Self-Development, Videos

How to Turn Your Mind from an Enemy to an Ally

View art in video

The following is a transcript of this video.

“Man is a mystery. It needs to be unravelled, and if you spend your whole life unravelling it, don’t say that you’ve wasted time. I am studying that mystery because I want to be a human being.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Each of us occupies two worlds. There is the outer world of people, places, and things, and there is the inner world of our thoughts, feelings, sensations and intuitions. The outer world we share with others, while our inner world is a place where we stand alone. These two worlds also differ in the skills needed for their navigation. We can be a great success in the external world and all the while be wracked by immense inner suffering. On the other hand, the world may be crumbling around us, but if we have learned to conquer our psyche we can still exist in relative peace. In our day, where success is primarily measured by external metrics, most of us devote more energy to conquering the world outside of us than we do to mastering the world within. But this choice can come with great costs, for our inner world is the one place from which escape is impossible and so the quality of our life is always contingent on the state of our psyche. In this video we are going to provide a guide for achieving a more harmonious relationship to this world within.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

James Baldwin, As Much Truth as One Can Bear

The first step toward attaining a greater mastery of our inner world is to stop denying, ignoring or numbing ourselves to the events of our psyche. Many people, afraid or ashamed of what they may see if they take an honest look within, resort to drugs and alcohol, or other defense mechanisms, to quiet any psychic conflicts. But the more we seal ourselves off from our inner world, the more we create a threat from what should be our greatest ally. The path to inner harmony always goes through our psychic conflicts as denial will only cause such conflicts to intensify. If shame is preventing us from admitting to our psychological problems, then it can be helpful to realize that psychological discord is far more the norm, than the exception and that inner demons are but an inevitable part of what it means to be human.

As we begin this process of opening up to our inner world, we may be frightened by what we discover. For the longer we have spent denying what is going on within the less comfortable we will be with the strange thoughts and disturbing emotions that may rise to the fore. We may even wonder if the state of our psyche is in such disarray that a descent into madness is possible. The psychologist Carl Jung noticed that many of his patients had this very concern, but he believed this concern could be tempered when we recognize that this is but a natural phase in the process of inner growth: 

“When a patient begins to feel the inescapable nature of his inner development, he may easily be overcome by a panic fear that he is slipping helplessly into some kind of madness that he can no longer understand. More than once I have had to reach for a book on my shelves. . .[to] show my patient his terrifying fantasy in the form in which it appeared four hundred years ago. This has a calming effect, because the patient then sees that he is not alone in a strange world which nobody understands, but is part of the great stream of human history, which has experienced countless times the very things that he regards as a pathological proof of his craziness.”

Carl Jung, Collected Works Volume 13: Alchemical Studies

Once we are willing to face up to what is taking place in our psyche, we can then determine what is causing our inner discord. Are we crippled by anxiety and self-doubt, are we consumed by hopelessness and depression, or do intrusive thoughts haunt our every move? Identifying what is wrong with us is far more important than answering the question of “why we are the way we are”. Trying to solve the riddle of ‘why’ will often lead us on a never-ending search that only produces self-pity, resentment and no clear answers. But if we answer the question of what exactly is ailing us then we can focus our attention on devising strategies to overcome our problems.

The strategies we devise, however, must obey one overriding criteria – they must introduce a tangible degree of novelty into our life. More of the same will only perpetuate our problems and therefore our goal at this stage is to search for techniques and tools that change the way we experience and interact with our inner world. But what tools will work best for us can never be known in advance. Far too often people view psychological ailments exactly as they do those of the physical body. We all share the same general structure of the body and so the cure for a broken leg, an infection, or a virus will require similar steps for each of us. But in searching for ways to overcome the conflicts of our inner world, we need to recognize that while there is a uniformity to our psyche, there is no unity. For on the one side, our psyche is sculpted by our human nature and this produces the collective side of man. But we are also individuals. No two people share the same environment, genes, life history, goals, or innate strengths and weaknesses, and this individuality produces a unique configuration to the terrain of our inner world and necessitates an idiosyncratic, trial-and-error approach to the mastery of our psyche. For as Jung never tired of stating, there is no one psychology that defines us all, nor is there one set of psychological techniques that will be universally effective.

“To speak of a science of individual psychology is already a contradiction in terms. It is only the collective element in the psychology of an individual that constitutes an object for science; for the individual is by definition something unique that cannot be compared with anything else. A psychologist who professes a “scientific” individual psychology is simply denying individual psychology. He exposes his individual psychology to the legitimate suspicion of being merely his own psychology. The psychology of every individual would need its own manual, for the general manual can deal only with collective psychology.”

Carl Jung, Collected Works Volume 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology

Richard Bach echoed Jung’s sentiment when he said that if ever there were a manual written for “advanced souls” it would have to end with the following words: “Everything in this book may be wrong.” (Richard Bach, Messiah’s Handbook: Reminders for the Advanced Soul) We can turn to people for advice and use the tools they have devised, but what will work best for our current situation is for us to discover. If we try a technique that others have used with great success and it does little to help us, we should not take this as a sign that we are incurable, it just means we need a different tool to escape from the chasm of our mind into which we have fallen. If we really desire to attain a level of mastery over our psyche we should experiment with techniques that work on all three of the main forms of human experience: our behaviours, our thoughts, and our emotions:

“Behaviourists have favoured behaviour as the primary force in human experience and argued that changes in motor activity produce changes in attitudes and affect. Cognitivists have rallied around the primary power of thought and argued that changes in thinking produce changes in both behaviour and feeling. The third group – variously called “humanists,” “experientialists,” and “evocative” therapists – have asserted the primacy of emotionality in driving the other two realms. . . Not surprisingly, each group has endorsed a different emphasis in psychological services. Behaviorists have emphasized action, cognitivists have been partial to insight and reflection, and humanists have encouraged emotional experience and expression.”

Michael Mahoney, Human Change Processes

Fortunately, there are behavioural, cognitive and experiential techniques that address all the most common forms of psychological suffering and so there is no shortage of tools at our disposal. We merely need to seek them out, experiment with a variety of them, and exploit the gains from those techniques that have a positive effect on our life. As we begin on this trial-and-error journey there is a simple shift in our mindset that can help us remain persistent and this is learning to take life a little less seriously. For while W.B. Yeats may have claimed that “We can only begin to live when we conceive life as Tragedy,” it may be truer to say that “We can only begin to live when we conceive life as Comedy.” Many people are perpetually weighed down by their fears, anxieties, doubts and hostilities because they see everything that happens to them as having life shattering implications. But with such a mindset we place the weight of the world on our shoulders and in so doing we are inevitably crushed. To grant us a lightness to our step that can energize and embolden us as we strive to overcome our inner demons and to create a more harmonious state of our inner world, we should try something different: We should laugh at the darkness of our thoughts, smile at the moment of a fear or feel excited at the rush of anxiety.

“As soon as you have made a thought, laugh at it”.

Lao Tzu

This may seem like strange advice but as the poet Robert Frost wisely remarked:

“If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”

Robert Frost

Further Readings

Art Used in this Video

Paul Signac Dimanche
Signac - Portrait de Félix Fénéon
Place des Lices Paul Signac
Borodin by Repin
Winterhalter Nieuwerkerke
Ricardo Balaca - The Café - Google Art Project
Winslow Homer - At the Window - Google Art Project
Leonardo da vinci, Head of a girl 01
Jacek Malczewski, Śmierć
Karel van Mander III - man drinking beer from a tankard
Michelangelo, profeti, Jeremiah 02
Menk by Repin
Michelangelo, Giudizio Universale 29
The Man Made Mad with Fear by Gustave Courbet
Berthe Morisot Manet Lille 2918
Blaramberg by Repin
Chukovsky by Repin
Andreyev by Repin 1905
Mednyánszky - Vagabond gazing at the fire
Repin tretyakov
Leonardo da Vinci - Superficial anatomy of the shoulder and neck (recto) - Google Art Project
Skandinaviska konstnärernas frukost i Café Ledoyen - Fernissningsdagen 1886
Ilya Repin - Portrait of Jelizaveta Zvantseva - Google Art Project
Self-Portrait by Huijgh Pietersz. Voskuijl Mauritshuis 955
Ilya Repin - Leo Tolstoy Barefoot - Google Art Project
Peter Paul Rubens - Self-Portrait in a Circle of Friends from Mantua - WGA20355
Ilja Jefimowitsch Repin 011
Илья Е. Репин - Исследование для ‚Парижских кафе‘
Rihard Jakopič - Profil črnca
Илья Репин - Портрет Всеволод Михайлович Гаршин
Frans Hals 033
Edvard Munch - Vampire (1895) - Google Art Project
Lucas Cranach d.Ä. - Herkules und Atlas (National Gallery of Art)
August Malmström - Dancing Fairies - Google Art Project
The Laughing Boy by Robert Henri - BMA
Hollósy, Simon - Laughing Girl (1883)