Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes. ~ Alan Watts Click To Tweet
Yup, you read that right. The number one addiction in the world is thinking, and it’s one of the main reasons this planet is in the dumps. Hard to swallow? Of course it is. It’s super new news. (To the western world it is, anyway. Many parts of the east have known about this for a long time.)
It hasn’t always been this way. We owe the mind quite a debt of gratitude. It got us out of the mouths of terrible predators, created the incredible, life-sustaining arts of agriculture and architecture, gave us science, technology and all of the spoils of modern civilization– not to mention a pretty damn good critique of the whole thing along the way, in the form of our finest writings and philosophies.
But it’s had its day. The mind has really begun to overstep its boundaries in the last few millennia. There’ve been some pretty dark periods. The Inquisition. The Holocaust. The decimation of western Aboriginals. All of these, and many more, are byproducts of an untethered mind. Oppressive, dogmatic ideologies can only arise from a mind unaware of itself, a mind incapable of understanding and engaging in truly moral attitudes such as (genuine) humility, compassion and respect.
And, while we have survived thus far, time is running short. The ecology is unravelling. The population is exploding. Our advancing technology threatens to take us out at any time; yes, external measures can, should and are being taken, but the most important change starts with a shift in our values, and that can only take place with a re-training of our minds.
It sounds crazy, but the most effective way to do this is to STOP THINKING (too much). This is an ancient technique, found in all religions and spoken of by some of the greatest philosophers. Read any Zen text and you’ll start to get the point.
Incessant thinking is a dysfunction that disconnects us from reality. Not only that, but constant thought makes it very hard to concentrate and learn, not to mention keeping us from experiencing certain higher aspects of existence, such as, oh, you know… the true understanding of beauty and art.
Here are 5 points in defense of quitting the world’s #1 addiction: THINKING.
1) It’s Pointless (For The Most Part)
It has been claimed, time and again, that the majority of our thinking is repetitive and negative — a kind of ‘white noise’ that is not only pointless, but destructive. While there appears to be no truly sound data to back this up, one need only look to themselves for an answer.
Take your own mind for example. What was going on in it for most of the day today? Do you even know? Much of the time, as we are conducting the mundane tasks that make up a lot of our day, we are thinking about other things, even though we may not realize it.
Start paying attention and you will come to notice how erratic, repetitive and negative many of these thoughts really are, and how they are not focused on the present, but instead on things that have already happened, or may or may not happen.
How much are we accomplishing with these thoughts? Chances are, very little.
2) It Feels Good
If you’re reading this and you have ever achieved a state of ‘no-mind’ then you know exactly what it is we’re talking about. ‘No-mind’ is the state you reach during a period of successful meditation. It comes after the stage of simply observing the mind and letting it do its thing, and doesn’t always happen.
Yet when it does, you know it, because it feels so damn good. Just breathing, just being in your body and being one with your sense perceptions and coming to the deep, experiential knowledge that there’s no other moment that can exist fills you with an incredible outflow of gratitude.
It feels amazing.
Think about what it would be like to be in that state almost all of the time as you go about your daily routine, and you’ll get a very clear idea of why people devote their entire lives to monastic pursuit.
3) It Makes You More Creative, Insightful and Productive
A natural byproduct of the outflow of gratitude mentioned in the last point is a serious strengthening of the creative impulse. This is because you’ve stopped analyzing everything to death. The world is actually an incredibly beautiful, wondrous place. Just ask any 2 year old. (Or any dog, if they could speak.)
The analytical mind, when it’s always on, kills our perception of this. For most, it can barely let go long enough to even get glimmers of it. Once you manage to quiet it, even a little, your sense perceptions start to take over again and the beauty that always surrounds us begins to filter through once more. This, then, often has the effect of igniting the mind with inspiration. Of course it does! What better inspiration than life itself?
When you get there, you know it. It’s unmistakable. Insights begin to climb from the woodwork and you suddenly find yourself producing some amazing work, all at the behest of the self-organizing passion that has possessed you.
4) Quality > Quantity
You know those cloudy Saturdays when you’re barely getting a glimmer of sun behind the cloud cover, yet when you do, you’re overjoyed that it has finally peeked out? Well that’s the equivalent of a quality thought.
Quantity, on the other hand, is the cloud cover — it’s all of the white noise we talked about in point #1.
Quality thoughts almost always emerge after a moment of stillness or genuine reflection, and they are identified solely by their significance. You notice them. You may even write them down, or make a mental note to do so in the future.
These are the type of thoughts that lead to the inspired doing mentioned in step #3. The more you practice the art of not thinking (all the time), the more they will occur, and the more meaning, joy and quality of life they will bring to you.
5) You’re Going To Die Anyway
This is the best argument for disposing of the incessantly thinking mind.
In fact, this is the best argument for any number of things. Like doing what you love. Like travelling. Like telling people how you really feel.
As you approach your death you will surely realize how pointless all of your fearful thinking and the resulting lack of trying really were. Don’t you want to be here while you’re here? Don’t you want to enjoy this life?
Even if a technique for “radical life extension” was suddenly invented and you were going to live for millennia, do you think you’d really remember all of the pointless thinking and worrying you did 50 years ago? 100? Even if you could recall it in full detail, why would you want to?
Get rid of it. Quit thinking anything that isn’t worth thinking. You’ll be glad you did.