I watched a movie last night called “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russel Crowe. He played a math genius, John Nash, who was suffering from schizophrenia. He would see people that didn’t exist and for much of his life he didn’t realize that these people, so important to him, actually were figments of his imagination. Some were positive influences like a best friend named Charlie, and his adorable young niece, who John felt he had a close relationship with. They were supportive, and loving. Another fictitious character was a CIA agent who pushed John in directions that made him act totally paranoid, and made it so he could not live a normal life. How John Nash coped with his illness was what made this story so incredible and for me something I can relate to.
After a few years of John living his life with these false characters, his wife finally figured out that her brilliant husband was living in a world of his own. He was not functioning properly, as a professor at Princeton, as a father or as a husband. She had no choice but to have him institutionalized. This took place in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, so part of his treatment was brain shocks and very mind-numbing medications. After being released he no longer had the fantasies but was unable to function. He went back to interacting with the fantasy people and acting as if they were real. His wife realized that John needed to be reinstitutionalized, but instead of going back into the hospital and being committed probably for the rest of his life John had a better idea. He asked his wife if she would support him as he tries to live his life alongside these characters, who he knows to be fictitious, and would be there forever. She agreed, and so he would live his daily life with these fantasy people trying to influence him, as they did in the past, but this time he would ignore them, hoping that as time went on, they would affect him less and less.
And that is exactly what happened.
They were always there, in his vision and in his mind. Constantly speaking to him, they would implore him to react to them as if they were real. But he was strong enough to ignore them. He actually went so far as to tell each one goodbye, and then he never spoke to them again. This worked. He went back to teaching at Princeton and years later actually won a Nobel Prize for Economics. While accepting the prize, he visualized these fictitious people sitting there, in the audience, but was able to ignore them, knowing they were not real.
After watching this film, and absorbing this true story of a man who lived with insanity every day, but whose mind was strong enough to ignore the negative, I realized that this is similar to something that I do. I’ve learned a long time ago that my thoughts are not under my control. Thoughts just pop up in our heads much like John Nash’s fantasies. Our thoughts tell us we are not good enough, or successful enough, or make us worry about some future problem that might never happen. Think of how often our mind has thoughts. They never stop. But if we realize that these thoughts are not real, not in this moment, then we can ignore the emotional reaction they elicit and not “feel” badly. This is what I do every day to keep myself happy. Not only to find my happiness, but to be able, as John Nash did, to control my negative reactions to things that are not real. My reactions to thoughts which reflect the past or future, is truly a form of insanity. Why do I suffer over and over again for things that might have happened to me decades ago? An example might be that in a previous relationship someone did me wrong and it hurt me deeply. When something occurs in my life similar to the past an emotional switch goes off, and I perceive in the present that this is happening again. Then I feel the pain from the past. As if today was the past and not the present. But it’s not the past, and I am not the same person from the past who felt that way. Yet the reaction is the same as when I first felt that pain years ago. Meditation teaches me to be aware of my thoughts as they are nothing more than random thoughts, and not truths.
Much like John Nash, I can now be aware that while I cannot control my thoughts as they pop into my mind, I can control my reaction to them.
He “knew” that what he was seeing, and feeling was not real so he ignored them and it didn’t affect him as much anymore. Meditation teaches me to be mindful (aware) of my thoughts, and to realize the untrue nature of the thoughts and the emotional reaction that might follow. Now, for the most part, I am spared a negative emotional reaction that might make me upset, anxious, and unhappy.
I have learned from all this that the beauty of our minds is not that we have thoughts, which so often are negative, continuous, and ego driven. The beauty is that we can be aware of all this happening, and this awareness will allow us to ignore the false, the negative, and the ego driven part of our mind which is truly NOT who we are. What is left is love, gratitude, and compassion. This is what makes our mind beautiful.