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Have you ever felt like your mind was controlling you, dragging you along for a persistently bumpy ride?
Research shows the majority of us feel this way, but the good news is that we can do something about—and Karuna Cayton’s book The Misleading Mind teaches us how.
A psychotherapist and practicing Buddhist, Karuna has written an easily digestible book that offers solutions to the mental anguish we often perpetuate through misguided thinking.
Its full title is The Misleading Mind: How We Create Our Own Problems and How Buddhist Psychology Can Help Us Solve Them, and it delivers on that promise.
I’m thrilled to share this long but illuminating interview and offer two free copies as a giveaway!
To enter to win 1 of 2 free copies of The Misleading Mind:
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1. What made you choose the title The Misleading Mind? In what way is the mind misleading?
The source of all problems and the source of all solutions is the mind. I believe that. Of course, people always bring up extreme examples like, “How is the tsunami in Japan a fault of the mind?” Ultimately, I believe it is, but just on a relative basis.
The suffering that arises as a result of a tsunami is mental suffering. Yes, one’s body may be injured, but that falls mostly in the realm of pain. Suffering, or problems, as I am referring to them, refers to anguish, misery, unhappiness.
These painful states of mind arise as a result of the afflictive emotions in our mind. And, these arise from a misunderstanding of reality, of how things are.
This misperception is a mental activity, a mind activity, and we are misled by these constant misapprehensions. Thus…the misleading mind. I should also point out that is also the mind that leads us out of our problems, if we know how to use it properly.
2. Your book offers solutions to three major problems, which you’ve called the Three Conditions (known as the Three Sufferings in Buddhism). What are these?
Traditionally, they are called The Suffering of Suffering, The Suffering of Change, and Pervasive Suffering. I’m not a big fan of the word “suffering” because of the usual, common use of the word. From a definitional use, suffering is an accurate term.
The Suffering of Suffering refers to a condition that all living beings experience. It simply means that we have pain and, as a result, we suffer mentally. Our joints ache, we bruise when we fall, our teeth are sensitive to cold, a tiny little piece of glass can cause great distress when it finds the bottom of our foot (or, anywhere else on our body!)
Just by virtue of the fact that if you took a pin and touched it to any part of our body we would feel pain indicates that we are pretty vulnerable. We go in and out of pain constantly.
The Suffering of Change is more subtle. Just about everything is in a state of change and, yet, we have a kind of ignorance that prevents us from actually perceiving this constant change. We really only notice gross change, like day and night, the changing of the seasons, our kids changing over months and years.
But there is subtle, constant change happening at the atomic level all the time. And, also, our minds are changing every instant.
So, because we have a tendency to want to freeze everything, and nothing is frozen or static, we suffer when we lose the thing we want or enjoy.
A warm day tanning ourselves at the beach inevitably turns cold and uncomfortable. Too much ice cream turns into a stomachache. Some people say, “If I could just stay in bed all day, I’d be happy.” But, what happens if you try to stay in bed all day? Eventually, we are driven out of bed. This is due to the Suffering of Change. Also, one can add to this the difficulty of aging, getting sick, losing one’s job, and so on.
The final category is Pervasive Suffering. This is not so easy to understand right off the bat but it refers to the fact that we constantly live in ignorance.
The ignorance we live in is the ignorance of reality: the way things exist and the way I, my self, exists.
This is a constant state of bewilderment and thus it is a very “primitive” way of existing. “Primitive” in comparison to what our inner potential could provide were we able to actualize our wisdom, compassion, and other positive mental traits that we possess, which are typically in a very dormant state.
3. You’ve written that some people internalize the idea that we create suffering in our minds to mean, “Everything exists inside of me. Therefore, it is all my fault.” How can we embrace the role we play in creating our own problems while also being kind to ourselves?
This is a very, very important and tricky point. We are responsible, at “fault,” because mind creates just about everything. At the very least, the mind creates our experience of the world. However, we have to explore and develop an understanding of who, or what, we mean by “me.”
Really, it is ignorance and the accompanying disturbing emotions that create the problems. But it is only our wisdom and understanding, the positive emotions within us that can subdue the negative ones. It’s in our hands, unfortunately I guess.
But the bright side is this: Swe create our own world, we can create any world we want. It’s just that up until now we haven’t really created a very great world for ourselves and, we are ultimately responsible for that. No reason to feel guilty because we didn’t know better. And, anyway, guilt is a useless, self-indulgent emotion anyway. Regret is good because with regret we learn.
4. In Chapter Four, you wrote that self-awareness the most effective therapy of all. Can you expand on this?
We can say that our usual mode of existence is a lack of awareness of what’s really going on inside of us. Further, by being aware of our own inner experience we then extend this awareness to the effects we are having on the world around us.
In fact, “self-awareness” is one of the competencies measured in Emotional Intelligence. To really deepen and accurately be self-aware we need to educate ourselves on what we are directing our awareness toward.
In the context of Buddhist psychology we are concerned, at the very least, with the arising of the various emotions and “mental” stuff such as thoughts, feelings, judgments, assumptions, concepts and so on. Then, with a deeper level of self-awareness we view the foundation from which these emotions arise, particularly the sensations that stimulated the thoughts and emotions.
Finally, we also direct our gaze at the person, identity or “I” that is in reaction to those emotions and, in many ways, is responsible for their perpetuation.
5. You’ve written that we live our lives chasing “trivial pursuits,” one of which is abundance. Our culture certainly reinforces this drive, particularly in literature related to the law of attraction. How can we find a balance between our instinct to grow and expand, and our need to recognize and appreciate enough?
We have to make a conscious decision, based on a wise analysis of what we really want in life and what the causes are that will produce what we want. Fundamentally, every living being and every action living beings take is to be happy.
Typically, happiness and pleasure are seen as synonyms. And, extending that concept the more pleasure we have then the happier we will become. Here’s where abundance comes in. If one is seeking abundance as a means to extend or to increase pleasure then this is not only a faulty idea but creates more problems, more unhappiness, than the original state of “lack.”
Studies have been done of lottery winners and the overwhelming experience of these people is that their level of happiness is actually lower two years after their winning. That’s pretty strange. So, whether or not one has abundance is not the actual problem.
What creates the problem is the motivation and mindset behind the pursuing and accumulation of abundance.
Certainly, seeking abundance for the benefit of others is not going to lead to further unhappiness in yourself. Probably the contrary will happen—the more you work for the happiness of others, the happier you become.
6. What is one simple but powerful technique we can start using today to retrain our minds?
Become aware of what’s happening to you. Start being aware of how your mind controls you, and that you are not in control of your mind. That alone is huge. To do this we have to interrupt the habitual patterns of the mind.
We have to notice that we are constantly in reaction rather than “pro-action.” So the first step is to calm the mind, focus it, and then notice what’s going on. A good way to start is with the ABCD method. You can do this while you're waiting in traffic, in a waiting room, or during a commercial.
A stands for anatomy. Check in with your body and see that it is relaxed and you’ve let go of any tension. Make sure the spine, from your tail bone to the top of your head, is straight but not rigid. If you can, gently close your eyes or leave them slightly open. (Of course, if you're driving, forget this last part!)
B stands for breath. Connect with your breath by just watching either the sensations going in and out of the nose or your belly rising and falling. Do not manipulate or control the breath. Watch it like you’d watch a river.
C stands for counting. As you inhale and then exhale, count “1”, then “2” for the next round until you get to ten. Then go in reverse to one. If you can do three rounds, great. If you don’t have much time then just count to three and back, three times.
D stands for distraction. When the mind wanders from the breath, bring it back. This takes the added action of noticing distractions. When you notice a distraction you gently say, “distracted,” and then refocus on the breath. That’s all. This simple exercise is a total contradiction to our normal brain activity and even though it is simple it can effective assist in rewiring those neuropathways and mental habits.
7. What is the main message you hope readers take away from your book?
Everybody wants to be happy. Happiness is an inside job. The only thing that keeps us from being happy is that we are mentally out of balance. This is due to having an untrained mind. We are not in control of the mind, the mind is in control of us, and thus we are not in control of our happiness.
Anyone can engage at some level in taking control of our happiness. The ideas in Buddhist psychology are non-sectarian, that can be viewed as secular and they are deep and extensively tested for over 2600 years.
Read more about The Misleading Mind on Amazon.
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