What is Mind?

Untitled by Joost Markerink

Untitled by Joost Markerink

Mind is a big topic. Fundamentally, mind is a kosha or field around our body that is the medium for what we experience as thinking. But there’s a great deal more to it than that. Let’s explore my current take.

This field surrounds the whole body but we feel mind is “in the head” because the senses are concentrated there. Mind is the hub that processes and integrates our senses.

It also interfaces with the brain and nervous system and emotional body in one direction. And the other way with the intellect, memory, and cosmic mind. The cosmic mind is essentially the lively inner surface of self-aware consciousness.

Mind isn’t really local. In a sense, mind is nothing in itself but a field attuned to the cosmic mind in one direction and the brain and body in the other. We might call it an interface.

We can say mind is powered mainly by the energy of the third chakra in the upper belly. This is the power center of the will and personal protection. We can consider it the highest personal chakra. It defends from the collective and universal to sustain a personal sense of self, the core identity.

For most, only the content itself, the thoughts are conscious. The mind itself and its underpinnings are not. We have what is conscious, what is subconscious, and what is unconscious.

Research has shown that the unconscious mind operates vastly faster than the conscious mind but runs only existing programs. Unconscious processing is typically over 90% of mental activity. What rises to the surface in the conscious mind can be contemplated and choices made but it is much slower.

If we don’t have good mental and emotional habits, which is typical of most, we often resist experiences and build up a backlog of unprocessed junk. That triggers a lot of background noise, babbling away as a “monkey mind.”

But by gradually becoming more conscious, we can complete the unresolved experiences and reduce the noise.

The Theosophists divided the 7 layers of expression into 7 sub-levels each but I’ve not found it this tidy. Certainly there are subsections though.

The Vedic tradition talks of 3 primary aspects of mind:

1: Manas: the sense-directed mind. This produces the content we’re most conscious of. The information from our senses is sub-consciously heavily filtered for relevance, compared to prior experiences to check for danger, then the net result pops in to our conscious mind. (Note this filtering and comparing is done by programs. See below.)

And yet the identified ego below claims these results as “my thinking.”

2: Ahamkara: the I-sense that helps us distinguish what is self and other. The intellect, more subtle than the mind, discriminates the distinction. The mind then builds this up as an I-sense. It adds a set of self-concepts and impressions. We become identified with the I-sense as a Me. I am a plumber who is married and lives in Albuquerque, for example.

This self-sense develops early on as we separate from mother and continues around age 2 into Asmita, the My sense or possessive. We identify with our body and possessions as aspects of myself. We should outgrow this stage but many don’t. Waking up kills asmita though.

3: Chitta: this word means ‘divided from consciousness’ aka subconscious. It is those aspects of mind that are stored away and unresolved yet create activity in the mind. Many translate chitta as mental activity but Vritti is the more accurate term for that.

Chitta is classed in 2 types:

a: Vasana: unresolved desires, drives, and addictions. The charges.
b: Samskara: impressions, ruts, or grooves from past experiences. We might call them patterns of resistance. These are how we focus the desires. They’re also a type of program the unconscious mind runs, the way we habitually respond to circumstances. This is part of the filtering and comparing done by manas above, prior to experiences becoming conscious.

Collectively these impressions or chitta are called the storehouse of impressions, our collection of unresolved experiences. This is closely related to karma.

Because these are unresolved, they seek opportunities to be experienced and completed. But meantime, they leak out in babble and inner disturbances.

Events and the cycles of time trigger our vasana which then run through the ruts of habit. Those ruts can include habitual behaviour, emotional response, stories (explanations) we tell ourselves, and other patterns of thinking.

The storehouse of impressions is also sometimes called memory. However, there is an important distinction between memory and impressions.

Memory, for example, helps us remember how to ride a bike, find our keys, or use a calculator. This is past patterns of behaviour that have a geometric template residing on the level of the intellect.

More deeply, all experience is recorded in a universal space with some “metadata” associating it with us. This form of memory is called Smriti. It is neutral.

Impressions, on the other hand, have an associated charge and behave more like an overlay, a shadow and resistance to smooth flow.

When we resolve the charge, we resolve the vasana and yet the memory remains, now neutral. That neutrality is one way you can tell if you have resolved a vasana associated with a subject (assuming your emotions are open).

Note the key distinction between having emotions and having emotional reactivity and a charge. Free-flowing emotions are a natural response to life. Reactivity and emotion resistance are an indicator of vasana, unresolved history.

For example, learning to drive is a useful habit. But having an accident may leave a charge that causes reactions in certain circumstances, like a fear of trucks. The second part remains to be resolved.

Because vasana have a “charge”, we may experience them as uncomfortable. That discomfort may incline us to avoid them. Habitual avoidance becomes a samskara. That then programs the mind to avoid them and hide them in our subconscious.

But because of that charge, it will continue to seek resolution, causing background mental “noise” and bringing up reminders over and over again. Old traumas haunt us.

The intellect uses memory to assign meaning to sounds and forms, then mind adds associations like names. Mind also has associations we call concepts, stories, and ideas that are synthesized from our experiences. Some of that becomes programs for the subconscious. These can be useful or may constrain us. As we step away from attachment to the I-sense, we begin to see the machinations of the mind much more clearly. When we see through the stories, it becomes much easier to let the limiting narratives go. Some will be primitive, going back to our early childhood.

We can begin to see where all these thoughts come from:

– the field of the mind overlaps the physical and emotional bodies. Activity in the body or emotions will cause activity in the mind.

– sensory processing creates activity in the mind. Yet only the net result is conscious.

– the mind interacts with itself, such as in making associations and running programs. Again, we experience any activity as thoughts.

– unresolved desires and experiences create a background rumble and anxiety which sometimes causes surface thoughts.

– some unresolved content comes to the surface for resolution. This is the primary content of dreams. If we understand how to allow, we can help things resolve. But if we resist or manipulate what is arising, we impede that.

Many impressions are stored in the deeper layers. They’re not able to come to the surface unless the physiology gets a deep enough rest.

– activity in the more subtle intellect and bliss bodies can also create whispers in the mind. Some will experience these as intuition. But these quieter impulses require a more settled mind to be noticed clearly.

– we can pick up activity in the collective and cosmic similarly.

– impulses from the Divine can show up as flows which trigger ideas, inspiration, desire, and so forth. These are more rare until that arena is conscious but can be a powerful occasional influence meantime.

In our own experience, there will be a variety of different kinds of thoughts in play at any given time. Much of it is undefined noise. Trying to figure out which is which in the mush isn’t productive. But becoming more conscious so we can discriminate the useful signals and heal the noise is beneficial.

We can see that much of our mental babble comes from unresolved experiences that rumble and seek resolution. Our past haunts us. As we resolve that, the noise settles and greater clarity arises.

Much of that past can be early childhood content where we didn’t have the capacity to process some emotions. But we’re adults now and our fear of the emotions can be worse than the actual feelings. πŸ™‚

It’s useful to note that the mind doesn’t like to have emotions for no reason. If an unresolved emotion arises to be seen and resolved, it will trigger activity in the mind. Because the mind wants a reason, it will look to the available thoughts for an excuse and associate some content with the emotion.

For example, you’re releasing some old anger. A thought about a work problem comes up and the anger gets associated. If you just allow the mind to do its thing but don’t take it seriously, the anger can continue to resolve. But if you buy into the story and run with it, the old anger is now being reinforced by the reason to be angry, not resolved. The past has become associated with work. The water is muddied and the anger isn’t resolved. This simple mistake dramatically lowers quality of life.

It’s so important to learn to allow emotions to arise and be experienced. If we’re open, they can wash over us in a few moments and complete. Their shadow passes. Every so often, a weight lifts when a core contraction is resolved. The waters gradually become clear.

The key is consciousness. As we shift deeper into being, we become clearer and more conscious. We become a vast open space of peace. By simply living life, old emotions arise and are released without disturbance. Old habits of mind arise and their falsehood are recognized. The truth of being washes the old grooves away.

Transcendence, the light of consciousness, soma, and touching the bliss body can all be a major resolution of our vasana too. Awakening itself is said to roast our backlog of unresolved junk. This leaves only this life’s “suitcase” to resolve. It may not be a small suitcase, but it’s easier than a mountain range. As we rinse off the mud, the clear light of love and truth dawns.

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34 Responses to What is Mind?

  1. Jean says:

    One of the first things I realized after the initial awakening was the transparency of the mind, it lost the stickiness. I remember a time before that where mind would churn endlessly about the smallest things. Now there is only silence…

    • Davidya says:

      Yes, Jean, exactly that. The loss of identification frees us but it also frees the mind. It stops grasping, it stops churning, it stops fighting everything.
      That said, it is common for old patterns to come up that stir things up. But as they get resolved, the pattern fades and silence is restored.
      And then, the dynamism in silence begins to show as flows. As Lorn recently said, as we deepen into silence, we deepen into aliveness. As we deepen into aliveness, we deepen silence. πŸ™‚

      • Jeff says:

        Dynamism in silence, silence in dynamism. Your words are to the point. I think in a way this becomes our dharma, as we have an intimate, important, and critical relationship with the laws of nature. As our soma both enlivens, awakens, and strengthens theses laws, in return, these laws of nature support our actions. Heaven on earth becomes a reality. The universal quid quo pro.

      • Lorey says:

        Excellent! Thank you, David.

      • Uli says:

        “as we deepen into silence, we deepen into aliveness. As we deepen into aliveness, we deepen silence.”: exactly, that is one of the discoveries by the Daoist sages and other lineages (and individuals outside any lineage), stillness in movement, movement in stillness. The ouroboric circularity ( Heraclitus: “The way up and the way down is one and the same.” ////”In Sefer Yetsirah we are told that the sefirot are a great circle, “their end embedded in their beginning, and their beginning in their end.”, Arthur Green) of Reality makes possible to wake up either transcending through transcendence…or through immanence (see Peter Kingsley’s work, or Reginald Ray, about the somatic lineages of Tantric Buddhism…or the work of Almaas, where the deepening of presence plunging into the body,…has led to the awakening of many). That’s why the mapping of awakening can become quickly dogmatic: The description becomes prescription.
        We don’t need to calm down the waves to discover that we are water. Plunging deeper and deeper into matter & movement, we discover Spirit everywhere/when…:)

        • Davidya says:

          Hi Uli
          Yes, at first it can be more about silence, then later about aliveness. But eventually they come together in wholeness.
          The circularity is a somewhat different aspect, like TS Eliots quote: “and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
          And yes, it is very possible to wake up through immanence. In fact, most people wake up through exposure to others awake. But in order to respond to that, presence usually needs to be developed. And the best way for that I’ve found is transcendence.
          Some do respond directly to presence or culturing presence but usually that has to be developed enough in the first place, such as in prior lives.
          And yes, some are more devotional or somatic, etc. But those are outer expressions. How are they connecting to source?
          But yes I agree. Too often the concepts are thought to be the means, like the way the Yoga Sutra are commonly interpreted. Or how Tolle prescribes things that worked for him After he shifted.

          • Jeff says:

            I find that when I speak about my experiences of silence moving within itself, it enlivens the silence in both the listener and myself.

  2. Guru says:

    Namaste. This is the clearest discussion on mind. pshychology, spirituality have their own or isolated perspectives. your earlier blogs have highlighted aspects of mind. This is refined and culmination! This is need of hour. you are sharing this unconditionally. your spontaneity and depth always amazes me. Thanks for your wisdom. when some one says mind is illusion people go mad. It is Ajata vada.

  3. George Robinson says:

    With each post, I am profoundly grateful for the gift of you, David. You quench and bathe the parched, and I just don’t know how to say Thank You except to say Thank You. Namo Narayan.

    • Davidya says:

      Thanks, George. My gratitude is to the wisdom of the tradition that brought this knowledge forward. Otherwise we’re just separate minds, staking out our territory and defending our perceived safety in division.
      But with the means and the understanding, we can become vehicles for Narayana to express. πŸ™‚

  4. Clarice says:

    I love all your work but this one seems extra special. I will listen to this one repeatedly like a meditation. Thank you for these blessest writings.

    • Davidya says:

      Thanks, Clarice. Yes, this one seemed important to express and express now, as I noted above.

      I edited the paragraph “The intellect uses memory to assign meaning…” after the voice recording. In the recording I give mind that task although I realized its more about associations after meaning is assigned to a sound. Nuances…

  5. Carol says:

    Thank you for this Davidya. I am one of those “50 year meditators” (TM primarily for 35 of those) who has had short chapters and experiences related to awakening consciousness, but nothing that I would say is that permanent shift of perspective. Think I’m one of those who oozes into it rather than bursts out….But despite dedicating years living and working at TM academies, courses upon courses, shifting to Adya /Mukti and more courses…daily yoga, lately Qi Gong, study….I feel as if I have the proverbial hole dug a few inches deep and miles wide. I’m about at the point of falling to my knees, throwing up my hands and that may be just what’s needed. Does it really have to feel so long, so hard?

    • Davidya says:

      Hi Carol
      You may be an Oozer or may just not have popped yet. πŸ™‚
      Remember that awakening is not just about this life. It’s remarkable we have the opportunity to make the shift in a single life. Maharishi did talk about 5-7 years but I think that was more intentional than factual. If he had told us 50 years, would we have bothered? (laughs)
      The shift itself only ever happens in the context of the whole as it has nothing to do with a me.
      There is huge benefit to these activities in preparing the ground so when grace arises, we can sustain it.
      But all this is mainly apparent after the fact. When we’re in the middle of it, we’re in the middle of it.
      But yes, sometimes the seeking and the seeker are the obstacle to the shift, so there has to be a giving up or a falling apart so that we let go. Just be careful of the mind co-opting “letting go”. Surrender can become another way to control…
      No, it doesn’t have to be long and hard. All we have to do is let go, just for a fraction of a second. But this non-doing is so unfamiliar to a mind that it refuses. So we have to up the clarity and up the light until we become willing.
      But also, we have been rising out of a darker age where clarity and light were lower. As they rise, partly from all the transcending we’ve been doing, it gets easier and easier. Then when a moment of grace arises, we’re more likely to open to it.
      Waking up is ironically the easiest thing you’ll ever do. It’s so easy, the mind can’t grok it. That’s why it feels hard. It can be one of the doh! moments after shifting. How did I not get this sooner?? (laughs)

      • Carol says:

        Yes, useful and well said pointers. Honestly, what I feel is profound progress but it is on a level , as you said, that my mind cannot understand or own, so doubts and seeking ensue. How is the “progress” registered? in some area mind cannot access fully ….back to your posting today. Many thanks for your sharing.

        • Davidya says:

          You got it. So we learn to take the mind less seriously. πŸ™‚

        • Pete says:

          Very cool article…will have to read a few times for sure!
          Smriti, kinda like cloud storage for the mind??lol

          I remember on my first meditation retreat having experience of memories from my deep past that seemed relatively un-important, but experienced very vividly, memories that didn’t have any continuity between the event in the past and the current moment, like they weren’t held in conscious mind.

          • Davidya says:

            Smriti might better be described as cosmic storage. It’s an upgrade from the cloud.
            Interesting. Here, the early ones were related to key challenges in the current time. But they were driven by a quest to understand the circumstances of the then life.
            But yes, memory isn’t held in the brain or mind. They’re like an interface for searching the database. We need the right metadata to locate the memory store.

      • Jill says:

        β€œJust be careful of the mind co-opting β€œletting go”. Surrender can become another way to control…”. Can you please explain what you mean here? I’m constantly trying to β€œlet go”, as I have a very tightly wound nervous system. Always looking for something or someone who can help me to relax it, but I have come to realize that I just have to do the work, and it’s likely to be a very slow, lifelong process. Continually reminding myself to let go, in terms of muscle tension, emotions, beliefs. Not sure there will be enough time in this life as I’m already in my 50s πŸ™‚

        • Davidya says:

          Hi Jill
          If the mind is doing something, that’s not surrender. Surrender is a non-doing.
          That said, there are techniques that culture non-doing like an effortless meditation. But here, the technique has to be done right. If the mind is managing the process, then its just a story of letting go. You know you’ve let go when the mind goes silent aka no mind.
          Some physiologies are more sensitive. The issue with relaxation techniques is they’re usually treating the symptoms. Unless you release the core, the work is endless.
          I used to be a very anxious, tense person. Didn’t know how to deal with my energy or the energy around me. Then I started TM and found the off switch. That made a huge difference. Then there was some habits to wind down and skills to learn but the difference was huge. πŸ™‚

  6. Jim says:

    Thank you David – A good one. The dynamics you illustrate are right on.
    ADVERT: The greatest benefit to TM (Transcendental Meditation) is that it cleans the mind – Scrubs it, chemically rinses it, removes all blockages down to the subatomic ‘level’, restoring perfect function. Renders the intellect resolute, the mind spotless, and the heart sinless. The Divine Tune-UP!
    This message is brought to you by Brahman – “Brahman, Because anything else is just not enough.” πŸ™‚
    Thank you and now back to our show…

    • Davidya says:

      The Jimessage of the day…
      I’d disagree on the resolute intellect though. That happens when we wake up clearly enough and intellect associates with being instead of the mind. But yeah…

  7. Jim says:

    Like I always say, “Davidya and conquer” πŸ˜‰
    True, though same could be said of a sinless heart – needs the wake up call to know what it is doing. Have a great day my friend! Thank you

    • Davidya says:

      A sinless heart definitely gains a clear vision. Reminds me of the Yoga Sutra – when non-theft is established, all jewels rise up. Different arena but same principle.

      • Jim says:

        Yes, so beautiful. And once non-theft is established, theft or usurpation becomes impossible and certainly undesirable.
        Only then do we gain wealth without measure, and even the biggest billionaire appears as a beggar with a tin cup.
        Money comes, love comes, knowledge comes, success comes, and those who continue to steal, reincarnate. πŸ™‚

        • Davidya says:

          “those who continue to steal, reincarnate.”
          Right – until they realize they’re stealing from themselves…

          • Jim says:

            Yes, they are stealing from the Cosmos, like shoplifting at a store detectives’ convention. πŸ™‚
            Reincarnation to more appropriate circumstances is the mechanism used to adjust sin (and sattva). Or we can try our luck at repeatedly and effortlessly transcending.
            As the expression goes, “It’s not just a good idea, its the law” πŸ™‚

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