Practical Philosophy

Thinking the Right Thought

It wasn’t very long ago that when I found myself feeling down I would think that I just needed to think the right thought. That whatever else was true, finding this one single specific thought would solve my problem. By containing clarity and beauty and simplicity, it would make whatever ache or pain or concern I was feeling go away. But I could never find this “right” thought.

It’s taken me a fair amount of time and learning, but I now feel pretty certain that there is no right thought. No thought which will clarify my feelings and make everything easy and pleasant. No thought that will in itself rid me of a sense of dis-ease or sadness.

Thoughts are a really powerful and useful tool. I wouldn’t deny that. But you put too much faith in them and they will let you down. They have to. Come to the end of your thinking and all you have left are more thoughts. But no thought, even the best, can make the feelings you are feeling go away.

Fundamentally, feelings are a body process. And no body process can be thought away. In order to deal with pleasant or unpleasant or painful feelings, you must feel — really completely and deeply — the way you feel. The mental gymnastics I used to favor aren’t capable of changing that. They’re a grand distraction which only makes it harder than it needs to be to really be present and embodied.

We think that thinking is what separates us from the other animals. And we’re right. Thinking does separate us from the other animals. We’re the only animal that feels embarrassment, or shame, or any of a number of complex mental phenomena that we have given words to. But we mistake those new feelings for power or value to our own peril. We have nothing on the mental readiness and awareness and simple presence of a deer, or gazelle, or even the lumbering bison. We think so much about our thoughts we forget that it is our body which feels.

When you try and try to think the right thought to make yourself feel okay you deny the way that you really feel and your ability to grapple with that. But it’s only by feeling, seeing, recognizing, and accepting your feelings that you can feel the peace you are looking for. There is no the right thought.

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