“Stop thinking, and end your problems.”
That’s a quote attributed to weirdo Eastern philosopher Lao Tzu, and it’s pretty fucking bang on.
You may say that quitting thinking is an impossible and impractical concept, and you might be right. But let’s consider that every issue we feel tormented by is ultimately self-inflicted, all of it an emotional by-product of thoughts generated by insecure egos, social conditioning, unsubstantiated conjecture, speculation, assumption, presumptions, and other umptions. The stress, grief, or pain is usually the result of a woe-is-me perception.
Once we stop obsessing over whatever nonsense that has us in a tizzy, the stress, grief, and pain go away. It doesn’t take much effort to prove this hypothesis. Take a deep breath, drop your thoughts, and you’ll realize a few seconds of peace. The longer you can extend this “thoughtless time,” the more relaxed you’ll become.
This is one of the benefits of a good meditation practice – perhaps the most important one. It’s not supposed to be a chore to sit through an hour of quiet time because you feel guilted by the media’s recent popularization and suggestion to ritually adopt this habit. A true meditative exercise should be something you look forward to, just to get the fuck away from the insanity of society for even a couple minutes.
So what role does thinking have in our lives if it seems to be a source of so much misery?
A pretty damned important one.
Thinking is our creative tool. We’ve just never been taught to use it properly or effectively. In fact, it’s been pretty much been used against us since birth.
From day 1 we’re taught what to think, not how to think. We’re told what to memorize, but not why we’re memorizing it. We’re taught to compete, win, strive for greatness, earn lots of dollars, bang hot chicks or dudes, find a dream romance, build a family, and buy a house, but our most influential mentors never bothered explaining how to handle our thoughts when those bullshit goals didn’t materialize.
Welcome to Remedial Thinking 101.
This is not a patronizing course. It will give you some essential tools to facilitate healthy emotional development, and start seeing through the endless manipulation we’ve become desensitized to.
Let’s begin by reiterating an earlier statement.
Thinking is a creative tool.
Actually it’s the only one we have. Everything put into motion in your life stems from an embryonic thought, whether created by you, or created a billion years ago by some unknown entity. As George Carlin noted, the flamethrower only exists because someone aspired to burn people 30 feet away, but had no means to accomplish the task. Granted, he said it funnier, but when you fully appreciate that thoughts are the genesis of all things, you’ll begin to remove a lot of unnecessary self-imposed grief from your life.
Thoughts create emotion.
This is not to say that emotion can’t be generated by any other means, but it’s important to realize that your youthful conditioning has programmed a ridiculous number of automatic responses into your subconscious, responses that can be reevaluated and recreated any way you see fit if you isolate the thought entities responsible for them.
When Debbie calls you a fat whore, and you hold yourself together until you can burst into tears later in your dorm room all by your lonesome, the first question you should be asking yourself is, “Why the fuck am I crying? I’m not fat and I’m definitely not a whore. Sure, maybe I’ve sucked a few cocks along the way, but who hasn’t? Why am I generating this unpleasant and crippling emotional response to the words of some angry, miserable human?”
Realize that most thoughts are reactions or judgements.
Conditioning from youth goes both ways. After crying your eyes out, do you go to a party later that night and say to your girlfriend, “Did you see how stupid her hair looked? And what was with those god-awful shoes?” When you start paying attention to the thoughts popping up in your mind, you might begin considering where they came from, and why you’re wasting energy entertaining them. You might find that your insecurities and harsh reactions were all based upon a loathsome thought some miscreant parent or television campaign imprinted on your highly impressionable mind as a youngling. Those thoughts are not carved in stone, but they will torment you if you allow them to.
Thoughts create the past and future.
It’s impossible for something that doesn’t exist to have any negative effect on us unless we first imagine it in our minds, and then let it go unchecked. It’s just as ridiculous to be upset about past events as it is to be stressed over an unknown future. Neither of these scenarios actually exist. You can misremember or misinterpret the past to create a negative experience just as easily as you can speculate stress or wonder into a future that hasn’t happened. The only thing in existence is a present thought generating an emotional response to the fiction in your mind.
This is much like watching a movie. Your can whip yourself into a teary frenzy thinking about Bambi’s mom being slow-roasted into venison cutlets just as easily as you can get depressed because you believe you’ll never find your soulmate. It’s all creative emotional fiction, generated willfully in your mind. You’re not powerless to control it. You can choose to feed thoughts energetically, or you can starve them. You will never feel anxious or nervous unless you allow your creative power to run wild on you.
Same holds true for quitting a habit, whether it’s smoking, drinking, or collecting creepy, life-like baby monkey dolls. If you don’t conceive it, you won’t act it out. Here’s an example: have you ever been so engrossed in a loving project that a 12-hour day slipped by without any concern for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Despite the growing gurgles in your belly, the thought of eating never once crossed your mind, hence you never ate. Not until the consideration of “Oh shit, I should probably eat something,” was there a hunger issue.
Same with overeating. When you think, more, more, more flavours, more cheese, a few more bites, damn this is good, I’m getting full maybe I should stop, nah, maybe just a few more, maybe one more dip in that sauce, just one more chicken wing and three more fries, etc, etc, you’ll keep eating. When you say to yourself, “one more bite and I’ll be sick,” you generally stop eating, because your next thought is about how to alleviate the distension in your belly, not lifting a fork to your mouth.
Why do people fail at quitting unwanted habits? Simple, they use thought scenarios to put their vice back into the limelight. When the thought doesn’t enter your mind, you don’t do it. If you feed an unwanted arising thought, well, you’re fucked – that’s the entire meaning behind the phrase “what you resist persists.” When attempting to use will power to fight something, you’re obsessing over the thing you don’t want to do, ultimately pushing yourself to do it in order to be done with the anxiety of forcing yourself to not do it. That was a terrible sentence, but I think you get my point. The easiest way to ditch a habit is to immediately replace your unwanted thought with something better – but don’t choose another vice as your new go-to thought. Substituting chocolate cake for smoking isn’t going to make you much happier in the long run.
You can exist in a sharp and alert state of mind without a single thought entering your brain.
Thinking is not a necessity to an effectively functional existence. Unless you’re looking to solve a problem or create something unique, there’s no reason to think. Let’s use a jungle cat as an example. Imagine it sitting quietly crouched in the long grass, all of its attention fixated upon the rodent obliviously approaching. Thinking about which limbs to scarf down first would only serve to break concentration on the exact moment to pounce. Thinking about nailing a hot piece of jaguar ass after munching on Carlos Capybara would be equally distracting. Like any hard-core zen master, a sharply focused mind is clear of thought.
You can spend years in psychotherapy with some douchebag “expert” to help you uncover what thoughts programmed your unwanted emotional responses, or you can begin employing a somewhat easier technique I call, “Who gives a flying fuck what you think or say about me.” It may have its limits, but it can get you through a lot of situations that were never worth one second of grief.
If you want to create something of value in your life, use your thoughts. If you want to be at peace, let them go.