The Power of the Mind
Mind is supposed to have limitations, but if we study history, as our teacher always recommended, we find that those limitations have been accepted in quite different places – in very different ways over a long period. For instance, the great builders of the cathedrals in Europe from Notre Dame, each one a little higher than the last, could be, up to Beauvais, which was so high it fell down. They were master builders, but they couldn’t calculate more than 5 times 5 in their heads. That was thought to be quite impossible. Even accountants used to have on the walls of their offices, the tables above 5 times 5. It all had to be written down – nobody could be expected to remember that. Well, sometime they had to calculate while they were away from their tables and didn’t have an accounting board with them. How would you calculate then – 9 times 9? Well, the accountants used to hold up their hands – on the one hand 9 is 4 above 5, so put down 4 fingers; on the other hand 9 is 4 above 5, so put down 4 fingers. Now add the fingers that are down – that’s 4 + 4 = 8; multiply the fingers that are up, that’s 1 x 1 = 1. So the answer to 9 times 9 is 81. Nobody could be expected to remember that, but they were experts at calculation, so we know how widespread this was, because there are references to it in the literature – the supple fingers of the accountants. So they were constantly using these fingers.
In the same way, to be able to read silently – you had to be a genius to read silently, and it’s been argued that nobody could. But we know that the astronomer, Ptolemy he writes about reading silently, not verbalising the words as you read like everyone else did. To read silently he said is a very good exercise in concentration. But he was regarded as a genius – it was almost impossible to do. But now, anyone can do these things. On the other hand, they had faculties that we regard as impossible. For instance, memory – even a century ago people could remember. Thackery, the author, in a storm in the sea to take his mind off the danger, recited the whole of Paradise Lost from memory – people could, it was not so exceptional. So that the frontiers of what’s possible and what’s impossible vary quite considerably.
There are other faculties which we hear of – distance, some Tibetan monks practise a form of discipline mediating in the snow. The teachers refer to this. They’re able to do it and by practice they have been able to, by a special sort of concentrations, they’ve been able to raise the temperature of the body by several degrees. Our teacher referred to this and said “Well, one has passed through all these years of raining, he can sit in the snow and meditate – but that’s all.2 The United State army team sent a group to see if these claims were true and they found that they were. But as an additional interest to this point they asked one of the monks if he would come down to the plains and help them with some more elaborate tests and he said “No” because apparently now when I go down to a warm place and I sit in meditation, immediately the heat of the body goes up. It now happened automatically – he couldn’t control it. So he had to meditate now in these very cold places and our teacher said there are no advantages in such things. However they do exist and it is worth knowing that what is thought to be the frontiers of possibility are not as fixed as we imagine.
The ordinary mind is a battle and is represented here. There is something to be done and we want to do it but, as we know, immediately that thought happens all sort of other considerations come in. “Oh well, you can’t do it anyway for a bit” and “How’s this going to affect our relations with so and so? They might not like it here.” Our normal method is, in this battle, to increase the force of “I’ve got to do it” and then these other considerations tend to increase too, and there’s a big battle. And then in comes another big thought “Why you don’t want to bother with all these things. Why get all excited? It doesn’t matter.” Finally, sometimes, the need to at will win and slowly, and rather ineffectively, it will happen. It can be forced through.
This is completely different from the Yoga method of action. It is not a question of building up more and more force, more and more passion in order to overcome this resistance. Instead to take away these opposing thoughts, so there’s simply the action – it’s without friction, without a battle. That means the ability to give up casual thoughts and passionate thoughts – to make the mind empty except for this thought, this desire. This is the Yoga method. In this method, how are these things to be overcome and got rid of? Our teacher often used to give a fundamental practice of Yoga – to sit, and as the thoughts come up to say, “Not wanted. Not wanted. Unreal, unreal.” The thoughts of opposition can be of different kinds. Sometimes there’s something that will be good to do, but there’s an element that doesn’t want to do it, and that element says to the intellect, “Get me out of this.”
The brilliant writer, de Quincy, heard a pianist play. He was fascinated, wonderful and he was determined, he told his friends, “I am going to master the piano and be able to play!” Then he found that it was take a lot of practice for many hours every day; but he’d already told a lot of people, so it would be a terrible loss of face. So he said to his intellect “Get me out of this!” So the intellect said, “Well, suppose you go to a concert, you have a free ticket, but there’s just one condition, that at a particular point in the piece you have to knock the table twice. That’s all. It’ll ruin the concert for you, won’t it? You’ll be waiting for your bit, and then you’ll do it and think, “Ok, that’s done’. But you won’t enjoy the concert. Now think of the musicians, – they’ve got things to do all the time. It means they can’t enjoy the music at all. They’re just slaves producing the music for us to sit in serenity and enjoy. So it will be a great mistake to take up the piano and do all that practising wouldn’t it. It’ll be much better to see other people do it and enjoy. So his intellect got him out of that, but it was not exactly a constructive thing. To give up the thoughts in mediation but you can’t just sit in meditation doing these practices and then run wild with instant reactions in the daytime. Now we’re told for instance, nearly all schools of good behaviour when you’re annoyed and you want to say something, count backwards from 19 before you speak – or sometimes it’s 99; or sometimes people say count up to 10 before you speak.
Most people have heard of these things in the nursery, but nobody does them. However, if they were shown that it could have an effect, then there’s a spiritual version of this which would be worth trying. But first I’ll give an example from the world of how effective this is. A man published an advertisement which he put in one of the highly respectable papers, how to give up smoking without will power. The paper wrote back to him and said “We’re not going to print this unless you tell us what your method is. So he wrote and told them and then they printed it and he made some money out of this. His method was, and it’s a booklet, it’s a little hourglass of sand for boiling an egg – three and a half minutes. He said ,“You don’t have to use will power in my method. You can have a cigarette when you like. But when you decide you want a cigarette, take out the hourglass, put it down and wait for three and a half minutes, then have your cigarette. I saw some of the letters that he received and even this first step was quite effective. The sudden wish for a cigarette is a quick thing. They want it now. They didn’t feel frustrated, because they felt they could have a cigarette, but after the three and a half minutes they felt they didn’t want it. Or if he had it, it didn’t seem very interested. Then he said, “Now, extend this. Wait for the three and a half minutes and then have your cigarette. But when you have your cigarette, you mustn’t do anything else. You mustn’t talk to people, you mustn’t look at anything, you mustn’t listen to anything, you mustn’t read the paper. Just go into a corner and enjoy your cigarette. What they experienced was that they’d wait for the three and a half minutes, go to the corner take out the cigarette and enjoy it. But after a few puffs it wasn’t enjoyable and they’d find themselves putting it out halfway through. I won’t go into the further steps, but anyway he was fairly successful.
Now there is a spiritual account of this which is referred to in our teacher’s book – just hinted at. When something happens, suddenly causes anger, fear –I give one of the versions from the far East. You can have your anger, but wait for three minutes and then have your anger. Then you won’t feel frustrated. When it happens bring your attention to the point between the eyebrows – wait three minutes, then you can have your anger reply then, as angry as you like. Or something happens that frightens you – in the same way, bring your attention here, wait for three minutes and then have your fear.
This practice is given in the book Training the Mind through Yoga, where the body is to be made an instrument or a servant, and one of the methods is to imagine the circumstances and then the body is to be a servant. So we can imagine that somebody has smashed us on the face or insulted us, or we’ve made a beautiful bed of flowers, and someone comes along and tramples all over it. Vividly imagine it, and then bring the mind to the point between the eyebrows, just for three and a half minutes.
Another exercise that is given in the same book – imagine that we have to undertake an important errand and to do that we have to walk down a very dark street at night. Then something that needs to be done. Imagine we’re walking down that very dark street, but bringing the attention between the brows and feeling that the spirit is independent of the body. Do this for three minutes, then after that we can have our anger, have our fear, as the man can have his cigarette, but now we’re in the position that we can look at the anger, look at the fear.