We have been led to believe that intelligence equates to how well we think. Indeed, that is true to the extent the mind accumulates data and information, processes it and has the ability to call it up when needed.
What we have been led to believe regarding intelligence and thinking, however, leaves some things unsaid. Thinking is a tool. The mind is broader than the tool. It does not require constant use of the tool. The thinking process is powered by electricity, a neural electrical charge. Just as one would not leave an electrical motor running constantly, one should not be thinking constantly.
Most of our thinking is unconscious. Indeed, we walk around in an unconscious state. We think we know what we are doing texting, cell phoning or rushing to the next meeting or to accomplish the next task, but the truth is we are unconscious. We are in a state of action/reaction. We not only don’t know who we are, we don’t know what exists around us. We barely know where we’re at.
Compulsive thinking lives in a state of separateness. It overwhelms our daily lives and turns our perception of life into something without meaning, though our deception is that we think that we are about substance. What is really happening is that our thinking tool has created an insanely complex world of continuous problems and conflict. To make it even worse, we are having the incessant conversation with others in our head. If we’re not actually talking to someone, we are having an argument, a conversation with someone else as we drive down the road, push the shopping cart or any number of other daily tasks. This is not using the tool, thinking. This is allowing the tool to control its master, the mind. Before long, we come to assume that this is normal, if we can acknowledge the affliction at all.
When I use the word mind, it is only a word. Any word has its own limitations, but as I use the word, I mean it as something beyond thought, beyond description; indeed, beyond word limitation. More on this later! I chose a gap.
Thinking run rampant is the involuntary thought processes that you don’t realize you have the power to stop. The voice chatter in your head is not thinking. You assume that it is. Most people believe they are actually accomplishing something by this. Either that or they are so unconscious with the comments inside their head, the speculating, judging, comparing, complaining, likes and dislikes that they don’t realize they are out of control. Thinking the tool, has overtaken the mind, the greater being.
When used as it was originally designed, the tool of thinking is a masterful and powerful utility. For example, critical thinking as that term might be used in the scientific methodical process applied to a specific issue, a specific problem or inquiry is what thinking is all about. Reasoning as in philosophical logic is true thinking. Action/reaction is just what the words imply, but this right or flight gift from our evolution, while having a specific use, is not thinking, nor is it mind.
If I have to either fight or flee, I also have to defend, regardless of which one I choose. In our modern day life a typical example might be that someone just cut in front of you while driving. He didn’t use a signal. He almost clipped your front end. You immediately feel a shot of adrenalin in your gut. Your “thinking” tool immediately jumps into action. You blame and accuse that driver. He was outrageous. He did wrong. You want to fight. You want retribution. You bear down on your horn or perhaps something worse.
At work, your boss criticizes what you have just done. In fact, he was quite demeaning and condescending. Although he didn’t use the “stupid” word, it was pretty clear what he meant. You immediately rush to defend yourself. You feel you have been wrongly criticized. You have defenses to his allegations. You want to point them out in no uncertain terms. This just isn’t right!
You are a teacher. You can tell from reading a student’s essay that it is unquestionably similar to another student’s essay. You point this out to the student and state that not only do you detest cheating but each student must do their own work. The student becomes irate and defensive and verbally attacks you and wants to talk to your Dean. Now you feel defensive and attack back, even if only in your thinking.
Someone disagrees with your religious beliefs. You immediately take issue and argue a defense. Your heart is rapidly pumping. Your mind is racing. How dare that person question my religion. She is different from me and a bad influence. When I get through telling her what I think, I just won’t associate with her anymore. I was told there were people like this and to watch out for them.
The list of action/reaction, fight or flight goes on and on. There is no end to the examples nor is there an end to the incessant mind chatter. One incident stimulates the next. There is never a break. As soon as one episode finishes or just wears us out, a new one falls in right behind it. All the while, we believe we are using our mind in a useful way. We are “thinking”. This is what you’re supposed to do. Isn’t it?
Soon we fall into the trap of turning on the T.V. as soon as we can to stop the incessant talking within our head. We go into brain lock by watching the program on the tube. What is on the tube can mesmerize us and quiet the chattering dialogues within our head. Or, we go immediately to our computer to engage somewhere in cyberspace. This requires some low level of concentration but at least it eases our talking head.
What we have ceased to realize is that our mind is greater than our thinking. Thinking is a base level. It is a useful tool when used properly. It is a dangerously unsafe tool when used with reckless abandon. That is to say, used improperly, the mind is beyond the tool. It was designed to be the master of the tool, not the other way around. Beyond the mind is an even greater force. It doesn’t have a label and cannot be placed into a convenient nitch for categorization. It is simply beyond the mind. Most people today have lost touch not only with their mind but what is beyond it. Through generations of inherited dysfunction, mental suffering has been passed down with such force that the higher elements of being have been lost.
The suffering world, each miserable individual in it, must re-learn what has been lost through centuries of turmoil and the conquest for power and control of the minds of fellow beings. We, each of us, must now reach beyond the dysfunction that has been handed to us and flourishes in the peat moss of our minds. That dysfunction is in itself dis – ease and the very source of mental illness, reactionary thinking and the incessant mind talk that we think we cannot shut off.
How does one go beyond thinking? How does one learn to use thinking as the tool it was meant to be? How does one learn to lay down the tool when the task is finished? It is a process, a reprogramming of the mental computer, and it can be done. Nevertheless, it requires awareness. Just to cruise along on unconscious chatter as we have done for years won’t get us there.
A first step is to acknowledge that all of our undisciplined thinking revolves around either regret or resentment of past events or fear of what might happen in future events or relationships. A person desiring to become conscious, to go beyond obsessive thinking, must get in touch with forgiveness and release. These two dynamics are not the same thing. They supplement each other. Without the elements of forgiveness or release, a person cannot touch the present. Obsessive thinking overpowers the true worth of presence. The past is like a shackle to the mind. The weight is too heavy for it to throw off the binding. Only through the dynamic of forgiveness and the practice of release can the mind be freed from the past.
Once, you have taken care of the past with all of its grudging weight, you can now address the future. Future thought is just as disabling as dwelling on past occurrences, relationships or tragedies. The future is “what ifs”. What if I lose all my money? What if this relationship doesn’t work out? What if we have a recession? What if this plane crashes? What will my children do? You will notice that all “what ifs” are question marks. The point is that no one knows the answer because the “thinking” is projecting into the future. No one has control, least of all you. Yet, the rampant thinking dysfunction can’t let it go; indeed, doesn’t want to let it go. The other thing you will notice is that all “what ifs”, future thinking, is based on fear. Every time we pose a “what if”, we could just as easily say “I’m afraid that”.
There are two ways to release future thinking. One is that if you are one of a faith based religion truly activate your faith believing that you have absolutely no control over the outcome of “what ifs” and that your faith will take care of it. If you are not of a faith based religion, or even if you are, the other approach is to get brutally honest with yourself. To live in the future, to fear the future or to question the future is totally depleting of your energy. Some people call it worry, as if worry were a mental or ethical asset. You cannot worry away what is going to happen tomorrow, next year or even in the next minute. You simply do not have that power or control, and the minute you think you do you become fearful and obsessed with worry. Does this mean that you should not plan for the future? No. Not at all. One should always lay a present foundation of good sense, whether it be in financial planning or taking a trip. Just as you would not build a house without a foundation, you wouldn’t start a trip not knowing where you were going. But once the house is built, live in it, enjoy it at the moment you are in it. Once the trip destination is determined, quit worrying about when are we going to get there. Enjoy the moment.
There is a technique which really works. The best way I can describe it is to become an observer of your own thinking. Let your mind step outside your thinking and just observe, as if you were a stranger, what “Mr. Thinking” is doing. If a hurt from the past arises, allow the mind to just observe what the thinking tool is doing with that remembrance. If a thought arises wondering “what will happen if”, just observe the thought. Get in the habit of doing this. Don’t judge the thought or try to repress it. Just observe. Observe each time a past or future thought arises. Let it become a habit. “Oh there it is, that thought again”. You will be surprised how this will create space between the mind and the thinking tool. Before long, you will begin to notice that the inner dialogue with others will begin to tone down.
Many people believe that incessant thinking is actually productive. Many believe that this is their method of planning or creating needed strategies. Nothing could be further from the truth. Trying to plan in this manner or to create a strategy for some competition depletes both energy and the ability to be insightful. We talked about the thinking part of the brain as actually a tool to be used. Let’s say used prodigiously but not burned up. When the mind is not being depleted by past regrets or future fears brought up by “Mr. Thinker”, it becomes amazingly resilient. It has become the master instead of the servant, and it responds in the moment, when needed with great power.
The incessant mind will tell you that you must incessantly think in order to be prepared for a future event or a future argument. This is not true. As you return original power to your mind and relegate thinking to the tool it was meant to be, you will gain faith in the spontaneity of the mind. Not only will it respond with ease, but the responses themselves will acquire startling appropriateness. It is something like the professional comedian’s gift of unprepared wit which is equal to any situation. Instead of grasping to remember the answers you had prepared in hours of internal dialogue and incessant thinking, verbalization flows instantaneously from a wisdom beyond thinking.
Another view of spontaneity without incessant thinking is to consider the word “focus”. As a verb transitive it means to bring to a focus or into focus, thus defining itself by its own terms. In the sense of spontaneous response it means to direct intensified attention to the issue or object immediately at hand. It is not action/reaction. It is unrattled attention, spontaneous and without collateral thought. When one has returned this power to mind, they are present. They are not in the past nor in the future. They are focused on this millisecond. That is the power of mind over matter, mind over thinking.
The great teacher Eckhart Tolle asks you to try a little experiment. Close your eyes and say to yourself: “I wonder what my next thought is going to be”. Then become very alert and wait for the next thought. Be like a cat watching a mouse hole. What thought is going to come out of the mouse hole?” Try it now.
You will find that “as long as you are in a state of intense presence, you are free of thought. You are still highly alert. The instant your conscious attention sinks below a certain level, thought rushes in. The mental noise returns; the stillness is lost. You are back in time.
We have spent a lifetime being told to think. The problem is that like all words the word “think” leaves great room for misinterpretation. We probably first heard the command “to think” from our parents when we were a pubescent child. They probably said this to shake us out of our day-dreaming and to prevent us from making mistakes. What they should have commanded was “focus, focus on the now, focus on this very minute, and you won’t make unconscious mistakes.”
It is harmful to live life in an unconscious state. Living with a mind of incessant jabber is unconsciousness. What’s worse, it creates serious illness, the illnesses of regret and sorrow of living in the past, of the paralysis of fearing the future, of the persistent attack and defend mode of the ego. It doesn’t have to be like this. There is a vast universe to enjoy right now in the present minute, and it offers great peace and intellect.
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