“The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” — John Milton
Our brain is a powerful machine, arguably the most powerful machine ever created. It’s super complex and totally organic. This physical machine gives rise to a host of cognitive abilities that lead to humans being conscious, imaginative, perceptive, thoughtful, and adjudicative, along with the capabilities of speaking and memorizing. But perhaps the most important of all is the ability that the mind has to process invisible feelings and emotions, giving rise to visible reactions.
There are different philosophical viewpoints that debate whether the mind and brain are the same or completely different. Modern concepts like functionalism and physicalism attribute the properties of the brain as a direct contributor towards the power of the mind. Older views, like dualism and idealism, declare that the mind is a completely different entity from the physicality of the body.
Are humans the only creatures in the universe with a mind? There are millions of other species on this planet and there are conflicting scientific and religious views on the nature of their mind power. For example, the best-known Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) declare that animals have their own minds that are at least as powerful as human minds, if not more than that.
On the other hand, it’s somewhat universally agreed that all non-organic matter does not possess a mind. Scientists and engineers are diligently working in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) to make a breakthrough and give a human-manufactured entity the power of a human mind. The work of Alan Turing (yes, the real-life character that was portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie The Imitation Game) has proved pivotal, and most of his work is still relevant and forms the basis of machines and machine learning today.
Just like genetics, the theory that genes are passed down from one human to another human and define their physical nature (these genes being almost identical but different as decided by evolutionary forces), memetics deals with the theory of ideas, beliefs, and mental behavior being passed from one human to another, creating a generational pattern.
Neuroscience deals with the study of the physical nervous system and its impact on the power of the mind that relates to physical capabilities, just as motor function does. The other study is psychology, which observes mental processes and helps patients through advice and suggestions. Psychiatry involves the use of medicines and other procedures to correct mental disorders, but this is not a reputable field, and people avoid talking about it. A very old concept, now becoming popular again, is mindfulness meditation to overcome difficulties and become happier and able to lead a more fulfilling life.
Nature of the Mind
For centuries, philosophers have rejected materialism and physicalism and opted for a more spiritual nature for various reasons, including religion. They have argued that when it comes to human minds, physics usually misleads us. There are two famous philosophical sets of theories on the nature of mind that have been famous for centuries: dualism and idealism.
Both Aristotle and Plato have supported dualism in their own ways. This theory considers the brain (or the body in general) and the mind to be two completely different entities. This also closely matches with the concept of souls, which many religions also support, where the soul is independent and, in many cases, in control of the body.
These theories also differentiate physical death from mental death, where the body can die but the “person” can live on, maybe taking another body or form. The Hindu concept of seven rebirths is a good example of this.
But the biggest challenge for philosophers who support this theory was to explain how a non-physical entity (mind) can affect or control a physical entity (body). Descartes, who is one of the pioneers of the dualism theory of the modern era, also struggled to answer this question. Initially, he suggested that the pineal gland, located in the center of the brain, acted as the intermediary. However, it gave rise to another question: How does the mind control the pineal gland?
It is this dilemma that caused some of Descartes’s followers, including Malebranche and Geulincx, to later declare that this is not possible without the intervention of a superior entity, or in simple terms, only God can create the connection between a mind and a body. But most philosophers think that’s the extent of God’s intervention, and everything beyond that point, is performed by independent interaction of mind with body.
Philosophers who support idealism assert that reality, or the sense of reality that the human mind perceives, is created by the mind itself. Idealism supports the notion that the human mind finds it difficult to comprehend something out of the bounds of what it considers possible. Religious scholars have used this concept many times against atheism, in that people reject the idea of God only because it’s impossible to even imagine the extent of God’s domain.
Idealism also supports the concept of spirit, or soul, and prioritizes it over the body. It declares the mind as a direct manifestation of the spirit interacting with the body.
Idealism has come under heavy criticism in modern times, with philosophers supporting other views such as realism, outright rejecting all the arguments in favor of idealism. Even then, there are many philosophers even in the 20th century who have supported some form of idealism. For example, the famous British philosopher, mystic, and guru Paul Brunton, supports mentalism, which considers the world and all its inhabitants part of a collective mind.
According to research conducted in 2014, people who observed mindfulness meditation became 10% happier than before and reported a much more relaxed lifestyle with reduced anxiety that helped deal with physical ailments such as chronic pain. In addition, a 2007 survey revealed in the United States alone there are more than 20 million people who do some form of mediation at least once a week, with an upward trend.
Often meditation is linked with a religious context, but due to the numerous benefits, the meditation practices are now offered in non-sectarian context so more people can benefit from it.
But what is mindfulness? Well, it is the ability of the human mind to be completely aware of its surroundings and only react to what it must react to, which helps to avoid anxiety through calmness. Human beings are naturally calm, but due to personal life experiences, people become anxious and overly reactive.
Mindfulness can be achieved through practice on a regular basis. The best way to practice is meditation. It helps clear the mind of distractions by detaching ourselves from our surroundings and finding inner peace. The results will be visible very soon. Instead of jumping at the phone when it first rings and then screwing up the call by stumbling over your words, you will spend a few seconds taking a deep breath and focusing on your strategy to ace the phone call.
Here are a few basic practice tips to create your own meditation routine:
1. Find a clear space. Most movies and TV shows glamorize the wrong aspects of meditation: the accessories. Don’t fall for that. You just need some clear space without noise and you can start right away.
2. Set aside some time every day. You do need to schedule so you set aside proper time for meditation every day. Not doing this can add to your mental frustration.
3. Focus on what’s on your mind right now. Everyone is distracted these days. The goal of meditation is to focus and tackle one issue at a time—the best way is to prioritize what’s immediately pressuring you.
4. Don’t be judgmental. Your mind is currently untamed, and it will fail you at the start. Don’t be harsh on yourself. No matter how bad it is at the start, you will eventually learn. Actually, the worse you find your mind right now, the better you will feel once you reach a state of mindfulness.
5. Be comfortable. Your physical posture should be comfortable. “Comfortable” can mean something completely different to different people, but generally your body should not be in pain or affected by any environmental element.
The only thing left is to breath, and to find a rhythm in your breathing. Not too fast, not too slow—just natural breathing. And let your mind be free. If at first nothing comes to your mind, start by focusing on a positive thought or recalling a pleasant memory. You will soon see your mind leads you to something important.
The Science Of Happiness
Feeling happy is a cycle, and it is viral in a good way. You might have heard the conundrum: If you want to feel happy, think happy! What does this mean? It means to focus on the positives in your life, the half full cup side of the story.
It is easier said than done, but with practice you can start the cycle. Bad things happen all the time, but how you process those events and learn something positive from the experience is how you will outgrow the old you.
My pop used to say, “How do you know whether something is good or bad for you? If you became better after it, it was good, but if you became worse, it was bad. So, it is actually you who determines what will happen to you.” I was confused at the time, but now I fully agree with him.
And it is not just some abstract talk. Filling your mind with positive thoughts and dealing with people with compassion and love does lead to real physical changes in your body.
Let’s talk about hormones, chemicals produced by glands in your body that regulate various processes, but most importantly they affect your mood. A good balance of happy hormones in your body will make you feel content and satisfied.
● Dopamine: Heightens pleasurable sensations.
● Serotonin: Better sleep, appetite, memory, etc.
● Oxytocin: Better reproduction and relationships.
● Endorphins: Natural pain relievers.
There are many natural ways to boost the production of the above hormones apart from meditation and exercise. And the best part: You don’t have to spend tons of money to do any of them.
● Laugh therapy: Joking and laughing with a friend, family member, or significant other makes you feel happy and reduces anxiety, stress, and depression, as it releases tons of good hormones into the system.
● Chef Happy: Cooking food is one of the best hobbies in the world, and it feels very rewarding. But not everyone is a good cook. What if we add a loved one in the mix and you focus more on having fun while cooking than the actual meal? And if you end up making something good, say welcome to two new expert chefs!
● Beat with beats: Listening to music can trigger feelings, memories, and the release of different hormones. It is important to listen to uplifting, happy music to start your day. You will definitely see a better attitude all day long.
● Doc Paw: Pets can be lifesavers. For lonely people, pets can be the missing anchor in life that can be the difference between life and death.
● Sleep: The better the sleep you get, the more fulfilling and focused you will start feeling over time.
● Massage and romance: Getting a massage is also mentally relieving. And getting it from a loved one that leads to romance can be very rewarding.
● Charity: It doesn’t need to be monetary—you can give your time to someone. Making others happy is one of the best feelings in the world. Joy comes from unexpected ways.
“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
The right mindset is all you need. It will require persistence, tenacity, and practice to achieve the mental freedom and bliss everyone hopes for, but it’s very much possible.
However difficult the current phase of your life is, whatever loss you have faced past or present, no matter how bleak your future looks right now, remember this: You are important. You are magnificent. You are perfect. Persevere, love, and be compassionate and you will become happier than ever.