Articles and Opinion
UNDERSTANDING HOW WE THINK
LEADS TO HAPPINESS
Jose Antonio Cangco
Have you ever wondered what makes you happy? A new car? Success? The religious and spiritual life? Any of these can make you happy for a temporary time or for life. Whether what you seek is a short easy going kind of happiness or a permanent one, it always involves your mind - how you think and perceive your surroundings and problems in life.
The way to happiness always starts with the mind. You may have the best cars in the world, be on top of your career, or is adhering strictly to the letter of the teachings of your religion, but when you don't have control over your reason and emotions, you can still be considered a searcher, beginner or neophyte.
When we start to analyze how man should think correctly or what happens during the different mental processes, the path to bliss becomes open and attainable. This was very clear to Siddharta Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, when he included correct thinking as one of his eight prescriptions to end "feelings" of suffering. Without going into metaphysics and the whole gamut of teachings of the ancient wise men, we will be able to understand how we think just using everyday parlance and common sense.
Here are the basics. Despite what we read and hear and might have been taught in school, man has only one mind. And this is divided into consciousness and subconscious. Thinking happens in the consciousness and then memory which is a result of our cogitation is stored in the subconscious. The subconscious forms the bigger part of the mind, some say it takes up more than ninety percent of man's essential being. So we are left with a measly ten percent, probably even less, to function as best as we can in a troubled world where we try to find security, contentment and happiness.
So how do we use this bit of thinking prowess that we are endowed with to solve our problems, carry on complex relationships with other human beings, believe in a spirit and in a God and still find our way out of most problems, while trying to remain calm, unperturbed and serene?
Although it is a known fact that man is capable of different kinds of thinking such as reflection, contemplation, reasoning, cerebration, ruminating and cogitation, all active processes of the mind, in simple terms it is still the same, identical mind which is doing all the work. This is what the Buddha termed as the 'essence of mind' - the pure, incorruptible part of the consciousness of the person. There is no second or third mind involved in these mental processes.
In other words, when we are thinking there should be no shadow thoughts, phantom images and other manifestations occurring in our consciousness. According to the Buddha these can lead to misunderstanding that these manifestations are a genuine part of the mind, causing delusions, sorrow and unhappiness.
Putting these in a different perspective, thinking is a bit similar to multitasking in computers. Computer multitasking according to the Wikipedia Encyclopedia is a "method by which multiple tasks, also known as processes, share common processing resources such as a central processing unit (CPU). In the case of a computer with a single CPU, only one task is said to be running at any point in time, meaning that the CPU is actively executing instructions for that task. Multitasking solves the problem by scheduling which task may be the one running at any given time, and when another waiting task gets a turn. The act of reassigning a CPU from one task to another one is called a context switch. When context switches occur frequently enough the illusion of parallelism is achieved. Even on computers with more than one CPU (called multiprocessor machines), multitasking allows many more tasks to be run than there are CPUs".
Most computers we have in our homes and small offices have one CPU which is usually an Intel-Pentium 4 or AMD-Athlon processor. New models are introduced every few months; unfortunately we are stuck with the brains we are born with.
The computer has also a random access memory or RAM which acts as a temporary storage for information while it is being acted upon by the CPU, and a hard disk, floppy drive, and flash drive for permanent storage of information after it has been processed by the CPU and RAM. In my theory, man has no facilities for temporary memory, being comprised only of the consciousness and the subconscious. This is consistent with our basic premise that he has only one mind. Moreover, unlike the computer's, multitasking in man is simultaneous as explained below.
Our thinking process happens in the consciousness. However man also multitasks. When we become aware how multitasking is done mentally, we shall have understood how our mind functions. It is then that we shall be able to ignore the manifestations and thought phantoms that occur in our consciousness, giving us freedom to seek happiness.
What really happens when we multitask is that our mind "breaks" itself up and assigns itself to the different tasks at hand. The biggest part acts as our consciousness and is responsible for the normal functioning of our daily lives. It forms the bigger part of the thinking processes. The smaller segments which "broke up" become extensions responsible for multitasking.
To clear up things a bit, let us take the example of an average Joe beset with several problems. He is a manager in a manufacturing firm, but before his company could test-market a new product, the competition is already rolling out theirs. At home one of his children is performing horribly at school, and as president of a homeowners association, water service has been interrupted and will not be restored within a week's time. What is he going to do?
Like the Chinese proverb which says that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, Joe's first step is to prioritize. It is not to the best interest of the problem solver to give equal weight and importance to all the problems at once because of limited resources, therefore, let us say he chooses to tackle work, home and community in that order during these demanding times.
Reviewing his work, Joe should formulate the problem in simple terms such as whether to continue with the test-market or launch the product immediately before the competition can establish a foothold. After formulating the problem in very simple easy to understand terms, he should "throw" this "behind" into his subconscious. A part of his mind will automatically be assigned to process this information and look for the probable solution.
For his second and third problems, he should do the same thing, knowing all the while that the mental resources being assigned for each of them are less than those given to the first problem. He will then have to wait or check from time to time until his subconscious will come up with the answer to any of his problems which will crop up in his consciousness.
Briefly, it can be seen from the above example that our mind can assign itself to do multitasking. These different tasks are done simultaneously in our subconscious. When the mind is multitasking, there is less of it in our consciousness - but enough for us to carry on normally with our daily task of living.
The above explanation is very much simplified but now that we know how the mind operates, we will then be able to identify the shadow thoughts and other manifestations that cloud our thinking from knowing ourselves better.