I go to the gym and workout just about every day. Usually I train on my own, a mix between cardiovascular and strength training exercises. Every now and then I will take a class. Usually the instructors want us to push past our physical fatigue to strengthen our muscles and endurance. It was in this one body sculpt class that the instructor yelled “Train your Body!” that got me thinking. I spend a lot of hours every week running and lifting. What if I put the same amount of energy into training my mind? What if everyone spent a considerable amount of time investing in their mental “strength”? So, when the instructor yelled out “Train Your Body!” I added, “Train Your Mind!”
Now I’m not talking about the kind of intellectual training where one gathers and memorizes information for later regurgitation. That type of information has its own value and place for the society and humanity. This other kind is a mind training that entails getting to know the patterns of your thoughts in conjunction with the subtle tendencies to attach on to those thoughts. It is a training that involves introspection and honesty. It requires a detective-like attitude and acceptance of what one finds.
Not many people want to take the time to figure this all out and for good reason. Most of us are so wrapped up in our thoughts and attachments to them, that we barely see the separation. To many, we are our thoughts. And likewise, our thoughts are what make us. Picture a present wrapped up in wrapping paper. It is like our “selves” and “our” thoughts are the wrapping paper. We take this present and enjoy just the wrapping. We do not even consider opening the present—that is taking off the wrapping paper! We go through our lives carrying around this beautiful box of wrapping paper, never realizing that underneath the wrapping is something completely different.
We never separate the two: wrapping paper and present. We never separate the two: thoughts and self.
None of us are really unique, nor are our experiences and thoughts. It doesn’t sound too appealing of a concept, because we want to feel special and we want to feel unique. If we were to ask every person on this planet to write on the topic “Train Your Mind,” there would surely be groups of people who write about the same approach to this concept, despite never meeting or knowing each other.
However, the one thing that can separate us from the norm is this ability to unravel thoughts from the self. That’s why people refer to it as the “illusion of self,” because our “self” is nothing more than a complex combination of thoughts that we’ve taken and held on to and decided THIS is ME. This is who I am. When you strip yourself of all those attachments, what do you have? Well, when you strip yourself of your clothes, what do you have? Nothing. You’re naked. And in this same light, a self stripped of attachments is also naked. When we are naked there is a sense of vulnerability. If we are around our spouse, then usually being naked isn’t given a second thought. But if we were in the middle of the super market naked, then we would definitely feel vulnerable.
In the same way, when our attachments to thoughts, and subsequently our identity, is taken away, we feel this same embarrassment and uneasy position. Actually being stripped of attachments is freeing and liberating—much like those who go to nudist colonies feel free and liberated from the constricting nature of clothing (or take small children for example, they love being naked for this very reason)—but to the untrained mind, it feels like someone ripped out a part of us.
If I can’t claim my thoughts as mine, then I can’t claim what I say as mine, and I can’t claim what I’ve done as mine, and I can’t claim my relationships I’ve built or possessions I’ve acquired or anything as mine. That sounds pretty depressing and unfair! But it’s the truth. It isn’t mine and to train my mind to understand this is what brings about wisdom.
If a person wanted to compete in a running race, say a 5K or 10K or perhaps a half or full marathon, that person would train using various exercises to achieve a desired result. They would do long runs, speed workouts, interval workouts, and strength training, like lunges and weight lifting. After months of training their body to adjust to the vigor of a race, they will accomplish their desired result: completion of the race, perhaps a win or to beat a personal racing time.
When we take the time to train our mind, using various techniques, we too will get an end result: wisdom. It might not be easy. We will have good and bad days. We will have days where it feels like instead of progress, we are slipping back into our old habits. There will be days when we feel “on top of the world!.” But, like a runner who knows the race is approaching and doesn’t give up his or her training because of these pit stops, we too must continue on diligently and with great effort to come to our mental race with the training in place to successfully manage it.
Think of training your mind as a work in progress. Every day you get a little stronger, even if you don’t notice it. Every day you come closer to understanding the true nature of your self, even if you’re actions and speech show otherwise. Next time you’re at a birthday party, notice the presents gathered. Notice what the person does when it’s time to open the present. He or she knows something is under the wrapping. With that knowledge, s/he unwraps enthusiastically and with precision to uncover the hidden treasure.
Let us learn from this. Let us know, too, that we have a present waiting to be unwrapped. Let us train our mind!
Peace and Blessings!