How to Explore and Observe the Mind

Observing the mind is essential to be able to develop insight into the mind, as well as how to develop it to be a more cultured, wise and flexible mind.

Very often however, people do not observe the mind in the correct way, which leads to complications, frustrations and conflict in the mind.

The skill is all about observing in the ways that lead to a better understanding. This article looks at how to explore and observe the mind more productively, with more benefits and with fewer problems.


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    Consider how you intend to start observing. There is a wide range of different ways, such as in a standard meditation format, in inquiry or in response to a problem. Nearly all times that success has been made have had several factors in common - it requires space and some time to be able to explore the object, sincerity or integrity and simple intention to stay on the ball.
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    Be sure what you intend to observe. Realistically, the mind is rich in a variety of different aspects. Emotions, thoughts both past, present and future, ideas about projects, memories, prejudice and biases, happiness and sorrow and so on. The complication begins early. If you approach the mind simply without focus, it would be like looking at a great panorama of hills, trees etc. In one glance you may see a lot, but the actual effect is that you see absolutely none of the finer details, or things in particular such as the bees on the flowers, the grass in the wind and so on. The method must use intention to focus on a particular field of study, like a person has when working on a crossword puzzle or jigsaw. A mere glance will tell us what this is, but it needs a careful and intentional focus to see all the little details. In life, we miss a great deal of what happens simply because we never look closely enough
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    Observe the mind carefully. The mind is very quick to use thought to analyse, but this is the where the problem arises. Immediately there is a division; there is the subject, there is the thought and then the thinker. Then, to compound the problem, the mind takes up analyzing the thought. The whole goal is to avoid this division simply by knowing when it happens, but also why. It happens because there is not enough intention to stay on topic or in focus, but also because the mind is simply more interested in wandering off or just is not really sincere. Observation can be boring, challenging and hard work but also often shows us what we don't want. For example, a person may wish to believe there is a monster in the cupboard, but when they open the cupboard to find no monster at all, it upsets the fantasy. Very often the fantasy is both more important to people, while also the original cause of the problem that caused the stress.
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    Ensure you are sincere. Very often, people observe and explore the mind because they are told it is the way to resolve their problems. They may for example be struggling with anger, depression, sorrow or anxiety. A person may alternatively be following a tradition or culture that requires introspection and so does it out of devotion. Problems arise very early on here as there is no clear reason a person has to look for themselves. It is similar also in discussions about a subject. If a person listens to the advice, either to be polite, or to be seen to be discussing serious subjects, then they are lacking the sincerity for any change to occur. Likewise a person may have prejudice and use that prejudice to block any advice. Finally, a person may simply have no intention anyway to actually resolve the problem, but simply observe the mind as they had been instructed to do so, or thought it is a good idea to try. Therefore you must check within yourself if such boundaries, criteria or “firewalls” exist within you to prevent you from getting a resolution, even if you yourself are intent on the subject. Very often, the person may be hearing closely, but hearing and listening are very different things. At the end of a discussion its all down to being sincere and rational about what was discussed. If you simply let the memory or importance of the conversation fade away, then it simply was never important enough. When a person is sincerely asking for advice as opposed to empty, generic or rhetorical questions, there lies a big difference which explains why we may discuss a problem often, but still never get a resolution.
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    Explore the subject, without using any analysis or thought. Every human being uses thought, every human being also has emotions and problems that come from being human. The problem arises when there is something that occurs that you do not like, or do not want. People see fear, sorrow or depression and then wish these emotions did not exist, or they may see greed, hatred or bias and think or feel that these things are bad or that these harmful aspects should not exist. Immediately the problem is reinforced by identifying or analysing it as a problem. This process has divided the mind in a non-productive way and caused more distress and complications. Analysis, in practice, is an invasive or destructive process. For example if you wish to analyse a flower or an animal in detail, very often the result is you end up killing it, dissecting it and pulling it to pieces to analyse it. However, if you observe it as it is, much can be learnt without needing to pull things to shreds within the mind.
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    Write down what you observe. We may observe a feeling, such as anger, but when we observe it without leaping into analysis we can clearly discern a cause or focus of that anger. The anger is dependent entirely on the object and a desire to do something about it. If we are angry, we direct our anger towards the subject often in order to maintain our anger. All anger therefore has intention involved to occur as well as to stay. This is where the challenge lies. If the person is not careful, they will begin to think about this as well and so will have hit another wall here. But if you didn't judge the anger, you alternatively can lose track by starting judging the intention or the trivia around the emotion. Intention and anger are simply processes in the mind acting on an impulse object, such as a memory or experience, or an image or symbol. By writing down what you have observed you can move from one step to another until you don't need to write anything down at all.
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    Continue to explore the intention. Because intention is the key ingredient, when you let go of the intention, the problem resolves itself and the conflict falls apart. When a person has noted that these are all separate but joined processes to make the emotion, then you can then act on them. Sincerity again is important. Just like when you listen to a person speaking, people very often want to classify a person when it is a subject that they don't really want to act on, or contains a point they do not wish to hear. For example, when a person discusses a negative aspect of the mind some listeners may conclude that the lecturer is pessimistic, or alternatively optimistic when they discuss only good aspects. When a person is balanced people will find another thing to criticize such as age, qualification or position and titles; or nationality, appearance - such as how they dress and so on. All these are ways the mind uses to be able to continue as they are and so feel justified or safe to ignore what is being said and so even if a person intends to resolve a problem, their mind is working against them in achieving that goal. They may listen to all of the lesson, but consequently take away none of its content to apply.
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    Apply what you learn in order to let go. The moment you recognise that the mind is not only a collection of processes, thoughts, feelings, memories and prejudices as well as intentions and perceptions then you can more safely pull apart the puzzle, like a person can untangle a ball of wool. Without using thought or judgments, you can stay clear of getting involved to your own detriment. This means you can ultimately understand not only how the mind acts and reacts, but what and how you can do something about it to improve your health and well-being.Rising above our problems, like a lotus rises above the water, is the lesson. It is important to be able to let go so you do not drown in our feelings and thoughts and so can stand free, which gives us happiness and well-being.

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Categories: Philosophy and Religion | Emotional Health