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Torment of the Mind

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Almost everybody I know suffers from an overactive mind. They tell me they can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, and never get any real rest from all the stuff they worry about. Yes, I know the problem.

More accurately, I knew the problem all too well–until I learned a certain skill. Decades later, I wrote a book about it. To me, it’s the most important knowledge I’ve gained since I was born. But judging from the apparent popularity, it’s the most boring subject in modern civilization.

If it’s not too boring, read some more about ending your torment: Original Zen.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

July 2, 2017 at 11:59 am

The Animal Inside You

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A few weeks back, we introduced and discussed the two main “actors” on the stage of your mind: the Boss and the Thinker. If you remember, the Thinker is your good old conscious mind that wants to think non-stop when you’re awake (and even sometimes when you’re half asleep). The Boss is the higher you that tries to gain control of the Thinker whenever you want to get into the meditative state.


Sitting on a Sedona vortex

With that clearly in mind, it’s time to introduce the third major player on the stage of your mind. I call it the Animal. Indeed, it is the actual animal within you. Physically, the Animal lives in the lower part of your brain known as the Limbic System. Although chiefly concerned with your survival, that part of he brain is also the center of your emotions.

Most of the time you’ll find that in a normal, mentally healthy, well-adjusted person (hah, how many people like that do you know?) the Animal stays mostly in the background. Thus, under most circumstances you don’t have to worry about the Animal during meditation. However, if the Animal is aroused and agitated for any reason, it may render you incapable of getting into the meditative state.

The Animal is so powerful that it can completely paralyze both the Boss and the Thinker—and do so very quickly. It can hijack the entire mind/body and take total and immediate control. That’s not entirely bad; it is an important feature that helped us survive. But it can be very bad if the Animal takes control and keeps control* to the extent that a person’s mind is unable to function as it should. That situation can be identified as one or another variation of mental illness.

For instance, if you have a fight with your lover, your Animal may be out of control for a while. If a loved one dies, the Animal howls with grief and prevents you from thinking or meditating for a while. If I tried to list all the possible situations in which the Animal can create havoc in your mind and keep you from achieving inner peace, this would be a very long (and boring) post.

From my experience teaching meditation, I know that trying to learn it while the Animal is loose and raging, is futile. To meditate, the Animal must be calm and resting comfortably—aware but not fearful about what is going on. Which might mean that, before you find a meditation teacher, you may need to see your therapist first and see what can be done about that snarling, pacing, agitated Animal that sometimes runs your life.

The good news is that, once your meditative practice is well established, oftentimes you’ll be able to use your meditative state to calm the Animal. In my own case, it took me at least ten times as long to learn to control the Animal compared to the Thinker. And even now my control of the Animal is not 100% guaranteed. But at least now I can usually hold the raging Animal on his leash and, after reminding him of his limits, let him loose to snarl a bit.

*Bad experiences in your previous life might have created trauma that left the Animal in you in constant pain and unconsolable suffering. That is called post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which usually requires a special type of body therapy for successful treatment.

What is This Thing Called Wisdom?

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In the last post, we identified two parts in your mind, the Boss and the Thinker. The Boss is the higher you that you would like to have control your mind and body, at least occasionally. The Thinker, of course, is the noisy thinking machine—the conscious thought stream that wants to run your life non-stop.

In a typical modern western mind, the Thinker has taken over complete control, and the Boss is beaten into submission. These are actually like two different people—or two different beings inside you. It’s likely that you hardly know the Boss at all. You live entirely in your Thinker.

But if you’re even modestly successful with your inner development, you have separated and identified both of these inner beings. And you’ve had at least some success being in the Boss state and shutting down the Thinker. At least for a few precious moments now and then.

Shifting between these two states doesn’t mean you’re developing a multiple personality disorder. You’ve just become aware that you can “be” in different areas of your mind at any particular time. That’s actually very healthy, as I’m sure you’ll learn later on.

If you practice Zen meditation, maybe five or six times per week, and if you’re doing it right, over time you’ll learn to slip in and out of the Boss state with relative ease. Then you’ll widen the separation between the two states. You’ll learn how to be in your Boss mode whenever you want, which allows you to be an observer of the Thinker. First, you will learn to do it sitting on your meditation cushion. But later, you’ll be able to do it in a huge variety of other circumstances.

When you get really good, you’ll be able to jump into the Boss mode any time you want and watch the Thinker to see how it is performing. And here’s the real payoff: You (in the Boss mode/Zen state) will be able to coach the Thinker, especially when it’s under pressure, and give it guidance from a higher-level perspective. This is huge. This is an enormous advancement in your inner development.

There are hundreds of examples in everyday life. Here’s one: The lady looked at me with a scowl on her face, and said, “What did you do with all that money?” Uh oh. We’re under attack. My Thinker leaped into action and rapidly began formulating his defense. My Boss pulled on his imaginary reins and gently told the Thinker to relax. Slow down. Keep breathing. Allow the face to have a relaxed smile.

Then Boss gives Thinker some higher-level info it had sensed. Namely, the lady is exhibiting anxiety. She is worried about the new furniture she’s ordered, and she’s worried about how we’re going to pay for it. So relax. Let her speak her piece. But don’t be defensive. That’s not what she wants to hear.

Now the Thinker is more relaxed and having a short break to do its thing (namely, thinking). It responds calmly, “Honey, I used that money to pay off your credit card. The balance is zero, and you can use that card to buy your furniture. Now, would you like another cookie with your tea?”

Okay, that’s a silly example. But I could write a book full of such examples, some not so silly—where the higher level being inside me watches my noisy, short-sighted thinking machine, and coaches it in a variety situations.

Some people call that “wisdom.”

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

March 6, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Who’s The Boss?

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In that noisy jumble of thoughts and feelings we call our mind, who or what is actually in charge? Anybody? Anything?

StatueHere’s a simple way to think about it: When you meditate, one part of your mind is trying to control another part of your mind. The primary goal of Zen meditation is to stop the conscious mind from thinking. So, the part you want to be controlled is the conscious mind. We can call it the “Thinker.” The part trying to exercise control we can call the “Boss.” Thus, meditation is a state where you, the Boss, is trying to make you, the Thinker, stop thinking. At least for a little while. Make sense?

During the thousands of years people have pursued inner development and practiced meditation, what we’re calling the Boss has been given many names. I’m responsible for a couple of those names myself. For example, I used to call it the Higher You. Or the Higher Self. But I found those names were confusing to some people. And translating those terms to other languages was problematic. Since then, I’ve found that calling it the Boss is clear and simple. What’s more, “Boss” is a word understood in many languages.

So, here is what’s most important about this lesson: You must become aware that you can “be” in two places in your mind.* You can be in your Thinker, which means you’re busy thinking at the time. Or, you can be in your Boss, which means that higher level being inside you is in charge at the moment, and it’s not letting the Thinker control you.

When your Boss is in charge of your mind, you are in the Zen state.

*As your meditation practice continues, you’ll discover another one or two “places” you can be in your mind. Or perhaps slightly out of your mind.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

February 26, 2016 at 1:01 pm

The Truth About You

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You are seeking some kind of change in yourself—a transformation—that will take your life to a higher place. I’m sure you’re a seeker, otherwise you wouldn’t want to read what I write. Seeking that kind of inner growth is also true of me. That’s why I’ve been a seeker for more than a half century. My discoveries compel me to pass it along to others who want to know, which is the reason for this blog.

Now, here’s an awful truth that might pertain to you: Until you have gone deep enough inside yourself to discover your self-nature, you will remain unenlightened. This is what teachers and masters of inner development have been telling us for thousands of years. And they’re right, of course.

In case you haven’t learned already, your self-nature is who you are and what you are at the deepest level of your being and without the masks and delusions created by your conscious mind.

This may be the shortest posting I’ve ever made to this blog. Because that’s all I have to say about this subject—today. Except this:

Sit still for a while, relax, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and don’t think. Have a nice day.

Who’s In There With You?

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When you’re alone—and I mean really alone—you may discover there’s another “person” inside yourself besides you. For me, that was one of the most interesting, somewhat scary discoveries I made as a Zen practitioner.

This is actually a very simple and basic discovery of inner development. When you are practicing meditation, the chief object (especially while you are first learning) is to quiet the conscious mind. As I’ve already told you at least a hundred times in this blog, you must stop the flow of thoughts in order to reach the Zen state.

So what you learn how to do is tell the conscious thinking mind to be quiet and stop thinking. Right? Let me say that again with different words. “You” must stop your thinking machine and make it be still.

So, who is “you,” and who is the thinking machine?

The answer is this: There are two entities, two parts of you working with each other (or perhaps working against each other). Down through thousands of years, teachers and gurus have called them by so many different names that I can’t recall them all. My preference is to just call them the conscious mind and the higher self—chiefly because that is how I’ve experienced them.

In an untrained person the conscious mind is always in control. In a somewhat successful Zen practitioner the higher self of that person is often in control, and the higher self often directs or leads the conscious mind.

Thus when you’re practicing, what’s really happening is the higher self is training the conscious mind to behave. And the more you practice, the more you realize these are two separate beings inside you, each having different attitudes, values, and goals. You’re also likely to learn the higher self is wiser in many respects than the lowly conscious mind. The chief reason is the higher self is close to and part of the human spirit, which contains a higher form of knowledge than your conscious mind has ever known.

When you are able—after much consistent, faithful practice—your higher self will influence your conscious mind more and more. Voila! You are beginning to receive true spiritual wisdom and it is becoming a part of your life. Soon you’ll be experiencing life on a higher plane than you did before.

Okay, you won’t be able to walk on water yet. But you’ll surely live in a way that brings you more peace, joy, and satisfaction than before.

I guarantee it.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

November 12, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Uh Oh, Where’s My Body?

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This morning a humorous situation happened to me. I had an early supine meditation that was deeper than usual. I can do supine only in the morning when I’m thoroughly rested; otherwise I fall asleep. It was so peaceful that I wanted to come out very slowly. Then for some reason I stopped right on the edge, just before the conscious mind goes active.

HapiWithSignIn case you’re interested, that state of mind has a name: hypnagogia. It’s that state of mind where you sometimes have a flash of brilliance or one of those eureka moments of discovery. It works because the conscious mind is quieted, and you’re listening to parts of the brain you normally can’t hear. And it usually lasts only a moment or two.

Unless memory fails me, today was the first time in my life I was able to stop right there—on the border between the Zen state and being awake—and then stay there for a while. Believe me, it is a magical place. But then, I had a short moment of anxiety when I realized I couldn’t feel any connection to my body.

What an incredible feeling that was! I became aware that “I” (whoever that is) was floating in a warm comfortable place without a body. I was awake and aware of being, but not aware of my physical body, and of course not thinking. Somewhere nearby, I could feel the urge of my conscious mind to start thinking. I sent a message telling it to relax.

Now, hours later sitting here at my computer, I can think about the experience and write about it. But at that time I was only noticing, not thinking. One of the first things I noticed was the sublime joy and peace of being without any connection to the physical world. At one point my silly conscious mind blurted, “Are we dead?” which, as I remember, made me want to chuckle.

In a while, the conscious mind’s question came more into focus. Was I dead? I widened my noticing to see if I could pick up anything. Voila, I felt my heart beating. Ahah! My body is still alive. Then I noticed the pulsation of blood pressure radiating out from my heart, especially coming up into my head. I was feeling the carotid artery. But as far as muscles were concerned, they were all asleep.

Then I noticed pulsations of heartbeat in my fingertips. But I did not feel any sensation coming back from my feet. Maybe that’s because the feet are so much farther away. Oh, and then I noticed the slight rise and fall of my chest. Something was making me breathe and my heart beat, but I couldn’t detect the source. My meditative state wasn’t deep enough to reach the autonomic nervous system. I’ve read that some masters can do that.

Soon I began to feel the meditative state slipping away from me. Alas, I would have to go back to life in the real world. And sure enough, my conscious mind leaped into action and started planning how I was going to write this piece. But before I moved—while I was still physically inert—I took the time to relish those last few moments of peace and relaxation.

What I experienced today might be a little preview of what it’s like when the body dies. I discovered the human spirit can be at peace when it departs the body. There’s nothing to fear.

Ease Your Troubled Mind

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I’ve discovered a new inner mechanism—a mental resource for inner development—that I hadn’t known about. Perhaps hundreds of people may already have discovered the same thing. A few of them may even have written about it. But let me explain it this way:

People have difficulty being present in the moment because of their noisy, non-stop minds. From my experience working with people, the worst of the worst are people who have unresolved issues with past trauma. And that covers the majority of our population.

Recent research shows trauma is not merely remembered by the mind, but it actually changes brain structure. Trauma changes the way a person thinks and feels. Trauma reprograms people’s behaviors, often forcing them to react in the same way as the time the original trauma happened. As a result, a person’s mind can be hijacked over and over by something that happened in the past.

This is known as Post Traumatic Stress, or PTS. Previously it was called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But the psychiatric community decided to quit calling it a disorder, so the “D” was dropped.

Perhaps the most significant thing to know about PTS is it damages your your mind. Most significantly it damages your ability to control your mind.

For example, there you are, sitting on your meditation cushion, trying to calm your out-of-control conscious mind. But stress from some past trauma (that you may not even remember) is forcing your mind to go round and around like a rat in a roundhouse.

What to do?

In the short-term, improve your skills in Zen meditation. Then, the long-term solution is using your Zen practice to stop those rat-in-roundhouse thinking patterns, allowing you to be fully present where you are.

Each time you feel fear and anxiety forcing your mind into those round-and-round, out-of-control thought patterns, you must relax, breath deeply, and pull yourself back into the Zen state. As you do that repeatedly, over and over for many meditations, you can gradually undo the programming damage that was done by previous trauma.

The magic is this: Each time you feel threatened by your PTS, put yourself into a peaceful present-to-the-moment state of mind . You will gradually, over time, change your programmed responses. Instead of reacting with overwhelming fear and suffering from whatever stimulus formerly caused stress, your mind will react instead by creating a peaceful state. All it takes is practice. Lots of practice.

You can use the Zen state in almost any conceivable situation. You can use it to put yesterday and tomorrow out of your mind, and allow yourself to be in the peaceful experience and awareness of now.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

June 17, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Clever Conversation

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Amazon recently published my ebook titled Living In Zen. In case you didn’t know, all ebooks on amazon are “Kindle” books, nominally intended to be read on their Kindle readers. But they can be read on any laptop, tablet, or smartphone just by downloading amazon’s free reader program. As for myself, I resisted the idea of reading books on my electronic devices for several years. But I often felt a bit envious watching other people read while I was sitting in doctors’ offices wasting time. Now, I have thirty or more books on my devices, which greatly increases my opportunities for reading.

Getting back to clever conversation, that’s something I had in mind while I was writing this little Living In Zen book. I wanted to write a fun book about Zen—but not get into the how to part of it. I imagined that a few discerning people might like to know enough about Zen so they could speak intelligently about it (without actually becoming a practitioner).

I think most people would like to be able to engage in clever conversation, say for example, at cocktail parties and such. But wait, who goes to cocktail parties any more? I can’t remember the last time I had a cocktail. I remember seeing somebody having a cocktail at a Christmas party last year. But most parties I’ve attended in recent years involved wine and cheese. And a lot less people getting intoxicated.

So imagine yourself standing with a group of friends, a glass of Zinfandel in one hand and a plate of munchies in the other, delivering a quiet, succinct sentence clearly stating what Zen actually is. Egad. A moment of profundity. And then, filling the silence that follows by ticking off a short list of the benefits of a Zen practice.

Some of your friends’ eyes will glaze over, and they’ll quietly drift off to join some other conversation. But one or two of them might move a little closer to you and want to know more. Don’t panic. If they ask questions outside your knowledge or experience, just tell them to look for the free book on amazon titled Living In Zen.

[PS: The Living In Zen ebook is free for five days starting 5/18/2015. After that, amazon will charge their minimum 99-cent fee for a download.]

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

May 17, 2015 at 6:49 am

Be Here–Right Now!

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What percentage of your day-to-day life do you spend in the here and now? That is, how much are you actually present to the moment in your life? If you’re like most people, not very much.

You’re either thinking about the Past, what you did or what you should have done. Or you’re thinking about the Future, what you want to do or what you’d like to do if you could. But the Past is gone, and the Future hasn’t gotten here yet. So what you’re doing most of the time is imagining life—not living it. Your Conscious Mind is projecting an imaginary picture show inside your head that distracts you from the here and now.

A Zen meditative practice teaches you how to take control of the movie projector.

When you have the ability to switch off the imagination movie, you are able to bring your full attention to the present moment in your life. You can begin experiencing life instead of daydreaming about it. Things will change. You’ll see things you hadn’t seen before. Colors will be brighter, people will be more beautiful, many of your experiences will be more interesting and enjoyable. Life takes on new meanings.

One of my friends told me the only time he feels really alive is when he jumps out of an airplane. (Not to worry. Up to this point, he’s always used a parachute.) Do you see why he feels that way? It is because the fear of death scares him into ignoring the distractions in his mind and allows him to be absolutely present to what is happening at the time.

Reading this, you may have already caught the correlation between the dreaming & imagining state and the Conscious Mind. Naturally, it’s beneficial to be able to dream and imagine, but it’s also terrible to be unable to control it. The Conscious Mind is often the reason why you can’t be present to the moment. It is busy generating torrents of thought to keep you from experiencing the here and now.

I can see how free falling at ten thousand feet gets your full attention pretty quickly. But that’s not a very practical way to train your mind to be in the here and now. Besides that, I have a firm policy of not jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. Instead, I learned how to control my overactive Conscious Mind while sitting on my perfectly good meditation cushion.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

March 22, 2015 at 11:59 am