I was listening to a talk the other day from a neuroscientist about the profound impact that chanting has on the brain (interesting stuff!). At one point in the lecture, she asked the audience, “What is mind?” She shocked me when she defined it as “a stream of thoughts”. My body responded with a little shudder to that, as if to throw off the idea. Seems I have a different understanding of the nature of mind.

When leading meditations, I often work with a clear quartz crystal, one cut finely with sharp edges. I hold it up and say, “This is the nature of mind.” It is clear, vast, receptive. Thought forms can flow into it and out again. But mind itself remains ever pure, bright, and empty like this crystal. No thought can leave its mark.”

Maybe I’m picking at fine threads, or maybe you see the difference too. To see mind as “the stream of thoughts” makes it forever cloudy, a muddy river that never ceases. Certainly thoughts are like that. But what contains thought? And is it just as foggy and confusing? I don’t think so. How could it be? If it were, we’d never be able to distinguish one thought from another.

Perhaps it’s all semantic. Mind, consciousness, awareness, thoughts…if we don’t define these things and agree to their meaning, we can end up all talking about the same thing while arguing about what it is and isn’t.

For my part, I prefer to draw a distinction and think of thoughts as Thought and Mind as the space in which they arise, not a rushing stream but a glass-like, diamond-cut crystal full of sunlight. It gives me a mind to empty rather than a incessant river to fight. Okay, sure, I’m left with the concept of a crystal, but all the other dross falls away. The stream, as it were, gets cut off and what remains is ever-fresh, beautiful and peaceful.