Free Will and Mind Control

Posted on September 24, 2018 by Robert Ringer


Few disciplines are more difficult for modern man than silencing his noise machine.  It’s a machine that continuously floods the mind with thoughts of guilt, anger, the latest injustices he has suffered, and endless trivia.  It randomly engages in self-debate and senseless chatter, blocking out all attempts to bring forth a meaningful thought.

Many people are so addicted to noise that it’s become their drug of choice.  Even when alone, they engross themselves in frivolous activities — music, texting, gossiping, games, and more.  Anything but silence and tranquility.

Of course, the true noise addict would prefer to be at a boisterous social gathering if at all possible — volleyball at the beach, drinking and hooting it up with the crowd at Buffalo Wild Wings, or just exchanging an endless stream of babble about his and others’ travails.

Just about anything is preferable to silence.  Silence is the enemy.  Silence is maddening.  Silence must be drowned out at all costs.  Thus, the genuine noise junkie goes to great lengths to avoid quiet places as a safeguard against having to endure dreaded inner silence.

Why are people so attracted to noise?  It’s really part of a larger problem — a lack of control over one’s mind.  As Arjuna said to Krishna, “The mind is restless, turbulent, powerful, and obstinate.  It is as difficult to control as the wind.”

If, through a lack of focus, you allow your mind to wander, your attention becomes vulnerable to time thieves such as gossip, television, electronic devices, and menial tasks that don’t really need your attention.  In other words, your attention becomes enslaved.  All these things are addictive and serve to anesthetize your brain, working in concert with your inner noise machine to drown out constructive thoughts.

Just as bad as enslaved attention is dispersed attention, because it renders you a zombie of sorts.  Dispersed attention turns the mind into a pinball machine, with thoughts flitting from one meaningless topic to another.  It flourishes best in noisy environments — places with lots of distractions, the more the better, because noise is the food of choice for a mind in search of distractions.

Distractions, of course, make life more difficult.  For example, have you ever put something in a dumb place, somewhere you never put it before?  Perhaps your car keys, which you usually put in a specific drawer in the kitchen as soon as you walk in the door?  You are totally baffled trying to figure out where you could have put them.

Then, after scouring the house and looking in the kitchen drawer twenty times, your keys finally show up in your bedroom, underneath some odds and ends on a table.  It isn’t that you forgot where you normally put them.  What happened was that when you came into the house, the chatter box inside your mind distracted you, so you weren’t concentrating on putting your keys in their usual place.

It’s uncertain who first put forth the thought “never less alone than when alone,” but whoever it was, he stated a beautiful truth.  Over the past forty years, I’ve only lived alone for eleven months, and it was the most peaceful time of my life.  Because I drenched myself in silence and tranquility, the endless chatter within me disappeared and my noise machine turned itself down so low that I could barely hear it.  Though I was alone, I was never less  alone.

I clearly remember that I was able to concentrate on whatever I was doing at the moment — reading, listening to soft music, writing, etc. — because my mind was uncluttered.  My attention was neither enslaved nor dispersed.  As a result, I made more headway in my career during that brief period of time than at any other time in my life.

So what’s the secret to controlling the mind?  It is to be found in that ever-mysterious abstract known as free will.   No one totally understands free will, but few doubt that every human being possesses it.  Through free will, you can choose to concentrate totally on whatever it is you’re doing at any given moment in time, which I’ve found does not leave room for clutter to take hold.

Of course, a lot of the clutter comes from people, so you have to lay down your rules of engagement.  It goes without saying that people who lie, steal, or cheat are not worthy of your thoughts.  Nor are people who waste your time.  Or people who thrive on complaining and lamenting.

What it all boils down to is your mind-set.  Practice surrendering yourself to the moment.  Whatever it is you would like to be doing, do it — and give it your full attention.

Of course, all this takes vigilance and self-discipline, both of which free will is capable of producing.  Remember, concentration is not controlled by the involuntary nervous system.  It’s a conscious action that is simply but accurately summed up in Krishna’s response to Arjuna’s observation (above):  “Undoubtedly the mind is restless and hard to control.  But by practice and dispassion, it can be controlled.”

Or, as a well-known 21st century philosopher put it some five thousand years later, “The simple secret to controlling your mind is to ‘concentrate on concentrating.’”

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

22 responses to “Free Will and Mind Control”

  1. kauai_mike says:

    Buddha & Eckart Tolle said the same. The wandering mind/endless chatter is the enemy of sanity & enlightenment.

  2. Red Rock Rambler says:

    Terrific article as usual. In this noisy and chaotic world I've found there is nothing better than stillness and quiet, with the soft sounds of nature drifting in. We can readily observe that people who operate from a shallow mindset often surround themselves with noise and chaos. We see that in the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods, loud grating noise and chaotic interactions reign supreme. We visit family with loud TV blaring constantly, several children stampeding around the house screeching, and a chronically-barking dog. To top it off they blast music in their cars any time they go somewhere, and fill every moment with mindless chatter. By contrast, when people think about a "nice" neighborhood, one of the main attributes that comes to mind is quietness.

    I believe that only those who can set aside all the distractions and achieve a quiet, contemplative state are able to ascend to higher levels of understanding and self actualization. As long as you are constantly multi-tasking and filling your life with useless noise you'll never achieve full creative or professional potential.

  3. Rick G. says:

    There is nothing that is comparable to silence. That is why I find that being alone, by myself, is my ultimate joy, especially when there is no need for me to be out in public. Simon and Garfunkel had it right when they sang about the Sound of Silence. Public places where people gather are particularly annoying, stores, restaurants, concerts, etc. I only go out to public places out of necessity, not by choice. I can't stand it. Loud talking, hysterical laughing, yelling, idle chatter, loud background music, extremely loud car engines, all of which I find annoying. Crowded restaurants are one of the main culprits for much of this, save the loud car engines for the parking out and highway, and it is hard to enjoy a night out for dinner with such background noise so loud one cannot enjoy eating. And you cannot hear and understand the server when placing your order and you cannot even hear yourself talk. I have been there when the noise is nearly deafening. They always have additional background music, loud of course, which ranges from country to rock, never just dead silence to let you eat in peace. A lot of times they bring their loud-mouthed brats along which never shut up the whole time they are there. And just wait until they let out a blood-curdling scream when they don't get their way. I have had this many times and what a relief it is when I get out of there. Many times I have chosen to eat at home just to have it quiet and not have someone looking at me and constantly yacking in my face. Some of the most annoying people to me are those who cannot live without constant noise around them, the TV , radio, and/or stereo constantly playing, a pet dog constantly barking or a canary constantly singing, other people constantly around them talking endlessly about nothing, etc. I once dated a woman who had to be around someone all the time. If for some reason I couldn't come over, she would instead invite one of here chatter-box friends to come over to fill her "void". As for me, I choose otherwise. It makes me a happier person.

  4. Bruce says:

    Great insight Robert. "Silence is Golden" is a truism for knowing yourself from the outside in. Nothing like a quiet walk in the woods with just mother nature and your meaningful thoughts. Just look at all the people who walk and talk at the same time with heads down and oblivious to what is going around them. Distractions are everywhere and the means of escape are few. How does one find the time or space to eliminate the noise factor in everyday life without becoming a hermit. ??

  5. patg2 says:

    I have been alone for the past ten months, with no end in sight. I like it. I can do what I want when I want. Still, I relish the times when I go out into the wilderness, and sit quietly and just watch what goes on around me. Being involuntarily alone when you have lost a dear one is not nearly as nice as being alone because you choose to be. But I am doing OK, and I certainly agree about avoiding noisy places. They make me want to run as fast as I can. I do not understand this need to immerse oneself in noise, or leave the TV running all night. It would drive me batty. When you are alone, you can think about the eternal verities, and this is something we all need to do. Otherwise, we will be lost.

  6. Ivan says:

    A lot of the problem is that electronics runs 24/7. I can remember watching TV late at night during the 60's as a kid and about 10 pm stations would start shutting down. At about midnight all stations were off the air. In other words impossible to watch tv in the wee hours or surf the laptop. One was left to read in peace and quiet and fall asleep or simply go to bed.

  7. jay Jeyandran says:

    The article is a feast to the soul . With out the free will the compulsive thought will not survive , The will supports
    the compulsive thoughts .You need the grace of almighty for the WILL to stop the compulsiveness ..

  8. larajf says:

    I think it was in Think and Grow Rich that said that thinking is the hardest work possible.

  9. lee says:

    thank you robert ringer for this article. This is the great robert ringer that i remember from the past.

  10. ensomulv123 says:

    Easier said than done. The tendency to daydream and the tendency to flit from one thought/image to another are both very strong, and this occurs at the expense of being alert to the here and now. It's part of the mechanical tendency of humans, particularly modern ones. Distraction is at the heart of modern life.

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