Stephen King said, “99% of what goes on in your mind is none of your business.”
We think we’re thinking when we’re more like parrots repeating what we’ve heard or what we’ve been telling ourselves for years. Our thoughts may not be true, and they may not serve any worthwhile purpose. But we think them anyway.
Most of the time, we’re addicted to our thoughts. We can’t usually even tell the difference between a blank mind and a monkey mind racing from thought to thought. We’ve lost touch with our most valuable possession. Thoughts are running our lives like a drug. Author Ashly Lorenzana, who writes about her experience as both an addict and a female escort, wrote
I don’t possess these thoughts I have — they possess me. I don’t possess these feelings I have — They obsess me.
That’s bass ackwards, and she knows it. You know it. We all know it. If we can turn it right way around, we can master our thoughts instead of thoughts and feelings mastering us.
It takes one crucial shift. We need to practice a little less thinking. We need less to have more. Many Eastern traditions describe it as “emptiness”. Winnie the Pooh put it like this,
Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.
Zen has a helpful take on thoughts. Two monks finish meditation at the same time. One turns to the other and says, “Are you not thinking what I’m not thinking?” The Zen master praises the student by saying, “That was thoughtless of you.”
There is a Zen story about a highly credentialed university professor who went to visit a famous Zen master. He came to enquire about Zen, but instead of asking the Zen master questions he just spouted off with his own surface understand of Zen. The Zen master listened patiently and then offered the professor a cup of tea. He started pouring the tea, and when the cup was full he kept pouring. The tea was spilling all over the table. Eventually the professor shouted out, “The cup is overflowing. No more tea will fit in it.”
The Zen master said, “You are like this cup. How can you learn anything if your mind is already full?”
The mind is best prepared to learn when it’s open just as the cup is best prepared for filling when it’s empty. Another way to describe it is “beginner’s mind.” The famous Zen master Shunryo Suzuki said,
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.
In the wise mind, the mastered mind, you have thoughts, even brilliant thoughts, but you aren’t possessed by your thoughts. Beneath the thoughts is blue sky awareness. With awareness, you have thoughts but your thoughts don’t have you.
The mastered mind is what Eastern traditions describe as emptiness or beginner’s mind. I prefer to think of it as spacious mind. There’s always room for more, always room to move. You don’t get locked into one perspective and you know you’ve never arrived at any ultimate truth for all time.
Four Zen monks are arguing about a flag blowing in the wind.
The youngest monk says, “The flag is moving.”
The second, more experienced monk says, “The wind is moving.”
The third monk, who has been practicing for more than twenty years, says, “The mind is moving.”
The fourth monk, who is the eldest and most experienced, says, “Mouths are moving!”
As Allan Lokos said,
Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that – thoughts.
It’s how you direct them and what you do with them that sets the tone for your life.