Many of us identify with our mind. It can feel as if our conscious mind (the function that processes thought, memory, and imagination) is the center of our being, even our essential self. When we experience ourself this way, our consciousness is restricted and we’re at the mercy of inner conflict.
Given free rein, our conscious mind can quickly begin to dwell on regretful memories, dire speculations, and desperate defensiveness—all accompanied by anxious inner chatter. Old memories bring up unpleasant reminders of folly and failure, while speculations on the present and future produce impressions of being refused, controlled, rejected, and victimized.
Much of the time, our conscious mind is reactive to our psyche. At an unconscious level in our psyche, inner conflict produces mental and emotional discord, including irrationality, defensiveness, self-blame, and self-punishment. Our conscious mind can quickly become the chorus for this inner disharmony, producing haunting recitals of worry, anxiety, guilt, shame, and frustration. What the psyche composes, our conscious mind replays and regurgitates.
In other words, we are prone to being passive to our mind, while simultaneously our mind is passive to our psyche. As we strut around believing we’re in charge of our mind and its contents, we’re like animals unable to fathom the depths of their unknowing.
Ideally, we want to feel the ability to regulate our mind so that it serves our best interests. We can do this by becoming more insightful about our psyche’s inner conflict. People can be conflicted in thousands of ways. For instance, we can intensely desire, with painful longing, what we’re unlikely to acquire. We can also intensely want respect, though we’re swamped with memories and expectations of disrespect. We want to be loved and have friends, yet we often fearfully expect to be unloved and rejected. We want to feel free, but can be quick to feel oppressed. Our conscious mind then becomes preoccupied with considerations and calculations concerning our standing in the world, the measure of our safety, our objects of desire, our friends and enemies, and the distress of not getting.
At such times, we’re passively allowing our mind to churn up random, distressful speculations—and thereby, in a sense, take possession of us. Why would we allow this to happen?
We’re not seeing or understanding inner conflict. This conflict consists largely of the clash between our psyche’s passive side (inner passivity) and its aggressive side (the inner critic). Inner passivity is an aspect of our unconscious ego that blocks us from knowing and appreciating our best self. People find it challenging to wrap their head around the existence in their psyche of inner passivity. Because our intelligence and consciousness haven’t assimilated these deeper aspects of human nature, the passive part of us acts instinctively, according to its own primitive nature. Fortunately, we can bring the existence of this passivity into focus in many ways, including recognition of how, to our detriment, we are often passive to our mind. (To learn more about inner passivity, enter the term in this website’s search function for an abundance of articles.)
Inner passivity is an especially weak part of our ego, and it generates, through its cunning yet primitive intelligence, our psychological defenses. Inner passivity is providing the mental and emotional content when we’re being defensive in our thoughts or words or when we’re feeling and expressing guilt, shame, anxiety, and self-pity. Inner passivity often arises as an inner voice, one ready to claim our individual efforts won’t make any difference in the world. This passivity can also be experienced in our visualizations, sensory awareness, and physical ailments.
Inner passivity’s most obvious symptoms are indecision, procrastination, guilt, shame, and moodiness. We’re enmeshed in this passivity when we agonize, “Oh, what should I do now?” Inner passivity is present when we lament, “I try to do right but nothing works.” It fuels our emotions when we feel at the mercy of (or oppressed by) the demands and antics of others, or their real or imagined malice.
Ideally, we regulate our mind. We decide how best to use it, and when to rest it. We’re can’t do this perfectly, of course. Distractions come at us from all directions. We’re bound to be passive to our mind at times, but our awareness of this passivity and its deportment in our psyche can help us greatly in regulating our mind, even when it’s agitated. This understanding is the first step in overcoming the weakness.
We can test for ourselves the fact that our mind is meant to be experienced as an attribute of our humanity, a function at our disposal, and not the core of our being. Take a moment, focus on your breathing, follow your breaths, and keep your attention on your breathing. You’ll notice that your mind has gone silent. Focused on your breathing, your mind is silent—yet you’re conscious, even more conscious than before. You can still hear, smell, see, and feel. But if you allow your mind to intrude with chosen or unbidden content, you’ll lose your attention on your breathing. This is all evidence our essential self extends beyond the content of our conscious mind.
People who meditate are trying to quiet their mind, improve self-regulation, and bring forth their better self. They’re trying to feel the power (thereby overriding inner passivity) to quiet their mind and connect with their essential self. Meditation is the practice of being attentive, with some discernment, to the present moment. The practice is intended to achieve mental and emotional self-regulation. Still, many meditators, to their disadvantage, are unaware of the depth psychology that exposes the dynamics in their psyche of inner conflict and its two principal antagonists, inner passivity and the inner critic.
Failure to regulate our mind can be painful and self-defeating. One of my clients expressed his plight this way:
My mind is always churning, coming up with new thoughts, or old thoughts, and new and old ideas. It’s like a motor I can’t turn off. I know I overthink, and soon I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m always wondering, what’s right and what’s wrong about this or that. I’m especially plagued with the thought, ‘Why am I not doing what I really want to be doing?’ Then again, I’m not even sure what I want to be doing. I know this is all tied in to my high blood pressure.
I told him, “You are expressing here the side-effects of inner passivity. As a consequence of this passivity, you forfeit oversight or regulation of your conscious mind. Consequently, you can’t feel the better self within you that would rein in or regulate your mind. Your mind, while subordinate to the antics of your psyche, becomes a commanding part of you. Unconsciously, you become an enabler of your mind’s free-for-all antics when you identify with it, which gives it more power and renders you more passive. Feeling overwhelmed, as you say, is a symptom of inner passivity. As your mind spins off with all its speculations and considerations, you feel your inner passivity more acutely and more painfully. This inner weakness also makes it easier for your inner critic to come barging in with abusive insinuations concerning your character and behaviors.
“The solution here,” I went on, “is to recognize your psyche’s underlying inner conflict. You recognize the irrationality and unwarranted hostility of the inner critic, while also becoming conscious of your inner passivity through which you fail to block or neutralize your abusive inner critic. The goal here is to realize that, through inner passivity, you absorb punishment from your inner critic as you identify with yourself through impressions of unworthiness, failure, wrongdoing, and weakness. As you recognize this, you’re more able to use your mind as an executor of your best interests rather than enduring its intrusions and irrationality.”
Inner passivity can be understood as a primitive intelligence or consciousness, an operating system in our psyche, one that’s determined to exist in its own right. It’s a mysterious configuration within us, a leftover from childhood helplessness, that has no interest in being dislodged or eradicated. For one thing, it harbors our psychological defenses and resistance. Through inner passivity, we can even take bittersweet, self-pitying consolation—a masochistic gratification—in the punishment the inner critic inflicts upon us.
Our conscious mind is the go-between when we become our own worst enemy. It becomes an agent and spokesperson for both our aggressive inner critic and lamenting inner passivity. Our mind dispenses self-criticism as well as supposed reasons for being critical of others. It also offers up whiny, self-pitying, defensive reactions, reflecting inner passivity’s participation in our inner conflict.
Unresolved conflict in our psyche, particularly the primary conflict between inner passivity and our inner critic, is going to be experienced compulsively by many of us, even when it’s highly unpleasant or self-defeating. Until self-knowledge comes to our rescue, we’re likely to remain captive, to some degree, to troublesome inner conflict.
A recurring thought or intention can be helpful. Repeated regularly, the intention is, “Don’t be passive to my mind.” This is a soft intention, non-forcing, a gentle reminder. It alerts our better self, prompting it to be vigilant and well-informed about these deeper dynamics. It calls out to a strength in us, a belief in a self that can take charge of our experience. This intention is more effective when used alongside one’s fuller understanding of the existence and dynamics of the troublesome trio—inner critic, inner passivity, and inner conflict. With this self-knowledge, we’re more able to alert ourself when being passive to our mind, thereby enabling a stronger sense of self to emerge from within.
In a democracy, people have legal protections against subjugation and oppression. But psychological bondage to one’s mind and psyche is an invisible oppression against which the law is powerless. Only we ourselves, through self-knowledge, can prevent this swindle of our (inner) freedom.