Freeing Your Mind From the Inner Dictator

The Prison Inside

by Jayaram V

True freedom is freedom from yourself. Jayaram V

You are the major obstacle on your path to learning and improving. Jayaram V

Your past lives in you and grows by day. Jayaram V


Mental rigidity is common to many people, which is responsible for many problems that we have in the world today. In some cultures, it is worshipped as an exalted virtue and a sign of trust, integrity, and reliability. People in such cultures do not like leaders, who change their opinions and consider them opportunists and weak-minded. When such a belief becomes a cultural value or a social criteria, it undermines the importance of growing and learning, or of improving your knowledge and thinking to become a better person. In some cultures you will find that a scripture, a book, or an ideology becomes the guiding force, forcing people to declare their allegiance to it, suspend their free thinking and live in obedience. In today's world of extremism and extreme intolerance, mental rigidity gained cultural significance in many countries as the voice of political correctness and moral policing.

The causes

Mental rigidity, thus, is a serious problem. However, before we go further into the subject, we need to know what exactly we mean by it, and how anyone can decide whether the problem applies to them. No one is completely inflexible. People remain fixated or opinionated only in certain areas of their thinking. Most likely, you have some areas in your mind that are frozen and some that are free and flowing. However, if you have not done any introspection, you may not know when you tend to become rigid and when you remain flexible. It is also important to know what causes it, and how it creeps into your thinking and attitude. Mental rigidity arises from many factors such as the following.

1. Social and cultural influences

2. Strong likes and dislikes

3. Parental influences

4. Attachments

5. Education

6. Self-serving bias

7. Media influence

8. Friends and family

9. Immaturity

Examples

Your inflexible attitude arises from your thinking, as you attach fixed meanings to things and do not like to change them, even if contrary evidence presents itself. For example, if you are a rigid person and if you find a situation or a person distasteful, most likely you will hold on to that opinion, as you impart a negative or an unpleasant meaning or a label to that person, assuming that he may remain so forever, and ignoring any information that may not support it.

On the contrary, if you find a person who is friendly and to your liking, you may cherish that relationship and tend to ignore all the data that may suggest otherwise or make your feel uncomfortable. If you are inflexible, you will do the same with many things in your life, which may even sabotage your own chances of success and happiness. If you have musical ability but due to a fixed belief inherited from your parents if you pursue a career in science or medicine, imagine how it will influence your life and the extent of unhappiness you may experience.

Whether it is an author, writer, singer, actor, artist, town, ideology, profession, political affiliation, or faith, because of inflexibility you will stick with your opinions and choices and ignore the facts that speak otherwise. This is mental rigidity in short. It arises from selective thinking, in the absence of reason, due to conscious or subconscious influences, as you attach fixed meanings to things and become their guardian philosopher justifying them to yourself and to others as part of your worldview, self-expression, and self-image.

Consequences

Mental rigidity is synonymous with mental stagnation. It limits your growth and your opportunities to know and learn. In people it manifests in numerous ways as habits, routines, likes and dislikes, fear, prejudice, reluctance to listen, and irrational behavior. As they become attached to their past and live by rigid choices, they dislike to change, move with time or acknowledge their current reality. It is as if they have created an arctic tundra inside their minds and frozen their memories and thoughts in it.

Having opinions, conclusions and preconceived notions is part of your mind's heuristics. It uses them to save you time and effort in making sense of the world and respond to it with appropriate decisions and actions. They give you stability, and help you deal with the problems and challenges in your life. Your mind uses them as mental shortcuts to deal with the complexity of the world, and improve your survival and chances of wellbeing.

Mental rigidity is not about having opinions, but having fixed opinions and fixed patterns of thinking that are hard to overcome. In most cases you may not be even aware of them as they become a part of your worldview, instinctual thinking, personal identity and individuality. You continue to act under their influence, despite your good education, knowledge, and wisdom, because in most cases you find acceptance from your friends and peers who hold similar opinions.

Unfreezing your mind

The truth is, while you may remain stuck in your thoughts and choices, the world moves on leaving you behind to your unconscious illusions and frozen beliefs, and limiting your choices, relationships, chances of success, and the quality of your life. If you do not attune to the reality around you, you will remain prone to assumptive and authoritarian thinking, which in turn makes your life rather unpleasant and conflict-ridden. You can resolve the problem of mental rigidity in many ways. The following are a few important approaches.

1. Awareness: Becoming aware of your rigid thoughts and beliefs and how they are influencing your world view is the most important. Without it you cannot overcome the problem. Become aware of how people and the world are influenced by various social, political, and cultural biases, irrational and rigid thinking, and how many people refuse to think for themselves and blindly depend upon role models and public figures for their worldviews and opinions.

2. Listening: Learn to listen and appreciate other people's opinions on any given subject that interests you as a learning experience and to expand your own awareness. Especially, listen to those opinions that you dislike or disagree with, and  to those who are not afraid to speak their minds. When you interact with others, listen with an open mind for learning and introspection.

3. Questioning: Learn to ask questions and seek answers. A person with a closed mind does not ask questions. He either accepts or rejects information based upon his likes and dislikes, or emotions. By asking questions you can keep your mind open, rational, and free from judgment and bias. It will also give you an opportunity to examine facts and draw your own conclusions.

4. Challenging: Challenge your own decisions, conclusions, and judgment to find the rigid beliefs, assumptions, and biases that are hidden in them. You must constantly challenge your surface beliefs, thoughts, and ideas to find the best in you. It helps deal with the distortions and cognitive bias your mind creates in response to the world and events your perceive, and gives you a better perspective about them.

The solution to mental rigidity is openness and maturity. You cannot practice them without honesty, truthfulness, humility, and detachment. Maturity means having opinions and conclusions based upon your experience and observation, rather than what you have been taught by others as true, unless you have subjected it to rational verification. A mature person relies upon his observation and experience, rather than blind submission to authority. He listens, learns, improves, and adapts to changes and challenges, keeping his emotions under control.

Importance in spiritual life

Spiritually speaking, detachment is the best antidote to mental rigidity. Detachment is a virtue. It starts with your thinking. To free your mind from rigid thoughts and find freedom within yourself, you must overcome your attachment to the world and the likes and dislikes you form with it. You must keep an attentive and open mind, willing to embrace the reality rather than your rigid beliefs and opinions.

Open-mindedness is especially important in spiritual practice. Spiritual people can become rigid in their thinking and attitude as they develop attachment to their faith, methods, masters, and beliefs. As they open their minds for learning, they may also succumb to conditioning and blind submission to authority. If you practice spirituality, you must open your mind to the realities of life, and free it from the illusion of fixed opinions and rigid thoughts about the things you like or dislike. The mind is prone to delusions. Hence, you must remain attentive, and stay tuned to the current reality. Practice detachment. It is the best way to stay free from the delusion of your own mind and the walls it builds around you.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Introduction to Hinduism
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Brahman
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Selected Upanishads
Translation of 14 Upanishads. Length: 32 pages

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
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The Chandogya Upanishad
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The Bhagavadgita Complete Translation
With Word to word translation and commentary. Comprehensive and unique.
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