In Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, he finds a beautiful way to describe our relationship with thought—particularly in the way we (ourselves) co-exist with our minds. In the book, Tolle refers to the flawed idea that our mind, our thoughts, are us. Many of us are compulsive thinkers. Our relationship with thought is an unhealthy one, and we allow every fleeting thought to sideline us. Whether it’s a mere interruption of a bigger thought, an interruption during a good workflow—a big idea at work. Or, perhaps it’s that we suffer from very compulsive behavior. Either way, as Tolle explains, we no longer have to suffer in this way. We can be free of our minds, at last, hopefully changing our relationship with thought.
I am a compulsive thinker and always have been. Sometimes it’s anxiety. I’ve been called a worry-wart. Some may call me “highly analytical.” I don’t give a shit what it is—the fact of the matter is—my thoughts get in the way of my everyday life. My relationship with thought is such that “it” (my mind) dominates the relationship.
It might be an idea I obsess over that turns into a (short-lived) hobby; Often, I am trapped inside the books and shows that I watch. In the latter, sometimes it can be fun—an escape—but what am I coming back to when I return?
I’ve always seen this “over-thinking” side of myself as Attention Deficit Disorder. I’m self-diagnosed, but I’m sure if I sought a professional opinion they’d agree. I have trouble focusing on any one thing because of the thousands of other things buzzing around in my brain at any given moment. Sometimes I have 30 computer tabs open, on each browser. It’s a problem. I become distracted so easily; I’m always bouncing from one activity to the next. Sometimes I have trouble focusing and listening while in conversation, which is a crappy feeling. My patterns of thought can even prevent me from finishing the most simple of tasks like making a quick phone call or taking 5 minutes to balance my checkbook.
My case is one that I would consider rather extreme, but the fact is that on top of all the adults suffering from ADD, we also have the misfortune of slowly blossoming into compulsively thinking adults. Studies now show that our anxiety increases with age. The increase in compulsive behavior and feelings comes from many things, such as life events and includes side-effects of medications.
Our relationships with thought and ourselves are paramount to every aspect of our lives. If we cannot control our thoughts—which most of us perceive as ourselves—then what can we control? One of my favorite excerpts from The Power of Now is this:
You mean stop thinking altogether? No, I can’t, except maybe for a moment or two.
Then the mind is using you. You are unconsciously identified with it, so you don’t even know that you are its slave. It’s almost as if you were possessed without knowing it, and so you take the possessing entity to be yourself. The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not the possessing entity—the thinker. Knowing this enables you to observe the entity. The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter—beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace—arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.
Tolle’s message here is a deeply meaningful one if you’re ready to hear it. Imagining your mind to be merely a stowaway is a pretty profound concept. I was freaked out a few times like, “but in thinking about the thinker…. is it the thinker, thinking about themselves? As ME though? Meta….”
However, when we start to practice some of the things Tolle suggests, we’ll notice that this helps to develop a partition in “yourself.”
One of the things Tolle suggests in the book is to separate your being from individual thoughts. For instance, you can think of the thought as an idea, yourself as merely a witness to it. Being able to see thought as a process—developed by our conditioned minds/ brain waves/ etc.—allows us the incredible ability to understand our consciousness more fully; Sinking us into the realization that we are separate from our rampant inner dialogue.
When we aim to “quiet the mind,” actually we aim to put and end to our random thoughts. We try to slow our minds down to relieve stress and have a moment of peace.
The very fact that we almost universally refer to it as “peace” should indicate how vital exercises in mindfulness can be to your overall mental health and well-being. Furthermore, it suggests the nature of our relationship with thought through our innate distrust and dislike of the thinker, who we already know to be an imposter.
So, if you don’t meditate yet, or you haven’t before, give it a try! As we try our new practice of observing thought, we can take a step back. The longer and more accustomed to watching thought that we become, the higher our propensity to see thought for what it is. We then begin to develop the ability to know with certainty that we exist beyond thought, using thought as a way to understand and filter outside information. After all, you have to live with yourself forever—It just so happens the real you is underneath some bullshit, so get digging!