When I was a teenager I went through this phase for a few years during which I was obsessed with Zen and Daoism. I bought all these comic books which weren’t funny but were in fact little cartoons illustrating Zen teachings. In one of them, a master asked a student which mind he wished to refresh, the mind of the past, the mind of the present, or the mind of the future. The cartoon went on to talk about an entirely different matter and left me hanging. I’m sure part of the problem is that the question simply hadn’t translated well (given the huge differences between our language and those of asian cultures). I’ve asked myself this question a lot, which mind do I refresh? I suppose my answer at this point would be that I would refresh the mind of the present. Allow me to explain.
About a month ago I had to attend some courses for Six Sigma. One of the exercises was to make the shots from a small catapault hit a target with less variability. There were seven people in my group (including me), including two who were supposed to be experts in Six Sigma (they were only in the class to “find out what was being taught”). I watched as six engineers fussed over this catapault, ignoring each other and each concentrating on some aspect of the catapault. They argued over whether to tape it down or clamp it down and whether to put a mark here or there and I just kept watching. One of them remarked how I had “shut down,” thinking I couldn’t hear. I continued watching. I felt disappointed in the supposed Six Sigma experts. Surely there was a better way than this random… firing of thoughts? Was that it? Information comes into the brain – make this catapault less variable. The brain spits out whatever is immediately accessed – tape it down, put a mark on the launching arm, hold down the arm, put marks on the rubber band. They then proceed to carry out the commands of their brain. I suppose a clearer definition of thought is needed here. Without one, I will go on to say that all I saw was thoughts competing with each other. But not just competing. Some merged, some submitted to other thoughts, some were discarded, and the entire time I wondered if the participants actually qualified as human during the exercise. It seemed as if they were simply puppets of the information being fired out of their brains. It was fascinating!
I concluded that it should be the job of a Six Sigma expert to controlthese thoughts. They should grab the reigns of this group consciousness and start making productive use of these creative thoughts. The immediate response from the brain here is, “that sounds like a brainstorming session.” Sure, but I’m referring to so much more. Consciously directing competing thoughts by making plans, by detaching people from following the courses dictated by their brains – asking them to think! Re-insert information into the brain. Control the brain rather than follow its directives! Of course it starts with rejecting the assumption that everyone around you is wrong. That seems to be a fairly natural assumption and at work I notice how often people will keep telling each other how very, very wrong they are without attempting to understand the other viewpoint. Pick up what I just did? I set myself up for a trap and leapt right into it. Take the point as this: we must control our thoughts. Our natural inclinations do very well for us – sometimes. If you are confronted with a bear you don’t start thinking about asking the bear how he’s feeling. You run. This is a good response. However, our brain acts the same at work. We run or we attack when confronted. We need to combat our own brains, and that is extremely difficult and we will often fail at it.
My second major thought, while watching this interaction during this Six Sigma exercise, was that in addition to mastering thought we must cultivate a garden within our brains of good thoughts. We need to receive information so that our brain can access better thoughts than those we usually default to. This is usually accomplished by reading. It’s very important, though, that we cultivate this garden and make links between information in our minds consisting of more correct thoughts than those currently in the brain. The more correct thoughts we absorb the more likely it is that new correct thoughts will come from either accessing those thoughts or making links between the thoughts.
My mind, while on this subject, begins to ask those larger questions about whether we exist. For now, my brain has accessed the following information: “I’m able to enjoy cheesecake, therefore I do not care whether or not I technically exist.”