12/04/2012 03:17 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2013

Dividends of a Difficult Mind

One might say I have been blessed with an overactive mind, one might say I have been cursed with an overactive mind, and one might say I simply have a mind -- and it's the only one I have this time around.

Gifts and challenges come in the same package. My mind is complex and busy, maybe brilliant at times, and it would rarely give me a rest if I had not developed practices and strategies for managing it.

In Every Day, his current best-selling novel, David Levithan (yes, a relation!), explores non-identification with the physical self by inviting us into the experience of a being who wakes up in a different body each day: Whom would I be without this physical identity and identification? This delightful and intriguing story shows that we could still exist without a body. However, would a mind without identity be lost? There are cases of a kind of amnesia where one cannot retain memory beyond the day one is in -- talk about living in the present -- however, it seems to be mostly disorienting and everything is about learning to cope and understand that day's context.

For most of us, our minds are a place of personal identity. The transcendent experience of a higher mind or consciousness, as Eckhart Tolle describes in The Power of Now, allows us to dis-identify with our quotidian self and open to greater awareness. We suddenly know that we have an alternative to listening to our mind as if it is speaking wisdom. A new relationship has begun.

Most days, I am attempting peaceful coexistence with my ego mind. Knowing that I have a higher mind helps, but the voices of the lower mind chatter and yell as if they are the masters of my universe. Using tools to achieve momentary quiet requires commitment. We build muscle in the body through training and rigorous exercise. We build psychic muscle in the same way. Brain research suggests new pathways can supersede old habitual pathways, but only through constant attention and repetition. Eventually the new pathways become the route of first choice -- changing perception, thereby changing day-to-day experience.

As a teenager and a young man I was told that, "You think too much." "You are too smart to be an actor." "Wow, your mind never stops." "Do you ever get a break from your thoughts?"

A partner once turned to me and with tearful compassion said, "It must be exhausting to live in your head." It can be said that I have a difficult mind.

Recently, I realized some of the benefits that have come from working on my relationship to my ego mind. I have to engage fully in whatever I am doing in order to attain momentary peace. That quest has led me to challenging work that I love and a tendency to gravitate toward intensity.

Years ago, I had a client in a group who was very deeply involved in S&M. He also had a bit of narcolepsy, often falling asleep there and in other inappropriate situations. The members of the group stopped taking it personally after a while and we explored these two extremes. He needed that intensity of pain in order to be snapped into the present. S&M was his portal to being present. He has since conquered his narcolepsy and is less engaged in extreme sex.

The other night, after especially intense and satisfying sex, I realized that I too had had a need for extreme sensations in order to be present. My sex life has benefited. An easier mind might have taken a less-adventurous path. Creativity is harnessed for mindfulness. Also, I have been drawn to travel the world, dropping myself down in foreign lands where everything is a stimulus.

I drive a convertible so the wind blows in my face. I ride a Segway -- thrilling to the dance of NYC traffic -- knowing that If I am not present I am in danger. Simply put, the quest to tame my noisy mind has enriched my life with variety and excitement. Out of challenge came gifts. I enjoy being something of a risk junkie. Intensity is my primary portal to mindfulness.

For more by Robert Levithan, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.