By Basil Gala, Ph.D.
In Search of Meaning
The vast majority of us mortals go through life blown by the wind or guided by ancient standards of behavior, handed to us from parents or community, standards of ethics often of dubious validity. Then there are those who are guided by reason in achieving lofty purposes, those who control their minds, allowing no thoughts, no emotions, no feelings, or sentiments other than those which are effective means to their ends. Such were the great men and women of history and today in all disciplines: science, art, government, warfare, or religion. Mind control is a distinctly human characteristic, not seen in any other species. When we exercise it, we accept the rule of law over our minds and act accordingly. I propose that mind control is a desirable practice for those who want to have success and happiness.
Some twenty years ago, in a turbulent period of my life, I finally came to realize that if I wanted to achieve mental and emotional stability, if I wanted to succeed in my long-held ambitions, and if I wanted to reach a satisfactory level of happiness, I had to base my thoughts and feelings on reason, and let reason be my guide in all my behavior, reason balanced and supported only with my deepest, firmest, and strongest beliefs. I had to set aside all my long cherished habits, likes and dislikes, all prejudices which did not conform to reason aimed at my goals. I decided that and the decision was a fruitful one. Thus I began controlling my mind.
Some people argue against mind control in that it robs us of spontaneity in expressing our thoughts and feelings. That is certainly a side effect of premeditation. But people tend to be too spontaneous, babbling and bumbling on without much regard to the effects of what they say, feel, or do. Venting thus we can hurt others, ourselves, and our aims. Wise behavior is deliberate. Henry David Thoreau wrote that he went to live by the Walden Pond alone so he could live his life deliberately, and not with unconscious habits to see his life slip away day by day and finally come to the end realizing he had not lived fully.
Defying convention, Thoreau pursued a life which was hard but which pleased him. Similarly, many people believe thinking and feeling exactly what they like is more pleasant. Certainly so, in the short run; it is not so in the long run. Drug addicts, alcoholics, overeaters, and gamblers know this eventually.
Addicts or not, some people say total mind control would make them less free inside, being forced somehow to think and do what they must, what is their duty, rather than doing what comes naturally. These people are confusing external control, from others and from authority, with their own self discipline. There is no real freedom for anyone except with self discipline. Exercised by you alone, mind control shall set you free from bad habits, damaging external influences, and the tyranny of your genes.
Genes control the color of our eyes, hair, and instinctive behaviors, but not those actions which we produce slowly and carefully after logical reasoning. But there are those who object to the rule of reason, and would rather live by the vibrations they feel. Reason is based on a few indisputable truths or axioms, and these axioms give rise to logical reasoning, which prove mathematics, and mathematics is the basic tool of modern science together with observation. I have found I can rely on science together with an appreciation of the arts to guide my life, rather than energy flows in imaginary channels.
Some artistic individuals rely on vibrations, sensing creative energies; they object to a life where the mind is constantly controlled, believing we thus suppress the exuberance of strong feelings. To these people I say, examine the lives of the greatest artists and creative persons in history. You will find that they reached the heights of their art by combining the exuberance of feelings with the strongest discipline demanded by their craft.
Then, most of us are convinced there is little we can do to exercise mind control on ourselves: thinking what is effective, doing what we must, instead of what we are impelled to do by our emotions, inclinations, and habits. Most people believe they cannot do anything about unwelcome thoughts that pop in their heads from nowhere. If they are depressed, disturbed, or discouraged, they tend to think these sentiments are there to stay and they are helpless in their throes. No so, because such feelings are impermanent, transient, unstable, and temporary, and can be displaced by focusing on a pleasant object or by getting involved in some unrelated and intense activity. But this is very difficult to do, they say. True enough, because mind control is the ultimate human discipline, requiring years of painful practice, years of striving to get nearer to perfection but never getting to perfection until the end of our days.
Not expecting perfection to come quickly, let us examine what means you have for controlling your own mind. You begin mind control by learning not to care unduly about a variety of things: first, what people, even your closest friends and family, think and say about you; second, such common pursuits such as wealth, property, love, fame, pleasure, or comfort. As long as you do not take lightly such things, you will be controlled and not controlling.
Begin to control your mind like René Descartes, by setting aside every long-held belief you have ever acquired or that has been instilled in you, unless it can withstand the most intense scrutiny of reason. Thus you reconstruct your mind from the ground up, a mental brick upon brick, so that your mind’s elements all conform to the plan for your life. Nothing must be left standing which you cannot thus justify.
After this restructuring of your fundamental concepts, you painfully begin replacing each harmful, ineffective, destructive (negative) thought which appears in your mind with a helpful, constructive (positive) thought. For example, replace, “I am getting nowhere with this job,” with “This job is one step up if I do it right.” Also, you induce in yourself a fitting emotion, which displaces an emotion that is harmful to you or others. For example, you cause yourself to experience love instead of anger when appropriate. The reverse may sometimes be fitting. You do this one thought or one emotion at a time because the mind is a sequential machine and can only do one thing for the moment.
Like all humans, I have moments when I am seized by a deep fear or even panic regarding my future, my family’s future or the future of the world. As a reasoning human being, I cannot allow fears, only concerns, to occupy my mind. Therefore, I quickly extinguish the fear by making myself angry with the same intensity as the fear I experience. How? I pick a suitable object for my hatred and I mentally attack it. Since the brain cannot entertain two strong emotions at the same time, fear subsides and disappears. I can then relax again, focusing on my usual placid state of mind.
When we focus on what we are thinking or doing at some particular moment and we find we are doing something undesirable, something compulsive, something obsessive, something damaging to us or to others, we should freeze and detach ourselves from our bodies. ”This is not the real me down there doing or thinking this nasty thing,” we say to ourselves. “I can do something different which is helpful, not this old, hurtful thing.” In psychology such methods are covered in the field of cognitive therapy, and are effective in treating many behavioral disorders. Let us be more specific.
First, slow down your thoughts and movements to guide them in the proper direction. It’s like parking a car. You can do it more surely in first and reverse gears, moving an inch at a time if necessary, to avoid colliding with other cars or walls. As people say, take ten deep breaths before responding to a challenge, rather than with a reflex hitting back. In other words, think before acting out your first impulse. Forget spontaneity for a while, until effective action has become a habit. When I learned touch typing, I hit the keys one at a time, as slowly as necessary to get to the right ones at all times without looking at the keyboard, so that the right pathways in my brain would get well established. As I acquired the right motions, then my typing speed picked up automatically a little at a time and with no errors. That was before the advent of computer word processing.
Buddhist monks and gurus of the East developed amazing mental control before the arrival of computers, thousand of years ago. Zen Buddhists traditionally sit for hours at a stretch with eyes closed or looking at a wall, making their minds to be still and quiet, before focusing on some object of inner research. What they do actually is slowing down subjective time, even freezing time in an instant, so that reality is perceived with immediacy and total control may be applied to thought and action.
You can achieve the slowdown by focusing on your breath and counting, or by using the bubble method. You see in your mind’s eye each thought as it pops up in your head as a bubble rising up to the surface of your consciousness at low speed and then disappearing. You make the bubbles move at ever decreasing speed until they stop.
Second, you visualize what you want to think and do, rehearsing each idea over and over until it becomes real in execution. Salespeople use this technique, visualizing the prospective buyer objecting to this and that, then agreeing one by one to the arguments advanced by the salesperson, until the buyer signs on the dotted line. The salesperson sees this in the mind, until the situation becomes like a memory of an event that has occurred.
We can use this method to achieve anything we want. Visualize the end result, over and over until the picture is as clear in your mind as if you are looking at it. For example, take the case of an illness which nature and time can heal, but physicians cannot, such as obesity. If you have this illness, don’t dwell on your condition; instead visualize in detail and with intense desire how you want to be: slender, strong, flexible, and attractive. Imagine in deep relaxation actually being such a person and little by little you will change to your desired image, by subconsciously changing your eating and exercise habits. This is hard to do in the beginning, but with practice you will get better at it. If opposing thoughts or fuzziness intrudes, disturbing your concentration, bring your focus back to the desired picture and fix it there. Be confident. If you are fighting insomnia, never say, “I can’t sleep.” Always expect what you desire in your effort. Say, “It may take a little while, but soon I’ll be asleep,” and perhaps say a prayer.
Third, use prayer. Whether you are religious or not, prayer can work for you. If you don’t believe in God, pray to Nature or your ancestors. How you pray is more important than to what you pray. Some people make a wish when the sun is setting. That may be a pagan practice, but it helps focus your mind on what you want and keep it off what you want to avoid. That helps.
I am not a believer in any religious dogma, but I was brought up a Greek Orthodox and I do use the Lords prayer when I am disturbed to quiet my mind. I say the prayer over and over until I feel calm and can think well or relaxed enough to go to sleep. In matters of religion, I am a pragmatist: I use those ideas from a variety of religious traditions which are helpful to me in coping with problems. For example, consider the notion of a guardian angel coming to your assistance when you face difficulties which at first seem overwhelming. Sure, angels are imaginary things, but so were once all the tools and processes so essential to our civilized lives today, such as the wheel, justice, the light bulb, democracy, and the integrated circuit. Ask for advice from your guardian angel and listen carefully to the voice coming from your subconscious mind.
Fourth, one way we can get relief from paralyzing anxiety is by avoiding fruitless thinking, such as ruminating on illness, death, and other disasters, other than to make necessary preparations. I am prepared for death with a will and a living trust. For illness, I have health insurance and good doctors on tap. For the fate of the earth if a comet hits it or planetary warming destroys it, I don’t worry about, because it is not in my power to control these events. As for my children and other relatives, I am there as long as I live when they need me, but they possess the faculties to create their own destinies as I have done.
Fifth, consider whether we are here to be happy, to be content no matter what happens to us, to solve problems and not cause them, to create our destiny, not to submit to it. I want to be here on earth to be successful, to find joy and health, not complaints or illness. I have no time for discontent, gripes, or failures. I want to be here and now to do good stuff, to help and serve myself and my fellow humans, while forgiving their shortcomings with a hearty laugh. Don’t you want the same things? If not, why not? As for myself, I know that with enough training I can choose what I think; I can choose what I feel; I can choose what I say and what I do.
If I can think as I want and feel as I want, such as feel happy and content no matter what my situation, then I must base my actions on objectives, not satisfactions. Satisfactions are fine, as long as they serve my objectives, formed coolly with reason.
Finally, controlling our own minds with the above methods and many others available to us from philosophical, religious, and poetical sources, we can dispel despair, depression or exaltation, excessive pride or ambition, maintaining our mental equilibrium even in the most difficult of times. Ultimately, with self imposed mental control in all thoughts and feelings, we can acquire great personal power and achieve ends impossible for most people. Consider the person who first tamed fire: that pre-human, perhaps a million years or so ago, had to overcome the fear of getting burned, a strong instinct in all animals. That was probably the beginning of human intellectual growth and power.
We can use such mental power to profit greatly, but should not use it to gain control over others, even for their own good. Each human should be allowed to follow the course of that life one chooses without interference from us who practice mind control on ourselves, never on others.