Someone irritates you: Do you snap back, think of a response, or worry about the other person's perception of you? Understanding where these different reactions come from in your subtle body (mind, intellect, or ego) can help you master your reactions and come closer to your true self.
Knowing how your subtle body—the mind, the intellect, and the ego—functions is essential to knowing yourself. Discerning between each level can help you decide which parts of the subtle body you will use in making choices in life, and developing this awareness can translate into confidence, comfort, and ease while navigating through life.
The Mind: Reactive
The mind causes you to react quickly—sometimes doing or saying things without thinking.
The mind collects and categorizes input from the five senses. It is the control center where stimulus is interpreted and the processing center for the raw data of the world. The mind produces emotions, sensations, and memories. Some of this data is processed using quick logic, and the mind decides what the response should be. For example, when your hand accidently touches a hot element on a stove, your nervous system processes this input and directs your hand to pull away from the heat before you have time to think. This response helps prevent you from getting burned every time you are near a stove.
Sometimes, the responses the mind generates are not useful. Many people panic if they are in tight spaces. This is a response the mind has acquired—perhaps from a childhood fear or a past negative experience in a small space. The mind gets the data from the nervous system and interprets it as a tight space. Then the mind, much like a computer, looks through its files for small-space experiences. If it comes across a negative memory, the mind immediately releases chemicals and triggers a fear response before the intellect has a chance to examine this situation and choose a response.
The Intellect: Thoughtful
The intellect helps you sort through a situation—carefully weighing the options—to respond in a thoughtful manner.
The intellect observes a situation, discriminates, and then determines an action. Through the intellect you can gain understanding. The intellect commonly uses slow logic, making a mental pros and cons list before reaching a conclusion. Unfortunately, lists are often based on impressions from the past called Samskara—unexamined energetic patterns from the past that you bring into your present. Habits of unhealthy eating, perfectionism, or materialism can all stem from leaving these thoughts unexamined. Meditation can shake up old patterns (from personal history or genetic makeup) and release these energy blockages from the past that have become part of your intellect.
With the example of experiencing fear in a tight space, the intellect can recognize that there is no danger in small places. The intellect can choose to replace the fear response with deep breaths or an affirmation like “I am calm and comfortable.” The intellect can help to retrain the mind to initiate a different response.
The Ego: Self-Focused
The ego causes you to make choices based on how you are perceived by others or yourself, and can prevent you from connecting to your true self.
The ego involves the layers of descriptions you attach to who you are, including your position and possessions. When you ask “Who am I?” you might answer “I am a mother, daughter, sister, animal lover, and vegetarian.” When you are getting on an elevator, the ego might remind you that you are someone who is athletic—prompting you to take the stairs. You use words to describe who you identify yourself as today—remember, before you had a child and called yourself mother, you were still you. These words continuously change. When you strip away all these layers, the true self—or spirit—can shine through.
Understanding how your subtle body works can help you recognize that you have a choice in every situation to express certain aspects of the mind, the intellect, or the ego. What will you choose to cultivate in your life? Developing the intellect can help curb the reactivity of the mind and quieting the ego can let the soul shine through—leading you closer to operating from a level of true self.