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THE BEST SHOW ON EARTH


Thought watching is my new hobby. Actually I've been doing it for years but each day is so fresh it feels like the first time. This is because the thoughts running through my head like water in an endless stream or clouds in a limitless sky are always new and usually products of whatever I saw, heard or (egad!) thought about in the several hours leading up to the practice. Which is probably why the masters of mind control say to keep sensory stimulation to a minimum.

The brain is like a digestive organ. Its food is information. Unlike the roots and tubers our ancestors fed on, which nourished and satisfied, much of the information we obtain these days from our environment, be it from tabloid mags, news feeds, gossiping coworkers, preposterous contemporaries, radio commercials and TV, does not nourish or delight. It does not satisfy. It is junk, only it doesn't even taste all that great going down. It is tasteless junk. Cardboard. Yes we are forever bombarded and endlessly assaulted by cardboard. And the more input we receive, the more processing is necessary. Imagine eating cardboard pasta all day. Dress it up with all the butter and salt you want; it's still no good for you. And how your bowels would ache!

The transformation of experiences into brainwaves is thought-provoking to say the least. In this way thoughts are not unlike dreams, which the psychiatrist Sigmund Freud believed draw their inspiration from the prior day's experiences. Dreams are a way of assimilating what you encountered during your waking hours, just like thoughts, only a bit more realistic. But like dreams, you are the writer, director, producer and star of whatever crosses your mind. You just borrow your material from the real world. It's better than being a Quentin Tarantino of the mind; his movies shamelessly steal directly from other directors. He makes millions off the ideas of others and then calls it paying homage. The equivalent of this would be holding the same opinions and beliefs your friends think and calling them your own. Which happens all the time. Abeit unconsciously. All the more reason to thought watch.

Thought watching also feels like a new hobby to me because no matter how often I do it, or for how long, and no matter how intently I aim to still the "monkey mind," thoughts always spring up like water in the cracks of the rubble on the shore of a rock-strewn sea somewhere off the coast of Italy. And how's that for a lengthy list of prepositions! Thinking has its place.

Indeed thoughts come in various forms. First, there are the inevitable plans for later. As in: ooops, I never did pay the gas bill, better get to it before I forget; or, did I remember to start the dishwasher?; and, maybe I should call my old man because it's been a while since we last spoke. Then there are remembrances of things past. It seems we are all Marcel Prousts in our spare time. The song you just heard brings to mind the memory of that summer long ago, and who I was friends with and what I was doing and what style I wore your hair. There are so-called inspirational thoughts, as the "I bet my idea would make a great movie."

These thoughts, though pesky, are pretty harmless. Unlike guilt and anxiety, which are perverted forms of remembering and planning, and which we are all too familiar with.

Sit down in a quiet room with a pen and paper by your side. Close your eyes, count your breaths, one, two and three, and exhale. Then just wait. Wait for the first thought that crosses your mind and mark it down on the page. Quick, lest it slip away. Then close your eyes and do it again. Guess what, you probably won't get past the first thought. Because the mind, a bundle of thoughts, doesn't like to be watched. And when you look for it, you uncover the phantom menace the mind really is. You see, the mind suffers stage fright. It likes to work behind the scenes, in the dark where it can perpetrate its dastardly deeds - or maybe compose a verse or two, when inspired. Ask it to perform and it freezes up. Blankness ensues. Stillness and silence. It is really rather delightful. Last time I tried this I had just glanced at a People magazine with Melissa McCarthy on the cover. The chunky honey from Bridesmaids was promoting her new movie, Spy. I couldn't get her out of my head. Too bad it wasn't her costar Rose Byrne. In which case I wouldn't have wanted to. The lovely from Down Undie is much harder to forget.


In seeking out the mind through the thoughts that are its substance, you find the truth. There is no mind. It is nothing but an opportunistic imposter. Not that it's not a good instrument. The brain can be great at problem solving, creating art, writing these rambling posts, but the mind's only use while meditating is to commit to turning the attention inward and to wrestle itself away from the distractions it produces and back to center, or stillness. So file those insights and inspirations away. Trust me, the mind will try to break your focus and get you up to do this or that, any way to avoid uncovering its true identity, which is nothing at all.

For a while it is fun to be entertained by what your head comes up with. I bet if you put it on film it would be just as tantalizing as Pulp Fiction, more original too. So enjoy the show. But keep in mind it's much more fun to free float in the vast realm of space that is your consciousness, your inner space, like George Clooney in Gravity, which is what being thoughtless, or Interstellar's going "gently into that good night" must feel like. Movie metaphors aside, it has been said that one's spiritual progress can be gauged by the degree of thoughtlessness achieved. So get at it!

And don't worry about losing those great ideas or forgetting to fulfill commitments and appointments. You are much more efficient with a quiet mind. And don't you know how many of life's great decisions come in a flash of intuition, arising as it were in the moment, from stillness and empty space? So relax. Those great thoughts will come back to you if they're supposed to. Let stillness be your natural state, your form of idling. Better than a mind filled with static and background noise, the constant din of lawnmowers and tree trimmers and construction workers I hear at all hours issuing from the neighborhood and which make me want to scream bloody murder! But only when I'm not meditating. Because otherwise I'm fine.

Thought watching. Give it a try. You may discover, as have I, that the Katy Perry ditty you thought was in one ear and out the other dominates your inner airwaves for three long days. Some sabotage! Now excuse me while I go jot down this idea I just had for a film.

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