How To Cultivate A Beautiful Mind

The Power Of The Mind

Our minds are powerful things.

They can be palaces of joy, temples of peace, and dungeons of suffering – all in the same day.

What we think and imagine can be brought to life in both beautiful and terrifying ways within the theatre of our minds.

We each start with a blank canvas though. How we paint our inner life is dictated in large part by our attention and intention. These are the brushes of our inner life.

We may choose different paths and professions in the outer world, but inside, we are all artists at work.

Every day is an invitation to pick up the brush and paint our inner landscape.

So how then can we take this brush and learn to paint beauty wherever we are?

This is arguably one of the greatest disciplines of a life well-lived – learning how to shape a beautiful mind.

A discipline. Practiced with the same dedication you might bring to the gym in pursuit of fitness, the workplace in pursuit of success, and your relationship in the pursuit of deeper love.

So how can we practice seeing beauty?

We may choose different paths and professions in the outer world, but inside, we are all artists at work.

Curiosity

In my experience, the mind appreciates greater and greater levels of beauty through the discipline of curiosity.

When we are curious, we open our minds to new ways of seeing, new horizons of thinking, and new states of being.

When we are closed minded, we expect, we attach, and we limit the full potentiality of our experience.

With so much in life to process as well as our individual goals to pursue, it’s easy in society to unconsciously slip into closed-mindedness. In part as a protective salve to complexity and the unknown, we can find ourselves tunnel-visioned and engrossed in the sole furtherance of ourselves.

Taken to its extremis we start to move at such a velocity through life that we cannot help but miss the detail around us.

The subtler dynamic at play in this high-speed approach to life is that we quickly fall into ‘norms of acquisition’. As we close down our awareness of our experience through busyness, we can find ourselves moving at a velocity that does not permit paying attention to the essence of life.

Instead we can find ourselves cramming experience into our lives, simply wanting to see everything, label everything, understand everything, and own everything.

Whilst this feels wholesome to begin with and is certainly widely adopted culturally, this approach can foster within us a nascent inner attitude of ownership and extractivism about our life experience.

We unconsciously ask ourselves: do I know exactly what this is? What can I get/take from it? How does this compare? Is this the best?

The difficulty with this approach is it can fast turn into a nutrition-less conveyer belt of experience for the mind. Nothing feeds the mind for long enough and we are left hungry for more and more experiences to provide some kind of soulful protein for the heart.

Seeing Life

This race to ‘consume’ our experience places increased pressure on us to understand and assimilate things. It results in a chronic need to name, classify, categorise and analyse things, people or situations.

The quicker we are in attaching verbal or mental labels to things though, the more shallow our experience becomes. Words and labels are useful tools for describing things functionally but they don’t speak to the essence, the is-ness of life.

I can’t convey the wonder of watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon by simply stating the process as ‘chrysalis’. Nor can I even speak to the profound, unknown life force that has given consciousness to enable this process.

So in that sense the experience of the butterfly’s transformation can only really be landed in its most beautiful sense through a wordless, formless, connected appreciation of it.

When we don’t cover up the world with words and labels, we begin to truly wake up to the miracle of life that continuously unfolds within and around us. A sense of the miraculous can return to our lives.

Curiosity and open-mindedness, ultimately, is the wilful suspension of our innate tendency to name, label and ‘understand’ our experience, and instead maintain a receptive inner attitude that allows the spontaneous unfolding of life in every moment.

It is an open-hearted approach to experience that allows for connection, allows for intimacy and allows for us to see beauty.

When we are curious, we open our minds to new ways of seeing, new horizons of thinking, and new states of being.

Truth is Beautiful.

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Reverence

The invitation of a deeply curious approach to life is also an invitation to cultivate a conscious attitude of reverence to all things. An inner attitude that holds a deep respect for, curiosity about, and humble acceptance of, the inherent mystery of our experience.

The blessing of this curious approach to life is that not only does it open us up to new ways of seeing, but that actually beautiful things start to approach us. As the poet John O’Donohue says: “What you encounter, recognize or discover [in life] depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach… When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us.”

We can see this phenomenon in a slightly different way in the “believe and manifest” approaches to spirituality, which speak of removing limiting beliefs in one’s mind to create the potential to achieve a desired goal. Without open-mindedness, the potential can’t exist to begin with.

Ultimately, minds are like parachutes, they work best when they are open.

Changing Perspective

This subtle change of inner philosophy towards reverence for all things, changes our inner attitude to one of ‘apprentice’ versus entitlement.

Our new conscious questions become: what can I learn from this experience? what does it ask of me? How can I be with it?

Let’s take an example to put this into practical.

Imagine you’ve been living in an apartment for the last few years. A new neighbour moves in and all is fine for a few months. You’ve been working really hard at work for months now.

After a while your new neighbour starts making noise every Monday evening, right when you’re the most tired following the weekend and first day back at work. It sounds like music and dancing, just about the last thing you want to experience.

This pattern goes on and on for weeks, months, with resentment building. It’s a point of division between you both (though you’ve never voiced it to them) and it’s a point of separateness. It’s an experience you tolerate but wish it were different.

Now let’s assume the same situation but this time you catch the person in the corridor and ask them what they’re doing. They say they host a community dance for people every week.

Resigned, you set sights on ending the conversation but just before you do you decide to ask why and they say “to let go of our worries and celebrate life, want to come?”

You’re on the spot, this isn’t your kind of thing, but you’re committed to doing something different every now and again. You go the following Monday, gingerly chat to a few people and then the dance begins.

Its awkward at first but by the end of the hour you’ve forgotten yourself and actually had a good time. Everyone sits down afterwards and you’re invited to share your experience. Without knowing you start telling everyone how difficult life is for you at the moment. Afterwards people come up, thank you for your share and offer to help you in figuring things out.

You go back to your apartment next door, look at your watch and realize you’ve had an exponentially different Monday night. This becomes your new routine for the next year, something you cherish, and a source of myriad new friends and insights.

After the year you have to move to another place. The memories you’ve had next door won’t be forgotten easily and the friends are forever.

Minds are like parachutes, they work best when they are open.

Architecting Our Experience

This is of course a simple story but it’s meant to demonstrate a powerful point.

We have unlimited potential to expand our experience.

Unlimited power for connection.

Unlimited scope to see beauty in the world.

The story is an example of how we can change our external field of experience by opening up, connecting and allow ourselves to be affected.

The same holds true for our interior experience.

Our inner lives are as vast and worthy of exploration as the outer world.

Just as we can find treasure by opening up to our experience on the outside through curiosity and reverence, so too we can do the same on the inside.

There is an ocean of treasure buried deep inside of every one of us, waiting to be looked at, conversed with, and brought into being.

The act of finding it is something we can think of as the ‘art of inwardness’.

This art starts with taking the spotlight of our attention and shining it into our inner world, to light up all the parts of us that make us who we are. To make conscious every aspect of ourselves, the things we like and the things we don’t.

Many of us avoid this invitation to go inwards, scared of looking at the pieces that have been ignored for such a long time.

Ultimately this fear though is not so much a fear of asking the questions, but of what the answers might mean for ourselves.

It’s important to realize though that asking these inner questions is the start of a true conversation with life.

There is an ocean of treasure buried deep inside of every one of us, waiting to be looked at, conversed with, and brought into being.

Ask Beautiful Questions

Asking deep, beautiful questions, moves us to that internal conversational frontier where we call out into the unknown.

It voluntarily places us in a position of vulnerability and receptivity to whatever beautiful and possibly life-changing voice comes back in the darkness.

In truth, it means temporarily suspending our fixed ideas of self, and embracing whatever change may come.

It may well be that our current idea of self will not like this process, may not like the answer, and may not even survive the conversation, but its ok for it to be this way.

The point, as we explored earlier, is not to know the answers, or to fear them, it is simply to ask the question and hold the conversation. As the German poet Rilke says:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

In this way we can understand that a beautiful question posed to ourselves with sincerity, shapes our identity just as much by the asking as it does by the answering.

To contemplate this for your own life, consider the following question:

Am I doing exactly what I was brought into this universe to do?

For many, this question taken to its most elemental level, invites some profound inquiry about who you are, what you love, what your gifts are, and whether you are showing up and giving them fiercely to the world.

It’s not one that yields an instant answer, or one that will remain the same through your life.

It’s easy to panic in the face of such a question, particularly without a ready answer or indeed any sense of how it could relate to us. But in the face of confusion, the better framing is to follow on the question and ponder, what could I be doing? What can I bring alive? What is my role in this great mystery?

Posed like this we can start to use this open-minded curiosity in our inner world to explore our full potentiality.

The spotlight of our attention, directed inwards, becomes a lighthouse beacon that sweeps across the vastness of possibility.

We engage with an almost childlike, judgement-free curiosity.

We don’t close down the limitless; and thereby we remain infinite.

Beautiful Honesty

It’s also important to embrace the process as Rilke speaks of above.

Life is change, expansion and contraction, nothing obviates this rule.

The pursuit of these questions may elucidate things inside of us that need breaking down so that new things can be born. Only through honest internal inquiry can we face the music. As Adyashanti says: “Enlightenment is a destructive process, the crumbling away of untruth.”

It is part of a birthright to be part of this death and rebirth process.

Human beings have always been at the frontier of the known and unknown; asking the question simply makes us a willing participant at the frontier of the change, rather than a confused citizen along for the ride.

The richness of being at that frontier cannot be underestimated. When we pose deep questions of ourselves we engage ancient, titanic forces inside of us.

Given time and practice we can sit comfortably with these energies, dance with their potential, and come to an enriched, wholehearted understanding of ourselves.

We can act with the fullness of having lived the question and understood our innermost truth. We can create those symmetries of our inner and outer world, weave together our inner self and our outer action, and live wholehearted, fierce, vulnerable, and beautiful lives.

Just like life, curiosity should trouble you, and it should delight you.

If you want to live a beautiful life, ask beautiful questions.

Here are some questions for you to sit with:

  • What are the 7 thoughts that most govern your world? Where did they come from?
  • What are my deepest and most profound gifts? Am I giving them?
  • How do I know what I think I know about [x] is right?
  • How can I love someone more deeply that I currently do? What would that ask of me?
  • Am I living courageously?
  • How will people remember me when I die?

A beautiful question posed to ourselves with sincerity, shapes our identity just as much by the asking as it does by the answering.

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