What is a healthy mind?
In this article we explore mental health as arising from an interaction between focused mind, emotional mind and wise mind (which last is connected to the transpersonal realm).
This contrasts with poor mental health, which arises from anxious mind, distressed emotions, and disconnection from wisdom.
A healthy mind depends on our maintaining clarity of focus, emotional intelligence, and access to the deeper wisdom which lives through us all.
Theories of mind
It is now practically a cliche, and has been so ever since Howard Gardner published his work on the 7 different types of Intelligence, that we human beings possess multiple minds. Of which the ‘Rational Mind’ and ‘Emotional Mind’ are perhaps the most familiar.
I was thinking about this fact when one of my clients reminded me of the Rational Mind – Emotional Mind – Wise Mind scheme which (I think) was first sketched by Marsha Linehan – the founder of Dialectical-Behaviour Therapy. DBT is the treatment of choice for Borderline Personality Disorder and in my view is a very powerful model indeed.
The purpose of the model is to help people with Borderline Personality Disorder stay in ‘Wise Mind’, avoiding over-thinking and rage, while retaining Mindfulness. This is a good strategy for people who are overwhelmed by anxiety, bad moods and tantrums. However, in this article I will be giving more credit to emotional intelligence. I will also try to provide a deeper view of Wise Mind. Seeing it as a source of mental health in its own right, rather than just a referee between Thinking mind and Emotional mind.
A new map of the mind
Here is my own model:
Explaining the map
Starting with the box on the bottom left we can see the negative side of the Thinking Mind, which for convenience I call ‘Junkmind’. This is the source of many mental health disorders, most especially Anxiety and Depression.
Inside the box we can see all the most common thinking problems: worrying, obsessing, depressing, delusional and judgmental thoughts. Often dissociated from the emotions, and stuck in the past or else stagnant.
Moving to the box on the right we see the impact thoughts like these have on the body: anxious, agitated, addicted, exhausted, ill and burnt-out. In my book on Reverse Therapy I describe Bodily Distress Syndrome – the source of medically unexplained disorders such as Chronic Fatigue syndrome and Fibromyalgia.
If we are to maintain mental, emotional and physical health we need make proper use of the thinking mind, and the emotional body, as shown in the green boxes.
Focused Mind isn’t just about being rational. It is also about having the right focus of attention. Attention to things we can influence, rather than those we can do nothing about. Attention to solutions rather than problems and to goals rather than wishes. Attention to the facts rather than a fantasy about how things ought to be. Focused Mind stays in Present Moment Awareness and is open to emotional messages from the Body.
While thoughts are the means through which we organise our efforts, emotions are the driving force through which we are impelled to make any effort at all. It is from there that we source our passion as well as the emotions that push us towards self-expression, self-protection, solidarity with our partners, families, friends and communities and the excitement that comes with success.
The emotional brain also creates a variety of emotions which signal us towards taking greater care of ourself and those close to us. For that reason it is important to understand the emotional intelligence of the body, and the nature and purpose of the emotions.
Accessing wise mind
In Marsha Linehan’s schema Wise Mind is described as an overlap between the rational mind and the emotional mind, drawing on the best of both. In this map of the mind I want to describe it as something separate from either. A wisdom arising from something deeper in the self; in consciousness and intuition.
As I have written elsewhere there is something miraculous about consciousness. Not only do we have direct contact with the universe unfolding before us from the moment of birth, we also have an awareness of the intelligence that runs through creation. This is revealed to consciousness through our perception of form; whether that is in nature, in mathematics, in language, in culture and in the very relationship it is possible to have with other human beings.
In mindfulness and other meditational states, we intuitively connect to the unity of mind, self and creation presupposed in consciousness. This can manifest as simple awareness or as something still more profound. In this deep state which lies beyond thought we have access to our own answers to the complex problems of life.
In this way we come very close to the Deep Self which I associate with what Abraham Maslow used to call self-actualisation: the primary drive towards becoming the best we can be. Staying at this level of Mind is a very rewarding place to be with frequent moments of flow, moments of joy and excitement, and what Maslow calls ‘peak experiences’ – on which you can read more here.