Training that “Mind”

“Educating the mind without educating the heart, is no education at all.” – Aristotle

I felt so burned out after another conversation about “training the mind” to do this and that, notice when idea’s form, notice when emotions are rising so I can cut them off, and notice when “bad” thoughts are formulating to prevent them from “rising” fully. And, off course, keep breathing nice deep easy breaths, and always have a smile on ones kind face. (Try attending to any of this while you hold a discussion.)

Who comes up with this shit? People who can’t sit still for 30 minutes because they have an itch, or are uncomfortable, thirsty, or impatient, and still decide to train the mind? People who want to “control” the mind and yet can’t keep it from wondering how much longer this stupid time wasting sitting is going to last? Someone who claims “I can’t meditate in a mask?” (Covid restrictions) In my early Chan training it was the first thing taught to “control the mind,” simply don’t scratch an itch, and don’t move to move just because your uncomfortable. It works fine in meditation, but is simply forgotten when the rest of life floods in. But still, the point is made, the “I” doesn’t have to react, doesn’t have to accept delivery. (If it’s not in attention it’s absent. Period. And I can’t notice something that’s absent!)

So yesterday I decided to “train my mind” in a very simplistic way. I was going to “train the mind” into noticing the color red all day. Seemed simple. Just notice whenever the color red comes into vision. So I sat in contemplation for 30 minutes “training my mind” to attend to the color red during the day. I got this, it’s simple and direct, not at all like trying to notice when a thought rises.

I noticed red twice in the minutes after sitting. Once more before I left the house.

And promptly forgot.

Later that afternoon I was having coffee and there was a “red” car parked outside Starbucks. A mental flare went up. Oh yeah, red. A simple association to an early “training of the mind.”

Outstanding!!!!! Four reds in a little under eight hours! (I wonder, if I could really “train the mind,” how many hundreds or thousands of “red” reports would have appeared in noticing?)

Great. It was a little sad really. Or maybe just melancholy? Wishing for the days when I sat for hours “Training the mind” and actually believed I was doing so. There was a delusional comfort in that self-deception, and egoic self-centeredness. I felt really good, there I was “training my mind,” so I would be a “better and superior” person later. (Sounds like conditioned personality has a plan to stay in the center of attention.)

Yikes. My “train the mind” exercise didn’t work. If I can’t attend to the insanely simple tasks like noticing the color red or experiencing the exact point when in-breath turns to out-breath, how am I going to train a flowing, shifting, and constantly evolving thing I’ve labeled “mind?” A “mind” that’s augmented by emotions, feelings, and moods, one that switches from one subject to another seamlessly, and one that tells itself stories that I believe without ever knowing they are stories. Including an annoying story about it training itself. (After thought, who is that who’s noticing the color red? Isn’t that a separate self doing something again? Arrrgh.)

Outside this morning at 4am, the moon broke through the clouds for a just a second, and although I needed to keep walking for warmth, I stopped and took it in. What mystery the cold light holds, how wonderful the sheen that lit up the sister clouds. In the corner of my eye a movement, and just a few feet away stood a deer, holding still like a statue, who also seemed to be admiring the moon. A snort and he was off, done with this little deer, moon, human, and very sensuous, mystery.

Not a single glimpse of red. I didn’t miss it.

Bryan Wagner

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