How can we say no to the mind when its force seems irresistible?
Short Answer: If we start by saying no to the gentle prods of the mind, then we can over time say no to its fierce pushes.
Detailed Answer: All of us undergo times when our mind just doesn’t let us do what we need to and want to do. We try to study, but the mind goes blank. We try to work, but the mind doesn’t focus. The mind’s obstinacy that troubles us when we are meeting our worldly obligations often rises to scary heights when we engage in devotional activities like chanting.
At such times when the mind is blocking us in doing what we need to do and pushing us towards things that we know we should not do, we may become overcome by a sense of despair: “Is there anything that I can do against such a fierce, irresistible force?”
Gita wisdom reassuringly answers that there is indeed much that we can do. When Arjuna presents to Krishna this same problem of the forceful obstinacy (6.34: balavad dridham) of the mind, Krishna first empathizes with his predicament (6.35: asamshayam maha-baho). Then he goes on to recommend a practical yet powerful two-point formula of persistent practice (abhyasa) and consistent detachment (vairagya). Abhyasa essentially means saying yes to devotional activities that are outlined in the scriptures and vairagya basically means saying no to non-devotional or immoral activities that are induced by the mind.
When the mind is at its worst and wildest, we may have to take a defensive role: pray to Krishna and connect with him as best as we can and tolerate, waiting for that phase to pass – as it surely will. But we can and should take a more assertive role when the mind prods us gently: “Gossip a bit; you may learn something interesting”, “Just surf around on the net; you might find something useful”, “Just take it easy now in your chanting; you can concentrate later.”
The specifics may vary, but most of us can probably recall dozens of such suggestions that the mind whispers daily. We do have the power to reject these gentle prods, but we often give in, thinking, “I am not doing anything seriously wrong; these are trivial and inconsequential things.” The external consequences of these actions may, indeed, be inconsequential, but their internal consequences aren’t. Every time we give in to the mind, we feed and strengthen it. These small boosts accumulate and eventually burst out as the mind’s fierce pushes that we find agonizingly irresistible.
Once we understand the genesis of the mind’s fearsome force, we can start by disempowering it at its source: not saying yes to its gentle prods.
Saying no to the gentle prods of the mind may seem inconsequential externally, but it is consequential internally. Every time we say no to the mind, we not only stop feeding the mind, but also start starving and weakening it. Additionally, we start feeding and strengthening our own willpower muscles. A practicing weightlifter by starting with lifting small weights can move on to lifting big weights. Similarly, we can by lifting small internal weights – saying no to the mind’s gentle prods – move on gradually to lifting big internal weights – saying no to its fierce pushes.
Saying no to the mind’s prods is much easier and much more joyful when we start saying yes to Krishna’s prods. Krishna prods us through his external representatives: guru-sadhu-shastra (spiritual master-saintly teachers-scriptures). These representatives guide, inspire and facilitate us to engage in devotional activities. When we busy ourselves externally in devotional service, then we leave the mind no time in which to prod us in undesirable directions. Our busy-ness makes out task of resisting the mind much easier. Additionally, if also absorb ourselves internally in Krishna consciousness, then positive internal fulfillment pervades our inner space, leaving no room for the mind’s foolish frets and fantasies. Once we have truly tasted internal fulfillment, we don’t want to ever lose it again. And we understand that giving in to the mind will mean losing that fulfillment. So we reject the mind vigorously – not for the sake of duty but for the sake of joy. At this stage, the struggle with the mind may still continue, but it is no longer a painful struggle; it is a joyful struggle.
Thus, by resisting the mind when its force is resistible and strengthening ourselves by connecting with Krishna, we will become empowered to resist and repel even the mind’s irresistible-seeming onslaughts.