I once read an article about Max Planck, who won a Nobel Prize for his work with atoms. After years of study and research, Planck eventually said he could only know one thing -- that some invisible force holds together energy to create this minute solar system, and he must assume, based on his research, that some higher intelligence is behind this force.
Although many quantum physicists today will tell us the same thing, the idea that everything is made up of energy is something that has been known to mystics for millennia, particularly in the Eastern traditions. Over the past 30 years, as we have increasingly seen a greater synthesis of Eastern and Western thought than ever before, many ancient teachings of the East have gained a wider acceptance in the West, especially as science has begun to validate some of the key Eastern spiritual insights.
If everything is energy at the deepest level, then it would stand to reason that the more tuned in we are to the Source of energy in the universe, the more we can actually accomplish. Any truly successful person understands how to access this energy to some extent.
According to many Eastern systems, the mind is the greatest obstacle to better understanding the world and connecting to the larger energetic system that surrounds us. Especially in this day and age, when our minds are bombarded with so many distractions, it's no wonder that we find moments of silence and stillness so hard to come by.
Sometimes I ask people in my seminars to give me an image that describes their mind. "A six-lane highway," one man said. "An endless to-do list," said another. Other images people come up with include an orchestra without a conductor, a jigsaw puzzle with only some pieces joined together, and a traffic jam at a busy intersection. Almost without exception, people come up with images that represent chaos, confusion, fragmentation, complexity and lack of integration.
Generally speaking, there are two ways that our minds work. If we have a project, task or problem to solve, we can engage our mind to help us accomplish our goals. A scientist figuring out a lab experiment, a mathematician working out a complex equation and a writer creating a novel are all engaging the mind in this way. When we engage our minds in problem solving, our minds are working for us; we are using our minds.
Then there are those times when our minds endlessly chatter, jumping from thought to thought about the past or future, often faster than we are even able to follow. For most of our day, as this is occuring, we are not engaging our minds; rather, our minds are engaging us, depleting our energy and not really accomplishing anything. It's just trying to keep us hooked -- on it. And as the saying goes, "The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master."
The first step in learning to harness the power of our attention is to become aware of how it moves. To do this, we need to find a way to disengage from the stream of thoughts that preoccupies us. This is one of the fundamental reasons that people practice meditation, in all its many forms.
When I use the term meditation, I don't necessarily mean sitting cross-legged on a cushion but rather participating in any deliberate activity that helps us to disengage from a compulsive relationship with our stream of thought. There are numerous books that have been written over the years on the subject of meditation and how to disengage from the thinking mind or, more simply put, how to stop listening to the voice inside our head. It's important that each of us find our own method that works best.
The benefit of learning how to disengage our attention from the thought stream is that we can then apply our minds more readily toward more constructive things, such as accomplishing tasks and connecting with other people and our own true purpose. It creates space within us -- an opening that allows more energy to flow into us. In this seemingly paradoxical way, having more space in our minds allows us to accomplish more and more things in the world.
Adapted from "Beyond Success: Redefining the Meaning of Prosperity" © 2009 Jeffrey L. Gitterman, published by AMACOM Books (www.amacombooks.org). All rights reserved. A division of the American Management Association.