In studying some of the great Eastern spiritual traditions these past many years, one surprise has been the emphasis placed on working with the mind. Buddhism, Hinduism and the yogic tradition all place central importance on stilling the mind.

Why is that surprising? Mainly because they came up with these ideas many thousands of years ago. Turns out our minds have been nutty far longer than I thought!

Check out this passage from The Bhagavad Gita, arguably the most important text in Hinduism, written well over 2,000 years ago:

“For those who have conquered the mind, it is their friend. For those who have failed to do so, the mind works like an enemy.”

And how about this Buddhist teaching?

“A man’s mind may make him a Buddha, or it may make him a beast…Therefore, control your mind and do not let it deviate from the right path.”

Wise words, indeed.

The personal mind is the culprit

Traveling the spiritual path, it can be easy to believe the notion that the mind is our enemy. Often times that is the case.

But that is our personal mind. Some call it the egoic mind. It’s the entity that produces involuntary thoughts and emotions that plague us.

“I can’t believe she said that. Who acts like that? Ughh. I can’t stand her.”

“If this job review goes poorly, I am screwed. It’ll mean no promotion. No raise. And no future at the company. My career will be ruined.”

“It seems like he’s mad at me, but I’m not sure. And so what if he is. I didn’t do anything wrong…I think.”

But there’s another part of our mind that can be of immense benefit to us. Let’s call that the intelligent mind.

The good news is, we can use our intelligent mind to help us calm the personal one. How?

Michael Singer and the intelligent mind

Let’s start with something from the playbook of my favorite spiritual teacher, Michael Singer. He gives three talks a week at his Temple of the Universe in Alachua, Florida, and in most of them he mentions the following examples, all related to astronomy.

The one that resonates most with me is his observation that we are all spinning around on a tiny rock in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Most of the Universe is just black, empty space.

The Earth is tiny

To drive home how insignificant our planet is in the grand scheme of the Universe, he relates that 1.3 million Earths would fit inside the sun. I never knew how tiny Earth is, or how big the sun is, until I heard that.

Then he moves on. Our sun is one of 300 billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.

Singer then relates that the next closest star to our sun is 4.2 light years away. How far away is that? If you held a light photon in your hand and let it go, in one second it could circumnavigate the Earth seven times.

That’s the speed of light — 186,000 miles per second. Travel at that speed for 4.2 years and you’d arrive at the next closest star…And there are 300 billion of those in our galaxy.

How many galaxies?

And guess how many galaxies there are in the Universe, each with billions of stars? Two trillion!

Sticking with astronomy, Singer points out that photos of Mars show it’s just a bunch of dirt and rocks. That’s it. Oh, and it’s also freezing. On Earth we have waterfalls, trees, monkeys, cheetahs, snow-capped mountains, lush countryside, fish…

Then he asks, “Where would you rather live? Mars or Earth?”

What’s the point of these astronomical observations? Singer runs through these points and then asks:

“And you’re worried that Sally just walked by and didn’t say hello? Or that your wife woke up and forgot it was your birthday? Or that junior didn’t get accepted to Harvard? Come on. Wake up, everybody! You’re going to spend a few years on a beautiful planet spinning around in the middle of nowhere. Why not enjoy the ride?”

That is using our intelligent minds to help us navigate the spiritual path. When we use our minds to contemplate the vastness of the Universe and our place in it, and juxtapose that beside our small, mostly petty concerns, it lightens our load.

The blue dot photo

At least it does for me. In fact, I wrote an article, link here, a few years ago about the photo Voyager took of Earth from 3.7 billion miles away. We were just a tiny, blue dot in a vast ocean of black space. I highly recommend reading that article, too.

What are ways we can incorporate this into our daily lives? Michael Singer has done something for several decades now where, whenever he picks up the phone to take a call, he reminds himself that he’s spinning around on a tiny rock in the middle of space. He reminds himself of the same thing each time he walks through a doorway.

Of course, contemplating the vastness of the cosmos isn’t the only way our intelligent minds can spur us on our spiritual journey. We can read Be Here NowThe Power of NowThe Bhagavid GitaThe Tao te Ching and myriad other books to help us understand ourselves and our place in the Universe.

We can write and create and do any manner of intelligent activities that get us closer to the divine within us.

The takeaway

The point is that while the mind can cripple us, it can also help us. As Michael often reminds his listeners, our minds are off-the-charts brilliant.

Our minds figured out how to put humans on a rocket and land on the moon. And make life-saving vaccines. And create King Lear, the Statue of David and Schindler’s List.

Best to use that brilliance to help reduce the dominant role our egoic minds play in our lives. It’s all hands-on deck in that paramount endeavor.