Human Mind: Drunken Monkey or Mighty Creator

Harvard 300

Mind, until governed by soul wisdom, is very complex and tricky. In fact, Swami Vivekananda used to say that a mind that does not learn to meditate is like a drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion and possessed by a devil’s soul. Indeed, governing the mind is a hard job. We shall see here how to discipline, befriend and optimize the mind.

Most people confuse between the mind and the brain; they are not the same. The brain is an organ, like any other organ, it has a definite location (in the skull), shape (like walnut kernel), weight (about 3 pounds for an adult brain), birth and death, etc. We can say it is the hardware of the mind, its the CPU. It processes sensory inputs, thoughts, memory etc., but it is the mind that governs it.


The mind has no fixed location, and it is non-material. Brain is the finest matter, but mind is finer than any matter. It thinks thoughts, has feelings and emotions that the brain processes. So if we call the brain the hardware, the mind is the programmer that creates and runs the software.


Having understood this difference, we can ensure good mind management through the following:


Positive Attitude: Attitude has great importance in life and it is optional – we can choose our attitudes. William James of Harvard University said, “The most important discovery of my generation is that human beings can completely change their lives by changing the attitudes of their mind”. Attitudes color our perceptions and bias our observations. When we have positive attitudes, what we perceive looks good, or at least manageable. Positive attitude is a great value for right living.

Negative attitude and a life style, behavior without discipline (i.e. without daily exercise, right eating, enough rest/sleep, right posture, restraint on anger and greed, daily prayer and yoga-meditation, love and service, etc..) will invite negative stress. So we can keep away from harmful stress with a positive attitude to everything that happens.

But the most vital question is: If some people have a negative attitude problem, how can they change their attitudes into positive ones? To understand this, we must understand where do attitudes come from. Just as our attitudes drive our behavior, it is our values that shape our perceptions and attitudes. How we see the world depends on our operating value system, on where our consciousness is centered. For example, if someone believes that money is all that matters in life, his attitude to everything will be shaped accordingly. When we clarify (purify) our operating values, our attitudes will change.


Good Focus: All successful men and women have been people of great concentration. This can be developed by practice, and regular yoga-meditation can help here greatly. Mind has great energy but it is usually dissipated. By focusing its energy, mind can become very powerful. And the disciplined effort to focus it, is itself a great reward. Focus comes from interest and commitment; you cannot be focused on something that you are not interested in. You cannot create excellence in something that you do not love to do.

Building focus involves removing distractions both outer and inner. Sensations are outer distractions, but the main and more difficult distractions are within – the thoughts and feelings of like and dislike that the sensations arouse, and then the associated memory thoughts. In Yoga practice, Pranayama and Pratyahara help build focus.


Habitual Cheerfulness: What a blessing it is for ourselves and others that we live and work with, if we are cheerful. Cheerfulness helps the mind to be more alert and focused. One thing helps the other. A smile has been called a curve that sets many things straight. When we are cheerful, when we smile – sometimes in spite of the circumstances – we have made our job a lot easier.

We know that when we are happy, we smile. What we don’t know is that if we try to smile, we can feel happier.


Deep Breathing: The mind and the breath affect and reflect each other. When the mind is excited or agitated, the breath is restless; when the mind is calm, even the breath is so. This is a great secret. The ancient Rishis found out that the breath can work back on the mind. Deep, slow breathing induces calmness in the mind and helps build focus. Students can improve their memory and retention by deep, rhythmic breathing several times during their study. In Yoga, Pranayama is a vital technique and it induces Pratyahara, internalization of awareness which is necessary for building focus.


Good Company: Whether we want it or not, the company we keep influences out thoughts and habits. That is why in India, we lay a great emphasis on the value of Satsanga – which means, literally, the company of truth (Sat + Sanga). If we live and move with restless people with bad habits, it is hard to resist the influence. Those who want to learn good values in life, and wish to manage their minds and values well, should live in the company of noble, upright people.

You may have good ideas, noble thoughts but to keep their fire alive, we must have good company too. A burning piece of coal if left alone, easily extinguishes itself by getting covered with ash, but stays afire in the company of other burning coals. They help each other stay aflame.


Let us tame the mind and make it our best friend, our most potent power; else it remains our worst foe! Every great invention, every great work of art, every technology was first conceived in the mind; it is the mind that creates everything but we must learn to own it.


Sri Paramahansa Yogananda, the world-revered East-West saint and the author of the spiritual classic ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’, says in ‘The Law of Success’:

“Mind is the creator of everything. You should therefore guide it to create only good. If you cling to a certain thought with dynamic will power, it finally assumes a tangible outward form. When you are able to employ your will always for constructive purposes, you become the controller of your destiny.”


Hans Dholakia

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