My issue in this work is that my thinking takes over and dominates. Not thinking that has any real purpose or value but just endless chatter. It’s like a voice in my head that never stops. I don’t even know what it’s saying most of the time.
This is the basic challenge in any spiritual training. Our head brain has become the ‘thinking’ center. We identify with the little voice in our head, allowing it to assume the role of ‘I’ when it is far too small to carry such a burden and responsibility. Isolated from sensation and feeling, operating on low-wattage mechanical energy, this I rattles on associatively, one thought triggering another. Its compulsive quality comes from its isolation from the wider range of possible experience.
The first step in dealing with this phenomenon is to bring it to the surface. It is not random. The constant commentary has some thematic continuity…perhaps self-judgment, criticism of others, physical or emotional discomfort and so on. If we catch glimpses of our mental content over time, we should not be surprised to find that it actually forms repeating loops.
Can you capture enough of what this voice says to enable you to write it down? Putting the ‘vocalizations’ in front of you and making them visual objectifies them, allowing you to break your identification with the voice. The voice has more power to continue if it is hidden in the background. Can you expose it?
In addition to the content, note the mood. There are likely to be several repeating loops…more than one voice… each depending on a particular mood. The loop and the mood reinforce each other. These loops may even include snatches of music…a specific song that we habitually associate with the mood and the thought-loop.
What do you mean by mood?
A mood is an ongoing, sustained sensation/emotion…anxiety, guilt, self-pity, anger…that has been repressed and therefore does not fully discharge. A mood is sustained by circular thinking and posture. Posture is important because it locks breathing into a particular pattern. As we have discussed before, breathing has an enormous impact on emotion and thought. So, what we have is a tightly wound self-perpetuating pattern of thinking, sensing, posture and breath which is difficult to unravel. We cannot simply decide to change our thinking because it is tied in to other factors which also need to shift. To put it simply, our thinking cannot change our thinking.
You have talked about the importance of the rhythm of breath.
Yes, but there are many different settings of the breath. It is not simply a right way or a wrong way of breathing. The rhythm of breath should be free to adapt to our engagements. When it cannot shift because of a locked posture and mood, you can impose an artificial rhythm temporarily until the lock is broken. Then allow the breath to assume the pattern that is needed to respond to the needs of the moment. This is one way of dealing with ceaseless head brain chatter. One method would be to breathe in to a count of four, hold to a count of four and breathe out to the same count. Do this four times. Counting is a deliberate redirection of attention. This may free the breath and that will help to break a fixated mood. Singing and chanting are also effective.
Voluntarily attending to sensations is another way of breaking the chain of circular head brain thinking. Attention is a major power source for thinking, sensing and feeling. Involuntary attention is dragged into sustaining mood and associative thinking. Voluntarizing attention and attaching it to sensation, at least temporarily, can pull the power cord on head brain thinking.
You can also change your posture in order to unlock and relax head brain thinking. Walking, dancing, tai chi, yoga and other such activities can help to free up fixated thinking by breaking locked postures and shifting the rhythm of the breath.
These suggestions are mostly what I would call antidotes. They are effective but they operate at the same level as the difficulties they address. They are not transformative. At another time, we can inquire into homeopathic remedies which rely on the law of similar to shift fixations.
There is another path that may enable you to gain control of thinking. This is the path that leads to the place of no thought. Where is this place to be found? Where attention attends to itself, presence cognizes its own presentness, seeing perceives that it sees and emptiness realizes its innate clarity. Capacity transcends content. We will explore this path at another time.