The mind is a good servant, but a poor master.
Thinking, like any of our inherently given abilities, is a skill. And this skill serves a very specific purpose. But we have misunderstood the terms of using such a tool, and we constantly try to use it for projects that require a different one.
Thinking, you see, is like a hammer. And when nails are present, a hammer is a very useful tool.
It serves a purpose. But, our relationship with thinking rivals that of a crazy man with a hammer duct-taped to his hand, running around town hitting everything he can because he has run out of nails. The hammer served its purpose, but when its purpose ran out, this crazed man tries to foster a new purpose, and unnecessarily so.
When there are no longer nails, there is no longer a need for a hammer. Now I am not saying throw away the hammer, because at certain points throughout the day you may come across a use for it. But the carpenter doesn’t carry around the hammer all day waiting for a nail. What does he do? He keeps it in his tool chest, out of sight and out of mind, until the time comes when the hammer is needed. And then, and only then, does he retrieve it.
Thinking is the same process.
The thinking mind is a problem solver, and a damn good one. But, when it doesn’t have a problem to solve, it creates one.
Just like the crazed man running around town hammering random objects, now you begin creating problems simply so the thinking mind has something to do.
Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” I believe he was wrong. I think it is only when you do NOT think, that you truly are. Thinking gets in the way. You cannot live life and think simultaneously. When we are thinking, we are experiencing thought. But we are not experiencing the world as it is,we experience our mind as it thinks. And then we get wrapped up with ideas, and we think our thoughts are more real than the events that manifest them.
When you think, you experience thought. Thought is just that – an experience. But it is a self-manifested experience lesser than the experience of the real world. As Polish-American scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski said, “We mistake the map for the territory.”
The greatest artists of sport are praised for their ability to act unconsciously. It’s as if the sport flows through them. They simply let “it” happen. Lebron James isn’t thinking as he cuts to the basket. Derek Jeter doesn’t think as he swings the bat. Tiger woods doesn’t think about his taxes on the 18th green.
This holds true in all arenas of life. Great orators are not thinking as they convey their message to the masses. “It” simply happens. Great musicians do not consciously focus on each note. They let the music play itself, and they are the medium through which it unfolds. All great acts are performed in the state of “no mind”.
To truly live in the moment is to live above thought. Thought is a poor man’s manifestation of reality. The basis for transcendence in all eastern philosophies is a movement away from thought. Life is not without irony it seems, because the only way to come to this realization is… wait for it… through a tremendous amount of thought.
We are most alive when we are consciously unaware of our lives.
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To be clear, I am not saying to abandon thought in exchange for a reckless life full of actions without purpose. The key here is to use thought to help guide your actions, but once thought has shown you the proper path and given you purpose, the thinking itself no longer serves a purpose and must be let go.
Think until thinking is no longer required. And then, after some time of living above thought, when a new problem arises you can return to your thinking cap, but only when there is reason to do so.
Consider the analogy of a journey. After a great sea voyage upon reaching the shore, the travelers do not throw their ships on their backs and carry them inland. This would be ridiculously inefficient and tiresome. Instead, they use their ships for their designated purpose, and upon reaching the desired destination, leave them behind.
In all areas of life, from hour to hour and day to day, we must be like the seafaring man. We are given the gift of thought (in this case, our ship) to navigate this life. When we are in the ocean (problem requiring reason), sail away. But, once we reach the shore (we find a solution, or we known the destination we are headed) leave the ship on the coast. It no longer serves a purpose, and thus we no longer require it. We mustn't throw the ship on our backs, hiking inland in search of a stream just for the sake to continue sailing.
Thinking is our greatest ability. This tool is the reason why we have climbed out of the caves and into our $300,000, 2 car garage..fancier..caves. Our thoughts can serve as our greatest asset or the source of our greatest struggle. It is up to us to decide how we use such a powerful tool. But remember, it is still just a tool. And no matter how spectacular a tool it may be, it is not a tool for all occasions.