“A sick thought can devour the body’s flesh more than fever or consumption.” — Guy de Maupassant
Who would you be without your thoughts?
Who is the person you call “I” reading these words right now?
Ponder these questions while I give you an insight into something I experienced whilst meditating some years ago. One evening, towards the end of a meditation session I experienced a brief episode of no thoughts. It scared me, though I recognises my thoughts once more in the next instance. It was as though I had gone off-line for a short period of time. What frightened me most about the experience was the notion I didn’t exist. If there is no experience of thoughts, who am I? My thoughts confirm my existence and so I felt at ease when I began to experience them once more.
We are addicted to thoughts without realising it. I mean that in the kindest way. Our experience of thoughts confirms our presence within the fabric of reality. It was the French philosopher René Descartes who once proclaimed: “I think, therefore I am.” This is a persuasive declaration that suggests our thoughts give rise to our humanity and experience of reality. In a similar vein, psychologist and author Loch Kelly confirms our compulsive addiction to thoughts when he writes in Shift into Freedom: The Science and Practice of Open-Hearted Awareness: “The habit of continually looking to thoughts for satisfaction, even positive thoughts, creates a similar kind of addiction.”
From the moment we’re born until our passing, we process anywhere between 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day. Many of those are regurgitated from the previous day; rarely do we think anything new. For example, when was the last time you had an original thought or were moved by a powerful insight? Was it days, weeks or months? We are accustomed to thinking the same thoughts day in day out and wonder why we live monotonous lives. It was the founder of Hay House, the late Louise Hay who once wrote: “You are not a helpless victim of your own thoughts, but rather a master of your mind.”
If we were to observe our thoughts more often, we would notice they are habitual and dictated by past conditioning, our level of awareness and perception of the world. This explains why we are addicted to thoughts because we trust them to be true. I’m not suggesting this is bad, however, our addiction to thinking can lead us astray and cause stress if we don’t make time to disconnect from our thoughts.
Loch Kelly says we can change our addiction to automatic thoughts by observing them instead of becoming invested in them: “Paying attention to automatic thoughts is simply a habit we can change. When you shift into awareness-based knowing, automatic thinking moves into the background, and you experience true peace of mind.”
Break The Addiction To Thoughts
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking.” — Eckhart Tolle
Our thoughts are our best friend and our worst enemy. They come and go from our mind and even though they are impermanent, it often feels like they have taken up residency in our mind like squatters refusing to leave. No matter how hard you try to remove negative thoughts, they keep showing up. What if it isn’t necessary to drive them away, but see them as the sum of the thinking process?
What I mean is, negative thoughts is a label we assign to disempowering thoughts we don’t like. I would argue that they can be useful and our task is to integrate them into the wholeness of our being instead of trying to banish them. Thoughts are addictive when we cannot be alone in silence for more than five minutes. This is the feedback I’ve receive over many years from clients who are stressed. When I invite them to find five minutes a day to meditate, they’d rather have a surgical procedure performed than be alone with their thoughts.
Many people flee from the voices in their head by being preoccupied with activities that distract them from being alone. This is apparent whether through: socialising, gossiping, checking social media, consuming alcohol or addictive foods. These are distractions that prevent us coming home to the quiet stillness of our core self. It needn’t be that way. It is possible to reclaim your thoughts and not be consumed by them. However, it takes practice and diligence to see past the narrative they promote while recognising you are not your thoughts but one who experiences them.
Thoughts will always have a narrative to persuade us of something that is wrong in the world. We are naturally drawn to this and create a dialogue which later forms our character. These events start when we follow the trail of thoughts down a slippery slope.
To break our addiction to thoughts, we must first realise their impermanent nature. This helps us to discern the transient nature of thoughts and that we needn’t bind ourselves to them. Rather, we see them as a mental occurrence that come and go like ocean waves crashing into the shoreline. When we let go of our addiction to thoughts, we realise a powerful undercurrent beneath them, in the form of an expansive love and that my dear friends is who we really are.