Our society has been built upon thoughts since the age of enlightenment. Rene Descartes’ declaration “I think, therefore I am”, has driven much of how we navigate the world. My mindfulness teacher has said that those whose minds are untrained believe in their thoughts. Those whose minds are trained don’t believe in their thoughts. For the majority of the world, thoughts are highly prized as most of us strive to come across as rational and logical. But yet with our highly educated and intellectual society, we are unable to attain well-being by thinking. Not only that, thoughts can harm our well-being and can be obstacles towards happiness.
1. Incessant Thinking
We are creatures of unceasing thoughts. If you do not believe me, try sitting in a quiet corner to see if you can stop thinking. If you can stop thinking, how long did you manage to stop for? Do this as an experiment to see if this is true – but not to prove the author right or wrong.
I had a mindfulness student, who said she’s so tired from thinking and solving problems at work that she doesn’t want to think anymore. So I asked her, what do you do when you stop thinking? She said she starts to play old computer games or watch old movies so that she does not need her brain to think.
I asked her if she doesn’t need to think to move the game controller? If she isn’t listening to the storyline despite watching the same movie repeatedly? Because if she doesn’t need to listen or to watch, she does not need to turn on the TV at all. She said she does need some thinking to play the game and watch the movie, although it takes no effort. The truth is, habitual thinking takes little to no effort and it makes us think we aren’t thinking at all. Her efforts in resting her mind by playing familiar computer games gave her mind no rest, and therefore, she does not feel rejuvenated. In this real-life example, her incessant thoughts caused harm by draining her energy.
2. Fear of not thinking
As thinking creatures, we are afraid when our minds stop thinking. We have an innate belief we stop existing when we stop our train our thought. You can try this out to see if what is shared is true or not. Try sitting in meditation if you know how to meditate.
Not thinking can cause us to feel insecure and non-existent. However, even without thoughts, we are still experiencing. Our senses are still able to experience their corresponding objects but without our biases. When we think, we tend to judge our experiences.
Often, we think to judge and not to discern. We judge something quickly and think we know. When we think we already know something due to bias, we often miss out on the experiences of life. We often miss out on the deep experiences of life due to the barrier of our thoughts.
3. Thoughts harm when we stick to them
There’s a story about a group of mountaineers who were training to ascend to the top of Mount Everest. They trained their physical strength as well as mental strength to see themselves standing atop Mount Everest while still in the U.S. Some new-age teachers have taught a mental technique known as the power of visualization in order to bring a goal we want to fruition.
After hard physical and mental training, these mountaineers traveled to Nepal. They were warned not to ascent to Camp 4, the final camp before reaching the summit after 4:30 pm. That’s because, after 4:30 pm, there tend to be avalanches or storms. The climbers, who were near the summit, were asked to go back down to Camp 4 near 4:30 pm. But they had a strong belief about reaching the summit thanks to their having visualized their success, and so did not heed this advice. They went ahead to Camp 4 and were never to be seen again.
When we are inflexible and believe strongly in a particular thought pattern, it can cause us harm and also costs us our lives. Our deep belief in our thoughts prevents us from seeing the reality that things can change and do change, or the fact that events seldom go our way. By going against the natural law of change by pitting our thoughts against this cosmic reality can only cause us harm. When we think we know something, we stop learning and stubbornly defend our opinions even if we may be wrong. This, as we have seen, can cause wars and has for many centuries caused conflicts within ourselves and outwardly on our planet since humans existed.
Can we disarm thoughts that harm?
It is highly possible to disarm harmful and unrealistic thoughts although you need deep curiosity, effort, and determination to practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation allows us to use our awareness to direct our thoughts.
Awareness is able to see when thoughts go rogue and obstruct the mind from seeing reality. In my own personal experience, my awareness was cognizant of how negative speech due to incessant thinking caused tension and heat in my body. The signals tell me I am approaching the land of negative emotion and action which will have a consequence for me and the person I am speaking with. I often laugh at the childish thoughts that often support unrealistic optimism or go towards negativity I see in myself. Instead of following all my thoughts as I did before training my mind, I countered the unrealistic thoughts with a more positive perception of the situation. It changed my entire being after I transformed my thoughts.
Airing grievances do not reduce stress
Many people think airing their grievances actually relief them of stress. I would like to invite anyone curious to see if this is indeed true? If airing grievances once does release stress, why do we then do it again and again? Does it not cause further aggravation by reminding ourselves of what is annoying or hurtful? Wouldn’t it be better to let it go? Don’t remember any hurtful things.
When you have to meet an annoying person, there is no need to pay attention to their bad habits or to tense yourself up. When you are tensed up, you are remembering their unlovable qualities. Rather, try to find something more acceptable about them when you see them. Also, forget their irritating habits the moment you leave them because it can only do you good. There is no need to fight against them because they are unhappy. There is no need to forgive because you have already forgotten.
If you are curious how mindfulness can help you direct your thoughts towards happiness and wellness, get in touch with us for our 8-week Mindfulness course.