by Jonas Plass.
This blog entry today is Part One of something of a work in progress for us. Next Sunday we will be posting Part Two of this piece on ‘the art of being present,’ because important stuff is best left to settle for a little before you stir it all up once again. Indeed, in one way or another, every ACEBE entry is always somehow speaking about being ‘here, now.’ But after a few conversations with one another, and with friends and family over the past few weeks, we feel there is perhaps a need to recap on ‘the art of being present,’ and make this and the next entry a bit more explicit on what our problem with being present truly is and what this thing of ‘being here now’ actually looks like.
At the end of the day, being ‘here now’ is nothing but the art of making conscious decisions about the reality we experience, learning to let go of how we would like things to look like, and accept the consequences inherent in (un)consciously choosing to remain stuck in vicious or destructive cycles. Because knowing why we can’t be present can also help us know how to be more present over time.
Be accountable for your own state of mind
We at ACEBE believe that we are all accountable for the reality we experience, and not just individually but at a global scale too. This is something of an unpopular idea to throw around for those of us raised in very individualistic contexts because it pushes us to face the consequences that our actions may have in our own life and in the lives of others. But the truth is that, as the famous song goes, “what goes around LITERALLY comes around.”
We often have a hard time accepting or admitting that, to a large extent, we experience what we experience in life because that’s the energy we are (also collectively) circulating. And so, many of us just disregard this piece of wisdom because… well, there is no way to ‘scientifically’ prove claims like this. Still, the truth is that, to a large extent, there is no one else but ‘us’ to blame (or congratulate for that matter) when things are not going the way we want. And so, taking responsibility for our own life and our own state of mind is a key step in redirecting the flow of energy we circulate in our microcosm so as to learn to live here, now.
Beware of what you think because thoughts literally make your world
In a way, thoughts and emotions, and thus, our reactions to and decisions about life events, are all very closely knitted. We don’t normally think of emotions in this light, but they can truly be called the physical expression of a thought process that originates first and foremost in the mind. I will explain what the mind looks like a little bit below.
Generalizing a little bit more (which, we know, sucks!), we all have a certain framework or way of thinking about life that kind of justifies or sets the basis for how we go about ‘doing life.’ Be it because of our upbringing, social context, historical background, class, race, or whatever –we leave the ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate aside for now– by the time we reach adulthood, we all have a certain structure of ‘thinking’ deeply ingrained into our system which dictates how we go about doing the practical side of stuff. And, at least in developed parts of the world, a great deal of the method whereby we assess what to do, how to do life, and how to approach or deal with risk in life involves utilizing the rational/analytical/intellectual part of our mind. And we do this A LOT. A real, huge LOT.
Now, first of all, there is really nothing wrong with using ‘rational thinking’ or a ‘conservative mindset’ to make important life decisions. ‘Conservative’ here would also refer to our need to ‘conserve’ or ‘preserve’ our life. So this is really alright. It’s a given that, for some stuff, using the brain real hard is key. But also because of certain cultural prejudice in favor of ‘rational thinking,’ we often rely too much on ‘brainy action’ in detriment of the utilization of other parts of our ‘mindfulness’ that are equally important to the making of informed decisions. And so, when learning to be more present in life, a key step is understanding the nuance between thinking hard about something and knowing something. That is, the inherent difference between imagining up in our head how something will/should/could look like, versus how the real, lived experience of something actually IS like. The one can never really substitute for the other. And though we all know about this at an intellectual level, we rarely, and we mean RARELY, choose experiencing something before thinking about it. And that’s where the difficulty with being present truly lies. Because experience can only ever happen HERE, NOW.
On Mind vs. brain
As mentioned earlier, by speaking of ‘the mind,’ we are referring to a compendium of things. The mind is not synonymous with the brain. That is a commonplace misconception in part derived of an improper use of everyday language. The mind, much like our consciousness, encompasses parts of the rational thinking process performed by the organ we call ‘the brain,’ but also goes beyond that. It is a much broader, less localizable, and more complex and vague structure than the brain. It comprises certain sensations too, certain awarenesses, certain ‘hunches’ if you want, that cannot be exclusively mapped into any one specific body part, let alone the brain. Furthermore, it comprises parts of our ‘awareness’ we are not really all that aware about.
Yet, because of historical reasons (including the Enlightenment!) that have affected and driven our evolution in a certain direction, we in developed parts of the world think of the brain as the most important, most elaborate, most inherently ‘human’ organ we possess. We believe it is our brain and its incredible computing capacity that differentiates us from other species in the animal kingdom. Because, let’s admit it: it is a kingdom. And we humans are ‘king.’ So much to explain why ‘thinking with the brain’ or ‘thinking rationally’ has such a high standing worldwide. In many ways, we ‘are’ our thinking, we identify with our (rational) thoughts, and this has important consequences.
Still, we all regularly have experiences that transcend the type of knowledge of the world we can derive with ‘rational thinking’ only. Nonetheless, we also regularly disregard such experiences because they are too ‘subjective,’ too undefinable according to strict, measurable parameters to be of real, actual importance. Or… are they?
So, it is not without some irony that the very same tendency that pushes us to rely on ‘brain thinking’ to go about life, helping us feel safe and in control in this world, also makes us overly dependent on it. So much so, that ‘not thinking’ during wakeful hours is almost impossible for the majority of us. Think about it honestly. Can you consciously turn off your thinking and remain in that state for a few minutes, let alone one hour, at a time? I’m just gonna go on limb here and assume that the answer coming up for you was most likely “no, I can’t.” And it’s alright. How could it be otherwise? If we in so many ways are expected to be our thoughts and our capacity to think rationally, not thinking makes our sense of ‘I-ness’ quiver. Which is precisely why the demand for feasible how-to meditation methods is such a sexy thing at the moment worldwide.
To say that we are afflicted by quasi-paranoid thinking and that we have identified with our thoughts may sound exaggerated to many but it actually isn’t. And the fact that we somehow find solace from this ‘overthinking malaise’ by assuming it is ‘normal’ because, “well… everybody does it,” doesn’t make it any less crazy! In a way, the doubt remains in all of us whether this is truly ‘normal’; and it remains because, somehow, we don’t always like the feeling we get when we can’t stop thinking about stuff. We would sometimes prefer to literally ‘turn our head off’ and not think about what’s uncomfortable, what hurts, or about our expectations –past memories, future stressors, traumatic experiences, our feelings… But we just can’t. Now, is that ‘normal’? If so, this being ‘normal’ thing is absolutely bananas!
As said before, we can’t stop thinking because a great deal of our identity as individuals and as a species rests upon our ability to think. This is perhaps weird to hear, but it’s also quite true. As said before, thinking elaborately, being intelligent, analyzing and assessing reality to make decisions has a certain status. We all want to be like Einstein and not necessarily like Van Gogh –the guy did chop his own ear off after all… This is what our new mythos, the computer, stands for; which also explains why fusing with our technology –downloading our brain into a computer, for example – is such a sexy dream of ours. Deep inside, we are slightly afraid of the consequences that ‘not thinking’ could have for our ego. We don’t really know what not thinking feels like, nor have any positive mythologies about ‘irrational thinking’ for that matter. Being irrational –aka, not thinking rationally– is the kind of stuff so-called crazy people (think Van Gogh again) do. And we all have a very clear notion of the type of status that being irrational/crazy affords.
Furthermore, a part of the problem with our inability to stop thinking also has to do with the fact that we are not used to not thinking. And habit has a power nobody should dismiss. Ever since we were born, the whole point of our education has been to teach us how to properly think about things. There are other skills that the educative system also develops in us, but no skill is as highly priced as ‘being smart.’ We have prices and recognition for being smart –Alba pursued a PhD in part because of that– and even TV shows only about thinking fast, beating computers at chess or knowing the answers for truly random stuff. Being smart is all about thinking smart. So by the time the question about not thinking pops up (if it ever even does), we all have a very deeply rooted habit of thinking. Thinking is our go to, it is who we think we are. And so, not thinking requires actual, real effort; which is how ‘not thinking’ even becomes part of thinking. We circle and circle and circle and become slowly overwhelmed by circular thinking about stuff, which now also includes not thinking!
How to stop circling now
We bet you want know what the secret to not thinking and not circling truly is. It really is not that difficult to figure out if you DON’T think about it. It has to do with learning to be present in your present, now. And since this entry is way too long and complicated already, we will give you the “how NOT TO” instructions on thinking in our next blog entry. But let’s just say for now that it all revolves around acceptance: the art of accepting what you feel before you even think about your feelings, of accepting who you are before you even become the person you think you are, and overall accepting what ‘is’ for what it is, and not for what you would like it to be or would have liked it to become. That is the key, and in order to do so, one has to learn to disidentify with thought little by little. But enough! More on this, next Sunday.
This article was originally published on ACEBE, our teacher Jonas’ blog that he is running with his partner Alba on all things yogic and more.