The metaphorical concept of the human mind is a tricky idea to grasp. In this fascinating interview with Talks at Google host Shilpa Maniar, Hindu priest Dandapani describes the mind as a dark, vast cave, which you can navigate armed with a torchlight – your awareness. This notion may seem ethereal, but Dandapani makes it accessible even to laypeople with no experience in meditation. By learning to hone your awareness, you can achieve focus, which is a prerequisite for discovering your purpose, happiness, and more.
- To harness the power of your mind, learn to hone your awareness.
- Your awareness time travels between the past, present and future. Stay present.
- Learn to focus in order to find your life’s purpose.
- Exploit modern technology so that it serves your life’s purpose.
To harness the power of your mind, learn to hone your awareness.
Imagine that your mind is a vast cave. Each emotion resides in a specific area of the cave. Visualize your awareness as an orb of light that illuminates your path as you move through the cave. For instance, if you feel angry, your lantern of awareness will cast its light on the anger zone.
“Happiness should never be pursued. Never pursue happiness, but rather pursue a lifestyle where the by-product of the lifestyle results in happiness.” (Dandapani)
Happily, you get to direct the lantern. With deliberate practice, you can control what areas of your mind your awareness illuminates. To harness the power of your mind, learn how your awareness functions, how to focus, and how to use your focus to discover your purpose and define your priorities.
Your awareness time travels between the past, present and future. Stay present.
Is your awareness grounded firmly in the present, or does it stray to the past or the future? This tendency controls your emotional state. For instance, consider times you’ve felt worried. Worry occurs when your awareness leaves the present moment and travels to the future, invents a phony story there, then returns to the present to worry about that work of fiction. Worriers aren’t mired in a past they can’t change; fear and worry are a surefire indication that your awareness is stuck in the future. While meditation and breathing exercises help to control worry, the only way to extinguish it is to understand its root cause.
“Fear and worry reside in the future…Your awareness…is leaving the present moment, going into the future in your mind, creating something that has not happened in your mind, coming back to the present, and worrying about it.” (Dandapani)
Pondering death can be a useful tool for recognizing the preciousness of life. Losing loved ones can remind you that the people in your life are on loan to you – you don’t get to keep them forever. How do you want to spend the finite time you have with them? When you hone your focus, you learn to be present with them.
Learn to focus in order to find your life’s purpose.
At any given moment, your mind is operating in either a subconscious (instinctive), conscious (intellectual), or superconscious (intuitive) state. To illustrate: At a restaurant buffet, one person might load up several plates with food, operating instinctively, on an animal level. Another person might query the food’s origin, preparation or ingredients before selecting what to eat, demonstrating an intellectual state. A third person might select lighter bites because he or she had a big meal the previous day and is still feeling full. This person is operating from an intuitive space. None of these states are right or wrong, but you can move among them, depending on your purpose. For example, if you’re on a debate team, you probably want to lean into the intellectual state, while someone who prioritizes reflection might exhibit the intuitive state.
“If you can’t be in a state of self-reflection long enough to reflect on yourself, find out what it is you want, how can you even know your purpose? That’s why focus precedes purpose.” (Dandapani)
Your purpose should drive your mind-set, and the only way you can know your purpose is to learn to focus. Your focus is your ability to maintain your attention on just one thing for a sustained period of time. If you feel your attention drifting in another direction, pull it back. Traditional advice for improving focus includes meditation, breathing and yoga. While these are worthwhile practices, they’ll add hours to your daily routine. Instead, harness “nonnegotiable recurring events,” such as conversations with family and co-workers, to strengthen your focus: Each conversation presents an opportunity to concentrate wholly on that person. You can also build focus during simple daily habits, like your toothbrushing routine, your shower or your meals. Over time, incorporating radical focus into your daily tasks adds up to major gains, helping you to accept failure, to appreciate that you are constantly evolving, and to turn away from anxiety, fear and worry. The ability to focus leads to the kind of reflection that helps you discover your life’s purpose.
Exploit modern technology so that it serves your life’s purpose.
Technology and social media can turn people into masters of distraction, because they expose consumers to short, entertaining reels rather than longer-form content, thus decreasing human attention spans. By engaging in deliberate practice, you can become a master of focus rather than distraction.
“If we’re clear of our purpose in life, then technology becomes a servant to us. If we’re not clear on our purpose, then we become a servant to technology.” (Dandapani)
When you’re unsure of your life’s purpose, your digital devices can commandeer your attention, and you’ll spend the day scrolling. But when your purpose is clear, your phone acts merely as a tool, much like a shovel. When you need to dig a hole, you use your shovel. Once you’ve dug the hole you need, you don’t keep digging; rather, you put your shovel away. Grab your phone when it can help you accomplish your life’s purpose. When it’s no longer useful, put it away.
About the Speakers
Dandapani is an entrepreneur, a Hindu priest and the author of The Power of Unwavering Focus. Shilpa Maniar is a manager of Global Solutions at Google and a frequent Talks at Google host.