Unlocking the Mind’s Dormant Potential
In his autobiography, Nikola Tesla, the great Serbian American inventor, writes about his struggles with a vacillating mind during childhood. While his “[desires] were of a consuming force and multiplied, like the heads of a hydra,” his willpower was weak. Through practicing self-control, “gradually desire and will grew to be identical.”
It is a common occurrence — boundless desire and a weak will. Tesla does not elaborate on his method of “practicing self-control.” So, what does Tesla mean when he says, “desire and will grew to be identical?”
Desire and will are potent forces acting on the mind. While desire is an impetus to act, willpower makes action possible. But desire and willpower are often not in sync. Desires play their best cards when we first encounter them — they are vibrant, light, refreshing, and fleeting. Desires retain these qualities only if we can let go of them. However, attachments come into the picture turning many of our desires into idle thoughts that become heavy, stale, and lasting. Such pent-up desires seek an outlet.
To protect us from our harmful and pent-up desires, weak spots in our willpower are nature’s built-in safety mechanism. Will is a much weaker force than our desires. Imagine having the perseverance to act on every desire, come what may. There would be an exponential increase in life’s complexities, not to mention the high cost of negative desires coming to fruition.
Understanding how willpower and desire operate in the mind is essential to unlocking the mind’s dormant potential. By balancing these two forces, we may achieve what Tesla refers to as “desire and will becoming identical.”
Most desires are self-centered, and it directs the mind’s energy toward an imaginary mental construct — the object of the desire. In contrast, willpower is an outward-directed force toward action.
Which one should we work on — strengthening willpower, diminishing desires, or both?
Rather than forcibly root out desire or enhance the power of our will to counter cravings, which require significant mental exertion, another approach is allowing these forces to equilibrate on their own.
If you take a set of four interconnected tubes and pour colored water into one of them (See Figure), the water rises to the same level in all the tubes regardless of shape or size. What we call “water finds its own level” reflects Pascal’s Principle, which states that pressure transmits uniformly throughout a liquid.
Similarly, mental energy is liquid-like, thoughts continually flow, and the mind constantly moves from one thing to another. Despite this flowing nature of the mind, desires don’t “flow away.” They remain like rocks around which the rest of the mind’s energy flows.
To “dissolve” desires and free mental energy trapped within them, an effective remedy is to become a witness to our desires. Not reacting, searching, reaching, or dwelling on desires but merely watching them as if a disinterested observer, desires will begin to dissipate. Depending on how entrenched our desires are, it may take days, months, or even years. But once they disappear, they are gone for good, leaving behind potent energy in the mind.
Willpower does not share the solid “rock-like” quality of desires. It is more fluid. As desires dissolve, will and desire merge into the same pool of mental energy. When this happens, we may call one mental silo desire and another willpower, but names become irrelevant. Mental energy will flow back and forth and will find its level.
Since we are not actively fighting with the mind to achieve this balance, it enhances the store of mental energy. Like a lump of soft wet clay that may be shaped and reshaped into any form over and over, when we gain control over the mind’s energies, we can transform them using our imagination.
Tesla’s method of inventing involved building an idea in his imagination. He could develop and perfect a concept in his mind without “touching anything” or making a prototype. Only after he embodied a perfect version of his invention in his mind, convincing himself that there were no faults and he had thought of every possible improvement, did he put that invention into “concrete form.” When he turned his mental conceptions into physical form, they came out exactly as he had imagined them to the last detail. He said, “carrying out into practice of a crude idea … was nothing but a waste of energy, mind and time.”
Tesla’s “will and desire becoming identical” resulted in his incredible powers of observation, concentration, imagination, and conception that drove his inventions — he was a true sage of the scientific world.