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The Entertainment of Discursive Thinking

Often people complain about their mind – they can't concentrate in meditation or in daily life, it feels painful, it keeps them out of the moment, etc. This is one of the “gates” in the spiritual process that one has to walk through, but by no means quieting discursive thought is the end all, and in fact it doesn't necessarily have to end.

What discursive thinking is, is simply ego entertaining itself, solidifying itself in a subject-object dance that creates a sense of “home” in a body-mind, a feeling of centrality at a superficial level. Whether it is memories, reflections, plans, fantasies, hopes, dreams, reminiscing, visions, imagination, judgments, ideas, etc., it is all just a theatre of fascination, a means to the end of self-security. Unfortunately, the whole mechanism of discursive thinking is just the outer ring of the illusion of a fundamental and separate, isolated self structure.

Of course, many people recognize that discursive thinking is “a problem”, something that at best is annoying, and at worst a cesspool of suffering, and they try subtly or not so subtly to not have thoughts. Unfortunately, the judgment that “damn it, I'm thinking, I've lost the moment” is just another wing in the ego armory. One is stuck, either thinking or trying subtly not to think by focusing attention on one thing or no things, or everything at once. The problem is that discursive thinking is just baggage of a subject-object lock-down, which by grace and over time, can be transcended.

However, if one really looks at one's life, that much of the time, the discursive thought mechanism is not occurring, one is simply living one's life – it is only when one quiets down physical activity that the “mind” seems to “kick in”. This is actually a good thing, the noticing itself that one is thinking, if, and only if it doesn't become a drama (creating a cascading of secondary reactions). One has taken a step in noticing the game that for most is an automatic and unconscious activity.

And there are moments when discursive thinking dramatically stops – after an emotional catharsis, a psychic shock to the system, orgasm, laughter – and there are various spiritual strategies employed in the traditions to use these mechanism to work with this outermost game. And often spiritual experiences will silence the mind – and sometimes they can have the opposite effect, turning up the volume on discursive thinking, sometimes to nearly unbearable levels. I remember various times in my life where I was in the presence of a powerful spiritual energetic field, and I noticed that “my mind” was louder, seemingly more intent on throwing images, thoughts, ideas and fantasies into my field of awareness.

Spiritual force or shakti, often has the side-effect of turning up the volume in life, so that this mechanism of “self-entertaining-itself” can be seen, dispassionately. In one particular “darshan” event with a teacher, this reached a level so intense that I thought I was going insane, so loud and out of control it was that I got a glimpse into the depth of human madness. In that particular event, it reached a point where this mechanism reached a “boiling point” as if the force of spirit was burning off or burning out the whole mechanism. This near “life flashing before one's eyes” kind of event was an initiation in my own process, and highlighted the nature of the game of self-survival, which ultimately has to be let go of.

Other spiritual techniques include noticing or finding the “space” between the in-breath and out-breath, and looking to see what that is. In other words, the spiritual process, in one sense is to create a quality of spaciousness in the mind so that:

  • the locking of awareness exclusively in one or another manifestation of mind is gently eased over time
  • once the automatic sense of “being completely caught up in a thought” is eased, one can notice the mechanism of egoic survival
  • over time this eventually will lead to a capacity to “witness” the “inner and outer” events of one life
  • eading to the revelation that there is no inner and outer, transcending the notion of a witness noticing events from a particular locked or spacious inner point or region.

Of course, this is a process that occurs over time, but it is important at first to:

  • not make a drama around the fact that one habitually gets caught up in mind forms to the exclusion of everything else (except, perhaps, if you are driving a car!)
  • not to make a drama about how restless the mind is if you have grown the capacity to notice mind.
  • Not to make a goal of having a quiet mind.
  • Not to focus attention on a particular object (unless you are instructed to do so, such as using a mantra)

Giving up trying happens over time, and that's when the entertainment-survival mechanism eases up. Fear of death is the major contributing factor that traps us in this game, but there is no strategy, no technique to get us out of the whole mess. Just the simple fact that the capacity to notice mind forms grows over time will lead, over time, to acceptance of the mind forms to be there, which will eventually lead to a diminishment of mind forms. But this is not the goal, this is only the basis for another step in one's process of growth. There may be big moments in one's life where one may see the illusion of time, space, growth and process, but until that becomes a complete and utter living reality 24 by 7, in the meantime “don't just do something, stand there!”