Thinking – The Off Switch

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The Problem of Low Awareness.

Awareness is an attribute of our mind that has the function of knowing what is happening in any given moment; the beauty of this is that awareness can only function in the present moment. During meditation we use this to our advantage; many hindrances to the deepening of our meditation practice are based on and arise out of thinking about the past and the future.

Present moment awareness stops this, so in this way our awareness can protect us. But when our awareness has not been developed and is weak then our mind tends to divert to autopilot, and here is where the trouble starts. During autopilot we are caught up in or lost in our thoughts or emotions, generally at that time we do not even know it is happening until we have come out of them.

This is because while we are absorbed in our thought patterns or emotions the function of awareness is low or completely absent. This low functioning awareness then allows us to take a mind object that doesn’t really exist, usually one that is projected into the past or the future. In other words for that period of time we are living in a fantasy land, one created through our thinking and emotions in our head.

Unfortunately this can become a habit which affects our everyday lives, we get caught up in believing the feelings associated with our emotions and also the chatter inside our heads so much so that they colour and rule the way we perceive the world.

This then creates pain because the imaginary world that we are living in and actual reality clash with each other; it is like driving down a road with a fake picture covering the windscreen, incredibly dangerous. This becomes even worse when others also do not perceive reality as it actually is but are living in a world that they perceive through the constant chatter in their heads. Now we have a world full of dodgem cars, someone is going to get hurt.

Thinking is a Tool

If you have a bicycle and you need to change the wheel you would go to your tool box and get a spanner. A spanner is a useful tool for removing the nuts on the wheel, no one could argue with that. But if after repairing the bike you carried the spanner to the bathroom to have a shower, then brought it to the restaurant when you went out to eat, woke up in the morning with it still in your hand, sat down for breakfast and carried it to work, this would be getting strange.


Because the spanner is a tool and is not meant to be carried around with you everywhere you go. It would have been smarter to put the spanner back into the toolbox, and then you would not have to be burdened by it and could still access it any time you needed to do a repair in the future.

In the same way thinking is meant to be a tool, it has its purpose for solving problems, for reflecting on the past or trying to predict a possible future, but like any other tool once you have finished with it then it is meant to be put back down. The problem arises when we carry our thinking with us everywhere we go, when we can’t find the off switch. Our thoughts then dominate our lives, becoming our reality, the lens through which we view the world. Incessant unstoppable thinking is a common problem, it’s a problem because it is not how it is meant to be and from that it leads to much of the suffering we find in our lives.

Do you know how to stop thinking?

The Mind is Pure and Still

The natural state of our mind is pure and still, it is peaceful, quiet, and free of thought. In the same way that the sun and sky is blocked out by clouds and fog, our uncontrollable thinking and emotions cloud out the natural stillness and peace of our mind. This stillness and peace is available to everyone, it is hardwired into our brains, it is our natural state, and the only thing that stops us from experiencing it in our daily lives is our addiction to thinking.

Thinking is Addictive

We are addicted to thinking, to our thoughts, dreams, opinions of the past and the future. We all do it, we want to share them with the world, and people are willing to die to protect their viewpoint, the thoughts in their head. But how crazy would it be if the viewpoint wasn’t really theirs that they were protecting a dream.

If you are not sure about this close your eyes and watch your in and out breath at the tip of your nose without thinking for 5 minutes, no 2minutes, no 1 minute, sounds easy, can you do it, can you control your thoughts

We find our thoughts endlessly interesting and take every opportunity we have to indulge in them, do you know why? Because they all contain one thing in common, every thought that you have or have ever had have on thing within them that is constant. That one thing is you.

I am the centre of all my thoughts; I am the star of the soap opera of happiness and tragedy which is my life. All my thinking is about me and about how the world and everything in it relates to me, because of this I find it endlessly interesting. Here lies the trap, here is the reason we can’t stop thinking, even at the end of the day when we try to sleep we can’t turn it off, cant find the off switch.

Solving the Problem

Through learning how to increase the strength of our present moment awareness we will change the up and down flow of our lives. This is because present moment awareness completely removes past and future as it can only be aware of what is happening now, in the present moment. Movements of our mind towards the past and the future only lead to confusion and in the end suffering because they cause all our judgements to be based on information that no longer exists. We then act on and make all our life judgements through this ill informed view causing us to move out of sequence with life itself.

Developing awareness of the present moment creates an anchor to reality, it breaks the hold that the past and future have on us. When we are in the present moment all past and future based thinking stops, thinking can then be used how it is meant to be used, as a tool.

Creating an Anchor

To find an off switch we need to create an anchor to the present moment, one that is accessible in everything that we do. A great anchor for this is our body, it is with us everywhere we go and it always has sensations within it that we can feel day or night. The sensations in our body can only ever happen in the present moment, they are reality, and they are as they are, so these sensations make a terrific anchor.

You can try it now, if you are sitting down mentally feel the sensations that arise from you sitting on the chair, you can do the same thing while you are standing or walking on the soles of you feet. Do not use your eyes but feel them with your mind, not thinking of the form of your body but just feel, without thinking about the sensations themselves.

Do this for a few minutes, just know the feeling.

Can you feel the different sensations? There may be hardness, tension, heat, cold, movement, it doesn’t matter what is present, what matters is that your attention is there. Notice how all your thinking stopped, you experienced silence for that short time while your attention was on the sensations. This is because the mind can only do one thing at one time; knowing this you can take advantage of it by being aware of the sensations in your body in everything you do. This is your anchor.

Whether you are sitting, standing, walking or lying down find an anchor point to be aware of, this will be your anchor to the present moment, to reality. Once you have this anchor point and develop it though practice you will find that you will experience more peace in your life, you will get dragged off into thinking and negative emotions less, they won’t have as strong a grip on you. Over time, through lack of use their charge and grip on you will lesson, you will begin to experience some freedom, some mental relaxation and peace.

Living in the Present Moment

If you hold this anchor, awareness of your body, in everything you do it will create a base that you can deal with the world from. This means you will be aware of the sensations in your body at the same time you are dealing with your day to day problems. This point of reference will stop you from being dragged off as deeply into life’s drama, allowing you to observe it as an onlooker instead of being lost in it. This unclouded view point will help you make clearer and more informed decisions, ones that aren’t taken over by and clouded by emotions.

Living in the present moment, free from the control of thinking isn’t a cold or emotionless place, it is just the opposite. You will find that when you are living fully in the present moment you will be less likely to get angry, anxious or frustrated, you won’t crave after things or people like you once did. Instead you will be more open to caring, compassion and happiness of others, the glue that brings people and society together, making your life and everyone else’s around you better

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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you

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