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.

personal, ruminations

Thinking About Thinking

CMP73Purple Thinker

I noticed recently that I do this rather strange thing. I’ll think thoughts, and then I’ll restate them again as if I were speaking them. Even when I’m not speaking. Even when I’m the only one around.

It’s as if I have to “say” everything in order for me to have really thought it. That is, if I have to choose what to do, I immediately know that I have three options, about dinner for example, and what they are. But not until I articulate those options as if I were saying them aloud am I “done” and able to make the choice.

Certain that I’d noticed this phenomenon before, I went looking for it. This is how I explained it about two years ago (my apologies for it’s roughness):

for example, i do this thing where while i’m brushing my teeth or something my brain has two separate things running. one is basically what i would be saying out loud. it’s rather articulate and reasonable. and then there’s the lower level that comes up with where the articulated streaming is going to head next. and if something goes through the lower level and sounds reasonable i have to repeat it on the upper, more articulate, level. i don’t know why this is and i think it’s rather strange. i already know exactly what will come out of the more articulate string and yet i must MUST go through the act of thinking it or i may have never thought anything at all.

i think the whole thing is rather strange. and i sit there thinking about politics. and then talking to myself about politics [though usually without speaking]. and then thinking about how it’s weird that i have to say all the thoughts i have twice.

i want to know if other people do things like this. when i was pretty young and i did this is kind of made sense. because the more articulate strand would, for example, be talking to a room full of stuffed animals (they listened far better than anyone i ever knew). but now there is no room of stuffed animals getting my articulate presentation and the more articulate strand is still there.

do all people think like this? do they realize they think like this? do they think about why they think like this?

I’m now wondering, much as I was then, if this is normal. I think that it can’t be too abnormal because outwardly I seem to function nearly the same as everyone else. People seem about as fast or slow to respond as I am.

Part of the problem with this whole thing is that I have no terms to describe the phenomenon. The closest I can think of is that the lower stream is, essentially, the “subconscious,” while the repetition takes place, and translates it into the “conscious” mind. Perhaps psychologists really do use these words to mean these things, but I’ve never heard it.

I guess the whole point of this might be–and both parts of my brain are telling me I need a point–is, perhaps, how little I know. The fact is that I don’t often notice this odd dual-stream nature of my brain, even though I must assume that it’s always happening.

Perhaps, then, this whole thing is another lesson in paying attention. About how much we can notices if we just take the time to do so.