Taming the Taskmaster Mind
Who rules your life – you or your mind?
An odd question, you might say. What’s the difference? I am my mind. My mind is me.
Not true. Step number one in finding peace in your life is understanding that your mind is not you but rather a part of you – that what and who you are is much deeper, more profound and more powerful than the executive function within your brain that thinks, judges, evaluates, prioritizes, makes decisions, and otherwise manages the day-to-day operations of your life.
If you doubt that, then let me ask: when was the last time all that thinking, judging, evaluating, prioritizing, and other mind-based activities gave you peace?
If you’re honest with yourself, I think you will admit that the answer is never. Mind-based activities may give you a sense of accomplishment. They may give you relief. They may help you feel more on top of things, in command of your life.
But they won’t give peace or joy. Because that’s not what the mind is designed to do.
The mind is hard-wired to find and solve problems. It’s incredibly good at this, a true marvel of nature, but here’s the thing: once the mind solves one perceived problem, it’s off looking for the next one, because it sees its mission as controlling the circumstances of your life in order to keep you safe.
As such, the mind is never at rest. Let down its guard and it might miss something.
So if you lack peace in your life, if you crave peace, if you want to feel the peace and joy that is your birthright – you need to stop expecting to find it in the realm of the mind, because you’re looking for love in all the wrong places.
It took me a long time, and many years of suffering, to understand this. I have a particularly ferocious breed of controlling mind. My mind needs to attack a problem from every possible angle before it can rest. A problem walks by and my pit bull mind leaps and won’t let go until it has shaken the life of that poor problem and left it torn and tattered on the sidewalk.
For thirty-plus years I was consumed with doing, with achieving, with checking things off my to-do list, with being the world’s best father, employee, writer. My life was ruled by an unwritten script being executed by a taskmaster mind intent on controlling every minute detail of my life. I was completely unaware that this was going on. How could I have been aware it was happening when I identified so thoroughly with my mind?
All of these mind-based activities gave me the satisfaction of awards, money, titles, status. But I was not at peace. I was racked with anxiety and depression. Life had become a dark, joyless place from which I wanted escape.
Meditation was one of the things that helped me get out of that place. For a year and a half, I spent an hour every morning meditating. I was, at the time, in a state of deep agitated depression, and my thoughts were painful things. Sitting with them for an hour at a time was like being tied to a tree while arrows were being flung at me from all directions. (If you’re in that place now, you’ll know what I refer to.)
But as I meditated, an interesting thing started to happen. As I sat watching my monkey mind swing from thought to thought, worry to worry, anxiety to anxiety, a small space began to open within my consciousness. The painful thoughts were still there, but there was something else too. Floating above my thinking mind was a part of me – call it the witness – that was able to watch all of these goings on with gentle, loving, non-judgmental curiosity.
In that space began my healing. I realized that I was not just my mind. I was something else too. As the witness part of my consciousness grew stronger, the mad flow of my thoughts began to slow down, and the pain began to lessen, because I wasn’t identifying with them anymore. I wasn’t giving my thoughts the added fuel of believing that they were anything more than thoughts.
As my daily practice grew, I was able, in each meditation session, to go deeper and deeper into that peaceful place, below the level of thought, that passeth all understanding. I was able to find joy again. Ah, how good it felt.
Here’s what I have learned in my journey.
Peace comes not from control, but from letting go of control.
Peace comes not from doing, but from being.
Peace comes not from solving, but from surrendering.
Peace comes not from grasping for something that is not there, but from being grateful for what is already present.
Don’t believe what your mind is telling you. Don’t believe the lies that you are hopeless, that you are defective, that you need fixing.
You have everything you need, at this very moment, to feel peace and joy. Your journey there starts by realizing that you are more – much, much, much more – than your thoughts.