"I mean, it works. All you have to do is do it. You don’t even have to do it well – or right."
~ Mary Karr
When I first started practicing mindfulness, I saw internal words — aka verbal thoughts — as my opponents. Like most people, I thought the point was to not think. When verbal thoughts were present, I was obviously not. Start over. Try harder.
There's just one problem with this approach. It is normal for the mind to think in words.
"Due to its nature as a construction, rather than as a metaphysical entity, the sense of being an ego can be radically deconstructed. Accomplishing this deconstruction requires noticing and tracking the sensory phenomena that together make up the construction of the self, and then patiently untangling them from the whole. One by one, as the threads of the ego experience are pulled free, perception shifts to encompass all of creation."
Sometimes I wish I didn't think in words
and that instead for each thought I thought I drew upon an image,
and that I was able to organize each image in a linear way that would be like sort of like reading
and that instead of trying to describe the edges around something
I could just think the color around the edges of the image to be darker,
that the detail on the image could become more or less detailed depending
on how much clarity I believe I needed to disclose at the time
For instance, instead of saying love, I could just think watermelon
I could just think of a watermelon cut in half, laying open on a picnic table
The inside would be just as moist as it was pink
I could picture cutting up pieces and giving them out to my friends.
It wouldn't have to be sunny
It wouldn't have to be anything else then just that
It would really simplify my walk home at night,
where every thought I think is some contrived line I repeat over and over to myself
Words are always just replaced with new ones
The pictures would never need to know otherwise
Jackie Clark: "I often make quiet, patient wishes. Wishes for more realized and open love, wishes for more direction, wishes for less. Wishes and intentions to arm myself against despair. I mostly wish to be able to see the world differently because I think that would rectify some of its difficulty for me. This poem is an attempt to do just that, if only briefly."
Most days, I get into the neighborhood pool by 8:30 a.m. Even when there’s frost on the ground, the water is warm. Unless you’re the lifeguard, blowing the whistle when you want me to get out, I don’t know you exist. For 60 blessed minutes and 3,200 yards, I’m my only audience.
There’s nothing to look at, once the goggles fog over. Sound? The sloshing of water pretty much cancels out everything else. Taste and smell are largely of the chlorine and salt variety (though, at my old pool, I used to smell burgers cooking from the cafe downstairs). Despite all the tech advances of the last few years, you won’t see many swimmers wearing earphones or bone-conduction music devices: They just don’t work that well.
We enter the meditative state induced by counting laps, and observe the subtle play of light as the sun moves across the lanes. We sing songs, or make to-do lists, or fantasize about what we’re going to eat for breakfast. Submersion creates the space to be free, to stretch, without having to contend with constant external chatter. It creates internal quiet, too...
For better or worse, the mind wanders: We are left alone with our thoughts, wherever they may take us. A lot of creative thinking happens when we’re not actively aware of it. A recent Carnegie Mellon study shows that to make good decisions, our brains need every bit of that room to meander. Other research has found that problem-solving tends to come most easily when our minds are unfocused, and while we’re exercising...
The enforced solitude is at odds with where we are as a culture. Our gyms are full of televisions tuned to SportsCenter and cable news. We’re tethered to our devices, even at bedtime. With that pervasive lack of self-control, who has the willpower to turn off technology for any meaningful period of time? I submit: Sliding into the water is the easiest way to detach from your phone.
See also: Creswell, J. D., Bursley, J. K., & Satpute, A. B. (January 01, 2013). Neural reactivation links unconscious thought to decision-making performance. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8(8), 863-9. http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/content/8/8/863.short
It's not the lost lover that brings us to ruin, or the barroom brawl,
or the con game gone bad, or the beating
Taken in the alleyway. But the lost car keys,
The broken shoelace,
The overcharge at the gas pump
Which we broach without comment — these are the things that
eat away at life, these constant vibrations
In the web of the unremarkable.
The death of a father — the death of the mother —
The sudden loss shocks the living flesh alive! But the broken
pair of glasses,
The tear in the trousers,
These begin an ache behind the eyes.
And it's this ache to which we will ourselves
Oblivious. We are oblivious. Then, one morning—there's a
crack in the water glass —we wake to find ourselves undone.
"A later response, and much more useful, would be to try and deconstruct the message behind the words, so when the voices warned me not to leave the house, then I would thank them for drawing my attention to how unsafe I felt -- because if I was aware of it, then I could do something positive about it -- but go on to reassure both them and myself that we were safe and didn't need to feel frightened anymore. I would set boundaries for the voices, and try to interact with them in a way that was assertive yet respectful, establishing a slow process of communication and collaboration in which we could learn to work together and support one another.
Throughout all of this, what I would ultimately realize was that each voice was closely related to aspects of myself, and that each of them carried overwhelming emotions that I'd never had an opportunity to process or resolve, memories of sexual trauma and abuse, of anger, shame, guilt, low self-worth. The voices took the place of this pain and gave words to it, and possibly one of the greatest revelations was when I realized that the most hostile and aggressive voices actually represented the parts of me that had been hurt most profoundly, and as such, it was these voices that needed to be shown the greatest compassion and care."
There Are Poems
by Linda Pastan, from Carnival Evening
There are poems
that are never written,
that simply move across
on a still day:
slowly the first word
the last letters dissolve
on the tongue,
and what is left
is the pure blue
of insight, without cloud
First, it isn’t the case that the mind is inherently thinking all the time. Rather, thinking is a highly conditioned activity. In the teachings, the process is described in this way: We come into contact with things—objects in the world or our own thoughts. Each moment of such contact is accompanied by feeling which is pleasant, painful, or neither. Whatever is being cognized is then named. The Pali word for this is sañña. Most often, it is translated as perception but the English word “sign” comes from the same root as sañña. Sañña is a kind of designation. There is a raw sensing of a stimulus and then our memory moves in and names it. “That is the sound of a dog barking.”
Conceptual thought begins to cluster around that naming. That is, that which we name, we then think about. This is called vitakka. We may think, “I wonder who owns that dog.” “Is that the same dog I saw yesterday?” Then vitakka takes off. It blossoms into what is known as papañca. This is conceptual proliferation. It is the mass of thoughts and conceptions, which burden the heart and mind.
In this process there is a simple raw feeling, sensation or thought. There is no particular feeling of self or other with that. But as the process takes off, as the naming takes place, we begin to get a sense of me in here experiencing the sound of that dog out there. As the thinking (vitakka) kicks in, the sense of self and other becomes more concrete and the sense of me not only experiencing this but also being burdened by it becomes more and more solid.
As meditators I am sure you have seen this pattern. With practice, we start to recognize this pattern. We see how it works.
Usually we are caught up in the activity of mental proliferation—half way through our great novel or fully through the saga of how our first marriage could have been “if only…”—before we wake up and remember that we’re actually still in the meditation hall, and that it all started with the sound of the dog barking. “That sound reminded me of Binker, our dog. We got the dog when we first got married. Maybe if we hadn’t had the dog, the marriage would have worked out.” Then we track it back and see where it began.
As meditators we see how this pattern occurs over and over again. The mind’s propensity is to think habitually. It takes almost nothing to trigger it. For example, I spent most of my youth listening to rock music at every opportunity. So when I entered the monastery in Thailand, I spent the first few years singing inside my head. My mind was so used to listening to music that for the first few years everything that happened at the monastery was a cue for a song. It could be a leaf falling off a tree or a car going by. It could be the clanking of a kerosene tin or comments that people made. It could even be just the random thoughts in my mind. Any one event, word or thought could translate into a lyric. It was like a Bing Crosby and Bob Hope movie: “That sounds like a cue for a song...” Before you know it you are playing the entire soundtrack. I was staggered by the amount that the mind remembered and conjured up!
That is the mind’s habitual mode. It picks things up, chews on them and keeps creating—all from a moment’s stimulation...
So for myself, I have learned that the best way to deal with excessive thinking is to just listen to it, to listen to the mind. Listening is much more effective than trying to stop thought or cut it off. When we listen there is a different mode employed in the heart. Instead of trying to cut it off, we receive thought without making anything out of it.
Amaro, A. (July 20, 2010). Thinking: I. Understanding and relating to thought. Mindfulness, 1, 3, 189-192. Retrieved from Springer Link.
Excerpt from from The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life by ~ Thomas M. Sterner:
I have observed my mind many times through listening to my internal dialogue. It goes from one totally unrelated discussion to another. It's reminding me to pay a bill, composing a musical piece, solving a problem, thinking of a sharp-witted comeback I should have made yesterday when someone irritated me, and so forth.
All this is going on while I am taking a shower in the morning. In that moment, my mind is everywhere but where I really am — in the shower. My mind is anticipating circumstances that haven't happened yet and trying to answer questions that haven't even been asked.
We have a name for this: it's called worrying. If you force your mind to stay in the present moment and to stay in the process of what you are doing, I promise you, many of your problems will melt away.
There is a saying: Most of what we worry about never comes to pass.
Thinking about a situation before you are in it only scatters your energy.
"But," you say, "I have a difficult meeting with someone tomorrow, and I want to have my thoughts together before I get into the situation."
Fine, then take half an hour to sit down in a chair and do nothing else but go through the meeting in your mind and be there completely, doing only that. In the calmness of that detached moment, when you are not emotional, think of what you will say, and anticipate the different combinations of responses the person might make. Decide on your responses and see how they feel to you.
Will these responses have the desired effect? Now you are doing nothing else but what you are doing. You are in the present and in the process. You aren't scattering your energy by trying to act out all this in your head while you are eating your lunch or driving to work. This constant inner dialogue, chattering away, brings with it a sense of urgency and impatience because you want to deal with something that hasn't occurred yet. You want to get it done.
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
~ Philip K. Dick
What I find fascinating in that famous quotation of Dick is that the basic idea is that reality is not something that manifests itself clearly, it's something that doesn't want to go away.
What's the meaning of this? The meaning is that we have a map, a mental map of reality in our head.
And sometimes we superimpose the map that we have in our head, the image of reality that we have in our head, that can be wrong sometimes.
We superimpose it on reality so sometimes we don't really access reality directly. We have our desires, fears, expectations, paranoias, whatever, that act like a sort of filter between [actual] reality -- creating a sort of virtual reality.
That happens for everybody. Well, in a media-saturated society like ours, this is even stronger. We know a match not because we have been there and seen that, we know a lot because we have seen it on TV, on the Internet on some website, or read it in the Wikipedia, and, well, when things do not fit our mental map, mental image, maybe we have touched reality.
That's, I think, what an interpretation can be of that famous statement by Dick.
See also: Rossi, U. (2011). The twisted worlds of Philip K. Dick: A reading of twenty ontologically uncertain novels. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/692291452
"The truly still mind, with which you were born, is the mind that moves freely. Without ignoring anything, it reacts wholeheartedly to everything it encounters, to everything on which it reflects. And yet, for all that, it is the mind that is never seized by anything, but is always ready to react on the spot to whatever it encounters next. The mind that is still is the mind that never forfeits its freedom and is able to constantly keep rolling and rolling and rolling."
~ Sōkō Morinaga