How well do you know your own mind? Do you have a good awareness of how your mind works and what helps it to function at its best? And how much do you love your mind as it is, with its thoughts, ideas, dreams, and imaginations? Or do you find yourself wishing that your mind was more like someone else’s?

We’re often at war with our own minds. We speak of ‘not being in our right minds.’ We ask ourselves, ‘What were you thinking?’ We get ‘out of our minds’, our minds can ‘spin out’ and we can ‘overthink’ things. We all have times when we wish our minds would work ‘better’ but we seldom define for ourselves what ‘better’ means.

But unless we love our minds we cannot function at our best and we cannot love ourselves.

In this episode, we’re exploring our minds—how to understand them and love them. And we’ll talk about how learning to embrace your mind’s unique way of processing, synthesising and interpreting data is an important and life-giving spiritual practice.

A few years ago I was leading a workshop and as part of the process in the workshop we were doing a creative exercise, and as I was trying to facilitate the exercise I suggested that we begin with a big picture of what we wanted the end result to look like and that then once we’ve got that clear together and we’re agreed on that, then we should drill down to work out what the details would be to get there. One of the participants raised her hand and said “John, I find it much easier to work the other way. Let’s begin with the details, and as we work out what the details need to be, so the bigger picture will emerge as we work together.” I stopped for a moment and we had a conversation about those two different approaches. There was some debate about which is right or which is better, but in the end we realised that they’re just different. It was a great learning moment for me.

See, every mind has a process, a way of working with the data it receives. Some people start with the big picture and drill down to details, some people start with details and then let the big picture emerge. Some people learn visually, others learn in the abstract, others learn by doing, others learn through stories, or music. Howard Gardner in his book Frames of Mind spoke about 8 different intelligences. And others have suggested that there may be even more. It’s clear that our minds do not all work in the same way.

How familiar are you with the working of your own mind? Are you left brained—analytic and logical—or are you right brained—creative and intuitive—or a bit of both? Do you zoom in on details or zoom out to the big picture? Do you compartmentalise or synthesise? Do you think in words, pictures, feelings, abstract concepts, or some combination of them all? Do you think quickly, are you comfortable thinking on your feet? Or do you need time to process, do you prefer to prepare your thoughts before sharing them? Do you like to think out loud or do you prefer to keep your thoughts to yourself until they’re fully formed?

And how do you feel about your mind and the way it works? Do you sometimes look at the way others think and wish you were more like them? Do you get frustrated or angry at your mind? Do you beat yourself up for forgetting things, or for not being able to see connections that others do, or for not understanding maths, or art, or technology, or feelings?

An article in the journal Nature of the 3rd of July 2014 wrote this, and I’m going to quote directly from the article: “Which would you prefer: pain or boredom? Given the choice, many people would rather give themselves mild electric shocks than sit idly in a room for 15 minutes, according to a study published in Science (Wilson, T. D. et al. Science 345, 75-77 (2014)). The results are a testament to our discomfort with our own thoughts, say psychologists, and to the challenge we face when we try to rein them in.” Does that resonate with you at all?

We’re often at war with our own minds. We speak of ‘not being in our right minds.’ We ask ourselves, ‘What were you thinking?’ We get ‘out of our minds’, our minds can ‘spin out’ and we can ‘overthink’ things. We all have times when we wish our minds would work ‘better’ but we seldom define for ourselves what ‘better’ means.

But how many of us think about loving our minds, our thoughts, our ideas, our dreams, our imagination? I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard anyone speak of loving their mind. But if we don’t love our minds, how can we love ourselves—especially when so much of our sense of self arises from our mind, our way of thinking and processing the data that comes in through our senses.

A lot of spiritual teaching speaks of the battle for the mind, the challenge we have of regulating our thoughts and ensuring that our thinking is healthy and gives us a good capacity to perceive, understand, and navigate reality. Which is why mental illness is such a debilitating and stigmatised thing in our society.

Now I don’t want to suggest that we can eradicate or heal mental illness simply through a healthy and intentional spiritual practice—all too often I’ve encountered the destructive and erroneous view that mental illness is little more than a lack of faith. But I do want to suggest that spiritual practices can help us to understand how our own particular minds work, and they can help us to appreciate and maximise our own unique mind, and learn to love our minds for what they are, instead of always trying to make them work like those around us.

In a moment I’ll offer some suggestions for how we can learn to love our minds. But before I do—please don’t forget to subscribe, like, activate notifications, and share this podcast as widely as you can! Thank you so much.

So here are just three suggestions—there are lots more that I could speak about, but I’ll just give three for now—for how to learn to love your mind:

Firstly, put your mind in its place. There’s a temptation to either idolise or villainise the mind. I’ve been in spiritual communities where thinking, research, qualifications, and intelligence were treated as if they were satanic. The Bible verse that is so often quoted with glee by such people is: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” from Proverbs 3 verse 5. The alternative of course is to make our minds the most important thing about us—as if our bodies are nothing more than transportation for our minds and our emotions are a waste of time and energy. Neither of those extremes are helpful.

I believe that we are all of what we are. We are our bodies. We are our hearts. And we are our minds. Equally. They are all necessary for our humanity. They are all important. And they all need to work together. The idea that truth needs to move from our heads to our hearts is a fallacy in a sense—I understand what it’s trying to say but if something is truth it needs to take hold of how we think, how we feel, and how we act. Truth resides in all of us.

So we need to connect our minds with the rest of us. Don’t exclude your mind from your sense of self. Don’t make your mind an outcast in your being. And don’t go the other way of prioritising your mind over your heart and body. Connect them all, be intentional about letting them work together, and value them all equally and together as components of your whole self. So that’s the first thing, get your mind in its right place.

The second thing I would suggest is that we allow spiritual practice to help us to understand not just our minds, but minds in general, consciousness. As Sam Harris says: “Spirituality is not just important for living a good life; it is actually essential for understanding the human mind.” Self-reflection, like what happens when we meditate or engage in mindful and intentional spiritual practices, empower us to think about our thinking, to use our minds to observe our minds, and to enable us to both understand our minds and gain mastery over them. To quote Sam Harris again: “Only consciousness can know itself—and directly, through first-person experience. It follows, therefore, that rigorous introspection—‘spirituality’ in the widest sense of the term—is an indispensable part of understanding the nature of the mind.”

For me this means that spirituality is not about learning to switch the mind off, as I’ve sometimes heard it defined. Rather it’s about learning to observe our minds, be honest about what’s going on in our minds, and training our minds to function in the healthiest, most life-giving ways possible for us. This means, yes, learning to overcome our unhealthy patterns of thinking, our spinning out, our thoughtless assumptions and leaps of illogic. But it also means nurturing our healthy patterns of thinking, our critical thinking skills—as we’ve spoken about on this channel before—our capacity for creativity, imagining possibility, and effective problem solving.

And then thirdly, I think it’s really helpful when we are intentional about learning to work with our minds as they are. When we’ve learned to understand our minds, we can maximise them. You know how your mind works at it best, and so you can be mindful about working with your mind in its best possible processes, rather than trying to fit your mind into the processes of others.

Here’s a simple example: my mind loves to work with music. I function much more effectively with a gentle soundtrack of music running in the background. The specific type of music can change from day to day or situation to situation, but music can help me feel less overwhelmed when I have too much to process, it can ignite my creativity, and it can help me to focus—I find silence distracting. Now I know not everyone works this way, and so I have earbuds that I can use when I need music while I’m in the presence of others.

I used to feel bad that I struggled to meditate in silence, and that I was so ‘addicted’ to music. But now I’ve learned that this is how my mind works, and I’ve learned to celebrate it. I’ve learned to love how my mind wakes up and comes alive with the right music playing.

Your mind is an amazing thing. It’s more than a computer and it’s less than all of you. But along with your heart and your body, it is a significant, precious, and miraculous expression of your magic and of your humanity.

And if you don’t love your mind you will never be able to love yourself. You won’t be able to be healthy, or live in your fullest, most vibrant and meaningful way. Self-love is essential to a healthy and good life. And as we’ve seen in the last few weeks, self-love requires us to love our bodies as they are, love our hearts with their emotional range and repertoire, and love our minds in their unique way of functioning.

I hope this series has helped you to love yourself more intentionally and mindfully. And I hope it will empower you to love not just yourself, but others as well—which is what we’ll be exploring in the weeks ahead.

But that’s all for now. Thank you for listening. Thank you for watching. And I’ll catch you next time!

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