Going into the head

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”

— Jiddu Krishnamurti

We may not start there, but it’s where we always end up: the head always takes precedence, i.e. the thinker.

We cogitate.

We ruminate.

We overthink.

We create stories (mostly, if not exclusively, fictitious ones; if you can remain completely in the now, there is nothing else but presence).

For a logical, left-brain thinker, trust me this sort of head ‘stuff’ is mighty hard to open up about let alone articulate. But I know that if I’m to move forward in my work and life, it’s the only place of relevance that and understanding the full import of love.

That said, in the past, rather than understanding what was really going on, I would have set a course, produced a slew of overambitious goals, worked my arse off and then something (always) happened. In other words, I never examined what was missing or why I was drawn to one thing over another. I just went with my instinct. Actually, that’s not entirely true. It was more often than not the first (major) thought that showed up that felt right that attracted all my attention.

At some stage, don’t ask me precisely when, something changed. Perhaps the feelings weren’t so strong; or I didn’t feel the urge to pursue another blind alley; or I lost heart; but I suddenly realised that the most important component in all this, i.e. me, hadn’t changed a bit.

I’ve commented before how so many of us act like somnambulists, who seem oblivious to what’s going on. And that was me: there I was for nearly 30 years thrashing around like a mad lunatic, thinking always that my identity would be found around the hackneyed success credo, whereas what was most important was to look deep inside and understand who it was who felt drawn to such inane material.

Of course, it’s much easier now to write about than it was to see. For a start, there was nothing or no single person in my life to point out the folly of my ways. Neither did I read new, insightful material (see the works of Thomas Merton); and perhaps, most importantly, my soul wasn’t drawn in that direction.

In the end, it took a period of hospitalisation (following a subarachnoid hemorrhage) and the introduction to Zen Buddhism for me to ultimately follow a path that has since changed not only my outlook on the world but has necessity a wholesale reflection on my previous conditioning. If I’m honest, even these few words don’t do justice to my unfolding but that’s exactly what’s been happening over these past few years.

Also, to further understand what’s really going has required me to pursue a process of radical self-inquiry — i.e. Who Am I? by Sri Ramana Maharshi has been the most revelatory — and observing my thoughts and the instant situation without judging.

Like all these things, I could have chosen a very different path, but, fundamentally, unless we go to our heads and try to understand what it means to live at peace with who we are and our place in the world, we’ll forever live under the yoke of expectation that comes from the industrial complex mindset.

You might think all this decidedly weird, and I wouldn’t blame you. If someone had told my twenty-something self that I needed to understand my thinking and unconscious self (beyond the pursuit of another faux set of goals), I would have dismissed you in a nanosecond. These days, though, I recognise and try to inform my own self that without inquiry within, I’ll never make sense of what it means to live fully in a world that seems obsessed in moulding us into something we’re not.

If you too feel that there’s something bigger in play, then I highly recommend you carve out some proper me time, and deeply sit with your thoughts. Don’t think this a waste of time because it’s not. In fact, it’s probably the most worthwhile thing you can do right now. You’re not there to fix, to assess and certainly not to make sense of things. No, all you’re there to do is observe — be the watcher as they say. (You don’t need to worry about the timings or whether you close your eyes, you just need to sit.)

After a while you’ll notice that so many of the things that keep showing up — “Why do I feel this way?” — no longer elicit a rational answer. If anything they feel like the flotsam and jetsam of life, i.e. they’re just thoughts. And if you can keep doing this every day, after a while you’ll notice that you don’t react to everything you see — it’s not the problem that’s the problem but how we respond to it — and are able to sit with the thought and or don’t create new ones. Of course, there’s a whole lot more to life and living and making sense of things than sitting(!), but you’d be surprised how such a simple thing can have such fundamental ‘results’.

Like previous posts, I’m acutely aware that in trying to put a process wrapper around sitting and contemplation that I’m making light of the situation. What I’m really trying to invoke in you is a new way of seeing the world where you disassociate yourself from your thoughts. If you’re able to do that or better still not to cling or grasp hold of every situation, you’ll begin to feel that state of equanimity that so many of us spiritual types crave.

One last thing, if you want to live in peace by adopting a more contemplative approach to life the it won’t happen unless you will it. In other words, much like other life-changing habits, initially, you have to bring into your life a new dynamic as otherwise you’ll revert to type. For the record, I’m acutely aware that you could become just as obsessed about not thinking as thinking.

In the end, though, the message that I’m trying to impart is the less that you can get mixed up in your head (thoughts) the brighter and more alive you’ll find life.