The biggest health challenge of our times is mental health. While some mental health problems need clinical attention, most can be addressed by improving our ability to manage our mind. Alerting us to the necessity of such inner management, the Bhagavad-gita (6.6) cautions that the undisciplined mind is our worst enemy.
How does the mind act as our enemy? Let’s understand using an acronym MIND, which conveys how the mind misperceives things.
M – Magnifies problems
I – Imagines pleasures
N – Neglects opportunities
D – Denies realities
Let’s look at these tendencies one by one.
During our life, we all face problems, some small, some big. For dealing with such problems, we all can tap our strengths the talents or resources that we have been endowed with or that we have developed. However, we can use those strengths wholeheartedly only if we are confident that they can make a difference. And that very confidence gets eroded when the problems seem bigger than what they are.
Suppose we were playing a boxing match and the opponent’s fist started appearing as large as a boulder. Even if we were a reasonably good boxer, that perception would intimidate and dishearten us. And when we lose the will to fight, we soon lose the fight
Similarly, when we face problems, our mind makes them seem much bigger than what they actually are, thereby demoralizing us. It makes the easy seem difficult and the difficult seem impossible.
One way the mind magnifies problems is by adding the problems of yesterday and tomorrow to the problems of today, thereby making today’s problem seem unmanageable. Suppose we have to regularly do an unavoidable, unpleasant chore it’s not undoable, but when the mind makes us think that we have had to do this for so long in the past and that we will have to do it for the rest of our life, then the accumulated negativity becomes so burdensome that doing that chore even today seems impossible.
Suppose in office, we are given the task of doing the paperwork something we detest. Our confidence gets eroded when the problems presented by the mind seem bigger than what they are.
We may long to work in a paperless environment, but as long as our present job involves paperwork, that’s what we need to do. And if we get down to doing it, we will find that it is not that difficult. But the more we dread it, the more we lose our energy, thus becoming incapable of doing not just that task but also other aspects of our job that may be more likeable. Because of the mind, work becomes workload.
Another way the mind magnifies problems is by obsessing on negatives. If we don’t like something about someone, the mind keeps obsessing over their unlikeable facet, even if other facets of their personality are likeable. Thus, if someone is untidy, dealing with their untidiness may be unpleasant, but harping on it will make things unbearable, for them and us both.
When the mind magnifies problems, we feel so burdened that we can’t analyze them objectively or act effectively for addressing them.
We all find some things more pleasurable than others. Sometimes, such preferences can characterize our personality. But they can also degrade our character if they become obsessive, as when excessive drinking makes people alcoholic. Tragically, addicts imagine as irresistible the very thing that makes their life unbearable. Such can be the mind’s dangerous imagination.
While addiction might seem an extreme that is irrelevant to us, we all are prone to be deluded by the mind. We may be studying for an important exam while a cricket match is going on somewhere far away. Our mind may imagine that game to be immensely enjoyable, though the actual game may be boringly one-sided. Feeling that we are missing so much, we may choose the paltry titillation of watching that game at the heavy cost of faring poorly in the exam.
Can’t imagination be creative rather than destructive? Yes sometimes, as when it helps us envision successes if we persevere in working on our strengths. More frequently however, the mind’s imagination works against us, as when it triggers our lower desires and impels us to regrettable actions. The Gita (16.21) cautions that lust, anger and greed are gates to hell.
Nowadays, the mind’s tendency to imagine pleasure gets dangerously coupled with the. Internet’s capacity to offer unlimited titillating stimuli, thus causing many people to waste appalling amounts of time. A recent yet rapidly increasing form of addiction is net addiction (and its variants such as video game addiction, porn addiction, social media addiction). Such addiction is fuelled by the mind’s fantasy that somewhere out there on the net is some immensely enjoyable stimulus What starts as surfing on the net ends as suffering on the net.
The mind’s imagination can also hurt our relationships. When we are already in a committed relationship, the dreams of some other, supposedly better relationship can be debilitating pining for what might be, we ruin what is. Undoubtedly, some relationships are more harmonious than others. Before committing to one relationship, we can surely strive to find a compatible partner. Still, even the most compatible partners will not be identical. They will have differences that need to be dealt with maturely. And a key part of maturity is to see through the utopia of the perfect match and to learn to connect with real people. The way to rich relationships is not so much by finding the right partner as by becoming the right partner.
At an even more fundamental level, the mind’s imagination that everyone else is happy is what keeps us most unhappy. Distress is a ubiquitous, undeniable fact of life. The Bhagavad-gita (8.15) asserts that the world we live in is a distressful place. Everyone faces problems; just the forms, degrees or frequencies vary. However, the mind imagines that others are happy. And that imagination is inflamed by the smiling faces we see in social gatherings and media hoardings. Thus being blinded to the democracy of misery, we believe that we alone are suffering, or at least that we are suffering far more than others. Our fantasies about others’ happiness sentence us to unending unhappiness.
In every situation, even the worst of situations, opportunities to rectify things still exist. Unfortunately, the mind neglects those opportunities, obsessing on the things that can’t be undone or fixed -things that are beyond our control. The mind neglects opportunities not just amidst difficulties, but also during the overall course of life. We all have certain abilities that we can put to good use in the corresponding vocations thereby finding satisfaction internally and making contributions externally. However, our mind often undervalues those vocations, for it craves vocations at are glamorized in the social mirror. Suppose we have an artistic inclination, but are captivated by some glamorized vocation such as engineering Being misled by our mind, we may neglect the door of opportunity that our talents open for us. By slaving in areas for which we just don’t have the necessary talents, we may simply bruise ourselves in trying to force our way through a closed door.
Even if we happen to work in a vocation harmonious with our talent, the mind can still neglect opportunities. How? By making us commitment-averse. What translates talent into achievement is commitment. Unfortunately, our mind often prefers the path of least resistance, thereby making us lazy. Under its influence, we work only half-heartedly and sentence ourselves to a life of mediocrity. Ironically, our biggest opportunity is the opportunity that the mind neglects the most. That is our spiritual opportunity: the opportunity to evolve towards enduring spiritual satisfaction. Gita wisdom explains that at our core, we are souls (02.13), pans of the supreme, Krsna (15.07). We are on a multi-life journey of spiritual evolution, wherein we are meant to evolve in wisdom and devotion, culminating in eternal love for our all-loving, all~ attractive Lord, Krsna. Unfortunately, we are often so captivated with dreams of material pleasure that we neglect the opportunity for spiritual growth, for we just can’t focus on higher reality long enough to relish spiritual satisfaction (2.44). Suppose we have been digging for gold for a long time and are just a few inches away from a treasure. If we give up then, thinking that the labour is too much, what a tragedy that would be! Similar will be our predicament if we neglect the opportunity for spiritual growth that awaits us in the human form of life. We have been mining for happiness over many lifetimes, by pursuing different sense objects in different species. Now finally in the human form of life with its potential for spiritual exploration; we are so close to the mother lode of eternal happiness. If because of our lazy mind, we neglect that opportunity, we become destroyers of our own soul (16.21).
No reality is as undeniable as death. Yet no reality is as strongly denied by our mind as death.
“Why does it deny death? So that it can keep chasing worldly pleasures.
As our mind is filled with materialistic impressions, those impressions push us towards stimuli that promise material enjoyment and away from stimuli that dampen material enjoyment. And the greatest such dampener is death, for it will terminate all material enjoyment in one irreversible moment. Naturally, the mind denies death forcefully. Of course, intellectually, we all know that we are going to die one day and if asked about it, will admit it too. Yet that admission rings hollow, as if we were speaking about someone else or as if we were speaking about some remote future possibility that has no bearing on us now. Just as the mind denies the reality of death, it may also trivialize other grave realities that need to be addressed.
Another reality that the mind denies is the reality of Krsna’s love for us. Because it is obsessed with material things, it impels us to look for Krsna’s love only in the fulfilment of our material desires or in the mitigation of our material problems. And when things don’t work the way we wanted them to, the mind uses that state of affairs to justify its denial of God’s benevolence or even his existence. However, the ultimate expression of Krsna’s love is that he offers us enriching and enlightening experiences of peace and joy that attract our consciousness to the spiritual level of reality where we actually belong and for which we subconsciously long.
Krsna’s love doesn’t just elevate us beyond this world -it also empowers us in this world. How? By inspiring us with faith in our potential for self-transformation.
Whenever we strive to do something challenging, if we come to know that someone respectable believes in our potential, that knowledge inspires us to work harder to meet the challenge.
Gita wisdom explains that Krsna believes in us he has faith in our potential to rise from material consciousness to spiritual consciousness. Only because of that faith does he reside constantly in our heart (18.61) and descend repeatedly to this world (4.07-09). Striving to elevate everyone everywhere, he is the greatest benefactor (5.29).
Studying the Gita and practicing bhakti-yoga enables us to become aware of Krsna’s love for us. The more we become attuned to that reality, the more we feel inspired to reciprocate with him in a mood of service and contribution. This inspiration activates our own latent potentials so that we can use them for our and others good.
When we understand how our mind distorts our perceptions, we become better equipped to detect and correct its misperceptions as soon as they start occurring. Ultimately, the most effective means for managing the mind is to become conscious of Krishna and to strive to serve him. Devotional remembrance of Krishna not only gives us the inner strength to regulate our mind’s negative tendencies but also replaces them with positive tendencies. Through such regulation and redirection, when our mind becomes transformed, it stops acting as our foe and starts acting as our friend.
Till that happens, the mind can distort our perceptions even while we practice bhakti-yoga. If we become alert enough to check those misperceptions, we can focus wholeheartedly on our bhakti practice, thereby experiencing its extraordinary efficacy expeditiously.
Caitanya Caran Das