Mind Management in Everyday Life

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The mind is a subject which has to be analyzed in relation to our day-to-day activities, because whatever is said about the mind as theory simply develops into a concept and a philosophy. Yoga has certain ideas as to how the mind functions. It has defined mind as manas, the process of reflection, buddhi, the process of intellect, chitta, memory, and ahamkara, the ego principle. Many books have been written on these four subjects, but no one is quite clear as to how the mind interacts in life, and we only have our personal experiences to go by.

We can observe the various aspects of the mind and how they manifest without trying to define the mind. In every individual's life we can see a very beautiful process: something subtle in the form of an idea, a desire and a thought manifesting and implementing itself at the gross level. There is an intimate link between our subtle nature (the mind), the other nature which is more subtle than the mind (consciousness) and our life (the visible world of objects and senses). There is a flow of information which comes from consciousness to the mind and into the body; the body is simply a medium through which the mind expresses itself.

Therefore, it is important that we do not differentiate between the thinking nature and the acting instrument, which is the body. We have to see it as the flow of one stream of an idea, coming from the subtle invisible to the manifest visible. For example, an idea evolves at the deepest levels of our nature; that idea later on becomes a desire; the desire later on creates a plan of action, and that plan of action is later on implemented by the senses, the body.

So, we have a concept, which is related with the ahamkara aspect, the ego principle or the 'I' identity. All concepts in life generate from this dimension of 'I' identity, the nature of individuality. Later on, this concept, which evolves at the level of the 'I' identity, filters down to the lower levels of the mind: the intellect, the memory and the reflective processes, and is identified as a desire or a need. This desire or need is then linked with our aspirations, our strengths and our weaknesses, and it takes a definite form for the fulfilment of the vacuum that we feel when we reflect on ourselves.

What is a desire? Desire simply means a wish to attain something that we find lacking at present in our life. How do we identify what is lacking in our life? An intricate process of analysis happens at the unconscious level where the subtle mind, the ego principle, observes and analyzes the needs and the absence of something which we try to fulfil later on in the course of our lives. The concept is converted into desire, desire is converted into a need, the need is converted into an action, and the action is converted into a result. In this process, the consciousness, mind, senses and body work as one integrated unit. At present there is no direction to this flow of mental energy, there is no control over the chan-nelization of the mental forces which manifest in the body. There is internal confusion. There is psychological confusion. There is unconscious confusion. But we are not aware of this internal confusion until it comes to the forefront of our manifest conscious mind.

Modern psychology says there is the conscious mind, the subconscious mind and the unconscious mind. Yoga says there is the active mind, the passive mind and the dormant mind. The active mind is linked with the conscious mind, the passive mind is linked with the subconscious mind and the dormant mind is linked with the unconscious mind. But beyond this there is another state of super-mind, or awakened mind, where there is no differentiation or distinction between the different aspects of the mind such as manas, buddhi, chitta and ahamkara. Whatever state of mind we talk about, we have to know whether it is the unconscious state, the subconscious state or the conscious state.

SWAN principle

There are certain principles which actually guide the desires, aspirations and motivations. In yoga these principles are known as the SWAN principle. SWAN is an acronym: S stands for strengths, W stands for weaknesses, A stands for ambitions and N stands for needs. These are the four principles that make up our personality. In some people, inner strength, mental strength, strength of will or the strength of the self is predominant. In some people, weaknesses such as lack of willpower or mental clarity are predominant. Some people identify more deeply with their ambitions and aspirations and try to fulfil and attain them. Some people identify more deeply with their needs, which are physical or social, in relation to their family, work performance and society.

It is the expression of either strengths, weaknesses, ambitions or needs which defines our personality and makes us what we are today. When we are able to project the strength of the self (not the higher Self but the self which is contained in this personality combining our knowledge, mind, senses and our ability to become part of the whole picture), when the self is manifesting at the level of strength, then a particular nature is defined in an individual. We say that person is very great, creative, dynamic, outgoing, compassionate, has a clear mind, is helpful, and is a guide to many people. People derive inspiration when they come in contact with such a personality.

When the self expresses itself through the area of weakness, we identify that person as unclear or weak, without force, energy, strength or dynamism, as uncertain and unsure. When the self is manifesting at the level of ambitions and aspirations, we identify that person as being ruthless and arrogant, as trying to get his or her way at the expense of others, and as uncaring. When the self is manifesting in the dimension of need, then we identify that person as being self-centred, as only making an effort to look after his or her self, and as uncaring.

Becoming aware of the inner nature

This is how a personality is recognized and defined. I am talking from the yogic, not the psychological perspective, although there are lots of similarities between the modern concept of psychology and the yogic concept of psychology. The yogic model says that there are two dimensions of self: one dimension, which is manifesting as the SWAN principle, and the other dimension which is unmanifest, dormant and subtle. Now all the effort that we make to somehow manage our internal and psychological imbalances are, actually, in the area which is manifest. We try to improve our behaviour by enforcing an idea or a concept.

When we try to enforce or live or bring a concept into our lives, it becomes a philosophy or an idea with which we identify. But when the concept becomes a philosophy it is not translated into action. There is a split between our personal philosophy and our actions in the outer world. Why? Lack of discipline, lack of awareness. Yoga has been very clear in saying that the beginning of yoga is through discipline – discipline which is not enforced but which is the outcome of the awareness spanning all the different dimensions of the human personality.

In the first statement of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says that yoga is anushasanam. This word has been translated in English as discipline, but it is not discipline. Anushasan means 'awareness of the inner personality that is manifesting in the outer world'. Anu means 'subtle', shasanam means 'to rule, to govern, to be in control of'. Therefore, according to Patanjali, yoga is a form or method of governing the inner nature. It is a method of directing the inner nature harmoniously so that it can manifest externally. And this is the beginning of yoga.

In this process how do we become aware of our inner nature? Not by enforcing certain concepts and ideas upon oneself, because, if we try to enforce anything upon our mind or our nature, there is going to be a reaction to that. We will reject it, because it is something that is coming from outside, and not something which is natural and spontaneous from the inside.

Despite this awareness and understanding, many prac-titioners of yoga make the mistake of enforcing certain ideas, concepts and disciplines in their lives in order to change, and they fail because they try to do too many things. One has to begin gradually. Swami Sivananda said, “If you want to direct your mind, become a friend of your mind. Don't try to become the ruler of your mind.” You have to make yourself acceptable to your mind. This is the concept of discipline. Discipline is not something which you enforce upon yourself, rather it is a spontaneous outcome of your proximity to and friendship with your nature. When we talk of changing our views, our attitudes and our nature, we make the mistake of enforcing a system, a rule, a law, which is unnatural to our nature, and then in the course of time there is a rebellion.

If we try to make an immediate change in the structure of our mind, it is not going to work. A dog's tail will always be crooked. If you want to straighten the tail you can put it in a pipe, but the tail will be straight only as long as the pipe is there. The pipe is the rigid discipline. When you remove the pipe the tail will again curve. Another method of straightening the tail is cutting it off so you cannot see the curve, and only a stump remains. That stump will always be straight. Now, do not think that cutting off is impossible or difficult. It is simple. Cutting off simply means altering or changing a pattern which is at present predominant and manifesting in the nature.

Meditation and identification of one's SWAN

So, if we suffer from any kind of mental problem, first we need to meditate, to reflect. When we identify a problem, we are simply seeing the symptom which is manifesting on the outside. We are not aware of the cause that is creating the problem, whether that problem be sleeplessness, loss of memory, a psychological, emotional or moral problem. We see its manifestation in the outer dimension, which is identified as a problem, but we cannot see the cause of that problem. So, meditation is the first requirement to find out the cause of that mental or emotional imbalance. How can I manage and improve my nature, my personality, attitude, behaviour, thinking process, interaction or motivation? Through the process of meditation, we analyze the areas of our strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and needs.

The second thing I would recommend is to objectively make a list of the things you consider to be your strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and needs. Do not confuse your ambitions with needs, or needs with ambitions. Do not confuse your strengths with weaknesses, and weaknesses with strengths. Reflect, think about them, and make the list. Do not show it to anybody; it is your personal list. Look at it every day and either add or remove something from the list. In three or four months' time, you will have a very big list or a very small list as your understanding and awareness develop. As the ability to cope with different mental states develops, you will realize that the management of the mind is a very simple process. You do not need a psychoanalyst or a psychotherapist for that, and it is a great thing for your personal satisfaction and attainment.


The use of mantra is the third tool to go deeper into and to harmonize your inner nature. Mantras are collections of sound vibrations. Now we know that every kind of sound evokes a particular psychological response; every sentence evokes a response. The sentence, 'You are wonderful' will evoke an emotional response, a feeling, a sensation, and you will feel bright, happy, open and free. The sentence, 'You are hopeless' will evoke another form of response. It will make you feel restricted, inhibited, closed, unsure, and uncertain of yourself. 'You are wonderful' or 'You are hopeless' are sentences which you understand intellectually, but the responses the sentences evoke are not intellectual responses. They are feelings. You cannot identify or analyze feelings instantaneously.

Similarly, mantras are combinations of different sounds or syllables which evoke an unconscious response that is non-intellectual. This stimulates the psychic personality or the psychic centres and you feel more tranquil, more balanced and more harmonious internally. Mantras are used to harmonize the inner distractions and dissipations. Mantras are used to freeze the frame of mental images, to still the unconscious and subconscious agitations and to identify with the state of silence and stillness which is your own internal harmony. In the state of internal harmony, there is strength.

The word 'mantra' also means freeing the mind from its external distractions and focusing and centring it inside. When you centre the mind inside, in the state of stillness and silence, and when you are able to freeze the image or picture, then you have the source of your inner strength.

Threefold process

So meditation, identification of the SWAN principles, and the use of mantra become a very powerful form of yogic psychotherapy to overcome personality, mental and emotional imbalances. When you are able to combine meditation with a change in your daily routine, and when you are able to combine meditation with awareness, then you begin to live life in a joyous way. We can't change our circumstances and situations, but we can change our perceptions.

People have to be happy knowing who they are. We are very weak. We become very influenced by the negativities and the positivies we encounter in life, and our responses are guided by those negative or positive inputs. Where is our natural being? We are not aware of what we are. We become what other people project upon us and that is where meditation comes in handy. It allows one to realize the individual or personal nature, identify with that nature and overcome the quirks of our nature and personality, and thus experience inner growth.

It is no use talking about how the mind, the ego or the intellect works. They work, that is enough. How they work, we do not know, and we should not bother about it. We must know how we can handle the situations, circumstances and conditions that alter our perspective of ourselves. The three processes are: (i) meditation as the means of reflection and discovering what our strengths, weakness, ambitions and needs are; (ii) identification of these four areas, which are known as the SWAN principle; and (iii) harmonizing the inner being through the use of mantra. These are the things which will lead to an enhanced awareness and a harmonious partici-pation in life, and you will then be known as a balanced person. To be seen as balanced is the biggest attribute you can have, because it means that harmony and balance is manifesting in your life. That is all we need in order to make our lives and the world beautiful.

Aix-les-Bains, France, April 1997