What is Mental exhaustion?
In my previous article about the Intelligent Mind Vs Aware mind, we saw that most people tend to be completely trapped in an endless compulsion to keep doing. To understand this fully let us explore all the ways in which we keep doing while having an impression that we are resting, leading to mental exhaustion. When we engage in a lot of physical activity our body gets exhausted and we rest the body by pausing the physical activity and staying still physically – such as sitting or lying down. It is easy to know when the body is physically exhausted. But with our mind it is a bit different.
We get mentally exhausted and we never realise it so we keep going on and on. The rested mind is always Alive, Active, Awake, Alert and Aware. Tiredness of mind can be perceived by looking at the level of these attributes or the absence of these attributes. A tired mind gets pulled down by emotions, going into repetitive and usually negative thought patterns. An experience is perceived either as an opportunity or a problem depending on the level of mental exhaustion.
What is Mental Background noise?
Background noise is one of the biggest factors that exhausts the mind. Let us use an analogy here to understand what is background noise. If you have used two different devices such as a smartphone and a laptop or ipad connected to the same wifi you would have noticed that the internet speed available to each one is different. This depends on the number of apps running in the background or number of open windows or uncleared cache in the browsers. The device is unable to receive available wifi signal because of these background clutter.
All the things that need to be done, all the people to whom you have committed to get back, all the stories about events of the past and future and stories about people, the cautioning voices of others, expectations of others and those of your own, wants and don’t wants, likes and dislikes, all of these tend to remain active in the background of your mind forming the mental noise all the time. You can easily close all background apps , cache and windows by the flick of your fingers on your device and it is back to full productivity! Can you do the same with your mind?
The ongoing endless mental commentary.
Have you noticed the two seemingly simultaneous occurrences with every sense perception we experience? We perceive something and instantly our mind supplies a word or a sentence or a commentary along with it. We never realise that these are two separate occurrences and so the commentary becomes the experience and the original pure perception is lost to our experiencing. Let me give you a few examples.
When you look at a bird or a flower or hear a birdsong, you could pause and take in the pure pleasure of that sense perception without interference of the mind. However what usually happens is – “what a beautiful sound, I wonder what is the name of this bird, maybe I can record this sound and search Google to find out!” Which could be actually followed up by that Google search while you are completely unaware of missing out the pure experience opportunity lost. Let us see what happens when you suddenly experience a sharp pain somewhere in your body. Even before the pain is fully experienced, the mind jumps in with “what is this pain, why is it happening, is it because I slept to one side for too long? Will I be able to go on with my work without hindrance, do I need a pill, do I need to visit hospital, oh what is going to happen!”
It seems as if this commentary is unavoidable and is the only way to experience life! But you never knew any language or words as a child when you still perceived the same experiences which resulted in pure enjoyment of the perception without interference of the mind! This mental commentary is just a compulsive habit developed by us over time and it has become so pervasive that we seem to have lost our ability to just experience life as it arises. This mental commentary although seemingly effortless, is very exhausting. Can we unlearn this habit and enjoy the life experiences in a wholesome way?
Other Mind Activities that prevent resting of the mind.
Watching a movie/serial/news/sports, Reading something, Talking with someone, Imagining, Fantasising, Day dreaming, while these activities seem to be relaxing it is not actually resting the mind fully. It seems relaxing only in comparison to the stressful activity that happens while engaging with work. When we go off to sleep without switching off the background noise and mental commentary, the mind continues its doing even during sleep. That is why we wake up feeling not ready or unenthusiastic about the day ahead.
It is possible to clear out the background noise in the mind and be free of the ongoing mental commentary by looking at it as a long term project and starting the journey of cultivating habits that leads you there. Although it is a long journey, each milestone on it is highly rewarding.