A Free Mind
This year, consider setting the ultimate goal: having a free mind. Too often we find the mind in a mental prison of its own making. The prison is comfortable because it’s familiar, but we’re not meant to live there. Finding the key frees the mind so it can go wherever it needs to go, so we can live fulfilling lives. But how do we find the key?
Accessing what extreme athletes call “the flow state” is an example of a free mind operating in sports. Flow can also occur when a jazz group gets into its groove. Or when samurai fight well. The flow state is a state that allows attention to “flow” moment to moment with the situations we’re engaged in, uninhibited by a mind that resists what’s happening.
The Middle Way
An important part of freeing the mind, so it can flow, requires finding a middle way through action. Instead of either/or, it’s both/and. We move beyond the polarities of right/wrong and good/bad, thinking situations are either “right and good” or “wrong and bad.” When the mind is attached to “right” and “good” it resists accepting the “wrong” and “bad” that’s occurring in the present moment. This distracts our attention. Therefore, instead of latching onto “right” and “good” and avoiding “wrong” and “bad” we find a way through both.
We balance right/wrong. We might do something wrong, that we consider a mistake. Instead of seeing mistakes as wrong, we see them as necessary for learning. We don’t have to identify with mistakes, creating a negative self image. We can accept responsibility for the mistake and look for the learning opportunity.
We also balance good/bad. We might be in a stressful situation and label it bad. Instead of seeing stress as bad, we see it as necessary for learning. We move beyond the “bad” label and stay curious about what we need to learn. By balancing right/wrong and good/bad we free the mind to focus on learning.
Learning Through Both/And
Learning includes both mistakes and stress, aspects of the experience we tend to label “wrong” and “bad.” Yet both are necessary and inevitable for improving. We work through stress, make mistakes, and learn from them. A flexible mind finds its way through the middle of right/wrong and good/bad, and frees it from its comfortable prison.
For example, we make a plan for climbing, engage, and fall. Instead of being attached to our plan being right, we find a middle way that blends us with the rock. We make a plan, but modify it as we learn what’s necessary for climbing. We might expect a hold to be big and find out it’s small when we grab it. Instead of staying attached to our plan being right, we modify how we use the hold or choose a different one.
Relationships can be stressful, causing us a lot of anxiety. Perhaps we have an argument with our mates. We might expect them to be kind to us, but instead they criticize us. Instead of staying attached to our opinion being right, we modify our approach. We listen to them to understand their concerns and find ways we can help.
The middle way is not about being spineless and not standing firm on issues important to us. It actually requires more mental strength than being rigidly attached to being right. We’re all in a constant state of learning. Being rigidly attached to a particular way of understanding reality limits learning. Accepting our limited understanding, positions us to remain curious to situations we find ourselves in; so we can learn. Accepting our limitations is a lot harder than insisting we’re right.
Standing Firm & Staying Engaged
We stand firm on staying engaged, whether on a climb or in a relationship. We stay engaged with the rock by finding ways to blend what we’re doing with what the rock requires. We stay engaged with others by finding ways to create better understanding between us. We’re fiercely committed to standing firm on staying engaged.
The middle way allows our attention to flow together with the situations we’re engaged in. Whether us and the rock, or us and our mates, together we become greater than the sum of the parts.
That’s how flow works. Life really is one interdependent whole. Each “thing” connects with other “things” in such a way that together support the whole. We expand beyond our individual ego selves and become something greater…life itself, flowing together naturally through experiences. We flow together to create something bigger and better than we can do individually.
The key to freeing the mind from its comfortable prison is the middle way. We take steps toward what we tend to resist—mistakes and stress—and find we don’t need a key at all. The action of fiercely stepping forward opens the prison door by itself. Then we can live fulfilling lives, allowing the mind to go where it needs to, so we can stay connected to learn and grow.
Practice Tip: Escape the Mental Prison
Do you find yourself getting annoyed by mistakes you make or rushing through stressful situations? These are examples of a mind in its prison. Get out of prison by fiercely taking steps.
- First fierce step: Be willing to make mistakes. Acknowledge you’ve made a mistake, accept responsibility for it, and identify what you learned from it. Then, apply that learning in your life.
- Second fierce step: Stay engaged in stress. Breathe, relax, and stop thinking. Listen! Stay receptive to the rock or the other person you’re speaking with. Doing this will keep you engaged.