When the mind has lost the habit of running on its own, one of the things that’s become vivid is the difference between thought and life.
When the habit of ceaseless thinking has unwound, the mind doesn’t do something unless you ask it to. It rests, like a lazy dog. Imagine. All’s quiet in there. Just life: just this moment of life, sans commentary.
You forget you wrote and directed the movie, and star in it.
The only reason the mind ever ran on its own, the way it always did until it didn’t — the fuel that sustained that momentum, all those decades — was that you kept mistaking thought for life. Kept entering into the content of your thoughts as if they were reality itself. Every moment that was going on, you were missing life itself.
Mistaking thought for life is like stepping into a movie and forgetting it’s a movie. You forget you wrote and directed the movie, and star in it. And write the reviews.
Thought is like a lens to look through at this moment of life (and past ones too, and imagined future ones). What is it when you’re just there for a moment of life, letting it saturate awareness? What is it to have no interpretation? No label? What is life, absent meaning assigned by the mind?
How the chains rattle at that last part. A life without meaning? Sounds like an anemic thing, a sad and pointless stretch of time.
Does a moment of felt existence have meaning to a child (or a dog)? Life — which is this immediate scene, inside your feeling self and around you — is a sensory phenomenon. It is felt. It is not a piece in a larger picture, an episode in a narrative . . . unless you wake the snoring dog and command it to spring to life.
What is life like when that doesn’t happen? Have you ever asked yourself that — what life feels like absent the running commentary, the need to understand, evaluate, put in a context?
Mostly, the question is never even asked. Who does it ever dawn on to wonder if it could be otherwise, and what that would be like? To ask how the habit of mental handling blunts the clear view of life — the deep drink of it! — and how that leads inevitably to suffering?
It isn’t about trying to stop the mind, which no one has ever succeeded in doing. It’s got to do with seeing that thought — this current episode of it — is thought. Seeing that the movie is a movie. Seeing the difference between the lived moment itself and what thought does with it.
It is not (God save us) about replacing one sort of thought with another. Looking for a “better” thought. Nor is it about trying to gauge the validity of a given thought, as if its apparent truthfulness makes it a better place to occupy than life itself.
Thought is thought. By definition, it is at a remove from life. Overlaid on it. Being in thought means life is at a distance. Missed altogether, more often than you could stand to realize.
Oh yes. There is such a thing as useful thought. But that kind of thinking doesn’t have anything to do with ego, with your sense of a self — your hurt feelings, your goals, your belief in what’s right and valuable and necessary. Useful thought has to do with finding a cure for HIV, or figuring out how to replace a broken corner of a roof, or charting a route to a distant city, or learning how to speak a new language.
After the mental task is accomplished, you tell the mind to go lie down, and it does. And when you lie down at night, you really, really sleep.