Alternative Medicine
What is the Mind?

What Is the Mind?

How often do you feel stressed out and unable to turn your mind off? Do you feel like your mind is driving you crazy at times? The “mind” is hard to define. I went into psychiatry because of my curiosity about, “What is the mind, and how does it work?” While psychiatry and psychology arose to help solve mental and emotional problems, and pharmaceutical companies have developed drugs to treat mental issues, we really have not stopped to ask what the mind is.

Mind Map

Here is one ancient mind map. The individual is conceived of as a series of concentric spheres inside a larger sphere, like an onion. At the center of the sphere is the soul and surrounding it is the “intelligence.” The outer layer is the “physical body” and right inside that outer layer is the “energy body.” Acupuncture works through the energy body. The layer inside the energy body is the “mind.” From outside to inside, the layers are: physical body, energy body, mind, intelligence, bliss layer, and soul. To make things more understandable, I'll leave out discussion of the bliss layer in this article.

We tend to identify who we are mainly with the outer 3 layers: body, energy body, and mind. The energy body, which is between the body and mind, is part of the mind-body connection. The intelligence, in this model, is very close to the soul, and so if one thinks of the soul or spirit as “light,” our intelligence is illuminated by the light of spirit.

Mind, intelligence, consciousness, and soul/spirit are terms that are closely related. Some people, when talking about the mind, may really be talking about “intelligence.” One thing is clear. None of the terms I've mentioned are limited to the space between our ears. The term “mind-body connection” came into existence because science was showing that the body is permeated by mind. There is no clear dividing line where the body starts and the mind ends.

Countless people suffer from anxiety, worry, stress, and depression. Many people come home from work “stressed out” and unable to turn their mind off. Frequently that “runaway mind” makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Traditional psychiatry has treated this rather natural outcome of mental chatter with either anti-anxiety drugs or anti-depressants. I teach several different meditation techniques to help quiet the mind and also empower the individual.

Marijuana and the Mind

The average mind churns out 5,000 random thoughts a day. A stressed-out person can easily have 10,000 random thoughts a day. The faster the mind is going, the less peace of mind we have. My work with medical marijuana patients helped clarify some issues about the mind. Marijuana has some very interesting mental effects, which are similar to benefits that long-term meditators experience. Marijuana has a 2-step action on the mind. The Phase I action of marijuana does two things: 1) The mind slows down, which immediately decreases mental pain, and 2) the mind stops “looping.” Looping means, “The mind replays events of the day, and the individual does not feel able to get out of those loops.” Sometimes, they are trying to figure out how they might have done something better. Some people are looping events that they expect to happen in the near future. Most of the time, the mind is just “running itself,” chattering endlessly. With those 5,000 random thoughts per day, some blast out like a fast train and some thoughts go in circles. The Phase I action of marijuana slows down the speed of the mind and eliminates looping. As a result, a great deal of peace arises.

If you were to take 30 seconds to watch your mind and observe its activities, you would have no problem watching the stream of thoughts. It is likely that most of that mental chatter is neutral, neither positive nor negative. All of you are capable of observing what your mind is doing. But, who is it inside of you who says, “My mind is driving me crazy.” Your mind is like software that endlessly runs on your personal hard-drive, the real You. The “you” that can watch the mind is the “Intelligence.” Deeper levels, such as the soul or spirit, are also capable of watching the mind (and intelligence). Now that you are more clear about mind and intelligence, consider the question, “Who am I?” You are not the mind.

The Mind's Grip

The mind is intertwined with intelligence. To help understand this relationship, imagine that there is a rope that ties your mind to your intelligence. The Phase II action of marijuana cuts the cord that connects mind to intelligence. People say, “After I've used some marijuana, my mind loses its grip over the rest of me. I am present, living in the moment.”

When the mind loses its grip on “us,” we are no longer living in the past or future. People begin to experience themselves as being present, and able to be happily engaged in whatever activity is right in front of them, whether it is talking with family, playing a game, reading a book, or anything else.

If you entwine your fingers together, left and right hand, and squeeze tight, you have an idea of what the average mind does. The mind “grips” the intelligence and won't let go. If you release your entwined fingers and separate your hands, that's a metaphor for what it feels like when the mind lets go of the intelligence.

Marijuana is certainly not the only thing that helps loosen the mind's grip, but it has helped clarify some things I've been thinking about for decades. Metaphorically, with the Phase II action of marijuana, after the mind-intelligence connection is cut or weakened, it is as if the mind has walked across the room, sat in a comfortable chair, and is now leaving you alone. You are quite aware that your mind continues to run one thought after another, but it is no longer bothering you.

There is another positive mental experience, which is the combined effect of Phase I and II. One man explained to me that, after the mind loses its painful grip, sometimes he becomes aware of a deep negative belief system, generally inaccessible to him. With the help of medical marijuana, he is able to identify that negative belief and consciously shift it, creating a positive belief instead. Only after the mind has slowed down and lost its grip, can some people see their conditioned beliefs and then change them.

Many people feel more connected to others once the mind loses its grip — more “heart connected” to wife and children, for example. I believe the explanation is simple. The mind creates separation. When the mind quiets down, deeper layers spontaneously come to the surface. Being interconnected with all of life is what the intelligence and soul already “are,” so when mind quiets down, we become aware of our natural sense of interconnectedness.

The simple ability to observe your mind is very powerful. If you can watch your mind, you are not your mind. At the very least, the “essential you” is your intelligence. That knowledge allows you to stop thinking that you “are” your mind and body. You “have” a mind and a body, but that is not who you are. You do not require decades of meditation to reach this understanding. You just need to understand this paragraph!

Suffering and Attachment

The mind draws the world into us through the five senses. The senses are measuring devices, helping us identify: tall vs. short, dark vs. light, still vs. moving, etc. Anything new or any changes in our environment are identified through our senses. The mind develops likes and dislikes through information pouring in through sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. From an evolutionary standpoint, the mind served the purpose of always being on guard, ready to go into fight or flight. Vision tells us if a nearby bush has unexpectedly wiggled, an observation alerting us to the possible presence of a leopard or lion. Through the senses, the mind evaluates how we are different from others. The intelligence is that part of us that sees how we are similar , or are “one.”

Psychiatric training is useful in explaining some of the biology of the mind as well as how childhood events affect who we become. But psychiatric training and many counseling techniques keep us at the level of the mind. Therapies in which a person visits a counselor and talks about their problem (for months or years) keep people stuck in their minds. You cannot solve a problem from the level of consciousness that created the problem. You cannot solve a problem of the mind “with the mind.”

The mind is constantly scanning the environment. Our thoughts “go out into the world” measuring and comparing. When a thought identifies something or someone that we want (really, really want), it is as if the thought penetrates the person or object. That person or object becomes a desire. Desire is not a bad thing. Desires need to be assessed as to whether they are beneficial or not. Through our thoughts and desires we can become attached, and through attachment, suffering arises. If we cannot have the thing we desire, we are disappointed, or angry. If we can have that person or thing, we are happy . . . for a while. However, we tend to fear losing that object. When we buy a new car we've really wanted, we are quite happy. After a certain period of time, the car loses its “newness” and we begin to lose the happiness that it once brought us. We do this with relationships, falling in love (perhaps over and over). That man or woman who we thought “made us so happy” somehow turned into the source of our pain, and many of us begin looking for a way out. Our minds start scanning the world for “the right one.” Hence, the huge number of princes who turn into frogs! Over-attachment is the essential root of suffering.

What Is the Mind?

A cloth handkerchief is made up of thousands of threads that are woven together. If you pull out those threads, eventually the cloth will be gone. The mind is like that cloth fabric, and our thoughts and desires are the threads that make up the mind. By detaching from thought and desire, the mind loses its grip, and for long-term spiritual seekers, that mind-cloth will disappear, after the last thread has been pulled out. What remains? The intelligence and the soul. So, the person without thought, or with very little thought, identifies himself with his intelligence or his soul, the deepest, truest parts of human nature.

Mind Metaphors

Because you cannot hold the mind or see it, a variety of metaphors help provide greater clarity:

1. The mind is like a train, going 100 miles an hour, pulling 100 cars. This train has incredible momentum.

2. The mind is like a fan, constantly spinning around. Every time you get totally immersed in an activity or a practice like meditation that slows down the mind, we cut the power to the mind fan, and it turns more slowly.

3. The mind is like a snake that moves obliquely and bites everything in its path.

4. The mind is like a horse, which is constantly twitching in response to anything that touches it, like flies.

5. The mind is like a 2-year-old child, who is in the “terrible two's.” The 2-year-old tends to get in “trouble” frequently. If you treat your own mind as if it were your own 2-year old, it would change how you treat yourself. When your 2-year—old gets into trouble, you calmly and lovingly redirect him or her away from that particular behavior, back toward something positive. But, you don't scream angrily at your child every time s/he does something wrong. You do, however, frequently get very upset with yourself when your mind is driving you a bit crazy, or causing you to be anxious, fearful, worried, stressed out or depressed. I suggest that you treat your mind like your own 2-year old, lovingly redirecting your mind as often as you have to, but not punishing it.

The intelligence is involved in wisdom, discrimination, creativity, and determines what right action is for a given situation. The mind — races, rambles, loops, reacts, compares, judges, and separates. The mind says,—“I'd be happy in this moment IF . . . something changed for the better.” One definition of the Tao is, “Everything is perfect as it is this moment.” The intelligence follows the principle of the Tao.

This distinction between Mind and Intelligence can provide some immediate relief to suffering. It provides an understanding that can help us get to the root of suffering, and move from pain to peace.

The sacred texts of all religions help us understand suffering. Without using this exact wording, sacred texts help us let go of the mind and its close relative, “worry,” thereby leading us to peace, love, and joy.

In Part II in this series, we'll discuss how and where you can redirect your mind so that, rather than being the slave of your mind, the mind can become the servant of your intelligence and soul.

David Gersten, M.D. practices Nutritional Medicine and Integrative Psychiatry out of his Encinitas office and can be reached at 760-633-3063. Please feel free to access 1,000 on-line pages about holistic health, amino acids, and nutritional therapy at


Transformational Talk:
Able to Delay Gratification?

Are you good at delaying gratification?

This ability to delay gratification correlates with success in so many areas; it's deemed a crucial component of happy living. Many assume this ‘waiting' ability requires strong will power and often berate themselves for being ‘weak willed.' Recent research indicates self-control has little to do with white knuckle will and everything to do with how well you can direct your attention away from whatever it is you're waiting to enjoy. Surprisingly, this kind of directed distraction is a better strategy to outwit impulses than keeping some metaphoric carrot dangling.

Although some may be born better at waiting (the onset of this delaying ability in childhood hints at genetic interplay,) ultimately this is a consciousness skill that anyone can cultivate and develop.

Here's the tip: Stop blaming yourself for any inability to wait for things. This will only make you more anxious and less conscious. Be compassionate. Check whether you're ready to learn something new. If yes, next time you're in a situation where you'd like to delay eating until dinner, TV until you've finished a project, reading until you've finished paperwork, or buying new jeans until you've paid down your credit card; make a conscious choice to stop thinking about the reward that awaits. Focus your attention instead on your chosen task or distraction. Immerse yourself in the present moment. You may just discover that's gratifying in itself. ©

Penelope Young Andrade, LCSW Call: 858-481-5752 fax: 858-484-8374 email: