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.