Overthinking Thinking

Overthinking Thinking

I have decided to stop thinking. This may come as a shock to you, as it would appear, quite rightly, that I devote much of my time to the mind. My devotion is to understanding my mind and it’s power. My hope is that in understanding it and wielding it responsibility, I am always perfectly okay, in any weather, condition, or experience. This state of okayness we call “peace.” As it turns out, greater peace requires thinking less, or perhaps just different thinking. It requires us to be very present with our minds.  

But honestly, much of my thinking robs me of presence. Many of my thoughts have been unable to help me lead a happier life. Or rather, more accurately, certain kinds of thinking have kept me from becoming more full and comfortable in existence. Certain thought patterns have failed me over and over again. And it is these kinds of thoughts, these kinds of unhelpful thinking, that I am doing away with.

In many ways, our minds are like software. They are programmable. But what we sometimes take for granted is that the programs we’re currently running, our personalities and our beliefs, were put together just to work, just to carry forward. There is always in us the expectation of improvement. Our parents and early society build into us a working proof of human concept. If we never examine these given patterns, these templates, we never grow into what we could become. This is because we do not reach adulthood as complete programs, as complete beings, far from it! Nor are we ever even really complete: we are meant to be examined and refined throughout life. As new modes of thinking arise in experience, in culture, we’re meant to integrate them and reconfigure our programming. We must continually seek to grow.

The brain’s plasticity is astounding. We can retrain, relearn, and reconfigure our outlook quite easily. And despite what you may think, such change can happen at any age. The only thing that stops us from changing our minds is the belief that as we become older we become more rigid. (And that in and of itself is a belief we can change!)

Whenever we make the mistake of thinking we understand all there is, about everything or particular things, we fail to continue updating our programming, and we fail to view the world with novelty. How tiring! (Though, eventually, in this way, we may find ourselves in a world of novelty anew: we’ve so stubbornly held onto our mental postures as the world around us has changed, we no longer recognize it and no longer have a part in it. We feel lost.) But we can avoid this monotony: we can see the world as recreated each day. All we have to do is look at how we think.

What does that mean? Well, for me, I spend a lot of my time monitoring my thoughts with detachment. I just notice what they are. I say to myself: let me let go of all thoughts which do not serve the best interest of all. I do this over and over, a hundred times a day. Seriously, I do it all day long. You’ve probably been talking to me while I’ve been thinking this thought. Ultimately, it’s that easy, albeit tenacious. You keep repeating this idea and watch as unhelpful thinking shows itself to the door.

But when we get into the nitty gritty of it, as we tend to do, there are a few kinds of thinking we all tend toward that take time and careful attention to eradicate. These are the thought forms I’m letting go of, the ones which don’t serve me: judgmental thinking, fantastical thinking, and fearful thinking. Let me explain.

Prejudice is the act of attempting to perceive someone or something without seeing them or it. It is to judge beforehand. This, naturally, is a very good way to miss some really wonderful opportunities for connection or learning. Judgemental thinking is much, much more common than social or cultural assumption - and it happens all the time in those settings. We are so quick to judgement we may not even notice we’re doing it.

We are, for example, very quick to judge the choices of those we love, judge ourselves for our performance, and even our own thoughts as good or bad. To circle back: when I say I monitor my thoughts, I mean that I do so without judgement, as much as possible. I do not say if they are good or bad. I do not say if they are wrong or right. Because how could I know? Really, how can I know, with absolute certainty? I can’t know for sure.

This idea is the key to undo all judgmental thinking, whether it’s reflexively toward my own thoughts or about the outfit you wore last week - we must ask ourselves: who am I to judge? Who am I to say or know? My knowledge base is so deeply limited. I do not know all the events that lead to this moment. All the conditioning I have encountered or you have encountered, all the ideas and facts and emotion that went into the thing which I am judging. Even if I know a lot, it’s pretty difficult to know it all. From a physical level, I can’t know because my ability to actively and personally process information is limited by my senses. When I say: who am I to judge? it doesn’t mean abandoning morality, it means embracing it more fully, it means applying it individually. Harm reduction in relation is always a beneficial outcome. When we let go of judgement we allow ourselves to see when others are asking for help, even if it is in the form of anger or attack.  When we don’t judge a moment, we are more free to respond.

And, hey! It’s okay not to know! We don’t have to keep pretending to have all the answers to every question. Here’s why: when we don’t know, and we admit it rather than asserting false truths, we have the opportunity to create and discover. If you don’t know what you want to do, if you put yourself outside of your tendency to quickly judge a situation, you may find more space to experience something other than what you expect. It may turn out to be a good experience, and if you’re co-creating, it may be better than what you could have come up with on your own! When we don’t know, we learn. When we learn, we become more complete.

But here we arrive at another roadblock to personal growth. Maybe we are free of judgmental thoughts, but what if that isn’t from an active mental posture? What if we are free of judgmental thinking because we are too tied up in a moment that isn’t this one?

I have a tendency to spend my days dreaming. Thinking of the things I’ll do and the places I’ll go. Thinking of what I’ll say to whom when I see them next. This sort of thinking is dangerous because it robs me of my presence. Perhaps your reminiscences are not of the future, perhaps you tend to dwell on things that have gone by before. Remembering slights or recalling special moments of yore. Reliving things already over. But whether the fantasy is historical or futuristic, it’s almost never in the moment.

Sometimes these fantasies are’t about time, they’re about things. I have spent hours thinking about a dress, or a car, or a house. I allow myself to walk through every room of this not-my-house, decorating the walls, selecting furniture. I’ll generate fake problems I fake have to solve within the house and dedicate hours to clever solutions.

Other times, I’ll spend hours wondering about the lives of others, the lives of celebrities, the lives of people I don’t really know. This is fun, in a sense, but it’s the thinking equivalent of scrolling through an Instagram feed of tastemakers. When I allow myself to fantasize, my mind fills with neat ideas and goals and lifestyles, none of which I’m living actually, because I’m too busy looking at other ideas (or people’s business) to attend to my own. I am preventing myself from creating by inundating myself with the creation around me.

Fantastical thinking, non-present thinking, is a slippery thing. It’s good to know where you want to grow to. It’s good to look to your past to understand your patterns. But the future and the past are good for little else if your goal is to be happy right at this moment. This is because your mind will show you what you think about. If you think of the past over and over, you are still living it! Of course people act the same way they did before. You’re lost in time. If you only think of the future, you are lost in a dream. Nothing seems sure or stable. Nothing seems real. You’re just grasping for the next imagined handhold, leaping to the next adventure. Either way you’re missing out on all the things that are awesome in this moment.

Gratitude is the antidote to fantastical thinking. To forgive the past or invite the future, you have to look at what you have right now. Appreciating good things in your life presently have a way of reaching back in time and healing old wounds while also inviting more good things into your life for the future. Write down a list of everything you’re grateful for today. Did you wake up in a bed? Can you breathe? Do you have two working legs? A fridge full of food? A friend you can call at any time? These are all riches. These are all things to appreciate right now.

This practice of appreciation will begin to help us unravel the third kind of thinking I’m deprogramming - fearful thinking. Fearful thinking is the most pernicious of these thought patterns. It is the root of all other error-prone thinking.

Someone once told me “the world is as safe as you make it.” They were referring to walking alone at night through Philadelphia, and that if you acted in fear, you invited those capitalizing on fear toward you. This idea struck me immediately as a profound statement of truth. (And subsequently gave me the courage to walk alone at night through many cities unscathed.) This idea has expanded in my mind into my often repeated refrain: “thoughts become things.”

What does this mean about fear? It means if we spend a lot of time being afraid, scary things are much more likely to happen to us. Fear comes in a lot of forms. It comes in downright terror, but also in a sense of separation, a nagging feeling of incompletion or that we’ve missed something. Fear thoughts tell us we aren't enough. We haven’t got enough. We won’t make it. Fear says life is out to get us, that hate is here to stay.

My fearful thoughts generally have two themes: the first is fear of my body, the second if fear of sustainability. But really, they’re both the same fear. It’s just whether or not I project that fear in toward my system or out toward the world.

Our bodies can be tyrants if we allow ourselves to fear them. What was that creak? Why did my neck pull? What does it mean that I haven’t pooped today? There’s a whole lot of storytelling we can and choose to do with our bodies. We say they have to be a certain way. We feel something unusual and jump to the worst conclusion. We avoid seeking information for weird things going on. Instead, we can overcome fear by learning about our bodies and learning to tell different stories. We can take discomfort in our bodies as a call to action instead of a reminder of the passage of time and the decay of biology. We can respond to our bodies with love instead of fear. We can trust that our bodies want to be healthy and whole, for our bodies are us. We can come to see that because we are not separate from our bodies, our bodies can tell us how to be healthy and whole instead of taking their every sensory dispatch for a ringing of a coffin bell.

When we fear about our place in the world, we fear our ability to stay in it. Perhaps this shows up in relationships. Perhaps it shows up in our relationship to our careers, our jobs. We push ourselves out of fear: do more, achieve more, be more. We - out of our fear that we aren’t enough - never stop to see if maybe we really already are just okay. We worry we need to do more. Maybe we don’t. Maybe we’re already enough. Maybe the only thing missing, the only thing we really fear, is our acknowledgement of our own power and completion.

Thus it is that in all forms of fearful thinking, trust is the antidote. Trust that you may not know, but you also may not need to know. This is not willful ignorance, it is a mature acceptance of the nature of the mind. Trusting the situation, giving faith and benefit of the doubt, allows us to be more open to seeing solutions as they arise. If we’re filled with fear, we can’t see anything but the worst possible outcomes, and we will invite those outcomes into our experience. If we instead work toward a sense of internal trust, we know that we will see the best solution when it arises. We know we are capable.

It’s about allowing life to show up instead of chomping at the bit, trying to get somewhere. It’s about believing in love instead of fear, abundance instead of scarcity, and hope instead of despair. It’s a choice we can make at every moment. And when we make that choice enough times, fearful thinking fades away.

So what’s left of my mind now that I’ve reduced myself of such burdensome tendencies? A clear mind. A simple mind. One which does not react at the instant. One which does not throw up defense. One which can attend to each moment and see what is arising.

I now possess a curious mind. A playful mind. A deeply loving and respectful mind. A mind unattached to past, a mind unaware of its future, but trusting that all will be well. In this mental posture, the world is easy. From this place, everything is awesome, or will be very soon, just as soon as you get here too. Things have a natural flow, people are good-natured. The world is not only a not-bad place, it’s a heavenly one. I invite you to join me in finding this mind set. Together we can rest peacefully in stillness and life and love.

Your Process & Your Perfection

Your Process & Your Perfection

Dispatch from Boston

Dispatch from Boston