Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of December 18, 2017


Collected Mind

(Personal Unity: 8)

We all know what a scattered mind is like: unstable attention flitting here and there, urgent thoughts grabbing us, only to be replaced by yet another stray thought or by something we see or hear. The opposite of a scattered mind is a collected mind: inwardly at peace, in an expansive cognitive space, with a ready capacity to focus as needed.

Between the scattered mind and the collected mind, there is a continuous spectrum, ranging from multiplicity to unity. A central challenge of the path to personal unity is to move across that spectrum, to develop a collected mind, a collected being.

The multiplicity of a scattered mind manifests in its short attention span, its inability to stay with one line of reasoning, except for repetitive rumination on an emotionally charged subject. Such rumination is not actively intentional, but rather our passive acquiescence to the obsession of the moment, letting our mind slide into an automatic, self-driven train of thoughts. There is no unity in this state.

In contrast, the collected mind is by its very nature a unified whole. There are moments of clear seeing without any thoughts, pure cognition. In other moments, there are thoughts. Some are intentional, if we are choosing to consider a matter with our thoughts. That is a focused action of a unified mind. Even if they are not intentional, but self-generated associative thoughts, they nevertheless appear within the full light of awareness in a collected mind. Intentional or not, we know they are there, we know what they mean, and we recognize them as thoughts. This contrasts with the automatic thoughts of the scattered mind, where we are so lost in the thoughts, that they are thinking us.

The question is how to move, in practice, from a scattered mind to a collected mind, how spend more of our time on the collected end of the spectrum. We can divide this question into short-term changes in our state and a long-term change in our level of being.

For the short-term, focusing methods can work well. Say we notice our thoughts as thoughts, and that they are bouncing around distracting us. We can bring our attention to bear on something else. This has the twin effects of draining energy from those scattered thoughts and applying that energy to focus us. The most effective thing to put our attention on in these situations is usually our body. If we are able to stop and meditate for a few moments, we can practice the breath focus and counting exercise described in part 1 of this series on Personal Unity. Alternatively, we can move our attention into our body, into sensing our body, as described in part 3 of this series. We can practice sensing as we go about our day. Staying in contact with our body helps enormously in keeping us centered and collected, even while automatic thoughts flow through our mind.

Short-term experiences of a collected mind, help prepare us for the longer-term transformation. Toward that, in addition to the focusing methods, we can work at a more open meditation, where we come into our ever-present consciousness, the peace behind and between all thoughts. Coming into that peace changes our inner life profoundly. In that spaciousness, there is ample room for the whole of ourselves. We become able to accept ourselves fully, just as we are. This ends the internecine battles that rage in our heart and mind, that burn our time and energies so wastefully. We no longer identify with, believe in, or believe our automatic thoughts and reactive emotions. This new situation allows us to settle our mind and abide in awareness. It gives us the inner freedom and energy to do what we need and wish to do. We walk through life with the undemanding dignity of being ourselves. That is the beauty of a collected mind.

For this week, please work to collect your mind.


     

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