Firstly thank you SO MUCH to those of you who responded to my request to confirm receipt of notification emails. I have kept true to my promise and not published them (33 and counting) even though there were several with content I’d have wished to publish. PLEASE do leave comments when you are moved to do so, I’d like to say I’ll respond to those longer comments, however…I may not be able to do that. Apart from anything else I find comments, even short ones, both personally encouraging to ‘keep posting’ and the insights are often inspiring and stimulate my fingers to type! Here is a question that came in via a comment which I thought might be a common issue especially for those who find themselves home alone for days on end. Many thanks for asking this question, dear reader.
Recently I’ve been aware of ‘talking to myself’ and wanting to stop it! Is this the same as deliberate thought do you think? (Mostly we think in words, so I imagine it is.) I’ve got a few ideas as to how to drop it but wonder if you have too.
This is interesting. I’ve noticed that when I am writing here I’m ‘speaking’, sub-audibly, what I am writing. It’s possible to not do that but it takes a conscious and deliberate effort to refrain. And even with that, I have to keep on renewing the resolve to refrain but having spotted what I’m doing is three-quarters of the ‘battle’ done. This is of course deliberate thought, one step away from actual vocalizing. This renewal of one’s attention (and basic intention) and deciding for oneself is about par for Buddhist training I’d have thought. Our brains, and the rest of us, are so amazing are they not?
We instruct that while sitting in formal meditation we deliberately decide to refrain from deliberate thinking and allow the brain to do what brains do. That’s to ‘secrete thoughts’, the flow of thoughts which simply seem to just come along unbidden. The very same thoughts that most people feel are a problem and need to get rid of them, in order to meditate properly! It takes more time, over time, on the cushion than one might imagine realizing that 1) it’s not possible to get rid, 2) that we are wired emotionally and practically to circumstances that stimulate thinking, deliberate and nondeliberate. This will include going back into the far distant past, formal meditation gives us the space to reflect on the past, see it, love it and move on. And there will be more realizations along the way. Which brings one to ACCEPTANCE. Brains are wired to secrete thoughts. Perhaps the biggest and most long-lasting insight is ‘I am not my thoughts! and along with that ‘Don’t believe everything you think’…is true I’d add.
So to answer the question. As in meditation so in daily life. There will be a flow of thoughts, often there meeting circumstances. When deliberate thought is needed, think deliberately and give yourself mental space to do a proper job rather than turn the need into worry. That happens quite frequently. And when you notice that deliberate thought, including deliberate visual imaging (dreams and fantasies we call that) take you over then…move on, let go, switch your attention. All fairly simple when moving about in daily life. Above all, drop ones self-critical thoughts, self-condemnation etc. etc. Then have a private smile to yourself ‘isn’t this just like humans’ and move on to the next most important thing. That could be actually giving yourself time to deliberately think about something or do something practical. For example, pay attention to what you are doing – walking, driving, washing up, sitting watching TV, working on the computer. Gradually, one’s brain will become less hungry for words/thoughts. This comes about as the unconscious habit of filling one’s mind with thoughts, lessens. I remember thinking one day when out walking in Wales, ‘Oh, so there is life without (constant) thoughts’! Thoughts come fewer and further apart but not a state to achieve.
Talking to oneself, you could say, is helpful since audio input gets one’s attention. I have intermittent Tinnitus in one ear. My friend the Cricket (that’s the sound I get) reminds me to allow sound to inter me. That then broadens to the ‘soundscape’ in the larger space I am in. Right now I hear my Cricket which then has me hear the tap-tap of the keyboard, a door closing. Uh! I am still vocalizing in my head as the words appear on the screen. Perhaps this is just how it is.
Brains are just remarkable.