Q: How do I stop the incessant thinking going on in my head?
A: For those who are constantly thinking, were you to pay attention to the thoughts that you are thinking about, you’d find that 90% of the thoughts are completely random and irrational. At least that is how they appear on the surface. There is a much deeper root cause and the key is getting to the root cause of the thoughts themselves and transforming the state of being there, which I will show you how to do in just a bit.
But first, I want to talk about the nature of thinking itself. There are really two types of thinking: functional and psychological. Functioning thinking is required to do a simple math problem, or to put something down in your calendar. This kind of thinking is used to make our life easier and generally speaking when one train of functional thought finishes, the thought chain is finished, and other thoughts don’t follow afterwards. Psychological thinking is what we do when our thinking contributes or adds to our sense of self. Such thinking almost always comes from the ego, like, “I wish I had a better job”, or “I am hurt by what so and so said to me”, or “My children are a disappointment”. All of these thoughts come from a variant of one basic thought or belief and that is “I am not good enough”. This kind of thinking is responsible for the endless chain of thinking that we go through. There is virtually no end to this type of thinking because the ego actually needs you to build your stories, to infuse more and more drama into them, to survive and to grow by using your thoughts about the story of ‘me’ as food. It is this psychological thinking that we need to focus on when we are looking for the source of the vast majority of our thoughts.
Before I start with my solution, I want to mention that there is an art to listening, and particularly, listening without imposing the filter of your thoughts. If your thoughts are really unrelenting, then it will be very difficult to understand clearly and hear what I am trying to say. It is also possible there are other entities who have taken hold of you through your decision to operate by your human ego, that have you in a stranglehold and they are literally bombarding you with their thoughts to keep you in a confused and crippled state. So you will need to ask for outside help to free you from these entities, in other words, pray to a higher power for help and guidance.
As mentioned previously on this website (link), all religious and mystical traditions throughout history have referred to God – different names, but same person or entity. You can reach out directly to God or to one of his representatives, who are the saints and sages that have embodied that God consciousness on Earth. I would also mention that there is a right way and a wrong way to pray. The most effective way is to pray with the spirit of surrender.
Once you have prayed for help and guidance from a higher power, I want you to go into a room that has no electronic gadgets – in other words, no phone, no computer, no TV – this way you are eliminating all potential distractions. There should be nothing except a pen and paper on a table. And then you wait for the thoughts to come. Write down the thoughts that you are thinking as they come. Initially you may notice that the thoughts aren’t coming surprisingly. This is because the ego can only operate in the shadows, when you are not looking at it. When you look at it, it freezes and doesn’t know what to do. But don’t worry this is a temporary state, the thoughts will inevitably come. Write down each thought on a new line.
So, for instance, the thoughts might look like this:
I am bored.
I wonder what the weather will look like tomorrow.
I’m never going to let anyone set me up again – that was the worst date I’ve been on.
I wonder how many times that person has been divorced?
That person wore a terrible dress at the party last weekend, what was she thinking!
I hope I get that promotion; I know I’m better than everyone else and I should get it.
The downstairs door needs to be fixed, that creaking noise it makes is so annoying.
These are called surface thoughts and they usually pertain to things outside of you, like a relationship, a job, etc. These thoughts come from a deeper source, so we have to wait for the deeper thoughts to come. When writing down these thoughts, try to treat them like a science experiment, with a sense of detachment. Put down even the reactions or judgments to the thoughts. For example, “I shouldn’t be thinking these thoughts. What’s wrong with me!” Just write this down as well with the other thoughts. When all of these surface thoughts have been exhausted, which can take a while, the real deeper thoughts will come. These thoughts hit more closer to home and are in regard to our self. Something like:
I am lonely.
I am afraid of failing.
I am afraid of being judged by other people.
I feel terrible about myself.
I feel so unattractive.
I am so angry with myself.
I feel like shit.
It may not happen the first time you do this exercise, but eventually, after multiple attempts, the layers of the ego have been pierced and you can begin to see yourself as you are. You will need to ask the question: “Why am I thinking these thoughts?” Keep asking that question over and over again until you arrive at your answer. If you are able to see clearly, you will see that these deeper thoughts also spring from one primal thought and that is this: “I am not good enough.” This is usually a sobering moment for most people. This one thought, believe it or not, is responsible for all the suffering, all the judgment and violence, and all the wars on this planet.
When I judge myself for not being good enough to some standard that is imposed upon me from outside, I can then proceed to beat myself up for my perceived shortcomings. And when I beat myself up, I judge myself even more, which leads me to beat myself up some more, which leads me to judge myself even more. It is a vicious cycle that will only stop once you have taken full accountability and responsibility for your actions and the situation you are in.
An important and recurring teaching on this website is that you are and have always been responsible for your own suffering. And these self-defeating thoughts and beliefs are not coming from you, but from the ego that you have given power to. So, there are then two voices within you, the voice that is based in love, which is the voice of your true self, and the voice based in fear, which is the voice of the ego. You simply made the mistake of believing the ego’s voice as your own and have to own up to your mistake. It is the voice of the ego which gives rise to all the deep and surface psychological thoughts that, as discussed earlier, leads to the incessant thinking. But the important point is that you chose to fall into a ditch, and you will have to choose to pull yourself out of it.
The question is how do we go about removing this thought, “I am not good enough?” From someone who has been on the Path for a long, long time I can tell you that cannot remove this by force. It is not like a cancer operation, where you identify where the cancer is in your body, and then surgically remove it – and then no more cancer. The weapons to defeat your ego are not brute force or anger, for brute force and anger are the weapons of the ego itself. If you use that tactic, you will, in fact, strengthen your ego even further rather than destroying it.
So how do we defeat the ego? What is the its kryptonite? You will use compassion and forgiveness. I will repeat this again for emphasis, the greatest weapons to use against the ego is compassion and forgiveness. And the greatest mantra that I can give you to use against the ego is, “It’s okay.” You will have to transform the judgmental self-talk of the ego that beats you up constantly, to the non-judgmental compassionate and forgiving self-talk of your real self, the self that comes as a part and parcel of our Creator.
How does this work in practice? Here’s how:
Ego: I feel so lonely.
Me: It’s okay to feel lonely. I am doing the best I can and am only human. I know that this thought comes from the belief that I am not good enough and the I believed this because I don’t love myself completely. I forgive myself for making a mistake. It’s okay to make a mistake and I will learn from this. I will try to be more loving and compassionate with myself from this point onwards. I am not upset or angry at my ego at all. I simply didn’t know any better and that is okay.
Do you see the difference here? The ego literally has nowhere to go now. Even if it comes back with something like:
Ego: See look what an idiot I am. I am listening to psychobabble on the internet to solve my problems.
Me: It’s okay to be an idiot. To be honest, I have been an idiot this whole time. I never realized that I was beating myself up and judging myself so badly. I did the best I could, and I forgive myself for beating myself up. It’s okay.
Again, the ego has nowhere to go. This is the process that you need to undergo again and again, and again… until the sting and power of the ego has been drastically reduced. I will warn you that this is not a quick fix. You have spent years, decades, maybe even lifetimes giving power to your ego, so it won’t go away in one fell swoop. It may take several years to transform yourself thus in this way.
However, with a much more compassionate and forgiving attitude towards yourself, I guarantee you that the incessant thinking will go down by at least 50% and can go as high as 90% once this practice has become second-nature. You will find that you have a tremendous amount of space in your head and feel like everything really is okay. Eventually, at the advanced stages, you will clearly be able to see the fear-based thoughts of the ego and you won’t even have to react to it. Your awareness of it will be enough for you to say, “Yeah, I don’t think so.”