Think You Think Too Much?

A lot of my students who are learning the correct principles of meditation will at one point or another complain about thinking too much. It's an affliction that we all suffer from but it becomes really apparent during meditation, at times when we can't focus, or can't fall asleep. I wonder why we worry about it? Perhaps we read articles claiming that thinking too much makes us fat.



Ok quick! Stop thinking!

Actually, it's impossible to stop. With an estimated 65,000 thoughts going through the average human mind within a single day, with both processing and sensing (as in psychic ability) perhaps at the speed of light, could there really be such a thing as over thinking?

Think again


The good news is that the mind is designed to think. Thinking is natural: it's critical to our survival and our functioning. Humans have the ability to process vast amounts of information, and to be doing this consciously. This is part of what makes us human. 

Don't believe the hype


The painful part about thinking too much (and no, it's not the fat thing), is that we have a tendency to believe our thoughts, develop feelings about the thoughts, feel they are ours and want to do something about them. It's like an addiction. A massive human trap! 


Google it

For example, a thought arises in the mind in the form of a question. In the thinking process, there is no satisfying answer. There comes a stealth but powerful disliking at not knowing the answer. The irritation is enough to breed a strong desire to find that answer. Curiosity builds. We want that answer. We Google it. 

It's like an itch we want to scratch. An addiction.



Or let's say we have the thought or opinion that a particular sports team should win. It's the worst team in the history of sport, with an abysmal losing streak, but because we believe it's our team, we still want them to win. Why? Because if they win, then we feel like we win and that will make us happy

Thoughts breed


We shouldn't blame thoughts. Thoughts alone are neutral. We don't see that in addition to thinking there is also believing, feeling, association and desire. These need each other to breed. A whole stream of these appears in the form of memories, daydreams and stories. Each thought breeds a liking or disliking and that emotion breeds more thought, more emotions, or action. The investment of emotion causes fatigue. Imagine having to act on each thought we have. What torture!

No wonder we don't like it. It's exhausting.

Don't stop thinking, start knowing


Naturally our first instinct is to kill thoughts. We think meditating (our image of this is sitting lotus-legged banishing any thought that dare trespass) can work. But that's not the way. It's actually pretty impossible, and more painful and unnatural than the thinking was in the first place, which is why those who attempt this often give up.

The Buddha taught mindfulness, which involves practising getting good at knowing when the mind has gone off thinking. We don't practice mindfulness by trying to stop thinking and feeling, we practice by simply watching and knowing what the mind is doing. 

When we catch thinking and feeling happening, the thoughts and emotions halt in their tracks like deer caught in the headlights. No matter how cute you might be, it's hard to breed or spawn anything when you're startled, exposed and motionless.



To practice the right way, we just watch and accept the thoughts and feelings coming and going. Without holding on too tightly to any of them, they are more easily let go of so we can see what happens next. It's like the brain in this Oatmeal comic (ok probably not exactly like this but you'd be surprised). 

So next time you're lost in a trance-like stream of thinking and catch yourself, rather than feeling like your mind is something bad, go ahead smile. You just snapped out of it. This is what it means to awaken. Just in that moment you awoke to what the mind did. And then don't stop. See what happens next.