Drowning in an ocean of thoughts
“Stop thinking, and end your problems.” ― Lao Tzu
“Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.” ― Zhuangzi, Nan-Hua-Ch’en-Ching, or, the Treatise of the transcendent master from Nan-Hua
Isn’t it amazing?
The trouble is for most people they see it through the prism of a world lived out there, i.e. material wealth, success and, most pernicious of all, a separation between them and nature.
And that’s perfectly understandable, when we’re conditioned to ‘think’ that way.
At some stage, though, we understand that it’s not possible to control our external world sufficient to stay happy. In fact, it becomes a daily battle not to descend into depression.
In my case, and I wrote about this last week, my earliest memory of trying to control my thoughts — i.e. ensure I had only one type, namely positive thoughts — was when I indulged my fantasy to read aloud pithy, slogans that were meant to impress on my mind what I wanted ‘it’ to believe. Superficially, and for a short while, I did make myself feel better, particularly if I was having a troublesome day, but it didn’t take my ego long to work out it was a pile of crap.
Picture the scenario:
“Julian: Think positive for good things will come to you.”
“Ego: Who are you kidding? It’s crap. Total crap. Stop fooling yourself.”
If I felt bad before I started, then with this incessant dialogue, I lived each day with a grey fog of misperception.
I kept up this pretence for a year before I pulled the pin. I never read the cards again, let alone believed in the notion of positive affirmation being a cure from my hangover of daily life.
How then did I function?
Like millions of other people: I lived in my thoughts. Worse than that, I gave them much greater credence or import than was ever warranted.
Looking back, it was a bloody miserable experience. My character, the one honed by my parents, school and social conditioning, was insecure and that meant I was constantly on edge looking to prove myself in all sorts of ridiculous ways — e.g. working harder than anyone else to prove that I could make it.
I lived this way until March 2010 when, following my hospitalisation with a subarachnoid hemorrhage, I read, inter alia, “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. This was the first book I’d read that referred to the witnessing presence of our thoughts. Duh! Of course. Why hadn’t I recognised that in order to understand the inner dialogue there was a witnessing presence? I wouldn’t say at that stage everything changed, but it was sufficiently cataclysmic for me to stop clinging to my thoughts let alone wishing for one type over another. The other book that had a profound impact was “Loving What Is” by Katie Byron, which simply invited the question “Are your thoughts true?” to break the connection between the ‘me’ character and my thoughts.
But, over time, I’ve gone even further than that with my exploration of non-duality. In particular, I’ve been influenced by the work of Darryl Bailey. (For anyone in the non-duality space, of course I’ve not been ‘influenced’ in the traditional sense, but his written and spoken words have cut through the remaining questions about my/our experience we call life.)
In Darryl’s book, “Essence Revisited” he says:
“Existence can be summed up in one short Zen verse:
grass grows by itself.
The same is true of everything: the ageing of the body, the movement of the thoughts and moods, urges to action, and actions themselves. Everything simply happens, like spring coming and grass growing.
Sitting quietly, you’ll find that whatever you are, in any particular moment, presents itself automatically. Needs, interests, and concerns push themselves to the front and play out in whatever they do.
In certain times, it’s light and calm; in others, dark and stormy. In each moment, it’s a totally mysterious event doing what it does.”
What does this mean in the here and now? It means we live in our experience and we realise that our thoughts change, they’re not permanent, we don’t control them and, and here’s the key point, they’re no more than a small part of everything that makes you who you are.
Put it this way, as a species we’re literally obsessed to the point of madness in believing that there’s a separate person inside us who’s controlling our thoughts. There isn’t — sorry to disappoint you folks. That would be no different to saying that said person is controlling your heart, your breathing, your desires, you body temperature. They’re as much you as your thoughts and yet we get trapped daily in our thoughts.
I know it would be nice to think you can turn off your thoughts or ameliorate their affect in some way but you can’t. They’re there and they always will be. Sure, meditation, mindfulness and a walk in nature will bring in more space but you don’t need any props to ‘be’. For me that’s the highest form of meditation. To just be.
If I ever share this ‘philosophy’, the usual reaction is that I’ve resigned myself to whatever happens. (My youngest daughter, Floz, often chides me and tells me I’m in “hippy mode” again. I laugh.) And that’s true. I or whatever I am has to accept that everything, and I mean everything, is just part of one amazing experience and no matter our strength of conviction and desire to get somewhere we cannot will or will — see the work of Arthur Schopenhauer.
In writing about this perspective, I’m not expecting you to do anything. I’m certainly not expecting you to change your connection with your thoughts; but there will come a point in your life — perhaps towards the end — where you go deeper than the superficial angst and undertake a process of self-enquiry to (hopefully) understand what’s truly going on. In my case, I’m sure that had it not been for my sudden shock with reality in 2010 that I too would still be swimming in an ocean of uncertainty, fear and misunderstanding that comes from buying the internal story of ‘me’.