Addiction to thinking, compulsive thinking, prevents living well. If so, in order to live well, it is necessary to overcome it.
By using the word ‘thinking’ I am referring to conceptualizing. To understand is to conceptualize correctly. Concepts are principles of classification. We understand objects by classifying (sorting, dividing, discriminating, organizing, categorizing) them using concepts. For example, judging that this is a tree is grouping this object into a category with similar objects.
It’s good to be able to think! We wouldn’t be able to survive without sorting objects into groups like food, friend, dangerous, hot, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with thinking.
However, having an addiction to thinking, always being attached to thinking, is a serious problem. For reasons I have tried to explain elsewhere, addiction to thinking is what creates suffering (discontent, dissatisfaction, unease). Suffering is optional.
(Do not confuse suffering with pain. Addiction to thinking does not, of course, create physical pain. How could thinking create the pain from your broken arm? At least occasional pain is unavoidable.)
What are the ways to eliminate suffering?
It can be very helpful to understand your options before selecting one. Actually, there are many, many different options. I have found six that I’d like to submit for your consideration. If one appeals to you more than the others, why not select it? Do what is required and see what happens.
Let’s suppose that awareness (consciousness) is divisible into two domains: thinking (thought) and not-thinking (no-thought). Let’s suppose that living well requires living a balanced life in the sense that it is necessary to spend considerable time both thinking and not-thinking. Let’s further suppose that suffering is caused by never spending time not-thinking.
If so, the cure is to find openings (portals, doors) from thinking to not-thinking and to go through those openings and spend time not-thinking. It is only by doing that that you will be able to determine for yourself whether or not it is possible to free yourself from suffering. It is not necessary to have an addiction to thinking. All sages are free from that.
First, meditation is, by far, the most popular opening to overcome addiction to thinking. It is the paradigmatic spiritual practice. The English word ‘spiritual’ comes from the Latin word designating breath or wind. Though there are many different kinds of meditation, what they have in common is that they all focus awareness on the natural physical process of breathing.
So there’s nothing religious or supernatural about meditation. More importantly, there’s nothing conceptual about it either. The idea is to let go of thinking by paying full attention to your breathing.
If you have never tried meditation and would like to begin, one way to do so would be to follow the instructions in Chapter 11 of my recent book REAL OVEREATING HELP or to sign up for the free e-course at http://www.lasting-weight-loss.com/meditation.html . (I’ve been meditating since 1994.) There are plenty of other resources readily available to help you begin.
The other five openings are much less discussed. If one of them interests you, I suggest both the written and audio works of Eckhart Tolle as an introduction. He discusses all five.
Second, aliveness awareness is another way to overcome addiction to thinking. It’s an alternative to a meditation practice or it can be used as a supplement to a meditation practice. By ‘aliveness awareness’ I’m referring to paying attention to the sensations that come from the energy in your living body.
Obviously, your body is alive. It is not inert. Usually we are so busy thinking that we fail to notice how good it feels simply to be alive. Instead of focusing awareness on your breathing as in meditation (or your pulse), focus awareness on the tingling sensation that becomes noticeable in your hands when you lie quietly and still with your eyes closed. Then you may notice it in your feet, then up your legs and arms, and in your torso.
When you are paying full attention to the aliveness sensations of your body, you are not thinking. (This seems to me such an important adjunct to meditation that I myself am not only practicing it daily but I’m working on a book about it.)
Third, another way to overcome addiction to thinking is simply to pay full attention to your normal bodily sensations including such “inner” sensations as your posture and being upright. If you are, say, kneading dough or driving a car, pay full attention to the tactile sensations in your hands. Instead of kneading or steering automatically, devote all your attention to those perfectly ordinary sensations. If you do that, you will not be thinking; instead, you’ll be fully aware of them without thinking anything.
Fourth, yet another way to overcome addiction to thinking is to practice saying “yes” to the present moment regardless of what is unfolding. Allow the present moment to be just as it is. Why not? It already is just as it is anyway! If you try to resist reality, reality always wins. Why fight when you have zero chances of winning the fight?
This can be even stronger than merely accepting or allowing the present moment to be as it is. It helps to pretend that you yourself have actually chosen it! This seems crazy when you are suffering, but, if you try it, you may experience for yourself how it helps.
It’s a bit like this: suppose that your beloved cheated on you with someone else. Imagining them having sex makes you nauseous! However, if you are able to make yourself imagine them having sex, even just that level of acceptance may be able to reduce your suffering. Why? It’s a way of practicing not taking it personally.
By saying “yes” to the present moment and allowing what-is to be just as it (already) is, you are practicing not taking it personally. This can initially seem bizarre, but, if you practice it, I predict that you’ll find that it works.
Fifth, another way to overcome an addiction to thinking is deciding to stop thinking and just stopping! There’s nothing except your own habit of incessantly thinking that is causing you to think incessantly. Some people, so I’ve heard, are able to stop thinking by simply deciding to do so.
Like aliveness awareness, this, too, can be combined with meditation. For example, if you are meditating and find yourself telling yourself a story to occupy your mind, you may be able simply to decide to stop telling stories and, instead, to focus wholeheartedly on your breathing.
Sixth, cravings are also openings to not-thinking. They can be used to overcome addiction to thinking. If you are a smoker who craves a cigarette, suddenly you may find yourself smoking without even being aware of obtaining and lighting the cigarette! The first step in becoming a nonsmoker is simply to become aware of what you are doing. Instead of automatically smoking whenever you have a craving, simply notice the craving.
This goes for any kind of craving. Before you do anything, simply notice the craving. You may or may not decide to satisfy it–that is secondary. What is of primary importance is simply to pay full attention to the craving itself. What happens to it if you don’t instantly smoke (or eat or have sex or have a drink)?
Find out. It may simply vanish. It may become stronger. The point is to put awareness in front of the behavior.
This especially applies to emotional impulses, which are cravings If I slap you in the face and you find yourself angry and inclined to respond in kind, before you respond, stop! Become aware. You do not have to slap me back. You feel like slapping me back, but it is not necessary actually to do so. Why let impulses govern your life? You may or may not decide to slap me back, but wouldn’t you be wise not to do it automatically?
So there are six openings to not-thinking. You have plenty of options. If you are not already using one of these every day, I encourage you to begin to do so. As you notice your suffering diminish, you’ll be glad that you did.