“The more you think and talk, the more you lose the Way. Cut off all thinking and pass freely anywhere.”
~ Zen Patriarch Seng-T’san
In our last post, I invited you to reflect on four insights about thoughts and thinking, and how they apply to your own experience. How did it go?
As a refresher, the insights are:
- You are not your thoughts;
- You can choose how you relate to your thoughts;
- You don’t have to buy into the content of your thoughts (very powerful to know!);and
- You can function very well in life without paying attention to thinking.
Now it’s time to get even more practical. Today, we’re going to talk about some specific skillful means you can bring to your experience of thinking once you realize you’ve been lost in thought.
You may have noticed that thinking has a strong momentum to it. Certain thought patterns have been reinforced for decades, and they cycle around in your mind without actually helping you feel better or navigate life more intelligently.
It’s a sacred moment when you realize that these patterns have taken hold. Because now you have enough consciousness to do something other than compulsively continuing to think. It’s a celebration, a “Yes!,” a moment when the veil of thinking drops away and you have choices available to you. And here are some of these choices.
Stop and Breathe
When you become aware that you’ve been thinking, stop. Breathe. Feel the breath in your body. Immediately, your relationship with thinking shifts. You experience more space…more presence…
Shift Attention Away from Your Thoughts
Notice that your attention has been involved in the stories your thoughts are telling you. This is what thinking is—being involved with the content of thoughts—churning endlessly!
Here’s the medicine: shift your attention away from this narrative. Lose interest in what the thoughts are telling you because they’re not helping you be happy and peaceful.
Instead, take a few conscious breaths, look around you and use your senses to reconnect with your surroundings, feel your body, and notice that you’re present and alive.
Now you’re out of the mental chatter. Even though it may still be going on in the background, you’re back here to the actual, living reality of the moment.
Feel the Sensations in Your Body
Underneath sticky thought patterns are often feelings that haven’t been explored. Stuck in thought, it feels like you’re one big head completely disconnected from your body.
Instead of continuing to think, move your attention into your body to feel the sensations that are present in the moment.
Welcome any tension, contractions, or subtle energies. Create a warm and open space for any sensations you notice. Spend a few moments or more letting them be without moving away from them.
Unexplored bodily sensations are the fuel for compulsive thinking because they’re interpreted as signs of threat and fear. If you ignore them, the anxious stories will keep running.
As you breathe with physical sensations, you’re uninterested in the content of your thoughts—and you’ll begin to enjoy the peace that’s here now.
Expand into Presence
Being aware is the steady, stable, ever-present silence from which thoughts arise.
You can be aware of things such as thoughts, physical sensations, objects in a room, or other people. And you can rest in the totality of being aware, free of objects.
When you expand into the being aware experience, you’ll get a taste of the space that is sometimes called thoughtless awareness. Rest your attention here, in this stillness, and you’ll notice great peace and relaxation.
Be Open to Fresh Options
You don’t need to rely on thinking to live. And if this insight is new to you, you may wonder how you’ll know what to do. Here are some possibilities:
- Trust the truth of the moment and not your thoughts.
- Be open to what the moment is calling for.
- Instead of being motivated by fear and anxiety, ask, “What would love do?” or “How does life want to move me right now?”
- Rather than trying to figure things out, listen and be receptive to what you hear.
Vigilance and Dedication
Thought patterns are highly conditioned, and will return, so expect to get hooked by thinking. Take each moment as an opportunity to untangle your attention and re-establish yourself in the present moment.
Be vigilant and dedicated—because it’s your happiness that’s at stake!
There’s a flow to thinking, then losing interest in the contents of the mind and releasing into the aliveness here now.
Isn’t it amazing that this release is possible?
Keep it simple and stress-free. Let compulsive thinking come and go without latching onto it—and let the experience of being aware be infinitely vast and open like the sky.
Layers of conditioning melt away, and here you are…in your original innocence…and wildly free…