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The Dangerous Power of the Mind

When people speak of mind power they typically are assuming that it is a good thing. Sometimes anecdotal stories also refer to the mind's "unusual" powers, like using visualization to cure an illness. But there is a dark side to our mental powers as well.

Any power can be used for good or bad purposes. The problem with the power of the mind is that it not only can be used for bad purposes, but it can simultaneously convince the "user" that his or her purposes are in fact good. I put "user" in quotation marks because in these cases we are not really using the mind so much as it is using us.

Granted we have to allow ourselves to be used, but this is common. Once we identify strongly with our own thought processes and accept the mistaken idea that our mind is our "self," we tend to follow it blindly. (A person is much more than a mind, but that's a discussion for another time.) And it is powerful. The mind is able to find a logical reason for almost anything that we find ourselves doing or thinking.

A quick example: Suppose you saw a man going into a theater mumbling, "I hate this movie." Later he comes out complaining about it. Then you see him return to the same movie again and again, the whole time hating it and complaining about it. You might think this is silly at best, or verging on mental illness. But how often do people return to the same mental movies (bad memories) again and again even though they cause pain? The mind has an excuse ready, of course. It might suggest that this is how one "resolves" issues from the past - despite no evidence of any resolution. In fact, some people can revisit the same negative memories and thoughts for a lifetime.

(Finding some resolution to problems through revisiting the past may be possible when it's the actual goal and when appropriate techniques and/or professional help are used. But this is not what most dwelling on the past is about though.)

That's an example of being under the influence of the mind. All of us have times when the mind is using us rather than the other way around. This can be especially true in those who have made a form of religion out of logic and reason.

For an example of that lets look at the June 2008 issue of Liberty magazine, whose writers and readers are known for their esteeming of reason above almost everything else. In that issue they published the results of a poll of readers. Here are some of the questions they asked:

"Suppose that a parent of a newborn baby places it in front of a picture window and sells tickets to anyone wishing to observe the child starve to death. He makes it clear that the child is free to leave at any time, but that anyone crossing the lawn will be viewed as trespassing. Would you cross the lawn to help the child? Would helping the child violate the parent's right?"

Fortunately, despite all of their arguments for property rights and the rights of all people (including babies) to be left alone to make their own decisions, 90.9% said they would cross the lawn. Of course the scary part is the 9% who would not help. In fact, in response to the second question, 24.1% said crossing would violate the parents rights.

This is fascinating, and I think it serves as a good example of being under the influence of the power of the mind. Virtually everyone's first reaction is to help the baby, yet some people are so under the control of the thoughts in their own minds (their philosophy) that they would refuse, or at least feel bad for "violating the parents rights" as they followed their hearts.

In another question, more than more than 80% of respondents viewed forcing ones way into a home to survive when caught in a deadly blizzard as "an act of aggression," and a fourth of those said you shouldn't do it - and so presumably risk death instead. In other words, they place a higher value on an idea - in this case a stranger's right to not be inconvenienced - above survival. You may not agree, but I'm suggesting that this is mental illness, and that a healthy use of the mind serves the purpose of life, not of ideas.

By the way, I didn't get into the details of the reasoning for people not helping the baby or not even helping themselves. Why? Because the whole point here is that they are not using their minds but being used by them. I could find a reasonable argument for the contrary views - complete with perfect logic. That is the power of the mind. It can find the arguments it desires.

Now we arrive at the scary part for some people. If we can either use the mind or be used by it, how can we tell the difference, and where do we derive our decisions and actions from if not from rational thought? This suggests a world of uncertainty. But the world is uncertain! And our thoughts, motivations, and actions are less than perfect. So we do our best to understand, without pretending that our present thoughts alone can contain the truth.

Look, if you had no language and so no ideas about logic or reason, you still would take actions to eat, to survive, to help others. Now what would happen if you were taught twenty or thirty words, and those were used by another person or your own mind to convince you to do something that felt totally wrong? Isn't it possible that with only a couple dozen words your thinking ability would still be too limited to trust completely over your immediate intuition about what to do? And isn't it possible that even with all the words we have now we cannot fully understand all things through them, and that the thoughts created with them may mislead us in any case?

I'm not suggesting that we blindly follow our feelings, but there is a difference between an urge that comes from an unhealthy place and one that comes from love or clear seeing of what needs to be done. Call it conscience if you like, but we all can see and experience the difference in motivations that we have. So we do our best to act from a healthy place and use our minds to help us towards those goals that we see as right. Then the power of the mind is working for us, rather than leading us astray.

I hope this was clear enough to get you to doubt your own minds insistence on its right to direct your life (and please take that metaphorically), and its ability to find certainty. History is filled with examples of great crimes perpetrated by those who were certain their thoughts were correct. In fact, it is hard to imagine people doing some of the horrible things they have done if they had doubted their thinking.


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