Living Morally

The Practical Application Of Moral Principles

Own Mind

[All the Living Morally articles are: "Must Choose," "Own Mind," "Must Learn," "Must Think," "Be One's Best," "Must Work," "Be Free," "Right Relationships," "Mind Own Business," "Self Defense." Links will be added as articles are published.]

This article continues the discussion of the practical application of the ten moral principles described in the article, Principles to every day life and the advantages of living by those principles.

Moral Principles Are Practical

Moral principles are reality based. They are determined by the reality of physical existence and our own natures as human beings. The purpose of those principles is to guide our choices and actions to achieve success as human beings and to be all we can be. The ultimate purpose of moral principle is the enjoyment of our lives.

Own Mind

Minds are distributed one to an individual. As explained in the article, "Mind," human consciousness has three distinct characteristics that no other creatures have, the ability and necessity to consciously choose all they do, the ability and necessity to learn, and the ability and necessity to think.

The ability and necessity of conscious choice was addressed in the previous article in this series, "Choice." The abilities and necessities of learning and thinking were addressed in the article, "Two Moral Principles: Knowledge and Reason". This article is about the practical importance of recognizing that we all have our own minds and how we must use them to be happy and successful."

Your Mind Is Your Most Important Characteristic

Your mind is the most important aspect of your being. It is also the most neglected and abused of all human attributes. While people are very careful about what they put into their stomaches and how they take care of their bodies, knowing they cannot put just anything into their bodies if they want to remain healthy and cannot neglect grooming and exercising their bodies if they want them to remain strong and useful, no one thinks about the requirements of their mind.

No matter how physically strong you are, no matter what physical skills and talents you have, no matter how handsome or beautiful you are, it is your mind that will determine whether any of those are a real value to you or not.

The strength of the body is useless if it is not guided and controlled by a strong mind. One's physical skills and talents will achieve nothing if they are not directed by a skilled mind. One's physical beauty or attractiveness will only be an asset if they are a reflection of a beautiful mind.

One's physical assets are important and make many physical accomplishments possible, or at least easier, but one's body cannot make a choice about how it is to be used. It is only with your mind that you can choose how to use your physical strength, develop your innate skills and abilities, or properly use you natural appearance.

Because everything you do is determined by your mind, every aspect of your life is determined by how you use your mind, what you know, how you think, and how you choose.

The mind is not a physical organ, but like any physical organ it has a specific nature and requirements that determine how it must be cared for and used if it is not to be destroyed. Just as you cannot put just anything into your body without damaging the body, you cannot put just anything into your mind without damaging it. Just as you must properly use and exercise your body for it to remain vigorous and strong, you must properly use and exercise your mind for it to remain vigorous and strong.

The following sections expand on this analogy of the similarity between the requirements of our physical body and the requirements of our mind.

Feeding Your Mind

Knowledge is food for the mind. Just as food is the fuel your physical body needs to function and stay healthy, knowledge is the fuel your mind requires to do its job. It is the mind's job to make sense of the world we are conscious of by thinking and understanding that world. There is only one thing the mind can use to do that job which is knowledge. As I've written before, knowledge is all there is to think about and knowledge is all there is to think with. The less you know, the less you can think and the less you can think about. Lack of knowledge is starvation of the mind.

Just as the body needs a variety of foods for complete nourishment, the brain needs a variety of knowledge to function properly. It is not enough to fill the mind with a few things and expect it to be able to do the kind of thinking a fully developed mind and successful life require. It is not enough do just learn how to perform one job, and to just know about sports, the latest political news and what is going on in the world of celebrity. Learning only about a few things leaves the mind weak and malnourished, incapable of dealing with the important kind of thinking required for success and happiness. [The article, "What And How To Learn," makes some suggestions of the kind of diverse knowledge a healthy mind requires.]

Just as filling the body with junk food or even toxic substances is destructive to the body, filling the mind with wrong ideas or even psychologically toxic ideas is destructive to the mind.

Fantasizing about doing or experiencing what one knows would be wrong if actually done or experienced is self-destructive and can lead to choices and behavior that we know are wrong. Fantasizing about doing wrong with the excuses, "nobody else knows it," "it's only in my mind," and, "I'm not really doing it," allows one to develop patterns of thought, and accompanying feelings, which contradict one's own values eventually breaking down one's control of their own thoughts and choices.

Exercising Your Mind

Being a couch potato, watching hours of TV, while feeding your body with junk food is as dangerous to your mind as it is to your body. The danger to your body is that the inactivity allows your body to slowly atrophy. The danger to the mind is that watching TV allows the mind to atrophy. The mind needs exercise even more than the body.

The best mental exercise is learning because learning requires thinking as the means of understanding what one learns and relating it to knowledge one already has. The next best exercise is reading, which might include learning, but is valuable even if it is only for pleasure. Reading is less active than learning, because one allows the written material to guide their thinking, but reading also requires one to think and use their own mind to judge what is being read and to use their imagination to mentally, "see and experience," what is being read. Reading also places no demand on one's attention, allowing one to stop and think and evaluate what is being read at will.

Other mediums are much more controlling of one's consciousness. Radio programs control one's thinking through what one is hearing and demand ones attention, not allowing one to stop and think. One can at least read something else or otherwise exercise their thinking while listening to a radio program. TV and movies are the most dominating forms of media, controlling both vision and hearing, and allowing very little independent exercise of the mind. A great deal of what one views on TV and in movies actually requires one to suspend their judgment as to the value or reality of what they are watching. Such material is frequently mentally toxic.

People who conscientiously exercise their bodies often discover such exercise is quite pleasurable, not a chore, because the body is meant to be used. Exercising the mind is also a source of pleasure. Our minds are meant to be used just as our bodies are. One reason so many people enjoy crossword puzzles is because the mental exercise is enjoyable. Other kinds of mentally challenging games are enjoyable for the same reason. Those who have discovered the joy of using their minds find challenges most enjoyable and rewarding, like reading a book that is, "difficult."

Like exercise of the body, exercise of the mind will make it easier to use the more it is exercised, one becomes more mentally nimble and mental tasks that are difficult at first become easier and almost automatic. A mind made strong by exercise, by learning and thinking, makes all of one's life richer and fuller—and happier.

Control Of Your Mind

In the previous article we learned that everything we do is by our choice. The most important choices we make are how we use our mind and what we choose to think and think about.

While we aren't usually aware that what we think is chosen, like everything else we do, what we think and what we think about is what we choose. Thinking is done intentionally and is totally under our control. Like all other choices nothing makes us think or think about anything.

Thinking is the controlled use of our consciousness, but it is possible to relax or dismiss that volitional control. Under such circumstances our consciousness seems to consist of random disconnected thoughts that simply occur without our intention. Though the uncontrolled events of consciousness may seem like thinking, they are not. They are more like daydreams and imagination. Such experiences can be pleasant, like nostalgia or lucid dreaming, but they are not thinking; thinking is done intentionally and is totally under our control.

[NOTE: One reason meditation is dangerous is because it intentionally suspends volitional control of consciousness. The consequence is not, "enlightenment," it is mental chaos.]

So long as we know the difference between uncontrolled mental events and true thinking, there is no danger in them. The problem is that most people see no difference between thinking and the mind running amok and out of control. There is probably nothing more terrifying than a mind that is out of control.

There are two ways we lose control of our own minds. One is to allow something other than our own conscious choice to influence or control our thinking, the other is to allow some outside influence to determine what we think and believe.

Whenever we allow our feelings, emotions, or desires to influence or control what we think we have lost control of our thinking. The article, "Feelings," describes hazards of this mistake. Whenever we allow what someone else says or teaches to determine what we believe or think we have lost control of our thinking. By all means learn from others, but never simply accept what anyone else teaches without using your own thinking to understand what is taught and only accept it if using your own reason you understand why it is true. To accept anything on any other basis is gullibility. Using our analogy relating the mind and body, believing anything only on the basis of someone else's authority or assurances is like eating and drinking just anything someone feeds us without knowing what it is. It's where the expression, "he'll swallow anything," comes from.

Constant conscious control of our thinking is the only way one can navigate life without a crash. Intentional control of thinking is like the controls of an automobile. Allowing the mind to, "run free," is like riding in an automobile without brakes or a steering wheel, running wherever natural forces take it until it crashes. Only when we are in control of what we think can we direct our life to the destination we desire, steering our thoughts and our choices in the direction we choose.

Every Mind Is Unique And Private

You cannot know what is in anyone else's mind and no one else can know what is in yours. Someone can tell what they think and describe their conscious experience to you and there is usually no reason to doubt their testimony, but except for their testimony what another thinks and experiences is totally private. Of course that is true of your own thoughts and conscious experience as well. Unless you honestly describe what is in your consciousness, no one can know what is truly in your mind.

Whatever we have in our minds it is certain no two minds are identical or even similar, because every human being is different, has different experiences, learns different things, and does different things. We all share some of the same knowledge and have the same general human experience and the same basic physiological and psychological requirements. Beyond that, the content of every mind is unique.

Understanding the private unique nature of the mind is important for two reasons:

  1. Because your mind is private, no one else can know your mind, what you think or how you think, what you believe, or what is important to you. Only you can know your own mind. That is the reason no one else can know what is best for you, do your thinking for you, or make your choices for you. There is nothing wrong with getting advice from others, especially from others who have had more experience or spent more time studying something than you, but ultimately you are the only one who can determine what advice applies to you; only you can make the decisions that are right for you, because no matter how much someone else knows about anything, you are the expert and authority with the knowledge of your own mind.

  2. The other significant aspect of the mind's uniqueness and privacy is more important to our relations with others than how we use our minds, and will be dealt with in detail in the, "Right Relationships," article. Here I will only say that just as no one else can know your mind or what is best for you, you cannot know anyone else's mind or what is best for them. Moral principles apply to everyone, and you might observe someone doing something which you know is self-harmful, but you cannot possibly know the whole reason why another individual chooses the behavior they do. How another chooses to live their life is not yours to judge or correct.

The Mind Is Man's Only Natural Tool

Every creature is born with special physical features and tools necessary to the kind of creature it is. The grazing animals have hooves to allow them to graze on any kind of ground, special teeth for ripping vegetation and chewing a cud, and special stomaches for digesting high-cellulose materials. The predators have muscular bodies capable running and capturing prey, and claw and fangs for tearing flesh. Human beings are born with no special physical features or tools, but they are born with one special tool fitting their nature as human beings, the mind.

Just as physical features and tools enable other creatures to live the kind of life their nature requires successfully, the mind makes it possible for man to live the kind of lives human nature requires, a life of endless possibility and adaptability guided by the mind.