You know that noise your brain makes when it starts to click in all the right places? Yes, well, I credit The Misleading Mind with all of my eureka moments this week. Next to Suzuki’s Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, Cayton’s wonderful 200-page book is one of the best, most helpful and insightful on mind training. Although one is based on Japanese traditions and the other on Buddhist psychology, I loved both for their utter accessibility and usability. I cannot rave enough about the truth and wonder of The Misleading Mind.
As is usually the case, October and November are the most stressful times of year and, as a result, are optimal months for meditative reading. It doesn’t require great lengths of attention plot and character development might, and is easy enough to put a book of this kind down, upon interruption, and be able to dive back into the material without too much trouble. After returning from my last adventure overseas, I had absolutely no energy to read, because the amount of work waiting for me was so much that evenings were either spent sleeping or at the gym, trying to energize myself in any way that I could, bracing myself for the season ahead. In a moment of providential happenstance, I found Cayton’s book and read the first chapter. At first, it wasn’t captivating, but the philosophy slowly gained momentum and built upon itself. By the time I reached the third chapter, I was riveted. This passage was one of the many turning points:
When His Holiness the Dalai Lama was still a teenager and isolated within his palace in his Himalayan kingdom of Tibet, he was kept from venturing out freely into the city; thus, he began working on some old cars that had been given to his predecessor. In those days there were virtually no automobiles in Tibet. The Dalai Lama, through curiosity and trial and error, carefully tinkering for hours, learned how an engine worked until he was able to make the cars drivable. Prior to restoring the automobiles, not only did he know nothing about cars or engines, there was almost no one in the country he could ask for advice aside from the occasional foreign diplomat.
Like the Dalai Lama learning how an engine worked, we should take a beginner’s approach to learning about our mind. Thus, we become both the scientist and the test subject, while our life experiences become our inner laboratory. This chapter address the most basic and essential question: What is the true nature of mind? (57-8)
Not only did I begin to picture this slow tedious work, I could imagine the metaphor, literally and figuratively. I felt like I could see the path of Cayton’s argument. Not fully and completely understand the strategy or implementation, mind you, but at least wrap my head around the concept and question.
One of my most stubborn qualities of personality is ambition; for some reason, I always feel like I need a target and a goal. Unfortunately, there are moments when goals have been achieved, and guess what? I want more. It’s only natural, but the presence of the elusive itch that forever needs to be scratched is frustrating and exhausting to carry around. So, I was all ears when I arrived at the following passage:
In our everyday lives, just about everyone desires to raise their income. In the United States, this is a central aspect of the “American Dream.” We aspire to achieve a more comfortable existence than the one we were born into, and there is certainly nothing wrong with pursuing a better life, particularly for those who live in truly impoverished circumstances. As a society, we should endeavor to build a world in which everyone has “enough” to live a healthy existence. Yet it is important to be honest with ourselves. Do we ever really feel we have enough? Can you say honestly right now that you have “enough,” that what you possess is adequate and sufficient? There is no objective standard for “enough.” It is purely an emotional judgment, a label, an evaluation of our own condition, and a function of our desires and personal values. As such, we have to be vigilant. It is extremely easy to get caught up in emotional distractions related to our desires for abundance and fears of scarcity. So when we notice disturbing emotions of anxiety, fear, envy, greed, and more arising when we think about wealth, we must practice looking squarely at both the emotion and the subject, the one experiencing the disturbing emotion, and investigate how they exist merely through the misleading mind’s creation of them. The misleading mind, remember, sees the wealth to be achieved as really existing, truly. The misleading mind also is adhering to a belief system that is saying, “More will make you happier.” We forget that this very wealth is like an illusion… …By applying these and other methods we are able to let these feelings go and regard what we have in the present moment as “enough.” (164-5)
Honestly, this scares me. The idea of being happy with what I already have is logical, practical, but what is life without ambition? Aren’t we supposed to strive for something? I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is both yes and no, if that could possibly make any sense… a warped sort-of sense. Because, when I asked myself “Do I have enough?” the answer was “yes.” How could it be anything else? Although I don’t have everything I want, I do indeed have enough. In some cases, more than enough. When I came to that realization, I took a deep breath and, momentarily, felt rested and relaxed. Have I read all the books I want? No. Have I read enough for the present moment? Yes. Do I have the physique I want and envision? No. Do I have enough for the present moment? Okay, yes. Have I traveled to every place I wanted to? No. Have I experienced enough of the world for the present moment? Yes. As much as it pains me to admit it, because the ambitious part of me likes to make lists and check off the items one by one, yes. Yes.
If you’re new to Buddhism, a newbie student like me, The Misleading Mind is a really fantastic introduction to the key concepts. Karuna Cayton’s experiences and perspectives are stupendously insightful and truly helpful to those of us trying to calm down our thoughts, and the speed at which we live.