To Think or Not to Think?

“To Think or Not to Think?” is the title of one of the seminars that recently aired at www.EckhartTolleTV.com. Eckhart Tolle TV is an online subscription service that features new video teachings by Eckhart Tolle along with a monthly live broadcast with people participating from over 120 different countries. Sounds True is a partner in the development of Eckhart Tolle TV, which has given me the chance to work closely with Eckhart and his teachings, an opportunity I truly value.

 

So, “To Think or Not to Think?” Well, I wouldn’t exactly say that I have been thinking about this question. But ever since I heard Eckhart talk about it, I have been noticing times that I engage in repetitive thinking (thinking about the same thing again and again with no new information coming forward). And how this kind of thinking is distinct from the arising of insight, which happens of its own accord and feels like an effortless “a-ha.” And I have started to ask myself when I notice I am engaging in repetitive thinking, “Why not drop this loop and rest in the unknown?”

 

Interrupting the runaway thinking process with this question “To Think or Not to Think?” has been immensely helpful to me, especially when I am trying to figure out a solution to some problem to no avail. The irony of course is that when I stop trying so hard to think a solution into being, a next step emerges, and a natural, intelligent unfolding occurs. It reminds me of why so many of us have some of our best ideas in the shower, when we finally give up on solving a certain problem.

 

Now, before anyone comes to the conclusion that I am proposing living like a thoughtless idiot, I want to be sure to emphasize that Eckhart makes a distinction between rising above the thinking process and dropping below the thinking process. (This is a similar distinction to that made by Ken Wilber , author of the ST series Kosmic Consciousness, when he talks about the “pre-trans fallacy.” In Wilber’s language, there is being “pre-rational” and being “trans-rational.” They are both not rational, but that doesn’t mean we should confuse them as the same thing.) According to Eckhart, if we were to “drop below” thinking that would be a type of idiocy; we would lose access to our rational powers. When we “rise above” thinking, we live as a space of awareness that welcomes the arising and dissolving of thoughts, but we are no longer identified as “the thinker.” Instead, we experience ourselves as a field of sensitivity or what could be called “the space of awareness.”

 

I notice that I sometimes choose to think think think about something even though I know I have the choice to “think or not to think.” I notice it usually happens when I am afraid, afraid that a situation will not turn out in my favor. Some part of me believes that if I think about it long and hard enough, I will find a solution in which my interests will be met.

 

So what can I do besides think think think when I notice I am afraid? There are actually lots of options. What I have found most effective is to turn my attention to the physical world (rather than the mental world), to the feeling of my belly rising and falling with each breath, to my heartbeat, to the feeling of my feet touching the ground, or attending to what Eckhart calls “the inner body,”—the feeling of aliveness, a kind of tingling sensation that pervades the entire body. I notice that when I do this I feel calmer, more grounded, and better able to let the unknown be just that—unknown.

 

According to recent studies I have seen, somewhere between 85% – 90% of the thoughts we have each day are repetitive. It’s like a needle going over the same part of a record, round and round, again and again. There are many reasons I would like to be free of this type of repetitive thinking—it’s boring, it’s dulling, and it is an abstraction away from this sensory-rich moment. It is a type of recoil. Additionally, I am interested in originality and what supports the emergence of original ideas. I love being around ST authors who are “true originals,” people who relentlessly come up with ideas that have never been spoken before, ideas that are quite literally “from the origin” or from the source. These authors are not simply regurgitating someone else’s work. There is something fresh, one could even say revelatory, about their writing and teaching.

 

I believe such authors and teachers are people who know how to live in such a way that they are not spending 85% – 90% of their time in repetitive thinking. When I am with such people, their very presence feels spacious, like there is room for something unprecedented and surprising to emerge.

 

Recently, I interviewed the poet David Whyte for an episode of the Sounds True podcast “Insights at the Edge.” I remarked to David that his new audio series with Sounds True (What to Remember When Waking, to be published later this Spring) was packed with insights I had never heard voiced by anyone previously. In the interview, I asked him about this and what he believe leads to original thinking. He commented that it is impossible to try and be original, but that instead originality is a natural outgrowth of living in what he calls our “frontier identity.” According to David, our “frontier identity” is the leading edge of our being, the part of us that ventures beyond territory we have already covered, the part of us that actively meets the unknown. This frontier is where I want to live. Not in the realm of thinking thinking thinking, but in the realm of being—or, one could say, right at the edge of the wave.

 

14 Responses to “To Think or Not to Think?”

  1. Melissa Johnson Says:

    Well said, Tami.

    I believe the saying is something like, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.” That’s kind of what we’re doing when we are, as you say, “thinking about the same thing again and again with no new information coming forward.”

    One of my greatest challenges has been to let go of my legal training that tells me I am certain to find the answer if I just look hard enough, analyze the data enough, ask the right questions, etc.–a left-brained process that produces a lot of repetitive thinking—and, instead, allow the way forward to present itself to me. Exercise helps. Stepping away from the “data” definitely helps. But nothing helps me as much as reconnecting with faith in the process of Life itself.

    Thanks for sharing more great insights from the edge—you are there.

  2. Dave Gerlits Says:

    Tami,

    Your blog post reminded me of a quote from another author (who is not in your stable) David Allen. One of his ideas is that there is no reason to have the same thought more than once.

    If you can capture the thought, then you can use a conscious process to help you decide what you want to do with it.

    On the theme of Davids, I’m really looking forward to listening to your interview with David Whyte. I’ve loved his work ever since “The Heart Aroused”, and will be interested in hearing more about “What to Remember When Waking”.

    Dave (yet another David) Gerlits

  3. Colin George Says:

    Hey, just read this article, found it on my usual surfing tangents. Cheers.

  4. Kathryn Says:

    Hello Tami,
    This is my first visit to Sounds True, and what a coincidence, because “Why not drop this loop and rest in the unknown?” is exactly what I needed to hear. I’m looking forward to exploring your site and reading your blog regularly.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Tammi …I stumbled upon your webite …GREAT post lady …you have articulated where many of us are … thanks for the wake up …love your site and body of work … I will come again … I have a bi-coastal PR firm and I will alert folks and media about you all … thanks …Steve Allen

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Tami,
    I love your work and often wonder what would have happened had you chosen television journalism instead. While I am sure you would be in the league of Barbara Frum we would be poorer for the absense of Sounds True I suspect.

    Thank you for the blogging work you are doing. On this particular one I am wondering if you ever have thinking dreams; the ones that wake you up in the wee hours because they insist on re-covering paths that you consciously will to be behind you?

    Is our recovering unearthing something from the depths of our being or are we re-covering a path with a material that only makes it harder and more difficult to divert from our walking?

  7. Michael Felberbaum Says:

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post ;-)

    I have read Tolle’s work as well as much of Ken Wilber’s, and I must say I am not a fan of the “rising above vs. falling below” thought metaphor. I understand what Tolle is getting at with that point, and I suppose it is important to recognize that not-thinking is not the same as being an airhead.

    However, the larger point, I believe, is that we can allow a lot more room for whatever thinking is occurring by simply being there, and we can bring presence to it as a witness, not identifying with the thoughts and solidifying them. The metaphor for this is often vertical, like we are floating up in the clouds, it feels light and airy. It’s a wonderful sentiment, of course, but I think it’s a disservice to regard thought in a simplifying metaphor with the “rising above and falling below” vertical dimensions.

    Here’s why I believe the positioning of our witness above or below thought is misleading. Most of us, I think, already assume “we” somehow exist in our heads. So, when we imagine rising above thought, there is a vertical element to it, identifying with a sensation further up in the head. Often, when we are not thinking consciously, we are identified with what’s happening all around us and inside of us, and our experience can be closely felt in the gut and the abdomen. Is this below the level of thought? If we feel identified with our thought, are we doing something wrong? If thought is heavy as opposed to light and airy is that bad thinking? It’s all very confusing and misleading. Still, it’s pervasive in the literature of consciousness to position ourselves in our minds with a vertical dimension. However, some authors go the other way: Pema Chodron urges meditators to get underneath the story line. Is this below the level of thought? I think she would say yes, and that’s what she believes is beneficial!

    Your question of “To think or not to think” is a fascinating one. Why think? What is thinking exactly? When you point to the loops and repetition of thought, I would argue that this is what much of thought is – repetitive processing of experiences. Is it valuable? Do we need to bring conscious awareness to it? What Tolle is getting at, I believe, is to pay attention to what’s happening now, which is always fresh and non-repetitive, and it does require some “room” in our minds for that experience. We do not have that room when we’re buzzing and circling around with all the considerations we have consciously. So, in line with this point, I advocate for dropping the “rising above and falling below” and instead use the metaphor of opening and closing. Are we opening up our thought? Is that inner loop going to be open to other people’s loops? Or are we closing down and focusing on what’s in our minds with a clenched jaw and furrowed brow?

    Too often thinking is confounded with fretting, as though it’s the hard work of really churning something over in the mind. Using the mind for symbolic manipulation is challenging of course, but as Tolle points out numerous times, only if we’re looking for ourselves in the outcome of our thinking. Are we right or wrong? Do we get it? When that happens thinking really is fretting, and it’s unpleasant, circular and exhausting. As you point out, that’s the nature of fear and worry. Do we need that kind of thinking? Well, from my point of view we’ve got it, so what can we do with it?

    Thanks again for an interesting post and I look forward to your upcoming work. Kind Regards, Michael

  8. Tami Simon Says:

    Hi Michael,

    THANK YOU for your very intelligent and helpful comment. I have felt a bit bothered by the whole “rising above” metaphor ever since I posted this entry, and your response has helped me unravel that irksome feeling a bit. I like what you are pointing to in terms of “opening wider” verus “closing in and clenching” around the thinking process (as an upgraded metaphor that might provide more helpful mileage in terms of how to actually open to awareness without directional reference). Thank you for your helpful insight here and for taking the time to write!

    With gratitude, Tami

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you Tami, I have seen many repetitive thoughts in the Information Technology industry and have turned them into poems.

    Over the past six months, I have been acting on my own “Frontier Identity” (David Whyte strongly influenced my desire to write poetry and recent successes in my new genre of “IT Poetry”). I am now taking my own and the computer industry’s repetitive thoughts to write brief poems about Technology in an IT Poetry Blog. No chatting, just short prose, 20 lines or less. Below is a poem about the Agile Scrum Process and how it successfully addresses repetitive issues on IT projects.

    Each poetry piece begins with a repeating thought that can get me down, then I twist it upward at the end into a triumph.

    Chaos Theory
    ————
    Processes, Ways

    at a glance, chaotic.
    upon closer inspection, patterned chaos
    same twists repeated

    condoned, condemned, enabled, bemoaned
    it IS

    ready for further twists, intentional
    incremental changes, now Structured chaos

    allowing inherent Nature, unpredictability
    to predictably Create

    Beautiful products
    every iteration

    - Sue Uyetake
    December 15, 2009

  10. Joanne Fedler Says:

    Tami, I often wonder whether I’ve retreated into the silence writing offers to escape repetitive conversations that tire me at a deep cellular level.
    You’ve helped me understand something – as a writer, I write into the taboo, to meet my terror belly-first, I think as a way of reaching for something untraversed in me. I too want to live in a place of disruption, where I can leave my footprints behind me, and be jostled by the chaos of mystery.
    Insights at the Edge have lifted my spirits in the past few months, when my creativity has been at an all-time low. Thank you.
    Joanne
    http://www.joannefedler.com

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Tami ,My son-in-law sustained a traumatic brain injury,fractures,intacrainal bleed, trauma ICU for 3days then step-down unit.I was present with him most of the time.What I was aware of was dropping the story that was being told by the physicians, nurses ,”the outcome does not look good, the prognosis is not looking good,” etc. I continued to drop any thought about what was being predicted and remained in the awareness of unconditional love,bathing his body, massaging his feet,kissing his forehead and watching the sun rise and set. Bill was discharged 7 days post trauma, is walking, talking,and laughing, He will have cognative therapy as an out patient. NO Thought,just this. Thank you for the blog. Kay

  12. Connie M. Williams Says:

    Socrates said……”we learn best through self-discovery”. I have discovered in the last year while writing my first book that THiNKing Rocks!™. As we allow ourselves to THiNK!™ about things in ways we never have, we begin to discover, uncover, appreciate and love life… just as it is. This is the place where inside real change can happen.

    Tami: Thank you for your post asking “To Think or Not to Think?” I personally THiNK!™ it was brilliant. It is my opinion that overall we do not THiNK! often enough nor do we pay attention to the thoughts we have. I like to ask people…..”Do you ever think about what you think about?

    Through research for writing my book I learned that studies show we have anywhere from 12,000-60,000 thoughts a day. Some fleeting like… “I need to do laundry” or “did I turn the coffee pot off?” or “I’m hungry”. But how often do we really pay attention to what we are thinking? Thoughts control our everyday. I invite you to THiNK! Gratitude, THiNK! Joy, THiNK! Love, THiNK! Peace and it will come to you. THiNKing Rocks!™ and it can change our lives.

    “Isn’t life grand? Truth be told, it takes so very, very little to be happy.”

    Cheers,

    Connie M. Williams
    Peace of Earth, LLC. &
    Rare Earth Properties
    http://www.ConnieandSheila.com

  13. Marlowe Brown Says:

    Thanks Tami. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart for so many reasons. The first experience I had with it actually came from Eckhart’s book, “A New Earth” where he discussed the one who has the thought and the one who observes the one who has the the thought. This insight has helped me in so many ways and is often quite entertaining.

    In the end, I believe it boils down to priorities. If we put the highest value and priority on feeling and being first, we would probably see far greater balance and healthy response in what we end up thinking and doing as a result. I often look to children as a great example of the ultimate feelers and be-ers. We may not always find it convenient as they express their true feelings and demand to be allowed to just be, but it’s definitely authentic.

    Oh! To be a kid again!

  14. Judy Corona Says:

    I really enjoy the many perspectives on consciousness and healing that you bring to the world through your business and your podcast. I look forward to each episode of Insights at the Edge, I own several Sounds True audio products and am a real fan of your work. I have heard you refer several times to your own rumination or repetitive thinking, which is a pattern that most of us, for lack of better terminology, suffer from. (I’m actually ruminating a bit about, among other things, the prospect of being judged for not finding a more precise term than “suffer from”.) While you may not have heard me, whenever you make reference to your own tendency to ruminate, I urge you to invite Peter Levine to Insights at the Edge and to ask him about that pattern. I decided to put my wishes into writing in order to take it off my mental “to do” list, about which I ruminate on a regular basis. (Now I’m ruminating about the possibility that my humor is actually falling completely flat. But, I’m arguing back, that is a risk that I must take because laughter is a wonderfully healthy balm for the nervous system.) I think that his perspective on the subject would be truly enlightening. Think about it, just not repetitively.

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