I’ve Been Doing Even More Thinking about Thinking

Not long ago, I wrote a piece about thinking that prompted lots of reaction.  After publishing it, my mind moved on to other topics.  Recently, though, like in the last couple of days or so, I started thinking about thinking again.  As you can probably tell, thinking is one my favorite activities. 

We think for lots of different reasons.  Try to remember a time when you didn’t think.  I’m mean, seriously, try to remember a moment when your mind was entirely empty and unengaged.  I know a lot of you practice meditation or other similar practices and that the goal of such activities is to empty the mind, quieten the soul, and achieve a kind of Zen state in the process.

I suppose I do meditation too, but I’m not sure I’m very orthodox in my practices.  I also do something that looks like “Yoga,” but most of my moves are those I’ve created myself.  (I have this strong streak of nonconformity that animates my personhood—if I’m going to do meditation or Yoga, then it has to be my very idiosyncratic brand of these things.)

I see I’m digressing.  (What’s new?  This is classic Troy Headrick.)

Even when I want to clear my mind, I find that my mind is thinking that I need to clear my mind.  The mind seems to be a very peculiar kind of instrument that is designed to do its thing even when we tell it to stop doing its thing.  Can a mind be a mind if it doesn’t always act like a mind?  I suppose this is a philosophical question, and I’m trying not to be very philosophical right now.

There are different kinds of thinking, and we need to recognize this if we want to understand cogitation. 

Some thinking occurs simply because the world is an amazingly interesting place that is full of puzzlements of all sorts.  When I think “What is the meaning of life?”  I’m not necessarily doing so because I want to come to a definitive answer and then create a plan of action of any sort.  Even if I—in a moment of profound enlightenment find an answer to this question—what can I do about it?  This type of thinking is not meant to be actionable.  Often, we think only because an idea has grabbed ahold of us and won’t let go. 

There are other kinds of thinking too.  Often, we think because we are troubled (not by the mysteries of life but by living itself).  There may be something delightful about thinking about our problems—the act itself, no matter its motivation, can be very enjoyable because the mind is enlivened in the process—but the sort of thinking done about troubles is utilitarian and can be carried out under duress.  Such thinking is designed to be followed by a course of action.  A solution is being searched for.  The mind is preparing to act in concert with the body or with others.  Plus, some thoughts may be dismissed because they are deemed to be impractical or unactionable.

There is a third form of thinking which isn’t really thinking at all.  If I ask myself, “Why is this sky especially beautiful today?” I’m actually using language that is normally associated with thought.  I suppose I could answer this question, but my point is not necessarily to understand the nature of this beautiful scene before me.  My question is only pretending to seek an answer; in fact, I am making an exclamation.  If I analyze the colors of the sky, I may actual “understand” why there is so much beauty in it, but this knowing is likely to add nothing to the actual experience of seeing.  There are moments when we don’t want to think too much about beauty or other topics.  Our real pleasure is such situations is not in the gaining of understanding.  Pleasure comes in the not knowing but in the act of being in awe, in the act of being in the presence of something which can’t (and probably shouldn’t) be understood.  In this form of “thinking,” the mind is really merely an extension of our senses.

Thanks for reading what I’ve written!

If you like my writing, you can find more here; although, my personal blog certainly needs to be updated. 

15 thoughts on “I’ve Been Doing Even More Thinking about Thinking

  1. Thank you, Troy, for sharing another wonderful piece of your writing. For many years, I seemed lost in thinking. This could seem fine if the thoughts were pleasant, but as Shakespeare mentioned, it could also make a seeming hell.
    Part of my release from those swings came through my discovery of “The Power of Now,” by Eckhart Tolle. He suffered from depression and severe anxiety until he was twenty-nine. At the top of the second page of the Introduction, he relates how the following repetetive sentence was tormenting him one night: “I canot live with myself any longer.”
    Suddenly, however, he noticed a deeper realization. The sentence implies two, the “I” and the “myself.” He wondered if only one of them was “real.” The answer, found through stillness, leads us to direct knowing of true Self, beyond the workings of the mind.
    Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj stated the same this way: “Before the mind–I am. ‘I Am’ is not a thought in the mind. The mind happens to me. I do not happen to the mind.” 🙏

    1. Thanks, Art. I think I need to read Tolle. You’ve mentioned him before in some of your comments and blogs. I’ve long been curious about the “self” and “mind.” You’ll notice that I put those words in quotation marks. That’s an indication that there is so much to consider when thinking about those words and concepts. I do feel there is an “I” that is “self,” but I’m such a sociologist that I wonder how much baggage has been attached to that notion of “I.” I guess one of my biggest struggles is learning how to separate all that baggage out and to be as free as possible. Who is this deeper and truer me that is preexistent to the person I’ve been told I need to be because of all the roles I play and the responsibilities I carry around? Do you think Tolle could help me answer such a question?

      1. You’re welcome, Troy. Thank you for sharing with me again–I truly appreciate it. I, too, believed that “i” (lower case, rendered by a repetitive thought in the mind only, think “flash, flash, flash”) was who I was, but it has no independent existence whatsoever. Contemplating the nature of time can help prove this. ( I put it this way, there’s no room for an “actual” chunky monkey–used only for the rhyme, not a slight against heavier or slighter).
        The true “I” (higher Self) is the constant, we always refer to ourselves as “I.” The trouble is, we have erroneously identified with being the lowercase “i.” That little guy/gal is totally fabricated by the mind–out of repetitve thoughts, consistent beliefs, and memories, which are also just flashes of thought.)
        When we become still, as adivsed in the Bible, “be still and know that I am God,” we realize that “WE,” true Self, can witness sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts; therefore we cannot possibly “be” them!

        Yes, I would strongly suggest reading “The Power of Now,” if you’d like to be free from identification with the character–in my case “Art.”

        Here’s another link that I’ve recommended, of Rupert Spira and self inquiry:


      2. P.S. Later this week, I’m going to be posting another article on Pointless Overthinking that I hope will point Beings to recognition of true Self…beyond name and form. I’ll be posting it here first on my blog tomorrow.

      3. I’m looking forward to seeing that post. Thanks for the wonderful suggestions. I’m looking to see if the college where I work has the Tolle text. Thanks, Art!

  2. I would suggest that, perhaps, there is at least one more “type” of thinking, solely from my personal paradigm of understanding. I speak of the thinking done without any cognition on an individual’s part, merely the free running of the brain on its own. I believe that “the instinct”, whatever that terms my encompass, wonders its own path constantly such that if you don’t override it, it explores on and on, down paths that your cognitive self is not even aware until the instinct exposes it to you.
    As with the author, I could go on, but I think that opens the door to the run in which I found myself as I read.

    1. You’re right. There is the sort of thinking you describe in your comment. I mention this type early in the piece when I talk about not being able to live without thoughts, that even when I tell myself to empty my mind there is a voice in my head (thoughts in my head) saying, “Empty your mind, Troy.” One of my biggest challenges is spending less time in my head. Often, when I am doing the sort of automatic thinking you describe in your comment, it comes out as “chatter.” Know what I mean? Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  3. It does not happen often that I’m NOT thinking. At least when I’m awake.

    When I am confronted suddenly and in a highly emotional way, my mind goes blank. The sudden overload of emotion from the other person leaves me in a state I call “deer in the headlights.”

    I’m sure I appear to the other person to be utterly dismissive and disinterested in what they are saying. Completely absent of reaction. The truth of it is that my mind is paralyzed, unable to think, feel, or react. They’ve just delivered a mental gut punch and it takes a bit to recover to the point where thought becomes possible.

    About the only other time I’m not thinking is when I put myself into an auto-hypnotic state. My mind can simply drift off into nothing and be completely empty. It requires being slightly fatigued and a lack of stimulation. Never lasts long though. Sometimes even blinking my eyes is enough to rouse me from it. Perhaps it is highway hypnosis without the highway.

  4. Hey, Fred. Thanks for the very interesting comment. You’ve just proven how fascinating the mind and thinking can be as subjects of contemplation. I guess all thinking is idiosyncratic. There is likely no such thing as generic “thinking.” I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced the sort of paralysis of thinking that you describe in your piece. I have experienced something akin to what you call an “auto-hypnotic state.” Oddly enough, I can get myself in such a state if I am around someone who is moving around and I sort of blur my vision and let that movement become very calming. I enjoy such states. I don’t think I fully understand what “Zen” is, but I associate such experiences with being profoundly “Zen.” I think such a condition is as close as I ever come to being completely empty of thought. Perhaps the mind looks for opportunities to shut down and rest and that it even creates such moments in a variety of ways? That’s an interesting possibility.

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