How to Control Your Mind and Experience More Peace
Everyone wants to be happier. Everyone wants to be more content. People are constantly seeking ways to manage stress better and to feel more peace and happiness in their daily lives. Meditation and concentration exercises are beneficial for cultivating more perspective and peace in one’s life. Of course some days it works better than others. Some days you feel the positive impact of your meditation; other days you feel overwhelmed with the circumstances, tasks and worries of daily life.
In order to become more centered, more peaceful, and truly reap the fruits of your meditation practice, it is important to first understand the mind and how it works. After all, the goal of meditation is to learn to control and focus the mind and stop the constant mental chatter. As Patanjali wrote in the Yoga Sutras, yoga is the cessation of movements of the mind (Yoga Sutras 1:2).
When you understand what the mind is, where it is, and how it works, you can attempt to start to control it – not only in your meditation practice, but in daily life as well.
Some people think they are their mind and that whatever they think, they are. According to yogic philosophy, however, the mind is simply a bundle of thoughts.
Think of the formation of a thought as the functions of a computer. A computer consists of mechanisms of input (keyboard, mouse, touch pad), it has a processor (CPU), a hard disk to store information, and a display. Before a thought is formed, it needs an input. Just like a computer, before an image or code appears on the screen, you must input something. We receive inputs through our five senses: hearing, sight, taste, touch and smell – all constantly being triggered by our environment.
The keyboard and mouse stand for our senses. They will receive input and this will go to the CPU. The CPU processes the information, and consists of the ego, intellect, and subconscious. After processing, an image will arise on the computer screen: a thought is created in the mind.
When we perceive something with our senses, when there is an input into our system, our human computer processes that input and creates a thought. Our mental processor consists of the ego, the intellect and our subconscious. The state, or the programming, of these three factors is crucial to the output. So even if two people perceive the exact same thing through their similarly working senses, their thoughts about that thing will be very different.
Imagine you walk by a bakery and you see (sensory input) a piece of chocolate cake in the display window. As soon as you see that piece of cake, your internal (and mostly unconscious) processes start. The impression of the chocolate cake gets processed by your very own CPU (processor), which consists of ego, intellect, and subconscious.
- The ego is the idea of the self. Your likes, dislikes and all other ideas about yourself.
- The intellect is your capacity to analyze.
- The subconscious is your memory bank. It stores all your memories from your life. It even stores memories from when you were in your mother’s womb. We might not be able to access those memories right now, but they are always there.
The ego might say, “I like chocolate cake.” After that, the intellect might tell you that you have money to buy the cake. Then the subconscious will chime in saying that last time you had chocolate cake it tasted very nice. This happens in a fraction of a second, and upon seeing the piece of chocolate cake, the thought to stop and buy a piece of chocolate cake is created.
It can also go differently. Let’s say there it’s a strawberry cake instead. Again, the input will provide you with information. You will see and smell a strawberry cake. The input goes to your ego and you know that you don’t like strawberry cake very much. Your intellect will say that you don’t want to spend money on something you don’t like and your subconscious will let you know that the last time you ate strawberry cake it was not enjoyable. The thought is formed: “I don’t like strawberry cake, let’s leave it.”
These examples with the cake are highly simplified, but they explain the creation of a thought. Now, one thought will lead to another thought and another thought will lead to the next one. This creates a chain or bundle of thoughts. Many thoughts are triggered by sensory inputs, but just as many are triggered by previous thoughts. This is an ongoing process, and anyone who has tried to stay without a thought – even for a moment – will have experienced how difficult this process truly is.
According to yogic understanding, this bundle of thoughts is the mind. The mind is not your ego, not your intellect and not your subconscious. It does not have a physical location inside the body – it is simply the collection of all your thoughts. In order to control the mind, we have to learn to control the formation of thoughts.
So how do we go about controlling the formation of thoughts? Here are 5 steps to control your mind and experience more peace:
1. Start at the source
A thought = result arising from the inputs of the senses processed with the ego, intellect and subconscious. If we want to control the mind, we have to first minimize sensory inputs. Then, we must learn to ignore the unnecessary inputs. We cannot shut off our senses but we can train ourselves to be less influenced by sensory input and less attached to sensory pleasures.
2. Just let go
We must learn to let go of our attachment to our ego and our intellect. First, let go of the ego. Start by trying not to be too attached to ideas about yourself and others, and be open to new concepts and ways of thinking.
Learning to let go of the intellect means understanding the limitations of the intellect. Intellect is limited to what it already knows. Wherever it does not have a previous connection, it cannot understand and analyze. So begin with becoming more connected to the present moment, not trying to analyze everything according to what you already know.
3. Take it slow
You do not have to master this completely in order to see changes in your attitude and life. Just being aware of these concepts and working to apply them whole-heartedly will help you progress substantially.
4. Dive in
Now we can use the practice of meditation and Pratyahara (limiting the sensory input) to gain control over the mind. As in the computer, the image (thought) is caused by the sensory input, Practicing Pratyahara will help you remove these distractions. Meditation will help you stay more clear and detached from ego, intellect and subconscious.
5. Stay mindful
You can start practicing meditation through the simple practice of concentrating on one object. Whenever you realize that you get distracted during your meditation practice, gently push the thoughts away and bring your focus back to your object of concentration (for example, the breath). The more often you practice this, the more aware you will become of the fact that you are not your thoughts, and you can choose which thoughts to entertain and which to let go of.
The end result
After some time of practicing sensory withdrawal (Pratyahara) and detachment from your inner computer (ego, intellect, subconscious), you will feel more connected to yourself and the world around you. You will be able to focus on what is important to you, rather than being distracted by all the sensory impressions that we are exposed to day after day. Eventually you will regain a great deal of control over your mind, the benefits of which will ultimately reflect in your every day life.
Through your meditation practice, you will see that you can focus longer and better. You will be able to open yourself up without judgment and expectations to whatever happens, whatever insights or experiences you have. Understanding the mind and applying the tools to control it will allow you to create the thoughts and attitudes that you want, leading you to a more peaceful and content life.