“Mind – what does it actually look like?” someone once asked me. They had just had their first experience of meditation. The question threw me for a moment as it came outside the normal ambit of practical questions, such as the best time to practise. I’d never thought of anyone assuming that the mind looked like anything. The natural response, which I gave a moment later, is that it doesn’t have any appearance or shape. It is rather like space.
Mind – can it be measured?
But the question arose because we have a habit of labelling everything as this or that. As an old scientist friend once told me, “According to science, if you cannot weigh it or measure it, it doesn’t exist.” My questioner wanted to be able to label the mind, or at least to quantify it.
If we turned the inquiry round a little bit, we might ask how space can be measured or weighed. A quantum physicist may have some good answers to that but in layman’s terms, you can only measure the distance between objects, not space itself. If you take the objects away, there is still space.
A conventional description of mind might be that it is the sum total of our thoughts, beliefs, perceptions and so on. Does that mean that if they stop, the mind ceases to be?
Mind – the illustrious container
Everything we see, hear, smell, taste or touch, we analyse. Because we analyse, we separate. This is different to that. Then we can filter it into our memory as beneficial or harmful, pleasant or unpleasant, neutral and so on. More significantly, by assigning quality to what we perceive, we regard everything as distinct from us.
If we look at a flower, it appears to be outside us. But all our observations, our perceptions and analyses take place within us. The only thing we see is a mental picture. If we look out of the window, all we see is within the mind. It is a mental picture.
If we stop thinking for a few moments, we may fleetingly experience the space-like nature of mind. Then the jumble comes back in. But if we make a habit of stopping, of observing without thinking, we will experience more of our space. And because space is space, we may be lucky enough to realise that the space of our environment – the “out there” – is one and the same as the space of the mind – the “in here”.
This is extraordinary. Then the mind relaxes, worry ceases, peace comes and bliss arises. That really is amazing space.
More on this in The Art of Not Doing