Plato: Limited Mind of an Infinite Soul

Enchanted we are by the colorful swirls of mind, just as we are enchanted with the evening sunset; except in the case of mind, we fear what happens when night falls and the colors begin to fade. And that is how our monsters are born and continue to live in mind, inside our days.

The Limited Labyrinth of Mind

Plato’s dialogues are a labyrinth of the possibilities of mind, but mind is a limited energetic system. It can only comprehend so much and in so many ways. That means that the patterns it uses can be mapped, understood, detected – and manipulated by sources both outside and inside. The simplicity of the mind is concealed by its sheer imagination and its ability to reflect the truth as a mirror reflects the true face. Plato’s works are an attempt to give us that mirror, so that we can see our illusion more clearly, more wondrously, more precisely – for the purpose of letting it all go. Plato’s dialogues are of such depth and beauty that the philosopher, Alfred Whitehead, once said:

“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”


There is literally nothing that you can think that does not have its paradigm in Plato’s dialogues.  And there is nothing stopping you from mastering the nuances of your own mind, enough to free yourself from its powerful spell, a spell that makes you think the problem is “out there” or “in here”; the spell that thinks you “can’t survive” or “deal” with something. The spell that says you are “unworthy” or “not smart enough”. The universe is infinite and so are you. Your soul is an unstoppable, ever present force. But your mind? It is always limited and it will keep you limited if you live inside of it, at the expense of everything else. Unfortunately, most of modern mankind lives in the mind and lives in the limitation of mind. And it’s only fear? Is “trespassing” over its own self-imposed limitations. Yes, we are a strange bunch. We self-harm by means of the mind and it is the mind that we are afraid to violate by ceasing our self-harm.

That is because you trust the mind. And the tricky thing about your mind, is that it can convince you it has all the bases covered – that you have “everything handled”. The mind, after all, imagines it can talk about the “whole” or “unity” or “love” or “self” simply because it has a definition of it. But the mind also has definitions of “half” or “separation” or “fear”, simply because it has to. The mind cannot really see anything as whole because it always has “half” to accompany it. It cannot understand any black without white or any loud without soft. And when we live in the mind, we will have to ride those waves of up and down, in and out, without any rest. When we find love, we will find also fear. When we find dark, we will find light. We will feel unstable. And we will be unstable. That is why, Socrates says:

How strange it seems to be, men, this thing men call pleasure: how amazingly it grows into seeming to be its opposite, pain; yet, for the human being, both never occur together at the same time; if someone should pursue and seize one, they will always be required to take the other as well, as if both, though two, are bound to a single source. And it seems to me, he said, that if Aesop recognized this phenomenon, he would have put together a story like this: The god, in being unable to make the two enemies friendly with each other, attached both of their heads to the same head, and because of this whenever one would emerge, the other one follow later. At any rate, that is how it seems to be to me: For there appeared to be pain in my leg from the shackles, and now pleasure has arrived in its turn.

Plato, Phaedo, 59c

The See-Saw of Mind

All of our suffering in life is caused by our attachment to mind in some fashion or form. We are constantly taken on a thrilling ride by its see-saw, of one extreme to the other. And inside this polarity of opposites, we formulate our opinions and judgments of acceptance and avoidance. One minute we like someone, the next minute we don’t. We become confused, unstable, and unable to be constant in our relationships to others or ourselves. It all might feel chaotic and often times depressing or exhilarating, but it is not chaotic. The mind is at work here and the mind always follows rules and the rule in particular, is the rule of polarity. It is the rule of polarity that makes us afraid to reach out and commit, for we know that we will suffer the opposite feelings soon enough. We are ecstatic one day but soon we fall into disappointment. This is what causes most people to give up on their dreams, their hopes, the true destiny.

Identity as Prison

Plato refers to the mind as prison of noetic (noos, mind) or mental laws.  To learn about these laws you can refer to the Seven Hermetic Principles. For the purpose of this article, the best way to begin to understand what Plato means when he talks about mental prisons is to watch young children playing. They can pretend they are doctors, but they can do this in full awareness that they are just playing. They are enjoying the imagination that their mind fashions for them without attachment. When they stop the playtime, they go back to being empty of those playful/false identities. Meanwhile, as we age, we begin to formulate identities that stick. These identities are formulated in the mind. We start to “know who we are” and in this certainty we find a bit of strength and independence. We are told, after all, that “knowledge is power” and so we figure “self-knowledge” is absolute power. We begin to say “this is not me” and “that is me”.  However, that independence and strength is an illusion created inside yet another polarity, me vs. them or self vs others. We are not really knowing who we are. That self that is outside of “others” is an illusory self. It becomes a prison of our own making. We are only knowing what our mind says we are, and we are surrendering to it. Before we know it, we are approaching aged fifty, and we have become a paradigm of habit, hardened opinions, and unresolved dreams and anxieties. And if something happens in the world that forces us to release ourselves from habits, we feel as if we were a drug addict separated from his or her drug.

The mind is a mechanism for spell-casting and illusions. It can shape and mold our mental patterns, and so our emotions, and our entire lives. It is at its most powerful when we, as human beings or as friends or as countries or as clubs or religions, agree with each other. When we agree, the spell is nearly impenetrable except by those who have great mental power and conditioning to withstand the “herd”. The bird who strays from the flock will have to take on the challenge of cultivating his or her own will, to reach deep within to find their own true direction. Every one of us has that innate ability, that birthright to self expression and absolute freedom and bliss. The only reason we doubt that we have access to bliss is because we are trapped and addicted to the life that mind has cultivated for us.

Mind as Addiction

In the modern world, we are completely ruled by the mind. But this hegemony of mind in the modern world is simply an imbalance, a kind of indulgence similar to our indulgence in pleasures such as entertainment or food and drink. The mind, like food and drink and entertainment, is not a bad thing by itself. The mind is a tool for sorting, estimating, organizing, knowing. We cannot function without the mind and its ability to categorize and understand. But Plato, in the mouth of Socrates and throughout many of his dialogues, describes knowledge as being a like a boat that works for a while. But he cautions that we should always be on the lookout for a better boat. In other words, the search for knowledge should continue. We should not stay in one boat or identity forever. This is why philosophy means “the love of wisdom”. We are not the possessors of wisdom, but always the seeker; forever the seeker. The lover of science or the lover of art should always make sure to keep seeking the true, the good, and the beautiful. To stop doing this is to fall into the illusion of mind, back into the prison, back into the polarities.

And the modern world loves its illusions and feels “alive” in its illusions. We love excitement and business and stimulation. We have a very low tolerance for neutrality, peace, quiet, slowness. We instead prefer to be addicted to a world that loves to make impressions and loves to make itself popular, known, heard, and wanted. We find power in the busi-ness of mind. We need to find a way to market ourselves or make what we have popular in order to achieve money, fame, relevance. We live inside the mind, not only in our waking moments, but in our dream-time and in times when it would be best to not be in our mind, but to be perhaps in our hearts or our bellies.  We are very fearful of leaving our minds and we are very possessive over what we think we “have” in them. It doesn’t matter whether the mind is working in the subconscious or the conscious. It doesn’t matter if you experience feelings or ideas. It is all from the same place, the fluctuation of the mind. In the Yoga Sutras, it is said that:

Union or wholeness (yoga) is restraining the fluctuations natural to the mind.

Yoga Sutras, 1.1. Patanjali,

And it doesn’t help you that people around us are also in their minds and think that what their minds contain IS them. When we reach out to each other, we are mostly doing it in terms of the way the mind can understand and assess. Is this person “good for me”? Does this person have “what I want”? What should I say? In a digital world, this becomes even more apparent, as we are no longer interacting energetically with each other or through the heart-space. We are simply reading or hearing words/speech most of the time and as we are doing that, we are just processing, assessing, judging, ignoring, taking note. We become disheartened, or obsessive, we desire and we fear, we feel pain or pleasure. Rarely are we able to just be, to just enjoy another’s company or our own without experiencing the drama, the see-saw of polarity that the mind is addicted to and finds comfort in, the chasing and making things happen, the running and the fear of things happening at all. We do all this, and never really find powerful intimate connection. We just bump into each other, and fall away from each other and move on along, as if nothing significant happened. We don’t see the birds or hear the rain or hear each other. We are just pushed along with the tides, occasionally glancing at scattered memories and vague impressions.

Neutral in the Heart Space

So many people feel alive in these dramas of mind. A sense of peace and neutrality would actually scare them. This is a sad affliction because inside that neutrality is where we find the holy grail: unconditional love and acceptance. It is where we are closer to our hearts and our divine nature and the divine itself.

Some who read this might think that they are different, especially those who think of themselves as being spiritually awakened. But much of what is considered to be spiritual is just more of the mind. The mind is the seat of the imagination, of any kind of comprehension whatsoever, the “knowing” of the divine or the human things. The psychic or the seer “knows” things.  Now, there is nothing wrong or false about this kind of seeing, but the distinction must be made. Are we knowing what mind is telling us, or are we knowing what the heart is telling us? How many know the difference? Some seers will say that “they just know or they have a feeling”.  Actually, all of us speak this way. But feelings are undifferentiated and undistinguished mind-games. How do you know that you are not just expressing an impression of mind?

One way of knowing whether or not you are sourcing from mind or heart is to determine whether or not you are in a state of neutrality. When you are neutral, you see or hear or know things despite your opinions, tastes, desires, fears, and expectations. When you see from the heart, you see it with complete openness and acceptance. You cannot tell a lie. You don’t say things in order to please your make yourself look powerful. Even the feeling of being powerful, is a sign that you are in a delusion.  Ask yourself, if your powers of insight were gone tomorrow, would you feel bad about yourself? Would you be neutral? If the answer is “neutral”, you are seeing from the heart.

However, even when we see from the heart – and we always have those moments – it is easy to quickly slip back into the mind as soon as you start assessing and judging. That subtle slip back into mind is like a cloud that suddenly conceals the light of the sunny day. Socrates, the philosopher in Plato’s dialogue, represents this Zen state of consciousness. He doesn’t ever react to those who speak with them. He doesn’t become enraged or disheartened. He actually usually doesn’t want to be talking to anyone at all. The Republic, for example, begins with Socrates just wanting to go home. He is not interested in selling his philosophy or his powers of intuition. He is very, as Nietzsche said, “boring”. Socrates is the one balancing in the middle of the see-saw, always attempting to lead both sides to balance, no matter what they hurl at him. He is always neutral, almost in a state of bliss, that is beyond the comprehension of most people. Phaedo remarks about him, at his deathbed:


Truly I experienced wondrous things while I was there. For although I was present for the death of a man dear to me, pity never occurred to me: the man appeared quite happy to me, Execrates, both in his manner and his words; and he came to his end so fearlessly and nobly that he seemed to me to be going to Hades by divine fate, and when he would get there,  he would do quite well if indeed anyone ever could.

Plato, Phaedo, 58e.

The Way out of the Prison

The way out of the prison that is mind, is to allow what is in mind to come to an end. To put a ceasefire on the addictions, the desire to be loved, the desire to be seen, the attachment to one’s own powers, the need for excitement, drama, and feelings of empowerment. Zen Buddhists might talk about the thoughts of being like clouds in the sky. You can watch them, but you must learn how to let them pass. You must learn how to let the false-self pass. Do not attach yourself to it. Each time a cloud passes, you might look at it, and even engage in it, but you must also, if you want to remain free and happy, let them go. This “letting go” might even feel like a death if the attachment is strong. In Plato’s Phaedo, this death is called teleusis, an ending, perfection, completion. In our modern world, we would call it “ego-death”. But I don’t like the concept of ego-death, because there is no death or end of the ego. The ego itself is simply a mental construct, a way to understand ourselves inside a particular branch of knowledge called psychology. To understand yourself as an ego, is not going to help you to let go of ego, because you are still in the mind, fighting the so-called ego – which doesn’t even exist.  The only way out of the prison of the mind is to learn how it works, just like the only way out of a labyrinth is to pay attention, do not succumb to fear and desire, learn how it works, to remember the patterns and the wrong turns.  You can see these patterns if you spend time in occupations of the mind: logic, philosophy, computer programming, the sciences, music, the arts, rhetoric, story telling, dream analysis. All structure, all plot, all story relies on patterns, logic, simile, metaphor, and/or demonstration in order to be convincing. Practice catching the mind in the act. The more you do that, the more you start to feel and experience the self that is you. For you are the consciousness that is watching mind and its tricks and is actually separate from it. You are the one who can change,add, subtract from the presentation of mind. You are the conductor, the maker of your own world, the sound of your music.

So to become Zen or neutral does not mean you shouldn’t experience polarity or excitement or disappointment. It just means that you attempt to avoid becoming attached to the polarities. You can use the presence of a polarity or an extreme to alert you that you should come back into balance. Coming back into balance means being able to be the child at heart. To be still in bliss even as the world is falling apart; to see the sun when the rain clouds arrive; to love unconditionally when all seems to shun you. You realize that you are powerful with the tool that is your mind, instead of being a victim of it, and so you are able to create with more depth, power, and wisdom than you could have ever dreamed and with a peace and control of presence that is as powerful as the shining sun. For your soul is who you actually are; the unlimited infinite soul that is not the mind but uses the mind; you, the pure light of consciousness who love unconditional, and holds a presence that is as free and sure as the space that is all the universe.

When the attributes cease mutative association with awareness, they resolve into dormancy in Nature, and the indweller shines forth as pure consciousness. This is absolute freedom.

Yoga Sutras, Patanjali, 4.34

Sad Sunflower

Why, O beautiful sunflower, do you keep yourself in the shade?
Were you too hasty for escape from the cradle of wild gales;
landing beneath a willow tree, ground barren as desert sands?

Were you trying to be the deer hiding from the summer sun;
mind translating their desire into longings not your own?
now what do you know of sunflower self-love, O little one?

I watch you fascinated with the buzzing of the honey bees
but they miss you in the shadows of your darkening tree
you scribble sweet poems, pungent songs in finest rhymes

yet you barely scratch the surface of why you are crying;
O sad sunflower, the rain and sun you insist on denying
will give inspiration to the great requiem of your dying