Mind Control

Devdas Menon

Text of an article that appeared in the April 2010 edition of the IIT Madras magazine Reflections

When it's hot, we switch on the fan,
When not needed, we switch it off.

When it's dark, we switch on the light,
When not needed, we switch it off.

We switch things off when they are not needed,
To conserve power, to avoid waste and be efficient.

We switch things off because we can switch them off.
We are their master, we can decide: on or off.

But there are some things we cannot switch off.
We cannot switch off our minds.

They operate relentlessly, whether we like it or not.
We like it, when they serve our purpose, which is rare.

Most often, they serve no purpose.
Mental activity is just a lot of noise.

Mental noise interferes even in the best of times,
When we try to enter into relaxed concentration.

Ever tasted fully every bite of your favourite meal?
Or listened to every note of your favourite music?

Within a few moments into every such activity,
The mind slips away into needless distraction.

And yet we believe we own and run our minds, our thoughts,
When in truth we are not their masters, we are their slaves.

They draw us away from the task at hand, the present reality,
Into an unreal world of fantasy, into the future or the past.

We are at the mercy of thoughts and emotions,
It is they who run, and often ruin, our lives.

As when we get confused or enraged
And say and do things we regret later.

Or when we are consumed by desire
And cannot rest till the craving is fed.

Or when we fret and worry endlessly,
Unable to concentrate and plan skilfully.

Or when we are bored or feel lethargic,
And the mind engages in mindless 'surfing'.

It's like a computer that keeps running,
Scorning our best efforts to switch it off.

So many hidden programs run in the background,
Draining off our attention, energy and efficiency.

No wonder, at times when we really need to focus,
Distractions get the better of our concentration.

And at crucial times, the system just 'hangs',
Paralyzing our efforts to respond appropriately.

Why allow the uncontrolled mind to govern our lives this way?
Why be victims of random thoughts and conditioned reactions?

Look for ways of taming this mental noise,
Of gaining control over the on-off switch.

And of moving consciously in the 'right' direction,
Rather than operating helplessly on 'auto-pilot'.

Are there such ways? Sure, there are!
Though not yet in our curriculum.

Modern education just gets us a livelihood.
It does not teach us how to live.

It takes wisdom to realize that we cannot be happy,
Pursuing never-ending desires for money and fame.

It takes courage to pause in the rat race, to question
And to see that we need a radical change in attitude.

And it takes skills to nurture a meditative mind
That is anchored in stillness, harmony and wisdom.

Such a mind acts as a moral compass that points clearly
To what is wholesome and skilful, and what is not.

It enables us to watch the rising and passing of every experience,
Not getting trapped and ego-identified, and yet responding skilfully.

May our education expand to include this art of wise living,
May we all awaken and stop sleepwalking through life!


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Reflections of a student-teacher at IIT Madras