Easwaran’s Talks & Writings

Slow Down Your Mind: An Experiment

By Eknath Easwaran

A hurried pace originates in the mind. You might stop at someone’s desk to be sociable, but that doesn’t mean your thoughts have stopped. If you’re pretending to chat while your mind has sprinted ahead toward the conference room, you might as well take the rest of you there too.

No one can love with a mind that is going fast – or one that is divided. No one can love with a mind that is apt to swerve wildly, whether to avoid the small exigencies of daily life or to pursue something bright across the room that attracts you.

Let me suggest a small experiment. With the uncritical eye of the motion picture camera, observe your thought processes when you are in different states of mind. When you are feeling irritable, take a peek. If you have occasion to be afraid or anxious, check again. If a strong desire overtakes you and you can manage to see what’s going on in the mind, take note. Check your vital signs at the same time: see how rapid your pulse is, and whether your breathing is shallow and quick, or deep and slow.

If you can do this accurately – which is harder than it sounds – you will make a very interesting discovery. Fear, anger, selfish desire, envy: all these are associated with a speeded-up mind, and when the mind speeds up, it takes basic physiological processes with it. The thinking process hurtles along, thoughts stumble over one another in an incoherent rush – and, on cue, the heart begins to race and breathing becomes quicker, shallow, and ragged.

Interestingly enough, the reverse is also true. Once the mind gets conditioned to speed, not only do speeding thoughts make the body go faster, speeded-up behavior can induce negative emotions as well.

Suppose you’ve slept through the alarm and are in a rush to get off to work. You rip through the kitchen like a whirlwind, grabbing whatever you need as you go, trying to button your shirt while you eat your toast on your way out the door. The next time you catch yourself like this, watch and see how prone your mind is to negative responses. Everything seems an obstruction or a threat. Your children look hostile – if you see them at all – and even the dog seems out to ruin your day, draping herself right across the threshold in the hope of tripping you up. “Watch out!” the kids say once you’re gone. “It’s going to be another of those mean-mood days.”

A speeding mind is a dangerous thing. When thoughts are going terribly fast, they are out of control, and there is no space between them. To press the analogy further, it’s like those dangerous moments on the freeway when cars are not only speeding but following bumper to bumper. Everyone is in danger.

A thrilling realization comes when you begin to understand this two-way relationship between speeded-up thinking and negative emotions. If you are chronically angry, fearful, or greedy, you know well how much damage these tendencies have done to your relationships, making you “weak in love and imperfect in virtue.” And you know, too, how dauntingly hard they are to change when you approach them head-on. Their roots go deep in your past conditioning. You can talk them out, analyze them in your dreams, reason with yourself, go to anger workshops and fear seminars; still they wreak havoc, out of control.

But suppose that instead of going after chronic anger or fear directly you were to tackle the thought process itself – the mind in its Indianapolis speed-way mode. When a car is going a hundred miles per hour, you can’t safely slam on the brakes. But you can lift your foot off the accelerator. From one hundred miles per hour the speed drops to ninety-eight, then to ninety-five, then ninety, until finally you’re cruising along at a safe and sane fifty-five. You’ve decelerated gradually and safely.

This is exactly what happens to the mind in meditation. You put your car into the slow lane – the inspirational passage – and you stay there, going through the words of the passage as slowly as you can. Distractions will try to crowd in, and you don’t want to leave big gaps for them to rush into. For the most part, though, you just increase your concentration. In this way, little by little, you can gain complete mastery over the thinking process.

This excerpt is from the Blue Mountain Journal.