June 30th, 2012
WHERE DOES YOUR MIND GO WHEN
Sitting across from me, her last session before she would leave for her annual vacation on the coast, she made a remark that intrigued me and set me to thinking. She said, with some humor and a sigh of relief, "I can tell it's time for me to leave; in fact, I think my mind left a couple of weeks ago"!
With that statement, I realized suddenly -- I was "of two minds." My first mind was trying to pay attention to other things she was saying, but my second mind was trying to catch up with her mind that had left several days before. My second mind was wondering: Is her vacating mind important for our work today? Where can I find her mind? What is it doing? And, by the way, what the heck does all this mean anyway? What strange business is this to go looking for a lost mind on vacation? Also, could it be that one of my minds was re-minding me that I also looked forward to my vacation which was yet some six weeks, two days, and seven hours away!
How can we not wonder about this? Think about it: Where does your mind go when you're not looking? What are we talking about anyway when we say "mind?" Just what is it? How would you define it?
For example, The American Heritage Dictionary defines "mind" like this: "the part or faculty of a person by which one feels, perceives, thinks, remembers, desires, and imagines." But what does that really tell us about what the mind is? This definition merely suggests what the mind may (or may not) do. Most definitions of the mind fall into that same mold. They generally talk about "mental processes." How unhelpful! And, it seems to me, trite.
These definitions do not uphold the mystifying weightiness and complexity of the phenomenon of "mind." Our language uses the word in quite provocative ways, does it not? Especially when we're not "looking," the mind may:
solve a problem while we sleep,
become tangled up in others' lives,
get trapped in delusions,
obsess, brood, worry,
undertake heroic adventures,
create beautiful and spiritual objects,
embarrass us by blurting out things,
split into two or more minds,
change points of view entirely,
never decide about anything important,
open the door to the divine -- or its opposite!
Notice how, without really thinking of what we mean, we employ "mind" to say very interesting things. We ask our children to mind their parents and teachers, we hope that dissenting groups will come to one mind, when we forget something we try to call it to mind, a statement by someone else may bring to mind another statement, we dismiss previous comments by invoking a request to never mind, we may find our minds "blown" by startling information and experiences, we try to beware of mind games, we caution people to mind a dangerous situation, and of course we reserve the option to change our mind.
But it is not just the language of "mind" that suggests something is going on which cannot be contained within the definition of "mind" as a mental process. The fulness of our human experience must account for a fulness of understanding that honors what we have come to associate with "mind."
For example, some time before I sat down to put on paper my musings about "mind," I was rummaging through my bookshelf to find a book for a colleague, a book on another subject than this one. However, my hand just "happened" to pull out another book I did not even remember ever having purchased. Certainly I had never read it. The book was The Unfettered Mind by Takuan Soho (trans. by William Scott Wilson). Takuan (1573-1645) was a Zen master who also practiced painting, calligraphy, poetry, gardening, the tea ceremony, and the art of the sword. In fact, it was Takuan who mentored Musashi, Japan's greatest warrior of all time.
Takuan, it turns out, has a lot to say about mind. For example, in his essay, "Annals of the Sword Taia," he declares,
The mind was not born with your birth and will not die
with your death. This being true, it is said to be your
Original Face. Heaven is not able to cover it. Earth is
not able to support it. Fire is not able to burn it, nor
is water able to dampen it. Even the wind is unable to
penetrate it. There is nothing under heaven that is able
to obstruct it.
Original Face may be translated in other ways, but the others basically mean the same as the translation used by W.S.Wilson: "the pristine nature of the Mind, as yet unstained by human affairs or intentions." The idea of Original Face transcends reductionistic explanations of biology or philosophy and opens us to a quite evocative suggestion. This definition does not satisfy the curiosity of the rational mind, but it does something more. It evokes a kind of reverence for the experiences we associate with "mind" and calls us to a deeper mindfulness. It is summarized, with some humor, again by Takuan:
It is the mind itself
That leads the mind astray;
Of the mind,
Do not be mindless.