Friday, October 26, 2018


I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the distinction between mind and brain, more specifically to the quality of space that I experience when I attempt the exploration of each of them. Here's my perhaps overly simplistic way of distinguishing between the two: brain space is where I struggle to understand—and therefore control—what happens in my life and the world around me; mind space is where I know-without-knowing, effortlessly, and without question or debate.

Brain space is where I spend most of my time, along with—I suspect—most other human beings. It’s a practical necessity. If I tried to live without it I would need to pass my days in a cave in some remote part of the Himalayas! Or perhaps a monastery—though even there I would need to attend to the daily necessities of life.

Mind space, however, is not unfamiliar to me. I realize I can enter mind space even in mundane situations, like driving on the freeway, when I return to brain space after several miles of driving safely but without conscious attention to the traffic, grateful that mind has taken care of me.

Reflecting further, I think that other common human experiences like falling in love, will take us into mind space. Ideally, too, the act of love. Or simply the experience of a work of art or the vision of a natural wonder, great or small—the experience of awe.

Less commonly, we drop out of brain space and into mind space in situations of emergency or trauma. I believe that acts of heroism take place here, whether on the battlefield or in incidents of rescue where personal safety is cast aside and a human being rushes into mortal danger to save the life of another human being. If the brain were in charge, the outcome might be very different.

Mind space is my intended destination when I sit in meditation. I don’t always get there, but when I do it is a pleasure unalloyed by thought or judgment. It is perhaps what better Buddhists than I describe as “stream-entry,” a moment at which the sensation of all physical and emotional matter falls away, along with all clinging to identity, this “me”, and I find myself in a place of absolute stillness and presence, an “emptiness” that is paradoxically fully sufficient unto itself. Words, obviously, take me back into brain space, where the attempt to describe such moments serves merely to destroy them.

Brain space, it would seem, is not only infinitely smaller than mind space, it is the major obstacle in getting there. 

These thoughts have been provoked in part by an interesting book that arrived unsolicited in the mail the other day, as though summoned in a timely fashion by what has been “on my mind.” It’s titled “Mind Beyond Brain,” and I’ll have more to say about it when I’ve finished reading it.

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