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How The Mind Becomes Disturbed

How The Mind Becomes Disturbed

How The Mind Becomes Disturbed


We all want to live in a peaceful, cheerful temperament that is good for ourselves and good for others. So, what prevents us? Before we discuss all that we can do to calm the mind after it is disturbed, what disturbs the mind in the first place?


Mind: A 101 Guide from an Eastern Perspective



If someone were to ask you, “What is a smartphone?” You would likely respond with something like, “Well, it’s a device that allows me to communicate, do my finances, be entertained, create stuff,” and so on.


Similarly, the functions of the mind can be summarized into these four broad categories, with many subcategories that are beyond the scope of this article.


  1. Cognizing: This is information entering through the sense gates, like the lights and colours on the screen that you are looking at right now.
  2. Recognizing: With incredible speed, the mind goes through the entire bank of past experiences, recognizes these light patterns as words and decodes them.
  3. Interpreting: Not only does it decode them, but it also plays out the last time something similar was experienced at the level of thoughts, images, emotions and body sensations, again, instantly.
  4. Reacting: The physical and verbal actions that follow are simply a measure of the quality and intensity of the interpretation.


For example, there is cognition of a new stimulus of shapes, colours and sounds. I spontaneously and simultaneously recognize this as my friend Susan. My last encounter with her was delightful, so very pleasant thoughts, images, emotions and body sensations flow through my body. Because of this, I take very pleasant action by softening my voice when greeting her and giving her a warm hug. It would be the exact opposite if my previous encounter with Susan was unwholesome.


This ceaseless cycle of cognize, recognize, interpret, and react keeps tying us up in mental, emotional, and physical knots, making us a bundle of tension. How do we come out of it? The genius of the masters, both ancient and modern, is the realization that there is absolutely no way to stop the cognizing, recognizing, and interpreting. It’s happening too fast. The breaking point, however, is between the interpreting and the reacting.


“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

– Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist, holocaust survivor


The mind gets disturbed because of our reactive patterns. To come out of it, what we are looking to cultivate is the difference between “I am angry” and “there is anger”. This happens when we train our awareness to be in contact with both our objective (outer world) and subjective (inner world) reality. We all know how to be in contact with the outer world. What we are being called to master is the ability to also be in contact with our inner world of thoughts, images, emotions and body sensations.


After all, what is anger? It is the thought, “This person is horrible,” the image of the person being horrible, the emotion or anger towards the person, and the body sensations that go with this. This is true for all reactive patterns. With this understanding, we make a strange and undiplomatic discovery: the anger was never out there. What I am disturbed by is inside me.


We will dive deeper into this in the next article.


Until next time, 



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