The body and/or mind, hence body/mind, is what we usually identify with as “me.” We really think we are this separate character in the world with its joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, sufferings and pleasures, etc. This is the fundamental mis-identification – through which we keep ourselves trapped within the illusions of the mind.
The last blog post covered “what is the body“, so what is the mind?
The mind is a reflex organ with accumulated thoughts. It is a reflex organ in the same way that eyes see, ears hear, the nose smells, etc. That is what they do. The mind creates thoughts. Thoughts just come out of nowhere. The mind reacts to everything. It fills your head with random thoughts each day. Many of these thoughts are based upon more deeply held thoughts (i.e. beliefs, assumptions, etc.). Thought creating more thought.
Like breathing, we do have a little control over thought. We can think about what we had for breakfast this morning. We can plan what we will do tomorrow. We can consciously create thought and we can consciously guide thought at times. But usually, thought just happens…reflexively…and often randomly.
We are attached to certain thoughts/ideas based on our upbringing and culture. Also, based on what we learned and our direct experience, we may create some of our own beliefs that may differ from upbringing. But these beliefs and assumptions that we are attached to create similar thoughts. For example, “it is wrong to cut in line, you have to wait your turn.” Something all children in the modern world are taught. It is social etiquette. Now if someone were to cut in line (especially in your line), a thought may arise “they shouldn’t be cutting in line.” You didn’t choose to have this thought. It just arises based on the reaction of the situation and the more deeply held belief that “it is wrong to cut in line, you have to wait your turn.”
In this way, there are reactions and judgments that just pop into your head (so to speak). Some of these thoughts are unkind…and if we think we are our thoughts (identify with the mind)…we feel bad for thinking them. We then think we should not think them. We have no control over our reflexive and random thoughts. Thoughts simply arise as reactions based on our more deeply held thoughts regarding what is going on. So if you change your understanding (basic assumptions, beliefs, etc.), then the way you react (the thoughts that arise) will be different.
The mind also stores in memory many things that happen to us. But this is just an accumulation of thoughts. Again, no more “you” than the food you eat. Where you less you when you were a child and had much less accumulated mental content? As a child, you felt you are you…as you do now.
Go back to when you were born. Just born and not even given a name yet…are you still you? Of course you are still you. Then as we grow up, we are given a name, told who our family is, told where we are from and what our country is, etc. We accumulated all this data. But is this accumulated data you? Of course not, because we were still us prior to accumulating the data.
We often identify with this data, but this is mis-identification. We are not what we do for a living, we are not our successes and failures, we are not our nationality, we are not these stories we accumulated about what happened in this life, etc.
So often the accumulated data changes over time, but we don’t become different people or cease to exist. We could change our jobs, change our religion, get adopted into a new family, move to a different country, etc. Names change. When my wife married me and took on my last name…did she cease to be who she was and is now a different person than before? Of course not.
If you had an accident and had temporary, but total amnesia…wouldn’t you still be you? Wouldn’t you still feel you are? Of course you would feel like you existed and you won’t feel like a new or different you, you just won’t know what your name is or other mentally accumulated content.
I once had the experience of not knowing who I was. I woke up one morning and didn’t have a clue who I was or where I was. I was not panicked or even worried, just curious who and where am I? I still felt I was me, but there was no content that went along with that. No life story. I don’t think a full minute passed…maybe half a minute…and suddenly I remembered. Oh, my name is Eric Putkonen. With my name, the rest of the content rushed back. I knew where I was, what I had to do that day, etc. Now I did not feel I was more “me” because of the returned mental content. I did not feel I regained “me”…”I” was never lost due to the lack of memory.
I am sure there are senior citizens with Alzheimer’s disease who have found they are forgetting much…but still feel they are themselves. Loosing your memories does not mean you cease to be you. You will still feel you are you…because you always feel you are you. There is the consistent feeling of being. It does not change because of new/changing accumulated mental content or from the loss of the mental content that was accumulated.
We are not our memories/accumulated data, and we are also not our conscious awareness – which is another product of the body/mind. When we are conscious, our senses send us data gathered from the world being perceived. We then think about what we experienced. When we are in deep dreamless sleep, there is nothing at all…but when we wake up in the morning we don’t say we ceased to exist at some point last night and came back. Often, with much deep dreamless sleep, we wake up the next morning refreshed and we say we slept very well. There is still a continuity of being…even without conscious awareness.
Conscious awareness and memory also provide a sense of continuity, and often this is what is misidentified with as “me”. You are still you when there is no conscious awareness (as in deep dreamless sleep). You are still you regardless of the accumulated mental content (memories) – it can change or vanish (as in amnesia or with a disease) and you would still feel you are you. You are still you when there is no thought at all.
We have all experienced moments of not thinking. It could be surprise, awe, or any number of situations in which thought stops temporarily. I remember visiting Machu Pichu in Peru years ago and being awestruck. There were no thoughts or words for several minutes. But you could also just be present. When you are totally present…100% devoted to the experience of the moment…there is no thought. I have had hours pass without a thought. The lack of thought does not mean you lose the sense of being or continuity of being.
To conclude, I want to point out that saying “you are not the body/mind” is a pointer to the mis-identification with the body/mind. In nonduality, you are the Self…which includes the body/mind. However, to end mis-identification with the body/mind, you must cease identifying with the body/mind. In order to realize the Self, it is best to not identify with anything. You throw it all away (so to speak) with neti neti (not this, not this). Not mentally, you must see and deeply realize/understand for yourself that you are not this, not that.