I decided to take the route on self-betterment after my breakup, so do you can find the best route in any situation. Just sit down and write your problems and ask, what would be the best outcome and how would I do it? 

Honestly, I cannot emphasize more the need to actually grab a piece of paper and begin writing. Trust me.

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