Don’t confuse words with the truth. It’s like confusing a map with the earth. Words are a map. The truth is the ground we are standing on, that always supports us fully. And the truth is love.
It was during a meditation class that I first heard the concept, “Thinking is limited.” It hit me as both impossible and obvious, throwing my mind (thinking!) into immediate gridlock. I was 47 years old at that time. In the meditation class I was taking, they went on to teach about “thoughtless awareness”, and how to trust this over rational thinking alone.
Blasphemy, I thought! But, in the coming days, dozens of examples of exactly this principle flooded my mind.
I studied engineering in college. Engineering is nothing, if not thinking. I took semester after semester crammed with various math and science classes. As the coursework progressed, I knew less and less what it all meant. “If a 5-volt DC power source is located at grid location x1,y5 and a 87 v, 60Hz AC power source is located at x3, y4, what is the strength of the field at x1,y1?”A question like this would take me a few pages of equations to get the answer. I was happy to get the right number, but had no sense of what the heck we were doing or why.
But, class after class, I honed my thinking skills so I could get the right answer, more often than not. And over time, I figured out how to do it with less and less effort. As long as I ignored the feelings of discomfort about not understanding, I was okay. Using this strategy, I succeeded and graduated from college.
I worked in various engineering positions. At one point, I was doing research and writing. In that position, I was tasked with identifying the advantages and disadvantages of new energy-efficient technologies. My job was to complete a 20 to 40-page report complete with dozens of footnotes. That’s what it looked like from the outside.
From the inside, though, it was a mess. I often took on subjects I had no background in, so learned as I went. I would do research, interview some folks, work with my editor and cobble together a draft. I’d then send that out for review. My reviewers all had their own take on reality, as product manufacturers, users or program managers. What followed would be trying to wade through their written comments and long telephone conversations trying to get to my version of ‘truth’.
And at times, things got really contentious and crazy. At that time, I thought that the only way to solve things was more writing and talking. Sometimes, that really did make things worse. Seemingly minor issues would spiral into big issues, with no apparent logical basis. I would find myself in heated discussions but not understand why the heck we weren’t cool.
I knew in my gut that there was something else happening on some other level. But, engineers aren’t known as the touchy-feely type so if there was another level, we were not going to let on.
So, like a blind juggler, I would toss around knives, oranges, and watermelons until I got cut or tired. And I would call my report ‘done’.
Not once did “thinking is limited” or “thoughtless awareness” ever come up.
Allowing Solutions to Show Up
I had heard in our meditation class that Einstein had a sudden flash of inspiration one day when he was outside playing with bubbles. He often advised that to figure something out, you had to stop consciously thinking about it and let the answer come to you.
A few weeks later, I’d been working on a database project for work. It was almost ready to go, except there was one sticky point that I couldn’t resolve. I’d called tech support and talked about it a few times. I’d tried a few workarounds but couldn’t solve it. It was urgent that I complete the project but I was stuck.
I was constantly picking the problem up mentally, turning it around, looking at it from every aspect. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I was driving myself crazy!
Out of desperation, I tried meditating. No, you can’t even call it that. I was driving, so I just tried to silence my mind..
When I do, it feels like the power going off on a spaceship. The flashing lights and beeping stop quickly. Whooooooosh. Only a dim glow, the heartbeat of the power supply is evident. A bit too dramatic? Maybe, but this is what’s happening in there when I can turn off the manic thinking.
Anywho… as I drove, I felt this sudden state of peace. I accepted the fact that either I could figure it out or I couldn’t. …. …. …. Yep, that’s about it. … … silence …
A few minutes later, I arrived at work, refreshed. Peaceful.
I sat down at my computer and opened the program. I suddenly knew exactly what to do.
This was a situation in life that parallels what we do in meditation when we sit with our hands open. When my hands are closed tight, I am grasping, holding to the past, rigid, inflexible, panicked. Open …a solution just falls onto my palm.
“Logic will get you from A to Z.
Imagination will get you everywhere.” – Einstein
Deeply Moving: No Words are Needed
As alluded to, our meditation class taught me about something called “thoughtless awareness.” This is a tough one to grasp for those of us in the West. But, once I got a glimpse of this concept, I realized it explained a lot.
Newly single and without kids, I went to Ghana for a drumming and dance workshop. We started every day with a one hour dance class and a second hour of drumming. Both included singing. The healing power of this experience was profound and not something I could name or easily explain to others.
But, once I knew about thoughtless awareness, I realized Aha! This was a time that I was not thinking. It was my first regular break from thinking. I noticed that if I did think during these classes, my thoughts were unhelpful: You’ll never learn this. You can’t do this. Why are you even trying?
But, if I turned my thinking off or at least down, I was fine.
I realized, too, that experiences in my life that were profound were not defined by words. And, the most profound experiences were times without words: dancing, drumming, having sex, holding a baby, walking in nature, doing sports, making art, or playing with a child.
Words cannot convey the depth of my feelings …sounds like a greeting card cliché (and like most cliché’s, it’s true.)
Defintion: Profound (noun): deep, bottomless, vast
- Tomorrow, notice if there are any parts of your day where your thinking is on overdrive. When? How does it make you feel? What are you thinking about? Is it the same thing, over and over, or are you getting new insights?
- Have you ever had sudden inspirations that showed up when you were not thinking?
- Are there situations where you feel yourself getting caught up in thinking, but know that at some deeper level, it’s not true?
- Do you have activities that you enjoy where no thinking is involved? What are they? How do they feel? What is their impact on your life?
- What are the most profound experiences of your life? Are they word-based or something else?
- Try sitting on the floor for five minutes, doing nothing. Watch your thoughts with an amused chuckle. Don’t try to stop anything or change anything. Notice if you feel any different as your day progresses.
“Don’t believe everything you think.”
- Byron Katie