Updated: Apr 29, 2021
The Restless Mind — The Culprit Behind Our Clouded Judgment
Yogic tradition coined the term chitta vritti, often translated as mind clutter or mental fluctuations. It is through spiritual practice that we manage to calm these waves or ripples at the surface of the mind, and gain peace and clarity. ‘When meditation is mastered,’ Bhagavad Gita says, ‘the mind is unwavering like the flame of a lamp in a windless place.’
Along similar lines, the Buddhist tradition uses the term monkey-mind to describe the whimsical, restless and fluctuating mind, as a source of confusion, anxiety and lack of stability. The goal of meditation is to stop the mental chatter and to enable us remain in the here-now.
A Zen proverb says that we cannot see our reflection in running water; it is only in still water that we can see. In his distinctive poetic style, Lao Tzu, the Master of Tao, once said: ‘Trying to understand is like straining through muddy water. Have the patience to wait! Be still and allow the mud to settle.’ The mind muddled with thought debris is a major obstacle to gaining mental clarity.
Meditation Brings Clarity — Evidence From Neuroscience
The loss of mind clarity is often attributed to stress, underlying physical and mental health problems, a lifestyle devoid of regular exercise and time spent in nature, lack of sleep, and inadequate diet. However, lack of mind clarity can also be considered a symptom of one’s disconnectedness from their own center, and absence of inner life exploration.
Brain fog, fuzzy thinking, inability to focus or concentrate and clouded judgments, can all be overcome through meditation. Neuroscience has shown that regular meditation rewires the brain by building new neural pathways. Meditation thus boosts neuroplasticity, and with the change in the neural connections our response to stimuli also changes. We stop reacting and start responding to situations — we become free from conditioning and automation. We start living fully in the here and now, and the present is no longer tainted by the lenses of our past experiences. We start seeing reality for what it is, with calmness and clarity like never before.
Neuroscientists have reported other significant changes in the brain caused by meditation. Regular meditation increases the grey matter in the auditory and sensory cortex, improving and enhancing our perception. Furthermore, prolonged meditation increases the grey matter in the frontal cortex, which is the center of decision making. Interestingly, meditation also has effect on the left hippocampus, a brain area linked to cognition, learning and memory. Meditation also shrinks the amygdala, the center of our emotional behavior, responsible for our affective, anxious and knee-jerk reactions.
The functional effects of the changes in all these brain regions help us gain mental clarity, rise above the base fight-or-flight responses, and make solid decisions based on clear perception and solid cognitive analysis.
Gaining Clarity From Spiritual Wisdom
To gain mental focus and clarity, regular meditation practice can be augmented with reading books on spirituality. From ancient spiritual classics to works of modern thinkers and new age masters, the literature abounds with exceptional titles which can be of great benefit on the spiritual path. Good books are like teachers - they offer comfort in times of stress, they prod when it is time to change, and advise when guidance is sought.
‘The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.’ These words, written in the Book of Ecclesiastes, remind us that the pain and the struggle and the problems we experience today have also been felt by a great many people in the past. And the wisest among them — those who have succeeded to rise above adversity and ignorance — have also expressed their wisdom in the form of aphorisms, discourses and other forms of the written word. Spiritual books can therefore bring peace and clarity of mind, until we learn to become a light onto ourselves.