Most of us are born with the ability to see. When we wake up each morning and open our eyes, we see. Unless we have a problem with our eyes, we will not stop seeing. We can’t just decide to go blind. If those of us born with a functioning sight sense were to diligently practice turning off our sense of sight, I don’t think we’d succeed no matter how long we practiced. Imagine going to a meditation teacher for wise advice and the teacher says, “Your problem is that you see all the time. I will teach you how to stop seeing.” Hopefully, you would think that teacher wasn’t making sense.
Our thinking capacity is just like our sense of sight – we are born with it and so long as we are conscious and awake, it works. The notion that we can use mindfulness to turn off our thinking mind is just as absurd as the notion that we could decide to go blind. Mindfulness is not non-thought. Mindfulness is not the practice of turning off the thinking mind. If that was the case, it would be called mindlessness. Mindfulness is the practice of filling one’s mind with reality.
Usually, in reality, not much is happening – especially when we’re meditating. When we sit down to meditate in a quiet room, there isn’t much movement or sound, and there isn’t anything to do except sit there. Yet the moment we close our eyes, a lot seems to be happening. Words, images, ideas and emotions flood our attention. It seems at first that our habitual thinking gets stronger when we sit quietly, but really, it’s just that in the silence, we notice our natural thinking mind – the mind that operates constantly throughout our lives, just like our sense of sight.
Our minds work hard to make sense, figure things out, weigh options, imagine new possibilities, and generally seek the truth.
From the moment that consciousness arises in the human fetus, we become mindful scientists. Every new bit of information is stored, analyzed, compared with prior experiences, and categorized for future use. Watch an infant move her arm, and you will see that she is experimenting. A movement impulse shoots from her brain down her arm, and with a sense of wonder, she observes her arm moving. You can see her think, “Oh! I did that. Can I do it again?” In this way, we teach ourselves how to reach for something, and grab it, how to roll over, how to crawl, how to walk, how to talk, how to interact socially, and how to understand the world around us. Throughout our lives, our curious observing, thinking, categorizing and imagining minds work constantly as students of experience, and as creators of new movements and new ideas. Without the thinking mind, we would be as stupid and still as stones.
We can use our minds reach out into reality, grasp it, and bring it in for a closer look. Just as a child learns all the basics of life by feeling into it, we have the opportunity to learn the deepest truths of existence by curiously paying attention to what is happening right now, in the wonderfully full space of our minds.