Two Kinds of Minds

November 12, 2013

this very moment will never happen again

Your Attention, Please.

The mind is constantly in motion.  Left on it’s own, the mind often spins stories about why things are happening and who we think we are. When the mind is spinning stories we are unable to be present with what is actually happening in the moment.   A mind that is spinning stories is a mind that is not present.  When we aren’t present, we aren’t effective.  To be more effective in your daily life, you need to pull out of these stories and see more accurately what is happening in the present moment.

Placing our mind into the present moment is a matter of shifting our attention.  Attention is the brain system that selects which data will be analyzed.  We need this attention system because in all moments the mind has access to more information than it can process.  It is as if our minds have access to several television channels at once.  We are constantly receiving external channels of information through each of our senses. Our mind simply can’t attend to everything.  Therefore, the mind must prioritize which channels of information to “view” over other channels that will remain unprocessed.  Attention is the process of choosing what we will perceive.  We need to train our attention to be able to put our mind in the present moment.


Training Your Attention: The Skill of Mindfulness

You have already become an expert at training your attention system. By the time we are adults we have become such experts at using our attention system that we are no longer even aware that this system exists at all.  Here is an example of a trained attention system in action.  Imagine if we tried to drive a car while paying attention to every single house and sign and person we passed.  We wouldn’t get too far before we ran into something or someone.  But most of the time we do just fine when we drive.  We are able to drive because we get pretty good at knowing where to place our attention when driving.  It becomes natural to look ahead most of the time, while briefly shifting our attention to our mirrors or perhaps looking at something that catches our eye as we drive by.  Everyone who drives a car has learned how to train their attention system.

Now lets get back to those stories our minds are spinning.  A mind’s stories acts as filters on the streams of external data coming in.  For example, if a mind is busy telling itself, “I am not good enough yet,” then this statement will act as a filter for incoming data.  Priority will be put on any data that fits this belief, which results in distorting the reality of the moment.  For example, imagine a person looking at you with an odd expression.  If your mind has a “not-good-enough” filter then you will likely read the expression as a critique about you.  If your mind does not have this filter then you will be able to see that there are an infinite number of possible explanations for that expression, and most of them have nothing to do you with you.  (They may be feeling sick, they may be thinking about a fight with a loved one, they may have a “not-good-enough” filter and are looking around for confirming evidence….).  A mind that can turn its attention to the present is no longer distorting reality through these filters.


“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” — Mr. Fred Rogers


 Two Kinds of Minds

Let’s look at the characteristics of these two kinds of minds:

A Mind Spinning Stories

A Mind Settled in the Moment

Stuck in its own thoughts.

(These thoughts often take you to the past, future, or how you wish things were in the present.)

Aware of the senses, body sensations, or the breath.

      (The breath is one of the best ways to anchor a mind in the present.)

Stuck in its own story.

(Things that occur in the world are often experienced as something to do with you personally.)

Ability to see the bigger story of each moment.

       (This eventually includes history,  personal contribution, and interconnectedness)

Sees a dualistic world.

       (Events are experienced as good/bad, for/against, accepted/rejected.)

Sees a holistic world.

       (This eventually includes seeing the history and interconnectedness present in each moment.)

Feelings of distress when things don’t go “your way.” Feelings of patience and acceptance when things don’t go “your way.”
Frantic or Fatigued Solid and Energetic
Feels a drag on effectiveness Experiences a sense of clarity, movement
Opinions about Everything (like, dislike) Appreciation and Gratitude
Resisting Accepting
Judging Observing/Curious
Discontentment Contentment

Attention is the Arrow.  Gentleness and Kindness are the Bow.

Turning our attention to the present is as easy and as hard as this:

With gentleness and kindness, rest your attention on something that is happening now.

Really, that is it.  But the trick is you need to do it over and over and over again, until it becomes a habit.  Mindfulness mediation is a useful way to train your attention on the present.  You’ll need gentleness and kindness to effectively move your attention.  Attention is the arrow. Gentleness and kindness are the bow.  If you try to move your attention without kindness and gentleness then you will be lost before you begin. Without gentleness and kindness, working with your attention becomes just one more way to judge yourself, resist the truth of the situation, get stuck in your own story, and eventually feel discontent.  You will be strengthening those spinning stories, rather than resting your mind in the present.  Gentleness and kindness are a necessity.

In each moment we can choose which mind we want to have – a mind clouded by stories or a mind resting in the present.  With practice, you will begin to experience the contentment that comes from being in the present.  With a lot of practice, the mind will have the chance to see that at our core all humans carry an inseparable goodness and worthiness that is always present.  And that’s when the mind will begin choosing to be in the present on its own.


“It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our very being is good stuff.”

– Mr. Fred Rogers



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