Sunday, June 13, 2004

The Fountain of the Mind

The Fountain of the Mind

Buddhists like to say that the untrained mind is like a wild monkey swinging aimlessly from branch to branch. The beginner who first practises meditation will find that his mind jumps randomly from one thought to another and it is so difficult for him to focus on just one thought--be it the breath or any other chosen object of concentration. For many Eastern religions, spiritual progress requires a mastery of the mind.

I am not exactly a regular meditator but I'm aware of the need to control the flow of thoughts in the mind so that we can focus better on the task at hand. Any kind of work requires concentration. If the mind is not concentrated, it simply cannot produce good work.

We can help induce concentration by reducing the physical distractions that surround us, such as TV, telephones, Internet and people. But we usually dislike doing so because whenever we cut ourselves out from the world, we feel very lonely. We prefer the comforting diversion of noise and conversations. In other words, we would rather have our minds be controlled randomly by the environment, because it is the easier thing to do.

After a lifetime of having our minds being let loose like wild monkeys in the jungle, it is obviously very difficult to regain control of them. The mind has become spoilt and even addicted to constant distractions. If we are not surfing the Net, we'll be scanning the TV channels, or randomly flipping through a glossy magazine. We want to latch on to things that amuse us and interest us. The mind abhors a vacuum.

So we treat our minds like vacuum cleaners, using it to suck in all interesting sensory input. Well, we can argue that without input, the mind will not learn anything. If we are careful and wise in selecting what we feed into our minds, we can grow.

It is quite true that our minds need intellectual nourishment to grow but if we only use our minds like a vacuum cleaner--even with a filter--we are only utilising half its capability. We are only capable of reacting to input. Our whole life then become a continuous sequence of stimulus and response. Nothing original ever comes out from our minds.

Which is why concentration and meditation is important. When we deliberately regain control of our minds, we disrupt that incessant flow of stimulus and response, and allow thoughts--creative thoughts--to flow out from the depths of our minds. I like to see the mind not as a dumb gobbler of input, but as a fountain, with an inexhaustable source.

When the mind is quiet and we deliberately allow it to focus on one thing, useful and creative ideas would spring out. The key is to create the right environment which would allow the mind to unfurl naturally like a flower.

The mind is by nature creative and is a constant wellspring of ideas. Unfortunately, like how we usually treat our environment, we tend to misuse and pollute this important natural resource, this divine fountain of the mind. And on those rare occasion when it does flow at all, what comes out is but a murky and brackish trickle.

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