Zen and Tao of Mind

One of the things I find truly puzzling is the idea that we “train” the mind. After decades of sitting and following an essentially Zen Buddhist mode of philosophy it dropped in one afternoon at the monastery that there was simply no formula for “training the mind.” Of course, this became problematic because most of any training I had undergone in several “belief systems’ was premised on the idea that there is a “mind” which apparently “I” possessed and could train. Hmm. After several years that whole concept just fell apart.

Most everyone is steeped in the recursive conditioned concept that we have a mind and can “train” it. Except, for me that never happened. Not for the lack of effort, but simply because “I” am the mind I’m attempting to train. So, the mind attempting to train the mind, is for me, another elaborate story until we take the time to sit quietly and experience how the mind operates. We have no control over what rises, nor do we have a position from which to “train” any part of the mind.

My experience indicates that I am the total of everything I have experienced and recorded in memory every second. There is not a part of my so called “mind” that can detach itself and train the other part like a poodle. It feels slightly absurd that I would sit and tell myself, Ok mind, settle down and be kinder, more compassionate, less angry, calmer, or any other state. That’s what’s being offered anytime anyone talks about training the mind. We simply don’t understand how the stream of thought operates. Cognitive Neurobiologists do not understand how thought rises, lots of theories but no “knowing’s.” We can enhance recall by repetition, we can contemplate things by using cues that reinforce more thoughts rising. We memorize things for tests that we hope will reappear by association. What we don’t do is use one part of the mind in the hopes of training another part. There is only one stream of thought, what we erroneously label mind, and at any given time the stream represents all there is that we consider I or me.

There is no separate singular self, there is no permanent self, I exist in my entirety as an ever-changing event. That means the constantly changing fluid stream of thought has nowhere to split and train itself from. Although some insist there’s some discrete part of the mind that is separate and can train the other part. I do believe that being present in proximity to breath and body allows the entire system called “Bryan” to bring all it can bear on whatever action needs to take place next. If you have thoughts or perspectives on this I would love to hear them.

Embrace life today, it’s amazing short and goes quicker than we want to imagine.

Bryan Wagner

2 thoughts on “Zen and Tao of Mind

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  1. This is really good, Bryan, and confirms much of what I’ve been delving into recently. I’m beginning to understand that we are unable to ‘train’ ourselves in a particular way – we can only allow feelings to arise in the moment and circumstance as they happen and deal with each one as best we can at that time. And it’s so true that the ‘I’ of ourselves has been conditioned by everything that’s gone before – how can we wipe all that out and should we do so. I saw the condition that Electro Convulsive Therapy left my grandfather in – a permanent state of numbness.

    I’m reading a very good book on this sort of thing written by Ajahn Sumedho called ‘Don’t Take Your Life Personally.


    1. It’s a good book. I think paying attention to my own processes really helps clarify things. It feels wrong to label anything “mind.’ It’s a reified word that has so many meanings and descriptions that it’s almost meaningless as a communication device. I notice my conditioning keeps me using the word even though I am totally unsure of what it’s pointing towards. Thanks for sharing perspectives!

      Liked by 1 person

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