Two "modes" of the Mind

When I say “silence” or “stillness” I am essentially talking about the same thing — which is the “quieting” of the ruminating mind. In other words the cessation of the “ruminative” thoughts. This mode of thought is useful at times, but it can also become an unconscious habit. The platform for this manner of thought is the “awareness” or “stillness” that is always there. So, as an analogy we could think of the mind as having two “modes” of thought.

  • The “ruminative” mind — (takes energy) - calculating, labeling, categorizing, predicting
  • The “still” mind — (allows energy to flow)

The ruminative mind thinks about various circumstances, event, relationships and so on. It models the outer world within it’s own self-created inner world. This helps us to model “cause” and “effect’ without having to play it out in the real world. This is a useful function but, by its nature this realm is “illusory”.

In my view, “traumas” also skew these perceptions.

Why would we need this capacity? Well, for survival. So, as an evolutionary asset this ability helped us survive. So, by being able to project outcomes in the future, we learned to avoid or cultivate certain situations. This predictive ability gave a certain sense of “control” over future outcomes. For example as a purely survival instinct an early human might have learned not to go to the watering hole at a certain time, because it learned that the Lion would be there then. That makes sense. This projected outcome also gave this person a sense of safety. So, the human began to believe in the projected outcomes of the mind because it imparted a sense of safety. By default this mode of the mind is integrated into the nervous system.

However because we are social and we also conflate our social status with “safety”. We also begin to “project” outcomes related to social situations. We may also begin to model what we think others think. We do this by ascribing meaning or interpretation to the behaviors we observe in others, and assign what it means to our “identity”. Some of this may be accurate, some may not be. Therein is the conundrum and the achilles heel of this mode. This mode of the mind often an author of confusion.

The “still” mind is simply undivided. Whereas the job of the ruminating mind IS to divide, label and categorize in order to experiment with these objects in the laboratory of the “thinking” mind.

Based on perceptions. This mode is constantly triggering the nervous system. This mode is wedded to the future and past in order to mine data in order determine “cause” and “effect” and to “predict and control” future events.. Again, this is done in order to determine what is safe, and also in essence, is an attempt to determine what is “real”. It is from this sense of predictability and control that it derives its sense of safety. It is by default always in the state of “attachment” and “expectation”. However, because what it has created to model future outcomes is a sort of “virtual reality” it is always disconnected from “actual reality”, which can only be realized in the mode of “the still mind”.

The ruminative mind is by default connect to the “identity” it seeks to “serve”. The fuel of this “identity” is thought. Stop ruminative thought, stop the fuel, free the mind. Peace that passes “understanding” arises.

My friend Gracelight said: “Sometimes I feel like we wait to go on vacation or to get away to rest and relax. But with some effort we can have mini vacations every day.”

Interestingly, the day before I was talking with my friend Bill about a similar concept. Bill recently quit his corporate job, and was looking for something new in life. He had some choices related to travel, but was unsure which way he wanted to go. Maybe get an RV and travel, or instead use that money to go to Europe, or the Latin America, Caribbean etc..

As we discussed it there were various logistical considerations, and also considerations based on what would bring the most joy. As we discussed these various considerations at length, it became clear that the important factor in all of these were: “How will this make me feel?” Which of course the realistic answer is, neither choice will satisfy the feeling that is being sought.

I asked how will you feel when you are on the beach, watching that sunset? As we explored the possible feelings: peace, content, safety, fulfillment. It became apparent that the “place” could not provide any of these things. Sure, it could contribute, but it couldn’t completely fulfill those things. The feelings produced still come from within.

There are two truths:

  •  You can’t escape the present moment - It is always now
  •  There won’t be peace (contentment) until the nervous system relaxes

I remember Bill telling a story about visiting Spain a few years prior. I asked Bill, how did you feel a few months before going to Spain. He said, he was excited and filled with purpose and a sense of pleasure looking forward to it. Spain was the last stop in this particular vacation. Then he recounted how when he was there he actually became bored… and a bit lonely. He didn’t actually like the town where he was, etc.. Ultimately, he cut the trip short and came home a few days early. So, I asked, what was better? The idea of the vacation, or the vacation itself? He said, the idea.

So this demonstrates in a way that we have all probably experienced many times the difference between the two modes of the mind. The “idea” of what we will gain, is often much better (for the “thinking” mind) than the reality.

So, as we explored this idea further I asked when you get to the beach will your mind be thinking about the next thing, or will it be still. Well, of course the ideal is that the mind would be still, and content. We also asked will the nervous system be at rest and relaxation or stressed. Of course, the ideal is for the system to be in relaxation. So, it is also clear that what we are seeking is not a place or a circumstance (although those can be nice). What we are seeking, or the “objective” of the “vacation” is:

  • A calm, “still” contentment in the mind
  • A relaxed calm nervous system

However regardless of where we may go, those are only states of the mind and nervous system. As the old saying goes “wherever you go', there you are”. The mind might also ask which comes first? The chicken or the egg? The fundamental fact remains though, the change sought is within.

So, the “cause and effect” mind (ego/identity) employs the tools it has to achieve those things. Namely, seeking to effect circumstances. However, what it actually seeks is a vacation from itself (ruminative mode), and to enter the space of the “still mind”. Where there is peace in the moment and release of stress from the nervous system.

The “still” mind is the only capable of love. It is love without conditions, because this mode does not calculate conditions. The ruminative mode (ego/identity) seeks to create circumstances, where it can find love, or an identity to “get” love, but it can never reach that goal.

This is perhaps an overly simplified version, but I hope is useful for consideration. As we have discussed, there may also be a need to rebalance the nervous system, and allow the habit patterns of the ruminative mind (body) to begin to release.


"Yoga (Union) is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind" -Patanjali

"Questioner: Is there a way to perceive reality directly and immediately?

Answer: Stop making use of your mind and see what happens. Do this one thing thoroughly. That is all. -Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj "

"To remain without thinking is (atma) Self" -Ramana Maharshi

"A quiet mind is all you need. All else will happen rightly, once your mind is quiet." -Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

"Be still and know" -Psalm 46:10

“Turn off your mind, Relax and float down stream, It is not dying, It is not dying... Lay down all thoughts, Surrender to the void, It is shining It is shining... That you may see, The meaning of within, It is being, It is being”

Tomorrow Never Knows - The Beatles

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