What is the physical mind? The element of mental activity that relates to the actual physical substance that conveys and responds to sense perceptions and the operations of the physical body is considered to be the ‘physical mind’. We normally believe that the operation of our mind is independent of these things to a great degree, but when we examine things closely we can see that changes in physical circumstances, changes in bodily comfort or discomfort, even changes in diet, can influence both the specific thoughts that arise and circulate in the mind, and the tenor of the thoughts.
We can experience a constant bombardment of thoughts running through the brain, a running commentary on everything in one’s surroundings and one’s life. Each impression can spark a thought, and this is a helter-skelter flow that jumps from one thing to another quite without coherent meaning.
Sri Aurobindo observed that one can view thoughts as coming from outside. They set off a vibration in the brain and we interpret this vibration according to our education, experience and capacity. For the most part, these externally-generated impulses create the chaotic jumble of the physical mind’s activity, although some of them may generate vital or mental responses, depending on the source and form of the input received.
Dr. Dalal writes: “Less obvious forms of disturbances attributable to the mind are related to the part of the mind that is intermixed with the physical consciousness, called the physical mind. The mechanical and chaotic activity of physical consciousness, mentioned previously, is reflected in the ceaseless and incoherent thought activity which turns the mind into a veritable market-place where thoughts constantly come and go in a disorderly manner.”
“Related to the chaotic nature of the physical mind are its features of unsteadiness and susceptibility to the influence of the physical things which determine to a large extent the way most people think. Referring to this susceptibility to the external determinants of ordinary thinking, the Mother remarks:”
“One believes he has his own way of thinking. Not at all. It depends totally upon the people one speaks with or the books he has read or on the mood he is in. It depends also on whether you have a good or bad digestion, it depends on whether you are shut up in a room without proper ventilation or whether you are in the open air; it depends on whether you have a beautiful landscape before you; it depends on whether there is sunshine or rain! You are not aware of it, but you think all kinds of things, completely different according to a heap of things which have nothing to do with you!”
Dr. Dalal continues: “Most people, who are not aware of the chaotic activity of the physical mind and its unsteadiness, do not experience these characteristics of the mind as disturbances. It is only when one takes up a discipline for quieting or controlling the mind that one realises the presence of these deeply-rooted disturbances.”
Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Introduction, Disturbances Associated with the Mind, pp. xiv-xix