(Read this on Huffington Post or comment there, if you want!)
You’ve heard, “The mind is a wonderful servant but terrible master,” right?
Or, “Use your mind; don’t let it use you”?
Over the past few years in my own life, I’ve seen that these are not only cute sayings people toss around when they are trying to sound wise — they are actually true. Exploring this balance is infinitely helpful when it comes to enjoying a guided, naturally unfolding experience of life.
Getting a feel for how your Common Sense Wisdom (aka intuition, heart, gut, guidance, hunches, feelings, insight…) works in tandem with your Personal Mind (aka intellect, logic, ego, rational thinking, brainpower, knowledge…) makes things oh-so-much-easier.
The way your Wisdom and your Personal Mind can work together well, might look something like this:
Common Sense Wisdom: “I’m not sure why, but I keep feeling like I might want to invite Grandma over for dinner.” It’s a hunch. It’s not loud or urgent or emotional, just something that occurs to you.
Personal Mind: “Yeah but she’s probably tired. Or busy. Or maybe she won’t want to come.” Your personal mind is full of opinions. It might go the other way too… “Yes! Why have you not done this already? Do it now!”
Common Sense Wisdom: “Whoa there, relax” (Reaching for the phone).
Personal Mind: “I know her phone number. I’ll dial, let me handle this, pleeeease! Here’s what you should say: ‘Hi Grandma, it’s Amy…'”
Common Sense Wisdom: “Seriously? We need to rehearse a call to Grandma? Chill out. I’ll give you a job if you need to feel so important… how about you look at the calendar and see what night we’re free? And you can help me with the menu — I’ll see what ideas show up, and then you may need to jump on Pinterest for a recipe.”
That’s how Wisdom and your Mind might peacefully coexist as a team. Here’s how it goes when your Personal Mind takes over, a scenario we all know all too well:
Personal Mind: “You are a horrible, person. Call Grandma now, it’s been a month! Who goes for a month without calling their Grandma? Horrible people, that’s who.”
Common Sense Wisdom: “I dunno… just doesn’t feel right at the moment. I’ll wait until it occurs to me… I don’t need to be bullied into action by your put downs.”
Personal Mind: “Lazy. That’s what you are. If you weren’t so lazy you’d ignore how it feels and just do it. Life is all about the choices you make, you know. What you do in life… action… that’s what matters.”
Common Sense Wisdom: “Thanks for sharing, but I’m pretty confident that it’s far easier than all of that. Stuff shows up and I act on it when I act on it. When I don’t, the world keeps turning. It’s all good.”
Personal Mind: “All good [muttering under his breath, shaking his head]. If I left things up to you, nothing would ever get done! Lazy, I tell you…”
Common Sense Wisdom: “Have you ever considered that maybe you’re the one in the way of things getting done? Don’t get me wrong, I need your help and support at times… but what if I have this and a lot of your effort is redundant? I mean, you do tend to get really worked up and make things pretty difficult. We make a great team, but left completely on our own we’re not so good.”
Your Personal Mind is going to want to take over. That’s what minds do — push their agenda. And they are louder, pushier, and more recognizable to you than your Wisdom so it’s not always easy to listen for the calmer, quieter hunches.
But you can do it. It becomes quite natural when you understand that Common Sense Wisdom is who you are, it’s always there, and it’s safe to follow. Your Personal Mind is also always there, but it’s not who you are and it’s not always safe to let it take the lead.
How It Played Out for Me
Inviting Grandma over for dinner may seem like a silly example, but it’s the same no matter what you’re facing in life. The more important the issue, the more it behooves you to follow your hunches and let your intellect fill in the gaps where intellect or logic is needed. Life is too important to take seriously the way your Personal Mind wants to take it seriously. It’s no coincidence that the sort of calm, non-verbal instincts and intuition that propel you into action are what can also save your life.
I recently let my Common Sense Wisdom and my Personal Mind play together nicely on something not super important — but bigger than dinner with Grandma — when I put down a hefty deposit on the rental of a castle overlooking the Mediterranean Sea outside of Barcelona. I’m renting the castle for a retreat I’ll be leading next spring. I had a hunch… something non-verbally “said” this is good, it feels right, I don’t know why or how but there’s something to this idea.
And my Personal Mind had a field day, as Personal Minds do. So I listened to my mind a bit, just in curiosity, to see if there was anything of substance there. I heard its horror stories and worst case scenarios and realized I didn’t need to listen very closely to what was essentially my own imagination at work.
I used my Personal Mind for good, applying intellect and logic to see what the financial and logistic worst case scenarios really were.
I did that due diligence as far as my intellect was concerned. Once I set aside the emotional pleas and the imaginary projections of my mind, I really felt like my hunch was still stronger, so I followed it.
I signed the papers and paid the deposit, not having all the answers my mind wanted. But in a more quiet and sure way, I knew that I was doing what felt best in the moment. I know that my happiness, security, confidence, or emotional stability are not at stake, regardless of what a scared mind might say. Those come from within me and have nothing at all to do with anything that happens outside, so there’s no concern for them.
It’s like the old adage about following your car’s headlights at night. The headlights can’t show you the entire route — they only show you a few feet in front of you. But if you keep going as far as you can comfortably see, you’ll easily make it across town.
My headlights showed me this step, and my insight nudged me to take it. Even if they show me something completely different at some point in the future, this step couldn’t have been the “wrong” one. It felt right and looked right so it was right. There are always more steps to come. Who knows what those will reveal, but I’ll follow those hunches when I get them.
The Always Reliable Indicator of Whether your Mind is Playing Master or Servant
There is one simple way you can always tell if your mind is playing the supporting role it’s meant to play, or whether it’s taking the lead: the way you feel.
If you’re suffering, your Personal Mind is trying to force its agenda.
If you’re feeling anxious, worried, sad, or frustrated, your Common Sense Wisdom is being crowded out by the stories and opinions of your Personal Mind.
If you are confused or in indecision, or if life feels complicated or complex, you’re seeing things primarily through the filter of your own Personal thinking, not through the clarity of Common Sense Wisdom. Your Personal Mind tends to create static or interference when it takes charge, and you feel that static in the form of confusion. When you stop listening to your Personal Mind so much, the static dies down and you feel clarity and calm again.
It truly is that simple. When things aren’t flowing and you aren’t getting hunches, wait. You will. You will feel them when your Personal Mind quiets down. Your Personal Mind quiets down on its own as you see how this works.
It’s quite a beautiful system we’re equipped with, isn’t it?
The best part is that it never fails. It is fail-proof and unbreakable. We can stand in the way when we’re letting Personal Mind be the master, that’s true. But even then there is a self-correcting mechanism built in. You’ll hit a wall or feel stress or frustration and you’ll eventually throw your hands up.
When you do that, you open space for a hunch to bubble to the surface.
The system has always worked this way, and it always will. It’s just that most of us don’t know this, so it’s difficult to leverage something you don’t understand.
You understand it better now. And you can rely on it.