We might say there are two types of mind within us -- the mind that is generative and the mind that is receptive. Generative mind is like an ice cream truck with no brakes: full of great ideas, thoughts and plans, yet none of it can be accessed, because this type of mind never slows down enough for us to be able to get at the goodies. Because it is constantly generating product that can't be unloaded, the truck fills up, the driver is forced off the vehicle altogether, and in the end we have an overflowing factory of theory that is completely out of control and that eventually causes all kind of damage when it crashes into our actual lives.
Generative mind is the type of mind that keeps us awake at night, playing nonexistent chess games with the circumstances of our lives. Generative mind becomes particularly active when we've activated a flight or fight response through some concern that we've identified as being linked to our survival. The problem is that generative mind doesn't make distinctions between the survival of the body -- of who we are as functional individuals -- and survival of ego, our current self-image, our beliefs and cultural conditioning. Generative mind will apply the same vehemence to figuring out how to avoid a conversation with a person who threatens us as it would how to escape a concentration camp; the same level of emergency to obtaining the right breakfast food as to avoiding a car crash.
Generative Mind, Receptive Mind
Generative mind makes us restless, jumpy, edgy; it inappropriately charges the nervous system with unnecessary tension, and it is primarily the alleviation of these effects for which meditation has become most known and practiced in the West. While the quelling of this agitation is certainly a fringe benefit of a meditation practice, to stop when we begin to experience a relative degree of peace and calm would be like agreeing to have sex with our mate and then going to sleep as soon as we've reached the bed because it's so warm and cozy. We've forgotten our true purpose! It's the same for meditation. Peace and calm is often a side effect, but much more is possible on the cushion than just that. Overcoming generative mind is only an initial step in the process of transformation. When the mind stops racing all over the place, we're just at a starting point with respect to what is possible in meditation.
Receptive mind is more like a Salvation Army van. This vehicle always departs empty -- begins with emptiness -- and drives around the neighborhood picking up all those things which would otherwise be discarded. The mission of this vehicle is to see the value of these things, recognize the beauty of them; it dusts things off, turns them over, appreciates their possibility and can apply the already established presence of existing realities to the needs of the moment or distribute them to benefit others. Receptive mind doesn't miss what is already there -- whereas generative mind is interested only in the newest, shiniest version of whatever is available.
The Mind As Salesman
The mind that is generative is also the low-wage front counter help in the establishment where life is served up to the masses. It seems that this counter clerk is on commission and has completed a number of certification courses in the art of "horizontal marketing": the offer of options, accessories, augmentations, upgrades and alternatives to the original, basic product of reality. Any attempt to order life just as it is, nothing added, nothing subtracted, sounds something like this:
"Hello. I'd like one order of reality," you say.
The clerk turns toward you with a big smile and then, with a smooth "just-aimin'-to-please" tone, responds. "Certainly! And what would you like with that?"
"Oh!" you exclaim, a bit taken aback. "I didn't know there were options."
Then, flashing a row of perfect teeth, which puts you a little more at ease, he croons, "No options? Why, of course, there are options -- and plenty of them I might add. The special today is your basic order of reality smothered with a thick layer of sweet, melted sentimentality."
"Oh, gosh," you exclaim. "Well, sounds interesting, but ... I think I'll just take the basic reality."
"Certainly. Oh, by the way, we also have a standing special, as long as quantities last, on spicy criticism. Gives a very nice little kick to our basic product. In fact, those who have tried it just a couple of times say they'd never go back to having reality just plain without it."
"Well, thanks, but no thanks."
Now you have your money out with just the right amount of change for the order of basic reality, which you've placed on the counter to indicate your certainty and to combat the apparent pushiness of this clerk. "Just this, please," you say assertively.
"As you wish," the clerk replies, still smooth as can be without missing a beat. He reaches behind him and quick as a flash drops something on the counter that hits the surface with a rock-like crack and then tumbles to a stop.
You pick it up to examine it and find it to be at sub-zero temperature. "This is freezing," you tell him.
"Yes. That's the basic. An order of cold hard reality."
"But I didn't order cold hard reality," you shoot back. "I just wanted regular reality."
"I'm sorry, sir, that's how we ship it and store it. If you'd like it any other way, you'll have to pay extra."
"Can I just have it warmed up a bit? Give it a slight thaw?" you beg.
Then the clerk leans over the counter and whispers to you, "Just between you and me, I wouldn't take it plain if I were you. It's honestly rather bland if you ask me. I shouldn't be telling you this, but you might want to take a little something additional with it."
You finally relent. "All right, then, just for curiosity's sake, what are the options?"
At this your salesperson absolutely lights up, swelling to an unusual height and spreading his arms wide. Throwing the switch to a neon sign board above the counter, he starts singing the McDonald's theme song. "You deserve a break today, so get up and get away to ... some options!" Then he jumps up on the counter. Three hundred balloons plus confetti descend from the ceiling. Scantily clad dancing girls hover on each of his arms. He twirls them and pirouettes over to a waiting microphone, where he booms over the loudspeakers:
We're proud in our establishment
to help you to re-orient
from the simple truth of the things you see
to a more complex reality --
from the boring fact of simple things
to the adrenal rush that desire brings.
We can take your day as it's been given
and help you feel a bit more driven.
Why settle for life, as it is?
We'll give you hopes you can't outlive.
Why be with yourself just as you are,
when in your mind you can be a star?
We've products you can smear and spread,
cuddle close and take to bed.
You'll be the envy of all in town,
in your color of choice, no money down.
Criticisms, doubts and fears,No need to balk, now don't delay
we'll match for you illusions
which perfectly suit your temperament
and your self-delusions.
to buy into our schemes.
We're Mind Inc. and our motto is:
"We turn your truth to dreams."
So what is the mind trying to sell us? And if it's true that the mind is trying to sell us something that we may or may not need, what would it mean to become educated buyers?
The Mind As Interpreter
Werner Erhard called the mind a "meaning-making machine." If we want to become educated buyers with respect to what the mind generates for our potential investment, we need to understand its obsessive compulsion with the creation of meaning. If we don't understand this at the outset, we make the mistake of assuming that the meaning aspect of what the mind puts forth is inherent rather than generated by the mind itself. These generated meanings are the very building blocks of illusion.
If we've attempted meditation at all, or any degree of self-observation, we come to know that we are fraught with concern. The word "fraught" is actually an acronym standing for the Free and Random Association of Unconsciously Generated and Habitual Thought. We can see why this phrase became abbreviated as an acronym; nevertheless, we are faced with the fact that the mind is a very hard worker and that, in fact, it seldom takes a break. As Sir George Jessel observed, "The human brain starts working the moment you are born, and never stops until you stand up to speak in public."
So unless we are speaking in public, we have a "freethinker" on our hands whom we need to grapple with if we ever hope to create some breathing space for ourselves within.
The Process of Free-Thinking or Free Association
This process of free-thinking or free association occurs in our absence. We are not "paying" attention, the thinking and association is therefore "free" in that moment, but the cost is incurred later. It is after we have fallen prey to some meaning which has been assumed or associated into place that we lose the key to the door of presence. So one of the first things we need to observe and discover about ourselves on this path is the undisciplined nature of our own mind that produces these assumptions.
Try answering each of the following questions aloud to yourself. What is the largest appliance in a kitchen? What is the most common color this appliance comes in? What do cows drink? Cows, of course, drink water. But if you answered "milk," you've just proven for yourself how difficult it is for our mind to operate outside of its mechanical process of making associations.
This, after all, is one of the mind's jobs: to provide an endless stream of associations which are designed to afford us the opportunity to draw upon our vast experience to help us navigate successfully and safely through life. This, of course, is a good thing. When we become absent, however, and this process occurs automatically without a master, then associations turn into assumptions, and we are suddenly mistaking a whole range of proposed interpretations which may arise in any given moment for reality itself. This is where the trouble begins. The untrained mind generates one assumption after another, based on the random firing of associations that just get put together any which way they get joined up, without examination.
Jumping to Conclusions
Of course, our tendency is to favor those associations that support the worldviews we believe in; happily jumping to conclusions that give us the go-ahead for our point of view. As one comedian commented on the subject of vegetarianism, "If God didn't want us to eat animals, he wouldn't have made them out of meat." The absurdity of our own co-opted use of logic is the basis of some very good comedy. Yet, make a few minor substitutions -- for instance, "If God wanted me to be kind to my boss, he wouldn't have made him such an asshole," or "If God wanted me to be in this relationship he wouldn't have made it so painful" -- and suddenly we're not laughing anymore. When we are identified with our conclusions and perceptions, the cause of our suffering is no longer transparent and obvious.
The unconscious mind is no more than the collection of these arbitrary conditioned responses that leap into the foreground in reaction to "what is." The mechanical barrage of associations that apply themselves with tremendous intensity to the moment, even before we get a chance to truly experience it, buries us underneath a mound of preconditioning. Then we relate to "what is" based on whatever is at the top of the pile.
An untrained or unmastered mind is constantly being led away into identification with that which is essentially an illusion. The mind that cannot see through to the impermanence of things does not see things the way they are (changing and passing), and therefore cannot achieve what the East Indian sage Swami Papa Ramdas calls the "fullness of experience" which leads to liberation.
Even the repeated experience of the transient nature of the objects to which a man is attached, does not strike off the veil of Maya that clouds his vision. For, ignorance is not an easy thing to conquer and dispel; it eclipses the bright vision he has had from time to time, dragging him down again and again. Hence fullness of experience alone rends and destroys once for all the veil of ignorance. [Letters of Swami Ramdas: Volume I]
Looking Past All The "Certainties"
It is only a fullness of experience that has the power and presence to overcome the domination of interpretation that normally exerts itself over and against our clarity. This fullness of presence comes into maturity relative to the degree that we are able to make a conscious and passionate admission that our interpretations of reality could be wrong, and become willing to look past all the "certainties" we have collected in our hip pocket to ward off the discomfort of dealing with the unknown itself.
The practice of meditation is a prescription for the runaway disease of assumption-making, a kind of spiritual battering ram that is ever available to knock down the assumptions we habitually erect in response to our experiences and life circumstances. Such assumptions block our ability to rest in the divine itself, to ride the comet tail of the unknown as it speeds ahead. The evolution of creative intelligence is not to be understood or captured by any story we make up about the significance or meaning of the moment, so all of our assumptions must be pierced and left behind from instant to instant if we wish to support the unfolding of that evolution.
The Law of Impermanence
The basis upon which we rest in presence requires a fundamental understanding of the law of impermanence. As long as we believe that the conclusions we're drawing are permanent or "real," we're tempted to do something with them, build something upon them, invest in them. If the interpretation is pleasurable, we want to protect the experience or even try to make it permanent. This leads to craving. If the interpretation is negative, we want to change or alter our life circumstance to suit our preferences or make it go away altogether. This leads to aversion. Craving and aversion are reactive tendencies that sow the seed for all other forms of faulty discrimination and the taking of inappropriate action. It is our belief in the substantiality of passing phenomena and our conditioned responses to those phenomena that make the grail of reality seem elusive and mythical.
The drama of our separate lives is like a projected movie. If we are disturbed by it, put off balance, lost to our true selves in it, then we will inevitably take inappropriate action, trying to defend ourselves against that which is only an illusion. We may keep trying to break into the projection room to sabotage the machine, obsessively plot over ways we could assassinate the projectionist, file a lawsuit against the theater, or enter into endless debate over whose fault it is that we are so miserable. In actuality, however, all we have to do is take down the screen of identification by becoming present, so that regardless of what gets projected there is nothing off which the drama can reflect.
The fact that our mind is continuously generating random assumptions that do not in any way reflect reality is a primary obstacle or dynamic that, through practice, we must be able to reliably transcend in order to become available to ourselves, to our partners, to our children and friends, to creative intelligence, and to life itself.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hohm Press. ©2002. www.hohmpress.com
You Have the Right to Remain Silent: Bringing Meditation to Life
by Richard Lewis.
Offers a comprehensive look at everything a beginner would need to start a meditation practice, including how to befriend an overactive mind and how to bring the fruits of meditation into all aspects of daily life. This book includes insights and practical examples, together with anecdotes from the lives of masters and students of many traditions.
About the Author
Rick Lewis is the author of The Perfection of Nothing: Reflections on Spiritual Practice, and a longtime student of spiritual work. He works as a professional writer, speaker and entertainer. His twenty-five years of disciplined sitting practice allow him to clarify common myths and confusions about meditation and its applications to life.