How to halt the inner dialogue? How to stop thinking? When our train of thought is moving at full speed, it can seem almost impossible. But this is just how it seems, in actual fact it can be achieved relatively easily. It's not a big deal. Like learning how to ride a bicycle, it is not all that difficult, although you do need to go through a process of learning, of trying and practicing. You can't just mount a bicycle for the first time in your life and expect to ride it without a learning period. Conscious silence is something you will need to learn by trial and error, you will need to 'get the hang of it'. It is a knack. Excessive thinking is a habit. To kick the habit requires a certain discipline, we have to remind ourselves not to automatically revert to thinking all the time. But like riding a bicycle, to stop thinking is not incredibly difficult.
The idea is not that you never think again, the idea is simply to balance thought with silence, to put thinking in perspective, and to make it a voluntary process. The dimension of conscious silence is inestimably valuable, and you can bring it back into your life.
Your chances of discovering this inner silence serendipitously, are slim. You could get a taste of it when your hand unexpectedly gets caught in a lawn mower or something. You are jolted into silence, and your whole thought process gets interrupted for a few moments. Or you may have a glimpse of it when you jump out of a plane for the first time. Or when you jump out for the 31st time, but now your chute fails to open. In these extreme situations your mind might go into spontaneous silence, a silence in which you are acutely aware. Your inner dialogue can come to a halt because of radical circumstance. And in a way it's a thrill. This silence in your brain, this acute awareness, is so refreshing, replenishing.
There are other, maybe less spectacular situations in which we may experience this silence spontaneously. Imagine entering a room where, unbeknownst to you, someone you love dearly is sleeping. There is another person present who indicates, in the most friendly manner, for you to hush. You immediately understand the situation, and immediately you are quiet. Right then and there you stop talking, you don't utter a single word more, and even inside you become very quiet. For a few moments you stop thinking, and you become very attentive.
You can learn this attentive silence. This state of attentive silence is the true meaning of the word 'meditation'. Meditation has become a confusing word, these days almost everything is called meditation. Meditation even means contemplation, standing on your head, repeating words over and over, breathing exercises, you name it. Meditation is none of that, meditation is simply conscious silence, the state of silence in your brain while you are wide awake. You are fully conscious, but not thinking. In order to have this silence in your brain, you do not need to sit in complicated postures, nor is it necessary to go to a monastery in Tibet.
Meditation is not some exercise. It is not a technique to be practiced. It is not a concentrated effort. Concentration would make meditation an achievement of the mind, when in fact it is the mind going into abeyance, shutting down.
Don't try to stop your thinking, but learn not to think in the first place. To try to stop your thinking is repressing thoughts, it is not authentic silence. To try to silence your mind is a reactive approach. The proactive approach is to not think your next thoughts. The result is that you've stopped thinking, not because you stopped your thinking, but because you didn't continue it. Meditation is much more innocent and much more straightforward than is generally believed.
Understanding meditation simply as conscious silence, there's no need to create a dichotomy between daily life and spirituality. You can prepare a meal or do the dishes with silence in your brain. You can have a silent mind listening to someone, or walking down the street, taking a shower, having a drink. You can be in inner silence in so many situations: during your golf game, in a loud discotheque, while making love, in a deep, and intimate embrace. Having silence in your brain does not mean that you go blind or stupid, you are perfectly able to do all sorts of things, and actually with more awareness, with more presence. You are present-minded, not absent-minded, not lost in thoughts.
So how to not think? We need to consider the thought process. We need to have a better idea of how it works. The thought process is like a train, a steam-train of thought. In order for the train to move, we have to burn pieces of wood in the engine: we have to provide the brain with thoughts. One log feeds on the previous, and this is how we get the train moving. So we keep feeding these logs into the train's engine in order for the train to get moving and gather momentum. One thought feeds on the previous, the momentum builds, and our train of thought gets moving.
This is a train without brakes though, and if we want to stop it, the only way is to let it run out of steam. Of course, if we keep feeding new logs into the engine, the train will never run out of steam.
Some people - in an effort to quickly stop the train - will try to get logs out of the engine! They use new logs to try to get the ones burning out. Unfortunately, the results are always counterproductive. They never succeed in getting logs out of the engine. Instead, the logs they were trying to get them out with catch fire! In a more frantic effort to stop the train they use new logs to get the ones that just caught fire back out, but the same thing happens, and the train keeps moving at full speed. In fact, the more frantic the effort to stop the train by trying to get logs out of the engine, the more wood is burned, and the more momentum the train gathers.
In order to stop the train you don't want to meddle with logs already in the engine. Let them burn out, they burn themselves out in little time. Once you think a thought, let it burn itself out, because trying to undo this thought is a futile effort. In trying to undo it, you only think more thoughts. The single discipline needed to stop the train, is to not put new logs into the engine. You have been feeding logs into the engine so regularly, so automatically, that you may find yourself feeding logs into it again, just out of habit.
Remember, stop feeding new logs, and don't meddle with logs already in the fire. Don't bring in new thoughts, and don't meddle with thoughts that you are already thinking. If thoughts continue for a while, it is just the momentum of a train of thought moving at full speed that needs to come to a halt. You just take care not to fuel the train while you are waiting for it to run out of momentum and stop. You just take care not to put yet another log into the fire, and soon your train of thought will run out of steam. To meditate simply means to not think, to not continue throwing thoughts into the engine of your steamtrain of thought. Don't bother about thoughts that you are already thinking, just be alert to not think your next thought. This is the whole secret of meditation.
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Principles and Paradigms
» 5. Alive Silence
Don't go Mad, go Sane!
- How to not think!