If you have been practicing meditation – or mindful sitting on a cushion, to use a more precise definition – you are aware of how much energy is absorbed by compulsive thinking – or repetitive trains of thought.
Let me try to define this clearer: compulsive thinking is an involuntary repetition of the same thought. It could be a hundred times, with very little variation, over and over like a broken record, bringing no real benefits. On the other hand, voluntary thinking may be needed for an event that needs to happen in a certain way and at a certain time, or a project that might need the perks of the mind in realizing it.
Compulsive thinking during the daytime can easily be divided into two simple categories: thoughts about the past and thoughts about a potential future. I am specifying daytime because in the night we engage the subconscious mind that expresses itself via images and not through concepts narrowed down to words – the main form of expression used by the conscious mind – but also moves into the realm of what we can call fantasies, which are not related to past or future thoughts. We could also define dreams as our nighttime thoughts and thoughts as our daytime dreams.
Recently, during my morning sitting sessions, I have subjected my future related thoughts to deeper observation. I want to share with you my reflections on them because I believe this is where the majority of people usually dwell. By examining these thoughts, the first thing one can notice is that one of the reasons it is so difficult to let go of them is that, while it is happening, every thought feels utterly important (in a way it suffers from a superiority complex!). It carries in itself an unspoken sense of salvation, success, improvement, or resolution and it gives me a sense that I have some form of control over the unfolding of my life.
In a subtle way, it always seems to be telling me: “Just let me finish this thought because it is very important and it’s really going to make a difference”. It doesn’t matter if it is three in the morning and I am in bed where nothing can be done and in a few hours I will wake up and I will have completely forgotten all about it.
In most cases, this over-thinking will not make any difference in life. Not only because that hypothetical future will never unfold in that particular way but also because after half an hour (or half a minute!) we will have already forgotten what that great thought actually was that was promising to save my day.
Control through thinking
So, where does this sense of wanting to control through thinking come from, and why is it so important to the mind? I see a few different reasons:
– The future is uncertain and I want to soothe myself with the illusion of a more certain outcome.
– Thinking feels like a safer option, granting me more control over the situation and thus guaranteeing a more successful outcome.
This is the egoic mind’s way of working, looking for ways in which to succeed and to gain something – like receiving recognition from a peer, or in more obvious ways, gaining money or other material things.
– I want to control through planning because there is an underlying sense of insecurity.
– I want to be in control because I cannot just trust that everything will unfold the way it should.
Insecurity of the egoic mind
This insecurity is the very nature of the egoic mind. Deep in its foundations, the ego knows the weakness of its own existence that comes from being just a shadow. The ego is just a human construct, a fabrication that is not rooted in the ultimate reality of our true nature, and therefore it could collapse – or vanish – at any moment, like a castle made of sand or a house of cards.
The ego does not have any real substance and therefore fear and insecurity are basic qualities to ensure its own survival. To try to prevent this collapse, the egoic mind is always searching for ways in which to strengthen and confirm its own existence: one way is through being ‘in control’.
It is the result of the ego being a shadow entity that makes me believe that I am separated from the whole. If I would consider myself as part of the whole, not only would I allow for trust in existence to arise but the ego itself will also have no reason to exist any longer as a separate entity.
Example: It’s easy to relate to friends that I love and naturally feel close to. If I do not know someone, I feel the distance and the separation and therefore more likely not to trust them because ultimately I don’t know if this person cares for my well-being or not.
In the same way, if I feel separated from life, I am not able to feel the loving embrace with which existence is holding me, leaving space for insecure and doubtful feelings. I see control and the sense of separation as linked together; the more I feel separated, the more I need control to be able to cope with the uncertainty that comes from not trusting what is going to happen. Control through thinking and planning ultimately allows me to survive.
A story from Osho
One day I heard Osho talking about this and it made a lot of sense to me. Since the early Homo Sapiens, man became aware that even if he was physically a quite weak and vulnerable animal among the many that were populating his surroundings, he had a strength that other animals didn’t have: he was able to create tools that could wound or kill and he could hunt alone or in groups, hence multiplying his own capacity and strength, to the point that a bunch of little humans could hunt down and kill a much bigger animal like a mammoth and eat it. All this through the use of the thinking mind.
Later on, man could use the mind to find ways to protect his territory or kill other men that were threatening to him or that they had something that he needed or wanted. He could also figure out ways to grow crops and feed on them. And on it goes… We are all aware of the extent to which the mind developed itself both in creative as well as in destructive capabilities.
So the mind, from the very beginning, was a tool to secure our own survival as well as to gain power over other men and over nature. Somewhere deep in our DNA and in the dark corner of our subconscious, we must still rely on and trust in all that the mind says as if it was a matter of our own survival.
So what to do with all this understanding? Well, the bottom line is that the identification with thoughts is what fuels our thinking mind and what keeps us entangled with it.
One way that helps me to move away from this, is sitting on the cushion every morning and observing what arises. I find that it can be of great help in understanding the sometimes hidden nature of emotions and thoughts, helping me to demystify them and eventually not identify with them, on my path to a greater understanding and freedom.
Based on his 40 years of meditation practice, Shastro’s teaching is not rooted in a specific technique or tradition but rather in the ever-unfolding moment and how it is experienced in the inner space. Shastro is also a renowned musician and the founder of the music label Malimba Records, which distributes worldwide music for meditation, Yoga, Tantra, Reiki, and the Healing Arts. Read full bio