The mind is a separate body that, along with the physical and etheric bodies, has its characteristics, functionality, and structure. Usually, the physical location of the mind is associated with the head -- because of a conventional agreement that thinking-related activity resides in that body part. But the body of the mind is larger than that, it is almost the size of the etheric body, which, in turn, envelopes the physical body like a cocoon. And we intuitively relate the thought processes to the head because the sensory organs that receive information from the outside world are located there. If you set out to learn more, you will find out that it is possible to think, say, with the stomach or the chest areas and that the thinking may change location but stay the same. For example, it is possible to recite a prayer straight in the heart; and this is not that you metaphorically direct your attention in the chest while praying -- no, it literarily means that the prayer at that moment is said right in the area of the heart that is, active thinking has shifted to that area. There is a step in Sufi dhikr practice when recitation of the name of God is moved down to the heart; likewise, recitation is performed in the heart and not by redirecting it mentally from the head. Mystics who have mastered their attention and are not identified with the mind can move the thought processes around the inner space of the mind's body; it's not that difficult. It is another matter that thinking with the head is more convenient for sure.
The mind is often confused with the brain, all because of the location of thought processes. Scientists struggle to decipher the mystery of the brain, but haven't solved it so far. They try to identify the origin of thinking in the brain, but it is not there; they see not the cause but the effect and strive to organize them in a coherent picture explaining the variety of human mind functions. The brain is but a conductor bridging the body of the mind with the physical body, and the processes that occur in mind reflect the mind's activity. Brain injury can disrupt this conducting function, and we know that the lobotomy procedure can leave a patient with severe disabling impairments. If one's eyes are blind, it does not imply that there is no light in the world, just that the function of the eyes is impaired. Similarly, brain damage negatively affects memory, thinking, and other functions that originate in the mind. Science operates within physical dimensions and ends in a stalemate when it comes to decoding the nature of thought and consciousness. Only when people realize that their beings involve more than one dimension/layer, each having its own body, can we get more clarity as to what, how, and why run us, humans.
The mind sends signals to the brain, which transmits them to the body. Likewise, the body can send signals to the mind, prompting thoughts and judgments. All three lower human bodies - the physical, etheric, and mind bodies - are interconnected in this way. To differentiate between their manifestations and responses, it's necessary to possess a good level of self-awareness. This is why mystics with heightened awareness are often better at understanding others than psychologists.
The mind's body comprises an active and passive part. The memory serves as the passive part and stores all the impressions a person receives. It's important to note that impressions are the nourishment the body of the mind needs for its normal functioning. Just like physical food, impressions can vary in quality. If you consume food that's too salty, too spicy, or of poor quality, you may experience an upset stomach. Similarly, certain impressions may excite, traumatize, or inspire the mind. Too many impressions in a short period can overload and exhaust the mind.
All memories are formed by impressions, without exception. Some of them can have a powerful emotional and mental impact on us. For instance, when our parents punish us without any valid reason, we feel an intense feeling of resentment, confusion, and fear which remain unexpressed because you are not allowed to do so. As a result, these unexpressed emotions become trapped in our memory as an impression charged with negative energy, such as anger or fear. This memory will then trigger the corresponding reaction in all our lower bodies. This unprocessed memory is like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Or, it's like an unhealed wound that begins to bleed from time to time. It is from these experiences that phobias and neuroses are often formed.
The memory also stores a collection of abstract ideas that shape a person's conditioning, i.e., a set of beliefs and attitudes toward the world and people. These ideas only become active in our mind when we acknowledge them as true and believe in them. We all hold various ideas some of which we are indifferent to, while others cause resentment. There are also ideas we strongly believe to be right and which we defend and are willing to fight for. These ideas are the ones that condition us and define their behavior and reactions. Ultimately, these ideas influence the choices a person makes in different situations, leading to predetermined (or conditioned) outcomes. This is how the human mind operates.
The passive part of the mind can only function in conjunction with the active part of the mind, where thinking processes occur. The active part of the mind is made up of three layers, each with a distinct function. By intentionally observing the mind, one can become aware of its first layer. Think of it like three spheres nested within each other. The outer sphere represents the first layer, where conscious thinking occurs and over which we have control. This is where we plan, dream, compose texts, and reflect on past events. In this layer, sub-personalities are formed, and once they emerge, they move to the second layer of the mind, where they get activated when necessary. Thanks to this layer, we have the ability to manage our attention, practice divided attention, and develop mindfulness. For simplicity, I refer to this layer as the conscious mind. With it, we can engage in meaningful activities and reach our spiritual potential by becoming fully self-aware. Unlike humans, animals lack a conscious mind and have only two layers in their active part, so they cannot divide their attention. Instead, their predominant mind activity occurs in the second layer of the human unconscious mind. Instead, their primary mind activity occurs in the layer that goes next in humans--the unconscious mind.
Imagine the three spheres, each placed inside the other, rotating independently at different speeds. The outer sphere of the active mind rotates at a moderate pace, while the second, middle sphere spins rapidly, and the inner sphere turns very slowly. This visualization is a schematic representation of the layers of our active mind. Even though the rotation of the outer two spheres can accelerate or slow down, the inner sphere movement always remains constant and unaffected.
The second layer of our mind is incredibly fast and is responsible for maintaining our unconsciousness. It's where all our automatic reactions, stereotypical movements, and associative connections reside. This layer’s performance doesn't require our conscious participation and is responsible for our habits, automatisms, and obsessive thoughts. You must have experienced a time when a song just kept playing in your head and you couldn't shake it off. Well, that's the work of our unconscious mind. It's closely linked with our memory, and all the associations that we make during a conversation are produced by this layer of our mind. The unconscious mind creates and sustains repetitive states and neurotic reactions. All repetitive states, all neurotic reactions are settled and maintained by the unconscious mind. When you learn to control your emotions, you do it via the unconscious mind. It trains itself to repress them. However, once you have mastered this skill, your unconscious mind takes over, and repression henceforth occurs automatically without your conscious involvement. With this ability, your unconscious can utilize all the skills you've acquired, allowing you to remain unconscious while engaging in habitual tasks. It's thanks to this that humanity can keep "sleepwalking" through life.
Because the unconscious mind operates much faster than the conscious mind, its moves often stay untracked, hidden from us. We see only consequences thereof that manifest in mood changes or physical symptoms. The unconscious mind is responsible for mechanistic psycho-emotional reactions. Say, we are told something; and while conscious mind is still in the middle of information processing, the unconscious mind is already reacting to it at full speed. In case the information is unpleasant, the likely reaction scenario would be the repression of negative emotions and activation of defensive mode, followed by self-pity and dwelling on negative thoughts. Your psychological state changes in a blink of an eye, and you will miss the moment when it happens. You may notice that your mood has dropped yet fail to connect the dots between the mood change and the information received. When we repress our feelings, it is pretty difficult to identify the cause of our frustration because there is a lurking competing idea that justifies the ban on emotional expression and gets in the way of accepting the actual state of affairs. For example, we may want to see ourselves as brave and strong but become afraid in a particular situation. Our unconscious mind represses the fear, while our conscious mind denies that we were afraid at all. And we may be left wondering why our blood pressure's just spiked for no apparent reason.
Your conscious mind is under your control, but your unconscious mind controls your actions. When you make a decision in your conscious mind, it is passed on to your unconscious mind for execution. For instance, if you decide to never show any signs of weakness, that decision is made consciously, but it is carried out by your unconscious mind, which also maintains your resistance towards the world and other people. The same applies to every other decision -- your conscious mind processes new information, analyzes it, and makes a choice. If the decision requires long-term action, your unconscious mind takes charge of its implementation. Therefore, seekers must make an effort to bring the automatic actions of their unconscious mind into their conscious awareness.
When I say that you control your conscious mind, it’s not quite accurate. In reality, the mind controls itself. It contains the structure of your personality, your ego, from which it gives instructions to itself. Your sense of self, or "I," is also a component of your mind; it is important to understand that very clearly. You are more than your mind, but your "I" is rooted and exists only in the mind. Paradoxical as it may seem, it is, but this will becomes clearer as your become more aware.
The third layer of the active mind can be referred to as the “silent mind” because it appears inactive when observed and it remains so when one awake, too. However, during deep sleep, this layer is the one that becomes active as you sink into it. There is not much more to add about this layer.
In my book, “The Book on the Obvious and the Non-Obvious, I described the practice of observing and navigating through the layers of the mind. Some readers may conclude that by becoming aware of the silent mind, they can expect all mechanistic reactions of the unconscious mind to disappear. This is not the case. While the practice outlined in the book helps you understand the structure of your mind, it will not eliminate automatic behaviors. The benefit of the practice is that you become more aware of the movements of your mind’s layers and identify lesser with them. To free yourself from a particular mechanistic reaction however, you must be fully aware of it, including the initial trigger experience. This requires a separate practice.
If you're feeling tired, your conscious mind weakens and unconscious thoughts intensify. Incoherent thoughts and memories flooding the mind or songs heard the other day involuntarily popping up and getting stuck indicate that your energy is drained and you need to rest. Being mindful of your energy level is especially important for seekers who want to work with their attention because it's almost impossible to do anything with your attention when you are exhausted. Take a break and allow yourself to rest, and you'll regain the ability to divide your attention.
There is this doctrine that our thoughts create our personal reality, even the physical world around us. This idea has been exploited in various teachings on achieving success and happiness. Well, our reality is complex, and there are holes in the fabric of reality that let some unthinkable happen. But to claim that our thoughts directly affect the external reality, or that our deliberate thinking can change it, is, of course, a bit too much. It is no exaggeration though to say that the mind shapes our inner reality. The outer reality is the same for everyone, but the inner reality is different for everyone. Our active mind is like a prism, only it doesn't refract sunlight, but alters our perception by magnifying certain impressions and discarding others. The mind creates suffering, establishes goals, and can architect whole worlds within us that can be hard to differentiate from the real world.
I often receive e-mails from individuals sharing their spiritual experiences and visions. Many of these stories are so incredible there is little to comment on except suggesting to avoid getting lost in overly flamboyant fantasies. But sometimes, it's unavoidable. When you pursue a goal for something that doesn't exist in reality, your mind can create an illusion of achieving it. This can be tricky to navigate, especially if your awareness is still incipient. For example, you try to connect with the proverbial “higher self” or identify the source of self-awareness. Such a search is bound to fail because there are no such entities within us. But you persist in looking inward with the sole purpose of discovering "it." If you try hard, after a while, you may eventually sense a certain point that represents "it". By focusing your attention on this point, you enter an altered state of mind where the mind appears to be silent, but nothing else occurs. Nothing else can occur indeed, because the mind has accomplished its task of helping you find what you were seeking. And even if "it" is in your belly or chest, keep in mind that the body of the mind is big enough. Or else, maybe you want to see energies or communicate with higher beings, for example—the mind can arrange that for you, too. The mind is a master of illusions, and the more you want to believe in them, the more they proliferate. Never forget this and always be critical of such experiences of yours because most of them, believe my experience, are nothing but creations of your own mind. Instead, practice awareness of yourself and draw your attention away from your mind and into your body rather than succumb to your mind, as it will lead you nowhere but to new illusions.
Speaking of illusions, these are the fruits of conditioning. For example, one may see the world as a place full of sin and people in it as immoral. One may render the world as terrifying, or fascinating, or indifferent—your mind creates a bespoke version to suit your internal needs. The impressions we form of other people are also conditioned to align with our ideas of good or evil, harmful or beneficial. We project our own “dream” onto others. This is how most people live.
The mind creates illusions not just for the sake of it, but driven by desires. And here we come to the topic of desires. Desires are the product of the mind but have origins outside of it. Desires are powered by the life force we receive each night during sleep. The life force comes to us with the Descending Flow of Creation. It comes to us in a raw and pristine form. To become usable, it needs direction, a channel into which it can be directed, i.e., a target to be applied to. This is where the mind comes in, shaping life force into a desire. Or directing it toward an already opened channel of a desire that is waiting to be fulfilled. Desires can be long-term or short-term. For instance, if your desire is to become enlightened, then it's a long-term desire, which will require a lot of time and effort to achieve. Going to a movie is a short-term desire that we can fulfill right away and then forget about it. Thus, the new influx of life force can be directed towards an old desire that hasn't fully materialized or/and towards the creation of a new one.
Every desire is fueled by an impulse of life force that needs to be acted upon to make it a reality. It is hard to act in the absence of a driving desire or to go against one's desires and I'd even go so far as to say it's almost impossible; yet, as we go through upbringing and grow up, our minds are implanted with a host of ideas that call for limiting or rejecting certain desires. To understand where desires come from, we need to tap into the subjects used by the mind to frame the impulses of the life force. There are only two such subjects -- our human needs and our ideas. We need a certain environment to support life in the physical body: food to eat, have a minimum level of comfort (i.e., warmth, sleep, absence of prolonged stress, etc.). We also have a need for intimacy, self-expression—and new impressions, after all. Our desires stem from these needs. We cannot wish for something we do not know because our mind operates only with the known. We seek out new things based on impressions, be it seeing/hearing something new or visiting new places. We may crave a specific dish we enjoyed before, or feel enticed to try it because we talked to someone who recommended it, and the desire came immediately after the conversation. When we get hooked on something new, this, among other things, represents our mind’s need for new stimuli. It is the need for new sense experiences that could satiate us somewhat.
Another source of desires is the ideas we hold in our minds and believe in. For instance, if we feel strongly about the concept of a free market, we would desire for it, firstly, to exist in our country and, secondly, to be truly free. And if there is no sign of either, we are left to suffer because our desire remains unsatisfied. There is a whole lot of ideas that people cling to, and each of us has an individual collection of topics for which he or she cares deeply. Unfeasible idealistic desires are also grounded in ideas. For example, consider the idea of justice, which is so sensitive in Russia. A person conditioned by it will suffer routinely because his desire for things to be fair will never come true. The more idealistic desires one holds, the more righteous and important one may feel and the more inner turmoil they cause.
Desires per se are neither bad nor good. They reflect your needs, dissatisfaction, and innate traits. Some are more on the auditory side, some are more visual; and some are simply into drinking vodka after a good steam-cleaning treatment in Russian banya. Sexual desires become perverted precisely because people are indoctrinated to taboo them which leads to disruption of the natural energy flow in the body and then to sexual desires' unexpected manifestations. Grading desires as “good” or “bad” is your attitude toward them, i.e., conditioning. That being said, fulfilling some desires do entail potential consequences for a person, and here he has to weigh all cons and pros to understand whether these are worth materializing or not.
Dealing with desires that are easy to satisfy is simple, but satisfying those that cannot be fulfilled for some reason can be challenging. There are typically two ways of handling this issue. The first one is repression, where a desire is not fulfilled because it's forbidden. This repressed desire then becomes an energy lump in the body of the mind and remains dormant. However, if too many desires are repressed, it can cause tension to build up in the mind, including the unconscious part, which can affect one’s mind performance. This can range from rigid and restrictive thinking to neurosis or depressed mood and in severe cases—mental disorders.
The second way is postponing. When a desire is not illegal or banned by our conditioning, it is postponed. Let’s say you want to buy a car but don’t have enough money. The desire boosts your motivation to earn more money and put buying the car on hold. Or, maybe you're in a situation where you physically can't fulfill your desire, like if you're in jail or serving in the military. In those cases, your desires are pushed to the time you get back home, while in the meantime, you limit yourself to "short" desires to meet your immediate needs. The difference between postponed and forbidden desires is that you conjure up postponed desires every now and then, whereas you push forbidden desires deep into the inner darkness and forget them completely if you can. On the bright side, postponed desires usually don't cause as much sadness or anger as forbidden desires. When you nip a desire in the bud, there is too little time for a respective emotional reaction to spring up in the etheric body; hence no anger, sadness, or fear is associated with that desire. There is another fear, though, related to the manifestation of forbidden desire, which causes its repression.
Sometimes people hold back their desires even though there is no restriction on its implementation. For example, one may possess a fervent desire to excel as a musician but fail in their attempts. A portion of the desire's energy was expended on actions that did not yield the desired outcome. Once the individual recognizes the futility of their efforts, they may either cease investing their life force towards the objective, or they may repress the remaining desire to alleviate their frustration. This scenario often occurs in relationships as well. You may develop feelings for someone and desire to be close to them, but they may not feel the same way. You can deal with the rejection, process your emotions of anger and grief, come to terms with the fact that your desire won't be fulfilled and move on, or try to push your feelings down to prevent them from consuming you. There is a third scenario in which one gets stuck in rumination, distress, and suffering. This is a harmful path to take but some individuals go down this way. It all depends on your psychological personality type. Individuals with psychopathic traits tend to repress more, whereas individuals with neuroticism traits are more prone to react with suffering.
The problem with unfulfilled desires, when they are pushed aside or repressed, is that the energy they carry remains within us. Even desires from childhood that were never fulfilled are still present and active decades later. Repression is preservation, not deliverance. The impulse of life force contained in a desire stays within us for as long as you live and dissipates only after you pass away. However, there is a way to release this energy before your time comes. This is a central aspect of spiritual work across all traditions, which emphasizes the role of eliminating desires in achieving the higher states of being. The only force that can truly help you let go of established desires is the power of your Consciousness. By practicing self-awareness techniques, we can clear our inner space of any repressed or unrealized desires.
Awareness is a method that describes a general approach to working with desires, but in addition to it, there are keys to assist us. Our mind conceals repressed desires, and they end up in a blind spot. The mind is a great magician in this sense. Therefore, uncovering repressed desires "just like that"—is near to impossible. Instead, you apply an indirect evidence approach and track down the “fingerprints” they leave, i.e., emotional reactions of the ethereal body. For example, you feel annoyance, which is a controlled manifestation of anger. If you understand that there is no anger without desire, you can trace the moment when it appeared and see what provoked it. Once you see what's causing your annoyance, it becomes easier to identify the desire that triggered it; it will become evident to you. People so often live and act "on autopilot" that they often fail to pick up on simple things in themselves. This is especially true in cases when people don’t allow emotional expressions of anger or sadness as well. Anyways, by paying attention to the moment when you start feeling anger, you can uncover the root-cause desire that wasn’t fulfilled.
Initially, you may be able to trace the root causes of your emotional outbursts only retroactively, but with increased awareness, you will start to recognize them in real-time. By paying attention to your reactions and changes in your moods and internal states, you will uncover the reasons behind them. And more often than not, the reasons stem from desires and fears. Your body is a good indicator of control and repression --as soon as you notice tension in your shoulders or abdomen, for example, it is a sign that you're trying to control something within yourself, i.e., repress it. Or, if you are already steadily mindful of your breathing throughout the day, you can use it to gauge what’s happening in your mind. If you find yourself breathing more shallowly than usual, it could mean that you're holding something back. Controlling breathing is a mechanism to control emotional manifestations: breathing shallowly weakens their energy. If you always breathe shallowly, it could mean you're constantly in control of your desires and emotions.
Thus, by observing your reactions and paying attention to what is causing them, you will come to an awareness of the workings of your unconscious mind and uncover desires that were previously hidden. Working with a specific desire may sound straightforward, but it can be challenging to put into practice. You need to allow the desire to surface, let it unfold in your inner space, and let it take hold of your mind without getting sidetracked by thoughts of how to make it a reality. Instead, observe these thoughts and sensations. The desire will call for action, but you remain still. Desire will demand fulfillment, but you remain an observer. You just sit still, abide in it, not identifying with the mind, not get caught up in the mind’s fantasies or plans. Then the energy of your Consciousness will dissipate the energy of desire, and if you manage to look at it long enough, it will disappear as if it never existed. The process can take anywhere from an hour or two to several days. Just remember that there is one law that cannot be circumvented in this process. If deep inside you are not really ready to let it go, if there's a part of you that still believes it can come true, you won't be able to get rid of it. You will unconsciously protect this desire and not fully committed and dedicated in this practice. The desire then will weaken for a while, but not disappear. And after you thought you had moved on, your mind will pump a new portion of the life force into it, and it will resurface in all its irrational glory. This pattern is the only reason why many seekers fail in their work of getting rid of obviously senseless desires: they still have a lingering hope that these desires can and must come true.
You don't have to dissipate all of your desires. Some desires are easier to fulfill and the execution process can become a spiritual practice. These desires might seem like a waste of time or money or even silly and unnecessary, but they are actually the ones worth pursuing. Desires are labelled as stupid and unnecessary due to the denial program which is the foundation of an inferiority complex. As you fulfill your desires, pay attention to your mind's reactions. This can help you work towards accepting yourself, even if it is just accepting your desires. Desires should never be dismissed as silly - they all have some underlying need behind them. However, idealistic desires can never be fulfilled, and one needs to process them through awareness so they can dissipate. Simultaneously you must lose your attachment to the bright ideas that gave rise to these desires. Holding onto a particular idea, such as justice, can make it difficult to let go of the desire for it to prevail. But by working with this desire, you become more aware of the detrimental effect of the original idea on yourself and its limited applicability on the global level. Thus, it will be easier to discard both desire and idea.
You can use this knowledge to improve your life so that your unconscious mind and unfulfilled desires do not turn your life into a hamster wheel accompanied by negative emotions. When you know what direction to look in, becoming aware of yourself and digging to the root cause of things becomes much simpler. While it may seem silly to some to dissipate the energy of desire and let go of it, it’s equally foolish to pass up such an opportunity. Unlike animals, we can divide our attention, break from identification with the reactions of our mind and transcend its limitations. If we choose, we can change a great deal about ourselves. So be brave and create a new desire to become aware of yourself and break free from the mechanical reactions of your unconscious mind, and clear out any repressed desires within you. And - let's get to work!