I’ve been thinking about thinking. What if you could unroll the entire lifetime of your brain, word by word, like a ticker tape? What a shock and an education that might be! What is thinking? How does it happen? Here’s what I came to. Thinking is a way of sculpting and arranging energy — your own individual energy. The process of thinking assembles and organizes the elements of our lives, both conscious and not so conscious elements, into something intelligible.
Thinking happens by virtue of the ‘mind,’ which is composed of thoughts. But what is ‘mind?’ Sally Kempton, author and Meditation instructor says, “…the phenomenon we experience as “mind” is actually a particularly vibrant and subtle kind of energy. An ocean of energy, in fact, in which waves of thoughts and emotions arise and subside.” The mind is a tool that individualizes energy by engaging the process called thinking.
The mind is the most important tool that we have. Think of it as a horse. You can leave a horse out in the field to wander, or you can train a horse so that you can ride it, enter it in races or shows, or do work that you can’t do yourself. Just so, you can train the mind to consciously serve your purposes or allow it to wander endlessly and waste away all of your energies and talents.
What do you spend your time thinking about? Is your mind enthralled constantly by all those pre-taped messages that go through it over and over and over (a form of self-hypnosis) – broken records of past unresolved events, ungrounded fantasies, bland repetition of who knows what? Does that accomplish anything beneficial for you or anyone else? Is that really the process called, “thinking”? Let’s hope not!
You can use the mind in countless ways. Think about it! Some of the synonyms for thinking are reasoning, rationalizing, discerning, intellectualizing. You can ruminate, ponder, reflect, cogitate, meditate, deliberate, muse. Within that framework, thinking can be many things. It can be a response to internal feelings or external stimuli. It can be your way of creating representations of your world and your life – your particular perspective. It can be a way of directing your thoughts to resolve problems, put together information in a way that clarifies and brings deeper understanding. Or you can use the thinking process to create — in the sense of someone having an idea and then thinking through the process of designing a city, house, a rocket, whatever.
How does ‘thinking’ come about? Each of us has impulses towards certain activities; moods or attitudes that come from feelings – feelings of depression, curiosity, anger, love, harmony, discomfort, etc. Each of those impulses or moods draws to it a certain constellation of thoughts and behaviors. Out of that constellation of thoughts, you can take what you want and ride the wave in that particular realm. That wave — for instance, curiosity — can be creative, coherent, expansive, or it can be negative and destructive– ie., depressive thinking.
The power of directing your thoughts is called concentration. Concentration draws all of your energies into one coherent stream — called one-pointedness in Yoga philosophy. In Christian terms, it could be said: “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light,” lighting the way to greater understanding and action; bringing flow to your life. One-pointedness, singleness of mind, can direct that inner stream of energy into something that is organized and powerful. When you learn to concentrate, you learn to use your energies to your greatest, and possibly everyone else’s, benefit.
Begin the practice of concentration by choosing something that you love to do – learn to knit, do woodworking, dance, research a certain subject, etc. — and put your heart and soul into it even when the going gets rough. In this way you are learning to direct your energies, to be single-minded-one-pointed, and train your thinking processes. You’ve made a decision to choose and use your thoughts instead of letting them use you or wander aimlessly. You’ve trained your horse – the mind – to take you where you want to go. That’s what brings empowerment, satisfaction and a rich, wholesome life.