What did I do?
I’m not talking to you.
Are you talking to the readers? That’s really rude, and you know they can’t hear you, right?
Sorry. I’m just yelling at my stupid brain. My mind is racing with thoughts again, and it won’t shut off.
Your brain is bubbling with voices galore?
A cacophony of voices! All of them analyzing and examining and judging me like a gaggle of vinegary teachers sitting in a circle inside my skull, pointing their crooked fingers at me while criticizing every decision I make with my life.
Well, you don’t have any money and live in a tiny apartment.
Don’t you start! I love my tiny apartment, and money is overrated.
Does yelling at these cantankerous teachers in your head help at all?
Then … why?
Because, I’m f*cking frustrated!
Calm. Stay calm.
Wouldn’t that drive YOU crazy?
Take slow, deliberate breaths.
What else is there to do but yell back at the constant cavalcade of thoughts? My mind always worrying about what might happen or ruminating about bad decisions—all while trying to be mindful.
Just focus on your breathing.
But I’m really not being mindful at all, am I? Because I’m thinking about how I need to be f*cking mindful while drowning in a deluge of thinking!
Just focus on the present, like watching a passing cloud.
Then I try to stop thinking about how to be mindful and be more present in the moment without leaning on hackneyed, clichéd platitudes on how to be more present in the moment!
But, if thinking is part of the problem, doesn’t it stand to reason that thinking might also be part of the solution?
Just think positive thoughts, right? That cures depression and anxiety. I feel better already. You’re a damn genius. You should write a self-help book and make a sh*t-ton of money telling people how to be mindful.
It’s not about finding the right method of thinking or the right meditation. It’s about not thinking, but not thinking about a method that leads to not thinking.
But HOW do you do that?
There is no HOW. Thinking about how to be present while you’re eating your breakfast burrito smothered in green chili pulls you away from that wonderful experience, does it not?
How can there be no how?
“The chores of everyday life,” writes Alan Watts, “they become intolerable when everything ties together, all the past and future, you feel it dragging at you every way … when we wake up in bed on Monday morning and think of the various hurdles we’ve got to jump that day. Immediately, we feel sad and bored and bothered, whereas actually, we’re just lying in bed.”
We seriously need to have a discussion about your obsession with Alan Watts quotes. And trying to not think about the sh*t job won’t help the fact that you have a sh*t job.
But not thinking about the sh*t job in the morning frees up some brain bandwidth to just enjoy your coffee for a few minutes.
Constantly rerouting your thinking from the past or the future to the present sounds exhausting. All this to save brain bandwidth?
It’s not about working to clear your mind from thinking. And is it really necessary to think about all that’s wrong with your life while you take a hot shower?
I’m just trying to figure out how to be happy. I’ll even take being content.
And does it help?
About as much as yelling at the voices to shut up.
And this doesn’t mean you completely stop thinking about finding a different job. It just means you refuse to cling to a future that hasn’t happened yet—a future in your head that generates a painful emotional fallout in the present.
When really you’re just lying in bed.
Like watching a play and nudging the spotlight to illuminate a different part of the stage.
Focusing on what’s happening presently rather than how sh*tty I feel because of my sh*t job or my depression.
Or what MIGHT happen.
But all those disastrous futures might happen!
It’s about working to compartmentalize your various hurdles and challenges and neuroses. But when you’re tired, just sleep. When you’re hungry, just eat.
That’s what everybody does.
Nope. Most people eat while thinking about all the various hurdles they have to overcome after they’re done eating. They rarely ever eat at all. A Chinese Zen master by the name of Yun-men stated, “In walking, just walk. In sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.”
But what if I wobble fabulously?
Now you’re getting the point!
Column and photo by Mike Yost