Prison of thoughts: Recognizing what's blocking you from happiness
If you prefer to listen, here’s the Podcast version of this blog.
Okay, yes, this is a melodramatic title but it’s because this is a big deal and it’s causing millions of people to suffer from a whole slew of different side effects. And maybe you can relate – ask yourself if you’ve had a pervasive feeling of anxiety, worry, or a lack of focus that seems to be the new bar for normal. Or maybe you feel hollow no matter what accomplishments you make or what new health regime you try, or even what you do with your time – nothing seems to quench it. You might consider that this state of numbness and ambivalence is the result of a modern condition that robs many of their happiness, inner peace, and self-awareness, keeping them trapped in confused frustration and inaction. What I am explaining is a false identity of “self” that manifests from the dominance of our thoughts. Thoughts that appear to us as the voice of our soul – that dictate how we are feeling, what we want, what we need, what we’re worried about – what we should be doing with our lives to make the frustration stop. And, not to mention, all at the same time – regardless of whether or not we want them to stop.
Those powerful narrative thoughts that won’t shut up, regardless of how hard we try to soothe and distract, are also the ones that steal us from our lives. They keep us half-invested in milestones and rob us from being present in the once-in-a-lifetime moments we want for ourselves to mark the important memories we want to keep. They are also what mislead us into thinking we can find happiness and relief if we just follow their orders. And this condition is what this blog is all about: the fact that our thoughts have staged a coo. Because, contrary to how it might feel, your thoughts are not “You.” Think of them right now as they are passing through your mind. They narrate in your voice. They chatter of needs. They report analysis of your life. They summarize emotional feelings – but those thoughts are not “You.” Who are you then? You are the one observing those thoughts.
You are – in totality, something beyond simple description, but to sum it up – “You” are most basically, a Being with Awareness. You are the one perceiving the physical environment through the use of this body. And at one point in your life – probably so far back that you can’t remember it, you had no constant thoughts like this. You had no streaming inner monologue. You were probably young – oh, maybe around 7 years old, likely sitting in a classroom – bored, but your mind was completely silent. No narration. No imaginings of the months to come, or the week prior. It was just you, sitting there, totally present, and observing everything exactly as it was – around you, in that moment.
Things like that sound foreign because we haven’t had those moments for a very long time. Because today, thoughts have become a disorder for most- an annoyance turned disorder because it’s that out of balance. The modern mind is now, so overactive, and it’s only being asked by current conditions to stay on longer and go even faster. Thanks, in part, to the constant activity brought on by our devices, thoughts have been invited to take precedent over our being and run our entire future. Over time, we lose sight of ourselves outside of them, including our ability to quiet them – and very soon, we perceive thoughts as seamlessly “us” and the voice of our souls.
So, if you suffer from this condition of Thought Dysfunction, you are not alone – and this is written for you. I am going to describe the layers that disguise it in the hopes that you will be able to perceive it and then separate yourself from it. The tool to undo it is simply, awareness. Once you can understand it, all it takes is reminding yourself that it exists so that you can see it happening and therefore separate from it. Because, once you realize what is happening, just like any illusion, once the misdirect has been explained it has been disempowered. Once you see the trick, you can always find your way back to reality aka your true self. So, without further ado, let’s get started with the disempowering.
What does it mean to be “you”? Picture yourself, right now. Picture what makes up your life – your environment, everything that symbolizes “you.” Now, remove everything You do – in other words, remove everything on your current to-do list. Remove your job. Remove all related structures in your life. Remove your possessions. Remove your clothing, your haircut, your personal grooming. Minus any words you might use, or anything specific you might say. Now, picture yourself and who you are. Picture your personality – your smile and spirit. Without everything you do and own, nothing is less “You.” That is who you are. That person does not change.
Regardless of any context, you are a much larger consciousness than your brain: you are the life that is present inside of your body. Your thoughts are a reflection of your learned language, so the terms you know for “me” “I” and “my” are just dumbed down labels for the things we perceive as identifiers of the idea of “us.” They are representative terms for physical objects that we adhere to ourselves to give our understanding of self more form. The identifiers are an attempt to grasp what we are, so that we might build structures that we can rely on and also relate to other forms – for the purpose of communicating. They don’t do anything more than label – as “You” are alive in this thing called consciousness, which is something bigger and unquantifiable. “Me,” that’s just a word, and a very basic one – one you use to point to your physical self in your thoughts and language. Another example is the term, “Tree.” A tree is a living entity with profoundly intricate layers. A tree is not literally, the word for tree – as in “t-r-e-e,” as it embodies so much more. Just like us, it’s beyond our understanding – it’s a living thing, possessing life and energy.
Identify the next thought you have. Listen to it – analyze it. That’s the voice of your Ego. It’s kind of like a computation or analysis of the forms in your life made by your personal computer. You (aka your consciousness) are the one witnessing that voice. You are the stage upon which your thoughts and emotions run around. And yes, emotions count as thoughts too – they are computations of states of self. You are the consciousness aware of the emotions and thoughts. Your ego is what is judging them and analyzing them with words – and despite their current prominence, they represent such a primitive and tiny facet of what comprises “You.” Make sense? I’m going to hope and assume you’re all on the same page, and move on.
The Ego aka Sir Thought-Machine, is not capable of grasping or identifying this greater “awareness” because it relies on form and structure: it’s verbal. It’s all about relating the representative word “I” with external definitions like possessions and comparisons to others. The ego clings to any and all external ways of measuring so that it can define itself, because the idea of awareness is beyond its grasp. For example, this possession means blank about me. This title represents my importance. This award means I am respected. These tokens are what become aims of the ego for the purpose of strengthening and establishing the structure that is “self.” If you become attached to something outside of you, know that it’s the voice of the ego attempting to retain a definition of “self.” It will forever search for bigger and more meaningful affirmations of self, but always come up shorthanded, because to affirm the value of your self with what is external is impossible. It’s never enough – because those external definitions cannot replace a connection to our true self. So instead, the ego will continue to want and search and crave for more badges, unfulfilled. This endless hunger is what drives many to spend money on expensive possessions, overeat, and overwork – “If I just do it harder, I’ll feel whole. I’ll feel accomplished. I’ll feel good.”
If you’re like me, this information is entirely new. You might be thinking, “Why don’t I know about this? Why haven’t others been talking about it?” I think a lot of us have an automatic shut-off button for this kind of information like this because we tend to associate it with new-agey crap or some heady philosophy – like it’s some far off theoretical concept. On first-glance, terms like ‘Awareness’ go in the big dirty-hippy bucket, so for the masses, the topic is an instant turn-off. But, contrary to the verbiage, this is not about hypotheticals or ‘what-if’ imaginings. It’s pretty basic brain/thought stuff and it’s happening to so many of us – it has been happening to a ton of people, but in pop culture, no one has been addressing it enough. This isn’t about believing in magic – you’re likely aware this is true because you’re dealing with the side effects right now.
Why is this not common-place knowledge? Because it’s not what we hear on the news. Why? Because this is a modern condition that has been exacerbated by technology and the speed of life. We have given the thinking 24/7 control. AND, things like this are a turn off when it comes to entertainment. Why? Because entertainment is an extension of how we relate to others and also understand ourselves. It’s by nature, an extension of the collective ego. All external communications and possessions are forms of identifiers of self. Like they are the extensions of popular thoughts. They confirm the needs to define self! And, it’s totally opposite the current of life to encourage people to shut off and slow down. If anything, all media in culture is telling us to speed up – while also, trying to sell us faster devices. So what am I telling you to do with this information? Shut off and slow down as much as possible. Why? Your life is being abstracted by your thoughts.
When we are wrapped up in a flurry of endless searching, needing, wanting – our focus is completely kept by a constant wall of narration. This nonstop narrative of unquenchable needs is what creates its own distorted reality. The search to confirm the identity of self grows more and more desperate, the more we are unfulfilled. This is when you begin to live in a constructed reality – and one created entirely within your brain, and not the real one. This thought-trap is when things like eating disorders happen: you can only see yourself as fat, even though you are in reality starving to death.
Long-term, what happens to many people as a result of this thought dysfunction is they follow a path of should’s as a means to identify their self. They get the right job. They get the right house. They follow all the right steps and at each level, they feel they are lacking something else to feel whole. They look to complete their self so that they might finally resolve the missing part: what will make them feel accomplished and proud or “in the right place” in life. But when it comes from an invisible itch, it’s never achievable. That wholeness only comes from a connection to what is trapped inside our selves, behind the thought wall.
Let’s say your thoughts are all about searching for “fulfillment.” Your ego will search endlessly for the right stuff to make those terms happen – reading up on the newest methods, acquiring the right commodities, identifying more and more ways to acquire “fulfillment.” When that search has cost you years of work and you finally got all that you deduced would make you happy, it’s a shock when you don’t feel fulfilled like you thought you would.
In the short term, for many, the dysfunction becomes noticeable in the lowered quality of day-to-day life. When the brain is constantly searching, solving, identifying the problem as a lack of external stuff – “Where’s it coming from?” “I want – I need this new thing: that will make me happy.” We are thoroughly distracted away from our Being and in the endless pursuit of the external, we become dissatisfied with everything. Nothing fills the hole.
You might become paralyzed just because you don’t know what thought to pay attention to. Thoughts will send you in opposite directions, at the same time – you become confused and ambivalent: stuck in the sheer volume of chatter – unable to move in any direction, with no clear instinct coming from deep within. “Should I do this? Am I on the right track? Am I happy? I don’t know if I like my life.” That’s when emotions can cause you to be depressed. Dissatisfied. Unfulfilled. Hollow. Sad. Numb. Lost.
When you are out of balance – aka your mind grows used to being on, you forget there was anything to you outside of the stream of narration. It’s like there’s a broken “On” switch – you forget what just “being” even was. That’s when thoughts become the sum of your focus in life and your brain begins ordering you around, sending you on mini-missions with false intel, with no end in sight. Thoughts can trap us in loops of frustration almost like you are looking for an itch that exists on a phantom limb. “Where is it coming from? What part of my body is that?” “Why can’t I solve this?” “Because, you crazy brain, you are not capable of ever growing to the level of awareness that exists outside of you!”
The fact that you are AWARE you are thinking shows you are a being greater than your thoughts. You can observe them. Hence, you are more than your thoughts.
If, perhaps, now you get it and you are realizing how long this has been happening to you – how do you stop this awful, looped play? Step back. Slow down. Do not cling to the importance of what is outside of you. Stop trying to control. Practice letting go of thinking as often as possible. Yield to a peaceful state of quiet. Step back into the state of Awareness that is behind your thoughts. How? Right now, think of your person – examine the “aliveness” inside your physical body. Think about the life inside of your hands, your chest. Your mind might say, “I don’t feel anything,” or get bored and try to focus on something else. But stay with it – focus on the feeling of energy inside your form. This is your inner body – try to focus on this as often as possible. Your energy inside – not your physical body. The more you can focus on this, the more you can step back from the Ego, and coincidentally, you will strengthen your immune system. When you become preoccupied by the stuff around you – remind yourself to step back and sense your life’s energy. Step far back into yourself and examine the chatter as separate.
The most important part is just understanding what makes “you” is not your thoughts. And then recalling that truth to calm the chattering thoughts down.
Once you recall this understanding of Awareness, you might find you are full of joy and relief. Like a sense of calm – everything makes sense. It’s different than anything you would ever hear in your mind. It feels immediate, louder, more sensory. Present.
I know this is a lot to take in, so aside from reminding yourself of your consciousness – quite simply, don’t take it all so seriously. Soothe. Quiet. Practice letting go. Whatever it is, don’t get caught up in external. Remind yourself to relax the thought muscles clenched by stress. You are not your stuff. Your conditions do not designate who you are. You exist as the same person without anything else. Try not to take your life so seriously, and try to laugh more – or even giggle. The point is to live and exist and feel present and joyful, not to struggle with the fact that your hair is greying. Think like a Buddha, giggle at the manufactured problems and the stuff that is not the essence of you. It’s all over one day, remember? When you look back – without a body or a form, Did you enjoy it? If not, why not start to now?
I hope you liked this and I send you my love – don’t forget to smile!!
Featured image via Flickr