Why can’t I feel better? Why can’t I experience contentment or satisfaction right now? Why can’t I be free from stress, fear, anger and all the other negative crap that keeps me down and my blood pressure up?
Try this. Right now, for just fifteen seconds see if you cannot have a thought. A single thought. See if you can just keep your attention focused on your breathing and not think for just 15 seconds. Give it a shot.
I can already feel you thinking. If your mind is anything like most human minds, it will be almost impossible for you to not think about something for just 15 seconds (some of you may have even had the thought that you were not thinking anything).
Why is this a problem for human contentment, satisfaction and well-being?
Well, it is not so much of a problem if all of your thoughts are happy, joyful and intellectually stimulating positive thoughts. But most of us do not think happy and profound thoughts all day.
Most of our thoughts are actually quite unpleasant and are composed of mainly judgment about ourselves, judgment of others, worry about the future and remorse about the past. This is what loops around in our mind all day, everyday. This is what we are talking to ourselves about all day and night.
If you were to turn our thought process inside out and turn up the volume a little bit- well you would probably be seen as being insane in most cases and countries (however, in Berkeley it might be a bit more permissible than in most other places).
When this insanity is looping around in our minds all day and night long- well that is a real problem for our well-being and the well-being of others in our life. It is a real, serious problem. Probably one of the greatest problems that afflicts humans all over the world right now.
So what do we do?
The irony of being a psychotherapist and a mindfulness instructor is not lost on me. As a psychotherapist, my business is individual’s inner thought processes (mindfulness is not often good for a psychotherapists bank account). If the individual did not invest in their inner thought process, what would we talk about? The bird singing in the tree outside my office window?
There is nothing wrong with thinking. I love intellectual thought as much as the next person. I enjoy engaging in stimulating intellectual discourse and silent, solitary, contemplation. There is nothing problematic about trying to figure things out. Trying to unravel years of experiences so as to get a better understanding of who you are, what you want, why you feel and act the way you do. I wish more people would invest in this process.
The problem is when we are lost in thought without knowing that we are thinking. This is when we are in the autopilot mode, which generates the vast majority of our suffering. It is very similar to when we are dreaming and not aware that we are asleep and having dreams (unless we are lucid dreaming). Most of us go through our lives in this waking dream state. We are lost in thought and have no idea that we are thinking. We are literally being held hostage by our thought process- and it is impossible for anyone to experience well-being when they are being held hostage.
So the first step towards freeing yourself from captivity is to develop the awareness of thinking. Just by becoming aware that you are thinking allows the thought and the accompanying emotional charge to diminish.
This is what self-transcendence means. To transcend the conditioned limitations of yourself (which, creates the vast majority of your suffering) requires that you engage your innate ability to become aware (you don’t need any belief system or spiritual practice to just become self aware right now). Becoming aware that you are lost in thought is as natural to who you are as becoming aware that you are hearing sound right now. We all can do it. It is a fundamental aspect of our biology. Just by becoming aware, you literally are waking up from a conditioned dream state and returning to your life as it is, right now, here, in this moment (the only place you can ever really experience being alive).
So give it a shot. Notice that right now you are lost in thought and bring your attention back to your breathing. Back to your body sitting in a chair and your feet on the ground. Notice what you are hearing and let the thoughts pass. It’s a proven technique to achieve well-being right now and even if only for a minute- it works every time.