Who’s on Second?

When ‘self’ and ‘mind’ get together—usually in the thoroughfares of philosophy, religion or spiritual inquiry—mind is usually considered the guardian of knowledge and stability; while self is the problem child: head-strong, impulsive and—well—rather self-centered.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be giving an automatic pass to mind; any more than we should relinquish to priest or scout leader unexamined dominion over something as important as a human being. It seems to be in the areas of our life where we feel least authorized to question patterns already in play that our freedoms are lost, and where dictators and abusers sink their roots.

Similarly the all-enveloping regime that has been set in place by our minds deserves a closer look.

When we look back at our lives and see times when we broke away from the status quo and dared to enter a different world, who (or what facet of our being) made those leaps of faith possible? Examining the record of our own pasts, who was the explorer; and who the navigator, ship-builder and engineer?

Mind always shows up first, even before an infant begins to notice his or her independent existence in this world. Mind is present from the first stirrings of consciousness; and mind remains in the background for our entire lifetimes, telling us what to do and providing roadmaps and wheels (or sometimes wings), which allow us to make our way in our world.

Mind is able to draw upon the far reaches of space and time, has access to impressive banks of knowledge, and is not confined to any one particular perspective. Mind is not embedded in a particular here and now and is not confined to—well—the biased points of view of our familiar self. But precisely because of this wider perspective in space and time, the mind is not an explorer. Why would the mind strive to alter circumstances or set off on a journey into the unknown, when it doesn’t feel stuck, blocked or confined?

It seems to be the changeable self on whom we must rely for any stirrings of curiosity, for any venturing forth in a spirit of exploration, and for the launching of our quests for liberation. Liberation from what? From the regime that mind has built for us.

But the recognition that self deserves our appreciation for the important role it plays in our lives should not be taken as license to run off half-cocked in pursuit of self-indulgent schemes or self-centered jockeying for power. And when we feel an impulse to step into the unknown vastness at the edges of our familiar realm (or into the intimacy of our heart’s caring), we will need to keep our mind close by, every step of the way, helping us to understand all that we have previously ignored.

Mind is not the enemy. After all, it is the self who has mistakenly accepted its passive role as a sheep in the paddock, while ignoring the fields of being that are our true inheritance. And it is the self who must lift its head into the wind and morning mists, if we are once again to whole-heartedly greet the dawning of a new day.

It may be that the self is just running the errands of mind. Who can say for sure? But at this time in the world, when so much is slipping out of the hands of humanity, it feels more important than ever that we run those errands of awareness and caring, as if all that is important and precious depends on it.

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