Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Decluttering our minds: Waking up from the dream

The fact that most people on this earth are sleepwalking isn’t an easy fact to put across. Who am I to make such a statement! Who indeed? But, ‘I,’ really am a nobody at all. And if I were to walk around with a head full of thoughts of being any better or more accomplished than anyone else, I would be living the lie of deluded ignorance. Nonetheless, I do know better then most, and asleep most of us are. Caught in the grip of dreams of desire, ignorance and anger.

Do we ever just stop and listen to the inner chatter that relentlessly fills our minds, from dawn to dusk. Are we even aware of the constant, overlapping thought processes taking place there? Chances are, that most of us are so preoccupied, that we are not aware of this constant stream of idle chatter that forms a backdrop to our life. It does take some degree of experience and a lot of willpower if we wish to take a deep look into the minds workings, to view the chatter objectively, as it were, and break the stranglehold that thoughts hold us in. Recognising the background thought pollution that is our cnstant companion, is the first step of the process of decluttering the mind, and freeing us up, to reach our full potential as human beings

According to the philosopher Descartes, ‘we are what we think!’ For centuries that old chestnut of a maxim, has formed the basis of our logical understanding of mind. We have all heard it uttered at one time or another. But like many well used sayings and maxims, it is not necessarily based on reality. How absurd you may think, what makes me qualified to pass judgment upon a central tenant of western philosophy!

It may be worthwhile here, to consider what we mean by the term ‘we’ or more explicitly, ‘me.’ If we dig deep we may have a hard time trying to explain what this ‘me,’ really is! Now this is getting even more absurd you may say. After all, why do I need to explain what I am? Isn’t it enough that I am here, that I exist? I have a body, I have sensations, I live in a house, I have a partner, a job and so on!  All of which cements the fact that this is ‘me. I exist, therefore I am! Yet, it has been shown in many of the worlds great religions, that what is actually taking place here, is that we are processing a collection of sense experiences; form, feeling, perception, and concept come together and create a seemingly solid sense of a ‘me.’ I see an object, I then feel that ‘thing,’ I give it a name, i.e. a tree, or a car, from then on, it becomes solid in my view, I have conceptualised it. Without wishing to go too far into the psychology of the mind here, suffice it to say, that, it is just this attempt to solidify objects, that heightens this idea of a ‘me,’ looking out onto a seemingly ‘other,’ solid world.

What is vital though is that we give allow ourselves some inner space, from the never ending thought process and begin to understand the powerful grip our thoughts hold over us. As Karma Tashi Thundrup puts it: “Some reflection upon the nature of our thoughts reveals that much of our conscious reasoning is devoted to the well-being and importance of ourselves, our possessions, our desires and aversions. The average mentality is awash with reasoning's, the conditioned i.e. prejudiced rationalisations of social, cultural, political and ethical opinions, the important property of an equally important 'ME'.”

We are slaves to these thought processes, they wear us down, tear us apart. In our attempt to safeguard and protect what is, in reality, a non - existent self, we create the seeds of our own downfall. That in essence, there is no one to protect, that our attempts to find pleasure only keep us further trapped in ‘the wheel of becoming,’ as our existence is defined in Buddhist literature.

Further more, by taking as real, the constant jabbering of thoughts processes; the opinions, concepts, strategies and plans, that we are always formulating, we become trapped caught up by their power over us, Chime Trunga likens these overlapping thoughts to the notion of a monkey, desperately trying to find its way out of a windowless house, the more it fights the to find a way out, the more solid do the walls become. Similarly, the more we fight to rid our minds of thoughts, the more solid they appear. We take thoughts as reality, their random generalisations of hope, despair, worry and desire, fixing us with their sense of purpose.

Sogyal Rinpoche has eloquently written about the problem of ego, “Lifetimes of ignorance have brought us to identify the whole of our being with ego. Its triumph is to inveigle us into believing its best interests are our best interests, and even identifying our very survival with its own. That is a savage irony, considering that that ego and its grasping, are at the root of all of our suffering. Yet ego is so convincing and we have been its dupe for so long, that the thought that we might even become ego less, terrifies us. To be ego less, ego whispers to us, is to loose all of the rich romance of being human, to be reduced to an empty, colourless robot, or a brain dead vegetable.”

So how to find a way out of the seemingly never-ending grip of thought? First a need a certain amount of dedication and willpower is required. The desire to not let your thoughts any longer rule you, any longer. Every time you think you are getting somewhere, a thought will pop up, telling you how well you are doing! It has been said that the ego, wants to witness its own funeral, it will use every trick at its disposal to attempt to hang onto its territory. Be aware thoughts coming and going; don’t try to cling onto any of them, neither try to rid them. Just observe their comings and goings. By letting them disappear from whence they came, they begin to lose their grip over you. By constant observation of your mind, the effect will be like a pond when a stone has been thrown into its water, after a while, the ripples die back, the water becomes calm again.


  1. Or in other words, 'The Miracle of Mindfulness'. Yes, you've reminded me that I really should re-read some of Tich Nhat Hanh's books, it's been a little while and I found them extremely helpful first time round.

  2. Hi karin

    The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is excellent too. And puts over so well, as to how to we can embrace mindfulness. You don't have to be a Buddhist to read it either. A modern masterpiece

  3. There is something about Thich Nhat Hanh's writing that appeals to me more than books by other Bhuddists that I've read, although I haven't read the one you mention. I've looked at it in the bookshop, though. It's not just mindfulness but Thay's general philosophy that appeals to me.