The mind watcher (redrafted)
I want to empty my mind says the student coming for a meditation class.
Ok, replied the teacher, but you have to be dead before succeeding.
The main source of our suffering is the ongoing, restless output of our ego-driven mind, especially made of our negative thoughts and feelings, unreachable desires, and aversion.
From functional neuroimaging, it is estimated that our brain-mind produces non-stop between 90,000 to 140,000 thoughts/ day while awake, maybe more. (Dept. of Neurophysiology Queens Univ. Dr. Jordan Popperk).
It is also estimated that a very small fraction of this huge output is dedicated to producing cognitive analysis including judgment and decision-making.
Besides this decisional cognitive function, our thoughts are an ongoing background audiotape that we are not actively aware of, simply because it is impossible to be aware of so many thoughts per min.
It is like having the radio on without listening. Are these non-cognitive noises necessary?
When we do something, somewhere, our mind is wandering elsewhere, doing something else.
This is more obvious when we do our routine stuff in automatic behavior.
Zen calls that “day sleepwalker” during which our mind is almost 100% in control w/o you being conscious of it!
How can we minimize, if not control this overwhelming control of our mind?
More than 7,000 years ago, very smart people realized that we cannot have 2 thoughts at the same time despite the fact that we have around 100 billion neurons and trillions of neuron connections forming a
huge wiring network transferring data instantly everywhere in our brain using bio-energical current.
So, our brain-mind is a giant biocomputer working 1 thought at a time like its mechanical cousin using 1 and 0. Again, one thought at a time even if we can have zillions of them every day.
The brain is the hardware whereas the mind is the software.
What is the practicality of all of this you may ask:
By focusing consciously on X such as breathing, we force our mind to do only one task which is focusing on one target X called “anchor”. Focusing on X becomes a circuit breaker or a pause button.
Because it cannot have 2 thoughts at once, our mind has no choice but to obey by slowing down its flow of thoughts, therefore, allowing us to watch them consciously one by one.
When our mind decides to take over and wander away from its focusing point as it always does,
it is critical to watch each incoming thought in a mindful way, that is devoted to any cognitive process:
no analysis, no judgment, and no decision except to refocus on the anchor.
You become then a mind watcher, in control of this back and forth mental activity from the focus point to the thought, and from the thought to the focus point.
Meditation is like a cat-and-mouse mental game: you against your mind and your mind against you.
You can also watch your mind outside formal meditation.
For example by being mindful and experiencing one of your 5 senses: seeing, hearing, etc...
In fact, any routine activity such as walking, eating, under the shower, etc. can be a pretext to focus on in a mindful way as a tool to watch your mind. The more you practice, the better the watcher becomes.
Remember, learning to watch our thoughts and emotions is the mandatory critical first step to controlling our mind, at least temporally. There is no other option.
When you observe your mind, the mind is the target rather than you being its target, which happens
all day long.