Many of our thoughts are automatic and often repeat themselves without our conscious influence. It creates mental noise and causes distress and depression according to Eckhart Tolle. What then, is the key to mental balance? Well, a number of outstanding professionals claim that openness and attention is the key to freedom of spinning thoughts and existential anxiety.
Mental static and the rise of “I”
It’s worth noticing that the majority of our thoughts are automatic and repetitive – it almost seems as if thinking happens to us; rather than us actually thinking. This is what’s loosely termed as “compulsive thinking” and if we observe ourselves (and others) closely enough, we would immediately notice that we are seduced by this mental static – we march around, meeting people, getting things done and acquiring things as if our peace of mind and happiness depended on it. But has acquiring things, earning recognition and scaling the power hierarchies ever rewarded anyone with lasting happiness? Our history books, story books and religious scriptures are brimming with metaphoric and literal arguments against the idea of attaching peace of mind and happiness with the material world – yet we still somehow cannot stop ourselves from being constantly seduced by our automatic and repititive thoughts that which demand that we run faster and faster on the treadmill of life.
Our mistake seems to stem from the fact that we identify ourselves with our minds and the noise that our minds create – we confuse the “possessor” with the “possessed”. This is the birth of what is called “ego” – a false self which is a very pale substitute of the real self. The weight or thickness of the ego (false self) is directly proportional to the degree to which we identify with it. Hence, the amount of suffering we go through is directly proportionate to the weight and thickness of our ego. Its worth noting that our consciousness is far wider, deeper and vaster than our day-to-day mental static; but by being scammed into believing that we “are” the static; we open the floodgates to all sorts of psychological and spiritual dysfunctions.
The thickness and density of the ego differs from person to person and from time to time. Where some people are always trapped in the control dramas of their egos; others enjoy brief periods of freedom – this is when they are being creative or engaging in self-less acts of sharing and giving. Those who are permanent prisoners of their own out-of-control minds are, in essence, cut-off from their very own true self and; as a result, these people will usually come off as fake. As a way forward, these people should start off with making a genuine attempt to be more aware of their chattering minds and its seductive trance on them – this self awareness will pay rich dividends in bouts of mental peace as it will begin to awaken the still, calm, silent, deep and compassionate consciousness that’s all encompassing enough to drown out the noise of the ego. This all encompassing consciousness is the real Self.
This is how Eckhart Tolle describes this phenomenon, “You are cut off from Being(the all encompassing real Self) as long as your mind takes up all your attention. When this happens – and it happens continuously for most people… The mind absorbs all your consciousness and transforms it into mind stuff. You cannot stop thinking. Compulsive thinking has become a collective disease. Your whole sense of who you are is then derived from mind activity. Your identity, as it is no longer rooted in Being, becomes a vulnerable and ever-needy mental construct, which creates fear as the predominant underlying emotion”. 1
Understanding the mechanism of emotions
Now that we have some insight into how the our mental chatter gets entangled with a false sense of “self” to give rise to the ego; its also important to understand that emotions are triggered when the body reacts to this mental chatter.
The body operates and is regulated by its own organizing intelligence. This is the same organizing intelligence that perfectly and independently regulates the blood flow, the digestive system and the respiratory system. This is also the same organizing intelligence that immediately switches the body to “fight or flight” mode by infusing it with unbounded energy in the face of immediate danger – as a result one would feel fear, anger and a possible plethora of other primordial responses. These are prime examples of the body reacting to immediate threats in the “external environment” by temporarily taking over complete control. This is what can loosely be called the body’s instinctive response.
But, on the other hand, an “emotion” is the body’s reaction to a “thought” (and not to an immediate external threat). The body cannot distinguish between a thought (mental static) and a real, physical threat. So, you could be sitting in the comfort of your drawing room and thinking fear-based thoughts; but your palms will begin to get sweaty, your heart will beat faster and your muscles will tense-up as if the threat is real and in the physical environment. The bad news is that since the perceived threat is only because of mental chatter, the built-up of energy in the body has no means of release and therefore gets pent up in the body and turns toxic – this then causes an imbalance in the smooth and natural functioning of the body. Result: disease, sickness and chronic ailments galore.
Just as the ego strengthen itself by investing the mental chatter with a sense of Self (the “I am the noise in my head” syndrome); it also strengthens itself by identifying with unexamined emotions. At times the mind will think a though, the body will react in the form of an emotion and the emotion will trigger a response so fast that the conscious mind will not even be able to process what’s going on. This “thought-emotion-reaction” cycle tends to be so quick, unconscious and automatic because of a person’s repeated and dense past conditioning. Haven’t we all met people who would adamantly always act and behave as if everyone is untrustworthy or as if they don’t deserve love, prosperity and happiness?
Regaining control; shattering the vicious cycle
The only way to break this downward spiral of negativity is to become aware of the negative thoughts, emotions and corresponding reactions as much as possible. When an emotion is triggered, try to trace that emotion to it’s reactions in your body – these bodily reactions/sensations/impulses could be anything from harsh to subtle. The trick is to use the light of self awareness to completely feel these emotions in your body with an attitude of total acceptance – having an accepting and open attitude is the key to dissolving any chronic negative emotions. If you find it difficult to feel these emotions in your body then try to practice conscious breathing – feel the air entering and escaping your body for a few minutes before slowly and steadily turning your attention towards the body and its subtleties. Keep an open and yielding mind and quietly accept all emotions of guilt, anger, fear, unease, anxiety and grief etc as and when they arise – no resistance. Carry this process of “feeling-and-accepting” into your day-to-day life and a time will come when the all encompassing true self will begin to emerge and dwarf the egoic mind – this true self is deep, silent, compassionate and indestructible. In the words of Eckhart Tolle, “Surrender, one could say, is the inner transition from resistance to acceptance, from “no” to “yes.” When you surrender, your sense of self shifts from being identified with a reaction or mental judgment to being the space around the reaction or judgment. It is a shift from identification with form–the thought or the emotion–to being and recognizing yourself as that which has no form–spacious awareness. Whatever you accept completely will take you to peace” 2
(1) Author: Eckhart Tolle . The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, New World Library, October, 1999 ISBN 1-57731-152-3 (HC) ISBN 1-57731-480-8 (PB) .Chapter 6
(2) Author: Eckhart Tolle . Stillness Speaks: Whispers of Now, New World Library, August 2003 ISBN 1-57731-400-X . Chapter 6