Thinking easily transports us away from the present, into the uncertain future, or back into the disappointing past, so that every day, for large periods of time, we can wander distractedly among our thoughts instead of attending to the here and the now. Thinking may place us at the forefront of evolution, and it may help us colonize Mars one day, but would it be an overstatement to say that overthinking is one of the big problems of our generation? Our modern comforts cushion and cosset our bodies, but there are no easy chairs on which our minds can stop and rest.
We think when we are alone. We think when we are with others. We think at work. We think at home. We think when we wash the dishes or tidy up our rooms. We think on paper. We think on our blogs. We think and think and think. The same recurrent thoughts return to us constantly under different variations, following deep-rooted thought patterns.
“I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.” ― from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer
I have neurotic tendencies – my mind can think and think, analyzing, comparing, weighing this against that, considering advantages and disadvantages, wondering what if and what if not, and so on. I can think myself into sadness about events I anticipate happening, and which never actually occur. I can think I understand myself and others, until I think I actually don’t. I think I know what I want, but then I think otherwise.
Without thinking we wouldn’t be here. We do have to think, but not all the time. Just as there are spaces between the trees in a forest – glades, meadows, clearings, footpaths – there should be empty spaces in the forest that is our mind. Yes, empty spaces: moments when we still our mind and become aware of the present moment, regardless of what we are doing or how. And I don’t mean sleep.
When’s the last time you heard the silence between two noises that came in through your window? Or felt the frothy tickle of the soapy water as you washed a dish? Or enjoyed the soft texture of your pajamas as you put them on? If you can’t remember, chances are you were too busy thinking about something or other at the time.
“Stop thinking, and end your problems.” ― Lao Tzu
Let’s make a conscious effort not to think all the time, so that our thoughts will make less noise, so that we can hear more clearly the sounds of the world and of the people around us. Let’s think when we have to, and let’s try not to think when we don’t. Let’s return to the present, becoming aware of our feet on the ground, of the position and weight of our body, of the invisible swinger in our chest that is our breathing. And let’s clear our mind of thoughts and still it. Let’s observe it, let’s watch it as it tries to link new thoughts. And let’s allow them to pass, let us not cling to them.
Don’t you feel, at least sometimes, that your mind thinks too much? Don’t you wish you had an on/off thinking switch?