Consciousness & happiness

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Shuffling Mind

I'm fond, too fond, of saying, "I don't have a mind, I just mind." My problem with "mind" as a noun is the implication of incorporeality—in Descartes version of dualism, we consist of material bodies and non-physical minds. How does one affect the other? Via the pineal gland, chosen by Descartes because it is the one organ in the brain that isn't duplicated, where somehow the non-physical influences the physical in some weird way. These days, almost all scientists and philosophers are solidly materialistic, so to speak, and discount the existence of a metaphysical mind or soul. What you see, or can measure, is what you get, no more, no less.

So much for logic. In real life, I know, and I'm sure you do, what "mind" means. I probably use the word a dozen times a day: "I've made up my mind." "My mind wandered all over the place during meditation." "Great minds think alike."

"Whose mind is like the wind on a sea of wheat…" wrote Louis McNeice in his poignant Autumn Journal, of his almost departed girlfriend.

So after one particularly rambunctious period of meditation, I was able to note that the best way I could describe the workings of my mind was top compare it to Apple's ipod: put it on "shuffle" and the machine randomly picks songs to play from its entire library of music. The metaphor works particularly well when the song that pops up is at first unfamiliar (you can store a LOT of music in eight gigabytes of memory!). Music starts, I think, "Do I know this?" and a moment later there's a click—oh yes, of course, that's Queen's "Spread Your Wings," haven't heard it for years.

Just like memories. "Where did that come from?" I think, as a flash of 16-year-old-me inviting Jenny Hay out for a date, calling her "Jennifer" in my awkwardness. (She declined.) Next moment there I am slogging up Mount Shasta…and then my knee hurts…and I notice my breath count 135...136...clanking along in the background.

As I tell the guys in the jail, "It's always an adventure," before I ring the bell and we begin our meditation shuffle.

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