If mind is mantra

February 25, 2024

If mind is mantra


nd Ram said, “Mind is Mantra.”

I discovered this in a lecture I was listening to recently. It compelled me to explore its meaning and whether it was true.

If mind is mantra, our most recurring thoughts, more or less, run the show. Most of our recurrent thoughts are not our own. We must acknowledge that all thought is, in a broad sense, borrowed. However, whereas earlier we’d choose what to ‘borrow’ and what to ignore, today there’s a bombardment of adverts, click-bait reels and stories, of which we are the unfortunate target. All of us have experienced being in bed, trying to get some shut-eye, but a catchy jingle from an ad you heard repeatedly during the PSL broadcasts won’t leave you alone. That’s a good way to understand that our mind is made up of what it is regularly exposed to. If a jingle that you don’t even like can stay with you, what other things might be in there that you are unaware of?

Most people today spend hours scrolling through social media apps. These apps are designed to keep you hooked. Teams that design them include people who previously designed slot machines in casinos, ensuring that people would keep playing and losing money. So what are we, as social media users, losing? We’re losing control over what we watch. As the saying goes, “If something is free, you are the product.”

We’ve all experienced the feeling when after hours of scrolling we put down our smartphone and feel awful. But then we pick it up again. This is because social media apps, in general, work on your dopamine. Commonly known as the ‘happiness hormone,’ dopamine is rather misunderstood. It actually works on your ‘reward system.’ For example, if you finish a task that you were supposed to complete, a task you had to go through some discomfort to fulfill, you would have a dopamine release upon its successful completion. This release means pleasure signals are sent to your brain that will ensure you do the difficult thing (that is good for you) again next time.

What social media has essentially done is that it has hijacked our brain’s reward system. The problem is that there’s no effort, there is only the reward. It’s cheap dopamine, the kind you get from drugs. This is what social media addiction does to us too, in almost the same way. And, this is why each time you put down your smartphone — that is, after extended periods of scrolling — you want to pick it up again. You’ve been conditioned to repeat the behaviour.

Short, bite-sized content that social media plays to users today trains the brain to seek instant gratification and novelty. We constantly scroll to find something ‘good’ (sufficiently stimulating), something that gives us ‘a hit.’ In doing so, we scroll through hundreds (even thousands) of unwanted stories, reels, ads etc. I think about how Instagram reels are the modern-day equivalent of the compulsive surfing of satellite channels on your TV.

Such spastic pleasure-seeking is causing a narrowing of things we can enjoy. In the process, we are losing our ability to focus on things that matter. Besides, we are losing our ability to do things that are uncomfortable but important for our well-being.

However, my main concern is not so much that we are consuming content. It is ‘what’ we are consuming. Also, just how much of it do we actually want to watch, how much of it would improve the quality of our life, and how much of it makes us better people. And finally, how much of it is worth the hidden price we pay.

These are questions we all need to ask ourselves. We are losing control over what we allow inside our minds. Without us knowing, it is shaping who we are. As individuals, our power lies in choosing things that interest us, things that resonate with us and things that make us better. They make us who we are, and I, for one, want to have control over that.

If mind is mantra, are you choosing the mantra that plays in your head, or is someone else using it to ‘play you’?

The author writes on culture and identity in Pakistan. He can be reached at uneeb.nas@gmail.com

If mind is mantra