Science has shown that almost nothing is as it appears. We often overlook the obvious, and sometimes we must look closely to really understand what is going on.
Some examples. Heavy things don’t fall faster than light things, instead everything falls at the same speed (when you eliminate air resistance). The earth is not standing still with everything in the heavens orbiting around it. Instead the earth orbits the sun and even the sun is moving. Our body isn’t one living thing, instead it is made up of trillions of cells. There are many other examples.
The same applies to our inner experience. We must look closely to gain an understanding of what is really going on within us.
Instead of picturing ourselves as consisting of just body and mind, it is more useful to think of ourselves as body, mind and Awareness. Each is different from the other and each has its own important role to play in our lives.
How is this different than my mind?
The word “mind” is often used as a catchall to describe everything that happens within us, all our inner experiences. That is an oversimplification of a very complex phenomenon. For this discussion, I use the word “mind” to mean thoughts and emotions.
Given this definition of mind, Awareness is clearly something else, in the same way your eye is different from everything you can see. Awareness allows you to see your mind.
How do mind and Awareness relate?
If you pay attention, you will notice that we usually only experience Awareness for a brief period (seconds at most). We then slip back into our normal mode of being caught up in our thoughts and emotions. Normally, Awareness is overshadowed by our mind.
This point is both fundamental and critical. In the same way that loud noise will drown out quiet music, the volume of our thoughts and emotions drowns out our Awareness. Thoughts and emotions roll on, typically but not always on a general topic we have chosen (or think we have chosen), without us having direct control or being consciously aware of them while they happen. Even worse, sometimes we get hijacked by our mind – it takes us into thought patterns or memories that we don’t want to experience and may even believe to be harmful, yet we seem helpless to stop them.
Don’t I have control over my mind?
Not really. If you believe you have control over your mind, test it now. I am going to give you a useless yet harmless thought: “monkeys are hairy”. Close your eyes and start repeating that thought for at least a couple of minutes. When you’ve had enough, stop.
What did you experience?
If you’re like almost everyone else, after several repetitions, your mind wandered. Other thoughts came up, either on their own or concurrent with monkeys are hairy. And eventually, you lost the thought monkeys are hairy completely. You may have gone back to it, but the point is, you unavoidably lost that thought.
And notice one more thing. You did not see the moment you lost the thought. What happened is that after some time, you realized you were no longer thinking it, at which point you either gave up, or you started it up again. In other words, most of the time your awareness of your thoughts is a recent memory, not an “in the moment” experience.