How to Go Beyond the Self-Concern of Our Small Mind

Three practices to let go of self and find the freedom of a vast mind
By Leo Babauta, www.zenhabits.net
March 12, 2019 Updated: March 12, 2019

Most of the time, we are caught up in what can be called our “small mind.” This is the small world of self-concern: wanting to get what we want and avoid what we don’t.

This is the cause of much suffering, from always running to distraction, procrastinating, or getting caught up in worries and fears. It can lead us to worry about what people think of us, what we’re missing, what someone did to offend us, and more.

It’s a small world to get trapped in, leading to stress, anger, hurt, worry, fear, anxiety, and distraction.

The antidote is having a vast mind and growing beyond the small mind that we’re habitually stuck in.

What is a vast mind? It’s opening to the freshness of the present moment and something bigger than our self-concern.

Let’s imagine that there’s someone whose family member has said something insulting to them. They immediately get caught up in a small mind, thinking about how they don’t deserve to be treated this way, that they’re a good person and that this person is always inconsiderate. They are worried about themselves, and their world is very small and constricted.

What if, instead, this person dropped their self-concern, and opened their awareness to something wider than themselves. Instead of formulating self-concerned opinions on the insult, they take it as pure experience. There’s no injustice in it. That value hasn’t been assigned.

Suddenly, everything is open and vast. They relax into this openness. They might notice that this other person, whom they love, is suffering in some way. Now, rather than feeling injured, they are able to find compassion for the person.

That’s the difference between a small, constricted mind that’s full of suffering, and a vast mind that’s open, unbounded, and full of love.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Here are three practices for growing from a small mind to a vast mind.

Practice 1: Ego-Dropping Meditation

A great place to start is by sitting in meditation, opening your awareness, and dropping the boundaries between you and everything else. You can find a detailed description at zenhabits.net/dropself.

The idea is that we practice dropping into a relaxed, open awareness, and then start to relax any boundaries we have between ourselves and all that surrounds us. We drop the construct we’ve created that we call ourselves, and then there’s just sensation, just pure experience.

It’s a returning to wholeness, a wonderful practice.

Practice 2: Radical Not-Knowing

Most of the time, we act as if we know exactly how things are. We don’t pay too much attention to this moment, because it’s boring to pay attention to the breath, body, and our sense of everything around us, because we already know all about that.

But in fact, every moment is completely fresh, open, and full of new possibilities to explore.

When we get stuck in a small mind, we are in a narrow, constricted view of the world. And it’s a hardened view—”I know what I want and I just want to get it. I know what I don’t like and I want to avoid it.” It’s the hardened view of fundamentalism.

The practice of radical not-knowing is to act as if you’ve never experienced this before. Everything is completely new to you, with no preconceptions or labels.

You look around at everything as if you’ve never seen it before. It’s fresh, wondrous, and breathtaking. There are no names for anything, just the pure experience.

Try walking around like that for a few minutes, and see what it’s like: be open and curious.

We can become much more open to the vastness of experience. There is no, “I want this” or “I don’t want that.” It’s just, “This is the experience I’m having right now.”

This is pure boundless awareness, and it’s vast.

Practice 3: Opening to Devotion to Others

When I notice that I’ve gotten caught up in my small mind, I try to think of people other than myself.

This person is being inconsiderate because they’re suffering.

The people who I love are more important than my discomfort.

The love I have for my family is so much bigger than my small wants.

Opening myself up to the love I have for others gets me past my small mind, and into an openness. What would it be like to be completely devoted to other people? It’s a fresh experience, boundless and vast.

Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with more than 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net

RECOMMENDED