A pillar of the spiritual journey is determining who you are and, just as important, who you aren’t. The problem plaguing humanity is that most people identify themselves with something they aren’t: Their minds.
This mind versus consciousness topic is wide-ranging and can be examined from a multitude of perspectives. This piece is about juxtaposing the mind with our conscious, true self through the analogy of a flashlight. How does that work?
We can flash our light on whatever we want
Our consciousness, us, is like a flashlight. We can flash it on anything we like. You head to the beach and are gobsmacked by a sublime sunset. So gobsmacked that your flashlight shines on that sunset.
After marveling at this for a while, your growling stomach tells your flashlight to shine on the picnic basket you and your wife brought with you. It shines on the cheese and crackers that you prepare and then gobbles down.
Cheese, crackers, and dolphins
While chowing down on the cheese and crackers, you see a pair of dolphins loping gently through the water hunting for their dinner. So your flashlight quickly turns its focus to the dolphins.
After a few minutes of dolphin watching, you-know-who pays a visit: Your mind. It creates thoughts about the presentation you have to give at work in the morning.
“I think I’m prepared. I spent all day yesterday and today on it…But I should probably go home and spend four or five more hours on it just to be sure.”
It’s not a hugely significant presentation. The boss won’t even be there. Nevertheless, you turn to your wife and tell her it’s probably a good idea to head home soon.
What happened? Your mind created thoughts that were so powerful they attracted your flashlight to shine on them. And not just then, but as you were packing up and also on the drive home. Mind, mind, mind. Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts.
Your mind demands that the light flash on it
Lucky for us the mind only attracts our flashlight periodically…NOT!!!! Our mind is so loud and so alluring that it lures our flashlight to shine on it almost all the time.
And that’s where our discussion turns to who we are and who we aren’t. Let’s start with that entity most of us think we are: The mind.
What is the mind? It’s the sum of our learned experiences.
To take our picnic-goer at the beach as an example, those thoughts about needing to polish up his presentation didn’t appear out of nowhere. They came from myriad prior experiences.
Here’s a big one. His dad, who grew up during the Depression and was always afraid that starvation lurked around the corner, beat into his head a thousand times the Ben Franklin quote:
‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’
That fear of under-preparation burrowed deep into his psyche and still calls the shots several decades later.
Your thoughts aren’t you
Here’s the thing: Those thoughts that generated the fearful response of fleeing the beach are not who he is. They’re just another element that attracted the attention of his flashlight/consciousness. Those thoughts his mind produced are no more who he is than the sunset, the cheese, and crackers, or the dolphin.
That brings us full circle back to humanity’s biggest challenge: Our minds are so loud and powerful that they attract our flashlights to shine on them almost all of the time.
“Shine on me! I’m worried about my presentation!”
“Shine on me! I just looked in the mirror and hate what my body looks like!”
“Shine on me! My nine year old failed his math test and I don’t think he’ll make it in this harsh, cruel world!”
So what are we to do? Commit ourselves to weakening that fearful, complaining, relentless mind we all have. Why? So that our flashlight/us won’t constantly be drawn to shining on it and putting it in the driver’s seat of our lives.
A quiet mind allows the light to flash on the moment
When we’re successful in weakening and calming that mind, guess what our flashlight shines on? Whatever the heck we’re doing in any given moment.
Having dinner with our kids and actually being there at the table, listening to them.
Writing a work memo.
Playing tennis, golf, the piano…
Looking out the window and actually seeing and experiencing the trees and the birds.
In other words, we gain the ability to be present, the highest gift any of us can give to ourselves.
How do we calm/weaken our minds? Any of you who’ve read my articles know the answer to that: We meditate, practice mindfulness, pray and do anything else that strengthens our presence and creates separation from our “not-me” minds.
So remember: You’re a flashlight. Meditation and other spiritual practices will strengthen your ability to choose where you flash that light.
Wouldn’t that be great? To be able to place your attention where you want it?