As regular readers of these posts will know, one of the biggest things I've learned over the past few years is this:
The less I have on my mind, the better life gets.
For a recovering intellectual who prefers to use three words when one would probably do, this has at times posed an interesting dilemma. Sometimes I still want to analyze every aspect of the universe in minute detail; at other times I just want to enjoy being alive.
What follows is not intended to resolve the dilemma, but rather to share some of the things I've learned over the years are genuinely not worth thinking about...
1. Things that are out of our control
In Feel Happy Now!, I share the following story:
While interviewing Olympic rowers at the 1996 Olympics, sports broadcaster Charlie Jones interviewed a number of the competing athletes. Any time he asked them a question about something which was outside their control (like the weather, the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents or what might go wrong during a race), the Olympians would respond with the phrase 'That's outside my boat.'
By refusing to focus on anything which was beyond their control, these athletic champions were able to bring all their resources to bear on what was within their control - everything from their physiology, mental maps and story to the actions that they took preparing for and competing in the actual event.
In the same way as these Olympic athletes, our lives become simpler the less of them we spend thinking about things that are "outside our boat".
2. What we think and how we think about it
One of the largest and most invisible subsets of the "things outside of our control" category is our own thinking. For those of us who've begun to see the thought/feeling connection -- that is, the fact that at all times, we're feeling our thinking about life, not life itself -- there is a normal tendency to attempt to control our thoughts in an attempt to control our feelings and experience of life.
Thinking about our thinking can become an obsession, with constant affirmations at one end of the spectrum and meditation practices designed to stop thinking altogether at the other.
In order to better understand the futility of hanging out at either end of the spectrum, consider thought like a river that flows through your mind. Left to its own devices, new thought will come through on a regular basis, and the flotsam and jetsam of old, limited thinking will be continually pushed downstream until it dumps back into the vast ocean of consciousness.
But if we attempt to dam up the river through "anti-thought" meditations, or alter the chemistry of the water by pouring in positive affirmations, we are liable to do more harm than good as we work against the natural flow and clarity of thought "bottled pure from the source".
I think one of the least useful questions we ask ourselves is "How am I doing?" This is because attempting to answer it takes us out of the flow of life and back into the morass of our judgmental thinking about ourselves.
Whether we call this self-consciousness "the ego", our "personal thinking", "the self", or simply "me", trying to live up to an image or ideal of what this "me" should be like is the single most draining, stressful, and ultimately futile things we spend our time and energy on each and every day.
And while this is beyond my pay grade to share, every enlightened guru worth their salt will tell you that, "me" can never get enlightened - enlightenment is a description of the disappearance of the illusion of a separate "me".
Now, if this has all gotten a bit too heady and feels like too much to think about, I encourage you not to. Just having read these ideas may well make space for some new insights and deeper feelings to come through.
Until then, consider this:
The next time you're looking for something to occupy your mind, don't find anything - and notice what finds you instead!
For more by Michael Neill, click here.