What is the worst possible disease you can think of? Maybe the one that is terminal. Or maybe the one that kills slowly while one is living. Perhaps the disorder that impairs one’s functioning is the worst. Or maybe a disease is a disease and anything that vitiates your health in anyway is as bad as it can get. But, this is not what I mean by disease in the current context; there’s more to it.
And, no, I’m not speaking of the perils of social media, or hyper-connectivity through messaging and all. I’m not alluding to long hours of watching TV, or too much web surfing, or overeating, or being too self-conscious. Not smoking, not drinking, not trying to always keep others happy, no, this is not what it’s about. They all affect and are pseudo-diseases but they are nothing compared to the one I’m talking about.
Heart diseases, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, AIDS, depression are terrible ailments gnawing away at the human well-being, but, in my view, there is another disease which is equally, if not more, damaging. This is the mother of all diseases, in fact. Really. It is the seed of depression, of anxiety, of negativity. It is the source of human misery and what’s worse is that most people are suffering from it. Far more tragically, and even worse still, they don’t even know it.
I call it the disease of Excessive Thinking.
Yes, that’s right. Most people think too much, and it’s a disease because they don’t do so by choice. They are not thinking the things they do as a conscious act. Their thoughts direct them while they but simply glide along the drift of such thoughts. No one says I’m feeling jealous or angry and let me revel in this emotion. Most people are fundamentally good, genuinely loving and they don’t want to feel these emotions. Most have their lives in order and they don’t want to worry about elements beyond their control. But, they do.
Everything is going well, they are happy, life feels great and just one negative thought, one bad memory from the past, and before they know, they are feeling bad, negative, guilty, bitter or resentful. The difference between a peaceful and a restless person is their ability to pick and choose their thoughts. Excessive thinking means not just the negative or positive thoughts but the constant chattering of mind. Most people are eternally engrossed in stray and insignificant thoughts. The mind keeps talking and they keep listening.
The difference between a buddha and a buddhu (ignorant) is that a buddha has realized that a thought in its own right has no power, no intrinsic value, no essence. Whereas the ignorant mind identifies itself with the thought and with that association comes the suffering. For instance, a thought — I’m a loser — comes out of nowhere and rather than dropping it, you start to contemplate on it, you start to identify yourself with it. Soon, the thought gathers momentum and drags you on its own journey. You begin to believe in the thought, and before long, you actually start to feel what you’d once thought, and then one day, you look in the mirror and you see a loser. It’s a mind trick.
Even when people express their opinions to you, they are merely expressing their thoughts; they’ve little control over what they think. Never let that ruin your peace. And this leads me to the crux of the matter today: The Art of Thinking.
If you examine the lives of the greatest painters, finest musicians, scientists, inventors, writers, poets, they often surprised the world by repeatedly producing magnificent works, one after another. They could do so because they could think in a certain fashion, in a creative manner. It’s something you can learn, anyone can learn. You can think positive thoughts, joyous thoughts, motivating thoughts, and for that you need to champion the art of thinking, which, in simple words, is the art of meditation.
With the aid of new-age fertility treatments, a 72-year old woman conceived a child. Nine months later, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. The happy old couple went home and relatives started pouring in.
“Umm…let’s wait a little”, said the mother. “I’ll make tea for everyone.”
They had high tea, a good hour passed and everyone was eager to see the newborn.
“May we see the baby now?”
“Not yet,” the mother said.
The guests were beginning to get intrigued. After waiting for another ten minutes, they insisted on seeing the baby but got the same answer back.
“Only when she cries.”
“What’s crying got to do with anything? Why do we have to wait until she cries?
“Because,” she explained, “I forgot where I put her.”
To see the baby, you don’t have to wait till she cries, you just need to be aware where you put her. Likewise, to tend to your mind, you don’t have to wait till it’s agitated, instead, you simply need to be mindful. To pacify the baby, we must find out why she’s crying, and similarly, to calm the mind, we need to go to the source of our emotions, that is, thoughts. Thoughts make up the mind.
Next week, I’ll scribble something on the anatomy of a thought. Once you understand the nature of thought, you will be able to meditate better, and meditation, I may add, is one of the most powerful antidotes to excessive thinking.