Getting to Know Your Own Mind

Getting to Know Your Own Mind
by Art Ticknor

                     
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Ch'an Master Foyan responded to an inquirer's complaint about not being able to find a teacher to his liking: "... What teacher would you harmonize with? If you want to harmonize with a teacher, just get to know your own mind.... What is your mind? And how do you know it? ... You must actually look inward and discover it."[1]

identification with hunger If we say or tell ourselves: "I'm hungry," that implies our identification with the body. If we tell ourselves: "I'm sad," "I need X to make me happy," or something similar, that indicates our identification with feelings.

Thoughts and feelings are scenery. You're not those thoughts or feelings; you're what's aware of them or observing them.

Everyone knows facial expressions are generated by emotions, right? In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell notes studies showing that facial expressions done intentionally affect the autonomic nervous system the same as those generated by emotion. To test this for yourself, place a pen between your lips (which prevents contraction of the two major smiling muscles). Are you ready?

Q: Why did it take the Buddha so long to vacuum his sofa? A: He had no attachments.
How funny did that joke strike you on a scale of 1 to 10? Now clench the pen between your teeth without your lips touching it (which forces contraction of the two major smiling muscles).
This guy was climbing a tree when suddenly he slipped, then he grabbed at a branch and was hanging there. After an hour or so had passed he felt himself getting exhausted and looked up to the heavens and cried out: "God, help me, please, help me." All of a sudden the clouds parted and a voice boomed out from on high. "Let Go!" said the voice. The guy paused and looked up at heaven once more, then said: "Is there anyone else up there?"
They were both corny jokes, weren't they. But could you tell a difference in how humorous they seemed based on the facial expression determined by the pen positioning?

If you say or tell yourself: "I don't know what to do," that indicates a belief that you're the decider (which may also indicate that you don't know the mind :-) The AA folks have a saying: "Let go and let God." (Maybe the second joke above came from an AA member.) After I made an internal commitment to find or become the Truth regardless of the cost, I never made another decision about where to live, what type of work to do, etc. I found that when we put first things first, other things take care of themselves.

I came across an amazing case study on getting to know your own mind recently. It was an autobiographical sketch by a fellow named Steve Brier, "How I Came to Understand then Overcome Autism Conditions ... from the Inside Out."[2] Here are some excerpts from it:

"I overcame most, if not all, Asperger and other savant-like autism symptoms as an adult taking a decade and a half of 24/7 efforts. Rote speech, lack of coordination, ritual behaviors, lack of color vision and depth perception, so-called mind blindness (I call these 'cosmic conniptions') and more were overcome....

"Language was last to come. I became completely fluent in normal speech where words have normal meaning in the last two years. I did this after getting no help for seven fruitless years from fancy, expensive, and highly regarded New York City talk therapists.

"How can a lone individual understand and overcome [what authorities and institutions haven't]? ... They looked out. I looked in.... I used intuition.... While scientific methods were used to obtain information and data to understand what was happening to me, spiritual means were used to overcome and solve challenges....

"What was I observing? Anything that looked and felt like my experience, thoughts, behavior, dreams, speech, all....

"Assuming I found real workable insights, would that alone change my Asperger genes, my birth delivery injuries made worse by abysmal upbringing? The answer was a resounding yes. I found if I honestly observed patterns of my behavior and then correlated them to dreams, dream images, or objective patterns in nature, my behaviors would dissolve over time. I only had to be honest and trust intuition.

"I would not be able to trust feelings, sensations, even brain functions because they would take time to heal. I found my behavior, no matter how strange, was meaningful, purposeful, attempting from an unseen part of myself to express something that didn't have words. I knew if I externalized my disabilities, then I could see them. If I could see them, then I could heal them. If I could heal them, maybe, just maybe, I could make me a whole person...."

Steve found powerful ways to observe the mind – and when he did so, he found that his state of being changed.



[1] Instant Zen: Waking Up in the Present, translated by Thomas Cleary, is a book of Foyan's teachings.

[2] Steve Brier's article on autism in the May 2006 TAT Forum.


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