Lost in thought, or anchored in the present?


Clouds are an oft-used metaphor for thoughts...

Clouds are an oft-used metaphor for thoughts…

A fair warning…this post is going to be fairly philosophical. I feel compelled to share these rather personal musings with you, since I believe I’ve been asked by life, as part of this major move to Italy, if “thinking” and “thoughts” are serving me, or if I am their prisoner.

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that, somewhere along the way in my development, I adopted the belief that thinking was my most powerful weapon, and my best armour to the perils of life. I suspect the real shift or enslavement to thought (vs. “being”) began somewhere around ten or eleven years old when I began plotting a strategy to ensure I would always feel safe in the world, and to get what I wanted. And, this is when I began living locked away in the tower of my mind. This is what I mean by being “lost in thought”.

In retrospect, I see the enormous energy drain that resulted from living this way – watching, thinking, worrying and controlling. This didn’t reach the breaking point, or the point at which I realized “There has to be a better way.” until I made the decision to move my life, lock, stock and barrel, to Italy. I left the security of the familiar, and I couldn’t have asked for a bigger transition that demanded incredible patience, and asked me to “do my best” while simultaneously telling me “to let go”. Old habits don’t die a quick or easy death.

“Trying to change thought with thought is like trying to bite your own teeth.” – Alan Watts

I’ve listened to a fair number of Alan Watts’s lectures. He has always been a great source for shaking up my usual perspectives on how things are supposed to be. This particular quote hit me between the eyes. A few simple words had described the mental battle I had been losing in trying to change myself and adapt.

I came to see, and doubt, the belief that I could use the power of my mind (thinking) to conquer or muscle my way through anything.

This has lead to some other personal realizations.

Control is an illusion. The more control you try to exert, the more contraction you’ll feel, and the more you block the creativity of the universe, God, or “The Force”.

For me, I KNOW this is true. But, my mind, which is used to running the show, screeches and rails against this. My mind tries elbowing its way back to the front of the line, while sternly admonishing me, like a tyrannical parent, to do as I’ve always been told. Its most insidious lie is that something horrible will happen if I relax my vigilance.

Insistence on control also is a reflection of lack of faith that life ultimately will take care of us. Might life have ideas or solutions that are better, and more creative than what our limited minds can envision?

Worry is supremely unhelpful. Actually it’s a complete waste of time.

Whoa, what a biggie. I’ve been a slave to worry. When was I taught that worry is necessary and helpful in warding off bad things?

I contemplate the many, many times in which my mind has played out awful potential outcomes, and my body goes into stress-producing fight or flight responses – only to find out later my worries were completely unfounded. Furthermore, I realize how I took myself on a completely negative internal journey, while sideswiping any ability to be present and enjoy myself.

When I have hit snags in Italian bureaucracy, which can be often, I’ve launched the worry missiles. Again, they do absolutely no good, and they rob me or peace. Yet, things seem to always work out – just not always in the way I had thought.

Many people have said “95% of what you worry about never happens.” Exact percentage aside, I believe this is pretty much true. Yet, we hang-on to worry as a shield, thinking that the remaining 5% actually benefits from worry.

I’m a pretty liberal spiritual person, yet I think Jesus was spot on when he said “Be anxious for nothing…”

Because a thought appears, it doesn’t make it true.

This is a sneaky one, in my opinion. When a thought lands in our head, our default is to believe that the thought must have validity. And, then we begin to try to respond to the thought by trying to attempt to argue or think our way out of it (“trying to bite your own teeth”).

Some people believe a thought is a message from God. Maybe so, but most often, in my opinion, it is the chatter of the conditioning of our minds. Most thoughts are noisy and demanding vs. the “still, small voice” of God.

I’m learning to view thoughts as clouds passing through the sky. I don’t have to latch onto any of them. And, if I wait, they pass. If I engage them, they hang around and cause all sorts of mischief.

Descartes’ famous quote, “I think, therefore I am” perpetuates neurosis, and can lead you far away from yourself.

Identification with thought, in my opinion, is a dangerous thing. I believe it’s a case of mistaken identity, and subscribing to the belief that thought is all-powerful takes you away from the creativity and presence of your non-verbal right brain. I’ve shared this link before, but Jill Bolte Taylor’s TedTalks “Stroke of Insight” is a important, emotional reminder of the power and value of our right brains.

Silence isn’t empty.

I’ve been afraid of silence. I’ve been afraid of not doing. Therefore, much of my life has been spent keeping my mind engaged. It is almost as though my ego, which is fueled by incessant thinking, is deathly afraid of being quiet. It tells me I’m being lazy, and that nothing of value can happen in silence. Unfortunately, I think this is major fuel towards consumption of all the gadgets of the digital age, and why younger generations are training their brains to be in a constant state of engagement.

I recognize I’ve had struggles with cutting loose from constant noise and stimulation. Thankfully, my art takes me to a different place. I’m fortunate that being creative with my photography and my painting transports me to a silence that is anything but empty. My life in Italy is giving me more time to live in this richly creative silence.

“Silence is a true friend who never betrays.” – Confucius

I close with this quote that I recently found. As my life continues to unfold here in Italy, I realize I have been presented with an opportunity to approach life differently, and to change how I’m “wired”. I don’t have to live locked away in my mind, living life through constant thinking and the intellectual violence of labeling, conceptualizing and judging. Of course, for me this is a journey into completely unknown territory, while years of conditioning rear their ugly heads with threats of disaster, and stern admonitions to go back to what is familiar. I know I can’t go back. Instead, I steer into the discomfort of the unknown. What waits for me in the depths of silence and freedom from incessant thinking? As my dear mother always said, “We shall see what we shall see.”