Mind over matter

I was sitting in front of my computer and I could feel the heat at the back of my legs. It was a very cold day and I welcomed the warmth. Every day, I’d switch the heater on behind as part of my winter routine. The building I work in is fairly new and the central heating has not yet been installed. On this particular day, after I finished my online lesson I realized that the heater was in fact off. I was feeling the heat behind my legs because that’s what I feel every day. It was my mind telling me that I could feel the heat. There wasn’t any heat. Have you ever thought that you spilled coffee on yourself and felt the burning sensation only to find that you hadn’t really spilt your coffee?

There are some things you can’t will away or will into being. You can’t will things to disappear from your life that are really there. At least, you can’t will it away immediately. You can actually will things away through the power of your mind. Circumstances don’t really determine your attitude in life. If your life sucks, it’s because you suck. You don’t have to be a bad person to suck in life. You just have to be an irresponsible person. What is a good mental approach to have?

I assume that if you’re reading this then you must be an adult. As an adult, I assume that you are a juristic entity. That means, you can be legally prosecuted for your actions. A good mental approach starts by reminding yourself that you are responsible for yourself. You need to say it:

I am responsible for my thoughts, my beliefs, my actions, my inaction and what I allow to happen to me and others.

When you start telling yourself that, suddenly the world seems like a demanding environment. You and I can no longer discount the pivotal roles we play in our own lives and in the lives of others. I can’t discount the role I play because I have no one to blame for the mishaps of my life except myself. I have to learn the lessons that life has taught me and I have to think differently, believe differently, act differently, and perhaps not allow things to happen to me that I don’t want, if I really want change. I have to take charge of myself. Not like a drill sergeant, not like a tyrant, but like a loving father or mother. I have to mold myself into the person I want to be.

To think differently I must keep an open mind. I must step back from my immediate assumptions, presuppositions, and emotionally entrenched reactions. I cannot change anything if I stick to the same way of thinking that I have now. I cannot be better than I am today, if I do the same things I’ve always done. I need to start with thought. How do I think?

Thought is a tricky business. I remember walking pass a staircase for years and never noticing that there was a door underneath it until someone pointed it out to me. Some scholars used to think that information is processed based on what we’ve observed- that external stimuli will be interpreted once received. It turns out that the process is a lot more intricate than that. We actually train our minds to see what we want to see, or rather, what has been historically established by our minds to be the most useful information.

I’ve noticed this a lot in my many years of travel. In the Islamic culture, women are covered up. When you speak to some of these Muslim women, they don’t see it as particularly problematic. However, women from cultures that prescribe nakedness as a standard think that Muslim women are oppressed by the patriarchy. It’s different ideas around cultural appropriateness that have difference emotional responses. Some women- socialized in a different culture, see the Islamic cultures as oppressive towards women. Others, socialized in the Islamic cultures, either see it as normal or- the religiously minded- see it as liberating. It is a matter of perception.

Malcom X, God rest his soul, used his jail sentence as an opportunity to become educated. The prison was his university. It could have broken him, but instead it made him stronger. He went on the become a free thinking activist that had the humility to change his mind several times. Never be afraid to admit that you might need to change your ideas or that you were wrong. Someone who knows everything can’t learn anything.

Here’s a challenge for you. Ask yourself how do you see yourself? Let’s forget about how you see the world for a bit. Ask yourself a few important questions:

Am I honest or do I knowingly distort information to suit the circumstances?

Remember you cannot get accurate data if you are dishonest and hence you can’t improve.

  • Am I willing or unwilling to listen to uncomfortable views on subjects I hold dear to me?

Remember that you cannot gain insight into a broader perspective if you’re not willing to change your own.

  • Do I listen to people when they talk or am I thinking about what to say next?

Remember that you cannot grow if all you are is your own echo chamber. You can’t benefit from people if you can’t hear them to begin with.

  • Am I loyal to a group or am I interested in truth?

You cannot edge closer to an objective reality- whatever that may be-, if you don’t acknowledge that it exists. Assuming that it does, the closer you get to it the more fulfilled you will be.

  • Do I want to see more than I see now? Do I want to escape the conditioning of my infant self and reach out towards my higher self?

Remember, you only see what habit has shown you is useful during the course of your life. You will only start seeing beyond that when you force yourself out of those habits.

Finally, when you commit to a few things on this list you can start walking your journey into a more fulfilling life. A life in which you acknowledge your part and you pledge to do the best you can, is a life worth living. Fulfillment = responsibility. Are you ready?

2 thoughts on “Mind Over Matter

  1. Yes! This is the key insight I think. And the realization that our perceptions of the world are relative. Wealth and poverty, success and failure – these are relative values. Change your perspective and you change your reality. Although Islamic women’s garb is still way too hot relative to western clothing. And it blocks your ears and eyes.

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