In Western Culture, the intellectual mind has become the great idol of our times. It is worshipped in so many ways, and it’s part of the reason that education–specifically academic education–is so highly prized. It’s seen as the cure-all for economic and social woes. Just get people more education. Just feed people more lima beans. But you can only eat so many lima beans. Everything has a limit in how much it helps you, and today I’ll talk a little bit about the limits of the intellectual mind and the trap in thinking that it can do everything for you on your spiritual path.

The Road to the Mind Is Just One Checkpoint

Initially, cultivating right thinking (as the Buddhists might say) is an incredibly important thing in life. In so many ways, the mind has very sacred and quite useful functions to help us live in this world. Just pause and think about all the important stuff that you know…the important stuff. Not the useless crap about the latest teen pop star or what the neighbors are doing at 3am in their bedroom. Important stuff like knowing how to clothe yourself or what to eat. Memories and how-to knowledge around fixing things that break and building relationships. All this information is stored in your noggin, and that’s a very good thing. Colleges and universities help us go further with critical thinking to be able to “objectively” evaluate a lot of things–obviously the “objective” perspective in the academic world is more subjective than that venue of people would want to admit, but it has a lot of value to it. All of these things are important ways to be able to move through your life and make good decisions.

When the Tool Loses Its Usefulness

But then, we start using this tool for other things, and it gets lost in the consumption of information. The Internet is an amazing place, but you can constantly be filling your mind with junk. The 24-hour news cycle and 5 million channels of nonsense on TV add to more noise. There is so much garbage out there, and the undisciplined mind will consume all of it constantly, leaving you with a blur of fuzz and static in between your ears. Along the way, your mind has been creating perspectives and points of view about everything, and combining these with a whole bunch of personal attributes, you have created a very complex ego. And the more intellectually focused your ego is, the more it consumes information in a specific way. It shuts out other interpretations and things that don’t work within its limited perspective, and it focuses the mind further. This is part of how we get lost. This part of the reason why we don’t really see other people because in addition to focusing, we start to project out what we want to see onto our worlds. We create this little ego and intellectual bubble that we think will somehow protect us, and we have it feed us the same types of stories over and over again.

Until one day, something or someone pops it…like a spiritual awakening.

The Bubble Bursts Once…It May Have to Burst Again

And then the spiritual path unfolds before you, and you want to bring this tool with you too. And you can. And you should, but there are limits to what it can do. Because regardless of having a profound spiritual awakening or not, your limited ego wants to come along and start doing the same BS to the spiritual path. It wants to pick and choose what experiences it can accept. It wants to have the fun enjoyable ones and not the unpleasant ones. Or it’ll only deal with the unpleasant ones if it thinks it’ll get rewarded by doing so. There are whole levels of issues that people try to bring onto the spiritual path. It’s like trying to bring all of your luggage–5 million pounds of it–onto the little turbo-prop plane that can only handle 50 pounds of your baggage. You’re going to have to let some of this stuff go.

Refining Your Intellect, Putting Things in their Place

If you don’t refine your intellect, you can become one of these spiritual philosophers. It’s not a bad job. I hear the pay is good. 🙂 But it doesn’t get you very far on the spiritual path. Because you’re still playing an academic game. If being an academician made you enlightened, then universities would really be the most amazing places to go, but the last time I checked, they were still pretty full of booze, unfulfilling (although admittedly fun) parties, scandals at the administrative levels, apathetic teachers, apathetic students, and so forth. Obviously, they’re not enlightened; they’re just very well academically and intellectually trained, and the mind needs to understand the difference.

I wrote awhile ago about how awakening quiets the intellect a long time ago. When it’s allowed to, the energy will balance out naturally. Your mind does know what it’s role is, and as it is refined, the subtle information that the mind can interpret via intuition is pretty profound. But most of you haven’t done this work yet. You probably don’t even know the difference between the many internal parts and pieces of your mind that yammer at you all day. And all of that will be one of the many possible starting points. You’re going to need to know what’s going on in there before you can put anything in its place. Start with a journal, and pay attention to all the inner conflicts and discussions you have with yourself. It may be illuminating and potentially disturbing to bring awareness to all the discussions and stories that are actively playing out inside you.

Balancing Your Energetic System

I often talk about the wisdom and natural intellect of all aspects of us. Our hearts have wisdom. Our bodies have wisdom, and of course, our minds have wisdom. The wisdom of the soul runs through all of these spaces, and that wisdom can only be activated through placing awareness there. Depending on all the crap that you’ve got in the way, there may be quite a bit of discipline and self-work that’s needed. For others of you, you may be surprised how quickly amazing information and understanding starts to flow out of you just by giving it space to do so. Obviously, fear, sadness, and anger will get in the way. Fear is one of the worst because it’ll paralyze you. You’ll say, “But I can’t really be a doctor. I’m not smart enough.” In this space, the mind is not serving it’s purpose, and it sounds like it’s blocking the wisdom of your heart. I’m sure you can think of other examples, and that may seem daunting initially, but if you don’t put the intellectual mind into it’s appropriate place, who will?

The Gift of the Well-Trained Mind

The great gift in all of this is that you’re making space for a lot of wisdom to come through you. There’s so much information within you and in the world that is right at your fingertips if you do the work to make space for it. The well-trained mind can work through the slush and debris of the New Age world as well as the business world to find truth and what feels right. A lot of people are telling people a lot of things about awakening, and not all of it is helpful or particularly accurate. Your intellect can help to see through the shams and the fakes. It helps you to make space for your own wisdom so that you no longer need to go searching for anything because ultimately, there’s nothing to search for anyway. There’s nothing you need to know. You already know it.


I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.

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