I have been thinking very hard about nothing lately.
This is because I have been thinking so hard about everything. At this moment in time, it is hard not to. Thinking hard about everything is hard enough. But thinking hard about nothing is even harder. Because thinking hard about nothing means that I am actually thinking hard about something. Something being nothing in this case.
So I need to think harder.
I am told that thinking about nothing lowers stress. It is clearly not working. And frankly, it seems counterproductive to me.
It may come as no surprise that I don’t meditate. I don’t really get it. I mean, increasing my awareness of nothing? Really? Isn’t that what binge watching Netflix is for?
I tried meditation once in a class and spent twenty minutes with my eyes closed agonizing over my chosen mantra. Ok, maybe rubber baby buggy bumpers was not the best repetitive phrase to begin my journey to Nirvana, but in the moment it was all I could come up with.
Nevertheless, I repeated my mantra and concentrated on breathing. Because somehow this was supposed to help empty my mind. Instead it triggered performance anxiety. Oh god. Is it buggy baby bumpers or baby buggy bumpers? Do I inhale before I exhale, or after? What if I can’t do this? I know it seems irrational, but failing to breath has some serious downside, and I didn’t want to dwell on it.
Before long my eyes popped open. My heart was racing and I was sweating and struggling to catch my breath. Everyone else in the class was sleeping blissfully. So I made my way to the door, turned out the lights, and left.
Later I emptied my mind in front of the TV with a beer. Tastes great, less filling. Tastes great, less filling . . .
I never really understood the concept of emptying the mind. Granted, I don’t have a lot in there, but what I do have took a long time to gel and I am not sure I am willing to part with it, even on a therapeutic basis. I mean, what if I empty it and it accidentally spills on the floor?
The mind is not like milk. I would cry about it.
I have a similar conception of mindfulness, whatever that is.
As I understand it, and I clearly don’t, where meditation is the awareness of nothing, mindfulness is the awareness of something. Which I assume means I should start watching documentaries.
Mindfulness has something to do with willfully observing thoughts and feelings in the here and now without judgement. So, for example, instead of engaging my mind in consideration of the state of the world while I Idly empty the garbage, I am supposed to be fully engaged in the garbage removal experience itself. What emotions are present? What does the garbage smell like? How does it feel? How does it sound?
This is supposed to help lower my blood pressure, improve my digestion, relieve tension, and make me more balanced and happy. But then so does handing the experience to someone else. Which is why I have my kids take out the garbage.
I am sorry, but sometimes I don’t want to be engaged in the moment. I want to be thinking of something else. I do some of my best thinking in the shower. Why would I waste that time taking stock of how I feel standing wet and naked with soap in my eyes?
And sometimes in the moment I actually have to concentrate on what I am doing. I don’t really want to be practicing mindfulness operating a chainsaw. What does wood chips and gasoline smell like? How does the spinning chain sound when it bites the target? How does it feel to lose all of the fingers of your left hand?
It is all a big contradiction to me.
As most things go, I firmly believe that less is more. Shouldn’t I therefore receive far more benefit being mindless instead of mindful? And if learning to empty the mind is the path to enlightenment, then why would I ever practice mindfulness in the first place?
This is why thinking about nothing is so hard.
The French mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” He probably thought of this in the shower.
So give us a quiet room, and we better start thinking of something.
If recent events have taught me anything, they have taught me that the path to enlightenment requires my mind to be engaged and my eyes to be open. Now is not the time to empty it.
It is good to be mindful of that.