By Michael Ketterhagen
When I was 10 years old, my dad was struggling with his mental health. He was diagnosed as manic-depressive back in the 50s. Today, psychologists would call dad’s mental state “bi-polar.” Well, in any case, mom and dad would start their day earlier than us kids. Mom would have an opportunity to talk with dad in the morning before we got up to help with the morning farm chores.
Sitting at the kitchen table in the morning with mom before we went outside to fetch the cows or feed the pigs and chickens, mom would tell us how dad was that morning. Some mornings she would say, “Be careful this morning, dad is beginning to lose his mind. Don’t let dad do anything to harm the cows or the other animals.” On other mornings, mom would tell us that everything was okay because “dad had his mind this morning.” So, we learned that sometimes dad would lose his mind and then at other times he would find it again.
I learned this about my mind as well. There were times when I would tell mom about some “far out” idea or hope or dream that I had and she would get scared. Mom would raise her index finger to the sky, half-pointing it at me and the space between us, and say, “Careful Michael! You don’t want to lose your mind.”
Since I was a philosopher in my early teens, I would think about this and often say to myself, “Now, if I lost my mind, could I find it again, like mom said happened to dad quite often. What would lose its mind? Was I my mind or not?”
I realized that I was not my mind. I “had” a mind and not “was” a mind and that sometimes my mind got out of control or got lost or confused or “crazy,” as sometimes mom would say. People say that today as well about other people, when they witness a person who doesn’t seem to be grounded in the present reality of life.
Learning that I was not my mind, but instead, had a mind, helped me realize that I was something else and I wondered who that “owner” of my mind was. I needed to understand who I was and what my mind had to do with the “real” me. My philosophy and modern psychological studies in college continued my realization and learning that it was my mind that controlled my actions. Some core part of me, or as yoga says the core essence of my intellect (the buddhi), was confused, or stupefied, or distorted. I needed to clear away the debris of a distracted and distorted way of thinking and perceiving. I needed to develop a still, stable mind with still, stable senses that were not distorted by fear, worry, doubt, anger, sadness, or hurt from the past. My core self-needed to get in touch with the non-agitated, non-spinning, calm part of my mind.
So, I searched for that stillness, that joy of a peaceful, one-pointed mind. The real core of me wanted to know my mind. With spiritual training in Christian meditation and extensive contact with the Yoga Tradition, which emphasized meditation and stillness of body, mind and senses, I gradually convinced me that making friends with my mind and spending time learning as much as possible about the hidden dimensions of my mind would bring me to a place of peace and calm. The meditative techniques and the philosophical understanding of yoga have helped me truly know that “it is my mind, silly.”
I pray to the divinity in you!