Give Back Your Borrowed Mind
Are you still using the mind you were taught to have… or have you found your own?
I remember years ago on one of my birthdays, my Dad opened his arms, said, “Happy Birthday, Bo (my family nickname)”, and stepped in to hug me. I put my hand on his chest and gently kept him away, saying, “I don’t want to be hugged”. How could I do that? When he came to me with welcome, good feeling, just wanted to hug his son, how could I completely reject that, hurt him that way and throw him and Mom into confusion? For the answer, we have to back up to a point many more years before that.
I was in my mid- to late twenties when I realized clearly that I was in the wrong life. Rather, I had a mind that no longer felt like ‘me’, a mind that thought, acted and reacted in ways I did not want it to. As you’ll read in my bio (whenever I write it, ha), for the first few years of this gradual ‘dawning of unhappiness’ I tried to change things externally to make myself feel better, to search for a better, or rather, more authentic, life. Those were my traveling, searching, job-changing, experimental, hitch hiking years. When that didn’t make me happier or clearer, I knew the wrongness and unhappiness had to be internal, had to be changed internally, and that’s when I stopped the physical travel and external search, and began my journey to inside myself.
I’ll leave the gory details of that inner search for my bio, it’s enough right now to say that the inner search involved stages. Changes and learnings had to come in stages as I needed them. They were not thought out, planned out beforehand, and I did not even know I was ‘in’ a stage usually until after I’d been spat out the far side of that stage, with an understanding of what I just went through and why it had to happen that way.
And one of the stages that is necessary to changing your life, finding your authenticity, finding your true self… is to identify what your OLD self is, and to let it go.
Most of us have no idea there even is an ‘old self’ or a ‘new self’. Most people think this is crazy-talk, deluded. Most people have never gone through this process, and never will. Most people cannot even fathom that there is such a thing as not having found their own, authentic mind. Most people think, ‘This is me. This is who I am. You can’t change who you are. I know who I am.’ Of course you know who you are; you’re you, right? You’ve been you all your life. What is this nonsense about not being you, about finding an ‘authentic’ you, a more true you?
In this tool, I’m not going to write about ‘finding yourself’, that will be covered elsewhere. Today, I want to make clear what is NOT you; I want to show you that your mind is borrowed, and I want to make you feel good about giving it back. And I am grateful that, in my life, all this had to be done in such an extreme and painful way, so that I can now tell you that it doesn’t have to be that violent for you, doesn’t have to be so jarring to your normal life. This can happen more gently, more seamlessly with the rest of your lifestyle, for you.
We grow up with borrowed minds, minds that borrow language, behavior, skills, culture from the circumstances within which we live. Why do you speak English, or your native language? If you’re a male, why do you wear certain types of clothes, use certain hairstyles, work at certain jobs, talk a certain way, have male interests? If you’re a female, why do you wear certain fashions, certain hairstyles, work at certain jobs, talk a certain way, have female interests? You learned all these, borrowed and adopted these passed-on behaviors, from the moment you were born and were swaddled in either pink or blue swaddling. Through babyhood, infancy, childhood, teenhood and adulthood, you have borrowed your entire male or female persona from the world around you. If you go against your culture’s constructed and accepted patterns for male and female, you risk anything from mild disapproval, to being looked down upon, to being ostracized or punished, to being imprisoned, to death by stoning or burning or hanging or whatever method can cause you the most death for your disobedience, your punishment depending only on whatever culture you’re living in.
These borrowed minds of ours are ENTIRELY borrowed. Your religion, your lack of it, your religious freedom or fanaticism, is dictated by your culture. Your native language is dictated by your culture. Your accepted behaviors and statements, according to whether you are male or female, old or young, rich or poor, black or white, are determined by your culture. Your freedom or restrictions in all these, are determined by your culture; some cultures, while defining what is right and wrong behavior for you, will still allow you much leeway to disobey, challenge, experiment, differ; other cultures will torture or kill you for the slightest disobedience.
Having a borrowed mind, does not mean you are not unique. You may rebel against much of what you were taught. Or you may fit into the exact mold of what you were taught. You may go along with some things and change others, rebel against things, creating your own unique combination of personality and life. You look a little different than every other person on Earth, and you move a little differently, express yourself a little differently, work, talk, eat, behave a little differently. Yes, even with a borrowed mind, each of us is still unique. You are still a complete original, a unique being, you think and live ‘your own way’. But here is the question: you are unique… but are you AUTHENTIC? Are you living a life that is authentic and reflects your uniqueness, yet?
Our minds borrow on every level, near and far, from our central point in our family and radiating outward to our neighborhood, city, country and planet. Accepted patterns become rules, laws, traditions, lifestyles, or simply trends. Each new generation borrows them, evolves them, and then passes them on to the next. This is exactly perfect, this has to happen, in order for people to survive and evolve and procreate. We learn through borrowing behaviors that our entire society and surroundings teach us. When I say ‘Give back your borrowed mind’, I don’t mean that anything is actually wrong with having a borrowed mind. It is perfect, we must all go through having a borrowed mind, and most of us will never let it go. For most of us, we can cope just fine and have fine lives, even wonderful unique lives, with this borrowed mind. So… why ‘give back your borrowed mind’? What does that mean, and why do it, why change anything, if having a borrowed mind is necessary, wonderful, unique, and gets us through life just fine?
To find YOU. To find your OWN mind, beneath everything that was borrowed. No, I’m not going all metaphysical or spiritual on your ass, I’m getting physical: yes, you are unique in life and body. And your mind also has its perfectly unique shape, where each of those brain lobes and neurons and synapses pass information through in their own way, slightly different than anyone else in the world. Your mind has all the same parts as anyone else, but still has its microscopic little differences, you still receive and process and deliver information in your own unique way. Think of how pure that way still was, when you were in your mother’s womb, until the moment your were born. In the womb, your mind was pure. It operated and could process whatever senses you were given. And whatever came in through your senses was experienced purely, without filter of constructed thoughts and rules.
Then your born life began, and put constraints and bars around your purity, added all kinds of filters to how you perceive things and express things. You grew up, liking things and disliking things, accepting things and rebelling against things. Your successes added to your ego, your failures added to your fears, you took your likes and dislikes, thoughts and behaviors, you took your skills and fears and defenses, and made them all into what you call your ‘personality’.
It is all borrowed, it is all learned. What you call your personality, is a compilation of events, memories, skills, learned behaviors and thoughts. They are in a unique shape, they are the personality everyone recognizes you by… but they are all a construction. A necessary, and often beautiful construction, but a construction. And what if you want more?
What if you want to find the pure mind you were born with? Who would THAT be?
‘Can’t teach an old dog new tricks; can’t change who you are; I am who I am’. These and other sayings are repeated through our lifetimes, people explaining that, at essence, they can’t change who they are.
This is true. But it is inaccurately applied as a panacea, a catch-all phrase that applies to your entire personality. Do you really know what is the unchangeable essence of you, and what CAN be changed, and the difference between the two? This is the disparity, the untruth, of those old sayings. There is an essence, the shape all your cells are made into and the pinpoint essence of how you operate, which cannot be altered… but most people think that your entire growing history IS the essence of your personality. That your entire life that has made you kind, or cantankerous, or bitter, or hopeful, IS your unchangeable essence. That your personality, your taste in clothes, your religious and political beliefs, IS your unchangeable essence. That your reactions and lessons learned from the great successes and traumas and tragedies in your life, IS your unchangeable essence.
But it’s not. All these are constructed, built, learned, which means they are workable, malleable. Your unchangeable essence is at the core of you. Unchangeable. Call it the one-percent, if you like, and everything that makes up the personality you’ve known is the ninety-nine percent. You can change, work with, almost EVERYTHING in your thoughts and personality. To say you can’t change or grow, is a lie, no matter what the reason, no matter what your age or your lot in life. You can change almost everything you now know as your personality.
But there is a core around which your constructed personality revolves, and that core is unchangeable, it is hard-wired in the shape of your DNA and what that DNA tells each part of your body and mind to do, to be. Do you want to find it?
For those who want to see beyond your borrowed and constructed personality, peel away the layers and dive into your being’s nucleus, how do you start? What must happen along the way, and what are the rewards?
Finally, I’m going to return to my no-hugging story, when Dad tried to hug me on my birthday. Years before that event, the young me, my growing-up personality, could not cope with life. I was not happy, and nothing I tried would make me feel like my life was on track. I felt ‘wrong’, I felt like I didn’t want the life I had anymore. I don’t mean the circumstances, I mean my mind within those circumstances. I was writing and drawing comic books, which I had loved for years. But doing so was not making me happy. I was earning well, but the things I bought were not making me happy. I was bodybuilding and training martial arts and doing other exercise, things I loved. But they did not make me happy. I dated wonderful and unusual girls, but did not feel happy dating. I tried many jobs I thought I enjoyed, traveled a lot, enjoyed things here and there… but none of it would remove this feeling of unhappiness, of wrongness. Of not living the life I wanted, or was ‘meant’, to live.
I did not have a clue what to do, what I wanted, how to change anything. I just knew I had to let go of the old life, and let something – anything – new appear. For the first few years after I let everything go, I was… letting everything go. That sounds funny, but there is a difference. I did let my old way of life go, almost all at once, when I stopped working, let go of relationships, exercise, apartment, and decided to do nothing except explore my mind and figure out this unhappiness. Still, old thoughts, behaviors and habits aren’t let go of instantly, and I took years of flushing them out into the daylight, working with them, letting them go.
The old me… hurt. When deepest in my transitional years, I let go of all my belongings. Even all my old photos, books, personal items, clothing, valuables. I questioned the ‘why’ of everything I was. I’d look at things like my language; yes, my language is English, that’s according to where I was born and raised. But would I be happier giving that up, going elsewhere, would a new language be more ‘me’? I looked at my speech patterns, inherited through my parents, taught by schools and society… do I really want to use these common phrases and mannerisms, even if I still decide on using English? Are they me?
When I say the old ‘hurt’, I don’t mean I was hurt by the usual things… being insulted, people yelling; I mean the old shape of my life and thoughts was not what I wanted. If I met an old friend while walking down the street, of course they would immediately begin talking to me as the person they used to know. I was changing, and I did not know how to respond since I was not a new person yet. It took years to let go of my old responses. Even someone asking ‘How are you’, a simple question like that I still couldn’t answer, or at least, couldn’t answer normally.
For a couple months during those long years of moving from place to place (wherever they would feed me and put up with me), I returned to stay with my parents. Since our most set-in-stone behaviors are determined during our growing years with our family or guardians, being at my parents’ home hurt my changing nerves the most. I remember the first day there, putting my backpack in my old bedroom… standing there, physically feeling pain at looking at the old room the way it has always been. I couldn’t stand the sameness of everything. I would not have been able to sleep there that night, if I hadn’t changed the furniture around. I could not get into that bed while it was in the same position it had always been. Walking around the house, all the crafts, knick-knacks, plates and spoons… it was all my old life, and it hurt.
Christmas came, and I was broke. I did not buy anyone gifts for the first time in my life, not even a card, because I had zero money. I did not explain anything, I just went through Christmas experiencing the difference… the guilt at receiving gifts when I could give none in return. The guilt of not making any by hand, knowing that I could not create anything, that my mind was nowhere near wanting to create anything based on the old me, like art or photos. It hurt to even think of doing art for someone. Old patterns hurt. I couldn’t eat at my parents’ regular mealtimes, because it was just too pat, too ‘old me’, too ‘their schedule, not mine’. I could not have regular conversations or answer their questions normally, because I did not know what I was doing or becoming, and I could not answer in the expected old-me ways. And any expectation they, or anyone, had of me to follow my predictable old patterns, hurt, and I could not do it. So my birthday rolled around, and the most usual and repeated and expected thing was for my folks to say Happy Birthday and to hug me. And it hurt so much that I physically could not allow it, could not stand it, and pushed it away.
At that time, I was responding to inner changes that were forcing themselves out through me. I did not have any clarity about them yet. What I am writing here, for you, today, is nothing I could have put into words at that time. I could explain nothing, only act. It was a mystery. And it caused me great pain, discomfort, and confusion; and it caused great alienation towards those around me, and great pain and confusion to them also. I’m telling you the tip of the iceberg, here. That happened for many years, with every facet of my life. It was a complete inner overhaul. In hindsight I’m sure it had to happen so severely with me, so that I could look back upon the whole process and see what damage it could do, and what beauty it could do, and then know how things could be done with more balance, more gentleness, for others. Now, when I talk about this with others who are going through similar experiences, I know of so many ways, things to say, to let you know that it doesn’t have to hurt so much and do so much damage to you and those around you. It can be done more gently.
We all rebel, disagree to a certain extent with society, rules, parents, laws, religion. I am not talking about that. You can go beyond rebelling or disagreeing. Those are still being ‘caught up in the borrowed mind’. The real work happens when you go past ANY old patterns of yours. When you don’t need to agree or disagree, you go into the kingdom of authenticity. Here is what authenticity is:
Authenticity, is when your thoughts, your actions, your entire lifestyle… stop obeying everything you learned growing up, even your uniqueness and interests and differences, and start obeying the perfect simplicity of the entire being you were born with. Your learned personality dissolves, you let go of your past history of learned patterns, and allow your natural, inborn processor to shape your mind and your life.
This takes YEARS. Letting go of old patterns takes years, because you were entirely constructed out of them, on all levels. With some of you, your old patterns allow you a fine life, maybe even a magnificent life, you cope well and thrive, and you feel little or no urge to go on any inner search. With others, you might feel something pulling at you, some urge, to find something a little different that what you are now, inside. Still others feel crushed and despairing, blind to how your borrowed minds are confining and harming you. There is no template, you are all so different. With some of you a borrowed mind is a fine mind, with others of you a borrowed mind is a monster that is eating you alive.
I crashed with a friend for a short while during those changing years; he was depressed, and on medications for it. I usually have some pretty clear insight into the causes of human conditions, mentally. I knew, despite his and his doctors’ insistence it was all ‘chemical imbalance’, that something else was happening. So I watched and waited as I crashed with him for a couple months. Finally his parents came to visit… and I saw it all.
His mother babied him. Not normally, like a mother cares for a son, but total smothering babyness. She would completely take care of him when she visited his home, in a cooing and babyish way, being overly generous and giving, and then being infantile and resentful, making him feel guilty and unloving, if he ever turned down the ‘gifts’ or ‘help’ she was giving him. Growing up, he borrowed his self-opinion from her. If he let go of his power and allowed her to do things for him, he was rewarded. If he disagreed or turned down one of her ‘favors’, he’d be made to feel guilty or that he was an unloving son. So: his house was just like hers, his clothes were just like hers. He had an unusual way of washing dishes that I’d never seen; when I went to his parents’ house with him once, her dish-washing setup was exactly the same. Almost everything was exactly the same, right down to taste in vehicles and hygiene of bathrooms. He couldn’t break free of the thoughts and behaviors his parents instilled in him, and it was ‘stopping’ him inside even into middle age. And he had no idea what was happening, he thought it was chemical imbalance and probably still does.
Another person I knew many years ago: a friend of mine in martial arts was very powerful. Everything he did, he gave it his all, became a phenomenal fighter, always trying to be better and to show it. Studied philosophy, tried to expand his knowledge constantly. Very powerful in body and spirit. He tried to be the tough, I-can-stand-anything type, yet friendly and helpful. During one conversation he asked me something, to which I didn’t really want to tell him the answer. He actually began whining, begging, over and over for me to tell him, ‘Please tell me. Please. Tell me. Please. Please’. For over five minutes he kept begging, but it was something private and I was keeping it to myself. But I had never seen this side to his seemingly mega-powerful personality before. He literally came apart in his need, regressed to an infant. And I began to see it in minor ways during other happenings, this intense fear he had if anyone did not give him something he wanted emotionally, removed something from him, left him for awhile. I later learned that he was adopted, abandoned as a child. He said he had no desire to find out why, or find his birth parents, that none of that really ‘affected him’… and yet he was still operating on a borrowed mind, with all the strengths and weaknesses and problems given to a person through the process of child abandonment. He didn’t know how deeply he was living in these constructed parts of his personality, and so he didn’t know that he could actually escape them. He was abandoned, he was living out all the symptoms of someone who was abandoned, and he had no idea he was doing this.
Are you beginning to see this? When you begin to see your borrowed, constructed personality for what it is… then you begin to realize that you can evolve it, change it, grow and discover yourself in ways you never considered before. You can uncover all your problems, problems you used to be blind to, and work with them. Because they are NOT YOU. They were given to you, forced upon you, learned by you, became part of your personality, but your desires and addictions and problems are not affecting the true, authentic you, they are constructing the borrowed you. Any emotional harm that has come to you and shaped your life, is malleable. It is workable, you can wrestle and dance with the behavior and lifestyle it has led to. You can do it more gently, with clear awareness, and it will peel back your layers to reveal a wondrous depth of being inside you.
In one sense, I wish someone had told me back then, “Just realize that this entire personality is learned; you can work with all of it. You don’t have to leave your present life and go meditate in a cave or find a guru. Simply knowing there is an authentic, unchangeable you at the core, and that everything else is workable, will free you to explore, while still working and loving and watching TV. You don’t have to wreck yourself and those around you while you’re escaping your past. You can do it gently, seamlessly, while still ‘in’ your past”. I wish someone could have said that to me, and that I could have understood the concept.
You GIVE BACK YOUR BORROWED MIND.
That’s it. You don’t hate it, you don’t run from it. You just realize that it’s borrowed, and you start letting it go, and allowing what is unchangeable, at the center of you, to appear. You explore, explore, explore. Allow, allow, allow. You let go, let go, let go. If it’s too dangerous to try something that your inner feeling is telling you to do differently, then you stay safe. If you’re safe to try the new, you try it. But in your mind, the whole time, you’re ticking all these things off the list, checking in with your inner feeling: Is this right for me? I’ve always done it, but is it RIGHT? Not morally or ethically or according to belief, but is it right in my GUT? Even then, you don’t actually have to do anything about it (see Free Your Thinking), but still: KNOW whether it is ‘you’ or ‘old you’. Authentic, or past history. True mind, or borrowed mind. Just know.
I use the words ‘give back’ on purpose. If I were to say ‘get rid of your borrowed mind’, that would infer something is wrong with it. It’s so easy to fall into the trap, during your inner evolution, of taking up a contrary, antagonistic stance to some things you are. When you give it back, it means that you do so consciously, with awareness, and with acceptance that you still have it inside you. Simply knowing that your words, thoughts, or actions in any given circumstance are borrowed, learned, makes room for you to plant a new seed of awareness of yourself. You can still give back to society, your family, your job, exactly what you’ve given them in the past, things they expect and want from you… and be aware of whether or not you’re giving back in your old patterns… or something more new, more true. You can do both. Some of you must give back the old, if you’re in prison, or some culture or family or religion where it would be very hurtful or dangerous for you to do what feels honest and authentic. And some of you live where you can freely explore this. In either case, the same thing can happen: you can begin becoming AWARE of what feels authentic and inauthentic, inside you.
Simply learning to be aware of what feels authentic, and differentiating it from the feelings of the ‘old you’, begins to straighten out your harmony within all your circumstances. You don’t need to do anything jarring or extreme. Now that I give back my borrowed mind all day long, I’m no longer ‘weird’. I no longer have to explore my differences, choose between the old and the new, I no longer feel uncomfortable in conversation. I’m patient and beautiful and giving, with my parents and with strangers. If I’m responding with my old, familiar thoughts, I’m aware of doing that and it’s because, at that time, that is what feels most giving. If I’m responding with something new and unusual, it’s because that is what feels most giving. Both dance seamlessly with each other, now, in one mind, without any feeling of there being a separation of the old and the new. It’s all in there, it’s all useable, all one. It leads to a life with both immense and humble clarity.
This takes years. You can do it gently. You don’t have to change anything. This tool does not have to be remembered. You don’t have to try anything new. Just be aware that the mind you’ve had all your life is a learned mind, it has been borrowed from everyone and everything that taught you while you were growing up. Be aware that you can keep all this information and keep your same lifestyle, but that you can also find the more pure essence of your mind, that essence you were born with and which never leaves you. Be aware that your entire personality can be changed, improved, strengthened, worked with, because it is constructed, borrowed. But be aware that the essence of you…
…Is unchangeable. You can look past your entire constructed personality, and reveal this essence, at any time you want to start looking.
GIVE BACK YOUR BORROWED MIND