There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so! ~Shakespeare~
Have a look around, observe how nearly everyone around you is completely lost in thought. I see it everywhere, people drifting off in thought as if they are spaced out, dwelling in memories or anticipation of some event in the future. Practically everyone standing, sitting, walking alone is lost in thought. Even often in conversation you can see people drift off in thought. Observe it at stop lights, while shopping, walking in nature, at the gym, or mindlessly sipping a coffee at Starbucks – they are physically here but their minds are somewhere else. It’s truly remarkable how we function on autopilot – driving, walking, shopping – with such little conscious attention to the present moment. It is the human condition, unique to us on this planet.
Humans are trapped in their minds. That is to say, immersed in thought. We cannot get out of our own heads. We may think we are in control of our thoughts but we are not: we don’t think, thinking happens to us. It’s just an incessant barrage of compulsive non-stop thinking. We are reenacting past conversations or future imaginary ones, reliving the past or anxiously stressing about what comes next. Our minds love time – the past or the future – and will do anything to distract from the present moment which, ironically, is all we have. It’s as if we devalue the NOW and overvalue the future; Something in the future always seems more attractive to us even though once this future moment arrives in the present moment, we anxiously move on to the next anticipation. It’s an insatiable appetite for the next moment, with the illusory hope that the future offers salvation. We always want to be there yet feel trapped here. But, there (meaning the future), can never come except as the present moment and this is the dysfunctional paradox we all live in.
When we are trapped in our minds, we identify with our mind. This creates a false sense of self, which is the ego. This separation creates biases, opinions and judgments and tells us we are different. It creates a Duality: Subject vs Object. We feel better than or superior to others but it also cuts both ways where we can feel inferior or not worthy. Either way, the mental noise continues with the commentary as we constantly compare and judge everyone.
If you could step outside of your nonstop inner chatter and objectively hear your thoughts, you’d be horrified. The mental narrative may sound like this That cashier is so slow and stupid; She looks so fat in that awful outfit; He says the dumbest things; How on earth did he get a job working here? The mind just goes on and on, a running commentary on your surroundings with no filter. Worse yet, it’s reliving conversations you had while fantasizing about things you will say (but never will) to someone. It will even complain about the weather just to keep the running monologue going.
Most of us don’t even know this is our reality because we are immersed in our thoughts. That is to say, we are trapped in our minds and therefore identify with each thought. This is who we are, or so we think. We are so identified with our mind activity that this becomes our identity, our story. Who would we be without our story? The people that wronged us, our petty jealousies, our successes and triumphs, all the things that didn’t go our way, etc – this is our story.
But there is a far deeper dimension within us, rooted in Being. It is our very essence and does not deviate based on external factors. Sadly, many of us only get a glimpse of this as we approach death. All the material form strip away, all the negativity, biases and judgments fall away, and we are left with an inner peace that passes all understanding. I observed this with my dear Mother in her final days. There was such an amazing sense of calm and joy in her even though her body was failing her. She had surrendered to everything, and everyone, and transcended. She had found the peace that passes all understanding. It was incredibly beautiful to observe, there was true peace and harmony within her as she gracefully exited her life.
You may ask, can we find such inner peace before imminent death? Do we have to wait until we are on our deathbed or can we die before we die?? The good news is we can attain inner peace and sustainable joy at any stage in our life and not just in our 11th hour. We do this by no longer being trapped in our mind and therefore no longer identified with it. Through awareness, also known as consciousness, we stay in the present moment. We are no longer trapped in time; that is to say, no longer dwelling in the past or future, in memories or anticipation. There is a transcendence of thought, a new ability to rise above thought and thereby no longer be trapped in your mind. You then no longer derive your identity, your sense of who you are, from the incessant stream of thinking. This is such a liberating shift, you are free of the compulsive thinking that ruled your life.
The joy of being can only be felt when you get out of your head, that is to say, when you are no longer trapped in your mind. You become a non-participant witness to your thoughts, simply observing them but not being immersed in them nor deriving your identity from them. They are no longer your story and you discover a far deeper dimension. This is who you truly are – the one that sees all this but no longer is identified by it. It is truly liberating to free yourself from mind activity and its incessant mental commentary. You become centered with an unbounded awareness awake to itself. There is peace and stillness within, a pure joy of being.