One of the hardest things I have ‘done’ (or ‘do’) on the spiritual path is to learn what it means to quiet compulsive thinking. It’s a challenging process and you reach ever deeper levels of mindfulness. It’s a process of embracing silence. Mind chatter is definitely an addiction, and maybe one day it might be clearly recognized as such, who knows.
It’s an addiction, because if you really notice your mind/thoughts you will see how incessant thought is, because usually thoughts come to either take you away from an uncomfortable one about yourself, or to recreate pleasurable ones – again, to get away from an uncomfortable one.
The Mind Chatter Is Painful
This process of compulsive thinking is itself pain and suffering. I would go so far as to say it’s agony. But it is not recognized as such until we are somehow forced to slow down. Until then we are in ‘blissful’ ignorance. I’ve said for some time on this blog it’s a topsy turvy world – what we consider to be happiness is so often unhappiness. And mind chatter is one such example.
We might find we have a lot of time alone for whatever reason. Or we go through some painful event that makes us look at ourselves in a new – and more accepting – light. But there is usually a forcing of us to take note of ourself by circumstance. Or for a few people they may use their intellect wisely and simply realize they need to slow down. But usually we don’t ordinarily allow ourselves to go through painful moments, instead we run and hide from them as fast as we can, fearing silence and fearing being alone.
For example, upon the ending of a relationship, there can be an immediate panic to find a replacement, or on a smaller more everyday level, we fear silence in conversation with someone. We fear it, because in those moments we hear our own fears, our own pain, and instead of simply allowing to be what already is, we are already on to the next thought. It’s not conscious, it’s unconscious – a habit. And it’s a habit that must be broken if we are to find any real peace in our lives.
My Own Experience
When I first started travelling this conscious path, I always remember a spiritual friend talking to me about thought. Thought – huh? I thought. (Get the irony?) To be honest I did think she was crackers, because noone had ever spoken to me about thinking and thought before. She recommended Freedom From The Known by Jiddu Krishnamurti (click his name to read chapter 1), so I read it, as by then I was in the thick of a waking up ‘process’, and the ‘me’ and thinking were being subjugated. It was a significant book for me at that time. In JK’s words:
Do not think about yourself, but be aware of the thought, emotion, or action that makes you think of yourself.
In the space which thought creates around itself there is no love. This space divides man from man, and in it is all the becoming, the battle of life, the agony and fear. Meditation is the ending of this space, the ending of the me.
A Monkey Mind Cannot Love
There is no magic key that stops the monkey mind (seriously, click that link to meet your Trevor…the inner ape is your only enemy!). One must first realize that the monkey mind is your own mind. One must be willing to take a step back and to be a little philosophical about oneself. One must go beyond the ego-self and have humility – the humility of not being right, of not knowing it all. Maybe, just maybe, my mind is running a rampage on me every second of every day! Yes, just maybe… One must see and feel the pain caused by the monkey mind.
A monkey mind cannot love. I look back at my own life when my kids were younger. I was quite stressed out (well, very stressed out) in those days. I was just telling my son this yesterday – I hope he understands! – I wasn’t always very patient with them. My mind would race, not being able to just be with myself. I was always on the go, whether physically or not, but certainly mentally. As consciousness became more conscious for me as they were older (teenagers), I was able to just be with myself much more happily, and so my closeness with my kids took on a deeper bond, because I had the mental space for them.
If you’re always thinking like a train running amuck without a brake, then how in this world can you possibly be there for another, or first of all, for yourself? Are you, and your loved ones, not worthy of your full and undivided attention? When a parent, or anyone for that matter, is always mind-chattering, a loved one – the other – simply has no opportunity to relax in their company, there is always a performance going on. A performance that takes enormous amounts of mental energy that is essentially stressful. The truth of it is that our minds chatter for us, for our own needs, not for anyone else or for their needs. It is a selfish (in a non-judgmental sense) preoccupation. It robs us of closeness and real connectedness.
Silence Is Music Enough
When I started to slow down, consciously, and yes, woke up….I didn’t listen to music by choice (except very rarely and then only some select music eg to go ‘down memory lane’ after a drink or two lol) for some years. I needed silence, especially after being with many other people during the day, say, where you have this frenetic mind activity incessantly going on like a crazy thing – and crazy it is for sure. Silence became like a drug. A good drug, that is. I needed it, this time for my soul or whatever you want to term it. I felt nourished by it. It was noise, and people’s incessant chatter (now, the spoken chatter is just an offshoot of this torrid mind chatter) that would simply wear me down. Crowds became quite an ordeal sometimes. It’s so soul-less. Nowadays, the only music I willingly put on is music that isn’t frenetic. Rock, and mindless popular music, or house, or anything like that leaves me wanting to run for the hills. I don’t find the energy of such ‘noisy music’ that conducive to my own energy thesedays. I have some real favourites in terms of music that ‘feed the soul’ which I’ve on and off posted on this site before.
And let’s be honest. All of this frenetic-ness is the antithesis of what we most want with all hearts. What we most want is to simply be understood and accepted for who we are. To connect to another – deeply. That’s why falling in love is so much in demand. We are starved of such understanding and acceptance, of such love. And the reason we are starved is ironic ally because of the distance created by the performance we perform for others with our mental chatter and the performance we are subjected to by others’ chatter. Although it is all a mental performance we are aware of it, no doubt about that. Most communication is unspoken after all. But regardless of the impacts of how are minds control us, we don’t want to change this state of affairs, and so we settle for moments of closeness that may come our way, but the mind – oh no, we won’t give up our addiction to that!
But it is so worth the trouble. Having said that I’ll make no bones about this – there is painful work to be done! I cannot say it any other way – it’s initially a challenging process. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t endure the frenetic mental activity that so many people indulge in constantly, knowing somehow deep down how dissatisfying it is. Why do you think people like to get drunk – well, their fears get loosened and they can be more themselves, but of course the effects are temporary. We would indeed already be masters of our minds if it were easy. If you want to find some peace of mind, as is the popular saying in our everyday lingo, you have to do the work. And if you want to awaken, well then don’t delay this shift in consciousness. It is my belief that one day or other (whether in this body or in some other form or state) we will have to do this work. We’re only delaying the inevitable by remaining defensive of our incessant thinking.
For myself, I’ll say that I didn’t know what happiness really was until my monkey mind stopped the incessant chatter….
So how do we make any kind of effort to silence the mind?
- Meditation, an excellent practice for just this process
- Mindfulness techniques – eg walking mindfully, yoga
- Noticing – yes, just noticing your environment rather than reacting mentally, noticing your body, eating silently
- Breathing methods
- Spending time alone – yes, you can go beyond loneliness, alone does not mean lonely
Such practices allow a growing awareness where we notice the mental chatter in the first place – and it must be noticed first. And in the noticing, it simply loosens its hold on us…
Finally, here’s a succinct video that actually made me say to myself ‘Finally someone who is saying what I am saying to myself every single day!’ 🙂 It’s a real short video – and Mr Watts said it oh so well. Do watch (listen, really).
The Mind – Alan Watts
An enormous number of people devote their lives to keeping their minds busy, and feel extremely uncomfortable with silence. In order to have something to think about, there are times when you simply must stop thinking…
So let me ask you, what is that you really, really want to think about? What floats your boat? What gives you real enjoyment? Maybe it’s a hard one to answer. For me it’s pretty easy – look at the topics of this blog. For you, it may be art, or your half-written book, or any other such endeavour (often creative) or your love of animals. But whatever it is you really want to spend time thinking about – find it!
You know when people say ‘she’s out of her mind’ or ‘he’s out of his mind’? Well, little do they know!
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