Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thoughts Without a Thinker

¡Hola! Everybody...
Decisions, decisions... what to give to the girl who gave me the most BJs this past year...


I’ll be sooo busy today.

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-=[ Thoughts on Thinking ]=-

“Thinking to get at once all the gold the goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find -- nothing.”

-- Aesop (620–560 BC) The Goose with the Golden Eggs

“Just as we can walk without thinking, we can also think without thinking.”

Marvin Minsky, cognitive scientist

I once met a lovely woman, highly intelligent, beautiful writer. In her early 40s, she had a body that made women half her age envious. I used to joke that she looked as if she lived on a Stairmaster. She was also extremely horny, which was a good thing, though she struggled with that. In short, here was a woman I felt I could enjoy knowing better, maybe even --who knows -- explore the “C” word with her. She had one major drawback, however...

She thought too much.

She was ruled by her thoughts and she wasn’t satisfied with torturing herself with her thinking, she insisted I join in also. I’ll give you an example, we would plan a meet-up (she lived in Boston and I live in NYC) and initially we would talk excitedly about what we would do together, but as the date would draw nearer, all her thoughts stemming from her insecurities would predominate our conversations. At first I was more than happy to help her dispel some of these thoughts. I mean, she would have one thought (“Eddie doesn’t like me, so he won’t come”) and then another thought connected to that thought would appear (“Eddie is just coming because he wants a piece of ass”), which would be connected to another thought (“I’m such a loser”). This would go on until her whole thought process and beliefs around our meet-up would be so totally screwed up, so totally disassociated from reality, that I would have a hard time addressing all of it.

Eventually, I would have to tell her that I didn’t need to hear all her thought processes and she was so offended that she broke off meeting with me. She was so hurt because, according to her, her thoughts were her and I shouldn’t have been so insensitive to her thoughts (or something along those lines). I don’t “do” therapy in my personal life, though friends constantly ask me questions that essentially are invites to “analyze” them. I don’t even adhere to that type of theoretical orientation! LOL

You might judge my ex’s thinking, but I see people do that kind of thing all the time. We like to call it “analyzing,” but it resembles mental masturbation. We create scenarios out of nothing but a tangled web of thought constellations and ingrained belief systems we take as ultimate truth. I will add that my friend’s thinking brought her a lot of misery in the form of clinical depression.

We live in a society in which we’re encouraged to live from the “neck up” at the expense of our bodies and the rest of reality -- we live disembodied lives. I see it all the time in my work. Ask someone how he or she feels and they will quickly proceed to tell you how they’re thinking about their feeling.


I often tell my female friends that they shouldn’t think around me because it makes my dick hard. (It doesn’t work, telling someone not to think, makes them think even more intensely.)

Let me be clear: thinking is not bad in itself. In fact, thinking is an essential tool for our well-being and survival. Indeed, our distinguishing feature as a species is the ability to create complex symbols, agree on their meaning, and use them to encode our knowledge and describe our plans. The ability to think allows us to compute, reason, and create, and, most importantly, to share our understanding with each other in the form of speech or writing. We can even record our thinking (on blogs! LOL!) for others!

The issue here is that as a species we have grown to value thinking to the exclusion of other aspects of our being. We have become more identified with our thoughts and the more we become lost in our personal soap operas, the more disconnected we have become from what we have in common with other human beings and our planet. We have surrendered or sense of self to our thinking mind, becoming “lost in thought.”

I should know, because I too was addicted to the non-stop ruminations of my thought-stream. After years of meditation practice, the most significant change ion my life has been my relationship to my mind. We’re still together, my monkey and I, but we’re no longer in a codependent relationship. Slowly, but surely I am gaining my liberation from the tyranny of thinking.

The change was precipitated by the acknowledgment that my mind had a thinking problem. It was a heavy thinker, often engaging in about 70,000 to 150,000 thoughts a day! I got up in the morning and -- bam! -- I was thinking 2-3 thoughts per minute, continuing through the day until night when I thought myself to sleep.

I tried everything from analysis (which made me more attached to my thinking) to screaming and flailing about, which only temporarily diminished the flow of thinking. Eventually, I would turn to drugs in an attempt to “blow my mind by short-circuiting the neural wiring and I have to say -- one time I even forgot who I was (literally).

Later, I would practice a form of meditation in which the goal was not to stop thinking, but rather expose my mind to itself. Before my meditation practice I was completely absorbed on the content of thoughts, how to manipulate them and extract meaning from them. That is what we’re taught and graded on in school and what our culture values.

But no one had taught me how to look at my thoughts. Ordinarily, we go through life with what psychologists call a pre-conscious stream of thoughts coursing through our minds. Barely noticeable, this thought stream exerts an enormous amount of influence in our lives. We do this mindlessly without awareness. In fact, modern science shows that our thoughts aren’t the dominant player in our lives. Brain research finds that most of our interpretations of the world as well as our decision-making process takes place on what evolutionary psychologists call the “sub-personal” level, without a rational thinking self directing the process.

When I first sat down to meditate, I was almost overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the thought stream. Eventually, I learned the simple task of watching the stream without making judgments, or running around to analyze them. A resentment thought pops up, I acknowledge it gently and then let it go. Sure enough, some time will pass and another thought will present itself and I do the same thing -- I see it, acknowledge it and let it go. Eventually, this has a stabilizing effect -- you’re not stuck on the thoughts that seem to come from nowhere. You are not stuck on the content of your thoughts but engaged in the process of the thought-stream.

Eventually, with lots of practice, I was able to observe the “gap” between the thoughts. This is pure consciousness, pure awareness -- the most powerful healing force I’ve ever encountered... but that’s for another blog for another time.

It may not sound like a lot, but it’s a huge thing for me to say that the main difference between my experiences today and those of 18 years ago is that I catch myself quicker these days. Essentially, today I’m less prone to be carried away by every thought that comes along -- I don’t get caught up in my delusional personal soap opera as often as I used to. This is especially true in the area of resentments and personal relationships -- the thought-stream is ruling my responses or filtering my reality as much as it once did.

Today a thought can come up in my mind and I can say, “thanks for sharing, but I’m not engaging that today, I’m too busy doing something more important.”



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