I recently read an article about Max Planck, who won a Nobel Prize for his work with atoms. After years of study and research, Planck eventually said that he could only know one thing—that some invisible force holds together energy to create this minute solar system, and he must assume, based on his research, that some higher intelligence is behind this force.
Quantum physicists today will tell you the same thing, usually in rather mind-twisting statements. But these ideas are not just the esoteric territory of the scientific fringe. In fact, scientists have believed that the world can be completely understood in terms of energy for quite some time. In 1632, Galileo published A Dialogue Concerning Two Chief World Systems, which included his principle of relativity, which states that the fundamental laws of physics are universal in all fixed situations. Others, such as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, continued to build on the work of Galileo, which eventually led to the discovery of Einstein’s famous Theory of Relativity in 1905. E=mc2 states that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, that energy and mass are equivalent and transmutable.
The idea that everything in this world is made of energy is also something that has been known to mystics for millennia, particularly in the Eastern traditions. Over the past 30 years, as we have increasingly seen a greater synthesis of Eastern and Western thought than ever before, many ancient teachings of the East have gained a wider acceptance in the West, especially as science has begun to validate some of the key Eastern spiritual insights.
If everything is energy at the deepest level, it would stand to reason the more tuned in you are to the Source of energy in the universe, the more you can actually accomplish. Any truly successful person understands how to access this energy to some extent. According to many Eastern systems, the mind is the greatest obstacle to better understanding the world and connecting to the larger energetic system that surrounds us. Especially in this day and age, when the mind is bombarded with so many distractions, it’s no wonder it can’t keep still. If we take a moment and look within, most of us will notice a voice inside our heads that is talking so fast we can barely concentrate on anything. In a way, this voice reminds me of walking down the street in New York City alongside a homeless man who is talking to himself aloud. As crazy as this sight so often seems, most of us in fact are doing the exact same thing, just silently to ourselves rather than to the public at large.
Sometimes I ask people in my seminars to give me an image that describes their mind. “A six-lane highway,” one man said. “An endless to-do list,” said another. Other images people come up with include an orchestra without a conductor, a jigsaw puzzle with only some pieces joined together, and a traffic jam at a busy intersection. Almost without exception, people come up with images that represent chaos, confusion, fragmentation, complexity, and lack of integration.
Generally speaking, there are two ways our minds work. If you have a project or a task or a problem to solve, you can engage your mind to help you accomplish your goals. A scientist figuring out a lab experiment, a mathematician working out a complex equation, and a writer creating a novel are all engaging the mind in this way. When you engage the mind in problem solving, it is working for you; you are using your mind. And as the saying goes,
“The mind is a terrible master but a wonderful servant.”
Then there are those times when our minds endlessly chatter. For most of our day, we are not engaging our minds; rather, our minds are engaging us. Your mind may be running around all over the place, depleting your energy and not really accomplishing anything. And during these times, there is probably not much that is useful that your mind is telling you. It’s just trying to keep you hooked—on it. When you are engaging the mind to do a task, you are using the mind.
When your attention is caught up in the stream of thoughts, the mind is using you.
The first step in learning to harness the power of attention is to become aware of how it moves. To do this, we need to find a way to disengage from the stream of thoughts that preoccupy us. This is one of the fundamental reasons people practice meditation, in all its many forms. Although meditation is probably the most direct and effective way to harness the power of your attention, there are many other methods as well, and given that we are all unique, each of us should find the method that seems to fit best for us. For some people, it will be the meditation cushion. For others, it might be a nature walk, a kickboxing class, church visits, or a morning shower. What you do is not nearly as important as how and why.
So when I use the term meditation, I don’t just mean sitting cross-legged on a cushion, but rather participating in any deliberate activity that teaches you to disengage from a compulsive relationship to the stream of thought.
There are numerous books that have been written over the years on the subject of meditation and how to disengage from the thinking mind or, more simply put, stop listening to the voice inside your head. It’s important that you find a method that works for you.
The benefit of learning how to disengage our attention from the thought stream is that we can then apply our minds more readily toward more constructive things, such as accomplishing tasks and goals, connecting with other people, to our own true purpose, and what we wish to accomplish in life. It creates space within us—an opening that allows more energy to flow into us. In this seemingly paradoxical way, having more space in our minds allows us to accomplish more and more things in the world.
By Jeff Gitterman