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.
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. 🙂
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.