Happy day to you, friends!
The other day I had a fun idea for someone that I really enjoyed (I love having ideas for other people) and that I’d like to share with you. First I’ll describe the content of our conversation, then I’ll go on to the idea.
It’s sort of a sketchy thing to talk about spiritual practice as having an aim or goal, but if we allow ourselves to talk about an aim, I would say that the aim, or at least one of the aims, is to train our minds to be in the present so that we may live in a state of simple being. The state of simple being is where the deepest joy is, in my experience, as well as the beautiful connection with Life that we all desire. It’s the place where we have access to true insight and our natural intelligence; it’s the place where we are aware that we are pure love, and where there is no conditioned self to interfere with that love. If we may simply be (and this is mostly beyond the reach of anyone who has not done a lot of dedicated spiritual practice, most of the time, in my experience) then we may simply be happy in our lives on this earth. That’s what I want most deeply for myself, and I would imagine that’s what you want, too.
What is the role of thinking in relationship to simple being? That’s what my friend and I were talking about. She said that she finds herself thinking nearly constantly, and accesses the place of simple being rarely on a given day. “Is there an authentic role for thinking?” she wanted to know. The answer is, yes. We have the capacity to conceptualize, rationalize, string ideas together, and so on, for a reason, and that reason is that these things are useful. If you have a thorny problem to work through, if you need to plan out some complex event, if you need to analyze something that’s going on and separate it into its component parts in order to become clear about what’s happening, or other things along these lines, then it’s good and useful to break out your conceptual thinking capacity and take employ it in order to do the job, whatever it is. That’s what our rational minds are meant to do, and there is nothing, at least from my point of view, that says this is not in keeping with spiritual practice.
The trouble happens when our thinking is not conscious: when we are not aware that we are thinking, how we are thinking, and the reason why we are thinking. If a person is not conscious of the process of thinking happening, then their thinking will be co-opted by conditioned mind–the set of assumptions and preconceptions that we developed during childhood, all of which are false and unreal. If we allow conditioned mind to abduct our thinking, then that thinking will be steered towards unhappiness, dissatisfaction, fictions in which we do not belong or are undeserving, and all the other things we suffer from. That’s the thing that we’re working to transcend through spiritual practice.
The trick, then, is to think consciously. When there’s not a need to think consciously it’s best to put our capacity for conceptual thinking away. Conceptual thinking is a tool; when you need the tool, get it out and use it, but when you are finished with the tool put it back in your toolbox. Whenever it is not necessary to think through something, and in my experience this is just about all of the time, then it’s best to practice resting in simple being.
While I was talking with my friend the other day, and while she was describing the fact that she is generally unable to put her conceptual thinking away and stay in a place of simple being, I had my idea. She had just told me that she has a chair in her house that is her meditation chair. When it’s time to meditate she goes and sits in that chair, and that helps support her practice because all she ever does in that chair is to sit and practice being. I suggested that she set up a second chair that is her thinking chair. Whenever she needs to think through something, she can go and sit in that chair and think it through. When she’s done thinking, she can get up from the chair and go about her business, with the understanding that she is only going to allow herself to think when she’s sitting in that chair. Otherwise she can practice simply being. The point of course is that this requires her to make a conscious decision about whether she’s thinking or not. Isn’t that a good idea?
Perhaps we might all have our own version of her thinking chair, because don’t we all become frequently lost in thought? Mine is a big rock in the creek (I don’t have room for a chair in my tiny hermitage). What might yours be?
Thanks for your attention to this, folks. Be well, have a good and productive day, and a good practice day.