The Mind – a Physical Process
I was listening to Brad Blanton and he distinguishes between three different minds: the reactive mind, the personal construct mind and the categorical or linear mind.
And he says that thinking is problematic and we need to practice noticing instead. I really enjoyed some of his arguments and his line of thought, but somehow there is a connection he makes, that I don’t fully understand or maybe just don’t agree with.
I agree: noticing is a great tool to be connected to reality and what is going on in and around us. I agree that sometimes noticing things can be replaced by imagining things and then be mistaken for thinking. And sometimes imagination can be so strong and vivid, that it’s hard to distinguish what is actually happening and what is not real.
But I actually don’t think we need to notice instead of thinking. Or that we need to stop imagining, in order to think. In my opinion we need all three and what we need to practice is noticing the difference and knowing when to use which quality of the mind.
I have been stumbling about the term mind a lot and especially categorizations like the three mentioned above or assessments that value the mind as the best or worst thing make me suspicious. „Mind over body“ is one direction, „out of the mind into the body“ the other – both often make me wonder.
An example for the first one is the story about a monk sitting on a mountain with his arm raised and the top of his arm is all black, because he sat there for over 20 years and the arm actually kind of died. Now – I actually don’t know if there is any truth about this story (I haven’t researched it) – but that’s not the relevant part for this article: what struck me when I heard it, was the awe in the voices about how strong this monk is, overpowering the body with his mind. Because he has decided that he’ll sit there and that’s what he does, no matter the pain etc. When I hear this, I’m thinking why on earth would I want to sit on a mountain for 20 years? And what point do I prove like this? How can this be perceived as the mind winning in some way, when actually in the end I lose an arm and the ability to move or do anything but sit there and prove my one point? What is so great about the mind winning?
On the other hand I stumble over the popular phrase that people have to get out of their head and into their body. In the back of my head I wonder every time: how am I supposed to get out of my head? And why would I want that? When I learned to notice where my attention is drawn to, that somehow makes it more simple for me. It makes more sense for me to think that most of my attention might be around my thoughts, instead of noticing the body. But that doesn’t mean I am not in my body. Because, where else should I be? This would imply that ‘I’ am not my body. But then – what is the body if not me?
I also don’t agree with the „evilization“ of the mind that sometimes seems to lurk in this way of talking, for example when Blanton says „the mind is a terrible thing, waste it“.
But why would the mind be a terrible thing? Why terrible? Why a thing? And also, why do we talk about it in a way as if it was not in our body?
A few days ago I had the idea that maybe the mind is a process. And when I think about it, this is quite true in my experience. The more I learn to notice what is happening in bodies – through my own experiences and by joining the learning processes of my clients – , the clearer it gets that ‘mind’ is a very physical process, too. I get more distance from seeing the mind as a thing and rather consider it a process like digestion.
While the digestion-process is transforming apples, bread and coffee into nutrition we can ingest, into energy that helps us keep running and be well throughout the day, the process of the mind seems to transform feelings, sensations and other impressions into ideas and models that help us structure the world and move in it well.
The digestion process involves many areas of the body. Depending on what our intake is, we need to invest different amounts of time, in order to be satiated and satisfied. Also depending on who we are, and what we do during the day, we’ll need different amounts of food and we might be able to digest some things easier than others. But if the digestion doesn’t work and can be painful, no one would tell us that digestion is harmful and we should get out of it, right? Rather than trying to stop it because it hurts, we consider that it might need some attention and finding out how it can work more smoothly and support our well being instead of being a hassle.
When I eat milk products, which I cannot digest very easily, much of my attention is drawn to how my body reacts to it. Before I knew, it was the milk that I couldn’t digest, I was wondering a lot and trying many different things; part of me was constantly busy with my digestion.
When I realize the discomfort comes from the milk, I can focus on creating the best conditions for my belly to deal with this. I can stop eating milk. I can focus on relaxing my belly, on breathing more to it, on just feeling the pain without putting too much drama into it and it’ll get digested.
Sometimes my digestion is weird even though I hadn’t eaten milk. Paying attention to what I do in my belly and back, and learning to relax the habitual tension that I can hold there, allows me to notice: did I eat something (pain remains despite relaxation) or did I need to relax?
Now I sometimes even eat milk products despite the pain that I might have afterwards and the sensation, that it stays in me for longer than necessary. I know, that I’ll need some extra time and attention to deal with it afterwards. But, you know – sometimes cake with cream is really worth it.
So back to the mind – something my mind really has difficulties transforming into strategies to deal with is indirect communication. And like with the milk, it is much harder to develop a model or structure that I gain energy from and that allows me to act freely, when I simultaneously contract my low belly and shoulders. A lot of my attention and energy is needed to figuring out the meaning of an indirect communication, interpreting reality and at the same time it’s not easy to let go and just let it pass.
However, when I relax my neck and around my eyes, my mind becomes much more clear and smooth. When I also have a soft belly, it is much easier to distinguish, if there is something I need to act on, regarding this indirect communication, or if it is something that I just need to relax with, let it pass and breathe through, in order to move and be freely in life. Because sometimes people might not want to be direct with me and sometimes I might misunderstand.
When my mind is not smooth today I use the opportunity to pay attention – is there something that I can relax? Do I need more energy? Or when I am relaxed – is there something that I have heard or thought about, something that I felt, that I need to take into account and give attention to?
I don’t want to get out of my mind, just as I don’t want to get out of my digestion. But I want to learn to pay attention to my body and where I do unnecessary tension for the task at hand. I can learn to relax or bring energy to an area. And then I can be less busy with my mind or my digestion and instead focus on what I want to do. I then use those processes or gain from their functions to be strong and enjoy life.
I can clearly feel that I need the functions of the mind as well as my digestion to be in reality, to be able to notice what is going on around me and make sense of it. I need them to have the energy to create plans, strategies and actions for change and also to experience the pleasure of just being in situations that I enjoy.
Since I thought about this idea, I have been researching a little bit and so far only found two articles referring to the mind as a process. I certainly want to develop this thought and hypothesis a bit more. So, if you happen to know a good book or other source around this subject, I would be happy to hear about them.
The mind as a physical process – what are your thoughts & opinions?
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