Vanity thought #538. Lessons of the aging mind

The way the mind is described in our literature it doesn’t appear to age but what we call mind in real life certainly deteriorates with passing of time. Actually, first it develops, as a person leaves the childhood, then it gets maintained for a while, and then it dwindles and disappears.

Maybe what we understand by “mind” and what Krishna means by “mind” are not one and the same thing. Traditionally, thinking and emotions were considered beyond the laws of physics and in the dominion of soul or God, but with latest developments in science “our” mind is indisputably a function of brain cells and neurons running around. We can measure it and we can control and manipulate it with increasing precision. That is not what’s supposed to happen to “Vedic” mind.

Despite these differences they still must have something in common. Recently I had an opportunity to observe some old people and I think I’m getting a hang of it – I mean I think I understand how their minds and my mind are alike even though they are suffering from progressing dementia.

Evil tongues would note here that this speaks more of my mental abilities than of my power of observation but I will not let their facts get in the way of my story.

What I noticed is that what we usually understand as the work of the mind – thinking, rationalizing, calculating, planning etc is not quite what Vedic mind is supposed to do. These functions depend on our external, gross material brains, real mind works on a subtle level.

Comparing to how everyone else processes same information old people that I’ve seen have these particular capacities as practically non-existent yet at the same time they have full and undiminished mental life from the Vedic point of view.

They have a sense of who they are. They get the actual information from the storage in their brains and it is completely unreliable, so it’s garbage in, garbage out, but as far the mind is concerned, it processes the information, however faulty, just the same.

They feel pain and pleasure and they make adjustments to avoid one and increase the other. They might not be very consistent and their solutions might lead to opposite results but it’s the same problem – garbage in, garbage out, while the process is still working.

They talk to each other and maintain a conversation even if they don’t remember how it started and occasionally they say completely unrelated things to each other. At first it might appear as nonsensical but they do not converse with people to make sense, they converse with people to have an emotional exchange. They feel validated and supported simply by having the other person respond to your concerns and they express sympathy and compassion by saying some reassuring things in response to pleas and complaints.

They feel themselves open up and they appreciate other people opening up to them without making any sense of what is actually said, I mean the sense that they make internally does not correspond to actual words but it doesn’t really matter because actual information has no bearing on friendship and companionship.

They get quite forgetful and keep asking same question over and over again and each time they get satisfied with the same answer. To caregivers it appears annoying but it makes total sense to the elders themselves, ie they feel some sort of a concern and they alleviate it by asking a question. This process doesn’t need actual facts, just the perception of problem being solved, and so it can be repeated again and again, just for the “bhava” of it.

This is perhaps the clue to understanding the mind – it seeks “bhava”, it seeks feelings, not facts.

When our brains are working fine we tend to focus on facts and we think that facts are the basis of feelings. The more you know the more informed decisions you make, and we assume that it would lead to deeper and more complete feelings.

Many have already started planning their Valentines, for example. They have calculated and evaluated possible options, price-reward ratios and the level of their commitment and they hope that if they plan it right they will have the perfect romantic Valentine. They think that those who do not plan as much have a smaller chance of having a fulfilling holiday.

To these great planners and thinkers kids and old people appear cute but they do not take them seriously. This might be a reasonable conclusion to make but we should remember that we appear just as dumb to demigods and sages, too. Even in our human society it’s not difficult to find someone smarter than us who’d laugh at all the holes in our plans that we can’t see because our material brains are not as good calculators as we imagine them to be.

Sometimes later on we laugh even at our own plans but no one sits down to make a stupid plan on purpose. My point is that judging other people’s mental abilities is an exercise in relativity, it doesn’t catch the actual value of the mindwork.

If this understanding of the Vedic vs materialistic meaning of the word “mind” is correct then it would have major implications on our mind control which is absolutely essential for our spiritual progress. Normally when say “control” we mean controlling the brain based calculation process, controlling our arguments and conclusions, it’s all about being accurate as much as possible.

“Vedic” mind, however, appears to have nothing to do with accuracy and so mind control should not be about thinking clearly or getting things right but about control of “bhava”, control of feelings that we have and feelings that we seek. Most importantly, it should happen outside of our material brains purview, ie it can’t be caught on MRI scans or affected with chemicals.

I don’t know how to implement it in practice, I’ve been accustomed to rational thinking for too long to know anything different. For now I discount it as a bad habit that needs to be overcome.

I’ll let you know as soon as I figure out what a good habit should be and how to develop it. Stop overthinking and rationalizing everything seems like a good start, especially during japa.

That reminds me – I still have a couple of rounds to finish today.

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