NATHAN PILDIS — Staff Writer
Each one of us has an entity within us that I will refer to as the “Thinking Mind.” This is the voice in our heads that chatters on and on. It narrates our lives. It usually speaks negatively and distracts us from whatever it is that we are doing. It is like an untrained puppy that barks incessantly and engages in all sorts of destructive behavior: chewing up our happiness and peeing on our inner peace.
Most of us don’t recognize that we have control over the Thinking Mind, so we just let it do whatever it wants. In fact, most of us completely identify with our thoughts, regardless of how disturbing or negative they may be. Descartes said: “I think therefore I am,” but Descartes was wrong.
In actuality, the Thinking Mind is a small part of who we are, but it often dominates our awareness. We are programmed to operate this way. Our educational system fosters critical thinking and analysis, which feeds the Thinking Mind, but does not discipline it. For our entire academic careers we have judged, analyzed and scrutinized in order to find predetermined answers to problems. At some point in our childhood, life also became a problem to solve. But life is a gift, not a puzzle to be solved.
Descartes was lost in thought, just like most of the world. For 23 years, I, like Descartes, was trapped in my own thoughts. My Thinking Mind was particularly mischievous. It would drag its ass across my brain all day, trying to satisfy this eternal itch for happiness. It put my happiness in the future: a time that never arrives. It would constantly recount the trauma of my past (also a time that does not exist outside of thought). It was a distraction and an annoyance.
But one day, I snapped out of it. For the first time, I saw the emotional destruction that my own thoughts were causing. That day, I grabbed hold of the leash and started to train my Thinking Mind. The first trick I taught it was to sit. Sit and be quiet. Be still, so that I can just be.
The Thinking Mind can also be thought of as an air conditioner. When it’s on, you barely notice the constant drone it produces. But when it turns off, you immediately notice the peace and quiet. Buddhists call this quiet being “mindful.” I like the term “present.” There are countless ways to enter the present and quiet the Thinking Mind.
To enter the present, accept of this moment exactly the way that it is. You may want something that you don’t have, but you don’t have it. If you truly “needed” the object of your desire, you wouldn’t be alive to think about how bad you needed it. All you need right now is air to breathe. You may want to be somewhere else, but you’re not. You may want it to be later in the day, but it isn’t. You are right here, right now, always. Eckhart Tolle has been quoted as saying: “Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.”
Additionally, The Thinking Mind loves to chatter about how things “should” be. In actuality, this is more like a preference of how you would like things to be. If things really should be a certain way, they would be. It always is as it is. The universe knows best. Completely accepting the way things are silences the resistant chatter.
The most powerful strategy to enter the present is to feel your own breathing. This is often referred to as “conscious breathing.” The breath is always present. The last breath that you took is gone and is never coming back. Your next breath will arrive when you are breathing it. There is only this breath. To practice, feel the slight contraction of your abdominal muscles as you exhale, followed by the effortless flow of air into your lungs. It affects your entire body. It seems so simple but is an incredibly transformative practice. There are zen Buddhists that spend every moment of their lives concentrated on their breath.
Embracing the present moment has the potential to change the way you see and experience life. It can shift your perception from a conceptually based existence to one of direct experience. Rather than thinking about your life, you can just live it. It takes some practice, but everyone can train his or her inner puppy. All you need to do is see it and gently grab hold of the leash.