On Not Thinking Too Much

thinker of hamagia

Sometimes I think too much. I don’t do it consciously. While my body is anchored in the physical reality of my surroundings, my thoughts cluster around something or someone like a squadron of flies and buzzes about it for hours on end.

When I think too much, I am not quite myself.

I dwell in a chamber of my mind rather than in my body. Bodily sensations pass through me as through a sieve—I am indifferent to them.

At the same time, I cannot concentrate and I have difficulties falling asleep.

“To think is to not know how to be.”

Fernando Pessoa as Bernardo Soares in the Book of Disquiet

My thoughts are not necessarily bad.

In the back of my mind, I recognize them as a neuronal wildfire. Only that attempts to put out that fire tend only to ignite it.

By trying not to think, I end up thinking even more. I end up thinking about not thinking and feeling tired and quite wearing with my mind.

Looking back on the happiest periods of my life, I find that most of them were free from too many thoughts. I simply followed the easy flow of the days, the easy routines, the simple demands of organic chemistry.

“Understanding is what wearies us most of all. To live is to not think.”

Fernando Pessoa as Bernardo Soares in the Book of Disquiet

My case is not against thinking that tends toward a tangible end or that invites to be shared with other people. Thinking to solve problems is good. But there are problems that thinking can’t solve. Like certain feelings.

Reading is thinking another person’s thoughts. Writing is also a form of thinking. This post too is a case of thinking.

These forms of thinking do not oppress me.

What disquiets me is the thinking that thinks itself through me. Thinking that must think itself, and that takes hours or days for it to do so.

I observe my mind. I know what triggers this form of thinking. I know it goes back to my youth and to the sense of vulnerability I felt then. I know also the circumstances that can trigger it.

Meditation helps a lot. But every once in a while, a swarm of thoughts like flies cluster around the fruit of my awareness, and to try to shoo them only makes them buzz more.

To know nothing about yourself is to live. To know yourself badly is to think.

Fernando Pessoa as Bernardo Soares in the Book of Disquiet

If there were easy, harmless pills for not thinking, would I take them?

Or if there was a tea for not thinking, would I drink it?

My thoughts are electrical impulses in my cells—they are what I conveniently call “myself.”

And yet, happy our days when we dwell in our bodies fully, not merely in our heads, when the world is reduced to agreeable sensations, not to thoughts.

Why It’s Good to Read Books You Don’t Necessarily Like

We tend to stick to reading books we enjoy—whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, a specific genre, or a particular author.

No surprise since our mind likes patterns, predictable outcomes, familiar experiences over unfamiliar ones.

But isn’t it bad to read mostly the same things?

The ideas we pick up from our reading consolidate our biases and existing ideas.

If we don’t encounter different ideas, the ideas we already have can never be challenged and thus improved. The horizon of our thinking stays relatively narrow.

The trouble is that today, when the sheer amount of books on the market is overwhelming, we tend to use our preferences as filters when choosing books.

It’s easier to read books within our field of interest that reinforce our existing ideas, and which we can safely presume we will enjoy when we pick them off the shelf, than risk our time reading books outside our established interests.

But being adventurous when it comes to reading can be interesting and beneficial.

It may give us a broader grasp of the world and help us find creative solutions to problems.

And it will improve our store of knowledge–even if we gain practical knowledge, it can improve our conversation.

books in an open market

For many years I tended to read mostly dead authors. If their books stood the test of time, then it means there’s something valuable in them, I thought.

These days I try to be less of a book snob.

For every few fiction books or non-fiction books on familiar topics, I choose a book my time-conscious self would not necessarily choose.

Right now, I’m reading a math book—and finding it quite interesting despite my limited knowledge of the topic.

Pi’s endless decimals or the Fibonacci sequence or the golden ratio… Each of them fascinating in its own way.

Are the benefits of reading widely different books tangible?

Not necessarily.

But our neurons work harder and establish more connections.

And often, it’s through encountering challenging and contradictory ideas that we can best find out what we think and where we stand in the matter.

Maybe you spend an hour reading every day. Or may you don’t have that much time.

Regardless of the answer, I say give different books a chance—even if they are not your usual cup of tea.

You may be pleasantly surprised.

And even if you’ll struggle a bit to read something foreign to your interests, it’s good brain exercise.

Until next post!

The Perfectionist In Me

When I shop for fruits or vegetables, I pick them with excessive care. The perfectionist in me searches for those without blemish, perfect in shape, firm to the touch. I know, however, that this is a fundamentally wrong way to shop for food in a world where food waste is a problem.

When I have to do something important, like seeing a doctor or buying something expensive, the perfectionist in me craves as much information as possible. I can research something until the data overload leaves me quite baffled as to how to proceed.

The perfectionist in me can also hurt my writing. It makes me dismiss writing that seems awkward or too personal, even if it is authentic and reflects me closely. He may also make me keep my writing to myself, under the excuse of polishing it to make it perfect.

And then there are the relationships with other people. The perfectionist in me likes to sabotage them sometimes. He likes to tell me that I should have done this or said that or that I shouldn’t have done this or said that. Sometimes, just to get rid of him, I am tempted to avoid people.

When I fail at something, the perfectionist in me is especially hard on me. I may have gotten up early, I may have worked hard, I may have done my best. Even so, the perfectionist in me can be merciless. He can make noise in my mind like a song on repeat. Only sleep can quiet him.

But then of course there’s also the perfectionist in me who spots typos and missing Oxford commas. Who earns me a living. Who makes me eat healthy and cook good food.

Who helps me learn and become more conscious and aware of myself with each new day that passes. Who makes me look up in a dictionary every single word on a page that I don’t know. Who encourages me to do everything well.

Much like my shadow, the perfectionist in me follows me everywhere. If I could get rid of him, perhaps I would. But then I do need him sometimes.

So what I do is try to push him out of the way when I can and not pay much mind to him. Like when buying fruits.