The Ancient Modern

Something to Keep in Mind /  Joshua Alan Sturgill

For quite awhile, I’ve been trying to find a succinct way to describe what the ancient world (both East and West) meant by “mind,” “heart” and “attention.”

My best attempt so far is as follows:

There is a mind that receives sensory input, discriminates and forms opinions. This mind is located in, is symbolized by, or closely cooperates with the brain. This mind is associated with the planets, which travel across the sky in various ways at various speeds. This is the mind of logic and memory. This mind has an attention which is like a roving Eye that can choose its focus on thoughts or things to examine and compare them. This mind is in constant danger of getting caught up in trivial, or even destructive thoughts, in ego gratification and in pleasurable experiences.

There is also a mind (higher or deeper, depending on perspective) that does not form opinions, but has direct apprehension of Truth. It receives and perhaps dialogs, but it does not choose or debate. This mind is located in, is symbolized by, or closely cooperates with the heart. This mind is associated with the stars, which keep their fixed positions relative to each other and all move uniformly across the sky. This mind is also an Eye, but it is able to see outside the physical world. This is the Eye that should connect us to the light of the Divine, but unfortunately, it is darkened or completely closed.

The Fall, and other stories of primordial grief, teach us that the two minds used to be one, but have become separated and no longer communicate. The brain-mind is concerned with temporal issues, and the heart-mind atrophies in a kind of sleep. They do not unite, and we have forgotten that they should. Conversely, Restoration or Redemption consists in the lower-mind remembering how to listen to the higher-mind. As long as the separation remains, we are always “of two minds” and are living a “heartless” or “mindless” existence. These and many other common sayings have their root in the double tragedy of first mind being separated from our Source, and subsequently being scattered in our attentions.

Many myths, legends and fairytales have the idea of reunion and awakening as their central theme. This is the poetic expression of what is a central teaching in many of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions. The brain cannot focus and the heart seems dead; the prince wanders while the princess sleeps in the castle. Doesn’t this seem like so much of our daily experience? The noble quest, enlightenment, true love’s kiss: these are just a few of the stories and images that re-mind us of our exile and of our return.


All poetry and supplementary material: copyright 2019 by Joshua Alan Sturgill

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