What is mind? The question seems pertinent to the beginning of any neurology and most psychology classes, but the question often gets bandied about in meetings and groups discussing spiritual or mystic philosophies. The question, often without any definition provided, is predicated upon confusion and lack of critical study, thus leaving room open to place any number of nebulous notions upon it. However, this does not mean that the question is unimportant nor unworthy of being asked.
I once heard consciousness explained as “that thing you have before you go to sleep and regain when you wake up.” While certainly a tongue-in-cheek statement, there is something appealing in its simplicity and offers a standard public understanding, though without much substance. Difficulty here is that such a delineation gives a false understanding of wakefulness, as there are any number of near-infinite data being processed unconsciously and of which we almost never become aware of. Indeed, we can note how often even when awake we’re not quite aware of what’s going on around us, whether we’re stuck in a book, focused on something else and miss that person who just bumped into us on the walkway, or get jarred out of reverie by some other event. Consciousness or awareness now seems to be something of which we do very little of and only comes about when something different or outside of the expected occurs. Looked at this way, consciousness becomes less important, in percentage at least, where it concerns our daily life. And yet, our minds are always active, constantly thrusting up narrative projections based on data we’re rarely ever aware of and creating a mostly consistent view of a world.
This state of existence, with consciousness taking little time in the way of our lives, but exponentially more time in the projected image of ourselves, lends to behavior that is confusing and thus in need of rationalizing. We think we’re in complete control of our actions, selected out of the vast potential of human behavior, as if at a buffet table. Hence it is that when we do actions that jar us, undermine our self-image or confuse us, there is an immediate response to declare such behavior “not us” or, subtly different, “not the best of what I am.” Thus the insertion of the soul as a locus for our deepest self or most pure quality.
I wish to offer a challenge to the supremacy of the soul over the mind. To do so we must begin with noting that mind refers not to a thing in itself, an object, but a descriptive word pointing to a process, a process which Daniel Siegel notes is “the flow of energy and information.” (Handbook to Interpersonal Neurobiology). Everything is some form of energy, though not all energy contains information, as should be readily noted by hearing the difference between static and music coming from a tuned radio. From this starting place of looking at mind as a process not an object, we then can note how context then encapsulates both the brain (by this is meant the entirety of the nervous system), the genetic map of that individual and the social and familial milieu in which that person is living.
Mind becomes here much bigger and more nuanced than soul initially indicates. Within mind is bound the sum total of our potential behaviors, simply awaiting release as we respond to stimuli both conscious and unconsciously acknowledged. Within mind is the potential for change as we learn and train ourselves to be more aware, to be more observant. Rather than viewing our greatest potential as an object to be reached, it serves as one among many, contextually dependent, stories to be written in our thoughts, behavior and relationships. Soul then, rather than a destination to be reached, or some higher self to be realized, can become a term for a journey of more consistently expressing life/love-giving qualities.
Viewing mind as separate from soul shortchanges our ability to progress and own our current pregnant potential for good. The path is an ever-expanding realization of our current capacity for understanding. We can begin today not by asking “what is in my way?” but “how can I expand my present awareness of life?”
© David Teachout